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Top 10 Writing Errors of 2015

Let's face it. In 2015 typos hid undetected in our writing. So did errors in grammar and punctuation that we would have recognized if we weren't racing to upload, print, or click Send. Mistakes happen. 

But some mistakes happen over and over–not just from moving too fast but from lack of understanding. The 10 items below illustrate the top 10 errors I found in people's writing in 2015. Can you find them? One error per item. 

  1. Most of my correspondence is email, however, I also write reports and presentations. 
  2. Thanks for your time, I appreciate it. 
  3. Please feel free to contact Jesse Rosen or myself if you have questions.
  4. He is responding to a RFP from the public utility.
  5. Carmen thanks for your help with the newsletter.
  6. A last minute change in one executive's bio delayed the proposal.  
  7. When the download is complete the device automatically reboots.
  8. We are honored to have partnered with you on this important project and we look forward to our work together next year. 
  9. Best Regards,
  10. Please attend the potluck for new members on January 11th. 


Did you find one common error per item? 


Punctuation is the problem in Items 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8. 

A grammar problem appears in Number 3. 

Usage is a problem in Number 4. 

Capitalization ruins Number 9. 

The rendering of a number mars Item 10. 


Answer Key With Explanations 

  1. Use a semicolon before however when it connects two sentences. In this example, the first sentence is "Most of my correspondence is email." The second is "I also write reports and presentations." If you choose to, you can start a new sentence with however. But if you link two sentences with however, you must use a semicolon before it and a comma after it, like this:

        It is cold outside; however, it is not snowing yet. 

  2. Do not connect two sentences with just a comma. If you do, your sentence will be a run-on. In this example, the first sentence is "Thanks for your time." The second is "I appreciate it." The best way to correct the run-on is to make two sentences. Here's another example: 

        Call me with any questions. I'm here to help. 

  3. Use the pronoun me–not myself–as an object in a sentence: "Please feel free to contact me." If you get confused about whether you need I, me, or myself, remove other people from the sentence (as I removed Jesse Rosen). Doing so should help you choose the correct pronoun. Use myself only to emphasize an used earlier in the sentence, like these: 

        I called everyone myself. 
        I myself am responsible for the accounts. 

  4. Use the article an–not a–before a word or an abbreviation that starts with a vowel sound: an RFP. Here are more correct examples in which the abbreviation starts with a vowel sound: 

        an FDA recall   an HIV epidemic   an LED screen  
        an MBA   an NSA directive   an SUV 

    Note that sometimes an abbreviation is an acronym, which is pronounced as a word:

        a NASA news story   a FICO score adjustment 

  5. Use a comma to set off the reader's name in a sentence. Item 5 needs a comma after Carmen. If you address the reader in the middle of a sentence, you need two commas, like this:

        Congratulations, Robby, on your new job!  

  6. When you use a combined adjective (such as last-minute) before a noun (such as change), connect the parts of the adjective with hyphens. You can recognize combined adjectives because the parts of the adjective cannot stand alone. Examples:

        first-quarter sales (not first sales) 
        two-door vehicles (not two vehicles) 
        end-of-year activities (not year activities)

  7. Use a comma after an introductory clause. Introductory clauses begin with words such as when, if, although, while, and as. Examples: 

        When the process completes, the device reboots.
        If he calls, please let me know. 
        While you were out, this package arrived. 
        As I was saying, this book is wonderful. 

  8. Insert a comma between two sentences that you connect with the conjunction and, or, but, nor, for, yet, or so. The comma belongs before the conjunction. In Item 8, the comma belongs before and. 

  9. Capitalize only the first word of the complimentary close: Best regards. 

  10. Do not use ordinal number endings such as th and st when you express a date in month-day order. Render the date the way it appears on a calendar. These are correct: 
        January 11
        December 12
        March 5 
    You can use ordinal numbers when you write the day before the month, as in "See you on the 11th of January." 

Do you want to stop making common errors in punctuation? Take my self-study course Punctuation for Professionals

Which errors did you see too often in 2015? Feel free to share them. 

Happy new year! 

Syntax Training 

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

13 comments on “Top 10 Writing Errors of 2015”

  • Hi Lynn, I don’t want to sound boastful, but I got a 10 out of 10 on this. I teach college English and will let my students try this test as well, giving you credit for it, if that’s okay. I always enjoy your columns.

  • Hello Lynn! I am brazilian and I’m always trying to learn a little bit more about English writing. I have a question about item number 10: I know I should write it “January 11”, but how should I read it out loud? I’ve always been taught to use ordinal number endings so this is very tricky for me. Thank you very much! PS: I love your website. It helps me a lot with work.

  • Hi Maria,

    That’s a smart question. When speaking the dates, you pronounce them with ordinal endings:

    January eleventh
    December twelfth
    March fifth

    I would also like you to know that nationalities are always capitalized in English. Therefore, you are Brazilian.

    Thank you for the positive feedback. I am happy to be helpful.


  • This was such a great column, and a lot of fun too! Grammar and punctuation is a great interest to me.

    I was wondering, in question 2, could a semicolon also be used like in question 1, or a dash?
    Thanks for your time; I appreciate it.
    Thanks for your time – I appreciate it.

    As I was typing my question, it brought up another question. When referring to one of the numbers in your column, how do I write it:
    #1 ?
    number 1 ?
    other ?

    I was trying to find out if seasons should be capitalized such as, Spring Semester or spring semester? I found conflicting answers and was wondering what you say.

    Do you have a book or publication that covers the items in this column and more? I find that you are a very clear and concise teacher 🙂 I have taken one of your workshops and found it very helpful. Thank you so much!

  • Hi Kim,

    I’m glad you liked the test. Here are answers to your questions:

    In Question 2, a semicolon would be too fussy–not wrong but an example of overpunctuation. A dash in that example would be fine though informal, but a dash is two hyphens:

    — Thanks for your time–I appreciate it.

    Regarding referring to an item, “The Gregg Reference Manual” recommends spelling out the word “number” at the beginning of a sentence but using “No.” in other places, like this:

    — Number 1 is correct.
    — I believe No. 1 is correct.

    “Gregg” says using the symbol # is acceptable on forms and in technical materials.

    Seasons are not capitalized in English:

    — I will see you next spring.

    However, if an institution capitalizes the names of semesters, “Spring Semester” would be correct.

    I haven’t written a book that covers these kinds of questions. I recommend “The Gregg Reference Manual.” And keep reading this blog!


  • Hi Lynn,

    I have just come across your blog and absolutely love it! I wish I would have found it years ago. I am a teacher and pride myself on my writing. However, I know I have a lot more to learn. I have been visiting your past posts and have already (embarrassingly) recognized mistakes I have been making. I use semicolons too often, and am guilty of always using ordinal numbers when giving dates. Thank you for the clarification. I look forward to reading your future posts!

  • Hi Lynn,
    The number one grammar mistake I see is the overuse of capitalization. I am curious about your use of capitalization in a post to this article, specifically in these examples: a capital Q “In Question 2”, and a capital N in “No. 1”. Thank you for this blog and your response.

  • Hi Leslie,

    I see too much capitalization as well. Regarding your question, I follow the rule for nouns with numbers or letters from “The Gregg Reference Manual.” It states:

    “Capitalize a noun followed by a number or a letter that indicates sequence. Exceptions: Do not capitalize the nouns line, note, page, sentence, paragraph, size, step, and verse.”

    It lists nearly 50 examples, among them Account, Chapter, Column, Diagram, Exhibit, Exercise, Item, Lesson, and Section. It also capitalizes Number but points out that the word can often be deleted. I should have deleted it in the post above.

    I’m glad you asked. I have been capitalizing “step,” but “Gregg” sees it as an exception.

    If you follow a different style manual, you may find that it recommends a different approach.


  • Neec help, which is correct?

    May we know the activities of the workshop?

    May we know the activities for the workshop?

  • Hello Allan,

    Prepositions are subtle and tricky. Both of your options are correct. I would also add “in the workshop,” which I would probably use.

    To avoid prepositions, I suggest this: May we know the workshop activities?


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