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The Commonest Error of 2019

Which error did you see most often in 2019? Was it a missing comma? A misplaced or missing apostrophe? A lack of subject-verb agreement? A word used incorrectly? The error I found most often in work projects—especially copyediting presentations and manuscripts—is described below, with one bonus error.

The error is inconsistency.

For example, it’s using Department on Slide 1 and department on Slide 2, followed by Dept. on Slide 3. I recently reviewed a PowerPoint presentation with just such an error. Of course, Department, department, and Dept. are all acceptable depending on the project and the communication medium. The error is the inconsistency. It can distract close readers and attentive audience members, who notice the differences and wonder about their significance.

My solution to avoid these kinds of errors is to create a style sheet–and to follow it. That means to decide which version of department works best for your purposes and to use it consistently.

For more information on style sheets, read my post “Why You Need a Style Sheet and How to Create One.”  I also recommend my online, self-study course Proofread Like a Pro.


The bonus error I saw all year long was the capitalization of words in the complimentary close.

This is wrong: With Best Wishes,


This is right: With best wishes,

Only the first word of the close should be capitalized unless you have another reason for the capitalization, for example:

Best wishes for a happy Christmas,


I’d love to hear from you. How do you avoid the error of inconsistency? Which error did you notice most often in 2019?

Happy new year! (There’s no reason to capitalize new or year.) I look forward to writing for you in 2020.


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.

2 comments on “The Commonest Error of 2019”

  • Great post, as usual! I added the creation of a style sheet to my (short) list of 2020 professional resolutions.

    The error that jumped at me the most in 2019 was the use of hyphenated words. This comes up frequently at the company I work for, and I feel like I am constantly adding a hyphen between words before a noun. It is becoming a pet peeve.

    Happy new year! (I was not aware that we should not capitalize “new” and “year” in this phrase. Thank you for helping me become a better writer!)

  • Patty, nice to hear from you! I agree about the missing hyphens. They seem to be missing everywhere. I notice their absence most often in constructions such as “third floor apartment” and “two day sale.” Grammarly (the free version) just highlighted those two examples for me, which emphasizes the fact that people could have those errors flagged for them before publication if they wanted to.

    Thanks for keeping up the good fight.


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