20 Writing Mistakes that Make Any Freelancer Look Bad

right-wordsAs freelancers, we try hard to put our best foot forward. We want to act and portray the image of a professional in our field.

Most of the time, we are successful at projecting a professional image. However, sometimes we sabotage ourselves. Our best efforts at professionalism are undermined in seconds by our own careless errors when we communicate with our clients. We’ve discussed the importance of good communication on Freelance Folder before, but this is the first time we’ve gotten down to the nitty gritty of discussing good grammar.

While your clients may not mind one or two typos in your emails, letters, and other communications to them (everyone makes a typo from time to time), frequent mistakes when you write to your client could give them the idea that you’ll be sloppy with their work. (It’s not just writers who need to be careful. Most clients expect you to communicate clearly and carefully regardless of the work that you will be doing for them.)

The good news is that most writing mistakes are easily fixed. In this post we’ll identify 20 mistakes to avoid. We’ll also point you to some resources where you can improve your writing.

Mistakes That Make You Look Bad

Here are twenty common errors that can make you look bad to your client:

  1. Misspelling the client’s name. It’s a funny thing. Clients are particular about their names. They usually like you to get them right.
  2. Misspelling the name of the client’s company. No client wants to see a misspelling of their company name. If you make this mistake in an email, tweet, or other client contact, the client may assume that you will make it during the course of their project.
  3. Misspelling your name. This may seem obvious. After all, it’s just plain stupid to misspell your own name, but this mistake actually happens. Be careful. :-)
  4. Misspelling the name of your company. If you aren’t careful to get your own business name right, then a client may worry that you won’t be careful about getting their name correct.
  5. Leaving out a word in a sentence. When you’re tired and overworked it’s easy to accidentally skip a word when you are typing. However, a missing word can change the meaning of a sentence.
  6. Using the wrong word. Many words in English sound alike, but have different meanings. Some examples are two, to, and too (or, they’re, there, and their). A spellchecker usually won’t catch this mistake, so you’ll have to look for this yourself.
  7. Misplacing a decimal. Like a missing word, a misplaced decimal can change the meaning of what you write. If you don’t believe me, which project would you rather take–the job paying $10.00 or the one paying $1000?
  8. Too many misspelled words. Nearly everyone has a spellchecker now (and the clients know it). While most clients will forgive an occasional typo, too many typos will leave the impression that you are careless.
  9. Too much slang. In most cases, it’s best to avoid using slang words in your client communications. Slang word usage differs depending on location and even on the individual recipient. You can’t be sure that your client will get the meaning that you intended to convey from a slang word.
  10. Using a double negative. Not only are double negatives unnecessary, they actually make your writing unclear. For example: I don’t want no project. Is the speaker turning down a project or stating their availability for work?
  11. Run-on sentences. Your English teacher was right (and so was mine). Connecting a bunch of independent sentences with the word “and” and stringing them into one long sentence is wrong.
  12. Too much passive voice. When you use a form of a “be” verb, you are using passive voice. While using passive voice is not technically a grammatical error, overuse can make you sound unsure of yourself.
  13. Not using complete sentences. If you’re rushed, you may be tempted to communicate in short bursts like “feel sick,” “running late,” or “up next.” However, your client may view these bursts as cryptic or confusing.
  14. Too many adjectives. Adjectives are those words that describe nouns. Using an occasional adjective makes your communication more effective. Using a long string of adjectives together makes you sound insincere.
  15. Using text messaging abbreviations. Like slang words, the understanding of text messaging abbreviations varies widely. Unless you are absolutely certain that the recipient knows that TTYL means Talk To You Later it’s best not to use the abbreviation.
  16. Use of quotation marks. There are very distinct rules for using quotation marks. Usually they enclose a direct quote or the title of short work like an article or a story.
  17. Misuse of apostrophes. Like quotation marks, apostrophes are used for a specific reason. An apostrophe indicates possession of a noun or the omission of a letter in a contraction.
  18. Not dividing material into paragraphs. Like sentences, paragraphs are most effective when kept fairly short. The typical rule is to start a new paragraph when you start a new thought.
  19. Using too many big words. While you want to impress your client with your knowledge, filling your messages with all of the four and five syllable words that you know isn’t the best way to show them what you know.
  20. Overusing the same words or phrase. Do you have a favorite word or phrase? If you do, chances are that you are repeating it too often in your writing.

Now we’ve discussed some problems that can damage your communications with clients, let’s examine how to improve your writing.

Four Easy Tips to Improve Your Writing

Here are some easy tips that you can use to improve your writing skills and avoid miscommunication:

  1. Check your writing. Even if you are just writing an email it’s a good idea to reread it several times.
  2. Take Your Time. Mistakes happen when we rush.
  3. Find a proofreading buddy. Getting someone else to look over your writing is often the best way to eliminate errors.
  4. Use that spellchecker. Just do it.

There are lots of online resources that can help you improve your communication skills. We’ll take a look at a few of them.

Resources to Help You Improve Your Communication

Here are four great resources that can help you improve your writing:

  1. Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. Grammar Girl provides regular tips and podcasts to help improve your grammar.
  2. The Purdue Online Writing Lab. This is probably the best known of all the grammar sites. If you have an English usage question you’ll find the answer is here.
  3. Grammar Monster. This site contains interactive writing lessons and quizzes.
  4. Grammar Slammer. You’ll find some good snippets of information here.

What Do You Do to Improve Your Communications?

Have you been sabotaged by a writing mistake? Do you have a favorite writing resource? How do you keep from making common errors in your communications?

Share your answers in the comments.

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Comments

  1. says

    If you get their/there/they’re wrong then you should not be writing for a living.

    You should also check your phrases. For example, these are wrong:

    Chomping at the bit
    From what he said, he inferred that I am a criminal
    It was a damp squid
    I like the cut of your jip

  2. says

    Good stuff!

    BTW, if anyone uses Open Office as I do, then you may not know that you can download a LanguageTool add on useful as a way to check your grammar. The tool is not perfect but it can come in handy especially if you were used to Word or WordPerfect’s grammar checkers.

  3. says

    Good comments!

    I wouldn’t feel bad if you find yourself making one of these mistakes. They are easy to make if you are in a hurry, or tired, or just not as careful as you should be…

    Andrew–Interesting choice of bad phrases. The only one I might have used is “chomping at the bit.”

    Matt–Thanks for the tip about Open Office. I have some family members that use it, so I will definitely pass your tip on to them.

  4. says

    That’s a pretty handsome list of common mistakes. I’ve faced some of them while communicating with designers and developers, and some time clients. But client is always right, he can use what he want, but as freelancer one should have to be professional in all manners.

  5. says

    These are good reminders Laura. I’m always surprised that people don’t know better.
    I have a few clients who keep me on a monthly retainer to review important documents before they go out. One of the best reasons they cite for doing this is to check the tone/feel of the correspondence to be sure they are coming across well and hopefully eliciting the response they are looking for. But that’s a another post, isn’t it?

  6. says

    I need to be careful not to send mails when tired. I really make many mistakes of not proofing the mails and don’t really care how it would be received by the person who reads it. I know how it feels, now. Thanks for the reminder and resources, Laura!

  7. says

    Thanks for the reminder, Laura! It’s easy to make these silly little mistakes, especially when we’re tired or in a rush. And those spell checkers don’t always catch them.

    So yes, reread everything before sending it off. Or better yet, ask somebody else to read it.

  8. says

    Very nice list.

    They’re/There/Their mistakes are just about my biggest pet peeves, followed closely by its vs. it’s.

    I feel a bit silly having still never fully understood the meaning of “passive voice….” Time to hit the Google!

    - John

  9. says

    Good tips. Here’s another, don’t use an iPhone to compose long business emails! I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve sent out because if this tiny keyboard. It sounds like a good idea and useful to be able to write on the go, but now I save it as a draft then shoot it off after I check it again on my laptop.

  10. says

    John,

    I don’t think that you’re the only one who doesn’t fully understand passive voice. At least, I see a lot of it out there, so I’m guessing that avoiding it is a big struggle for many people.

    In fact, it’s one of my personal struggles. Passive voice is something I constantly find myself editing out of my writing.

  11. says

    Amen! Even with friends who send me emails, when there are so many mistakes that I can’t understand what the point is, I feel like they don’t care to take the time to communicate with me.

    And every time you put an ‘s’ on the end of a word, that does not mean you add an apostrophe!
    :)

  12. says

    Yes, these are the important golden rules with communicating with your clients. I also read my message out loud to make sure it sounds right when I review my message before sending it out.

  13. Sergio says

    Nice, this is even better for someone who’s not a native speaker, and most cases apply even with clients in Mexico. :)

  14. says

    One thing that I do is continue to write properly within MSN or other “chat” services so as to keep the proper grammar ingrained in my head. Although I consider myself still fairly young, I see it a lot where users of these programs will use the “MSN language” quite a bit. I feel this is why many people, especially younger ones, are growing up with poor grammar skills.

    I’m not an expert myself, I’m far from it, but I try to continue writing regardless of how bad I might be so as to get better. :)

  15. says

    Excellent post!
    I also think that these pitfalls and tips on how to avoid them are not exclusive to freelancers, but are useful to anyone engaging in ANY type of communication.
    As someone whose first language isn’t English (although I learned both English & Spanish at the same time), I am constantly amazed at how frequently people get their grammar (and spelling) all mixed up.

    And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit to quite often being guilty of using run-on sentences (or tacking on parenthetical expressions). I’ve taken up occasionally writing for web as a way to try and rein those sentences in.

    Again, thanks for another excellent read on FF.

  16. says

    These mistakes happen all too often if you’re writing when you’re tired.

    If you’re writing to a client, write during the day when you’re wide awake and can spot any mistakes you make. =)

  17. says

    I’m glad I started blogging since my readers were quick to give me lessons on grammar which I didn’t realize I’ve completely forgotten. I’ve finally got the whole it’s and its down.

    Now I just need to figure out the commas…

    Your tips help too. Thanks!

  18. says

    Great insights.

    As so many of you have pointed out, nearly everyone is guilty of these mistakes at one time or another. For freelancers, however, too many mistakes could cost them the job.

    Keep your thoughts coming.

  19. says

    Boy did I learn a big lesson one time when I was not paying particular attention to an e-mail I wrote to a prospective client.

    It was a great prospect but I think I really lost the opportunity because I did not double check the e-mail before I sent it off (in a hurry – bad mistake!). Turns out I had inadvertently deleted a whole section of paragraph (I was typing on my laptop – not at my desk).

    The result was awful! Now I only write clients when I can sit at my desk, and I ALWAYS double and triple check before I hit that send button. Sometimes if I’m unsure I’ll sleep on it and read it over again the next day, just to be sure I got it just right.

  20. says

    I so agree with everything Laura says. I’m a freelance proofreader/copy-editor and I have to be very careful when writing anything myself as I’m excellent at checking other people’s documents but tend to be careless with my own – especially if I’m in a rush or tired.

  21. says

    Rule #12 defines the passive voice incorrectly. The passive voice has more to do with who is performing the action than whether or not a sentence contains a “to be” verb. For instance, the following sentence lacks action, and thus, is neither passive nor active: “She is smart.” You can find more information about the passive versus active voice by visiting the following link: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/539/01/.

  22. says

    A veri goob topic. d-_+b

    Most of the time, it happens with Non-English-Speaking freelancers from Asia. For instance I’m from India, our local language is Bengali, while our national Language is Hindi. But most of our official work is done in English. English is part our own language as we have a British ruling history.

  23. says

    Good points, but Rochelle is right that #12 defines the passive voice incorrectly. Something is in the passive voice if the person or thing acting is either not stated or if the subject of the sentence is acted upon. So, “The door was opened” is passive, while, “He opened the door” is active. The first one has no subject at all, while the second example does. Similarly, “He is opening the door” is active because someone is doing something, even though it contains a form of the verb “to be”. It’s just a different tense. But, “The door was opened by him” is passive, because the subject (him) receives the action rather than carrying it out.

    Because the passive voice so often includes a form of the verb “to be”, it’s easy to get confused and think that it is the presence of the verb “to be” that makes the sentence passive, but that’s not true.

    Passive voice is bad because it leads to vagueness and indirectness, and so weakens your sentences. People often use it because it allows them to make a statement without having to attribute them to anyone. For example, I could have phrased that sentence as “It is often used because it allows the statement to be made without attributing it to anyone”, which would be passive because it doesn’t include a subject for the sentence.

    Another example:

    On your website you could have a statement that says “A quote for the work will be given”, which would be passive. But you could make it more forceful and direct by saying “We will give you a quote for the work”, which would be active.

  24. says

    Misspellings are in general an increasing problem with the advent of email and Internet communications. The instant nature of communications these days has resulted in people writing quicker but taking equally less time to actually check their spellings, if at all.

    This is one issue, having these mistakes in work is quite another. With spell checkers built into practically all the software we use today there is little excuse for these mistakes, however grammar is something entirely separate. When doing any work for a client time should be taken to read your text, as it is easy to make nonsense sentences, but difficult to save your reputation when you constantly make these errors.

    I will be noting this page down for future reference, as the points given are very useful and worth checking every time one ach piece of work.

  25. Anna says

    Such silly mistakes are certainly a nightmare, especially in my field, which is freelance translation. Client expect your writting to be immaculate, especially when you have a degree in English.

  26. says

    These common mistakes and people who know they need help with their written presentations are what keep me in business as a proofreader and editor.

    I am not the only potential client or customer that will click away from a blog or web site that is filled with spelling and grammar errors and I truly know that this CAN hurt your business and your being seen as a credible person or business owner although it really has nothing to do with how credible or professional you are.

  27. Oliver says

    Sometimes it’s hard to compete to people from oriental countries even though they lack the ability to communicate perfectly.

    I am amazed how a freelancer that writes “Dear Sir, we are a team of x people and we do in the past lots of projects that as you need” in their bid can actually win the project.

    Should I say that if you hire such a service provider to do your coding, code commenting is pretty much superfluous?

    I do all my work on,in my opinion, the best freelance website http://www.freelancer.com/affiliates/hiquality/.

  28. says

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    page. Im really impressed by your blog.
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