Preliminary note: You will be judged, for your entire life, on the basis of how well you write. If you write well, people will think you are smart. If you write poorly, they will think you are dumb. That is perhaps unfair, but it is the reality, and you might as well face it now.
Anyone can learn to write well, although for some people it does not come easily. Still, there are certain easy lessons that take no great effort to master. Below, I list ten very common mistakes, each of which can be easily avoided. Most of the papers I receive contain at least one of the mistakes listed below. Avoid them all, and you will have quickly moved your writing up a few notches in my estimation.
10. Writing `cannot' as two words. Wrong: I can not decide. Right: I cannot decide. 9. Using `if' when you should use `whether'. Wrong: I do not know if this is true. Right: I do not know whether this is true. Right: If this is true, then the moon is made of cheese. 8. Confusing `there' with `their'. Wrong: There problem was a lack of courage. Right: Their problem was a lack of courage. Wrong: Their are a lot of problems here. Right: There are a lot of problems here. 7. Misconnecting verbs. Wrong: We should try and change the law. Right: We should try to change the law. 6. Letting your accent get in the way of things. Wrong: Mind and brain are one in the same thing. Right: Mind and brain are one and the same thing. Wrong: Socrates should of fought. Right: Socrates should have fought. 5. Misunderstanding apostrophes after S. Wrong: Descarte's problem was .... Wrong: Descartes problem was.... Right: Descartes' problem was.... Right: Descartes's problem was.... (Either of the last two is acceptable for names ending in S.) 4. Abusing semi-colons. Wrong: The following will be on the test; Locke, Hume, Parfit. Wrong: Although there is no right answer; there are many wrong answers. Right: There is no right answer; there are many wrong answers. (THE RULE: Use a semi-colon only where you could use a period instead. In other words, a semi-colon must join two clauses that could stand by themselves as complete sentences.) 3. Confusing `then' and `than'. Wrong: If this is true, than I'm a fool. Wrong: I am more of a fool then you are. Right: If this is true, then I'm a fool. Right: I am more of a fool than you are. 2. Gender-neutral pronouns at the expense of grammar. Wrong: If someone did say that, then they were lying. Right: Anyone who did say that was lying. Right: All those who did say that were lying. 1. Its/it's Wrong: Its easy to make this mistake. Wrong: It's pages are crumbling. Right: It's easy to make this mistake. Right: Its pages are crumbling.