The Seven Deadly Sins of Writing

in writing •  2 years ago

Since the community's value is highly dependent on the content we produce, it would help if we took a step back to the basics and checked if our writings skills can further be improved. The aim of this article is to shed light to some of the most common writing errors that are often committed.

Sin #1: Overuse of the Passive Voice

Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action. Often, the doer of the action is unimportant or unmentioned. Usage of the passive voice leads to indirect, wordy sentences that is less ineffective in relaying the message to the reader. Active voices lead to messages that are clear, and brief but comprehensive. To convert a sentence to active from passive, determine the doer of the action, and use that person or thing as the subject of the sentence.


Active voice: John gave Sarah a bouquet of flowers.
Passive voice: Sarah was given a bouquet of flowers from John.

Observe how the active voice is shorter and quicker to read.

Sin #2: Improper Use of Punctuation on Two Independent Clauses 

A misuse of a punctuation risks confusing the reader and make you seem careless. A good writer always knows that correct punctuation crucial to writing clean sentences. Incorrect use of punctuation can also completely alter the meaning behind the sentences you write. Such as in this case:

Grandfather, says my mother, should never forget to take medication.
Grandfather says my mother should never forget to take medication. 

Some guidelines are:

Separate independent clauses with a comma when using a coordinating conjunction. (e.g., and, but, or, for, not, so ,yet)

We could not sail to the islands today, for the boat badly needed repairs.

Separate independent clauses with a semicolon when no coordinating conjunction is used.

He denied the promotion; he was comfortable enough with his current job. 


Separate independent clauses with a semicolon when using a conjunctive adverb. (e.g., however, therefore, thus, consequently, finally, nevertheless)

Yesterday he forgot to do his homework; therefore he received bad grades.

Sin #3: Wordiness

Writing efficiently is key to communication. Wordiness complicates your ideas and frustrates your readers.

Make your writing as brief as possible, and proceed. As you begin searching for unnecessary words, you will find you can cut many without changing the meanings. In doing this, your writing will become more appealing.

Let every word tell.

The reason James avoided all the other children, was to avoid getting made fun of because of his stuttering. 

Revised (replace was with action verb invaded)

James avoided all the other children to avoid getting made fun of because of his stuttering. 

As a step, look for instances of this is, there are, and it is at the beginning of your sentences, and ask yourself whether you can remove them.

Sin #4: Misuse of the Apostrophe

Apostrophes are often misused when forming plurals and possessives. The rule is simple: The apostrophe indicates possession, not plural. 

Exceptions to the rule may seem confusing: hers has no apostrophe, and it's is not possessive. Nonetheless, with a small amount of attention, you can learn the rules and the exceptions of using apostrophes.


Form a singular noun's possessive case by adding 's. This also applies if the noun ends in letter S.

Tolkien's Novel, Marcellus's bike, James's credit card

Form a plural noun's possessive case by adding an apostrophe after the final letter if it is an s.  Add ’s if the final letter is not an s.

students' grades, women's gym

Usually, errors occur if the apostrophe is used to form a non-possessive plural.

The trainee’s tool was missing.
Several trainees’ tools were missing.
The trainees searched for their missing tools.

Possessive pronouns, such as yours, hers, its, and ours, require no apostrophe.

The choice is yours.

Indefinite pronouns use the singular possessive form, such as anyone, everybody, no one, and somebody.

Somebody’s dog slept in our porch last night.


Apostrophes are used to mark omitted letters in contractions. (Note that contractions are often considered informal for academic writing.) Avoid the it’s/its confusion. It’s is a contraction for it is. It’s is never a possessive. Its is the possessive for it.

Sin #5: Dangling, Misplaced, and Limiting Modifiers 

Misplaced Modifier

A misplaced modifier is a word or phrase that mistakenly refers to the wrong word because of its mistaken placement. 

To fix a misplaced modifier, move it near or next to the word it modifies.


A truly talented guitarist, Richard helped his son enter a competition.    (Richard is not the talented guitarist)


Richard helped his son enter a competition, who was a truly talented guitarist.

A Limiting Modifier 

Limiting modifiers impose restrictions on the words they modify. The most common limiting modifiers are almost, only, hardly, nearly, just, and merely.

To prevent ambiguity, put the limiting modifier in front of the word it explains.

 Only I want him to marry me. (Nobody else wants him to marry me.)
 I only want him to marry me. (I want him to marry me, but I don’t need him to.)
 I want only him to marry me. (I want no one else but him to marry me.)
 I want him only to marry me. (Marrying me is the only thing I want him to do.)
 I want him to only marry me. (Marrying me is the only thing I want him to do.)
I want him to marry only me. (I want him to marry me and no one else.)
 I want him to marry me only. (I want him to marry me and no one else.)

See how many different meanings you can create with misplacements. Generally, limiting modifiers are corrected by placing them right before the word or phrase they modify.

A Dangling Modifier

Put simply, a dangling modifier is a modifier that doesn't clearly refer to anything in the sentence. It modifies an unintended subject instead.


Having smoked two packs a day for thirty years, we considered it was likely he had lung cancer.


Because he had smoked two packs a day for thirty years, we considered it was likely he had lung cancer.

Sin #6: Problems with Pronoun

A pronoun (I, me, he, she, herself, you, it, that, they, each, few, many, who, whoever, whose, someone, everybody, etc.) is a word that takes the place of a noun.  Ambiguous pronoun reference results in confusing sentences.

Unclear pronoun reference

Visitors are advised to carefully watch their belongings to make sure they won't go missing. 

(Unclear Antecedent: Who or what will go missing?)

The major difference in the generations of the past and of today is that they read less. (Which generations read less?)

If ambiguity occurs, use a noun:

The major difference in the generations of the past and of today is that today's generations read less. 

Vague Pronouns

The issue with vague pronouns can be seen with these three sentences.

Mike was always late for class. It drove his teacher angry.
Mike was always late for class. This drove his teacher angry.
Mike was always late for class, which drove his teacher angry.

The pronouns it, with, and which must refer back to a specific noun, and not an idea of a previous statement.

To correct this, you could combine the two parts into a single statement:

The fact that Mike was always late drove his teacher crazy. 
Mike’s habitual lateness drove his teacher crazy.

You could replace it with a noun:  

Mike was always late for class, and his habitual lateness drove his teacher crazy.

Agreement Error

A pronoun must agree in gender and number with its antecedent.  A common error is the use of the plural pronoun they to refer to a singular noun.

In the bible, they forbid prostitution.

They (plural) refers to bible (singular).


The bible forbids prostitution.

Sin #7: Committing Pet Peeves

A pet peeve is a minor annoyance that an individual may find particularly annoying, to a degree higher than others may find. 

Here are common writing pet peeves that seasoned writers, journalists, and bloggers always encounter.

  • Beginning sentences with 'so,' even when the person has not stated the reason something took place.
  • When writers attach hyphens to adverbs ending in -ly. (i.e. gleeful-ly, wonderful-ly, quick-ly
  • Irregardless - Irregardless is a word commonly used in place of regardless or irrespective, which has caused controversy since the early twentieth century, though the word appeared in print as early as 1795. Most dictionaries list it as nonstandard or incorrect usage, and recommend that "regardless" should be used instead.
  • Confusion between your/you’re and their/there/they’re. 
  • Two spaces after a period.


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Upvoted you

Thanks, don't have the time to read it all now but I am commenting for later!

Thank you. I'm going to use this guide, more often. Good post.


You're welcome! I learned a couple of things myself when writing this.

This is very informative. Thanks for all the effort you put into this and dig the "pet peeve" section.

Thanks for posting, but I really just upvoted because of the picture of that dog in the bin! :D


I did not expect anyone to be commenting on my old posts anymore, hahaha. Bless you, kareemaudi! :)