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Common Copywriting Errors That Make Readers Cringe

We all have that one friend who likes to correct our grammar at every opportunity. While this type of input may not be welcome on our Instagram posts (it’s just a meme, Sheldon), when it comes to your website, blog posts and other marketing materials, you need a friend like Sheldon.

Today, I will be your Sheldon.

Prospective customers may not pat you on the back for using proper grammar and style, but errors in copywriting could be a dealbreaker. Poor writing mechanics make your company appear unprofessional, sloppy or as if you just don’t care. In contrast, well-written B2B marketing materials give readers confidence that you are a professional brand that pays attention to detail.

Let’s review some of the most flagrant copywriting errors that could make your readers run for the hills.

Not Capitalizing Forms of Be in Headlines

I’ve seen this mistake even among professional copywriters. These little words – be, is, are, am, was and were – are tricky because they are short, and short words are often lowercased in headlines. Many two or three letter words are articles (a, the) or conjunctions (and, but, or), and yes, these words are lowercased. However, all forms of be are verbs, and verbs are always capitalized in headlines, according to every style guide.

Capitalize forms of be in headlines. Every time.

Read more: 5 traits strong copywriters share.

Inserting Two Spaces After Periods

This used to be standard practice, but now it isn’t. By today’s guidelines, only one space should be inserted after a period (or exclamation point or question mark) when ending a sentence. Hitting the space bar twice after a period is a habit you need to break if you want to appear current. Practice, it’ll come. 

Inconsistent Style

Inconsistency is a broad topic and can cover a lot of ground. There are many different style guides, including journalistic stalwarts like AP Stylebook or Chicago Manual of Style – or your own organization’s guide. Whichever style you choose, be consistent. If you use the Oxford comma, use it every time. If you use sentence case for subheads, use them every time.

It’s actually very easy to fall into the trap of inconsistency, which is why you need to go back and review your work after you’ve completed your first draft. Or better yet, have an editor review it. It’s easy to become blind to your own inconsistencies when you’re immersed in the copywriting process, so it’s important to take a step back, then read it through again.

Inconsistent Tone

Since we’re on the topic of inconsistency, make sure you maintain a consistent tone of voice throughout whatever piece you’re writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re striking a professional, corporate tone or going for a more approachable, conversational vibe – make sure your writing sounds like it’s coming from the same person. Switching tone throughout the piece confuses your readers and makes them question your brand identity.

Read more: 4 steps to engaging content.

Confusing Hyphens for Dashes

This is a hyphen: – . This is a dash – . To the naked eye, there’s maybe less than a millimeter of difference between them, but the way they are used in grammar is entirely different. A hyphen should be used to join two or more words, forming a compound word or phrase:

  • Well-bred
  • Mother-in-law
  • 3-year-old

A dash, on the other hand, is used to separate words or phrases in a sentence to add emphasis or set apart an interruptive thought:

  • There’s only one way to do it – my way!
  • Our cameras give photos impeccable clarity – even in poor conditions.
  • Her paper is the best I’ve ever read – and I’ve read hundreds – among students her age.

Hyphens do not have spaces before and after they appear, while dashes do.

Many word processing programs like Microsoft Word will automatically turn your hyphen into a dash in the appropriate places, but if it doesn’t, it’s on you to figure out how to apply the dash. On a Mac, hit the Option + minus keys to insert a dash. On a PC, hit the Ctrl + minus keys. You’re welcome!

Using Gender-biased Words

Throughout the years, language has always evolved. And while it may have once been standard to use “he” when referring to a non-specified person or “mankind” when discussing all of humanity, doing so now is a dated practice.

There are alternatives for nearly every gender-biased word, so shift your writing to use inclusive language. This list from The Writing Cooperative is a good place to start for ideas.

Read more: Quick tips to create killer b2b website copy.

Crazy Long Sentences

You know the situation – you’re reading a sentence when mid-way through you catch yourself thinking, wait, what did they say? Even if they are grammatically correct, long sentences are harder to read. Shorter sentences are easier to understand and will keep a reader’s attention better than a long sentence.

There’s no hard and fast rule, but if you find a sentence is pushing onto more than two lines, ask yourself if there’s a way to break it up. Usually, there is.

Poor Semicolon Use

The semicolon is the enigma of the punctuation world. Is it a period, is it a comma, is it a little of both? Most people are confused or intimidated by them, and many writers use them improperly. For these reasons, I encourage you to just say no to semicolons.

Semicolons may find their place in an academic journal, a novel or when typing out a winking smiley face, but copywriting is a different animal. The goal of the copywriter is to persuade the reader to like you, trust you, and eventually, buy what you’re selling. Don’t confuse your audience with this mysterious little character. In most all cases, a semicolon can be replaced with another punctuation mark. Got it? 😉

Using the Wrong Word

When writing, many people confuse words that are homophones. These are words that sound the same when spoken but are spelled differently and have entirely different meanings. Confusing homophones could just be the one mistake that makes readers cringe the most.

Here are some of the most common errors we see, along with proper usage in a sentence:

  • Accept / except – You should always accept the consequences, except when it’s not your fault.
  • There / they’re / theirThey’re sitting with their dog over there.
  • To / too – When you go to the store for ice cream, will you get chips, too?
  • Lose / loose – After you lose weight, your pants will be loose.

Certainly, there are more. When in doubt, consult a dictionary, then memorize the proper spelling and use of these words.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little lesson. Just remember that when writing on behalf of your B2B brand, it’s okay to be a Sheldon.

Need help with your B2B website copywriting or content marketing? Contact us today and let us be your Sheldon.
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