Writing has always been a passion of mine—from scribbling pretend news stories when I was a child to penning blog posts and bylines as a communications professional. As in sports or music, practice makes perfect.
But we’re all human, so mistakes can certainly occur, especially in this digital age, when it seems our keyboards are moving faster than the news cycles. The race to quickly publish is heated, but before it’s distributed, writing needs thorough proofreading. After all, content is currency in public relations, and any grammar flops can disgrace circulated content almost faster than pushing it live.
The Associated Press Stylebook is a right-hand guide for all writers and answers many questions about proper prose. Following are some common writing pitfalls, along with the AP Stylebook’s rules to help keep them straight.
1. Compound modifiers. A compound modifier is when two or more words that express a single concept precede a noun. Use a hyphen to link all the words in the compound, except the adverb very and any adverb ending in -ly. The high-performing dashboard displays results instantaneously. The happy-go-lucky boy did what he wanted this afternoon. The first-of-its-kind technology creates easy-to-use solutions.
2. En dashes vs. em dashes. An en dash, which is the length of an n and a little longer than a hyphen, denotes periods of time that might otherwise use to. January–March 2013; 9 a.m.–5 p.m. An em dash, which is the width of an m, replaces commas, semicolons, or colons and represents abrupt changes in thoughts. The teacher—a really good instructor—designed an innovative lesson plan. (Editor’s note: The inclusion or omission of spaces before and after the em dash vary according to in-house style rules or personal preference.)
3. Who vs. whom. Who is the pronoun used for references to human beings and animals with names, and it is generally the grammatical subject of sentences, clauses, or phrases. Who is coming to the party? The man who received the tickets was my friend. Whom is used when someone is the object of a verb or preposition. With whom do you wish to speak? The girl to whom the car was given drove it to the store.
4. More than vs. over. More than is preferred with numerals; over is preferred with spatial relationships. He made more than $100 in sales. She jumped over the hole.
5. That vs. which. Use that for essential clauses, important to the meaning of sentences, and without commas. I remember the day that I started working at InkHouse. Use which for non-essential clauses, and with commas. The company, which won previous awards, is developing a niche product.
A version of this article first appeared on InkHouse.net. This article has previously run on Ragan.com.