Tips for Writers

cat lighter

As my cat, Lily, will tell you, writing is not as difficult as many think. All it requires is reading good literature (texting emails do not count) and some practice.

Here is a blog for passing on my tips for writers. College students, aspiring authors, or just people who need to improve their written communication skills may appreciate these tips. Many of them come from my experiences as a college instructor and as a journalist.


Words People Get Confused All The Time

Words people get confused all the time. I am always on the lookout for articles about improving a person’s writing and communication ability. below is a website where I found one such article. I’ve added a few additional comments and edited some of the entries. I hope you find this information as useful as I did.

Abstain and In Absentia

People often confuse abstain, which means to not do something, with in absentia, which means not present. They often end up combining the two to write abstentia, which is a non-existent word.

Adverse and Averse

Averse means dislike or opposed to. Add a “d” and you get adverse, which means harmful, which is a reason to be opposed to something. People should be averse to the possible adverse effects of using the wrong spelling.

Advice and Advise

These words are often confused, but the difference is simple: advise is a verb and advice is a noun. I’d advise you to make note of this advice.

Affect and Effect

The difference between these two words is a simple matter of cause and effect. Affect is usually a verb, and it means to impact or change, and the effect is the result.

Allusion and Illusion

An allusion is a reference; an illusion is something imagined or deceptive.

Amused and Bemused

Bemused originally meant bewildered or confused, but not in an amusing sense. Bemused, however, sounds so much like amused and has been used mistakenly as a synonym so often that some dictionaries have come to accept this additional meaning.

Assurance and Insurance

Insurance is a means of guaranteeing protection or safety in case something happens, such as with car insurance. Assurance provides a guarantee that something will happen, like assuring an applicant he or she would be accepted to college.

Aural and Oral

These two have related meanings: aural refers to the ear or hearing, and oral to the mouth or speaking.

Baited and Bated

“With bated breath” means nervously or anxiously; bated is hardly ever used in any other context, and people often wrongly spell it with an “i.” Baited is the past principle of bait, which means to tease or put a trap.

Bear and Bare

Although they are short and simple words, they mean very different things — and each has more than one meaning. Bear can mean carry or endure, bear with someone, or even give birth. It’s also a furry animal. As an adjective, bare can mean uncovered or simple; as a verb it means to expose.

Bazaar and Bizarre

A bazaar is a market. A bizarre bazaar is a strange market indeed.

Berth and Birth

A berth is where a ship moors or a passenger sleeps. Birth can be used as a noun, adjective, and verb in relation to having offspring.

Biannual and Biennial

Biannual means twice a year, while biennial means every two years.

Bloc and Block

Bloc means a group of nations or people united by a common interest. Block has a number of meanings, including prevent, as in block a bloc from working together.

Canvas and Canvass

Canvas is something you paint on or sleep under. To canvass means to solicit votes or support. One “s” makes all the difference.

Capitol and Capital

Congress meets in the United States Capitol, one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, which is located in the United States capital, Washington, D.C. — and people often mix up the two.

Censor and Censure

Censor means to remove or suppress content, while censure means to criticize.

Compliment and Complement

Compliment is a verb and noun meaning praise. Complement means goes well with. “My compliments to the chef. The eggs complement the bacon.”

Comprise and Compose

These two words have different meanings depending on whether you are talking about the whole or the parts: “The pizza is composed of dough and cheese and comprises eight slices.” (Some people say “comprised of,” although the “of” is redundant.)

Continuous and Continual

Continual means with interruptions, continuous means without any interruptions.

Council and Counsel

Counsel means advice or the person giving it, whereas a council is a group of people that advises or decides on different matters.

Criteria and Criterion

The difference is simple — criteria is the plural of criterion, although the singular is falling out of use in everyday English.

Desert and Dessert

People often confuse desert, the sandy place, and dessert, the sweet treat. The difference is only an “s,” but with desert, the first syllable is stressed, and with dessert, the second.

Discreet and Discrete

Discreet means unobtrusive, low key, whereas discrete means separate, individual. You can have discreet and discrete conversations.

Elicit and Illicit

Elicit means to draw out or evoke. You wouldn’t elicit praise for something that was illicit, however, as that means illegal or unapproved.

Evoke and Invoke

To evoke means to summon or call to mind, while to invoke means to call upon, as in, to invoke a rule of law.

Disinterested and Uninterested

Disinterested means neutral or not having a stake in the outcome, whereas uninterested means you just don’t care.

Ensure and Insure

To ensure means to make sure something happens; to insure means to cover something with an insurance policy, which almost always means you don’t want it to happen.

Faint and Feint

As a verb, to faint means to pass out, while to feint means to fake something, such as an attack. As an adjective, faint means slight or imperceptible.

Fewer and Less

Fewer should be used for things that can be counted, while less should be used for things that can’t be counted or don’t have a plural. Fewer grammar mistakes mean less embarrassment.

Flaunt and Flout

To flaunt means to show off, whereas to flout means to openly disregard a rule. You could flout convention by flaunting your wealth.

Flounder and Founder

To flounder means to struggle whereas to founder means to sink. Of course, flounder is also a fish, and they’re pretty good swimmers, so that might help you remember the distinction between the two. However, founder can also mean someone who builds something up, which is almost the opposite of to sink.

Forbear and Forebear

Forbear is a verb meaning to refrain from something. Forebear is a noun meaning ancestor. You wouldn’t be reading this if your forebears had decided to forbear.

Infer and Imply

To infer means to draw a conclusion, while to imply means to suggest something. Put simply, infer relates to getting information and drawing a conclusion from it, while implying is suggesting information.


Many people use irregardless the same as regardless. However, there is no such word. The word is regardless, pure and simple.

Learn and Teach

People sometimes confuse learn and teach. Teachers teach, students learn.


Literally literally means actually, but people often use it when they mean figuratively, which is something entirely different. We’ve all heard statements like, “I literally laughed my head off,” or “I literally died with embarrassment.” These are incorrect.

Moral and Morale

A moral is a lesson you draw from something. Morals are your standards or ethics. Morale is your mental or emotional state. It’s probably good for your morale to be a moral person.

Peak and Peek and Pique

A peak is the top of something, such as a mountain. To peek means to look briefly or glance at. Pique can mean to stimulate interest, but it can also mean to upset somebody. We hope we have piqued your interest and not piqued you.

Perpetrate and Perpetuate

Perpetrate means to commit or carry out something, such as a crime. Perpetuate means to prolong the existence of, possibly forever.

Pored and Poured

To pore means to read or focus on something carefully. I could pour you a drink while you pore over this.

Premier and Premiere

As an adjective, premier means first or most prominent. As a noun, it can be a synonym for prime minister. A premiere is the first time a movie or play is shown. A premier could attend a premiere.

Prescribe and Proscribe

These look-alike words can have opposite meanings. To prescribe means to order or recommend something, as doctors might do. To proscribe means to forbid something, as dictators might do.

Principle and Principal

A principle is a fundamental idea or rule, such as a principle of justice. Principal as an adjective means the most important as in, the principal principle. Principal as a noun means the head of an organization or institution, such as a company or school. The principal should be principled.

Rain and Rein and Reign

Rain falls from the sky; a rein is used to control a horse; and a monarch reigns over a country.

Sank and Sunk

Sank is the past tense of sink, as in the ship sank, while sunk is the past participle, as in the ship has sunk.

Stationary and Stationery

Stationary means standing still, while stationery relates to paper and other office supplies.

Systematic and Systemic

Systematic relates to the process or procedure by which something happens, while systemic means ingrained in the system.


People often say “very unique,” but strictly speaking nothing is very unique. Something is either unique, which means one of a kind, or not — there aren’t degrees of uniqueness.

To, Two, and Too

“To” is a preposition show direction, such as going to the store. Two is a number. Too means also, such as “me too.”

Farther and Further

Farther means going a greater distance. Further means going into great detail.

There, Their, and They’re

There is used for location. The car is over there. Their is used to show possession, such as that is their car. They’re is a contraction for the words “they are.” By the way, there is no such word as there’re; it’s always there are.

Common Grammar Mistakes

Recently I came across two articles on common grammar mistakes. One was written by Morgan Greenwald for Best Life and a second one by Amanda Zantal-Wiener for HubSpot. Here are many of the mistakes they highlighted as well as a few I added.

“Its” vs. “It’s”

It’s is a contraction of “it is.” Its is a possessive adjective.

Incorrect: Give the cat it’s dinner.

Correct: Give the cat its dinner.

Correct: It’s the cat’s dinner.

Misplaced commas

One of the most common comma errors is a comma splice or using a comma to merge two complete clauses when there should be a semicolon or a period.

Incorrect: Beth ate dinner, later she saw a movie.

Correct: Beth ate dinner. Later she saw a movie.

“To” vs. “Too.”

To is a preposition used to indicate movement or action. Too is a synonym for also or an adverb meaning more than desired.

Incorrect: I ate to much so I need too walk around for a little bit.

Correct: I ate too much so I need to walk around for a little bit.

Incorrect: May I have some coffee to?

Correct: May I have some coffee too?

“Their,” “They’re,” and “There”

Their is a possessive adjective meaning people own something.

They’re is a contraction for they are.

There is an adverb indicating a specific place or position.

Incorrect: Their walking there bicycles to the store over they’re.

Correct: They’re walking their bicycles to the store over there.

“Irregardless” vs. “Regardless”

Irregardless is not an actual word. The correct word meaning without paying attention to the situation is regardless.

Incorrect: Irregardless of who pays, I don’t want to eat there. It’s too expensive.

Correct: Regardless of who pays, I don’t want to eat there. It’s too expensive.

“There’s” and “Here’s”

There’s and here’s are contractions of there is and here is; therefore they are used with singular nouns.

Incorrect: Here’s six new cars.

Correct: Here are six new cars.

Correct: Here’s a new car.

“Based off” vs. “Based on”

The correct phrase is based on, not based off. An easy way to remember this is a base is part of something that everything else in on.

Incorrect: Based off this data, that computer is the better deal.

Correct: Based on this data, that computer is the better deal.

“Your” vs. “You’re”

You’re is a contraction of you are. Your is a possessive pronoun.

Incorrect: Your to take this to you’re teacher.

Correct: You’re to take this to your teacher.

Shortening decades properly

The correct way to shorten decades is to place the apostrophe before the number, not afterwards.

Incorrect: I lived in Asia in the 90s.

Incorrect: I lived in Asia in the 90’s.

Correct: I lived in Asia in the ‘90s.

“That” vs. “Which”

If you can remove a clause from the sentence with changing the meaning of the sentence, then which is the word to use. If it changes the meaning of the sentence, then use that.

Incorrect: For classes which have a lab component, you must pay an extra fee.

Correct: For classes that have a lab component, you must pay an extra fee.

Incorrect: The blue pickup truck, that has automatic transmission, is a great deal.

Correct: The blue pickup truck, which has automatic transmission, is a great deal.

“All Right” vs. “Alright”

The correct spelling is all right. Alright is not grammatically correct.

Incorrect: Don’t worry about it. It’s alright.

Correct: Don’t worry about it. It’s all right.

“Already” vs. “All Ready”

Already is an adverb meaning prior to a specified time or as early as now. All ready means completely prepared.

Incorrect: We all ready delivered the flowers so the stage is already for the presentation.

Correct: We already delivered the flowers so the stage is all ready for the presentation.

“Affect” vs. “Effect”

Affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

Incorrect: The affects of this new software effects the energy output of the electrical system.

Correct: The effects of the new software affects the energy output of the electrical system.

“Lie” vs. “Lay”

Lay requires a direct object while lie does not. An easy way to remember them: pLAce – because lay involves placing something, and recLIne – because lie involves reclining.

Incorrect: I will lie a pillow on the sofa so that I can lay on it.

Correct: I will lay a pillow on the sofa so that I can lie on it.

“Let’s” vs. “Lets”

Let’s is a contraction of let us, and used in commands and suggestions. Lets is the present tense of the verb let, meaning “to allow.”

Incorrect: If my boss let’s me take off work, lets go to the ball game.

Correct: If my boss lets me take off work, let’s go to the ball game.

“Fewer” vs. “Less”

Fewer is used when items can be counted, such as apples and books. Less is used with singular mass nouns, things that cannot be counted, such as hair and sugar. One easy way to remember is fewer is usually used with nouns that have a plural form by adding “s” or changing letters in the word.

Incorrect: Because I had fewer money, I bought less snacks for the trip.

Correct: Because I had less money, I bought fewer snacks for the trip.

“Many” vs. “Much”

The same rules apply to many and much as with fewer and less. Many is usually used with things that can be counted while much is usually used with thing that cannot be counted.

Incorrect: How many food does it take to feed that much dogs?

Correct: How much food does it take to feed that many dogs?

Add a comma after a state name

When writing the name of a city followed by the state, there should be a comma before and after the state name.

Incorrect: The city of Orlando, Florida has many tourist attractions.

Correct: The city of Orlando, Florida, has many tourist attractions.

“Since” vs. “Because”

Since has two meanings. One is it refers to the cause of an effect. The second is it refers to the time some action began. Because refers only to the cause of an effect or a reason for doing an action.

“Then” vs. “Than”

Than is used to compare two things, while then refers to when an action takes place.

Incorrect: I’ll check the price of a room at the Hyatt; than I’ll see if it’s more expensive then the Marriott.

Correct: I’ll check the price of a room at the Hyatt; then I’ll see if it’s more expensive than the Marriott.

En Dashes vs. Em Dashes

The en dash—or hyphen—has only two uses: to connect some compound words and to separate numbers. For other uses, such as a break in a sentence, use the em dash.

Incorrect: I’ll mow the lawn today-if I can’t find the time, I’ll have my 12—year—old nephew do it.

Correct: I’ll mow the lawn today—if I can’t find the time, I’ll have my 12-year-old nephew do it.

Forgetting an Apostrophe

With an apostrophe, a noun becomes a possessive; but without one, it’s just a plural form of the noun.

Incorrect: This is Bobs book and that one is Shirleys.

Correct: This is Bob’s book and that one is Shirley’s.

i.e. vs. e.g.

These two abbreviations do not mean the same thing. First, “i.e.” means “that is” or “in other words.” But “e.g.” means “for example.”

Who vs. That

Who is for a person, and that is for a thing.

Incorrect: Bob is the person that sits at that desk.

Correct: Bob is the person who sits at that desk.

Who vs. Whom vs. Whose vs. Who’s

Who is a pronoun identifying a person.

Whom is also a pronoun identifying a person, but usually used with a preposition such as to or from.

Whose is used to assign ownership, as in whose is it.

Who’s is a contraction of who is.

Examples:  Who won the tennis match?

To whom do you want these flowers delivered?

Whose car is the blue one?

Who’s bringing the beer for the party?

Alot vs. A Lot vs. Allot

First, alot is not a word. If you wish to say many things or much of something, the words are a lot. The word allot means to set aside a certain amount of money.

Incorrect: We have alot of apples at home.

Correct: We have a lot of apples at home.

Correct: We will allot ourselves a $25.00 limit on gifts for the office.

Assure vs. Insure vs. Ensure

To assure is to promise or say something with confidence.

To ensure is to make certain.

To insure is to protect against risk by paying an insurance company.

Examples:  I can assure you she’s coming to the party.

Please ensure there is coffee and tea for our guests.

I need to insure my home and car against natural disasters.

Farther vs. Further

Farther is used when referring to physical distances, while further is used when referring to figurative or nonphysical distances.

Incorrect: Washington D.C. is further away from New York than Philadelphia.

Correct: Washington D.C. is farther away from New York than Philadelphia.

Incorrect: Have you made any farther progress towards your degree?

Correct: Have you made any further progress towards your degree?

NOTE: Further is preferred in British English in all cases.

Between vs. Among

The word between is used when referring to two things clearly separated, while the word among is used when referring things that part of a group or mass of objects.

Incorrect: You need to choose among the black cat or the orange one between all of the cats here.

Correct: You need to choose between the black cat or the orange one among all of the cats here.

70 Words and Phrases You’re Probably Using Wrong

Several years ago, I came across this webpage on the internet. I don’t remember where, but I do know these are common mistakes many writers make. I hope you will find this advice as useful as I have.

For all intents and purposes, not for all intensive purposes

A dog eat dog world, not a doggy dog world

All in all, not All and all

Day and age, not day in age

Buck naked, not butt naked 

All for naught, not all for not

A whole different story, or another story, not a whole nother story

Ad nauseum, not At nauseum

Etcetera, not excetera

Safe deposit box, not safety deposit box

Supposedly, not supposably 

Undoubtedly or indubitably, not undoubtabl

Regardless, not irregardless

Should have, not should of

Entitled – one inherently deserving of special treatment, titled as in the title of a book. 

Infamous – famous for a negative reason, for doing bad things. George Washington was famous. Bonnie and Clyde were infamous.

Insure – compensate for damages. Ensure – to make sure.

Affect versus Effect
Affect is a verb that means to have an influence on. Effect is a noun that refers to the influence. You would not use ‘affective’ to describe someone who gets things done. The word ‘affective’ is used to when describing moods, and especially when describing mood disorders. For example, ‘He has an affective disorder. We aren’t yet sure if it’s depression or anxiety.’

Poisonous versus Venomous
Poisonous refers to something that is toxic if you eat it. Venomous describes something that is poisonous if it bites you. Snakes can be venomous; they cannot be poisonous.

Bemused – bewildered or confused, does not mean amused

Infer versus Imply. Infer is on the part of the listener. Imply is on the part of the speaker.

Between versus Among. Between deals with two people or things. Among deals with three or more people or things.

Lay versus Lie
A person does not lay down. A person may lay down a thing. You lay down your book. You lay down the law. Hens lay eggs. If you’re talking about a person lying down in the past tense, then the past tense is lay. If you’re talking about what you did last night, then you laid down. This is not to be confused with the past tense of the word ‘lie,’ when used to refer to a non-truth, in which case the past tense is ‘lied’ as in, ‘He told a lie. Therefore, he lied.’

Sit versus Set
If you’re talking about plunking your bottom in a chair, you want to use the word ‘sit.’ If you’re talking about placing an object, it’s ‘set.’

Principal versus Principle
The trick to keeping these two straight is to use ‘principal’ in reference to a person and ‘principle’ in reference to a standard, rule, or belief. Remember this: There’s a ‘pal’ in ‘principal,’ especially when the principal in question replaces detention with meditation.

Capitol versus Capital
Capitol refers to a building, specifically, the building where legislators meet. The term ‘Capitol Hill’ refers not to that Washington DC is the capital of our nation, but to the neighborhood that houses the building where Congress meets. Capital is pretty much every other use. It refers to the most important city or the governmental seat of a country, county, state, or other region. It refers to an upper-case letter. And it refers to investment funds.

Shone versus Shown
Shown is the past participle of the word ‘show,’ which is a verb meaning to ‘exhibit’ or ‘present.’ Shone is the past and past participle of the word ‘shine,’ which is a verb meaning ‘to emit light.’

Shone versus Shined
If ‘shone’ is the past tense of ‘shined,’ then why doesn’t anyone say ‘I had my shoes shone yesterday’? The answer is that in modern writing, it’s considered archaic (and therefore, wrong) to use the word ‘shone’ to refer to having shined anything so mundane as shoes, silverware, or windows. That said, it’s perfectly acceptable in modern writing to say that after you shined your shoes, your silverware, or your windows, they shone brightly.

Discreet versus Discrete
Discrete means individual, separate, or distinct. Discreet means careful, cautious, or evidencing good judgement. To remember the difference, think about one ‘e’ versus two. Use one ‘e’ to refer to something singular. Use an extra ‘e’ to show extra care.

Emigrate versus Immigrate
When you leave your country to permanently live in another, you emigrate. When you arrive in another country to live permanently, you immigrate.

Elicit versus Illicit
Elicit means to draw forth or to coax out. Illicit means improper. To remember which is which, think of the ‘e’ in ‘elicit’ as standing for the ‘e’ in ‘exit.’ If you think there’s something exciting about things that are illicit, consider that ‘illicit’ contains the root, ill.

Continuous versus Continual
Continuous refers to something that has no end, which is to say that if something continues ad infinitum, it is continuous. Continual refers to something that stops and starts. If you’re on a continuous search for connection, you might be lonely. If your search for connection is continual, then you might be a serial dater.

Further versus Farther
Farther refers to actual physical distance, a literal distance, as in ‘My car’s making a funny noise. How much farther is it to the service station?’ Further refers to a figurative distance, as in ‘How much further can this car go before I have to sell it for scrap metal?’

Bring versus Take
You bring things here. You take them there.

Home and Hone
Hone is always a verb. It means to sharpen or make more acute. For example, you can ‘hone’ a skill. Home is a noun also used sometimes as a verb to mean to move in toward a destination or target with accuracy. For example, you can ‘home in on that delicious smell and realize it’s freshly baked cookies.’  Although you might think that you can ‘hone in’ on a target, the proper word is ‘home.’ Remember if you need to add ‘in’ or ‘in on’ after the verb, you probably should be using ‘home.’ If not, then it’s ‘hone.’

Fleshing out versus Flushing out
If you’re talking about adding substance to something, like writing an article you’ve merely outlined, then it’s ‘fleshing out,’ as in adding flesh to bones. If you’re talking about finding something that’s not easily visible, then it’s ‘flushing out’ as in ‘flushing out the enemy.’

Viable versus Feasible
Viable and feasible are often, albeit incorrectly, used interchangeably. However, viable refers to whether something is capable of surviving. Feasible refers to whether an action is possible. Accordingly, a viable candidate must have a feasible plan.

Fewer versus Less
Fewer refers to items that you can actually count, like hours or dollars. Less refers to generalities, like time or money.

Perpetrate versus Perpetuate
To perpetrate something is to commit it. To perpetuate something is to continue it. If you perpetrate a crime, you perpetuate criminality in society.

Perquisite versus Prerequisite
Perquisite usually means an extra allowance or privilege. Prerequisite means something that’s required. To remember the difference, think of the film titled The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The ‘perks’ in the title are short for ‘perquisites.’

Pored versus Poured
When you’re talking about studying something intently, use ‘pored,’ as opposed to ‘poured.’ Pouring refers to what you do with a liquid. To help you remember, think of the pores of your skin. To see them, you must ‘pore’ over your face in the mirror.

Prescribe versus Proscribe
To prescribe something is to command or recommend it. While you can’t prescribe a person, you can proscribe a person or a thing. To proscribe someone or something is to outlaw him, her, or it.

Regretful versus Regrettable
Regretful means filled with regret. Regrettable means deplorable or unfortunate. Accordingly, one would be regretful over one’s regrettable actions.

Reluctant versus Reticent
These two words have to do with being less than willing to do something. However, reluctant describes unwillingness in general, whereas reticent is used only in reference to speaking. When one is reticent, it means he is reluctant to share his thoughts.

Sensual versus Sensuous
Both words refer to the senses. Sensuous refers to things that relate to the senses or even appeal to the senses. For example, a hand cream can be described as sensuous. Sensual also refers to things that appeal to the senses, but the connotation is erotic. For example, the way one applies their hand cream may be sensual. If you want to describe the lines of a painting, you might use the word ‘sensuous.’ To remember the difference, think of the word ‘sexual,’ which is more similar in spelling to ‘sensual’ than ‘sensuous.’

Appraise versus Apprise
To appraise is to assess the value of something. The word appraise is often used in connection with real estate sales. To apprise is to teach or inform. We at Reader’s Digest always seek to apprise you of what you want and need to know.

Assent versus Ascent
To assent is a verb that means to agree.
Ascent is a noun that refers to a climb, as in ‘the first ascent of Mt. Everest,’ or a liftoff, as in ‘the ascent of the balloon.’

Canvas versus Canvass
Canvas is a type of fabric that tends to be tough and strong.
Canvass is a verb that means to try to ascertain people’s opinions.

Illusion versus Allusion
An illusion is a misleading image or impression, such as an optical illusion. An allusion is a reference to something else, such as a literary allusion.

Defuse versus Diffuse
Defuse is a verb that means to render a bomb non-explosive (by removing the fuse, or otherwise). It can also refer to rendering a situation less dangerous. Diffuse is a verb that means to disperse over a wide area. Diffuse can also be used as an adjective that describes something that is not concentrated (in other words, something that might have been diffused). In the latter case, the word is pronounced with a soft s-sound, like the word ‘so,’ as opposed to a hard s-sound like the word ‘use’

Disassemble versus Dissemble
Disassemble is a verb that means to take something apart. Dissemble is a verb that means to lie.

Disburse versus Disperse
Both disburse and disperse are verbs that involve distributing things. But: disburse means to give or hand over money or funds. Disperse is a verb that means to scatter, and it has nothing to do with money or funds.

Disinterested versus Uninterested
Being disinterested doesn’t mean you’re not interested in something, but rather that you have no bias about it (as in, no personal stake). By contrast, being uninterested means you’re not interested or intrigued by something. If you think your spouse has lost interest, then you’re worried he or she is uninterested (not disinterested).

Eminent versus Imminent
Eminent describes something or someone prominent. Imminent describes something that is about to happen.

Emoticon versus Emoji
Both emoticons and emojis are graphical expressions used in electronic communication. An emoticon is a typographic display intended to suggest a facial expression. For example, the emoticon for a winky-face is a semi-colon followed by a right-parenthesis. An emoji is an actual visual image, and it need not be of a face. Rather, it can be virtually anything.

Remodeling versus Renovating versus Restoring
Remodeling and restoring are terms of art to architects and interior designers, and they mean different things: Remodeling means changing the structure of a space. For example, if you build a second floor on a ranch house, you are remodeling it. Renovating refers to significantly changing a space without changing its structure. For example, if you remove your bathroom fixtures and replace them with new ones, you are renovating the bathroom. If you start moving walls or adding new windows, then you’re remodeling. Restoring means returning a space to its original character or use. For example, removing vinyl siding and repainting the original wood siding of a house is a restoration project.

…versus Refurbishing versus Redecorating
The term refurbishing is a form of renovating. It refers to rebuilding or replenishing with new material. You can refurbish your wood floors as part of a renovation project. Redecorating means changing the character or scheme of a space’s decor. Redecorating is the least structural of all of the aforementioned ‘R’ terms. You can redecorate by bringing in a new sofa or hanging new posters on the wall. Remodeling, renovating, restoring, and refurbishing can involve redecorating.

Judicial versus Judicious
Judicial means ‘connected with a court of law.’ Judicious means ‘wise.’ Here’s a way to remember the difference: Not all judicial decisions are judicious.

Libel versus Slander
Both libel and slander are forms of defamation, which is the making of a statement about someone that is both false and derogatory. Slander is any oral publication of a defamatory statement. Libel is a written publication of a defamatory statement.

Alibi versus Excuse
As a noun, ‘alibi’ refers to proof you were elsewhere when something happened. When someone provides an alibi for you, they are offering that proof. As a noun, ‘excuse’ refers to any explanation of your behavior, it being understood that by offering an excuse, you are essentially admitting to the behavior.

Patent versus Copyright versus Trademark
Created something you think is awesome and you want to make sure you get the credit? If it’s an original invention of some kind, then you’ll want to get a patent. If it’s something you wrote that expresses an idea in a unique way, such as a work of fiction, you’ll want to think about registering the copyright. If it’s a slogan or logo that identifies a product, you’re talking about a trademark.

Your versus You’re
You’re is a contraction of two words: you and are. ‘Your’ is a possessive form of the pronoun, you. If something belongs to you, it is yours. If you write ‘you’re,’ then you should be able to substitute ‘you are’ in its place.

Their versus They’re
They’re is a contraction of two words: they and are. ‘Their’ is a possessive form of the pronoun, they. If they own it, it is theirs. If it belongs to them, it is also theirs. If you write ‘they’re,’ then you should be able to substitute ‘they are’ in its place.

They’re versus There
There refers to a place that is not here. If you are referring to a place that is not here, then that calls for the use of the word, ‘there.’ If you are using this word to refer to ‘they are’ or the possessive form of the pronoun ‘they,’ then you do not want to use this word.

It’s versus its
It’s is a contraction of two words: it and is. ‘Its’ is the possessive form of it. Here’s a rule you can use to remember the difference: Just because it’s possessive, doesn’t mean its spelling must include an apostrophe.

Nauseous versus Nauseated
Believe it or not, ‘nauseous’ actually doesn’t mean feeling sick to your stomach or afflicted by nausea—that’s nauseated. Technically speaking, every time you say ‘I’m nauseous,’ you’re saying that you cause or inflict nausea, as that’s the actual meaning of ‘nauseous.’ A way to use this word correctly would be, ‘I knew that the milk was rotten when I got a whiff of the nauseous smell coming from the carton.’ Smelling this nauseous rotten milk probably made you feel nauseated. ‘Nauseous’ has been used to mean ‘nauseated’ for so long, however, that many a dictionary editor has come to accept it as another meaning for the word.

Everyday versus Every Day
If you do something seven days a week, you do it every day. ‘Day’ is a noun, and ‘every’ is the adjective that modifies it—two different words. Meanwhile, everyday, as a single word, is an adjective that means commonplace or routine. So, no, you do not brush your teeth everyday. That just doesn’t make sense.

Chronic versus Severe
These two terms are easily confused because both describe extreme medical conditions—but they describe different kinds of medical conditions. Though both severe and chronic conditions are not contagious, ‘severe’ just refers to more extreme, painful versions of common maladies. Chronic conditions must last at least three months, and often last a person’s entire life. Diabetes, asthma, HIV, and cancer are chronic conditions.

Intro Please
Getting started is one of the most difficult tasks for every writer. Yes, there are times when the words flow from your mind to the paper. However, usually, finding a good beginning is tough.

There are several tricks to writing a good introduction. For articles, the key is your audience and getting them interested. For example, starting with “High-density, polymetric, phase-change materials may provide answers to maintaining consisted temperature control for construction projects,” might work for industrial engineers and chemists. However, for the general public, they are completely confused and moving onto the next article. But with a starting sentence such as “Science has discovered the ice cube may help heat your home,” may gain their interest. It’s not logical, but people are now interested. Another example is “Every military unit has a mascot; and each mascot has a story.” It’s obvious what the article is about, but it doesn’t sound that interesting. However, “He’s parachuted behind enemy lines, is a real attraction to the ladies, and stands only 30 inches tall. He’s Mach Atlas, the heroic mascot of Marine Corps Aviation Squadron ###.” The key is to gain the readers’ interest, not introduce the article.

A personal suggestion, don’t start article with rhetorical questions. “Do you suffer from bad breath? Then here is the answer.” A better introduction might be “When bad breath starts to knock buzzards on a garbage truck unconscious, it’s time to take action.”

Another popular literary trick is called the Hemingway Introduction. This is where the writer describes the scene, then brings the reader into the action with the rest of the article. This works well for narratives, but rarely for anything else. For example, “Even before the sun rises, Mr. Smith walks down the creaky pier to his 22-foot wooden boat to start a voyage that will take him miles out to sea in search of one of nature’s largest creatures—a whale. He remembers the years he spent, since he was a high school student, searching the waters off of this island for whales, which would bring him a rich payday. He still searches the same waters for the same creatures, only now it is to provide passengers on his vessel the opportunity to see one of these majestic creatures in the wild.” (550 spaces) Yes, this is a good introduction. However a good variation might be “Mr. Smith used to make his living hunting whales for their oil. Now he makes his living hunting them for tourists.” (117 spaces) Remember, space is limited in print and many publications simply don’t have the room for a lot of description.

A good introduction is just as important for novels. At a recent conference, Chuck Sambuchino, a writer for Writer’s Digest, pointed out many agents will not go beyond the first page of a novel, unless it interests them. These agents believe the first page should contain tension, a problem, conflict, or trouble. The key is to make the reader interested in what is happening. Too many writers start with too much description of back story before introducing the events of the novel. One novel I recently read had a description of a murder in the first paragraph. Then the author introduced the back story of the main characters. Several pages later, he went back to the homicide in the first paragraph. At another conference, all of the editors and agents wanted only the first three pages of the novel. Their point of view, if they weren’t interested in the story by the third page, then their readers wouldn’t be either.

So the question now becomes how to improve your introductions. One of the best suggestions is one many have heard before—read. Read the books and articles you like and take note of their introductions. See what engaged your interest. Also, look at books and articles you think are poorly written. You can learn from others’ mistakes. Above all, think of your audience. Your goal is to get them as excited about the subject of your writing as you are. So think—what got you excited about the subject.

14 thoughts on “Tips for Writers

  1. Nice post. I don’t think I understood the difference between emoticon and emoji. I thought they were synonymous terms. Lately, I’ve been enjoying discovering new blogs by finding my own posts in Reader and then seeing similar posts suggested. Your name seems to suggest you are a mystery writer too. So am I. I will hop over to your site.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the cat. Can you rearrange the page so it will be easier to search for certain topics. The information is very useful, but it’s hard to find exactly what I am looking for.

    Liked by 1 person

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