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Writers: Four simple mistakes that ruin your reader’s trust (by Guest blogger Roz Morris)


Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, a mistake-free manuscript looks professional. It gives the reader confidence that they are in good hands. This is so important that publishers employ people specifically to worm out embarrassing errors so that the reader trusts what is on the page. I used to be one of them. But as we increasingly do it all ourselves, some howlers are getting through.

And not just typos. In self-published books, on blog posts, newsletters – and indeed query letters – there are four mistakes I see often that can seriously undermine the writer’s credibility:

Names are misspelt

The other day I came across a post on a blog I respect that referred to the heroine of the Tomb Raider game as ‘Lora Croft’. In editing circles, it’s a golden rule that if you use a name, you check it is spelled correctly. Then you check that when you typed it your fingers did what your brain wanted. ‘Lora Croft’ may have been an innocent typo but it makes the writer look like a twit.

Its and it’s are confused

Its means ‘belonging to it’.

It’s is short for ‘it is’.

If you’re still confused, ask yourself if you mean ‘it is’. If you don’t, it’s probably the other one. See how easy it’s?

There and their

If what you mean is ‘where’, the word you want is ‘there’. You may also use it without any meaning of its own in a sentence such as ‘if I see this mistake again there will be blood’. If you mean ‘belonging to them’, you need ‘their’. So there.

Reigns and reins

A horse has reins. A monarch reigns. You can have a reign of terror, but daily I see: ‘so-and-so took over the reigns of power’. This is wrong. They are speaking figuratively of leather straps that steer – and so the correct word is ‘reins’. I also see ‘we had to reign in our spending’. That refers to an act of braking – which is done with a rein. Nay, nay, nay.

These mistakes aren’t just irritating, like typos; they undermine your authority. Don’t lose readers by making them distrust what you write.


Roz Morris



Roz Morris is an editor, book doctor, bestselling ghostwriter. Now she’s coming out from under the sheet with novels of her own. She blogs, slightly less bossily, at http://www.nailyournovel.com, tweets as @dirtywhitecandy and is the author of Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.

Find her book on Amazon.com http://ht.ly/3MWBC, outside the US from Lulu http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/nail-your-novel/5301103 and on the Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Nail-Your-Novel-Confidence-ebook/dp/B004LROOEQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=A7B2F8DUJ88VZ&s=books&qid=1296691437&sr=1-2

Filed under: authors, Editing, Editors, getting it done, Writers, writing tips, , , , , ,

12 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    Amen to all those. I’m always surprised that people don’t take the time to get proper names right. I’m also surprised how many of these we do unconsciously. Proofreading is a must.

  2. I’m so glad someone has blogged about this – the its v. it’s thing drives me insane. You see it all the time! There and their is only just in second place. I have to stop myself commenting on blog posts and pointing out the typos…

  3. Simon L. says:

    The reign thing bugs me EVERY TIME! It makes me want to reach for my riding crop.

    Then, of course, I realize I don’t own a riding crop, so I just sit their fuming silently. Its awkward.

    Thanks for the quick summary, Ros!

  4. rozmorris says:

    Once I started writing that post, I realised I could have gone on and on! Under way written as one word, anyone? I can’t even bear to type it.

    Simon, your urge to use a riding crop does you credit.

  5. “Your” and “you’re” is the one that drives me crazy. I see this a lot on Facebook. Sure, people are relaxed but to me it’s lazy writing and they aren’t thinking about if they mean “you are.”

    Makes me want to grab that riding crop Simon mentioned!

  6. Chazz says:

    Riding crops paired with grammar rules? You are such a passionate bunch! I wasn’t going to post a nod to Valentine’s Day and now I see the connection.

    Thanks again for a great post, Roz. How’s the Nail Your Novel launch coming?

    • rozmorris says:

      Hi Chazz – I’m so pleased to see other people care about proofing! Thank for letting me wield the cudgel.
      The launch is very exciting – I’ve had overwhelming support from people with reviews, tweets, mentions. I feel like it’s my book’s birthday!

  7. alberta ross says:

    Well I do know all these rules and I do try and avoid them. My ‘bestest’ friend edits much of what I write for the public. However, a small plea for some of us who have trouble with ‘seeing’ our mistakes – I have dyspraxia with a small amount of dyslexia thrown in, the first has affected my ability to ‘see’ these mistakes on the page, as well as affecting my puctuation and spelling – dont frown and say ‘excuses excuses’!! I can hear you all – on Facebook and Twitter and in comments I often get things wrong and even though I check and check I am sure many errors slip through with triumphant ‘yays’!
    Some writers are lazy, some just haven’t had the education, some do not even care and some of us just can’t. (This comment has now taken me 10 mins to write – maybe I have made mistakes – I hope not but I dont know)

    • rozmorris says:

      Interesting point, Alberta! Some of us don’t spot mistakes as easily as others do, you’re right. But now most of us are putting out work without it being seen by another pair of eyes, the problem is more rife. People may forgive the odd slip in a casual comment, but in a document that may carry your reputation it pays to find someone to proof it for you.

      • alberta ross says:

        I do work my friend hard! -she misses some typos and hates herself for it – but without her I wouldn’t have managed any publication at all – it’s mainly on these off the cuff comments and posts I get into trouble. I do see they must be corrected and I do care about the language – I want to know my mistakes – it was only a little plea – thoughts of riding crops and cudgels bit scary! good blog tho’

  8. Eileen Schuh says:

    People want to put an apostrophe in its, because it’s possessive–like “the man’s house” or “the dog’s bone”. To understand why you shouldn’t put that apostrophe in, realize that “its” is the gender-neutral form of “his”, “hers”, “mine”, and “yours”–and none of those words have an apostrophe.

    • rozmorris says:

      Someone once told me that the possessive apostrophe s came originally from a shortening – eg ‘John’s house’ was ‘John, his house’ (no allowance was made for Jane, but English linguistic gender has always tended towards male defaults anyway). Hence shortening to ‘John’s house’ used the apostrophe because letters were missing. I don’t know if that’s true, and it does get a mite confusing to start thinking of it like that. But just thought I’d offer it!

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