This is the second post in the series — Writing, the Kaizen Way.
Let’s dive straight into the things that will make an immediate difference in your writing skills. So without wasting any time, here are five concrete writing tips that will instantly make you 2X effective than average people.
I am not making that claim to sound convincing. I am making this claim based on the common mistakes I have observed (including my own old habits) many people making all the time.
Learn the difference between ITS and IT’s
You’ll often hear smart people get this wrong so don’t be confused if you hear this incorrectly from those who you consider experts in English. Sometimes, even if you know the difference between the two, it’s easy to miss it when you’re in a hurry.
It’s is a contraction of “it is” or “it has.” Whereas “its” is a possessive determiner we use to say that something belongs to or refers to something. So remember the rule — it’s is the same type of contraction as “where’s” or “there’s,” and its is a possessive just like “my” or “your.”
If I were Vs. If I was
When you’re talking about a hypothetical future, use “were” instead of “was.”
The sentence — if I was to invest in the shares of Suzlon — is as troublesome as buying the shares of Suzlon.
The correct usage is — If I were to invest in the shares of Suzlon. As an aside, you’re better off not investing in Suzlon.
I or Me?
Vishal and me went for the workshop. Is this sentence correct?
I have stopped counting how many times I have seen smart and educated people get confused about when to use I and when to use me. If I were to put my finger on one thing as the most important grammar rule, it would be this — the correct usage of I and Me.
The simple rule for “I” versus “me” is that the sentence has to make sense if you remove the other person mentioned in the sentence. For example, if I remove Vishal’s name from the sentence, I am left with — me went for the workshop. That’s obviously incorrect. The correct version of the sentence would be — Vishal and I went for the workshop.
It’s bad grammar to say, “Hopefully, my investments will go up.” The word “hopefully” sitting there at the begging of the sentence pinches in the eyes of readers. Hopefully is an adverb. The right way to say the same sentence would be: I wait hopefully for my investments to go up.
Than Vs. Then
For a very long time, for some unexplained reasons, I assumed that “than” was standard in American English and “then” was a British word. It’s a subtle difference but it can make or break your reputation as a writer.
Here’s the distinction —
“Than” is used for comparisons. For example, done is better than perfect.
“Then” is used to indicate time or sequence. On its fall from Rs. 100 to Rs. 5, the stock first fell by 90 percent and then another 50 percent.
Okay, I promised five tips. So this is a bonus.
When you end a sentence with a question mark, do you put space before it? You must have noticed that I didn’t in the last sentence. A question mark is like a period. Sometimes, in an attempt to make the question mark standout visually, people pick up the habit of separating the last word of the sentence and the question mark with a space. It’s wrong.
I feel embarrassed to admit that this is a blunder I was doing until last few years. It was Vishal who first pointed it out to me when I started writing for Safal Niveshak.
If you can take care of these six mistakes, you’re already way ahead in your game. Most people never learn about these gotchas and there’s a reason for it. Since, most people are ignorant about these, there’s no one to point it out to them that they’re doing it wrong.
Allow me rerun this quote from Warren Buffett who said, “It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behaviour is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”
As I said, a very small minority of the people are knowledgeable about these errors. And this minority are precisely the ones who you want to associate with if you follow Buffett’s advice. You can’t afford to have these bugs in your message when you are communicating with someone for a new job, or trying to get venture funding for your startup.
As you can see, all the six tricks we’ve discussed here are focused on eliminating the common mistakes that most people do. Once you avoid them you’ve avoided the major red flags. Which brings me to the first rule of writing better — eliminate the common pitfalls from your writing habit.
When you’re trying to master a skill, the highest returns come by getting rid of problem areas first. In fact, the solution to many problems in life is by removing things, not adding. It’s called subtractive knowledge. Instead of adding, you first focus on removing.
And that’s true for any form of knowledge building. From compounding wealth to becoming a better writer.
Here’s a challenge for you — there are 3 writing mistakes in this post. Find them.