As instructional designers, we write course materials that can make or break the success of a carefully designed and delivered workshop. First impressions count, especially in the written form, and participants often make judgments about the quality of the workshop based solely on the way the materials are written.
I know what you are thinking, “Here we go again! A repeat of fifth grade English.” Well, sometimes a quick refresher, especially on writing skills, is a good thing.
Here are six common grammatical errors to be aware of:
If you are unsure of the use of punctuation then look it up—websites like Grammarly can be a huge help! There are great resources online for the correct use of punctuation. And yes, it does matter! Incorrect use of a comma, semicolon, or colon, for example, can cause content to be interpreted differently and may confuse your message.
2. Passive sentences
One of the most common errors writers make is to create sentences where the emphasis is on the object and not the subject. For example: (active) “The kangaroo carried her baby in her pouch.” versus (passive) “The baby was carried by the kangaroo in her pouch.” Sentences in the passive voice tend to be wordy and vague but can still be useful in some situations, such as formal or scientific writing.
3. Dangling participle
This occurs when there is a dependent idea with no subject. For example: “Walking along the passage to the town, a memorial archway blocked our way.” versus “Walking along the passage to the town, we found our way was blocked by a memorial archway.”
4. Pronoun disagreement
This a very common speaking error and can also be found in technical writing. The speaker or writer misaligns the singular and plural: “Everyone (singular) should make their (plural) own decision.”
5. Incorrect parallel structure
Parallel structure requires you to use the same pattern of words to show that two or more words or ideas are of equal importance, and to help the reader comprehend what is being written. In a parallel structure, it’s important to group similar ideas and items together.
6. Verb disagreement
Singular subjects need singular verbs and plural subjects need plural verbs. For example: “The dog chases the cat.” versus “The dog chase the cat.” The closer a plural noun is to the verb that follows, the more often a subject-verb disagreement occurs. “The shape of these vases allow for the best floral designs.” If you said “allows” would be a better fit, you’d be correct!
Poorly written instructional materials can confuse the learner and potentially cause a course to fail. When writing instructional materials, it’s crucial we follow the rules of good grammar, proper punctuation, and correct spelling.
If you want to learn more about technical writing and the overcoming common writing errors, check out Langevin’s Writing Skills for Trainers workshop.
What are some of your most common writing errors? Share them below so we can all benefit from our common challenges!