When you are writing, the old adage "there's never time to do it right but there's always time to do it over" does NOT apply. It's important to put your words down while they are still fresh in your mind. Spelling, grammar and punctuation can take a back seat because there IS time to do it over. Well, you must make time!
Once you've completed your task of expressing your ideas, then you can start from the beginning to ensure that it makes sense. However, I recommend waiting several weeks before you begin checking your work. When it's still fresh in your mind, you'll miss mistakes. It's also useful to change the typeface and/or point size (line length, if possible) as this modification will make it more likely that you see formatting errors.
As you'll probably want your work to appeal to an International audience, you should remove (or explain) any references to trade names, product names, company names, movies, TV shows (and TV characters) or concepts that make no sense outside of your country. For example, Americans use the term "sophomore" every day but this word will have British readers reaching for the dictionary! In British English "pavement" always means the side of the road where you walk (sidewalk). To avoid confusion, call it the road surface or simply road. Avoid uncertainty and ambiguity. Words that cause most confusion are usually those which you use most often, such as names of kitchen utensils, soft drinks, food, tools, household items and car parts.
There are also words that are simply never used in other countries. For example, an American might say "oftentimes" whereas a Brit will only ever say "often". A Brit might say "whilst" but an American will only ever say "while". The phrase "different from" is accepted Internationally, while "different to" and "different than" are less acceptable and best avoided. In America a payment "check" is "cheque" in the UK; a receipt "check" is "the bill". "Check the box [x]" would be "tick the box [x]" in the UK.
Colloquial words and expressions are usually not recognised internationally. In America "fanny" ("backside" in the UK) is common but considered rude in the UK (and has a different meaning). Likewise "faggot", "rubber", "pissed" and many other words.
Consult the various web sites that list American-English "translations".
Avoid "trite" or "hackneyed" expressions such as "reach out to" when a single word ("contact", in this example) makes perfect sense. Avoid using "got" and "gotten" where another word can be used (for example "received", or "acquired" or "found".)
A special favourite: "no way, shape or form." AVOID!
"But lone behold, there it was!" The phrase is actually "lo and behold". Using a trite phrase is bad enough but getting it so horribly wrong marks you as uneducated.
Writers often use the same word more than once in a sentence. Such repetition can make the writing look childish and make reading tedious. Try to avoid repeating "that"; it's often possible to alternate it with "which".
As I come across more examples, I'll expand the list, below.
Use of the wrong word:-
Accept and except.
Access and excess.
Accede and exceed.
Alternate and alternative.
All right (not "alright").
Amount and number - (Use number for people, eggs, discrete items. Use amount for flour, gravel, sand, custard, etc.)
Bated breath and baited hook.
Choose and chose.
Compare with and compare to (different meanings). Use "to" when the things are dissimilar. In other words, you might compare New York to a hive of bees (it clearly isn't a hive of bees). You might compare a horse with a donkey (both are similar-looking animals).
Compliment and complement, complimentary and complementary.
Comprised of. The verb "to comprise" means "to consist of" or "to be composed of". The genitive sense is inherent so to follow "comprise" or "comprised" or "comprising" with "of" makes no logical sense.
Correspond with and correspond to (different meanings).
Deprecated and depreciated.
Different than, that, to [x] instead of different from.
Dual and duel.
Either and each (either is giving a choice - one or the other but not both).
Ensue and ensure.
Every day and everyday. The latter, single word, means "commonplace".
Feral and ferrule.
Imminent and immanent.
Insured and ensured.
It's and its (and sometimes even its' - ridiculous!).
Mute and moot.
My wife and I, and my wife and me; he and I; him and me. (Subject and object confusion).
Phenomenon (singular) and phenomena (plural).
Principle and principal.
Regardless and irrespective have similar meanings. There is no such word as irregardless.
There, their, they're.
Than and then.
That and than.
To lay and to lie.
To try and [x] instead of try to.
Phrases that might cause the reader to stall.
There are a lot of... there are a number of... there are a box of
Although it's generally deemed as acceptable to mix a plural verb with a singular object, such a phrase seems wrong to some readers and is best avoided. Instead, you could write "there's a lot of..." or "there are lots of..."
Avoid the dreaded "but which" and "and which". In most cases, you can omit "which" without altering the meaning and the omission improves the flow of the sentence. Example: I have a cat which meaows and
which cries at night.
More examples to be added as I come across them...
The phrase "for safety's sake"... is incorrect, as is "for heaven's sake" and any expression when "sake" follows a genitive. You should always omit the inflection and write, for example, "for safety sake".
"It's OK to be lax with punctuation in reported speech."
No it isn't. Reported speech is exactly that - speech without written punctuation. It's up to you, the reporter, to punctuate it correctly in order to convey the exact meaning and nuances. This is often a most difficult task because speech may be ungrammatical and colloquial, with words missing or mispronounced.
"Unlike humans, experts do not believe the disease in great apes is linked to poor diet and lifestyle."
If you can't see what's wrong with this sentence, you definitely need my help!