You’re finally starting to work as a professional writer. You’re excited, but you also have lots of doubts and fears. Will people be able to tell you’re new to the professional writing game?
We’ve all been there. Submitting your first pieces of writing can be stressful, even if you’ve edited and proofread your work multiple times.
Thankfully, there are ways to tighten up your work (beyond making sure your commas are in the right place) to make you seem like you’ve been a professional writer for years.
Rookie Writing Mistakes
In this article, we’ll be addressing three writing issues that give you away as inexperienced. Read them, understand them, and pay attention to them in your writing. If you identify and fix these issues, you’ll look like a pro in no time.
Issue #1: Overuse of Passive Voice
Just like your high school English teacher always said, passive voice makes your writing seem lazy and lackluster. While passive voice is grammatically correct, it is often unclear and can disrupt the flow of your writing. In most circumstances, it’s best to use active voice to get your message across.
Let’s look at a few examples of passive voice.
- The floor was cleaned by the students.
- The pizza was baked by me.
- The car is being washed by her dad.
What’s wrong with these sentences? Technically, they are grammatically correct. However, writing these sentences in passive voice is unclear and overcomplicated. In these examples, the real subjects and verbs are hidden at the end of the sentences.
Action and the verbs showing action is what gives your writing power. It’s usually better to put your action up front.
Switching your sentence from passive to active is easy. First, identify your subject, then your object. Place the subject in the beginning of the sentence, followed by the verb and the object.
Let’s change our sentences around:
Passive: The floor was cleaned by the students.
Active: The students cleaned the floor.
Passive: The pizza was baked by me.
Active: I baked the pizza.
Passive: The car is being washed by her dad.
Active: Her dad is washing the car.
See? The active sentences are short, clear, and direct.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair for us to say that passive voice is always bad. There are some instances in which it is best to use passive voice. For example:
- Cotton is grown in Egypt.
In this sentence, the subject (the doer) is irrelevant and passive voice works well.
When cleaning up your writing for submission, take a look at your work to see if you have any instances of passive voice. Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering whether or not to rework the passive voice sentences:
- Is the subject of the sentence unclear?
- Is the sentence too wordy or confusing?
If you have trouble identifying passive voice sentences in your work, you can use an editing tool like ProWritingAid. The ProWritingAid Style Report will help identify instances of passive voice in your work and suggest active voice replacements.
You can also try these passive voice exercises with answers for additional practice.
Issue #2: Over-reliance on Adverbs
Adverbs add little to your writing. They make your work fluffier, cluttered, and can even make you seem lazy.
Adverbs are used to modify verbs or even entire sentences. The thing is, in most cases, they are unnecessary. It is always best to use strong verbs in your writing as opposed to adding adverbs.
Let’s look at an example:
- She spoke loudly in excitement.
In this example, the adverb “loudly” is used to modify the verb “spoke” and tell the reader about the volume of the subject’s voice.
Consider the same example with a stronger verb:
- She screamed in excitement.
This sentence is now more powerful, clearer, and best of all doesn’t give you away as a new writer.
As Stephen King said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” While we tend to agree with Mr. King, adverbs (just like passive voice) aren’t inherently incorrect. It’s all about how you use them.
Here’s when you should use adverbs:
- When the adverb adds context or new information. Adverbs help you show time and place, e.g. “He arrived early.”
- When the adverb can replace clunky phrasing.
- When other words won’t work.
Here’s when you shouldn’t use adverbs:
- When the adverb restates a part of the word it modifies.
- When the adverb is redundant.
- When the adverb modifies a vague or weak verb.
If you’re worried there are too many adverbs in your work, you can use an editing tool like ProWritingAid to identify the adverbs you’ve used. Then, you can look at your adverbs case by case to decide if they add to your work or make you look inexperienced.
Issue #3: Flashy Dialogue Tags
Dialogue tags are the words used outside of the quotation marks within a dialogue.
- “Let’s go to the store,” she said.
- “I hate you!” George screamed angrily at his girlfriend.
- “Yes,” Julie answered abruptly.
The problem with dialogue tags that use flashy language and adverbs is that they are distracting to the reader.
The point of dialogue tags is to communicate who is speaking. Many professionals argue that you should only use “said” and “asked”. This keeps writing clean, easy to read, and well, professional.
In an ideal situation, it’s best to avoid dialogue tags as much as possible, using the dialogue and actions themselves to articulate who is speaking and how.
Here’s an example dialogue using minimal and appropriate dialogue tags:
“Julie, can you come to my house at 3pm?” George asked.
Julie was excited that George finally wanted to hang out. “I’d love to!”
George was also excited, but also nervous. “Maybe we can order pizza and watch a movie.”
“That sounds great! Can’t wait to see you later, George.”
In this dialogue, the reader can focus on the dialogue itself without being distracted by unnecessary language.
Focus on using strong action words and dialogue to articulate your message. When a dialogue tag is necessary, stick to simple verbs (such as “said” and “asked”).
An Editing Tool Can Help You Seem More Experienced
There’s a lot to learn as a new writer. That’s where ProWritingAid can help.
We created ProWritingAid to help you create professional work. You can locate each of the three issues we’ve discussed in this article using ProWritingAid.
Our software will identify passive voice, adverb use, and flashy dialogue tags (among tons of other things) so you can adjust your writing as needed.
Every writer wants to put forth his or her best work. With time, identifying these errors will become easier and easier. Meanwhile, let ProWritingAid help you be the best writer you can be.
Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- Passive Voice: What Is It and When Is It Acceptable?
- Passive Voice Exercises with Answers
- Prepositional Phrases: Definition, Examples, and Tips
- 8 Tips for Concise Writing: How to Write Clearly and Effectively
Hayley is the Content Lead for ProWritingAid. Prior to joining the ProWritingAid team, Hayley spent a number of years as an elementary school teacher, which was a crash course in learning how to entertain an indifferent audience. These days, she puts her storytelling skills to use writing blog articles and working on her first novel. She is the co-author of the book Museum Hack’s Guide to History’s Fiercest Females (which was an Amazon bestseller) and How to Build Your Author Platform on a Shoestring.