I edit and read books every day. I know some people are thinking, "You get to read books for a living? Cool! Where do I get that job?" (BTW, if you want that job get a degree in English and find a job as a book editor). I once had a friend of mine say, "I never see you read." Well, friends I read every day all day. So when I'm on vacation don't expect to see my nose in a book. Anyway I digress ... so in reading every day and analyzing writing I see common mistakes. I thought I would share:
Redundancy: how many times in a sentence or paragraph can you use the same word twice? The answer is never. It reads and sounds better if you use the same word once. I always suggest that you pull up the Thesaurus if you're having trouble coming up with new words. My joke, "A Thesaurus is a writers best friend." Once in a while it's understandable when you have to use a certain word more than once, but the general rule is to avoid it.
Its vs. It's: this mistake is subtle. My trick is this: it is (insert that in the questionable sentence and see if it works) = it's. Otherwise it's its ... just use my trick. It's solves the entire its conundrum.
Hyphen hell: well, I have no rule to help. Some words are hyphenated (a lot of idioms) and it's not easy to figure them out. I spend half my day looking up that question. Yesterday I wondered if "in sync" was hyphenated. I had to look it up -- and it was not hyphenated. Then you have other words like nonstop that seem like maybe they should be hyphenated (non-stop) and the answer is no. Adjectives that modify nouns are hyphenated: red-blue door. Modifiers are obvious and generally easy to spot. It's those darned idioms and other expressions like "face-to-face" that get me. The real rule goes like this: when it doubt look it up. The brilliance is knowing when you don't know. Ah, you say! Yes, you do have to have the expertise to know when you don't know or know what you don't know.