Sarah Marriott

Editing is an essential skill for anyone who writes at work. Becoming aware of common errors can help you to spot potential problems more quickly, which will speed up the editing stage.

1.Clarity and double meanings

  • Check each sentence says exactly what you intended. It’s easy to write something that makes perfect sense to you but may be ambiguous or unclear to readers (or just sound strange).

Example: It’s unusual to see five-year-old computers walking around offices. (Of course, computers can’t walk….).

2.Over-long sentences

  • Clear sentences often contain only one or two ideas or facts. Longer sentences can be more difficult to follow, because they have too many clauses. Online and in emails, sentences should be about 20 words or less – but in formal writing, sentences can be a bit longer (going up to 30 words if required).

3.Bullet-point lists

  • Bullet-point lists are a useful way of presenting complex information.  Always check that they read on logically from the introductory phrase (which is before the colon) and are punctuated in the same way throughout the same document. How you punctuate lists depends on your house style – and one of the most common styles is below.

Incorrect example

You must submit:

  • Your passport
  • A recent bank statement
  • And if you have one, an identity card

Correct example

You must submit:

  • Your passport
  • A recent bank statement
  • An identity card, if you have one

4.Singular and plural

  • Of course, you can’t write ‘it are’ or ‘they is’ but singular/plural agreement is a common mistake. Always check that the verb (the action word) and the subject (the person or thing doing the action) are both singular or both plural.

Example: ‘One in five teenagers smoke cannabis’ is incorrect because the person doing the smoking is ‘one teenager’ not five. So the correct version is ‘One teenager in five smokes cannabis’


Some people use too few; others use too many. The simplest test for where to put a comma is to read aloud and notice where you pause for breath inside a sentence. That pause is probably where a comma is needed. If you have a sentence with more than two commas (and it’s not a list), check it’s clear and not too long.

Sarah Marriott is a highly experienced trainer and former journalist who specialises in delivering Writing Skills courses for the public and private sectors.Sarah has worked as a feature writer and sub-editor at The Irish Times. She has also been involved in training Irish Times editorial staff. She is a former lecturer on the MA in Journalism at Dublin Institute of Technology and is author of Common Errors in Written English.

Sarah Marriott will deliver a seminar on Editing Skills at PAI on Wednesday 5 December, click here for more information.