My students know that certain things bother me so much that I just stop reading their work. It becomes a "dead draft," and they get it back for rewriting.
Errors that will kill your writing:
1. Being boring. Difficult ideas need to be presented in short, clear ways that do not sound like the drone of a didgeridoo. No one has the time. Watch your pacing.
2. Being too clever. You are not a leprechaun. You are not a clown. A good funny moment is valuable, but pace them. Use them to open up your reader's heart, and make him want to keep reading. Don't act like you're auditioning to be a late-night stand-up comic. Being too funny will undercut your thinking with a design audience, which is basically a sober, steeped-in-the-Bauhaus bunch of INFPs. Ask how I know.
3. It's and its. It's a real problem. Because every word uses an apostrophe in its possessive EXCEPT "ITS." It's= it is. Its= "something belonging to IT."
Never forget this. Write it on your head.
4. Everyone does not have "their" baseball. Everyone has his baseball or everyone has her baseball. "Their" still catches in many throats, so avoid it if you're trying to win an award. If you get yourself into an "everyone" tangle, either make everything plural, (we all have our) or go back and forth between his and hers in your piece for the next ten years or until this grammatical problem ceases to be one.
5. Lay and lie. These are two separate, completely different verbs, but they look alike in some declensions and so there's a lot of confusion about them. The quickest way to show you cannot write is to use lay or lie incorrectly. This is the deal:
I lie down, I lay down, I have lain down.
I lay the book on the table, I laid the book on the table, I have laid the book on the table.
When do you use "lay" and when "lie?" You lay an object down. (That's where "getting laid" comes from, it's about objects, not lovers.) But a person lies down--anything that has control over its own body lies down. When you are in control of something, you lay it down.
The words, "Now I lay me down to sleep" seem confusing. But in them, the person speaking is treating himself as an object, and for this reason he uses "lay" instead of saying, "Now I'm lying down to sleep." Using "lay me" is archaic usage, so don't use it.
Again: You lay an object down. A person lies down. So does a dog.
When you command your dog, teach him to "lie down." (Lay down is grammatically incorrect and lord knows we can't have dogs responding to ungrammatical commands.)
6. Joe gave the baseball to him and me. Sounds terrible, doesn't it? But it's right. Somehow, otherwise intelligent people get the idea that "me" is not as elegant a word as "I," and they try to use "I" everywhere. If I catch you giving the baseball to "he and I" I will fall onto the floor in a fit. Use him, her or me. The only time this is not true is when the verb of the sentence is the verb "to be." When your friend asks who's at the door, say "It is I." You'll dazzle with your grasp of the irregular. But generally: He gave it to me; he gave it to him; he gave it to her and me. Get used to the sound of it.
7. Avoid cant. Using cliches tells the reader that you are willing to repeat words you have heard without evaluating what they actually mean. This leads us to believe that you do not make a habit of examining thoughts or ideas before you adopt and repeat them. Nobody wants to hire a parrot. Before you use words, examine them as though they are a glass from which you plan to drink.
Never say you are passionate about anything or I will kill you in a sudden fit of rage.
Never "unpack a notion."
Do not "gift anything." Nobody "gifted" you with anything. Gift is not a verb.
Do not "onboard" anything. Onboard is not a verb, either.
Do not "Otherize" anything or anyone, or claim to have been "Otherized."
Do not "leverage" anything ( it's also not a verb.)
Do not "utilize" anything. Just use it.
A book is not a "good read." ("Read" is not a noun.)
In general, do not make nouns into verbs. Business-speak is an argot best avoided.
Do not "reach out" to people when you mean you are emailing to ask them a question. (This one makes me nauseated. )
Which reminds me, you feel nauseated, not "nauseous." A color is nauseous. You feel nauseated. Unless you have the effect of making people nauseated when they see you. Then you are nauseous.
Which in turn reminds me: "effect" and "affect." Two different meanings. Affect is a verb. (He affected change.) Effect is a noun. (It had a strange effect.)
Don't say you are "looking to transition into the social impact design space," when what you really want to do is change jobs and make design that helps people.
Deflate your prose. Stick a knife in the tire. Readers will love you for it.