July 17, 2023
5 Mistakes You May Be Making in Your Writing
Advice From Hyper Hippo’s Resident Copywriter
Hello readers, gamers, and fellow writers! I’m Kathy, and as a professional copywriter, it’s my job to make sure all the copy that comes out of Hyper Hippo is on brand, grammatically correct, and succinct!
In this blog post, we’re recounting the top five mistakes most commonly made in writing, be it in an Instagram caption, LinkedIn post or (cringe) professional sales pitch. The goal of this article is to help you spot them too, so that together we can save the world – one Oxford comma at a time.
1. THE POSSESSIVE ITS
We’re flipping the script on count-down style blog posts and starting with the biggest mistake people make in their writing: misuse of the possessive “its”. The possessive “its” is shrouded in confusion, and misuse of this grammatical puzzler is the most common mistake I see people make in their writing.
Normally when something you’re describing is possessive – let’s say the game’s interface – you would use an apostrophe to indicate whose interface is being described:
Example 1.1: “The game’s interface has several interactive menus, customizable settings, and intuitive controls.”
In this example, we know that it is the game’s interface; the game owns it, and we are taught in grade school that the noun (game) earns an apostrophe, indicating possession.
However, if we replace the noun (game) with a pronoun (it), we don’t need an apostrophe to indicate possession:
Example 1.2: “Its (i.e. the game’s) interface has several interactive menus, customizable settings, and intuitive controls.”
So why isn’t the apostrophe necessary here? Because “its” is already a possessive pronoun, not a noun. So just like “hers” and “ours” don’t get apostrophes, “its” doesn’t either. The only time we add an apostrophe to the word “it” is when using it as a contraction for “it is” or “it has”, or when it stands for other missing letters.
2. MISPLACED MODIFIERS
A modifier is any word, phrase, or clause that describes another word. So what do we mean when we say that modifiers can be misplaced? Well, when a modifier (a word, phrase, or clause) slinks too far away from the word it is describing, it can change the meaning of your sentence completely. This is where modifiers can become a dangerous game!
For example, check out this sentence:
Example 1.1: “The gamer almost played for the entire hour.”
Here, due to its proximity to the word ‘played’, our modifier (“almost”) changes the meaning of the sentence to indicate that the game was almost played. In this example, the correct place for the modifier is in front of “the entire hour”:
Example 1.2: “The gamer played for almost the entire hour.”
Fixing this misplaced modifier removes any doubt as to whether or not the game was played (what does it even mean to almost play a game anyways?), and clarifies that the amount of time spent playing was almost an entire hour.
Let’s look at another example that could be found in a marketing context:
Example 2.1: “This month only, we’re having a massive items sale for in-game loot!”
While your players may get excited about the possibility of snagging a good deal on a massive item, this misplaced modifier (massive) might also lead some players into confusion. Is the sale on massive items only, or is it a massive sale on items of every size? To avoid potentially misleading your audience, try this instead:
Example 2.2: “This month only, we’re having a massive sale on in-game loot items!”
Now when you post the announcement about the sale on your social media, everyone will understand that the sale applies to items of every size. Phew!
3. TITLE CAPITALIZATION
Personally, I’m not a fan of the look of title case or sentence case, so I tend to capitalize the first letter of every word for our CTAs (that’s ‘calls to action’ for those of you unfamiliar with the abbreviation) in ads as I think it looks sleeker. But for proper titles, the standard rule is that every word should have a capital letter except articles (‘a’, ’an’, ‘the’) and the word ‘to’ when used in an infinitive context (i.e. I want to play AdCap).
An example of a proper title is ‘Things You Should Remember When Writing for a Mobile Game’. Since it can be tricky to remember what words should not be capitalized, I recommend using this handy tool to double check.
4. LACK OF PARALLEL STRUCTURE
As humans, we like patterns. They put our mind at ease. They are easy to figure out. They are the opposite of chaotic energy. You know what screams chaos? Lists that aren’t parallel.
Do you ever read a sentence and something just feels “off”? This is one of those things that you just know when you see it. Give the following sentence a read:
Example 1.1: “AdVenture Ages has a few objectives: explore the timeline, time travelling, collect gems, climbing ranks, and to keep TTOM oiled.”
This list hurts my brain. This one list includes infinitives (to keep), words ending in ‘ing’ (gerunds), present tense… nothing matches. Conversely, here’s an example of what a parallel list might look like:
Example 1.2: “AdVenture Ages has a few objectives: explore the timeline, travel through history, collect gems, climb ranks, and oil the robot.”
Did you just breathe a sigh of relief now that the chaos of the first list has been resolved? I know I did.
5. AMBIGUOUS ANTECEDENTS
What is an antecedent? When you use a pronoun to refer to a noun that you’ve already mentioned, that noun is known as the antecedent. For example, in the image, the pronoun “it” could be used to refer to either the radio (antecedent 1) or to the car (antecedent 2).
But if your pronoun is too far away from the antecedent, you’ll confuse the reader and voila! You’ll be left with an ambiguous antecedent. Here’s an example:
Example 1.1: “In the room, there was a couch, a controller, and a console. It was 25 feet long by 15 feet wide.”
Wow, that is one large console! In fact, those dimensions were referring to the room, not the console. To fix this, simply move the latter part of your sentence describing the room next to the antecedent:
Example 1.2: “In the room, which was 25 feet by 15 feet, there was a couch, a controller, and a console.”
Now you’re ready to play Mario Kart in your reasonably sized room with your standard issue console.
Let’s look at another example of how misplaced modifiers can impact a player’s experience in your game:
Example 2.1: “To perform a critical attack, wait for the enemy’s health bar to drop below 25%. Once triggered, it inflicts massive damage, leaving them vulnerable.”
In this example, the pronouns “it” and “them” are ambiguous–is it the enemy or the player’s character who is left vulnerable after a critical attack? Is it the attack or the enemy who inflicts massive damage? This instruction could easily cause confusion for players trying to understand who becomes vulnerable after the critical attack. Let’s adjust the sentence to remove those ambiguities:
Example 2.2: “To perform a critical attack, wait for the enemy’s health bar to drop below 25%. Once triggered, the attack inflicts massive damage to the enemy, leaving them vulnerable.”
To fix these pesky ambiguous antecedents, we simply moved the nouns closer to the modifiers to clarify what was inflicting the damage (the attack) and who was left vulnerable (the enemy).
So there you have it! The top five mistakes I see people make in their day-to-day writing. Did I miss one of your cringeworthy favourites? Did I MAKE one of your cringeworthy favourites? (Ugh I hope not.) Pop it in the comments!