Biggest Writing Mistakes for Books and Blogs
From reading scores of manuscripts and thousands (upon thousands!) of blog posts, I frequently encounter these big writing mistakes. Are you guilty of making them?
Same Word, Same Word, Same Word...
Hey, I even find myself falling into this trap! We all have some writing and verbal ticks and quirks that show up in our written and spoken language. One of those quirks is using the same word or phrase over and over and over again.
For me, it’s “so.” But in authors’ manuscripts, one of the most common repeated words I find is “however.” I understand what’s happening in the writer’s or author’s brain with this one. They’re trying to show a shift or contrast in the flow of ideas. There are other ways to do it... however. For example, “in contrast,” “conversely,” “another way to look at it,” and many more.
How to Fix it
Listen to yourself. Record yourself reading a long passage of your work out loud, say a chapter or a long blog post. What the eye can’t detect, the ear often can.
Search and replace. Once you know what some of your oft repeated words are, then do a search for those words in your entire document. You might be shocked at how many times they’re used! Then replace the old over-repeated words with an alternative that means the same thing. In some cases, you might find that rewriting the whole sentence or section is needed.
Get an editor or proofreader and/or get better at self editing. No explanation needed about this one. An outside third party can pick up on these quirks quickly. But if you don’t have the budget OR the investment in editing and proofreading is somewhat of an overkill (for example, for a short blog post), then get better at self editing. That could include using online proofreading tools, putting the work away for a while, or printing the manuscript out on paper to get a different visual perspective of the writing.
Referring to minor celebrities or pop culture references will date a book, blog or any content in a hurry! This bad habit could make a book or blog irrelevant even a few months from now, leaving audiences scratching their heads about the meaning. Granted, if the book or blog is about pop culture and news, then this is unavoidable. But do consider the evergreen potential of your work.
True, there may be references to key figures in history whose stories have stood the test of time (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln or Buddha, for example). But be aware, too, that even notable figures may not have the same relevance, reverence, or identification in the future.
Similarly, subjects identifiable in one country, culture or community might not be known in another. You may have to do some explaining.
How to Fix It
Is this historically significant? Before automatically including a reference to a famous person, place, event, etc., evaluate whether it has been widely known for a long period of time. A singer from last year’s Top 10 hit chart may be a one-hit wonder and will soon be lost to history.
Ask. Want to know if the pop culture, historical or other reference resonates with your audience? Ask ‘em! Send a list of the people, places, or events you plan to reference in your work to some folks that fit your ideal reader profile. You could use an online survey service, social media, or email.
JAB (Jargon, Acronyms and Buzzwords)
I’m surprised I still have to mention this, but I run across some writers’ manuscripts and blog posts that presume everyone is aware of what certain terms mean. I feel kind of annoyed or embarrassed when I need to look up the meaning of a jargon term or acronym that the author presumes readers like me know.
Buzzwords have the dual problem of potentially being terms that have low identification, as well as referencing terms that have become passé. Feeling “groovy” anyone?
How to Fix It
Analyze your audience. If your audience is "in the know" about your topic—as well as the jargon, acronyms and buzzwords—then explaining these terms might be overkill.
Explain yourself. Even though I sometimes feel I’m oversimplifying things, I often put explanatory notes for jargon, acronyms or buzzwords in parentheses to avoid any confusion if I feel that there may be many readers who are less familiar with the topic.
For example, I’ve referenced the FTC in multiple posts that include discussions about marketing disclosures. But I realize that this acronym for the Federal Trade Commission in the United States might not be known in other countries. So I’ll put the spelled out name in parentheses in it’s first instance in the work, and may also note that it is an agency of the United States government.
Run-On and Monkey Mind Paragraphs
I would say that one of the more common issues I encounter and address when editing is that of run-on paragraphs. I’ve never quite figured out why this happens so often. Do authors feel that they need to address every single point before starting a new paragraph? Or maybe they’re having and emotional or stream of consciousness writing experience where run-on paragraphs would mirror their meandering mental reverie?
But why does it matter? Run-on can stuff too many ideas in one paragraph. Plus, it’s very tiring to read.
However, this is not to suggest that all paragraphs need to be short! I’ve also reviewed manuscripts where all paragraphs were so short that it made for a very choppy reading experience which is also tiring, similar to stop and go traffic. These folks have, what’s called in meditation, “monkey mind” writing, bouncing from this thought and that, not stringing any of it together.
A mix of paragraph lengths can make for more comfortable reading. (Did you notice how the paragraphs in this section were varied?) But the real reason to look at paragraph length—long or short—is to check for the logical and effective presentation of ideas.
How to Fix It
Watch for blocks. Whether on screen or in a printed out manuscript, visually scan for large blocks of text. I’ve even seen some paragraphs that take up a half to two-thirds of a letter size sheet of paper! What I’ve found is that these are prime targets for run-on paragraph editing.
Watch for lots of white stripes. Conversely, if you have a LOT of “white stripes,” or the spaces between paragraphs on a page or screen, your manuscript may be suffering from the monkey mind problem. Look at each idea and see if and how it relates (or doesn’t!) to its surrounding paragraph friends. Combine and reorganize to improve flow.
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© 2018 Heidi Thorne