Please Learn From My Mistakes!Lots of people know how to write, but not everyone knows how to write well, especially when it comes to writing an article for publication. In these instances, it is imperative that what is written be as error free as possible. Once something is printed, it cannot be corrected, and unfortunately, people will notice. Here are a few things I have learned not to do when writing for the general public.
Ever written an article, published it, and then discovered you had misspelled a word? Spell-check is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't catch every error. For instance, if a word is spelled correctly but is not being used in the proper context, spell-check is likely to pass right over it. That is what happened to me when I accidentally typed the word "pubic" instead of "public" in the middle of an article. My computer and I both failed to recognize the error, but millions of readers everywhere were treated to a nice, little chuckle on my behalf. That embarrassing incident taught me to always have someone else check my writing before releasing it to print.
Incorrect Word Choice
Some words are not only spelled similarly, but have similar meanings as well. This can lead to a lot of confusion for both writers and readers. Some examples include "it's" versus "its" and "may be" versus "maybe". Again, these are things that may not be recognized by spell-check software. Even if the distinctions between the words are subtle, it is still very important that they be used correctly. Somebody, somewhere will not only notice the mistake, but will have no problem pointing it out to whoever will listen. It is always better to be certain about a word's proper use before committing it to print, than to learn about the error from a reader after the fact. Sometimes, the dictionary is a writer's best friend.
Big Words and Lengthy Sentences
In college I studied mostly English and Philosophy. I wrote more papers than I care to remember, but one thing I do recall is being encouraged to write a variety of different sentence lengths and to be creative in my word choices. I was instructed to write down my deepest thoughts as thoroughly as possible and not be afraid to over-explain them. This may have been great advice for writing a theme or an essay, but it doesn't go over very well with most media publications.
I have found that people who read newspapers or internet articles want to be able to find information quickly. They tend to scan articles first to see if they want to read the whole thing. College professors may appreciate flowery words and sentences, but the general public prefers a more straightforward approach. Keep it simple, seriously.
Check the Facts
Believe me, there is nothing more embarrassing than spouting off about something, only to have it brought to your attention (by a reader) that your facts are a little off. For instance, I once wrote an article that included a reference to Orson Wells' book 1984. The only problem was, Orson Wells didn't write that book. George Orwell did! I was horrified when I realized what I had done. It no longer mattered what the article was about or how brilliant my observations had been. To those who recognized my mistake, I had lost all credibility.
I once read an article entitled "Judy Garland's Favorite Vacation Spot". The first paragraph did mention something about Judy Garland and something about "vacation spots"; but the rest of the article was about traveling in the southwestern United States. In other words, the title was not exactly forthcoming. This type of trickery should be avoided at all costs. It does nothing but irritate readers and create a bad reputation for the writer. There is too much deceit in the world already.
The moral of this story is, when writing for publication or self-promotion, read, reread, and then let someone else read it too. Be aware of problematic words and double-check them. Make sure the article is easy to understand, but most importantly, that it is accurate and truthful. It's true that everyone makes mistakes, but writers must be especially careful to avoid them. Once our words are printed for the world to see, we cannot easily take them back.