Simple, clear help for your writing problems

There is a syndicated radio show on which the host, the producers, the writers, and all their friends have writing problems. It’s disturbing. This show has been advertising itself for months with a commercial that includes the following lead:

All successful businesses start out as an idea or a dream. It’s unfathomable that an entire production crew can overlook such a blatant error.

One or Many: Get it Right

The commercial’s lead suffers from a common error: it begins by talking about many things as a group, but finishes by telling you what only one thing is doing. The phrase, All successful businesses establishes that we’re talking about a group of businesses. But the conclusion, start out as an idea or a dream tells us the businesses start as only one idea or one dream.

Here are alternative sentences the radio show should consider to use as leads in their advertisement:

  • Each successful business starts as an idea or a dream.
  • A successful business starts as an idea or a dream.
  • All successful businesses start as ideas or dreams.
  • Every successful business starts as an idea or a dream.

I prefer the second, though all four follow the rules of grammar: If a sentence is about individuals, then the action must be of an individual. If a sentence is about a group, then the action needs to be of a group.

What’s the Difference?

If this distinction is challenging, here are steps to help:

1. Figure out what thing the sentence is talking about. The original sentence talks about successful businesses.

2. Decide: is the sentence about individuals or a group? Successful businesses refers to a group—as opposed to a successful business which refers to an individual.

3. Make the rest of the sentence agree. Successful businesses must start out as ideas or dreams.

Many businesses: ideas or dreams. One business: an idea or a dream.

Run my fourth alternative sentence through these steps:

1. What thing is the sentence about? It’s about successful business.

2. Is the sentence about one thing or many things? This one is tricky. The phrase Every successful business refers to many businesses, but as individuals. How can you tell? Here’s one way: if you were writing a sentence, would the next word be is or are? As in, …every successful business is When the right word is is, the whole sentence must talk about one thing. When the correct word is are, the rest of the sentence must talk about many things.

3. The rest of alternative sentence #4 agrees: a business starts out as an idea or a dream.

Practice Reduces Writing Problems

Review the following sentences to help get a grip on this challenging problem. Identify the incorrect sentences, and come up with at least one viable alternative:

  1. All pastry chefs know how to make a napoleon.
  2. Each dog will scratch where they itch.
  3. Does every sentence here have a flaw in it?
  4. Bill was upset when he learned that every dessert had peanuts in them.

Here’s how I’d call these:

1. Wrong. I’d go with any of these alternatives:

  • All pastry chefs know how to make napoleons.
  • Every pastry chef knows how to make a napoleon.
  • Every pastry chef knows how to make napoleons.

2. Wrong. Try these:

  • Each dog will scratch where it itches.
  • A dog will scratch where it itches.
  • Every dog will scratch where it itches.
  • All dogs will scratch where they itch.

3. The sentence is acceptable.

4. Wrong. Here are some alternatives:

  • Bill was upset when he learned that every dessert had peanuts in it.
  • Bill was upset when he learned that all the desserts had peanuts in them.
  • Bill was upset when he learned that each dessert had peanuts in it.

 

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Be Clear About Who is Who

There’s a class of writing problems that are very subtle. They arise when you lose track of the person about whom you’re writing. Simple statements become, at best, silly, and at worst, gibberish when you make this type of writing error.

A classic example of these writing problems has been running in a television advertisement lately. The announcer says something like, Do you have a problem with intangible digiplasitosis? Talk to your doctor. I did. It’s pretty clear what the announcer meant, but what the announcer said is that she talked with my doctor: Talk to your doctor. I did.

Keep Track of Who’s Who

I hope the announcer never talked with my doctor. She could reassure me by suggesting: Talk to your doctor. I talked to mine. Her mistake was that she started talking about my doctor, then switched to talking about hers without telling me about that switch.

You’ve probably heard someone at least as confused expressing concern for you or others. People say such things as: As your boss, tell me what you need so I can get it for you, or the much more subtly incorrect, As your friend, let me help you with your writing problems.

Consider the first example. We’ll assume the person talking is the boss, so saying As your boss, starts the sentence talking about the boss. But the phrase, …tell me what you need… isn’t about the boss; it’s about you. Putting the two phrases together, the sentence begins by establishing you as your own boss: As your boss, you tell me what you need…

The boss should have said, As your boss, I want to know what you need so I can get it for you. But don’t stop with fixing only writing problems. There’s also an ego problem in the boss’s statement. Simplify and add humility so it reads, Please tell me what you need so I can get it for you.

The second example unravels the same way. In that sentence, who is whose friend? The confusion is subtle, but at the word let, the speaker switches from talking about himself or herself to taking about you—without telling you about the switch. The error becomes clear if you change the sentence to read As your friend, you let me help you with your writing problems.

Any number of rewrites can fix the mistake:

  • As your friend I want to help you with your writing problems.
  • I’m your friend. Let me help you with your writing problems.
  • Let me help you with your writing problems.
  • Let me, as your friend, help you with your writing problems.

Fix These Writing Problems

Each rewrite makes it clear who the sentence is talking about at every moment. The only way to eliminate writing problems involving who’s who is to stay vigilant. Make sure it’s clear who you’re taking about so your readers don’t think you’ve been visiting with their doctors.

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Spelling Errors

Spelling is the most curable of all writing problems. Still, Internet content is full of spelling errors. Many of these are understandable—almost forgivable. But for most spelling errors that turn up on the Internet, there is simply no excuse.

Forcing readers to wade through a mess to find the message may stop them in their tracks.

Even if you believe you have a good excuse for your writing problems, many readers aren’t forgiving.  In this day of automated, automatic spell-checking, leaving misspelled words in your content makes you look careless and ignorant. Forcing readers to wade through a mess to find the message may stop them in their tracks. Readers don’t notice when your writing is error-free, but you lose readers when it isn’t.

Forgivable Spelling Errors?

Are there really forgivable spelling errors? No. In the first paragraph I suggested there are spelling errors that are almost forgivable. And, if one of these appears in a 200 word article, picky readers may shrug and let it pass. However, when several almost forgivable writing problems appear in a single article, the transgressions become unforgivable.

I offer a short list of the types of spelling errors that are marginally forgivable:

Typos—It’s almost forgivable when a typing error results in the wrong—but properly-spelled—word. Picky readers sometimes nod and smile forgivingly when they spot these in your writing.

Sound-alike words—It’s almost forgivable when you use a word that sounds exactly like another word—but has a different spelling (these are homonyms, but you don’t need to know that). For example, you might accidentally write the word yore when you mean your, or flue when you mean flew. These spelling errors are usually the result of absentmindedness: you know the correct word, and are astonished when you recognize your mistake. Make one of these errors in your writing, and it annoys a picky reader. Make several such errors, and the picky reader disparages your work; you simply should not have published it.

Unforgivable Writing Problems

If there are spelling errors that are nearly forgivable, there are others at the other extreme. You deserve to lose readers for these misspellings: never misspell a name. Having trouble with names is understandable because so many familiar names have unusual—or multiple—spellings. It’s challenging to get them right as you create content. But misspelling a name is insulting to that which you name, and fans or familiars are likely to take offense.

Readers don’t notice when your writing is error-free, but you lose readers when it isn’t.

Consider: If I mention Stephen King in an article, but I spell his name Steven King, his massive fan base may write me off as an idiot. Mr. King, also, is likely to write me off… I don’t curry favor by botching his name. I can lose all my readers in the state of Missouri by spelling it Misury. I might turn away car enthusiasts if I mention the classic Lincon Continental… and Civil War enthusiasts along with historians might also click away.

The biggest loser spelling error of all is misspelling the name of a customer or a prospective customer. When I receive a marketing letter personalized with my name—misspelled—not only won’t I read the letter, I’ll blacklist the source. If you don’t care enough to get my name right, you obviously don’t care about customer relations.

Fix these Writing Problems

Whatever writing problems you have, you must stop making spelling errors! These are so easy to eliminate:

  • Always write in a robust word processor that has spell-checking capabilities.
  • Use the spell-checker; fix the errors it identifies.
  • When you use a name—whether a person’s name, the name of a team, the name of a place, or even the name of a horse, by gosh, make sure you spell it correctly. Look it up on line if you have even the slightest doubt.
  • Read your work. Read it out loud. Have you used a word that sounds like another word but has a different spelling? Make certain you’ve used the correct word. If you don’t know, look it up! My favorite on-line resource for this is yourdictionary.com, but even just typing the word in Google might save you some embarrassment.
  • Create a cheat sheet. All writers use words that won’t stick in their heads. For example, without assistance, I would misspell embarrassment… even though I’ve been aware of this problem for more than 30 years! If you constantly misuse your, you’re, and yore, add them to your cheat sheet, and stick it to your monitor so you never again make the mistake.
  • If you can’t correct your own spelling, despite the awesome technology at your disposal, get someone to read your work before you publish it. Please!

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Here are links to other articles about writing problems. Please have a look:

  • Comment on Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation ARE Important When … – It seems most people are not careful about the language of blogging. They feel that blogging can be profusely done with a lot of mistakes. I would like to point all users to one or two blog posts that teach you simple mistakes people …

  • Am I The Only One Affected By The Effects Of Grammar? » Literal … – A colleague was drafting a memo to send out company-wide today and forwarded it to me for review. The copy was mostly good, although he referenced several “servers that will be effected by ongoing work” or somesuch. …

  • how homonyms can hurt your writing – you’ve seen it before. you’re reading a perfectly good blog or book and there it is – right in the middle of the page, glaring at you like a neon sign. of course, writer that you are, your focus on whatever it is that you were reading …

 

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If you tell your readers how they’re going to feel about information your article or story presents, you have serious writing problems. Telling people how they’ll feel—or how they should feel—is a common writing device. You see it most often in marketing copy: You’re going to love this offer, or You’ll be amazed when you read this.

Sadly, writers of every color seem compelled to tell you how to feel. Never do it. It seriously weakens the effectiveness of your message.

How do I Feel?

For at least some people, the natural reaction to being told how they think, act, or feel, is to take exception. Consider the clichéd reaction of characters in so many emotional scenes when a consoling friend remarks, “I know just how you feel.” “No one knows how I feel,” comes the angry reply. A little bit of that angry reply lurks in many readers. Stir it up, and you turn them off.

One of the greatest transgressions of this fundamental rule is when you tell someone in advance how funny your story or joke is going to be. Making such a claim is throwing down a challenge. Your joke had better be funny, because your audience may want to prove you wrong.

The magazine Reader’s Digest did this for many months: On one page in each issue, they ran three jokes, the first labeled Funny, the next labeled Funnier, and the last labeled Funniest as if they thought readers were too stupid to recognize when a joke was funny. Of course, not one of the jokes Reader’s Digest ran in that section was funny; EVER. When you tell readers how they’re going to feel about something, you need to deliver information that’s significantly more emotionally charged than you would if you simply presented the information.

Let the Facts Amaze

With the first article I wrote as a magazine editor, I learned this important lesson from my boss: let the reader decide. I had written a lead that included a statement such as, Here’s a clever way to solve that problem.

My boss suggested that if the solution is clever, the reader will see that it is. Stating that the solution is clever sounds boastful… and if the reader thinks it’s stupid, then maybe you’re a stupid writer. Why read the words of an idiot?

If you want readers to be amazed, write something amazing. If you want readers to laugh, write something funny. If you want readers to think you’re clever, be clever. But don’t tell readers that they’re going to be amazed or amused or impressed… you have no control over their reactions and at least some will resist your claim; you’ll lose them before you even tell them what you want them to know.

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Whether Or Not?

You can explain away so many writing problems as extensions of conversational English! But hearing the same incorrect expression day-after-day is no excuse for using that expression in your writing. You hear some expressions so often that they sound natural. Then you cough up the expressions without thought.

A case in point: so many writers and speakers heap abuse on the word whether. Stop, and you’ll improve the quality of your writing.

Writing Problems with Whether

You’ve heard the expression whether or not hundreds of times:

I don’t care whether it snows or not.

I’m not sure whether or not you care.

It doesn’t matter whether you let the wine breathe or not.

Don’t let hearing the expression cause it to turn up in your writing. Consider: you can omit or not from each sentence without changing its meaning. Without or not, the sentences become:

I don’t care whether it snows.

I’m not sure whether you care.

It doesn’t matter whether you let the wine breathe.

When you respect the word whether you decrease wordiness, and that’s good for your writing.

Should you ever use Or Not?

Whatever rules you know about writing, apply this rule above all others: try to make your readers comfortable. When you write a sentence using the word whether and it sounds awkward, you may need to add or not for your readers.

Consider: The statement I’m having dessert whether you have any doesn’t feel right. Recast it as I’m having dessert whether or not you have any and it sounds better.

Be judicious. As a rule, use whether alone in all its glory. When whether alone doesn’t cut it, reluctantly add or not.

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Ryan Seacrest said this at the end of an installment of American Idol: In the end there can only be one American Idol. Don’t count this mistake among your writing problems.

Mistake? You ask. This sentence could easily mean that the only thing left in creation at the end of the show is an American Idol. Consider: …there can only be one American Idol implies that nothing else at all can exist.

It seems likely Mr Seacrest was telling us that eventually there would be one American Idol. His statement would be clear if he simply omitted the word only so the sentence became In the end there can be one American Idol. By misplacing the word only in an attempt to add emphasis, he has, instead, made the statement unclear.

Put Only Where it Belongs

The statement, In the end there can be one American Idol is clear. Spoken emphasis on the word one achieves Seacrest’s intent. However, if you really need to use the word only, use it as follows: In the end there can be only one American Idol.

This minor rewrite of Seacrest’s sentence ties the words only and one together. It leaves the possibility that there can be other things besides that one American Idol.

Use Only Sparingly and Appropriately

Consider the title of this post: Today, Only Fix One of your Writing Problems. It suggests that the only thing you should do today is fix one of your writing problems. If it must include the word only, the title should be, Today, Fix Only One of your Writing Problems. With that change, it suggests you should fix one writing problem, but let the others go for today. It doesn’t forbid you from doing other things.

When you use only in a sentence, reread the sentence carefully and decide whether only is in the right place. Here are some examples to help you recognize how a misplaced only changes the meaning of your words:

The sentence: You should only move this box.

Means: You should do nothing except move this box.

In contrast:

The sentence: You should move only this box.

Means: This box is the only thing you should move… but there may be other things for you to do as well.

Here’s another:

The sentence: Are you only giving me a tomato?

Means: Are you doing nothing more than giving me a tomato?

In contrast:

The sentence: Are you giving me only a tomato?

Means: Are you giving me nothing more than a tomato? I understand that you may do other things as well.

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Nonsense Expressions

Here’s a quick look at some silly writing problems. There are many phrases that people abuse in both conversation and in writing. Maybe you use these phrases in your writing. If you do, stop! When you use them, you sound stupid to some readers, you lose credibility, and you may drive people away. When you don’t use these phrases, no one misses them.

Gather Together

Do you say gather together? For example:Gather everyone together in conference room B.” Sounds familiar, no? I defy you to explain: how can you gather anything other than together? The statement Gather everyone in conference room B is clear. Get everyone together is also clear. Gather everyone together is redundant. Stop saying it.

Connect Together

Because it’s so similar to gather together, You’ve probably already seen the silliness in this expression: Use the striped cable to connect the devices together. You can’t connect the devices apart… so don’t waste the word together. Say Use the striped cable to connect the devices.

Close Proximity

This phrase must have arisen one day when someone wanted to sound authoritative: We have determined that the perpetrator lives in close proximity to the shopping district. The word proximity means closeness, so that authoritative genius actually said, We have determined that the perpetrator lives in close closeness to the shopping district. The sentence is silly and it’s needlessly stuffy; I’d rewrite it to say The perpetrator lives near the shopping district. If you never again use the word proximity, your writing will be better for it. But if you must use proximity, never use it in the phrase close proximity.

Successfully Complete

Consider the meaning of this statement: Larry Ainge successfully completed the tasks we assigned him. If Larry completed the tasks, then he must have been successful. Can you claim that Larry unsuccessfully completed a task? Logically, if he was unsuccessful, he didn’t complete it. Simplify your writing. Larry completed the tasks we assigned him. Or, Larry succeeded with the tasks we assigned him.

Could Care Less

Please eliminate this expression from your writing and your speech. If you mean that you don’t care even a little bit, then you couldn’t care less. The statement I could care less clearly means that you care—and it provides little sense of how much. When you say I could care less, you sound ignorant—as though you don’t know how meaningless the expression is; people might assume the ignorance extends to other topics besides how much you care.

Have You Done This Before?

When you ask someone, Have you seen this movie before? you’re encouraging them to wonder: When else could I have seen the movie? If you saw the movie, you saw it before. Toss before from sentences that already say it: Have you seen this movie? or I’ve never been here.

Compare with Each Other

Here’s a sentence that sounds innocent—and it’s even forgivable: Compare the two financial plans with each other. Were you to say Compare the two financial plans, nearly every reader would understand they should compare the plans to each other. The statement introduces risk that a rare individual might wonder: Compare the plans with what? That’s a risk you should take to improve your writing.

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I rank confusion with the words I and me among the most inexcusable writing problems. Do you have this problem? Are you aware whether you have it? Even very unskilled writers recognize misuse of these words, and you lose credibility quickly (or at least you annoy your readers) when you pick the wrong words.

I’ve never met someone who chooses incorrectly when speaking about only one person. For example, no one accidentally says—or writes—Me am going to the zoo or Please give that to I. However, many writers get confused when two or more people creep into the conversation.

You and Me Can Fix our Writing Problems

That subhead refers to two people: You and Me. Its flaw is obvious. It should read, You and I can fix our writing problems. It’s obvious because you can easily chop off the phrase You and and read the rest of the sentence as if it referred only to you: Me can fix my writing problems. Gibberish.

The example reveals a simple strategy: When you refer to yourself along with one or more other people, cut the other people out of the sentence and decide whether it sounds right. If you can’t make it sound right with I, substitute me and vice-versa. When you find the correct word, put the other person or people back into the sentence. Here are some more examples:

Me and the programmers…

Me and the programmers design all the interfaces for our software systems.

Remove and the programmers from the sentence and you get:

Me design all the interfaces for our software systems.

It’s nonsense; the correct word choice is I as in the following sentence:

I and the programmers design all the interfaces for our software systems.

Janet and I…

He ripped seven pages out of a book that belongs to Janet and I.

Remove Janet from the sentence and it reads:

He ripped seven pages out of a book that belongs to I.

The correct word is me; the sentence should read:

He ripped seven pages out of a book that belongs to Janet and me.

Practice to Reduce your Writing Problems

Here are some sentences for you to evaluate. I’ve used underlines in place of the key words. You decide: should each blank contain the word I or me?

  1. My husband and ___ were very upset by the condition of the flowers.
  2. The condition of the flowers really upset my husband and ___.
  3. ___ and my dog are going for a walk.
  4. The presentation was just perfect for the commissioner and ___.
  5. The commissioner and ___ felt that the presentation was perfect!

If these gave you trouble, review and practice. Whenever you use I or me in a sentence, do this:

  • Break the sentence down so it’s talking about you and you alone.
  • Decide whether I or me works in the reduced sentence.
  • Rebuild the sentence to include whoever else is supposed to be in it.

Here are the correct words for the blanks in the practice sentences above:

  1. I
  2. me
  3. I
  4. me
  5. I

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Is verbosity among your writing problems? It may be, and you don’t even know it. Why? Because conversation is usually loaded with unnecessary words… and writers typically create “conversational” prose. (If your prose doesn’t sound conversational, visit Writing Problems Explained often; we’ll keep working on it.)

Verbosity means wordiness. Wordy writing is bad writing. A reader faced with too many words may give up. The Internet reinforces this: if the point you’re making doesn’t fit on one screen, you may lose your reader; scrolling is too much trouble.

Edit for Brevity

Good writers and even very bad editors focus on brevity. One goal of a magazine or newspaper editor is to cut as much from an article as possible without losing the story’s meaning or the author’s voice. A succinct writer decreases the editor’s workload and sees fewer changes from final draft to published copy.

When you create web content, cut your own words. Be brutal: chop the chaff from every sentence. Chuck sentences—and even paragraphs—that don’t contribute to your main point. Here are some strategies to help:

Don’t Be Chatty

Unless you’ve written fiction or a journal entry, get to the point. Comments about your dog or your niece add character, but inject too many of them and you’ll distract your readers to annoyance.

Don’t Try to Sound Authoritative

Most people trying to sound authoritative sound stiff; they say too much and they load what they say with big words. Consider the spokesperson for a police investigation:

“We have absolutely no information at this time, but we’ll make a formal announcement the moment there’s a change in the situation.”

Without the swagger, the spokesperson might have said:

“We don’t know, but we’ll tell you when we do.”

Sound authoritative by being authoritative, but don’t try to sound authoritative.

Scrutinize Your Wording

As you write a sentence, ask yourself: “Can I say this more efficiently?” Here are examples of changes I made as I wrote this article:

I wrote: A goal of a magazine or newspaper editor reworking an article is to cut out as much text as possible without losing the meaning of the story or the voice of the author.

And edited to: One goal of a magazine or newspaper editor is to cut as much from an article as possible without losing the story’s meaning or the author’s voice.

I wrote: Of course, when you create web content, if falls to you to cut your own words.

And edited to: When you create web content, cut your own words.

I wrote: You add character by throwing in comments about your dog or your niece, but…

And edited to: Comments about your dog or your niece add character, but…

I wrote: Here are examples of changes I made on-the-fly as I wrote sentences in earlier paragraphs of this article:

And edited to: Here are examples of changes I made as I wrote this article:

Do your readers the favor of editing your work before you make it public on the web.

Eliminate Common Verbosity

There may be hundreds of popular turns-of-phrase that employ unnecessary words. You probably use them in conversation and in your writing. Here are examples:

Allows you tonever say this. Replace it with Lets you.

Now and Currently—very overused words. In the opening of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, you can see the folly of the word now on a sign that reads You are now in Bedford Falls. A sign reading, You are in Bedford Falls would be just as clear, and would cost less to make. A meteorologist who announces that the temperature is currently 72 degrees, wastes three syllables. You’d understand perfectly the announcement, The temperature is 72 degrees.

Absolutely certain—unnecessary overstatement. If you’re certain, then your knowledge is absolute; you can’t be more certain than certain.

At this time or At this point or the nauseating At this point in timestop using these phrases! Instead, use the word now. It’s a good word.

Practice to Reduce Writing Problems

Here are several verbose phrases that I lifted from various blogs. Rewrite them using fewer words. My rewrites follow the list:

  1. Take into consideration that…
  2. If you think that having bluebirds in your yard is a near-impossible idea…
  3. If you want to save on time…
  4. This is over and above other ideas you might consider…
  5. You may want to put a gasket…
  6. As it stands right now…
  7. Overall, the ultimate goal of Jack Plunket’s art is to show the world from the point of view that Plunket’s dog saw it.

My rewrites:

  1. Consider that…
  2. If you think you can’t have bluebirds in your yard…
  3. To save time… (Also: Save time by…)
  4. Also consider…
  5. Put a gasket…
  6. As it stands…
  7. Jack Plunket’s art shows the world from his dog’s point of view.

Keep practicing. Be vigilant. Verbosity should not be one of your writing problems.

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Every web content creator has writing problems. What separates good content from mediocre content is the writer who catches and fixes errors before committing the content to the web. In my last post, I explained a myriad of writing problems you can eliminate simply by reading an article before you post it. This post suggests five strategies you can employ to reduce the number of writing problems that plague your writing in the first place.

1: Use a Real Word Processor

So many on-line services provide text-entry capabilities through which you enter material: blog posts, articles, even comments about others’ posts. Don’t write web content in these web-based text-entry facilities; use a full-featured word processor.

Why? A word processor is chock full of cool features to help you produce top-notch material. Microsoft Word, for example, automatically identifies every word it doesn’t recognize. Usually, these are words you’ve misspelled. If you right-click on a highlighted word, the software suggests replacements. Most times, the list includes the word you meant to type, but spelled correctly.

Here are a few other reasons to write your web content in a word processor:

  • Many on-line posting systems lack the ability to save your work-in-progress; you must commit your work to the web to save it—a real pain if you get interrupted and want to finish a project later.
  • Sometimes you lose your internet connection. If this happens when you’re creating a post through a web-based editor, you may lose the entire entry.
  • On-line editors rarely (if ever) have grammar-checking capabilities. Robust word processors do. Again, Microsoft Word flags grammatical problems with your writing and suggests fixes when you right-click on highlighted phrases.
  • Full-featured word processors may have auto-correction and auto-completion features. These recognize common writing problems and fix them as you type. It’s pretty cool to see transposed characters jump into their correct places, and commonly misspelled words suddenly appear where a typo landed moments earlier.

So, use a real word processor, exploit its error-correcting capabilities and save often to your local hard drive. Copy your article to the web all-at-once only after you’ve written it, edited it, and read it!

2. Don’t trust grammar-checking software.

Often, a grammar-checker highlights things that may be problems… but the software doesn’t really know! Consider: If you use the word lets in a sentence, Microsoft Word’s grammar-checker will tell you that the correct word could be let’s—even when lets is, in fact, correct. So, consider what your grammar-checker tells you, but don’t get hung up on it; often you’re right and it’s only guessing.

3. Fact-check as you write.

Sure, you know your subject matter, but do you really know every fact you’re citing to make your point? Depending on my topic, I average two facts per article that I confirm through on-line research. It takes longer to write the article, but every factual error I publish diminishes my authority; I deserve to lose readers if I continually publish untruths… so I check things even when I’m confident they’re correct.

4. Reread your article after you make changes to it.

The whole point of reading your own article is to find and eliminate your writing problems. The very act of fixing a problem can introduce new problems. So, always read your article again after you make changes to it.

5. Here’s a killer: Reread your article after you publish it on the internet.

I’m not kidding. Usually, when moving an article from my word processor to my publishing platform on the web, I make some changes. I might add words to fill out lines, toss in some HTML for emphasis, or rearrange sections to accommodate illustrations or other elements. Even if I do none of these things, I reread my freshly-published articles. Writing problems I didn’t notice in the original copy sometimes jump out at me when I see an article on line. Go figure!

Here are some other articles to encourage you to read your work before you publish it:

  • Fear the publish button – I obviously want each and everyone of you to be better bloggers by reading this blog and for that I want you to think twice before pressing that evil publish button. Too many bloggers just press the publish button without even reading …

  • Ads That Suck » Even the big guys forget to proofread – Updated whenever it tickles my fancy to do so. I see typos in ads quite often, but they’re usually the little mom-and-pop, I-got-my-nephew-to-do-it sort of ads in the back of one of the many free daily newspapers in the city. But, every once in a while, even a major agency with a major client can make a stupid mistake.

  • Five Proofreading Tips That You Can Use Right Now By Yourself – Five Proofreading Tips That You Can Use Right Now By Yourself. February 23rd, 2007 · 14 Comments. I always chuckle to myself when I see the blog posts and forum posts to freelance writers recommending that they have someone else …

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