I’ve been writing for the vast majority of my adult life. In fact, it’s the only career I’ve ever had. Even before entering into the world of work, I used to hand-write story after story as a kid — but I’m not sure any of those pieces could really be considered professional writing.
Now, my day-to-day work consists of reading, editing and publishing anywhere from five to ten articles on my publication, Mind Cafe. It’s there that I notice writers making the same mistakes over and over again.
Of course, each author should maintain their own personal voice and tone. But there are a number of simple, easily-fixable errors that countless writers seem to be making.
While these might not seem catastrophic as far as the quality of their work is concerned, sharpening up these small things would provide their readers with more coherent, consistent and engaging content.
That being said, below I’ve listed a number of ways in which we can all start making our writing a little bit better.
1. Spellcheck, Spellcheck, Spellcheck
It’s ironic, really. Most of us would consider spellchecking our work the most rudimentary practice when it comes to editing our article before publishing, yet the sheer amount of spelling mistakes my co-editor Reed Rawlings and I have to correct is quite shocking.
Of course, after spending hours reading and re-reading the same piece of content over and over, it’s easy for us to miss these simple errors as writers. But with tools available like Grammarly and Hemingway, there really is no excuse.
A spelling mistake can make a lot of difference as far as the perceived credibility of your article goes. There’s this subconscious process that seems to take place when we come across an error in a piece of content. We identify one small mistake and, subsequently, we start to question the credibility of the source as a whole.
I’ve read books in the past, books that have been professionally edited, proofread and cross-checked, and found spelling mistakes laced within them.
Such mistakes raise dangerous questions in the readers’ head: What other mistakes does this piece of content contain? If that’s incorrect, what else might be incorrect?
These questions are best avoided. Checking your work thoroughly before publishing it is the key to ensuring that those niggly little spelling mistakes don’t make it into your final draft.
Point: If you’re publishing work online, make sure it doesn’t have spelling mistakes — especially if you’re trying to have that work featured on a reputable publication. Use tools like Grammarly and Hemingway to keep everything in check.
2. Maintain Your Position
Another common mistake I see happening all-too-often is when writers switch up their position mid-sentence. In one phrase they’ll be speaking in the first person, and by the end of the sentence, they’re in the third.
Look at the following example,
‘When we allow ourselves to try new things, the odds of finding a new talent you have a knack for are very favourable.’
Failing to adopt a consistent position as an author is something that will throw your readers off. It’s vital that you maintain the same position throughout the piece.
Of course, the above sentence should read:
‘When we allow ourselves to try new things, the odds of finding a new talent we have a knack for are very favourable.’
It’s okay if you refer to the reader as ‘You’ even if you’ve written the piece from the perspective of ‘I’. What isn’t okay is varying those two positions when making a singular point.
‘When meditating, you might find it easier to find a comfortable position in which you can sit without being distracted. I like to sit upstairs in my bedroom with the door firmly shut.’
Do you see the difference? I’m changing position, but that change is coherent with the points being made.
Point: When writing, be sure to stick to the same position. If you start a sentence as ‘we’, maintain that. If it’s ‘you’, stick to ‘you’. The same goes for ‘I’.
3. Make Sure It’s Readable
Before publishing your work, it’s important that you review it from the perspective of your reader. That is, to check that it flows well, is consistent and keeps people engaged.
Reed and I are often having to re-jig articles and sentences to improve their readability. That’s not because we have some superhuman ability to discern proper writing, but simply because we’re taking the time to check the piece thoroughly.
I get it. After writing for hours and scanning the same paragraphs over and over, you don’t want to sit and skim through your article with a fine-tooth comb. And that’s fine. But if you don’t, you might have just wasted those hours by leaving out a few simple syntactical errors that could’ve been fixed in minutes.
You have to ask yourself: Is your content readable? Is it engaging? Does each sentence flow well into the next, and are your paragraphs seamlessly linked?
Some common things to avoid as far as consistency and engagement are concerned include:
- Referencing irrelevant points. If you’re mid-flow in making a point, don’t interrupt yourself by bringing up something entirely irrelevant and side-tracking for the next three paragraphs. Use parentheses, or finish your point before moving on.
- Monotonous sentence structure. When writing, it’s important to vary sentence structure in order to keep your reader engaged. Long, complex sentences are okay providing that you mix things up with a few shorter ones. Like this. Variety is key to maintaining interest, so avoid monotonous writing styles and keep things exciting.
- Repeating words. Repeating descriptive words or nouns is a sure way to make your writing feel tedious. If you use a word like ‘fantastic’ in one sentence, using it in the next isn’t a good idea. Instead, opt for a synonym like ‘wonderful’, ‘marvellous’ or ‘sensational’ to reflect your extensive vocabulary rather than recycling old words.
Point: Re-read your article a thousand-times over if necessary. Make sure that it flows well, is readable and keeps your audience engaged throughout.
4. Make it Look Pretty
It sounds trivial, but simply making your article as aesthetically-pleasing as possible will increase both its readability and the chances that scrollers will even click on it in the first place.
How does your article look? Does it include an attractive (credited) photograph and an appropriate headline? Is your subtitle relevant and enticing? As a reader, would it pique your interest or go unnoticed amongst the thousands of other articles meeting your eyes?
And how about its structure? Are readers going to be faced with blocks of dense text, or varied paragraphs and enough white space to keep them from feeling overwhelmed? Is your content separated into subsections, either by subtitles or separators?
All of these things are going to impact your reader’s attention span. Keeping your content light, readable and as unintimidating as possible will better its chances of performing well.
Point: Pay attention to the format of your article. Include an attractive image, interesting headline and be sure to separate your piece into distinct sections in order to keep your reader engaged until the end.
I don’t believe there’s a ‘right’ way to write. The quality of an article is, of course, a subjective measure, but there are certainly a number of things we can all do to make the reader-experience a little better for our audience.
Moreover, if you’re looking to have your work published to spaces such as Mind Cafe, keeping an eye out for the pitfalls above will better your chances of being accepted.