The top things writers do that drive our lead editor and style maven, Dear Megan, to question her sanity.
Most days, I love my job. I get to work with words all day in the dynamic, ever-changing field of content marketing. I edit a diverse portfolio of articles on trending topics and work with a group of enterprising and creative people. It’s fast-paced, fulfilling and fun.
And then there are the days when stuff like this crosses my desk: “The Internet provides an immense source of useful information, according to Forbes.”
Hmm… the Internet, you say? It provides useful information? Are you certain?
Oh, wait. Look: “According to Forbes.” It’s sourced, so it must be so.
These are the days I question my suitability for this field, and I wonder if I shouldn’t embark on a more rewarding career path—like, I could be a lumberjack, or something.
Nah, plaid isn’t my thing. I’ll just go ahead and make this list of the three things writers do that drive me crazy and beg you all to take heed. Save my sanity and my career and keep reading.
1. State the Obvious
Don’t tell readers what they already know. They’re looking for new information. They already know that “planning a wedding can be stressful” (you don’t say) or that “Valentine’s Day is a special time for many couples” (gag me) or, as an article I just edited started out, “Golf is hugely popular among a wide variety of people all over the country.” Unless the reader just landed his spaceship on our fair planet, he already knows these nuggets. Don’t make him read about them all over again, because it is borrrring. And he probably won’t read further.
Dear Megan’s quick fix: Stating the obvious happens most often when writing leads. Chances are, the “meat” of what you’re saying is a few more sentences down in your story. Simply cut the intro crap and get to it. Or, write the guts of the story first, then go back and write the lead. If you get stuck, write a more newsy lead that contains an interesting stat related to what you’re writing about.
For example, instead of:
The Internet provides an immense source of useful information.
The average American adult spends 11 hours a day with electronic media, Nielsen reports.
Dear Megan, is there no exception? Of course there is. Comedians make a living by stating the obvious (“What’s the deal … with airline food?”), and if you can use this tact to be entertaining, then go for it.
2. Source Stuff That Doesn’t Need to Be Sourced
Working long hours is a common source of stress, notes WebMD.
Color can really help set the mood for a room, House Beautiful reports.
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States, according to The History Channel.
Now, we didn’t really need to give credit to any one source for those little gems, did we?
Of course not. Widely known facts don’t need attribution.
Dear Megan’s Cheat Sheet to Sourcing:
- Quotes: If you use someone’s specific words, you must put the words in quotes and credit the source.
- Information and Ideas: If you get information or ideas from a source, credit the source, even if you use your own words to describe it.
- Common knowledge. You don’t need to source information that is considered to be common knowledge in the public domain. For more information on the categories of common knowledge, check out the Harvard Guide to Using Sources.
3. Be Really, Really Wordy
If this one had a theme song, it’d be this one:
For the love of God, say something. Everyone is guilty of a little fluff every now and then, but writers, we beg of you: Cut. The. Unnecessary. Words.
This got so bad here at ClearVoice that now, when sending out article assignments to our freelancers, we editors pad the minimum word count requirement, just so we have more room to cut the fluff. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Make every word count. Cut what’s redundant or does not add value to your copy.
- This really isn’t the best way to get my attention.
- I still prefer face-to-face communication.
- If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.
- I drove to 20 different stores looking for the perfect gift.
The fastest way to endear yourself to Dear Megan: Read your work before you turn it in, looking just for fluff; if you can delete a word without losing meaning, then get rid of it.
Bonus Tip, No Extra Charge
If you really want to get and stay in our graces, may we suggest: Proofread your work.
Wait, in case that wasn’t clear: Proofread your work.
Oh yeah, one more thing: Please proofread your work.
Got a question for Dear Megan? Bet she has an answer.