Keep it clean

The written word has power. It has the power to compel, convince, cajole and comfort. It can change an opinion or spread entirely new ideas. It just has to be used correctly.

On Wednesdays, I’ll be posting tips on how to make the written word work for you, so you can share your story with others effectively.

 Keep it clean

I’ll start with the most basic, most necessary element to successful storytelling – clean copy.

It may seem like it’s less necessary these days, as publications lay off copy editors and blog posts get no more than a cursory glance before being published.

But typos and errors are stumbling blocks for your readers. Whatever the medium, a mistake will jolt your reader and disconnect them from the message you’re trying to convey.

When I was an intern fresh out of journalism school, I was incredibly nervous. My biggest fear was making a mistake in a story, and this fear actually blinded me to the errors I was making. I made many at first. I was afraid I would be fired.

I tracked down a copy of Regret the Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech by Craig Silverman. It included an accuracy checklist. That checklist saved my internship, and it saved me from a lot of embarrassment, as well.

Reporters need strong copy editing skills, but so does anyone who writes anything, from novels to business brochures. It is easy to be blind to your own mistakes. Here are a few tips to help you check your blind spots:

  1. Print it. It’s easy to type away on your computer and then post or publish whatever you’ve written without ever holding it in your hands. Don’t do that. Print a hard copy and go over it with a pen or highlighter.
  2. Check twice. Double check names of people and businesses, including your own – those make for the most embarrassing typos. Double check facts and figures, too. A small typo in a figure or statistic can completely invalidate the information you’re trying to convey.
  3. Get help. Have at least one other person read your copy before you share it with the world. I recommend two, as almost everyone misses something.
  4. Step away. Walk away from your project for as long as possible, and then look at it with fresh eyes. If you’re on a tight deadline this can mean a 15-minute break, or a half-hour, if you can manage it. You’ll be surprised how even a few minutes can give you a better perspective, and you’ll catch things you couldn’t see initially.
  5. Follow up. By the time you post or publish whatever you’ve written, you might not want to ever look at it again. But you should. Read it in an hour, or even the next day. If you catch something that can be corrected, do so as soon as possible. If it has been sent to the printers, make a note of the error to ensure it doesn’t make it in again.

Most importantly, if you don’t feel confident in your ability to catch your own mistakes, hire a freelance copy editor or proofreader for the project. A skilled professional can be a huge help, and it’s a worthwhile expense when it comes to presenting your material professionally.

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