As a freelance writer, you certainly want to present the best writing you can. Knowing how to write content that is well-written and well-researched gives you credibility and makes you shine in the eyes of your editor. When an editor is considering writers for the next assignment, you get the call.
However, there is another way to stand out in your editor’s mind. We all have our bad days, sure, but there are certain gaffes that, if they show up in your work consistently, will make your editor cringe and file you away in his or her brain as a weak writer.
To help you navigate the sometimes-uncertain world of web content, I thought I would share the top ten pet peeves that make most editors wince. But rather than looking at this as a list of peevish complaints, think of it as a handy checklist to go through before you submit a piece. I promise, your editor will be grateful.
So without further ado, here are the top ten editorial no-nos that make your editor grimace.
#10: Ignoring or Resisting Feedback
Being a writer myself, I know how hard it is to accept criticism on something you’ve worked so hard on. But I promise, we editors are not miserable old meanies who live for catching typos and grammatical mistakes. We genuinely want to help you make your content the best it can possibly be. We want to make you and your work look good. The better it looks, the more credible you are as a writer, and the more people are attracted to your work.
So, if we give direction or point out a mistake (and a good editor will do this as constructively and professionally as possible), we really are just trying to help.
#9: Skipping the Guidelines
It’s really tedious to read through extensive writing guidelines, especially if you’re pressed for time. Deadlines are always looming, and poring through pages of instructions can be a pain.
But going through these guidelines will save you time in the long run. Once you know exactly what a client wants, you can write your content quickly and confidently. Your articles won’t bounce back and forth between you and your editor as you try to figure out just what she’s looking for.
#8: Writing for the Wrong Audience
This goes along with #9. Your guidelines should give you a good idea of who your audience is. If they don’t, you can always ask your editor ahead of time. You might also want to check out the client’s website. Read through a few pages to pick up on their voice and who their targeted audience is. You wouldn’t want to submit a chocolate cake recipe for a dieting website, right?
#7: Inappropriate Pen Names
Lots of people choose to write under pen names for a multitude of reasons. Some even get creative, but again, you have to know your audience. Tailoring your pen name toward the client or audience could mean the difference between getting published and getting rejected. A serious business client won’t want to publish an article written under a pen name like Pir8t Grrl. By the same token, a website that promotes and writes about all things anime might want something more creative than John Smith.
#6: Rambling Text
So you’ve begun to write, and you think you have a pretty good article taking shape. Go back and read the opening paragraph. Did you get to the point right away? The sooner you make your point, the better. You might think you’re setting your audience up for the big reveal, but really you’re losing readers. Check out my last blog post for tips on making your message clear and keeping your readers with you.
#5: Inappropriate Language
I don’t just mean cuss words. There are plenty of terms, phrases, and euphemisms out there that could get you in trouble with your editor and your audience. Once again, make sure you know your audience, including their preferred nomenclature—if they have one—or any terms or phrases to stay away from. In anything you write, make sure you never talk down to your audience.
#4: Using the Wrong Word
Words can be booby traps, but as a writer, you should make every effort to use and spell words correctly. The best example—the one that makes all editors bang their heads on their desks—is the incorrect use of the word literally. “I literally died of embarrassment.” No, you didn’t. You’re still standing there, breathing.
Some words can be tricky, like the difference between compliment and complement. But others should be right in your wheelhouse (there, they’re, and their; its and it’s).
Don’t ever be afraid to look up a word. I constantly have to remind myself how to spell tomorrow. Yep, I just looked it up. Everyone has an editorial Achilles’ heel!
#3: Skipping Your Fact Checking
Just like words you’re not sure of, you should look up facts you’re not sure of. Actually, you should even look up facts you think you’re sure of. Make sure you use credible sources, too. It’s amazing how much conflicting information is out there. You want to make sure you have it all right.
Keep your source material for a little while. If your editor comes to you with a question, you can refer to your research.
#2: Skipping the Proofreading Step
Yes, I realize we are editors and our job is to catch and correct mistakes. But a piece that is riddled with errors makes us question whether or not you know how to write content. Your message gets lost if your editor has to push through spelling and grammatical mistakes. This is especially true of writing samples submitted with résumés. I would suggest triple-checking those before submitting.
And here is the number-one pet peeve of all editors on the planet:
Please, just don’t do it. We know when you do through the magic of Google. We want your unique content in your own voice. We want to read what you have to say on the subject, not what everyone else is saying.
So there you have it! Ten things to avoid when writing the best content on the web, because we know that’s exactly what you can write. And we’ve got your back! We’re here to coach you and make you shine!
Laurie Mega is a trivia junkie, on-again-off-again blogger, and a lead editor at Skyword. She loves to comb the blogosphere for interesting and irreverent stories to share and tweet. Follow her at @laurieann78.