True confession: I often mistype my first name as “Derider” instead of “Deirdre.” The habit formed long before the advent of stored signatures and autocorrect-enabled everything. Working primarily as an editor for the past two decades, this foible has generated no small amount of hilarity for my friends and colleagues — my “secret” evil nature and Freudian typos are the stuff of legend.
I’ve come to peace with my sloppy typing technique, but what continually amazes me is how often I read and re-read a misspelled word and fail to catch the error. It doesn’t happen often when reviewing the work of others, but it happens all the time when I review my own writing. My brain, like yours, has an autocorrect function that mentally fixes or skims past glitches in my prose with remarkable efficiency. While that may be no big deal in a text or email to my sister, it can certainly cause a bit of embarrassment when it comes to professional communications or something as public as a blog post. To spare myself unnecessary humiliation, before I publish a new post, I follow a checklist that helps me catch those uncatchable errors and aids in producing better writing overall. It starts with an assessment of my intent, then works down through the details of execution and the eradication of typoglycemic text.
1. Revisit the lede. By the time you’re ready to publish, you’ve no doubt embellished and added facts and established a storyline. Now you need to go back to the beginning and make sure you haven’t muddled your point in the process. Is the topic at hand introduced in the first few paragraphs? Are you trying the reader’s patience with too many unrelated musings? Unless you are M. Night Shyamalan, you have to let the reader in on where this is all going up front. Here’s a handy gauge: If a coworker can’t identify the general topic of your post after reading the first two paragraphs, you need to rewrite your introduction.
2. Inspect your links. Facts and evidence validate the information outlined in an article or post and reinforce reader trust. The beauty of writing blog posts or submitting other digital content is that you can hyperlink to sources within your story, providing readers with quick access to studies or articles that support your writing. Adding good links enhances credibility and adds substance, so make sure yours are relevant and hold up to scrutiny. This one is especially important if you’re writing on behalf of a company/organization/group or collaborating with another person on a post or byline. Reputations beyond your own are at stake, so take care that any positions are well supported.
3. Trim, and trim again. Avoid the dreaded TL;DR tag. There are many stories that require 10,000 words to be told well. But there are many, many more that require less than 500. Be honest with yourself about which category yours falls into and cut the extraneous detail accordingly. And yes, I know all about current content marketing strategy trends, but a blog post isn’t better just because it contains more words. Respect your reader’s time.
4. Test your headline. In a sea of blogs, newsfeeds, seven-second videos, and shortening attention spans, you have very limited opportunity to hook your fish and compel readers to click on your post. Get feedback on your headline, try a free analyzer like CoSchedule; shamelessly emulate headlines or tweets that catch your attention; A/B test, my fellow nerds! You don’t have to sink to the level of clickbait, but you want to be clickable.
5. Catch the “Derider.” I find it easier to catch errors on paper, so I like to print out a semifinal copy of a post for proofing whenever possible. A more tree-friendly trick is to enable dictation and speech in your system preferences and have your computer read your post back to you out loud. And it’s always good practice to ask a friend or colleague to review your draft.
When I follow this checklist, I feel I’ve done my due diligence as a writer. It doesn’t address every post’s weaknesses or prevent every error, but it certainly helps, and as Margaret Atwood once said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
Deirdre Blake is Senior Content Manager at Sterling Communications. You can follow her on Twitter at @PingYourBrain.