Do you make these writing mistakes below? I’m sure you do. We’re all guilty.
We’re putting together a definitive series of articles to show you some glaring mistakes you should avoid making when writing for the Internet. Most of these articles will deal with word-usage, editing (my speciality), punctuation, grammar etc. This introductory piece was created to set the tone right from the start. I think it makes perfect sense to address mistakes in writing tone and approach before we tackle the other more pressing elements we mentioned above.
These posts will target both native English speakers, and writers who write (and speak) English as a second language. We’re all guilty of the same writing mistakes when we write for the web.
You know it’s said that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Why one would want to catch flies in the first place baffles me. Why you’d want to waste an expensive commodity such as honey catching insects is even more mind-boggling. However, the saying still holds true. You’ll definitely attract more readers by being nice – as opposed to being abrasive. I’ve mentioned this before in my writing; some blog owners leave me feeling slapped across the face when I’ve finished reading their posts. Needless to say, I don’t visit them very often because I don’t want to feel bad about myself and my freelance writing/editing business.
They seem to think that if you’re not doing exactly what they’re doing to succeed you’re going about it all wrong.
Are you making some of these booboos on your blog (in your approach to writing your posts)? Are there words you constantly misuse because you have never learned their correct usage? Here are some mistakes to avoid when writing for the Internet when it comes to your tone.
Writing Mistakes: writing tone
Your readers are your equal. Don’t treat them any less
Your readers are your equal. They’re not below you in any way. They choose to learn from you and they can choose to learn from the other thousands of bloggers who write in the same niche as you do. Treat them as equals and never be condescending. If you adapt an attitude of ‘I’m better than you’ or ‘I know more than you do’ it will come out clearly in your writing, and this is the message your readers will receive when they read your articles.
I’m sure you’ve read blogs that fit into that category. Condescending bloggers think they know more than you just because you haven’t as yet reached their rung on the ladder. They tell you off as though they’re your parents.
Don’t become one of these people when you’ve reached your height of success. You’ll write as you think. Think of teaching in humility and the people who want to learn will stick with you because they’ll trust your judgement. By all means have confidence in your abilities, but above this, have confidence in your readers’ intelligence. They’re bright people, and if you treat them like second-class citizens, they’ll slowly disperse, no matter how great you think your knowledge is.
Learn to use universal English
Those of you who’ve met me on Oni’s blog, know that I’m a native English speaker. This doesn’t mean however, that I’m American. Therefore, I spell some words differently and express myself in a way that’s distinctly British (I’m sorry. I can’t help it J I grew up in a British colony and now live in England).
If you’re going to write in English it’s crucial that you familiarise yourself with all sorts of English words and expressions which come from: Canadians, Australians, English, Scottish, Nigerians, Chinese, American people etc. I read quite a lot of US-based blogs and never approach them about their spelling because I’m aware that some words are spelt differently there. However, I’ve been approached by Americans in the past, some of whom said my spelling of words like colour, labelled, theatre etc. were shameful. Imagine their reaction when I said this was the way I spelled – and that it was the way millions of other English speakers spelled.
You can do several things to keep abreast of what’s happening in the English-speaking world (this applies to all writers – native and non-native English speakers). Watch films both English and American-made. Period dramas (may represent an ancient way of speaking, but they don’t use slang). It’s best to be aware of the right way first, then you can choose to use slang (or not) once you’re comfortable enough to mis-use the language for comedic effect.
Please note: I’m not saying here that we should just accept incorrect spelling because the person lives in another country. I’m saying that we should be aware of the words which are spelled differently in various English speaking countries. Chinese and African English speakers generally tend to write in British English – although this trend seems to be changing nowadays to reflect the American way.
A note for non-English speakers: learn to speak English as naturally as possible
As a former secondary/high school English teacher (and a separately qualified and experienced English teacher to speakers of other languages) I can assure you that practise is everything. My husband did his PhD in French and is bilingual – English/French, but whenever he does his conferences in Paris, he still has to ‘brush up’ his French because the longer your break from actually speaking – the more of the language you lose.
Practice every day. Skype with random English speakers if this is what it takes J. I know from personal experience. My ability to speak Spanish is quickly fading. The other day on a filming location some Spanish actors were speaking in a group. I was thrilled when I heard their accent, and quickly scuttled over to join in the conversation. I was totally embarrassed when I opened my mouth to speak and found that I no longer knew any of the words with which I needed to express myself. I hadn’t even noticed this erosion happening. An entire language had eluded me without me being aware of it.
The more you speak English, the better (and more natural) you’ll become at writing it.
Shush yourself when you write. You really don’t need to shout unless it’s needed and appropriate. Your readers have come to you by choice (here’s that ‘choice’ thing again). They’re hanging out at your ‘crib’ because they’ve come to learn or to be entertained. They don’t appreciate being yelled at. (I’m referring to the abuse of exclamation marks).
Think of writing as sitting in a café, talking to someone who’s seated opposite you at one of the smaller tables. You’re explaining the rules of grammar to them and they’re patiently listening to you. In this scenario, will you shout or speak in a normal tone?
Your blog is that café. Avoid exclamation marks and just ‘speak’. If you’ve got some exciting point to make you may raise your voice a little. Apart from this, your tone will be conversational. Allow your writing to reflect this.
…And never, ever, ever again use more than one exclamation mark. They’re used to show emphasis (or used in dialogue to show that one speaker is shouting). You wouldn’t use two question marks (at least I hope you’ve never done so), so don’t use two exclamation marks. If you are going to use them – one is more than enough to get your shout across.
Please look out for the other articles in this series (we’re going to cover the exclamation mark in more detail later on) and if there’s anything grammar you’d like to see covered here, please suggest it in the comment box. We’ll do a fragmented article (covering a random selection of your concerns) at the end of the series. The next article looks at the correct use of apostrophes.
Anne Lyken-Garner is a published author, a freelance writer and editor. She has 4 blogs and writes about writing at A Blogger’s Books.