By Paula L. Silici for TalkingWriting
As the Internet secures an ever-increasing foothold in our lives, we writers should consider ourselves under mounting pressure to maintain a strong, professional presence both online and off.
If we wish to be taken seriously as professionals—and if we are to gain the respect we long for in the blogging arena—then we need to be just as meticulous about the quality and accuracy of our online postings as we would if submitting material for payment to a traditional hardcopy publisher.
Am I being overly pedantic here? Given the laissez-faire nature of the Internet, one could argue that the standards should be relaxed. For many, the blogging world is an “anything goes” venue, where typos, misspellings, grammar, and punctuation errors are the norm. Both readers and some (not all) contributors deem it acceptable, even cool, to replace traditional style conventions with sloppy, ill-constructed, or just plain poorly written ramblings.
What a mistake that is.
Beginning writers who dream of future fame should be aware that whatever they submit online today is being scrutinized by industry professionals and other writers everywhere.
Here’s a sobering thought: Think of how easy it now is for agents, editors, and publishers to google, twitter, or facebook a prospective client’s name in order to check their professionalism and track record.
In writing guest posts or our own blogs—even in commenting on other blogs—can we honestly afford to forego convention when it comes to proper style and format? Shouldn’t we do our darnedest to make whatever we post as polished as it can possibly be, for the ultimate benefit of our readers but also for our own self-respect and satisfaction?
It is true that how we use the written word in general is rapidly changing. For example, there’s the way texters use shorthand abbreviations in place of common words. Those who text don’t seem to care much about misspellings and bad grammar; they simply wish to get their messages across to their recipients as quickly and effortlessly as possible.
But I believe we’re comparing apples to oranges here (forgive the cliché). Professional writers, as standard bearers for our art, cannot afford to lapse into such habits.
So, then, what’s considered proper format in online postings? Since there are few official guidelines governing proper manuscript format when it comes to online postings, the question is open for discussion. But I believe pretty much the same rules apply as those for work submitted to offline publishers. That’s because the overall appearance of a blog entry or other online post ultimately generates a lasting impression on its readers, either negative or positive. In other words, the look of the piece itself will determine how you, the writer, are perceived overall.
On that note, here’s a simple, four-point checklist for those of us living in two writing worlds. You may find these pointers helpful before submitting your next guest post or print manuscript.
The Two-Worlds Guide to Preparing Pieces for Publication
1. Make sure your submission, whether online or off, is presented in a professional manner. This means you’ve placed the text in proper manuscript format. For best results, especially when submitting offline (that is, to avoid immediate rejection) check the publisher’s guidelines for writers and follow them to the letter. Publishers mean what they say.
2. Carefully proofread your work. It’s helpful to let the piece sit for several hours or days, then read through the text again, preferably aloud, noting and correcting any blips in the flow, typos, and grammar errors you find.
3. Spell check. If you’re unsure of a word’s spelling, either use an online source such as http://www.dictionary.com/ or good old Webster’s. Remember that your spellchecker cannot distinguish between the proper use of homonyms such as they’re, there, and their, which brings us back to carefully proofread your work.
4. Check punctuation and grammar, either through an online source such as http://www.grammarbook.com/ or your favorite style book. A great, easy-to-understand hardcopy reference I can’t live without is Nitty-Gritty Grammar by Edith H. Fine and Judith P. Josephson. When I really want to power up, I consult The Chicago Manual of Style.
I’m reminded of the old saying: “You have only one chance to make a good first impression.”
I welcome your comments.
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