Saturday, November 21, 2009

?4U: Should the Standard Rules of Good Writing Apply to Blog Spots?

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.

9 comments:

  1. I think for writers who blog, this is absolutely a must. Great post...thanks.
    Karen

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  2. Great piece and vital for bloggers who may never have cut their teeth on the realities of hard copy. What I find most interesting about my own blog entries is that I never fully see how to perfect my words until I've officially posted an entry. I love the fact that as the writer I can go back in and quickly change the typo or correct a factual error. One needs to be careful here and it's a matter of ethics. I once made a grossly inaccurate statement that I was called out for by a commentor. I had to make the choice between changing the statement or leaving my error intact (to give the commentor credibility). I chose the latter...and corrected in the comments section.

    Thanks Paula Silici for your insights and great references!

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  3. Great point, David, about one's ability to edit on the fly, even after something has been posted. And there's definitely room for guidelines about the ethics of blogging--anyone want to write that one? When readers point out factual errors in our pieces, it definitely behooves us to indicate that we made a mistake (rather than just magically editing it away). I think, as journalists, we should embrace this other level of fact-checking, and acknowledge how important it is to keeping us on our toes online.

    My solution is to make the correction in the blog text, followed by a bracketed note of when I made the correction and why. I also usually explain what happened in the comments section as well.

    Bravo, Paula!

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  4. Terrific comments, all. I, too, love it that I can go back in after posting and correct any errors I may have overlooked during the first go 'round. I've often cringed over some of my hardcopy publications, wishing I could change this or that after seeing them in print. So in this way blogging online does have its perks.

    David, you also proved my point--that both savvy readers and industry professionals are scrutinizing our posts, analyzing our facts and forming opinions of us as they read. Yes, it's a matter of ethics that we do our research well in order to report with accuracy. I also believe it's a matter of ethics, but also a reflection of one's character, to openly admit when an error has been made instead of changing a statement to make it look as if it never occurred. Martha, your solution is perfect.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

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  5. Great post. I do think it is important to maintain a reasonable standard of writing, even on the internet, though at times the fast pace of communication means that slips will occur that in a manuscript would have been caught and beaten to death. Thanks for sharing this post.

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  6. I, for one, won't read posts that are poorly written...not to say that mine are perfect by any means. I rarely read other blogs anyway. Time is an issue for all of us. But if you want perfection, then my editor (none other than Paula herself) would have to edit my blogs along with all the other work she edits for me!

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  7. Excellent advice, Paula. Thanks so much for this!

    Having worked as an editor for many years, I would add "Fact check." This seems as important to me as spell check and grammar check and could avoid the need for a mea culpa altogether (of course, not always, because we're never perfect!).

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  8. Cassandra, thank you for your comment. You're right about the occasional typo or slip. Mistakes happen with all of us, even editors who are trained to catch them. I often wish I were a better self-editor. Perhaps it's because I'm too close, too familiar with my own work, that I must frequently ask an editor I trust to look over my final drafts before I post or send a piece out. I also suspect that the average reader doesn't notice these slips like we professionals do. Friends and family are especially forgiving. Yet, I still maintain that if we wish to label ourselves professionals, we need to live up to our title with everything we write, which includes blogs.

    Jere, thank you, though as you well know I'm not perfect, either. But I AM fortunate to work with terrific authors like you who make my job such a pleasure. Thanks for taking time to read my post and submit a comment.

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  9. You are absolutely right, Elizabeth. Fact checking is imperative also, even though doing so may take time and effort. Readers want to trust that we know our stuff, and so especially do the editors/publishers considering buying our work. My rule of thumb is: If you're even the teensiest bit unsure, CHECK YOUR FACTS. Your intuition is almost never wrong. Thank you for your great comment!

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