Three Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Credibility as a Writer (and How to Fix Them)

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In doing research last night for an upcoming article, I discovered something soul-crushing: two websites whose copywriters and content editors allowed the use of “towards” on their web pages.

These were semi-credible organizations, not blogs or sketchy dot coms. I’m still in a state of shock that I came across not one, but two of these grammatical crimes in a row. Do you think I used anything I found on those pages for my article, or even finished reading them through? If you guessed no, you’re my new favorite person.

You might have great ideas, and the potential to make people really listen to what you have to say. If your writing shocks people the way these writers shocked me—and “shock” here is not used in a positive light, either—you’re not going to get very far. Here’s what you might be missing in your own online work, and you can do, as a writer, to make sure you’re not even unintentionally ruining your own credibility.

Infuriating the Internet’s Grammar Enforcement Squad

If you’ve been writing for a while—and hopefully, if you’re posting online, you have—you’re no stranger to basic grammar and style laws. Avoid starting sentences with because. Set an excellent example, not a awful one. However, based on my recent findings, it’s clear some rules are less commonly followed in the general online community, and in all honesty, you’re going to draw the wrong kind of attention from editors and the like if you’re not careful.

I can’t speak for all editors, but when I’m doing basic research and stumble upon an article or web page with obvious (to me) grammar mistakes, I hit the back button. I stop reading. This is neither good for you nor the publication, website or organization you’re writing for. Know the audience you are writing for and what style you should be following, then follow it. (Side note: AP Stylebook says, “toward, forward, afterward”).

Using Idioms and Clichés

Not to beat a dead horse … but really, don’t. You’re not in fourth grade English class anymore (and if you are, by all means, finish reading this and then get back to your essay—in time you will learn the ways of the Jedi, young padawan). I just read an article claiming clichés are “bad” writing and idioms are “good” writing. What? Please, if you agree with this statement, tell me. I’d love to hear your argument; at present I fail to see the merit in this.

There are certainly ways to incorporate idioms into your work to give it a little kick, but if you can avoid it, do so. It is very easy to slip them in without noticing, and for the most part, if you use one every once in awhile, no one will notice. If you start doing the tango with clichés, though, you’re going to lose a lot of readers. And if you’re not quite sure what the difference is between the two, I’ll write up a post in the near future that goes into detail. I would link to the article I found, but I’m just a little skeptical.

Empty Prose 

I may be the pot calling the kettle black (see? CRINGE!), but you can rack up a lot of words and pretty-sounding prose yet say absolutely nothing of value in an entire piece of writing. Let my work serve as proof that it can take a long time, and a lot of practice, to refine your writing skills. I’m still teaching myself how to reconstruct sentences to say more in fewer words. You might notice I still slip back into bad habits in these blog posts; if you want to call me out on it, kudos to you. I won’t be offended.

There are dozens of different ways to say the same thing in only several paragraphs, and it’s easy to repeat yourself without even realizing you’re doing it. Once you start tossing in too many adjectives and a generous portion of fluff (and not the good kind), your writing starts to lose its once delicious meaning. It’s important to learn how to shift your focus away from how a sentence sounds and more toward the meaning behind it before you go back and make sure it doesn’t sound … well, like a fourth grader wrote it.

Take the right steps toward establishing yourself as a credible writer. With so many people posting online today, it’s hard to know someone’s background and whether or not you can trust them to give you writing advice, or even if you should trust them enough to read your work. Paying attention to their writing can give you clues, but keep in mind they’re doing the exact same thing to you.

Market yourself as an intelligent and skilled writer. You’ll be amazed at where that takes you.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

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12 thoughts on “Three Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Credibility as a Writer (and How to Fix Them)

    1. I hadn’t thought about the possible difference in dialect. Unfortunately I’m more familiar with AP Style than any other style (I hope to expand my horizons, of course) and am just used to many of its rules. It’s not “wrong” – just something to get used to I suppose. It was mainly the fact that I stumbled upon it written that way twice in a row that startled me!

      1. American English is so prevalent that I’m probably more used to seeing alternatives than you are. There are some Americanisms that drive me up the wall (‘I could care less’ is one that will have me immediately close the tab for fear of starting an argument), but for the most part I hardly notice them. It’s like being bilingual.

      2. You must mean the argument that it’s “could care less” when the proper phrase is of course “couldn’t care less,” as in, “They could not care any less about the claims of the grammatically ignorant.” Segue – contractions have ruined English regardless of the dialect. I wish we did not use them. I am trying to train myself not to write them so often for reasons similar to the above.

        Or, to summarize: I agree with you. :)

      3. It depends on what I’m writing. I’d never use contractions in academic writing, but in fiction they sound unnatural and clunky, unless you’re going for an archaic feel. Every function has its form, as it were.

  1. Indeed. There are a few things that make me cringe very much because they’re simple and obvious, and hardly the odd missed typo, which happens to the best of us. I’m thinking of “then” vs. “than”, “its” vs. “it’s”, etc. Or my absolute favorite, “would/could of”… ARGH, it hurts typing that. Some others I don’t catch. Yet.

    (In my personal defense, English is my third language, which isn’t much of an excuse for a writer writing in English. Which might sound harsh, but I’ve been doing this for a few years and should be pretty good by now.)

    That said, I agree. It’s one thing if you make some mistakes on your personal blog, though too many will put off any reader; they’ll stop reading if they have to guess what you’re trying to say too often. And a professional writer shouldn’t make those mistakes. That’s basic editing and proofreading, and that means more than simply running spellcheck before hitting publish.

    Dialectal variants are not mistakes, obviously, as long as you stick to one dialect and don’t mix and match for no good reason.

    And I really like your blog, by the way. Thank you for lots of interesting and helpful posts!

    1. If you wouldn’t have mentioned it I would never have known English isn’t your first language – flawless. :) And thank YOU for reading, your comments give me life!

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