7 habits of careful writers

Writers who consistent produce strong, polished content have some common habits. Here are seven:

1. Double-checking the spelling of proper nouns. This includes the names of people, companies and places. Is it Linkedin or LinkedIn? (Hint  — it’s the second.)

2. Using a consistent style. Whether you write in AP style (my default), Chicago or something else, careful writers are consistent. Find out more about writing with style here.

Writer working

Photo courtesy of Renaud Camus.

3. Taking advantage of the spell-checker. It’s not perfect, but it’s another set of digital eyes on your work and it can catch dumb mistakes. Honestly, with 20-plus years of paid writing and editing experience under my belt, you probably can’t do this too many times. Just don’t let the spell-checker lull you into a false sense of security.

4. Slaying all your grammar goblins. Grammar goblins are those little grammatical mistakes you, uniquely, know that you tend to make. It might be confusing ‘which’ and ‘that’ in clauses, mixing up singular/plural in subject/verb agreement or confusing lay and lie. You know it’s one of your grammar goblins when you find yourself having to look it up to make sure you’ve got it correct.

5. Formatting your copy appropriately. An email is  different from a blog post which is different from a news release which is different from a brochure which is … you get the idea. Think about what’s appropriate for the piece you’re writing. One hint: Online, shorter paragraphs and more variations in type style (bolding, italics, etc.) are appropriate. Here’s a good set of tips for blog posts, but they also apply to other online copywriting projects.

6. Fact-checking your work. Even if you think you remember the date, the dollar amount or some other key fact, it doesn’t hurt to check a reliable source one more time. At a bare minimum you ought to at least double-check your own notes on this. If there are other sources for the information (documents, authoritative websites, etc.) it doesn’t hurt to check those, either. You will be surprised how often your memory plays tricks on you and inserts errors.

7. Eliminating needless words. Tight writing is strong writing. One of the key features of modern prose style is the focus on using only the words you need. Good writers go over their copy (more than once) to cut unnecessary words.

These seven are not an exhaustive list. Have more habits to add? Please leave them in the comments below.

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