Writing and editing have given way lately to easy talk about storytelling and content. The conversation is often about the supposed “Big Picture” in business communications, marketing, websites and social media. And it is important, of course. But strategies and UX studies won’t help us if our content isn’t as good as it can be.
Writing and editing matter. And even the little things can turn people off.
You want your content consumed, understood and shared, right?
Here are 27 things you must never do in writing and editing.
Never start a communications project without knowing what you’re trying to say, to whom and why. Talk it out.
Never oversell. In headlines and links, don’t promise too much excitement or information. (Nobody likes click bait.) In text, avoid overused adjectives like “amazing,” exclamation points and all-caps.
Never assume people already know what you’re sharing about. Or where your photo was shot. Or why they should keep watching your video.
Never be needlessly negative. It’s easy to be snarky. But it’s better to be useful and helpful.
Never forget to do basic research or to confirm what you’ve heard or read. In the Internet age, we’re all instant experts on everything. Except that we’re not. And you don’t want to be caught reacting to something that turns out to be a hoax.
Never let a reader doubt you know “it’s” from “its” or “your” from “you’re.”
Never dump your notebook. You have to make choices. You have to focus.
Never try to turn perfectly fine verbs into nouns. “Ask” is something you do, not something you add to an agenda. And it’s the same thing in reverse. When discussing a challenge, do not say, “The way we’re going to solution that problem…”
Never start a sentence with “I think” or “I feel” or “I believe.” If you write those phrases, see how the sentence reads or sounds without them. Better, almost always.
Never say “uh,” “like” or “you know” too much. Or this new entry into the genre, “again,” when you are not actually repeating anything. I’m not sure when that one became common. Listen for it. Let me know if you notice it.
Never waste space by metaphorically clearing your throat. Sometimes we want to warm up for a while, back into a story or a point before stating our business. It’s natural sometimes, so go ahead and write all that you need to. And then delete it.
Never write headlines full of words that can be verbs and nouns. Readers don’t want to struggle to make sense of a headline.
Never fall in love with a phrase, design or image for its own sake. You’ve heard the expression “Kill your darlings.” Yep. You gotta.
Never forget to follow a style guide when writing and editing. AP, Chicago, whatever. Consistency is key. It also helps you write faster.
Never publish without having proofread, paying special attention to figures and proper nouns.
Never confuse proofreading with editing. Do both or find someone who can. (Here are some tips from a master.)
Never write or say anything like, “As anyone who knows me can tell you…”
Never get political unless that’s your point. Why turn off a substantial portion of your audience?
Never use too many figures in a sentence or paragraph. Break them up or put them into a graphic, chart or link.
Never be crass or vulgar. Avoid using profanity and showing skin. Even in a tweet or status update.
Never use a new digital tool just to show that you can. Or publish images or quotes or outrageous things just because you can.
Never undermine your presentation with heavy-handed marketing. Ease up and let the content do its thing.
Never tell me something is ironic. Especially if you graduated from the Alanis Morissette School for Wayward Pop Stars.
Never pile on the acronyms. It’s like writing, “Call that guy about the place where they have the thing and tell him what I’m thinking.”
Never call a car crash tragic. Never call the natural death of an old person tragic. Never call something tragic unless it actually is. And then make sure you have a good reason for pointing it out.
Never use upspeak. If it’s not a question, don’t say it like it is.
Never say never again? Never.