7 Editorial Blunders Guaranteed to Repel Readers
Another day, another torrent of tepid turgidities stinking up the internet, hopefully none of them written by you.
Formulaic, facile, and frivolous marketing copy designed to mollycoddle algorithms and maximize audience engagement abounds. Although it’s made of words, calling it writing may be a bit of a stretch. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and the copy on a pack of frozen fish sticks aren’t comparable, are they?
But if you’re finding it hard to get traction, you may be following bad advice alienating readers. Worse, perhaps you shelled out megabucks for terrible tips that’ll kill your writing instead of helping you build confidence. Alas, the internet has spawned a formidable parasite industry whose business model is predicated on ‘teaching’ others how to type up machine-pleasing bumf via paid newsletters, expensive e-books, members-only online ‘growth clubs’ and the like.
You don’t need them.
All you need is to avoid making the following mistakes as they put readers off before they’ve had a chance to see how good your writing is:
#1 — Hijacking attention
Provocative headlines are a high-wire act: Only use them if you’re confident you have the editorial chops to deliver. Unfortunately, sensationalistic headlines seldom do.
Instead, they rope you in with padded verbiage that either labors a point or has no message other than the author’s greed.
Never bury the lede. Get to the point right at the beginning then develop your argument without beating around the bush. Time isn’t just money for you, it’s also money for your readers so don’t waste anyone’s: We’re all broke right now.
Always treat attention as a gift, not a given.
#2 — Patronizing readers
Readers aren’t dumb. If you do your job, they can infer your copy is sincere, genuine, and heartfelt. Buzzwords like ‘honest’, ‘authentic’, and ‘vulnerable’ are unnecessary and so overused they don’t mean much anymore, at least not when Alex Jones claims being honest as his superpower.
His may be a popular modus operandi but it isn’t synonymous with credibility, only dystopia.
You don’t need to tell people what they’re reading nor should you attempt to influence their reaction. Discerning readers will see through any attempt to manipulate their emotions. This is the quickest way to lose them.
#3 — Shirking accountability
Not every disagreement is gaslighting, not even in 2020. Blocking and reporting shuts down debate and slams the door in the face of those who, by engaging with you, were hoping for clarification, perhaps even a conversation.
If you’re not prepared to stand by what you write then don’t write it as there’s always going to be a curious mind ready to question everything.
When applicable, make sure you issue corrections and apologies promptly. Everyone messes up sooner or later. Readers who take the time to point out inconsistencies, spelling mistakes, and clunky grammar are like gold dust, rare and precious.
Thank them and cherish them.
#4 — Stealth marketing
If your copy is part of a marketing campaign for a service, a product, or a platform then it’s an advertorial and needs to be flagged as such. Similarly, you must disclose any compensation received, be it a discount or a freebie otherwise you are deliberately misleading readers.
Even if you’re not a professional, you can’t go wrong abiding by industry standards and ethics.
Failure to do so is deceitful and once readers get a whiff of it, you’ve lost them for good.
#5 — Spamming
While promotion is a necessary part of the job, proceed with extreme caution. No one wants to read a piece about writing the piece about writing you wrote. If you put effort and heart into it, your copy is bound to resonate with at least one fellow human.
But if you don’t trust your words to speak for themselves then no amount of spamming will make readers trust them either. It starts with you. Treat spamming as the red flag it is and steer clear.
Editorial quality is something you can easily control by doing your best work today and then again tomorrow and the day after that. Writing is a lifelong learning curve and getting good at it takes practice and commitment.
#6 — Funky formatting
The goal of formatting is to give structure to your piece so use it only when needed (as is the case with listicles like this one) as it can be distracting and unattractive.
Readers already know that the final takeaway is at the end of the piece, no header needed, unless you’re trying to up your word count. This is the kind of mistake that dilutes your message, affecting both impact and credibility.
Instead of heavy formatting designed to encourage skimming, learn how to write a listicle. As the proverb goes, brevity is the soul of wit, and the format is surprisingly versatile.
#7 — Language misappropriation
Writing is a radical act of communication; writers are the custodians of language. Now that the zeitgeist has turned many words into their antonyms, it’s your duty to help reverse the trend otherwise the dictionary will soon become obsolete.
Writer, this is your mission, should you choose to accept it.
If not, you might be more at home on Facebook. Elsewhere, efforts to rescue the internet from the clutches of anti-intellectualism are under way. You can either hinder or support mass dumbification.
Words have immense power and even a simplistic slogan entirely devoid of meaning can change the world.
When you approach writing as a vehicle for sincere self-expression and intellectual debate, your words speak for themselves. Wishy-washy, soulless marketing copy isn’t writing any more than walls of text rehashing someone else’s words are.
Be curious instead, dare to embrace original thinking, and don’t be afraid of bluntness as it saves time.
“There are no dangerous thoughts; thinking itself is dangerous.”
— Hannah Arendt
After all, what’s writing but a way of thinking out loud in print and in public?
The more we do it, the healthier democracy is.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.