No doubt, phrases such as “avoid passive voice,” “be concise,” “omit wordiness,” “write what you know” and “be original” went through your mind after reading the title. While those are all good advice, I’d like to mention five mistakes that can cost you an editor or readers – PERMANENTLY!
1) Proper Nouns – A person’s name, company name, job/military titles, names of cities etc. should always be recorded accurately, spelled correctly and repeated consistently. Even in fiction writing, you must be careful to spell them the same way each time.
2) Superlatives – The best, the first, the leading, the smallest, every, all, none etc. are all words that alert readers to absolutes. The writer must be sure they can back this statement up or at the very least, never hint at anything to the contrary. It’s probably best to avoid these altogether.
3) Math and Numbers – A calculator can help a fact checker find errors when using large sums. However, small mistakes seem to be more common. If the story states a woman worked in the same company for 15 years before quitting at the age of 25, you have a problem. You have just indicated this person began working at the age of ten. For additional tips on mistakes made with numbers, check here.
4) Time Sensitive Information – A story can go out of date waiting to be published. Phone numbers change, admission prices increase, people leave their jobs, a restaurant changes its menu or business services may no longer be available. Be sure to recheck facts as your publication date draws near.
5) Tall Tales and Urban Legends – Sometimes an anecdote is simply too dramatic to be true. Tales told and re-told get embellished each time, until they’re no better than fiction. Chances are, somebody knows the real story – a historian, a local official, an eyewitness – and it’s shaky research to simply take someone else’s word. (For a fun example, watch the movie Shattered Glass).
These mistakes can cost you readers, even if they make it past your editor. What other tips do you recommend?