Your Internal Writing Critic: Friend or Foe?

Everyone who writes has an internal writing critic or editor who is constantly asking:

  • Did you say that right?
  • Did you spell, punctuate, hyphenate that right?
  • Is there a better way to say that?
  • Is this the right point to make?
  • Will anyone understand this?
  • Will everyone laugh at this?
  • Did anyone say this already?

That internal writing critic may have the best judgment in the world. Yet, when it is exercised at the wrong time, it can stop you from ever writing a single word, let alone a blog post, case study, website content, or insight paper.

The wrong time is while you are writing.

When you sit down to write, turn off your internal critic or editor and concentrate on what you want to say. If you aren’t struggling for ideas, begin by building on the ideas you didn’t know you had, including industry trends, replies to customer comments, and reasons to select your product or service. Research what companies like yours are saying online. Never plagiarize; look instead for ideas that you can expand upon, explain better, or even counter.

Once you know what you want to say, begin writing down everything you know about the topic and everything you can find out. You will end with content that is too long or complex or that wanders off topic. That’s good. That extra content will become the source for a second, third, or fourth piece.

Now is the time for your internal writing critic to step forward.

Prune the content. Are you listing three ways to do something, answering four questions, describing a process, evaluating or explaining a single product? Deliver that content and only that content. Prune the rest.

Organize the material that is left over. If, for example, your topic is “three ways to improve your writing,” make sure you list the three ways, one after the other (not two, not twenty!).

Read the content. Does it flow? Are you clear about the information you want to impart or the point you want to make? Has irrelevant material crept in?

Try to write the entire piece using words of 3 syllables or less. This step ensures that you have not turned your piece into a vocabulary test. It will inspire you to write with clear, precise words that are easy to understand.

Break up any sentence longer that 24 words. Short sentences are fine. But long rambles are confusing and they slow readers down. You want to convert readers to customers fast.

Check for grammar and spelling. Please, please, please do not rely on online spelling and grammar checkers. They make errors all the time.

Put the content away for 24 hours and read again. You will find errors–guaranteed. If you find yourself tempted to throw out the content after 24 hours, ask an objective party to read it instead. It may be much better than you think (internal critics can be harsh) or it may be fixable with a few tweaks.

When you shut down your internal critic while you are writing, you write more freely and creatively. When you let your editor side loose afterward, you write better. If your internal writing critic won’t leave you alone, please contact TWP Marketing & Technical Communications for content that is creative, clear, and concise–and customized to you.

From our base in Peterborough, NH, TWP Marketing & Technical Communications writes marketing copy that engages your customers and delivers your message with accuracy, clarity, and passion.

What Professional Proofreaders and Editors Do Best

Once electronic spell checkers and grammar checkers entered the scene, most people forgot how to proofread. But proofreading and editing are still important for two reasons: first, spell checkers and grammar checkers are terribly flawed; and second, proofreading and editing are about more than spelling and grammar.

A professional proofreader and editor will check for inconsistencies in format and content; for cross-references and links that go to the wrong place; and for failures of logic, gaps in information, or unanswered questions that readers might have. We are all prone to mistakes like telling the reader there are seven of something but listing six or eight. Once we have written and revised copy several times, we are likely to overlook missing words (especially pronouns) and even entire concepts because we expect them to be there.

As a professional proofreader and editor of technical and nontechnical websites, white papers, brochures, blogs, and other marketing collateral, I have found that the following steps are always important:

  1. Double check anything that is in bold, a larger font, italics, or other special formatting. Content mistakes are easy to overlook when format catches your eye.
  2. Try every link and cross-reference to make sure they are still valid.
  3. Match illustrations against the text. Inevitably, the bar graph will show a 15% increase and the text will refer to a 25% increase.
  4. Print out everything, even if the audience will always read it online. Mistakes will show up in the printed version that are easy to overlook online.
  5. Check all company, product, association and personal names; never assume they are correct.
  6. Create a style guide. Consistency is important on many levels, but certainly necessary to prevent confusion in the audience or coming across as oblivious to details.
  7. Forget about reading the entire text backwards to catch errors. That technique prevents you from catching “its” when you meant “it’s”; makes transitions, punctuation and format meaningless; and will bore you sick after 4 sentences.

Most important, by letting a professional proofreader or editor review your copy, whether it is in print or online, you gain the assurance that your message is not only written the way you want it but the way that your audience will understand. All too often, if we are very familiar with a topic ourselves, we write as if our audience was equally knowledgeable. For example, we might leave gaps in information–we know how we got from point A to point B, but our less knowledgeable customers become lost. Or we use acronyms or terms that are well-known to experts in the field but not necessarily to our customers. A professional proofreader or editor ensures that your words are reaching your audience in the way you intended.

Sharon Bailly founded TWP Marketing & Technical Communications to help companies communicate with their marketplace. Our words mean business.