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PR Writing in Focus: 5 Bad Writing Habits That Irritate Editors

Melissa Duko, Senior Editor & Digital Specialist, eZangaBy Melissa Duko, Senior Editor & Digital Specialist, eZanga

Editing is cathartic for editors. There’s just something about dissecting a sentence and making it concise that speaks to our nerdy souls. But that doesn’t mean we want to rewrite everything. It’s like taking a piece of marble and turning it into David for Michelangelo.

The writer is the artist, not the editor.

Our job is to make sure content flows, grammar is correct, facts are accurate and style is followed. When we have to waste time constantly fixing a writer’s bad habits before we can even touch the piece, watch out—it’s like poking a bear whose coffee was switched with decaf.

Whether you’re a PR agency pro or a content marketer, make the editing process smoother for your editor (and you, too) by addressing these five bad habits before turning in that next assignment.

1. Committing Word Vomit

We’ve all done it. Get struck with a brilliant idea and the words pour onto the page. With that last keystroke, you think, “I can’t believe I just knocked out a 1,000 word blog post in 30-minutes.”

But then your editor quickly glances over the article. Their eye starts to twitch, and they realize they’re going to need a lot of coffee.

Those 1,000 words are a jumbled, stream-of-consciousness mess a.k.a. word vomit.

Word vomit is an editor’s worst nightmare. Straining “the vomit” to pull out nuggets that can be turned into readable content isn’t fun. It’s a lot like playing “Where’s Waldo,” and often, the editor ends up cutting. Cutting a writer’s words can hurt, especially if that writer’s ego is fragile.

Plus, fixing word vomit takes time. When you’re a PR agency pushing out a time sensitive press release, you know time is of the essence.

If you’re guilty of committing word vomit, it’s a habit that can be hard to break. But there are a few ways to approach it:

  • Reserve Word Vomit for Brainstorming. Writing without thinking is an effective brainstorming technique. You’re keeping your mind open and letting whatever bubbles to the top to come through.
  • Stick to an Outline. If you have a structure to follow, you’ll be less tempted to go off the rails.
  • Clean up Your Copy. If all else fails and word vomit is the only way you can write, go for it. But do your editor a favor and self-edit. Go through and clean up your copy before turning it in.

2. Regurgitating Content  

Sometimes you encounter a dry topic, an overplayed concept, or there isn’t much info available. While it may be tempting to “puke up” the same content over and over simply to fill up a page, don’t.

This isn’t a high school term paper. You can’t fool your editor. More importantly, you can’t trick Google with regurgitation. Google knows when you scrape content.

Instead adjust your expectations. Perhaps, the topic is more suitable for a 700 word blog post, not a 1,200. Also consider using images, GIFs, or graphs to break up text and to fill space.

Another option is to take a self-explanatory piece like “How to Optimize Your Social Media” and make it niche. Offer specific examples for perhaps targeting Millennials, Boomers, mobile users, etc. Take something old and make it shiny and new by providing a different spin.

As a last resort, if it still isn’t gelling, don’t be afraid to scrap the topic all together.

3. Cramming in Unnecessary Modifiers

One of my favorite pieces of advice is a quote by Mark Twain: “Substitute damn for every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Modifiers, typically adverbs (e.g. very, really, basically), weaken your text. It also takes longer to get to the point, a big negative when you’re producing digital content that needs to be concise.

For instance, compare these two sentences:

  • “I am absolutely going to Hawaii next year.”
  • “I am going to Hawaii next year”

Here, you don’t need to add absolutely. It does nothing. Skip the unnecessary modifiers. Your editor will thank you.

4. Using the Wrong Tense

Changing the tense of a piece after the fact isn’t easy. Oftentimes, an editor has to go back and rework everything.

If you’re writing a press release about an upcoming event, it doesn’t make sense to write about it in the past tense. Same applies to future scenarios (e.g. use future tense). If you’re not sure how to tell the difference, keep these examples handy:

Active vs Passive

  • Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace prize (passive).
  • Bob Dylan wins the Nobel Peace prize (active).

Future Tense vs Past Tense

  • I plan to drink lots of Pumpkin Spice Lattes (future).
  • I drank a lot of Pumpkin Spice Lattes last weekend (past tense).

Make a concerted effort to find out a publication’s tense preference beforehand, too. If you’re a content marketer guest writing for a blog that requires active tense follow their rules.

5. Ditching the Style Guide

Most blogs and publications have an in-house style guide. Your editor should provide you with one. Typically it will outline the required word count, whether links should be included, formatting, etc. If not, don’t hesitate to ask.

Another good practice is to check out the site beforehand to get a feel for the overall tone and voice of the blog. You’ll be able to tell if controversial GIFs are okay, or if you should refrain from using that “Trumpkin” meme.

Final Thoughts

I’m a writer and editor, so I get both perspectives. I’ve had my own worked torn apart, but I’ve also done the hacking. By being conscientious and avoiding these bad habits, you’ll ensure your writing is in the best possible shape it can be pre-edit.

Allowing your editor to focus on content flow, fact-checking, and copy editing, you’ll help speed up the editing process. Plus, you might just become your editor’s new best friend.

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