Friday, May 6, 2011

Establishing credibility part III: Quality control

Establishing credibility as I mentioned in previous posts is an important part of earning news writing opportunities, developing a following, and establishing your reputation as a writer and journalist. If readers don't have confidence in what you are writing, they won't come back. If editors don't have confidence in what you're saying they won't reward you with opportunities like recurring news beats or targeted requests.

Writing interesting articles that are well-sourced and informative is, obviously, the most important part of establishing credibility, but even those articles can be ruined by a lack of quality control. In every manufacturing plant in the United States, someone, or a group of someones, is assigned to check the finished product and make sure that it is coming off the end of the line the way it should. They may use Statistical Process Control or some other quality control methods, but they are checking. Your finished news article should be checked as well.

No matter how articulate your phrasing, or how well-reasoned your analysis may be, misspellings and poor grammar can sabotage your credibility. A great article that has several misspellings and grammatical errors is like a major league pitcher throwing a no-hitter, but walking in the winning run. It's a great effort, but a losing effort.

Proof-reading is a must for every writer. It isn't necessary to have someone else do it. The writer can do it themselves if they can slow down and concentrate on what they typed on the page rather than what they thought they wrote. For me, at least, it's natural to read at a fast clip, especially material with which I may be familiar. To proof-read effectively, however, it's often best to read much more slowly and deliberately that we would normally.

The first proof-reading pass may be for content. Did you say what you wanted to say? Are your arguments laid out in the best logical order? Are statements of fact properly sourced? You may find that the article says exactly what you want it to say in the manner in which you want to say it, or you may make a few changes. Either way, it is then time for a second, more detailed proof-reading.

The second pass should be very slow and deliberate, focusing on the individual words, letters and punctuation rather than the content. Even after you've run a spelling and grammar checker (which we should all do), there may still be errors. Run-on sentences, incorrect words, and other errors will  generally not show up with the checkers built into your word-processing software. If you are using a web site's editor, even fewer errors will be caught mechanically.

As you read through your work and discover errors, either before or after publishing it, make a mental note of each one. Most of us have habits that we repeat over and over again. Whether these are typing pattern errors that our fingers make without any help from our brains, or mental habits that we fall into even though we know the difference between its and it's, we often repeat mistakes from article to article.

By identifying our error patterns, we can train ourselves to pay extra attention every time we use a word or phrase that tends to cause us problems. It'll make your proof-reading easier and eventually it will help you eliminate your most common errors because they'll look like red flags every time you use the problem word or phrase.

There is no worse feeling for me, at least, than publishing an article with content of which I am proud, and then finding one or more silly errors that I didn't catch because I was in too much of a hurry to share my brilliant creation with the virtual world. Unfortunately, this happens far too frequently.

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1 comment:

  1. Quality counts for a lot, and I always considered my spelling and grammar to be good, even though I get confused sometimes these days, having spent 15 years in the USA and then moved back to the UK, since there are so many language differences.

    My earnings on YCN have literally plummeted, and I need to look for another writing location. I keep hearing that Examiner is good, might just give it a try.