Back in the day, amateur bloggers could often get away with sloppy craft. The novelty of the medium meant readers were very forgiving. Even today, the readers of someone’s personal blog may not care about slips such as using intrical to mean integral. But the more professional your blog is, the more you’re expected to maintain high standards of craft.
Most business people are good writers. They’ve had to be to succeed in school and work. And people who self-identify as writers usually write very strong prose. Paying close attention to the quality of your writing is a must if you’re blogging to build your business or platform.
Kathy Ide, founder of The Christian PEN Proofreaders and Editors Network, coined the term PUGS to refer to the primary elements of craft: Punctuation, Usage, Grammar, and Spelling. Today, let’s look at the first two. We’ll tackle Grammar and Spelling next time.
Punctuation is hard. The section on commas in The Chicago Manual of Style is 14 pages long. I think this complexity is what keeps copy editors in business. My Comma Cheat Sheet contains the bare minimum you need to know about commas, and it’s still almost a whole page.
I’ve written before about punctuation, so I won’t repeat myself here. If you want to learn more about punctuation, Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors is a great resource. The Copyeditor’s Handbook contains more on the subject than most writers need. If you really want to get into it, you can find Chicago on the reference shelf at your local library. Punctuation is covered in Chapter 6.
When editors speak of usage, we’re talking about using words correctly. Make sure the word you write is the word you mean. One commonly confused pair of words is trooper (the guys employed by the state to patrol the highways) and trouper (an actor in a traveling company). When you say someone’s a trouper, it’s that second sense you’re after—the idea that they are a dependable performer who believes the show must go on, no matter what. Law enforcement is not part of that idiom.
Some other common confusables:
Principal (a leader, or the first part of something, e.g., an investment) and principle (a tenet)
Throws (as in a ball) and throes (as in agony)
Roll (a list, or a bread served with dinner) and role (a part you play)
Rack (as in the torture device) and wrack (a shipwreck). Brains and nerves are racked. If something is destroyed, people sometimes use the cliched term wrack and ruin. Smart writers like you will come up with something more original.
The Oxford Dictionaries website has a good long list of commonly confused words.
If you must use jargon or industry-specific language, define the terms. Yes, people in your field probably already know them. But assume that as least some of your readers are newbies. If there are a lot of them, you can include a glossary. For example, an article about investing would define terms like stop-loss order and ROI.
For more about usage, including some books on the topic, see this post: Watch your language usage.