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Dec 23 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: Top 10 online writer mistakes (Part III)

Continuing this month’s list of the top 10 mistakes we typically help writers fix. Here are Part I & Part II.

Writers often …

5) Make a statement and walk away.

“You should never ever make hanging statements. Because.”

What if that’s where I ended this? What if I simply hit “send” on my computer, walked away and was done? That would leave you with a pretty empty feeling, right? You might start to question my dedication to the statement or premise. You might even question my credibility.

Yet, I read sports editorials every single day that do this. Maybe it’s because, as electronic information becomes ever more compacted into tinier nuggets, writers equate brevity with shallowness. Maybe it’s the sheer quantity of generalized, unverified Internet content floating around out there. Maybe it’s because seemingly so many other people are doing it.

Whatever the reason, too many writers make anything ranging from a strong statement to a subjective observation or even a general prediction, and then simply move on to the next topic.

Examples: “Despite nine touchdowns, Benjarvus Green-Ellis is not a featured back.” “Virginia Tech has a solid defense, but Denard Robinson will break the single-game rushing record against them.” “Brandon Rush is actually a lock-down NBA defender.”

By themselves, those are all reasonable premises. However, without proof in their defense, not a single one is all that believable. The writers have either hedged their bets to the contrary or just simply made a strong statement without giving any reason why their view is correct.

Sportswriting is a land filled with contrarian opinions. Whatever you write—no matter how obvious it seems or how much you believe it—someone will disagree. Knowing that many of your readers WILL disagree needs to be in the back of your mind with every sentence you write. You need to see their point of view, answer their questions and disprove their assertions ahead of time: BEFORE you even get to the comments section.

Someday, when you’ve established yourself in this business over the course of decades, rising to the top of your respective genre, readers/listeners/viewers might simply take your sage advice and observations as canon law. Because you said it, it will be true.

However, the only way you’ll get to that stage is by crafting complete and winning arguments that PROVE everything you write. Your articles don’t have to become longer to do this. You just have to make every word, sentence and paragraph count even more.

6) Assume their readers know every player/team just by casual reference.

It’s online courtesy, Bleacher Report protocol and an awfully good way to get your work to the top of the Google/Yahoo search lists: Use a player/team/coach’s full name EVERY time they first appear in the body of EACH new slide or article.

“Davis was a solid addition to the Orlando Magic.”

As a rabid NBA follower, I know that must be referring to Glen Davis. However, a great percentage of readers is probably much more casual than I am about pro basketball.

Unfortunately, the writer has potentially alienated readers by talking over their heads out of sheer laziness. Even if Glen Davis’ name was in the headline, his name should appear in full EVERY time it’s first used on EACH new slide. You never know at what point a reader will jump into your work.

It’s not their job to connect the dots.

It’s yours.

Finally, if a reader is searching out an article about Glen Davis going to the Magic, which do you think will show up higher on the search engine page: the article that has Davis’ name appear twice in it, or the one that has a dozen full references?

“Davis” by itself will not register with the search engine, be it in the headline or body.

To the other extreme, it would be bad stylistic practice to use the full name with every instance: You might be found via search engine that way, but the article won’t be worth reading.

Use the full name the first time, each first time.

I’ll be back next week to share two more critical mistakes online writers often make.

Joel C. Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Sportswriting Internship Program Feedback Editor. Along with fellow editor Greg Pearl, he mentors B/R interns by reviewing articles, answering questions and providing guidance, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.

  • Ken Kraetzer

    Good points, when you mentioned Glen Davis, I thought about the Army Heisman Trophy running back of the WWII era.

  • Kelly Scaletta

    I know that it’s the kids that are supposed to ask their parents “Why?” but in my house, growing up, it was the other way around. Whenever we stated an opinion, even if they agreed with us, my parents would ask us “Why?”

    When I was 10, I knew who I wanted to be president, but I also had several good reasons why. When I recounted them to my teacher she was about floored.

    I hope everyone takes note of this article. When all is said and done, people will have far more respect for a substantiated article that they disagree with than an unsubstantiated one they agree with.

  • Trustnoone826

    Good points you have mentioned, i got some awesome tips from here.