Common Mistakes, Part 1: General
Part 17 of Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report. Click here for more information and to download all of Playbook for free.
Now that we’ve gone through the evaluation system step by step, you should have a pretty good idea of what Bleacher Report believes are the building blocks of good sportswriting. Over these final two chapters, we’re going to review some of the most common mistakes we see writers making, and we’ll offer some ideas about how to avoid them.
We’ll start with problems that might appear in any type of story.
Mistake: Thinking an assigned head is set in stone.
Better way: If you’ve got an idea you feel is an improvement, by all means speak up.
Mistake: Simply repeating the headline in your lede.
Better way: Restate, develop or allude to the headline’s most enticing message. Don’t just repeat it.
Mistake: Waiting for proofreading skills and grammar knowledge to improve on their own.
Better way: There is no genie to grant your typographical wishes. Instead, dedicate a little time each day to learning the fundamentals. To start, try poking around these sites:
- Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab)
- AP Stylebook (Subscription)
- Grammar Girl
- Common Errors in English Usage (Washington State University)
- The Punctuation Guide
Aside from learning the rules, keep in mind that we tend to become blind to our own mistakes as writers because our brains automatically “correct” things like repetition or missing words and punctuation. Along those lines, many writers find that reading their text backwards, word by word, helps. That way, it’s easier to spot hidden errors like confused homophones or doubled words, which your mind can often read over.
Taking a break before proofreading, or asking a friend or family member to look over your work, can also help get you out of your own way in terms of spotting typos. On top of that, review copy editors’ comments and look over your past progress reports, then see what errors you’re consistently making so you can narrow down what to look for. That way, you’ll feel less pressure to check for “everything.”
Mistake: Only writing in short choppy sentences and paragraphs.
Better way: Concise writing makes your opinion accessible. Varied sentence and paragraph lengths make your writing visually engaging.
Mistake: Trying to spot duplicate or repetitive wording by proofreading alone.
Better way: Greg doesn’t repeat subjects or predicates in consecutive sentences on purpose. Sometimes, Greg doesn’t notice the repetition in his own writing, though. That’s generally because when you use a word or phrase, it remains in your head, so you can use it again without even noticing.
Ask a friend or family member to look over your work, or use a free online program like ProWritingAid.com‘s “Repeated Words & Phrases” tool.
Mistake: Trying to relate to your readers by using first-person voice because, you know, it works for Matthew Berry.
Better way: First, Mike Schottey’s blog post on “weasel words” is one of our all-time favorites, so be sure to give it a look if you haven’t already.
As for the Talented Mr. Roto’s addiction to first-person voice, it helps to remember that Berry has over 500,000 followers on Twitter, a column on ESPN.com and a best-selling book, and he participates on several television programs with ESPN and ESPN2. The man has worked tirelessly to build a reader base over a 20-plus-year career (starting with a gig working for George Carlin!), for which he’s earned the notoriety and cachet to choose to break the rules. That’s what it boils down to. You have to know and abide by the rules in order to effectively choose to break them.
Most of the time, first-person voice doesn’t add anything to your statements.
Compare the following sentences:
- “The argument is that interior linemen are not playmakers, but I’d attest that they are play enablers.”
- “The argument is that interior linemen are not playmakers, but guards protect the depth of the pocket and upgrade the run game, so they are play enablers.”
Removing the first-person voice doesn’t substantively alter the sentence’s meaning, but it does remove the qualification of an opinion rather than fact (to say nothing of the facts that now support the statement).
Mistake: Not including captions for photos and videos in long-form articles and slideshows.
Better way: Infographics don’t need captions—because “description” is inherent in the idea of an infographic—but photos and videos do. The idea here is that a caption contextualizes a photo or video for readers who might not be sure what they’re looking at and might not be reading the article closely enough to see the description in the text.
Mistake: Pasting your copy straight into the publishing tool from a word-processing program.
Better way: Issues of non-standard font and irregularly justified text are almost exclusively caused by writers copying text from a word-processing program like MS Word and pasting it directly into the B/R publishing tool. Instead, compose your articles in the B/R publishing tool (which auto-saves your work), then copy/paste the text into a word-processing program for a spell check. Make your corrections in the publishing tool, not by pasting the corrected text from the word-processing app. This is a bit cumbersome, but it will ensure that no funky HTML wreaks havoc with your article’s formatting.
* * *
Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report Writers is an 18-part series outlining the metrics and criteria of B/R’s objective Writer Evaluation system. The system complements the subjective assessments made by members of our Editorial Team, which means that a solid evaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition of success with B/R. You can find more information and download the full Playbook for free at this link.
Playbook Table of Contents:
Three story types
News Report Story Angle
News Report Narrative Structure, Information Aggregation
Argumentative Articles: Thesis, Rhetorical Structure, Factual Evidence
Ranked Lists: Ranking Logic
Ranked Lists: Topic, List Composition
Attribution and Hyperlinks
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
B/R Style and Formatting
Common Mistakes: General
Common Mistakes: Three Article Types