The #1 Mistake.

Sure, taken individually, the #1 editing mistake is not knowing its from it’s. That’s a super-sloppy mistake, since spellcheck invariably places a gee-I’m-just-a-computer-so-you-should-probably-check-this blue line under the its/it’s, and only the most arrogant of writers make that mistake.

But, here’s the deal: writing is collective, a series of sentences that build paragraphs and (sometimes) build pages. And because writing is “collective,” by its very nature, we arrive at the #1 mistake made by writers, and that is continuity. Or, lack thereof.

Backstory. When I was at that conference I mentioned in a couple of earlier blogs, the highest, most sustained emotion I felt was fear. It wasn’t physical fear, of course, since we were listening to speakers in the hyper-air conditioned splendor of a Disney hotel; no, it was fear of a let-down. The speaker was telling a story about his father, and I felt a bolt of fear: was his father going to be like my father? Oh, no! Thankfully, there was a happy ending, but, as a speaker myself, I can recognize and appreciate that high-water mark in terms of the emotion that you elicit in an audience member. There were lots of laughs, lots of good laughs, during the conference, but those few seconds of fear are what I remember the most.

So I went out and bought this guy’s book (not paying $28, but $3, which, as an author myself…well, what can I say?). Since we all know that I (almost) never post identifying information about where my quiz and other materials come from, I am not going to be able to write much about what subject this guy writes about, except to say that it is in the first line of what I write about. (!!) In fact, when he began to speak, I elbowed my business partner to show her that specific word in the very first line of my online profile for this particular organization.

ANYWAY! I started to do a pretty serious edit of his book, which is hardcover, traditionally published (though I’ve never heard of the press), and laid out in a really attractive way that makes it plain that a lot of thought went into the look and feel of the book.

That’s a shame, because the editing (the first word that came to mind was “sucked,” but we all know that that word is inappropriate for professional use) was terrible.

There were mistakes on the back flap. Mistakes on the back cover. Mistakes throughout the book. Mistakes in the bibliography. Mistakes on practically every page. In summary, here are some of the most common mistakes he made:

Noun-pronoun agreement. Singular nouns were most often accompanied with plural pronouns, but that was not consistent. Sometimes both singular and plural pronouns were used to refer to the same noun in the same paragraph. This happened most often when he was referring to a company, and calling it “they,” but also, for example, when he’d call “a client” or “a customer,” or “someone” a “they.”

Rule: The noun drives the bus. There is no circumstance when a company is referred to with a plural pronoun, like their or they, unless you are referring to you and the company, like “We” are doing this or that. A company is an it. The possessive of it is its. You can, if you want, talk about “employees” or use a plural noun (an example other than “employees” is not coming to me at the moment, but I’m sure that’s not the only option) to refer to people who work at the company, and that’s the work-around when talking about a single company. That’s the only time you can refer to a company, an organization, a foundation, whatever, as plural. Period.

Collective nouns. A collective noun—staff, team, audience—is treated as a singular noun, and so uses a singular pronoun and a singular verb form. The work-around can be to add “members”: staff members, team members, audience members. You can also say “participants” instead of “audience members,” if you are talking about an audience. Otherwise…

Plural acronyms. He used “apostrophe + s” in every circumstance to indicate the plural of an acronym with no periods. Don’t do that. The rule is you can do that (though why would you?) with an acronym with periods, but not without. MDA’s, PSD’s, CPA’s, CNA’s…these are all incorrect, as well as darned confusing.  Drop the apostrophe, keep the “s” lowercase. When you’re flat out wrong, consistency doesn’t really matter.

Caps. DO NOT USE CAPS. NO. NO. NO. If you need to emphasize, use italics. Using caps makes you look HYSTERICAL. I use ’em sometime. Yes, yes, I do. But this is a blog, not a book.

Indefinite pronouns. There was too much reliance on indefinite pronouns. Words like “many,” “most,” “it,” “these,” and “those,” used by themselves, really weaken your writing.

Example: “Those committed to worthy causes…”

Example: “Some would say…”

Example: “Many would think…”

So, “many” who? “Those” what? “Some” of what?

Many people. Those staff members. Some of us.

Equivalencies. Equivalencies really lard up your writing! What’s the difference, when you get right down to it, between these words:

aloof and distant

inquiries and questions

competent and capable

real and genuine

focus and intentionality

principles and values

sincere and heartfelt

care and compassion

empathy and understanding

continued hard work and intentional effort

The thing to do is use the best choice (the single best choice), and then use the other word as you go along. Mix it up: use “compassion” a couple of times, use “care” a couple of times, etc., but don’t use them together.

Capitalization. If it ain’t a proper noun or a proper noun phrase, it ain’t capitalized!

Okay, so these are all mistakes. But the main mistake, the mistake of continuity, can only be seen globally.

Harley-Davidson multiple times, but “Harley Davidson” multiple times

U.S and US, referring to the same thing

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr.

21st Century in the text, but Twenty-First Century on the back cover

American Girl Dolls and American Girl dolls

Board room and boardroom

Fortune Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Fortune magazine, “Fortune Magazine”

Famous Dave’s BBQ and Famous Dave’s Barbeque. That was a jaw-dropper, since both are incorrect: it’s

Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que of America, Inc.

So, for reference purposes, I’d characterize it as “Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que.” That’s enough.

Booker T. Washington, 1856-1915 and Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

The New York Times and the New York Times

Consistency, you see, is the biggest bugaboo (a technical term used by all the big-time editors) in writing.

So, I’m going to conclude this post, since the thunderstorm is getting very, very close, with two quotes from his book, which I’m going to send (all marked up and with a very polite letter) off to him today.

From this dynamic, talented speaker, who so needs a good editor:

The fastest way to build a brand is consistency of message and product.

And, this is a good quote as well:

“Success is the sum of the details.” Harry Firestone

And, from me: God is in the details.

 

Plea to an unnamed organization.

So there I was, sitting at the last luncheon of a 5-day conference, minding my own business, when suddenly a manuscript was thrust into my hands by a tablemate…right as the chicken was being served!
Well, I put down my fork and, more to be polite than anything else, I began to read. Five seconds later I said, “Does anyone have a pen?”
Friends, this manuscript was simply littered with mistakes. Mistake after mistake! And—get this—the “editor” this poor woman (an MBA!) had hired was a referral from her chapter president! Oh, no! How could this be?
What made things worse was that this MBA is supposed to go to press…next week!
Friends, I feel your pain! I was once like you! (And then I wrote 11 books about American English punctuation and grammar.)
Don’t let our members eat cold chicken! Invite me to your chapter to present a “speakers writing bootcamp” sometime in 2018-2019!
I’ll set you straight about the fact that audience is a collective noun, and so is treated as a singular noun! I’ll tell you frankly that quotation marks are always placed outside periods and commas in American English! You’ll get the inside scoop about how to write a dynamic online profile and how to compose thrilling program descriptions! Your fear of hyphens will become a thing of the past!
Does your writing affect your credibility? You betcha!
What good is being a silver-tongued speaker if you can’t spell???
For the love of this organization and the credibility of its members, please consider putting me on your schedule!
Sincerely, Liz Coursen

Wow, don’t make this mistake!

When you are a “professional” speaker and (supposedly) a rock star author/publisher and marketing “expert,” you just don’t make this bush league mistake on the—I guess you’d call it a “caption”—caption of your online profile. The bush league mistake I’m referring to is not taking just a minute to read over what you’ve just published. After all, you know what they say about assume!

Take a look:

“So-and-so, "The Transformation Catalyst" powerfully combines spiritual guidance and intuition with nuts-and-bolts writing, publishing and marketing expertise.”

It’s true that this particular website does not support dashes, much to my dismay, but this is such a glaring problem! Just look at those big, fat ampersands! Wow!

I find it’s very important for me to check over my own writng after it is published, and it’s even more important for me to check over someone else’s, especially my host organization’s writing, even though I provide it with the text.  But how do you explain an author/publisher/marketer who is bragging about her expertise (and uses the word “powerful”) not seeing this? I mean, it’s the first thing people see about her on this website.

Always check. Always double-check. Especially if you’re supposed to be an author!

Just when you think…

…then you see this. Ugh! Ouch! Nooooo!

We will be selecting the speaker who we feel will deliver what the session requires to upskill the audience.

“Upskill”? What genius thought of that? Upskilling? Upskilled?

She is a dynamic speaker who routinely upskills a global audience.

Oh, that’s a thought leader word for sure.

For sure.

 

Yikes!!

Please don’t tout your bona fides as a “thought leader” and “visionary” and then string together two sentences like these:

Our team is comprised of thoughtful, hard-working individuals, but we know we’re not perfect. Here’s what we’re working on everyday to deliver a better experience to our clients.

Oh, so you’re “comprised of,” are you? Wow, that’s so ungrammatical! And then there’s the misspelled word in the second sentence. A company that writes this kind of prose has zero credibility in my book. Zero.

 

Public workshops.

I do a lot of public speaking. You know, like when “the public” can come in to your program. Not when you’re speaking in a conference, when 1500 people have to choose between your workshop and two others. Not when you’re speaking to a group like the PEO or DAR, when you are “the January speaker.” Not when someone is paying money for the privilege of hearing you speak. Not even when you’re speaking at an assisted living facility, when there are 350 people who live there, and your program is just an elevator ride away. No, I mean true “public” speaking, when anyone can (and does) come into your room.

True public speaking is

When you provide your host with your headshot and speaker’s bio within five minutes of your invite.

When you help your host market your program to the best of your ability to local newspapers, through PSAs, and to local groups who might be interested in attending.

When you provide marketing materials, like cool images, to help promote your program.

When you write your own program title, program description, and speaker introduction, and nobody has to chase you down to get that stuff.

Public speaking.

Sometimes you present a program, and the Q&A is fun, but it’s not what I call a “testing” Q&A.  A “testing” Q&A happens in a workshop, more so than a “program.” A “testing” Q&A is when your audience members have their own opinions, sometimes strongly held, and you have to (tactfully. of course) set them straight.

I get “testing” Q&As when I present my editing workshops. Can you acknowledge the validity of opinions other than your own? You bet. But if you’re going to present an editing workshop, you’d best know your stuff, know your material, be confident in your position, and be prepared to defend it.

I knew I would match swords with members of “the public” when I put on my editing program in Alachua County’s Millhopper Library. I went in loaded for bear. I continued to define and defend my position about serial commas, non-traditional usage, and the continued popularity of the phrase “thought leader,” but what really put me over the top and made everybody subside was this exchange:

Me: “So none of it was affected.”

Audience member: “No, ‘none’ is always plural.”

Me: “Actually, ‘none’ is one of four words that are ‘indeterminate pronouns’: the other three are ‘some,’ ‘any,’ and ‘all,’ and, as such, the verb form and accompanying pronoun depend on the object of the preposition. For example, you could say, ‘None of the collection was stolen,’ but you could also say, ‘None of the guests were late.’ So you’d say, ‘None of it was stolen,’ or, ‘None of them were late.'”

I might have been loaded for bear, but knowing about indeterminate pronouns really saved my bacon. Things got a lot more calm after that.

Jaw-dropping.

I was poking around tonight, looking at “web developers” (and I use that term loosely) and their sites. Now, I’m not trying to be a you-know-what, but I quickly put together eight pages in a new “More BAD Sentences” list, and these sentences will appear in quizzes sometime in the future. One young man was, not to sound like a you-know-what, basically illiterate. One so-called expert had 11 misspelled words on her site! Well, there could be more. I stopped counting at 11 words because…well, I just did.

Let’s look, shall we, at the best of the worst:

This said, it is even more important to have your web site listed on the first page of search engines i.e. Googel, Bing & Yahoo.

When you can’t spell “Google,” what does that say about your websites? Plus, anyone who doesn’t know that “website” is one word should be slapped upside his (or her!) head. Plus, what’s up with the “i.e.” here? Why not just say “…the first page of Google, Bing, and Yahoo”? And that ampersand is just plain WRONG.

We setup  targeted keywords and manage the your google traffic (there was no period)

Notice that a) “setup” should be two words: set up; b) there are two spaces between “setup” and “targeted”; c) what’s up with the “the your”?; and d) “Google” is a proper noun! This young person has “cheeky” in her business’s title. I’d like to say some profane things, but I’m not gonna.

For example, ask yourself how often you browse past page two; and do you ever browse page four….and neither do your potential customers….its like not having a web site.

I’d rather not have a website at all than work with such an untutored person (and pay for the privilege). Let’s see: a) what’s with the semicolon?; b) what’s with the 4-point ellipsis?; c) what’s with the SECOND 4-point ellipsis?; d) why, pray, is its MISSPELLED?; and then there’s e) the website-is-one-word mistake.

Prices can be by the hour or by the project depending on what we are trying to accomplish. Our goal is to make you happy and not to keep you dependant on us to use your site if that is not your desire.

The fact that two forms of “depend” are used in subsequent sentences PALES in comparison by the fact that “dependant” IS MISSPELLED. How does that happen? If someone misspells words on his or her website, what the heck is your website going to look like if you hire that person? Crap. That’s what it will look like. Crap.

This next gal was good for two complete pages in my “More BAD Sentences” hit parade, yet she’s a two-time author. (Of course she is!)

[I took out her name] is considered to be one of the best Consultants in America by many businesses because of her approach when it come to Optimization.

That may be, but she can’t write her way out of a paper sack. Since when is “consultants” a proper noun? Why isn’t the verb “to come” conjugated properly? And why is “optimization” capitalized?

You loose more money Not being on the top pages of a Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. than it costs to get there.

Do you mean “lose”? And why, pray, is “not” capitalized? What’s that “a” doing in front of “Google”? Is it a mistake (my guess), or is she just trying to sound pretentious? Where’s the comma after “etc.”? (And why is “etc.” in that sentence at all?)

This is, in my opinion, a failure in leadership, plain and simple. When you go to a training (and these web people and I all belong to the same organization) and there are 107 mistakes in the training manual, I mean, Katie bar the door.

If you are shopping for a website developer, do yourself a favor and take a hard look at the company’s website. If you see a typo, make like a tree, ’cause I guarantee you one thing: if the company has sloppy content, yours will be…sloppier.

Yes, the rumors are true!

Sometimes your press can be so good it’s (almost) embarrassing. Cough, cough!

Liz Coursen is coming!

Yes, the rumors are true – Liz Coursen is coming back to our Library District! She will be at the Headquarters library Saturday, July 22 at 10:30 am to present on Cats Playing Tennis, Dogs in Fancy Hats: Dressed Animals in the Golden Age of Postcards​ and at our Alachua branch library the same day at 2 to showcase Zoom, Zoom! A Postcard History of Trains, Planes, and Automobiles in Florida. For the burgeoning writers in our community, the ever-versatile Ms. Coursen will be at Millhopper branch library the next day, Sunday, July 23, from 2-4 pm, to go over writing basics and refresher tips for more experienced writers. You won’t want to miss a chance to see her “in action” – a good time should be had by all!

To learn more about Ms. Coursen, visit her website at http://www.lizcoursen.com/home.html. Hope to see you there!

https://www.aclib.us/research/blog/liz-coursen-coming

But, yes, it’s true, I am returning to the Alachua County Library District, which is, in my humble opinion, one of the very best library systems in the state. Talk about smart, engaged audiences! Talk about AV equipment that works! Talk about an enthusiastic staff! Talk about challenging Q&As! I have to be on my toes in Alachua, and they’re going to run me around this time around: three programs at three branches in two days. Yikes!

And, yes, it’s true that the last time I presented in Alachua we broke attendance records and people were actually turned away. Maybe that happens to speakers all the time, but not to me! It was a total thrill, with apologies to the people who didn’t get in.

But I do want to say that I owe Alachua. The county has—by far—the best-run Friends organization I’ve ever experienced, and I experience the Friends twice a year, when I travel up to the Friends sale and get books for homeless and needy people here in Sarasota. I’ve distributed 15,000 books so far, most from the Alachua Friends, and I am going strong. Thank you, Alachua County Library District Friends!

The company we keep

If you run with a crowd of people who spout clichés, chances are good you’ll think clichés are cool. Think again, my friend. Clichés aren’t au courant; oh, no, clichés are passé. That’s what makes ’em clichés!

I thought I’d publish this list, which has been included in my editing books—all of my editing books—since 2015. Does the word puke resonate with any of you “thought leaders”?

Words and phrases whose time has come…and gone.

One of the things about being a leader is avoiding clichés. Here is a list of words and expressions that you might want to consider not using.

Thought leader

Align/misalign

To take something “to the next level” or “to a different level”

To go up or down “a notch”

To “reach out”

To “go missing”

Glom (WTF?)

Awesome (God is “awesome.” Mother Nature is “awesome.” Anything else is just bull.)

You guys” (especially when addressing a woman older than, say, 50)

Deep dive (I got your “deep dive”!)

Scale, scalability

Optimize

Rad

Best practices

Skill set

Tool box/tool set (toolset is worse)

Way better, way more

Connect the dots

Hacks (make me laugh!)

Buzz (make me laugh harder!)

Robust

Brain dump (is this the same as a brain fart?)

Leverage

Actionable

Buy-in

Riff

Majorly (as an adverb)

Stakeholder

Drill down

Ahead of the curve

At the end of the day (Thank You to my author friend Jane V. Blanchard)

Craft (as a verb)

Disruptive

Double down

Dude (if anyone ever calls me a “dude,” I’m going to smack him or her upside the head)

Spend (as a noun)

Onboarding (as a verb)

Task (as a verb)

Impactful

Stoke (used in anything other than “I stoked the fire” context)

Score (used in anything other than a sports context)

Über

Up-level (are you kidding me?)

Rock, as in totally

Totally

I may very well be a little bitchy, but that’s a hell of a lot better than being unoriginal.

 

Unnecessary FAT

As someone who is toting around a smidgen of unnecessary weight, I make sure my sentences are sleek and streamlined.

So, let me ask you: What’s the difference between “sleek” and “streamlined”?

Answer: Not enough. (Actually, the two words are pretty much synonymous.)

So why would anyone lard up his or her prose with equivalencies? In my world, an equivalency is created when two equivalent words are joined by and or but, like so:

knowledge and expertise

valuable and precious

charities or causes

unique and special

thankful and appreciative

Sometimes, the issue is not quite so clear cut, and can be up to the author, but here, for example, I think one word, not both words, is enough:

I am involved in many worthwhile groups and activities in my town.

Take a look at your writing, and watch for equivalencies. Pick le mot juste, and go with that. It’s easier to lose a word here or a word there than to lose 20 pounds!