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By Jennigay Coetzer

During 30 years as a journalist, writer, editor and writing skills trainer I have picked up many tips and tricks and observed many problems that writers encounter.

Common writing mistakes to avoid - assumptionA common mistake with any written communication is to assume the reader will interpret what you are writing as you intend them to.

This is one of the many issues that follow through into writing from verbal communication. This is why it is so important to put oneself in the readers’ shoes and think about how they will interpret what you have written, while you are writing it.

Then double check once you have finished writing it by reading what you have written through their eyes.

It’s worth remembering that their interpretation of what you have written will be influenced by things like their prior knowledge of the topic, any preconceived ideas they may have about what you are writing and even their own agendas.

Depending on the topic, it could also be influenced by the target readers’ cultural background, their level of education, their understanding of English and many other aspects.

People will also sometimes misinterpret what they are reading because they have scanned through it too quickly, which tends to happen a lot with email. This all leads back to making it as easy as possible for the reader by getting to the point as quickly as possible without preamble and creating a clear picture in their minds of the points you are making.

When it comes to clarity, another good tip is to use words that the majority of readers will understand without looking them up in a dictionary. In other words don’t be clever – be clear.

To keep the reader’s attention throughout, it is also best to use strong words that will have the most impact and make statements that will mean something to the readers you are targeting as opposed to just meaning something to you.

Another tip is to test different ways of writing sentences and not just settle for the first thing that comes to mind.

Thinking about what you want to say and saying it out loud or at least in your mind first before writing it down will also help to ensure a more spontaneous flow of information.

Don’t fall into the trap of being so smart with words that what you are writing comes out in a stilted way. The easier the flow of information the less likely it will be misinterpreted.

Also make sure that all the punctuation you have used is necessary and in the right place. Incorrect punctuation is a distraction to the reader, like road humps are to a driver.

I hope you find these tips useful. Happy writing.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, author and trainer. Email her at jennigay@icon.co.za or visit her website www.jennigay.co.za for more information about her writing courses. An ebook version of her book A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing press releases, can be downloaded free from her website, together with lots more writing tips.


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