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Category: Self Editing for People Who Hate Editing

How to Ruin a Good Blog Post #2: Use Acronyms No One Gets

It’s ironic.

Acronyms exist to speed things up.  The whole point of abbreviating a long title is so we don’t have to slog through reading the entire long title.

But unexplained acronyms can stop the reading flow altogether.   We stumble on them, wondering, “Should I know this?” Meanwhile, we’re missing the real content of the writing.

It used to be standard practice to spell out an acronym the first time you used it in a piece of writing.  For instance:

The Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things (SFPTOTOT) was a Monty Python sketch. 

Mary laughed until she snorted when the SFPTOTOT came on the air.

I hardly ever see this practice anymore, and pretty much never in blogs.

Seriously, sometimes it’s like being in high school, the way acronyms are thrown around online with no explanation.  It’s as if there are 500,000 e-cliques with their own secret handshakes, and the dorks who don’t get it stand around feeling like…well, dorks.

Here are some examples I’ve found in the last 24 hours.

  • A blog post about a fantastic meeting of professionals, in which the blogger used only an acronym to name the conference.  It was impossible to tell what the conference was about, or who it was for. 
  • The trend among “mommy bloggers” to refer to their husbands as “DH.”  I don’t get it. 
  • POTUS” and “FLOTUS,” routinely seen in journalistic writing.   Does the general public know these mean President of the United States and First Lady of the United States?  It would be clearer, and almost as short, to say “Prez” and “1st Lady,” or something.

I don’t think it’s realistic to say “stop using acronyms” in online writing.  But as writers we should be careful to tell our readers what they mean.

Do you have an acronym pet peeve?

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Quick Editing Tip #1: Watch Your Jargon

Jargon WineNever use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.  George Orwell

Jargon is specialized language that functions as shorthand in a given field or industry.

Jargon is fine in the right context.  It plays an important role in helping us communicate with our small, local tribes.

But writers, especially those of us writing for general audiences, need to be careful with jargon.  Assuming that others understand our “lingo” is like traveling to another country and assuming the people there speak English.

Sometimes writers pepper their text with specialized language (or overly complex words) in an effort to sound smart.  Although tempting, this isn’t a good idea.  Readers end up feeling confused, stupid, or left out of the party.  Not fun.

It’s satisfying to read something that’s intelligently written, and connect with it.  We want to give our readers that experience.  We want them to enjoy our writing, and come back for more.

So, who’s your audience?  Do you write for computer programmers?  Children?  Garbage collectors?

We’d do well to match our use of jargon with what we think our audience knows about our subject.  If we don’t know who our readers are, or we’re trying to broaden our reach, it’s even more important to err on the side of simplicity.

It’s entirely possible to communicate complex ideas without a lot of specialized words.

The Bluebird of Soiled Blog Content

Imagine that you’ve washed your car window, and bird immediately nails it.

What happens?  Well, you probably see only the mess — not the glass you buffed to a streak-free shine.   In fact, the cleaner the window, the more you seem to see the bird doo-doo.

Don’t do this with your writing.

I’m talking about the following common mistakes that we see every day online.  Most of us know how not to make these errors.   But in our haste to share stellar content, we sometimes forget them.   We let fly with little blobs of word-poo and forget to clean them up.  The effect is especially jarring if our content, by contrast, shines bright.

If you’re prone to imperfect writing, I suggest keeping this list of common online writing errors near your computer.  And if you don’t know why they’re mistakes, call me…we’ll talk.

1:  Alot. 

2:  Your/you’re. 

3:  They’re/there/their. 

4:  Its/it’s. 

5:  Definately/Definatly/Defiantly

There are definitely more such common mistakes (not defiantly), but these are some I see the most.

Do you have others to add?

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