Sunday, January 5th, 2014
Online content needs to be perfect because someone will point out your mistakes in social media feeds. It is much easier to prevent problems than it is to deal with the fallout when things go wrong.
1) Is it Original?
The best content is totally original. Whether your content is for your own site or for use as a guest post on another site it must be totally unique, freshly-written content. You must check your content for possible plagiarism, especially if you have used other articles as source material. If you fail to check you might have inadvertently used the same phrases as your source.
Copyscape is the best-known plagiarism detector and more specifically a paid Copyscape account. The cost is very reasonable at 5c per check and spending that five cents will protect your reputation from accusations of plagiarism and copying.
If you are writing a guest post or for a client then agree the percentage of Copyscape duplication that will be accepted beforehand. Quoting a source cam lead to legitimate duplication but this should only be a small part of the article. Most clients ask for 0% duplication and this should be your target.
If Copyscape does find duplicates of your work then check each one to see which part of the article is causing the problem. It is usually easier and faster to rewrite the offending paragraph altogether than to amend it on a word-by-word basis
2) Understand the Precise Requirements
The main requirements are of language and formatting.
Language – Every client makes assumptions and language assumptions are the most common type. Make a point of asking whether your client or blogger contact would prefer US or UK English. The two are more different than you would ever think and it is about much more than a few words having different spellings. Setting your word processor language will catch spelling errors, but not different grammatical and word usages.
You need to have your copy checked by a native UK or US speaker, whichever is required.
Formatting – This can make the difference between having your copy accepted or rejected. Sending double-spaced copy when your client wants single-spaced could mean the end of that contract.
Clients will have preferred fonts, font sizes and indenting preferences as well and if you care about keeping your client you should ask about your client’s preferred formatting well ahead of the delivery date.
Ask about the preferred delivery format too. Most people will work with whatever format you send, but some will prefer to receive Word doc files rather than docx files. Some will prefer rich text rtf files and others bare text txt files. It is a simple job to change file formats to fit in with your client’s preferences
3) Understand Your Client and His Requirements
Clients rarely spell out all their requirements unless you ask; they just assume you think as they do. Ask how many words are required, ask about delivery date, keyword specifications and reference links that are required. Write all these down and check the final article against this requirement list as part of your final editing process.
4) Know the Target Site for Your Article
You should know where the client intends to use your article or blog post before you start to write it. One of your final checks should be to read a few articles on your client’s site and then to read your own article through again to make sure it is written in the same style. You will have done this before starting the work, but it is still an essential final check.
5) Know Your Writers
If you have outsourced the work you need to be especially careful. Your reputation is still on the line, even if you have paid someone else to do the writing. You need to know how your outsourcers work. If you use writers from the Philippines they will have little concept of many things that Americans take for granted; air conditioning, snow, heating furnaces and US politics leap to mind but there are many others.
Some writers will use voice to type software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking. This kind of program introduces homophones (sound-alike words) as errors in addition to punctuation and grammar errors.
If your writer uses a transcription service and the typist has problems understanding the recording there will be very strange words used in the article that make no sense at all.
Anyone using dictation, whether for a transcription service or for voice to text software tends to produce disjointed writing with short, single phrase sentences. You can work around this with careful editing, adding conjunctions and semi-colons to improve the flow of the work, but really it is best to avoid employing people who are using dictation.
6) Pay Someone to Check It
You can never check your own work. Your brain still remembers what you intended to write and reads that, even if there is something else there in the text. Qualified editors can catch errors that you will miss. These may be contextual errors, examples where present tense changes to the past tense in the same paragraph. Other common errors include mismatches between the subject and verb.
If you pay someone then they will do a better job because their income depends on how good a job they do.
Poor spelling does matter. It gives the impression of a slapdash approach and a lack of professionalism. Never rely totally on built-in spell checkers or even online ones that you pay for. The only real spell check is an expert editor, to whom spelling errors will leap out.
8) Double Spaces
In the olden days typists used to leave two spaces at the end of each sentence. People who have learned to type paper documents often do this even when the document is designed for on-screen use. The proper formatting method is to use a single space at the end of a sentence.
9) Paragraph Length
Paragraph lengths for on-screen reading need to be shorter than for on-paper reading. This may mean inserting extra paragraph breaks that an English professor would argue are unnecessary. Paragraph lengths on web pages need to be between one and six lines with most between two and five lines. It is important to vary the paragraph length as well.
10) Check Links
You need to follow every link in your document to make sure it works. It is very easy to make a mistake when copying and pasting a URL into a link. In addition to copy/paste errors you need to check that pages are still live and appropriate. If one of your writers has linked to a porn page because he is annoyed with you, it is you who will pay the price!
11) Check Facts
If you are quoting facts then make sure they are facts. It is simple enough to run a quick online search to check dates and names. All it takes is for one knowledgeable person to leave a comment on the article and your reputation as a writer is down the tubes.
Make sure your content has a logical conclusion. Readers are left annoyed and frustrated if they do not find a conclusion when they have invested five or ten minutes in reading your article or blog post. Every piece of writing should have a point and the conclusion is your opportunity to spell out what your point is.
13) Keep a Copy in Case the Client Loses the Work
If you are working for a client then make sure that you keep a copy of the work, at least until you have been paid. Just because you sent it over in an email or to a Dropbox account does not mean that your client will find it. He might have someone else working for him who accidentally deletes your file and if he doesn’t see it, for whatever reason, you have failed to deliver and will not be paid.
14) Record Keeping – The importance of Doing it Right
Keep records in an Excel sheet of article titles you have been given, agreed word count and pay rate. Record dates that work is delivered, invoiced and paid for. Without records that you can rely on you will make mistakes.
15) The Client is always Right (even when he is wrong)
It is annoying when your client asks for additions to your article or says it does not meet the specifications he gave you. It is infuriating when it does meet every requirement you were given but he has changed his specifications without informing you. Bite your tongue and say nothing. This is the guy who pays you, so he is right, every time. As a self-employed writer you might have sacked your boss, but you are answerable to many different clients instead and you need to keep each one sweet all the time.
Your reputation as well as your client’s depends on your work being perfect so you need to go the extra mile to make it so. If you fail to put in the necessary effort then you are likely to be replaced as an article provider by someone who will do a better job.