Sunday, May 9, 2010


Posted by Mark Brousseau

At a writer's workshop this afternoon at FUSION 2010, IAPP/IARP Editor in Chief Laureen Crowley Algier shared the 10 myths of business writing:

1) Quoting from Wikipedia and other websites strengthens my business writing.
Not necessarily. Remember, not everything you read on the Internet has been verified for accuracy. Using Wikipedia to research a topic is fine. Quoting from it is dicey. The Internet is like the Wild West: The rules are different there. It’s not as safe as quoting from Encyclopedia Britannica.

2) Repurposing content I wrote for another company can save me time and work.
Yes and no. If you created the content on the other company’s dime, it’s likely that company owns the material, not you. It might be in your best interest to rewrite the material entirely so it doesn’t appear that your new organization is plagiarizing your former company’s work.

3) Articles that appear on the Internet are public property.
Absolutely not. You’ll find warnings on many websites that say the content may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author. Web-based content falls under the same rules as magazine articles, newspaper stories, books, corporate reports, and most other written material. Just to be safe, assume that you need permission to use any content you find on the Internet – unless it contains a note that allows anyone to reprint it as long as the original source is cited.

4) Footnotes that cite my sources protect me legally under copyright law.
Not always. First of all, what are you doing using footnotes? These rarely are necessary. It’s a lot more reader-friendly to attribute information in the body of your copy than make people stop what they’re doing and look up a footnote. But if you must use them, you still must properly identify where you got the information and possibly obtain permission to use it.

5) If I’m using only one paragraph from another source, I don’t have to get permission from the writer.
True – but you do have to cite where it came from. If the paragraph is word for word, it should be in quotation marks or indented on both sides, or somehow set aside as something different from the body copy. And it must be attributed to the source, just as if it were a quote.

6) If I credit the original writer, I can republish as much of an article as I want.
Absolutely wrong. The rule of thumb when you’re quoting from someone else’s work is that you can’t give away “the heart” of it. Just like telling someone how a book or movie ends, you take away the work’s impact if you give away too much. Unless you have the author’s permission to reprint the entire piece, be very careful.

7) My peers will respect me more if my writing sounds academic.
Maybe. But they’ll respect you even more if they can understand what the heck you’re saying. Don’t let your message get lost in the language. Keep it simple.

8) I’m a great speller, so my work doesn’t really need editing.
False. Even the best writers and editors need editing. It’s hard to “hear” the flow of your own work. Someone with a trained ear for writing and an objective outlook can do wonders for making your writing sing.

9) The editor inserted a lot of changes, so my writing must have been horrible.
Not necessarily. Editors look for many things in the copy, and you might not be aware of all of them. Those red or blue lines throughout the article you submit might mean the editor had to trim out words and sentences to make it fit into the news hole. They might mean the editor was “translating” your work into the publication’s style. In most cases, your work will never see the light of day if it’s horrible. Just be happy that you’re being published!

10) The editor didn’t respond right away, so my writing must have been horrible.
Again, this is not necessarily true. Sometimes it’s not all about you! Just like anyone else, editors have a lot on their plates. Even though they gave you a deadline and you met it, your work might not be edited for some time. Most editors give it a first glance initially to be sure it’s in the ballpark of what they’re seeking, and then they put it in the queue of pieces to edit. They take time and truly go through the work later. You might not hear from them until they take that second look. So relax.

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