Three hallmarks of lazy writing

Posted on August 5, 2019

 

As an editor, I see a lot of writing that’s both good and bad, but the majority of what I see is good with a few bad points. It’s my job to take these bad points and make them good, then let the writer know what I’ve done so that they can hopefully do it themselves in future.

Sometimes though, whether it’s because they’re rushed or short of inspiration, I come across writing that seems to lack effort or attention to detail. When writing looks lazy, it’s disrespectful to the reader, who has taken the time to cast their eyes on it and deserves better.

Most writers probably don’t realise they’re being lazy, and are simply doing something that seems normal to them without considering what the discerning reader might think of it. Here are three examples I sometimes see, even in major news sources, that I think are shoddy and unprofessional.

1. “…and much more!”

This is a personal pet-hate that probably doesn’t bother other people at all. Especially in salesy and promotional writing, it’s very common to see phrases like:

“This event will feature food, music, games and much more!”

Why does this annoy me? Well, for a start, if there’s “much more”, why not explain specifically what it is? The more information the better, and the more thorough your piece becomes. Concluding with “and much more” suggests that either you can’t be bothered to go into the detail, or there actually isn’t “much more” and you’re just trying to put a positive spin on a limited showcase.

An irritating habit in itself, this is compounded when the writer uses the word “includes”, as in “this includes, X, Y, Z and more!” This turns the phrase from a lazy one into a redundant and nonsensical one. If you say something “includes X, Y and Z”, you’re saying that X, Y and Z are part of that something, but not the entirety of it. We therefore already know that there’s “more” besides it.

2. Shorthand and inconsistent months and days

If you’re jotting down details in a notebook or sending an informal text to a friend, it’s fine to shorten ‘January’ to ‘Jan’, or ‘Tuesday’ to ‘Tue’, but journalistic or sales writing is not the place for shorthand.

Equally annoying is what someone veers from ‘3pm’ to ‘3:00 pm’ within the same piece. Either is generally fine, but be consistent, or it looks like you don’t care.

3. Copying text from elsewhere

Of course, the laziest form of writing at all is to simply take writing from somewhere else and pass it off as your own. This is fine if it’s a quote, but if it’s just a list, as in “this programme is available in the US, the UK, France, Germany and Spain”, it’s a real lack of effort to just lift that from another site without even changing the order of the countries. Not only that, but when it’s put onto the web, it becomes duplicate content, which Google and other search engines don’t like.

At Engage Web, we run everything we publish through a copy check tool, and look out for all other signs of lethargy before any of our content enters the online world.

John Murray

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.

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