CJ McKinney

craft, creativity and credibiiity for writers

Amateur Writing Mistakes Kill Credibility

Watch out when you cut yourself. According to an otherwise very professional medical website, you might get a ‘staff’ infection.

Somebody wrote that – really?

Yes, really. I went on a recent late night hunt for information about preventing infection and there on quite a spiffy medical site was that little gem: one risk if wounds aren’t cleaned properly is a staff infection.

I clicked out and kept on hunting for trustworthy information. If the writers of that article don’t know the difference between ‘staph’ as in staphylococcus, and ‘staff,’ I’m doubtful if their medical advice is reliable.

The error has to do with the phenomenon of homophony – two words are spelled very differently, but sound exactly the same. More common examples include son/sun, wary/weary, the ever popular two/to/too  and so on. It’s a huge problem in a language like English, where sound and spelling shifts have created many many soundalike words. And many an unwary writer has gotten trapped with this kind of mistake.

But because that’s so, it becomes essential for writers to stay on their toes. And when your words can affect someone’s health or welfare, it’s even more essential to take as much care with checking yourself as you’d expect from a medical professional.

Words matter. And the wrong one changes everything. It destroys credibility and damages the writer’s authority.

Mark Twain famously said. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” It’s a quote much beloved of writers, and something of a cliché, but the point remains true.

Words are the essential tools of the writer’s  trade. It’s our job to know them intimately and use them wisely and well. Silly confusions like its and it’s may not seem particularly important but those kinds of mixups signal a writer who’s unskilled, sloppy or both.

If a writer can’t get those things right, how can you trust that they’ve done their homework on the big stuff – the information they claim to know about?

Careless structure, bad grammar, lazy errors – writing mistakes don’t just hurt a writer’s credibility, they also drive away readers who might really need the information you’re offering.

Lightning and lightning bugs are about as similar as staff infections and staph infections. What they have in common, though, is an uncanny capacity to undermine a writers’ authority – every single time.

Rosetta’s Comet Mission: Why It Matters

Black, coal black, the comet hurtles through space. But on this pass around the sun it’s not alone.  The European Space Agency’s intrepid voyager Rosetta tracks it every step of the way. Rosetta;s comet mission is a stunning culmination of over a decade of vision, planning and just plain sweat.

Clinging to Comet 67P/Churyumov/Gerasimenko like a spider is Rosetta’s trusty sidekick Philae, the little probe that made history on November 12, 2014 when it landed on the comet’s rocky surface.  Though its landing was bouncy and its batteries limited, Philae sent a treasure trove of data to Rosetta for transmission to eager researchers back on earth.

The photographs sent back by Rosetta are breathtaking.  They offer us Earthlings a real-time look at an object none of us could ever see otherwise, a detailed look at an ancient  visitor from deep space.

This is not science fiction, kiddies.   This is us, human beings, staring the universe right in the eye.  And that should send a little chill down the spine.

Some sites that showcased Rosetta’s images also included classical soundtracks to play while viewing – a nod to the fact that the whole endeavor is more than a collection of robotic parts sending back pictures of a large rock.

In reading comments to the various online articles about Rosetta and Philae,  I was dismayed.  Some readers complained that the photographs (sent from space of a dead black object) were not in color. Others dismissed the entire Rosetta mission as a failure because Philae didn’t land properly and its batteries failed far too soon.  Still others thought it was all Obama’s fault. And of course there were the predictable rants about “wasting” time and money on exploring the Universe.

I can’t stop thinking about that little craft, silently tracking its coal black target on its way toward the sun.  It represents a triumph of dedication, knowledge and technology. It opens doors to a wondrous and scary reality. We are always wondering if we are alone in the universe.  Missions like Rosetta show us that we aren’t – it’s a vast world full of movers and shakers, bigger than our problems, bigger than Obama. And they are completely alien to us here on our little blue ball.

The more we learn about them, the more we can look at this planet from a different perspective. And that just might lead to a better life for us all down here.

I’ll be writing about Rosetta and Philae in an upcoming ebook. Stay tuned.

The more we share, the more we know.  I’d really appreciate it if you tweeted, pinned or posted this one!


Featured image courtesy of ESA: Space in Images





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