You may not know it by name, but you may be applying Betteridgeâ€™s Law without realising.
Put simply, it states that any headline thatâ€™s a yes/no question can in fact be answered â€˜noâ€™.
Do aliens cause cancer? Will Facebook buy IBM? Does eating apples give you superpowers?
It makes a lot of sense. If the story actually was correct, then the journalist or headline writer wouldnâ€™t need a question mark â€“ therefore, you can safely assume that whatever is being discussed is not actually true or accurate.
When you think about it, it seems almost a truism, but itâ€™s a big time saver in scanning the news. And as a writer, make sure you donâ€™t write a headline that readers will see as following Betteridgeâ€™s Law â€“ because theyâ€™ll simply assume a â€˜noâ€™, and skip your article.
Iâ€™ve seen lots of blog posts and articles talking about commonly-confused nouns and verbs, and explaining the difference between, for example, â€˜adviceâ€™ and â€˜adviseâ€™.
But to me thereâ€™s another angle thatâ€™s just as important. As writers, we need to think about words that can function both as a noun and a verb, and the confusion that can cause for readers.
Take a simple word such as â€˜hitâ€™. You can have a hit, which might be a film or song, or you can hit something, or be hit by it.
In a short sentence this double function can make readers stumble if they guess wrong as to the writerâ€™s intent. For example, if you write â€˜Tom Cruiseâ€™s latest hits the screenâ€™ you might be just missing out the word movie to save space, and hoping the word â€˜hitsâ€™ is obviously interpreted as a verb. But if a reader sees â€˜latest hitsâ€™ and reads it as a noun, theyâ€™re going to get confused.
If at all possible, just find another way to write what you need to say. Commas can be your friend, to make it clearer which words go together.
Itâ€™s a writing tip Iâ€™ve alluded to in this blog before, but I realise Iâ€™ve never actually covered it properly: a great way to structure your writing is to stick to one idea per paragraph.
Make a statement or a claim, and then expand on it. Provide some evidence, or more detail, or a quote that illustrates your point. Then move on.
This can work particularly well for online writing, and text expected to be read on a screen, such as an email newsletter. Here, youâ€™re likely to want shorter paragraphs anyway, as the number of words per line is typically smaller than a printed document.
Itâ€™s also a really useful rule to bear in mind if youâ€™re editing someone elseâ€™s text. If youâ€™re struggling with long, complicated sentences, break them down into short paragraphs each making a single point.
Give it a go, and you wonâ€™t look back.
A few years ago, I blogged about the Astrohaus Freewrite (formerly the Hemingwrite). Itâ€™s a bare-bones, distraction-free word processor â€“ great concept, but how is it in practice?
Iâ€™ve kept an eye on this and finally seen a real review, on Armchair Arcade. The reviewer is positive overall, but to me they simply highlight the limitations. Too expensive, too limited in what you can do, and too heavy.
Iâ€™m sticking with my Mac for now, and the distraction-free modes offered by Word, but if I really wanted a dedicated writing device I could just throw in my bag, Iâ€™d pick up a decent Chromebook for Â£200 or less. Job done.
Iâ€™m morbidly curious how many people have actually bought a Freewrite though â€“ surely not many?
Itâ€™s a well-known piece of advice: write as though you were talking to someone you know, in the pub (or informal setting of your choice).
But how can you actually do this?
I was recently helping someone create a presentation, as she was struggling to write her thoughts as clearly as she could speak them. The ideas were there, but the words werenâ€™t flowing.
In the end, we simply recorded me asking her a few pre-arranged questions. She spoke her answers without preparation, then transcribed the audio. The result: a clear, well-expressed piece of text, which with minimal editing could be used for her presentation. Job done.