Worse than Excrement: What to do about bad online writing, especially if it’s yours.

© 2012 by Aurelio Locsin.

Your writing stinks worse than excrement!

I’m paraphrasing, of course. But that was the comment from a reader of one of my purely factual hubs.

My Response

Normally, I would ignore such invective. After all, I’d always maintained that for a writer even a bad comment was better than no comment. The former meant people were reading your words. The latter meant nobody cared about it.

And the critique had descended from a forum notorious for its Neanderthalish observations. Besides, that place already granted me 150 views in less than a day, which was the original goal of the posting.

But the critique came from one of the moderators, whose opinions were usually measured and well thought out. Time to give this high-horse rider a piece of my mind, supported with choice, well-written quotes from the object of his scorn. So I went back to my hub and made an awful discovery.

Realization

My critic was right.

The writing was densely packed with jargon, riddled with typos and grammatical errors, and incomprehensible in some of its structure. The work was an embarrassment from a writer who’s been lauded by fellow wordsmiths and whose work has graced the front page of its site.

I quickly made changes to the disaster entitled "Highest Paid Surgeons in the USA: Where These Doctors Make The Best Salaries." I also scuttled any thoughts of a rebuttal since now my attitude toward the critic had changed to gratitude. Presumably, people would continue to visit the link from the forum. And the improved version would garner better comments, perhaps from the original commenter himself.

Questions

But something about the hub still nagged me. Stats showed at least 200 visits from HubPages, the community that nurtured the article. These people cared about good writing, supposedly. Some were even regular followers of my words. Why didn’t any of them catch the problems and tell me about it? Did any bother to actually read the content?

The response tiptoed toward me from fellow writer Ardie. She’d noticed a minor typo on my Animals Quiz. She gingerly and diplomatically broached the subject via private email, fearful of mortally wounding my literary heart. Her correction quickly found its way into the hub after I thanked her.

My Take

If you’re a fellow writer, you may be under the impression that any of your critiques would somehow bury my writing aspirations under an avalanche of fury. But consider that your thoughtful appraisals are far more acceptable than the slams of the general public.

So, I beg you. If you spot anything amiss with my words, whether it be a small typo or a major error in logic, please honor their intent by telling me. If you must, message me privately. I will treasure your kindness.

What About Others?

I may feel this way because my non-fiction writing is a commodity, meant to inform and entertain, but ultimately, to earn money. With over 7,500 articles floating around the Internet, I don’t remember, much less form emotional attachments to, my work.

But we must recognize that other writers may pour heart, soul and long hours into their efforts. They feel the same way about their creations as a mother feels towards her children. (I experience the same fondness for my creative works.)

  • What do you do if you spot a misspelling, missing punctuation mark or other typo in someone else’s writing?
  • What if it’s a major error in construction or logic?
  • What if the writer is simply incomprehensible and can’t string words together?
  • Do you respond differently if it’s obvious that English is not the author’s first language?
  • Do your reactions change if the work is factual, like a recipe or procedure, or creative, like a short story or poem?

Sorry, but you won’t find answers from me. But I welcome your responses and thoughts in the Comments below. Together we may come up with good solutions.

More by this Author


Comments 53 comments

Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

Wow this is an interesting hub. I really like how you were able to allow yourself to move from feeling injured into using the criticism to improve your work - even if the way it was delivered wasn’t great.

I agree with what you say about people feeling more attached to creative works - I actually wrote a hub exploring that a few months ago. I’m amazed at and admire your output, I would love to be more prolific.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

This reminds me of the OutKast song, "Roses" in the chorus where they say, "I know you like to think your stuff don't stink, but lean a little bit closer..." and unfortunately as writers, that can be true for us. I really try to write what I find interesting but also appeal to readers. But it's hard at times to always get it right. You were done a favor but sometimes it's hard to accept criticism, especially when it's so blunt and direct but sometimes that's what works best. Great hub, very useful!


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA

I agree with you. I do prefer to be told of any mistakes, especially in an email, so it isn't permanently displayed on my hub that I made the error, especially if I fixed it. I would certainly hope that people had more tact and told me nicely.

I think that when people take the time to let me know about my errors, it means that they care about my writing, and think that my problems are fixable.


robie2 profile image

robie2 4 years ago from Central New Jersey

I totally agree too-- one of the things writers do for each other is spot errors-- don't know about you but I don't even see my own typos sometimes. Personally, I am always grateful-- but still, I do like to be told a little more diplomatically than" your writing stinks etc,"

love this musing on writers and writing-- very cool


hecate-horus profile image

hecate-horus 4 years ago from Rowland Woods

I feel the same way...I hope people point out my errors.. in a nice way, of course. :)


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

I have to agree, I'd rather be told I have an error and correct it then leave it out there for the world to see. If it's a small error it's not too bad if the correction is in the comments,just shows I'm human. Loved your pictures too.


mphsglo profile image

mphsglo 4 years ago

I tend to overlook minor mistakes. If it's just plain impossible to read, I usually move on. For me, formatting is real important. The piece can be written quite well, but, no paragraphs. A wall of text is hard to read.


cebutouristspot profile image

cebutouristspot 4 years ago from Cebu

Well everybody need to start somewhere and you wont learn if you dont have critic. The important thing is that you want to better yourself and of course passion :)

Just one thing though make sure you dont loose yourself in the process. I mean what make writing special and fun for you.

P.S. I tend to agree with mphsglo I usually skip hubs that are not properly formatted as it hurt your eyes trying to read their message.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

This hub reminds me of Taylor Swift's sing MEAN. I'm glad that you took that comment and turned it into a hub! Kudos to you!


Arlene V. Poma 4 years ago

On HubPages, I will NOT touch another writer's work. I am not paid to be their personal copywriter or editor, so it's none of my business to correct their work. Recently, someone made Hub of the Day, and some Hubber mentioned a typo in the COMMENT section after congratulating the winner. That is so petty and rude. I looked up Mr. Perfect's profile, and it was riddled with errors. And that included his other social networking sites. I say to him and people like him, "Butt out, Dude!" I'm no editor. I am a writer. Even if I were an editor as a trade and with the skills, do you think I'm gonna do it for free? In the eight months I've been here, I've had one person email me on an error. If I make mistakes, it's on me to correct them. I'm not leaving my work out there to have it corrected by people I don't even know. But that's online for you. Leave it to someone to correct your baby? Oh, hell no!


hoteltravel profile image

hoteltravel 4 years ago from Thailand

I never read this original hub, but all your hubs I read and commented were well-written, as per my standards. I can understand the point you are trying to make here. I am a poor editor of my writing, but can spot mistakes in other's writing miles away. There is nothing wrong in expecting your regular readers to point out your mistakes. Glad to see that you took open criticism in the right spirit. Voted up.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

My having been a technical writer for many years also helped me to accept criticism. I was used to having my work bleeding red from all the reviewers. It got to the point where if my work didn't have any corrections after a review, I felt that the editors, managers and programmers weren't doing their job. Thanks for the support.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Truth be told, this hub had a few typos that I missed. Fortunately, some readers spotted them and told me, and I was able to correct them within a couple of hours of publication.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Well, it helps to have hubbers such as yourself who are helpful and supportive.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Well, Alecia, I think all writers make mistakes. But some of us are lucky enough to have editors who catch those errors, while the rest of us have to rely on our own checking.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Well, different writers have different reactions to their work being corrected, hence the reluctance to do so. Thanks for stopping by.


Keri Summers profile image

Keri Summers 4 years ago from West of England

Interesting and honest article, alocsin. I have mixed feelings about this subject. We're professional writers here, the quality of each individual Hub reflects on HubPages and all of us. It's our responsibility to put up thorough Hubs, or deal with them ASAP with a re-edit if, like you, one has slipped through that we soon realise we're not happy with. (I've done this too with one of mine, and it was actually one of your comments, which was a positive and kind one, that made me realise I was not feeling what I was saying. The Hub is down and awaiting a re-think!). On my Hubs I would always be glad to see any errors that do slip through pointed out, and I wouldn't mind if it was in the comments, but would not presume to comment on someone else's unless I knew they wouldn't mind. To be honest, I probably wouldn't email someone unless it was a glaring error, and I cared personally about how they were coming across. And although I'd always be grateful for it myself, I certainly don't think people should rely on feedback for errors, or expect to get corrected, because this is not a writing group, it's a professional site. It's the real deal, our articles are online as a resource for people. HubPages is not a dress rehearsal and if I'm honest it does annoy me a little when some people treat it as a workshop. Having said that, yes I will always take language barriers into account, because it helps with the democratization of the site, and we can't expect people to hire translators to check their work.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

I appreciate the well-written response. Feel free to point out any of my errors. One disadvantage we have is that we don't have professional editors to proof our work, where at many other venues, editors can make corrections. And it's sometimes hard to see mistakes in our own work.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, I think it all depends on how someone tells you, I had a woman, not a hubber, tell me that I had used the wrong grammatical word on a hub, can't even remember which one now, and she went on and on, saying 'they don't teach them anything at school these days blah blah'! I went nuclear! haha! not for the criticism, oh no, but for the way she said it! it made me feel about five years old! I felt really angry because she judged me without knowing me! it was a genuine mistake on my part, so get over it! haha! seriously though I don't mind someone saying, you have a great big spelling mistake! as long as they are polite, in fact I welcome it.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

I have only done that a few times, for instance when someone's paragraph was repeated twice or youtube videos no longer work (as an example)...and only to followers that regularly read my hubs and I, theirs, making comments back and forth.

If someone would send an email mixed in with all the other notifications about hubs published, etc. from HubPages, I would probably never see it.

Wonder if there is a way for HubPages to send us emails or notify us in another way separating contact emails from all of the other notices?


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

Thanks for writing this hub. I think it took some serious decision-making to publish this since it hits home for a lot of us. Like you, I would also appreciate feedback on hub writing from fellow hubbers. Although we do realize that some people critique in less than positive methods, it is helpful to reflect upon the possiblity that a hub needs some mending.

Upon reading other hubs, I am still new and would rather wait until my writing style is perfected before offering suggestions on other's writing style. However, I would mention an error if I felt it would help clarify the hub content. Feel free to offer suggestions on my hubs. I appreciate your feedback.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

I think that woman probably wasn't a writer or particularly sensitive to others. She could've just kept it short and sweet. Thanks for sharing how NOT to critique a work.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

I believe if someone sends you a message directly, it has a slightly different appearance than just a comment or other posting. I use a message filter in my email program to automatically color my message titles received from hubpages, so I can easily sort them out.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Will do. But you're a teacher though -- so I think you could point out grammatical errors and such, even if you didn't feel comfortable talking about writing style yet.


Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 4 years ago from SE MA

At http://hubpages.com/forum/topic/91879 we have suggested a private comment channel where people could leave such criticism and helpful advice without being public about it.

Basically, you could leave a "private" comment for the author without having to contact them through email.


cclitgirl profile image

cclitgirl 4 years ago from Western NC

This hub actually made me smile - just because I could see you rolling your eyes at that comment you received. In any case, thanks for compiling this. Voted up and I'll be backlinking to this. :)


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Thanks for pointing out this resource, Pcunix. I can see where that anonymity can be useful.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Lol, indeed. But I was thinking, he must have visited my hub, so thanks to him for the money he contributed.


molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

This was a great idea for a hub.

I am sure will help many new writers realise,(me included) that there is no such thing as bad publicity. page views are page views. You learned in this case that the critique had some merit. Although it could have been put better!

I agree a quick e-mail is all that is needed.

Voted up and SHARING.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Great teaching Hub, Alocsin. And you made an important and necessary distinction between your multitudinous commercially focused Hubs and your more literary ones. It is harder to receive criticism about the ones that are dear to our heart.

I do not appreciate or respond to people tearing into my ideas or thesis or the purpose of my Hub, but I always appreciate it if someone lets me know about grammatical or punctuation errors. As Michael suggested a private email is nice, but if that is too much trouble, then put it (nicely) in the comments section.

Speaking of "poor" writing (not yours Alocsin, I am speaking generically). I heartily second "mphsglo" comments about people who write a "Wall of Text." So very hard to read, to understand.

I can far more easily forgive a few typos, or punctuation errors. But no paragraphs!?! And no grasp of the importance of white space? I really don't get it. And there are examples of "good" formatting all around us. Guess I have said enough. :) A very good Hub.


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 4 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

Thank you for this piece. I think as writers, we're not perfect, but strive to be and we will make errors. I think part of the support to offer each other to make hubs more perfect is to send a message about an error. I would never taken offense because sometimes we can overlook mistakes on our own work. My preference is to message writers, not to post it in a comment.


Lynn S. Murphy 4 years ago

I don't mind being told about problems. In fact, one amazing hubber mentioned that my title about titiles wasn't quite right, which I kind of knew but didn't know what to do about it. I totally appreciated it. On the other side, I dont' want to hurt anyone's feelings so I tend to make mentions behind the scenes.

Very cool bringing it out to forefront.


PWalker281 4 years ago

I just reviewed several of my hubs today for other reasons and found several typos and minor errors. I was a little shocked that I had missed them because I'm pretty scrupulous about editing before publishing, but I'm only human and as many have said, there are no editors here to check our work.

I disagree with the person who said that everyone on Hubpages is a professional writer. We have writers here from all walks of life; some are experienced writers, others aren't, so you almost have to expect that there will be different levels of writing quality on the site.

I have emailed hubbers privately about mistakes or given suggestions to newbies on how to improve their hubs, but I don't do it often. I just don't have the time. On the other hand, I'll sometimes read a hub that has grammatical and punctuation errors and not be too bothered by them if the content is compelling. Other times, I'm appalled by some of the grammatical errors people make.

With sites like this, where anyone can write, regardless of background, errors in writing are going to occur. Some people care about how their writing looks and take the time to format and edit it; others just want to be able to say what they have to say and don't worry too much about grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

Everyone has to decide the extent to which they want to become involved in editing the work of others. I'll do it from time to time, privately and diplomatically, but I'm not going to make a career out of it ... at least not here :-).

Great hub, Aurelio. Voted up and interesting.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Thanks, phdast7. A wall of text is also relatively easy to correct. Just press the Enter key twice once in a while. Thanks for stopping by.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

I used to post my typo corrections in comment, ytsenoh, but the consensus seems to be to do it in private, which is what I'll do from now on. Thanks for visiting.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

PWalker281, it's easy for even professional writers to miss typos and such. I spot them all the time when I reread old hubs. That's why it's useful to have another pair of eyes look at it.


Keri Summers profile image

Keri Summers 4 years ago from West of England

Hi, it's me who said about professional writers. I came back actually to post again, because I've been mulling this over, and I thought it was perhaps a little unfair of me to expect everyone to try to get their stuff up polished first time. What I meant by professional writer though, was not that we should all write like professionals, but that technically we are professionals, because we are earning money, and that being a reason to step up to the mark more. But as I say, I've mulled this over, and I wouldn't want anyone not to start writing, because they're unsure of themselves, and would only want them to feel safe doing so. Therefore, I suppose HubPages is going to be a bit of a workshop at times, but all should feel welcome and not intimated. Perhaps there should be, specifically, a workshop section where new Hubbers could post their first works specifically for (kind but constructive) suggestions for improvement, or assurance that they are getting it right.


Ruchira profile image

Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

It is difficult to put it across to people who stink in their writing 'cause that could hurt their feelings.

However, I on the other hand have started taking it well :)

I guess learning sure comes a long way!

voted up as a useful hub!


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

We are human beings and mistakes will happen. You are constantly in the top 10 and I have noticed when you are at the top, the criticism gets worse either out of jealously or more exposure. You are such a graceful man and that takes a lot of class. You have the right attitude and thick skin to rise to the top. Well written and an inspiring way to handle such a situation.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Alocsin....Excellent hub and you raise some extremely valid considerations. I would totally appreciate any private communication, pointing out a typo or error of some sort. If we miss these things oursleves, it's good that someone sees them and let's us know. I don't think any hubber wants their hub ruined with a few flaws that can be fixed easily.

Likewise....there are several hubbers who have made it clear to me that they would very much appreciate a note if I come across such errors in their hubs. I have had hubbers even send me a link to please read and advise of typos, etc.

2 or 3 readers is better than one for this because as we know, when we scan over our hubs, we read them KNOWING THE HUB WELL...therefore, skip over errors. When someone else reads your hub, they're reading with clearer vision and can pick up on typos.

But, I would not bring this to just any hubbers attention. We don't have any way of knowing if it will be appreciated or possibly upset them.

You have an excellent attitude, besides being an outstanding writer!


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

First off, Keri, I'm always happy to welcome multiple visitors to any of my hubs. I obviously found nothing wrong with your previous posting, or I would have denied. However, the readers and I appreciate your clarification. I think the market here is self-regulating and that good writing goes to the top in terms of views and follows, while bad writing sinks. But your workshop idea is an excellent one. Have you considered mentioning that to the HubPages administrators? Thanks for stopping by again.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

That's a good attitude Ruchira.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

You flatter me too much Tammy. I'm definitely not in the top 10 when it comes to income, which is my primary goal, lol. But thank you for your kind words.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Thanks fpherj48, you have an excellent attitude as well.


Ardie profile image

Ardie 4 years ago from Neverland

Drats! You totally put me out there as the jerk who pointed out an error :( I didn't mean to cause a Hub.

Im just playing around. You are the first person (and now probably the last) that I've ever pointed an error out to. I dont normally make it my place to be the grammar or spelling coach because I know I make my own mistakes. BUT I felt bad not saying something to you. I thought "well I can say it nicely and hope he appreciates it OR I can wait and hope a stranger from the Internet doesnt leave a nasty comment about it."

Either way now I will be too afraid to tell anyone :)


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

It wasn't you at all Ardie ;)

The comment came anonymously from someone at another forum. Your comments on my hubs have always been welcome and constructive.

Nobody on HP has been that harsh in their commentary.

Not that any of my hubs deserved such harshness ;) Thanks for your tongue-in-cheek response.


Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

Hi Alocsin ~ I always want someone to contact me, preferably by private message, to let me know if there is a glaring error in any of my work. The problem that I have found is that not many people will do that. I have on occasion let others know of mistakes I have found in their work. But not everyone is receptive and take it as direct criticism when in fact, I was quietly trying to help. Thank you for an interesting article that really makes us think.

Sharyn


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Fortunately, Sharyn's Slant, I think most writers are open to helpful criticism. It's the only way we can improve.


L.L. Woodard profile image

L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

I don't know that I would find it offensive for someone to mention an error (or more) in any of my hubs in the forums or other public areas, but I do know I prefer to send private messages to other hubbers/writers.

Appreciate that you wrote this hub and started the discussion here. Thank you for SHARING.


molometer 4 years ago

Thought I would revisit this hub as it is so thought provoking and can help when dealing with critical comments.

Errors can and do occur. The criticism should reflect and be balanced to the content.

We are not writing mission critical documents so ease up on the people.

Great advice Aurelio as always. Votes and sharing


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Thanks, molometer. Did you know that for some reason, your name on this comment didn't have an active link?


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 4 years ago from Sunny Spain

I normally email someone if I see a mistake that I think affects their hub and I have never had a bad response to any email I have sent in this respect.

I don't do it very often and I think in every case that I have done it I have had a lovely email back thanking me.

I am also very fortunate that I have fellow hubbers out there who do the same for me.

I value very highly receiving such emails as they alert me to my mistakes and best of all it gives me a chance to correct them and improve the hub.

Like Nell I also think there is a right way and a wrong way to say it, and again like Nell once the mistake has been pointed out I would not appreciate a person going on and on about it afterwards.

Even though English is my mother tongue my grammar leaves a lot to be desired.

I am not stupid, I managed to get an BA hons degree, but English was not one of my strong subjects, I think I must have daydreamed or talked through the parts of the lessons that taught about grammar.

So I know from first hand experience that when I first started writing on Hubpages I was very self conscious and extremely nervous in case the grammar police came after me.

Some Hubbers that I admired wrote so beautifully and had such beautifully crafted comments from their followers that I felt too intimidated to leave a comment for fear of being picked up on my grammar.

I was even too embarrassed to become a fan of one lady because I thought my fan mail would be substandard.

Some hubs I have read have been riddled with wrongly used words and mis-spelled words but the content was so powerful and it was still easy to know was was being said that it would be petty to point these out.

In my opinion pointing out this kind of small stuff in the face of deeply personal and powerfully written pieces would only show that you had missed the point of the piece.

In the end I think it is down to motive, if the person's motive is to be helpful and constructive and they do it in a kind and helpful way then I am all for it.

I am voting this up :D


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA Author

Wow, maggs224, it sounds like you have the makings of a hub with your comment. Thanks for leaving it.

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