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Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing
41 How-To Tips for Creators

III. Credible

Credibility is a fragile thing.



When you write effectively, you invite readers on a journey. You request they take a leap of faith. You ask them to believe what you have to say, to follow your thoughts, perhaps to be persuaded to think as you do. 


This is no small responsibility. You need to honor their trust by being credible. 


There is a paradox among audiences. Some people believe everything they are told, without examining the source. Others are more skeptical than ever, questioning everything. It’s between these two poles that you must navigate, earning, more than ever, the confidence and respect you would like to receive. 


Credibility is a fragile thing. There’s no counting the number of people, among them Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, and Woody Allen, who once were held in high esteem, then crashed and burned in terms of their reputations. Everything you write is trust-building, another opportunity to earn readers’ regard—and another to lose it. 


As legendary businessman and investor Warren Buffett noted: 


It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.


This doesn’t always happen through big public embarrassments. Credibility can be lost in small and subtle ways: a factual error (Pro Tip 20), plagiarism (Pro Tip 22), even a typo (Pro Tip 40). Readers constantly ask themselves whether you are worth their time and if what you have to say meets the bar of being trustworthy. 


Creating pieces that are credible is the third element of effective writing. Your task when writing is to be factual, believable, concrete, informed, real, authentic, and true. 


The African American Guide to Writing and Publishing Nonfiction includes a reflection from Patrice Gaines, author of Laughing in the Dark: From Colored Girl to Woman of Color—A Journey From Prison to Power


I try to write with honesty. This is key to successful storytelling or writing. Readers connect to honesty, and writers know when they’re not being honest. Honesty feels right…. 


Dishonesty creeps in when we lose our focus and when we sit down with a preconceived notion of what we must write.... 


Readers are smart. They know a fake. But, more important, they also know the real deal when they read it.

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