Details Matter - Whether It's a Grant Proposal or a Hotel Room
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
This week I was traveling with my family and had a terrible experience at a motel we had planned to stay at. (Had being the operative word here - if we stayed 30 minutes from driving the car into the lot to driving out it was a lot.) This brief stay was enlightening for a number of reasons, but one of my biggest takeaways was no matter what your profession, little details matter. It occurred to me that this was an excellent explanation on why it’s important for details to line up when writing, so I hope you enjoy this teaching moment and never have to experience what we did!
When we researched this motel before booking a stay it appeared to be old fashioned but clean, and had reviews and images to back that up. It also had reasonable prices for the area, essentially making it a great choice for a good night’s sleep.
However when we entered the room and looked closer, the details didn’t match up with our expectations. Dirty windows, broken window screens, live bugs moving around, squashed bug (with shoe sole outline) on one wall, and a hole in another wall, really were not what the online narrative sold us. One of these things on its own could possibly have been explained away - all of them together added up to a different picture.
However, since it was late and the owner was so horrified and apologetic about the state of the room, we tried to think optimistically (maybe this was just one room they forgot needed to be fixed?) and move into a different room in the same motel.
Dirty windows, dead bugs on the floor instead of live ones, hair in the bathtub, and a broken outlet plate cover pretty much cemented the decision to leave (and drive 2 hours out to the next available, decently priced, large chain hotel we could find).
On the drive to the next hotel, I couldn’t help but think about this experience. We’ve stayed in older motels before; we’ve even stayed in hotels where something was well worn and beginning to fall into disrepair. Those things didn’t necessarily stop us from staying, because it was 1 or 2 small details off in a room that was overwhelmingly positive. Even though it wasn’t perfect, so many things lined up that we could trust it was safe to sleep in those motel/hotel sheets without getting an unexpected result.
But in this scenario, multiple details were off and painted a very different picture than the online description or outer facade of the motel did. Even though it seemed quaint on the outside, the details discredited anything positive this motel had going for it. And the same way these “off” details ruined the motel experience for us, several “off” details in your writing can ruin the story you are trying to tell.
Whatever type of writing project you are working on (grants, dissertations, copywriting, manual writing, blogging, etc.), it is crucial to edit your work after you are finished and make sure all of the supporting documents line up properly. Just as this motel staff was so used to the condition of the rooms they couldn’t see anything wrong with the state of them, you are so used to your own writing that you will not be able to catch any mistakes you make. A handful of mistakes in published works are disconcerting, but can be explained away - everybody has bad days (just look at the Starbucks cup that made it into Game of Thrones season 8). It’s when multiple details don’t line up that the problem begins. It tells your readers a different story, one where you either didn’t care enough about the project to ensure all the details lined up, or had something to hide (and hid it badly).
So before you submit the final copy of your writing project, edit it with a fine toothed comb. Are the names, abilities, and personalities of your characters consistent throughout? Do references to later sections in your work match with the page number you give? Do your supporting documents have the exact same details and numbers as your narrative? These things are small, but can make or break the impression you want to give your audience.
What are your experiences with reading works (or staying at hotels) where the details don’t add up? What impression did it leave you with? I’d love to hear your experiences so we can all learn from each other or commiserate with each other!
Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next week with another article!
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