In the right context, puns may make your content more relatable (we all have that friend who drops bad puns) and attention-grabbing (for better or worse, some puns stick out). However, make sure you aren’t making a pun — intentional or not — that could offend (and lose) readers.
What puns could offend readers?
It’s just a harmless pun. I didn’t even mean to make it. No one will be offended, right? Think again.
Consider the following:
No one would give a second thought to reading the phrase “beating charges” on a page about criminal defense. Except you need to consider the context. Saying “beating drug charges” isn’t offensive, but consider when the context is child abuse or spousal violence.
Here’s another example: “When a family member is severely injured, surviving family members are often left to pick up the pieces.” Nothing wrong with saying that, right? Well consider if the family member’s injury was an amputation.
Always consider how your words go together.
Is there anything else I should keep an eye out for?
You might also want to consider how you portray certain people (e.g., gender, national origin, etc.). For example, if you write about car accidents and always portray reckless, at-fault drivers as men, you might offend male readers. If you always portray a doctor as a man, you might offend female readers. Depending on your field, you can use they as a gender-neutral singular pronoun or write s/he.
Refrain from making jokes that some might see as off-color. A joke you think is funny could offend the majority of your readers. If it might be questionable, take it out.
This is why proofreading is so important. Going through it a second time (preferably a few hours later or even the next day) will allow you to catch something that seemed innocuous but could prove extremely offensive.
Pro-tip: Always have another person read over what you’ve written. In addition to catching something you might not have, they can also tell you if something might be problematic later on.
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