My Top 5 Recipe Writing Mistakes

Diving into this whole idea of a food blog, I realized there must have been rules and recommendations about writing recipes. We all read them and see similarities but never really understand what those similarities are. Well, I didn’t until I researched how to actually write a well-written cooking recipe. I also learned that a cooking recipe is different than a baking recipe.

For me, editing my own work was a particularly fun exercise for me. That sounds weird right? Well, in college I majored in Communication and for a semester, I was an editor for our campus newspaper, The UNF Spinnaker. Now why the name of our news publication reminds me of a spider when our mascot is an osprey is beyond me.

I enjoyed nitpicking at other peoples writing in addition to my own. Come to find out, recipe writing has some rules just like APA style journalism. I scoured the web for common recipe writing errors and myths. As I was reading them, I was already thinking to myself, yep I am guilty of that. Yep, I am guilty of that too. It wasn’t until I actually went back and edited my recipes that I understood how wrong I really was. My advice to food bloggers and recipe writers-to-be, do your research first and learn what you need to do before doing it. It will save you time later on down the road and your readers will, hopefully, consider you as more credible.

Some of the most helpful resources I found were a Recipe Writing Cheat Sheet by Justin Schwartz of Just Cook NYC who covers a list of 20 most common errors he sees as a food blogger and recipe editor. Another good read is 7 Most Common Recipe Writing Errors and 7 More Most Common Recipe Writing Errors by Dianne Jacob.

While some of these may overlap with Justin and Dianne, I would like to share some of the most common errors that I learned from them that I found in my own writing.

  1. List the ingredients on the ingredient list in the exact order they appear in the directions.
  2. If using an ingredient more than once, it’s a good idea to proceed the ingredient with “divided” and when it is last used in the directions, indicate “remaining.” As Dianne says, this alerts readers who may have used too much in a previous step that it’s “time to swear.” Personally I have been guilty of this too, so I consider it a common courtesy to your readers.
  3. Specify vague ingredients such as fresh or dried herbs, light or dark brown sugar, self-rising or all-purpose flour. Recipes are written with specific ingredients for a reason. Don’t be that guy.
  4. Use season to taste carefully. If you’re like me, you may think you know what it means but you don’t really know what it means when it’s in a recipe. Often I read, “add salt and pepper, season to taste.” This doesn’t mean add salt and pepper to a raw steak and season it how you think you may like it. It means add salt and pepper little by little, tasting it in between until you find it to your liking. Obviously nobody is going to taste raw meat or raw batter. Often this step is appropriately listed after the food is prepared and in it’s final stages.
  5. There is a difference between words like chopped appearing after the ingredient and after the measure. If after the measure, then the ingredient is measured in its chopped form. If after the ingredient, then the ingredient is measured in its whole form and then chopped later. For example, “1 cup chopped peanuts” means you chop the peanuts and measure one cup. On the other hand, “1 cup peanuts, chopped” means you measure one cup of peanuts an then chop them.

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