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Editing Strategy: Think of the Overall Tone

Posted by on Aug 28, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Think of the Overall Tone

The overall tone of a document can enhance or destroy it.

The example below was written by the Dean of Students at a prestigious university, advising professors of the unfortunate death of a student.  Everything is correct, technically speaking, except the resulting tone.

To all instructors of Mary Smith:

This is to inform you of the death of Mary Smith who was killed in an automobile accident last Saturday night.  Please remove her name from your class lists.

Editing Strategy: Avoid Overly Long Sentences

Posted by on Aug 23, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Avoid Overly Long Sentences

Some sentences have so many thoughts jammed into them that they are impossible for readers to understand.  Readers like variety in sentence length–some long, some short, some medium.  If writers cut long sentences down into two or three shorter ones or combine a short sentence with a long one, they will make their readers happy.  Variety works.

Editing Strategy: Avoid Cliches and Trite Phrases

Posted by on Aug 18, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Avoid Cliches and Trite Phrases

When a well-worn phrase was first invented, it caught on because people liked it.  But after a while, the phrase becomes a cliche and loses its meaning.  Think of hackneyed phrases everyone overuses, such as good as gold, beyond a shadow of a doubt, acid test, being caught red-handed, have a bone to pick, keep a stiff upper lip, have a card up your sleeve, more is happening than meets the eye.  Writers need to say what they really mean.  Rather than putting the ideas down in unimaginative ways, they need to write what they really mean to convey.

Editing Strategy: Use Plain English

Posted by on Aug 13, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Use Plain English

Professionals in specialized fields often make the mistake of thinking that only their specialized language can express their thoughts.  This is usually not true.  Read this jargonized version of a famous line of American poetry.  Although the writer is agile in using jargon, she lost both the meaning and poetic form here:

If I were to ascertain the reasons for my high caliber of distinguished success, I would posit that it irrefutably is related to a particular highway diad in a thickly forested area–a diad at which I optioned to interact with fewer individuals and, consequently, made the decision to go down the diad, known hereafter as “subsume A.”

What a difference between the diads and optioned of the above paragraph and Robert Frost’s  original, beautiful “The Road Not Taken:”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Editing Strategy: Avoid Redundant Phrases

Posted by on Aug 7, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Avoid Redundant Phrases

Some phrases used in writing are redundant by definition, such as baby kittens.  What else is a kitten but a baby?  Edit sentences to remove redundancies.  For example, is something absolutely essential or just essential?

The following sentence has redundant phrases galore:  The annual per capita expenditure is $2400 per employee, per year.  Try this approach:  cut the phrase annual per capita, leaving the sentence as The expenditure is $2400 per employee, per year.

Editing Strategy: Cut the Fat

Posted by on Aug 2, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Cut the Fat

Start with cutting “throat-clearing” phrases, phrases that lead up to the main point or–worse yet–those that dance around it and away from it.  The following two sentence openings are like a pitcher winding up but never throwing the pitch:  I would like to cite a good example to the effect that. . . or To illustrate my point of view, let me say that. . .No meaning really exists in all those words.  Instead, the meaning of the sentence comes AFTER the fat and gristle.

Two throat-clearing phrases that can easily be cut are there is and there are.  For instance, in this sentence, There are seven managers in this department who can sign purchase orders, the first two words can easily be cut leaving Seven managers in this department can sign purchase orders.

Editing Strategy: Who Did What?

Posted by on Jul 28, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Who Did What?

When writers answer the second part of the question (Who did WHAT?), their sentences become plugged in. Alive.  Good ways to activate sentences are to (1) use strong, present tense action verbs whenever possible and (2) use real verbs instead of verbs in disguise. In the sentence She is working, the writer can shorten the verb to a more active form.  Thus, She works is leaner.

Some verbs show no action, though; instead they indicate a state of being or existence.  Verbs of being are am, is, are, was, were, be, and being.   These tiny words are often burdened by carrying the entire weight of ponderous sentences.  Replace verbs of being with action verbs, when feasible.

Here is a not-so-perfect sample, crying to be edited.  Has a comparison of costs been made?  Ask the first question WHO DID WHAT?  No one.  Let’s make it our Vice-President, Marjorie Dunbar.

Notice what happens as soon as an actor is added to the sentence.  The writer is almost forced to change the noun comparison into the action verb compare.  So–the edited sentence reads:  Has Marjorie Dunbar compared costs?

Editing Strategy: Ask Who Did What?

Posted by on Jul 23, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Ask Who Did What?

An easy way to find out if a sentence needs an actor is to ask the question WHO did what?

Look at this sentence:  It is requested that you update the regulations occasionally.

First ask, WHO did what?  Someone (we do not know whom) requests something.  Change the sentence to put in an actor:

The Vice-president of Sales, Marjorie Dunbar, requests that you update the regulations occasionally.

(Note:  Careful readers might notice that occasionally is vague, that it could be replaced by what the recommended time period is.  The Vice-president of Sales, Marjorie Dunbar, requests that you update the regulations yearly.)

Editing Strategy: Use Transitions and Signposts

Posted by on Jul 18, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategy: Use Transitions and Signposts

Transition words signal readers that the writer is changing direction–or illustrating a point–or staying on the same track–or summing up.  Transitions words signal the reader where the piece is going.  A simple word like nonetheless tells readers a contrasting point is being brought up.  One simple hint on looking for those places where transition words would best help the document:  Look for the word and between phrases and clauses.  Often, and can be replaced with a better word, one that shows the relationship between ideas more effectively.

Editing Strategies: Avoid Vague Words

Posted by on Jul 13, 2012 in Writing Skills | Comments Off on Editing Strategies: Avoid Vague Words

As almost all teenagers know, words can merely fill space rather than specify or refine meaning: Ask a teenager, “Where did you go?”  He’ll tell you, “Out.”  Then ask, “What did you do?”  You know the answer. “Nothing.”  Often, teenagers do not really want to answer their parents, but they have to say something, utter some words.  Ergo, vague words.

Take the following sentence as an example of vague wording:  Poor driving conditions caused the accident. What kind of accident was it?  What are the poor driving conditions?  Possible answers abound, from rain to sleet to snow to fog to crowded roads to a combination of conditions listed.  If five people read the sentence, they would probably give five different answers for what poor driving conditions are.  The purpose of editing is to make it such that all five people would think of the same conditions.  For instance:  The heavy snowstorm caused Jane to crash her car into the center divider of the highway.