Writers, the written word is the ultimate in non-verbal communications. And because you won’t be there to explain what it means, your writing must stand on its own to be understood. As I’ve said for many years, communications exists when the thought in your (the writer’s) head is caused to exist in the mind of the reader.
To that end, we end our work. And perhaps edit it again and maybe a third, fourth, or more times depending on its importance.
Her are some things to look for when you edit your work. And, before I forget, if you have the time, let a day or two pass before you edit. If you’re like me, you will find errors so glaring that you’ll wonder how you ever missed them. Well, you missed them because you were writing not editing.
Now come the editing. Don’t forget, when you write don’t edit and when you edit don’t write.
Show Don’t Tell.
As Mark Twain said, “Don’t tell the reader the old lady screamed, bring her on and let
Avoid using unnecessary words. Note: I mean don’t include unnecessary words because they’re fluff and ad nothing to the reader’s understanding.
- Yes: “I’ve done this for years and have saw this.”
- No: “In all of my more than thirty years, I’ve seen just about everything, but not this.”
Move action words toward the front of your sentences, so the reader knows what’s happening.
- Yes: John ran across the street.
- No: Across the street john ran.
For the web, write sentences of 12 to 15 words. When writing for academia sentences will be much longer. That’s fine. Novels and nonfiction may well use longer sentences. Be careful, though, a novel I once read had a paragraph long sentence that ran more than 140 words. That’s far too long. Watch for sentences that run 40 or 50 words. Break them up.
Look for repeated words:
- No: He said that he would be here at noon.
- Yes: He’ll be here at noon.
- Yes: Said, he’d be here at noon.
- NOTE: Use repeated words for emphasis. “He said he’d be here.” Indicates the speaker is becoming, or is, agitated.
Start every sentence with a capital letter. End every sentence with either a period (.), question mark (?), or an exclamation mark (!).
Use exclamation marks rarely. Do not rely on them, to get your point or emotion across to the reader put in your prose.
Commas can make you crazy. And I won’t be able to give you a nice short way to learn their use. Yes, you’re going to have to take the time to research them. No place better to start than The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B White.
Foreign Words or Phrases
Include their translation in English immediately following them.
- No, E pluribus unum
- Yes: E pluribus unum (Out of many, one.)
There, Their, They’re
- It’s theirs. It belongs to them.
- The book is over there.
- they’re : They are : They’re coming on the trip.
- Use an before a vowel sounding word.
- Yes: The boy ate an apple.
- No: We rode in an car.
To, Two, Too
- Yes: I’m going to the store.
- Yes: There were two cars in the parking lot.
- Is Bob, coming, too?
And Lastly, Here’s One From My Current Book
When you find the same error more than once, use the find and replace function in your word processor to fix the error throughout the entire manuscript. This works great and saves you time.