by Barbara McNichol
What can editors tell authors about improving their writing before they even begin the editing process? I offer this list of seven mistakes that every conscientious writer would be wise to watch out for when writing and rewriting
Mistake #1: Being so self-absorbed as a writer that you risk overlooking the reader’s experience. That shows up as too much talk about the author’s experience of writing to the point that the reader says, “I don’t care about that. Give me the message!” The fix? Write to your core message, minimizing your own experience of writing.
Mistake #2: Addressing readers as readers (plural) rather than a single key person whose interest you want to capture with your message. Reading is a solitary pastime that occurs one person at a time. The fix? Keep a single interested person in your target audience top of mind as you write.
Mistake #3: Skimming the surface of your content, not going deep enough. The fix? When describing an experience, explain what the people involved felt as best you can, including the exact words spoken. Go deeper with the details to bring the scenario to life.
Mistake #4: Having no rhyme or reason to the order of the paragraphs. The fix? Consciously decide on the best logical order of paragraphs based on the way your reader is likely to follow and comprehend.
Mistake #5: Overusing weak verbs and throwing in extraneous phrases and wobbly words. The fix? Rewrite using active verbs; question use of every adjective and adverb; throw out wobbly words such as really, very, much, some that. Here’s a mantra to help you remember these wobbly words: “I Really Think That We Should Not Use Some Words Very Much.”
Mistake #6: Using a long noun phrase when one active verb will do. The fix? Whenever possible, get an active verb to do the “work” of the sentence. Instead of writing, “the examination of the report was done by director,” change the noun phrase to a verb and rewrite the whole sentence. “The director examined the report.” This changed passive construction to active, reduced word count, and has a more direct message.
Mistake #7: Writing sentences that ramble (on and on and on and on). The fix? Limit sentences to 15-21 words max. Be sure to vary sentence length for added interest.
Bonus mistake: Flat-out choosing the wrong word. Yes, it easy to confuse certain words in the English language such as “advice” instead of “advise” among hundreds more. The fix? Use a comprehensive resource such as Word Trippers Tips to help you select the perfect word when it really matters.
What writing mistakes would you add to this list of seven?
Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt from a new book published by Gail Woodard and Dudley Court Press. Titled Write the Book You’re Meant to Write: A Guide for First-Time Authors, it gets to the heart of the issues first-time authors face. I was honored to have been interviewed for this book as well as edit it.
by Gail Woodard
I asked my good friend and editor Barbara McNichol what advice she would give to a first-time author about the process of working with an editor. Here’s some of our exchange:
How can an editor help an author? Smart authors know the value of a good editor to improve the clarity of their ideas and conciseness of the words they use. A good editor makes the author’s prose more readable while preserving the person’s intended voice.
Can you advise authors on how to streamline their writing so the editing process goes more smoothly and costs less money? Sure. Adopting these seven practices will make a huge difference in any manuscript:
- Get rid of extraneous phrases (e.g., the fact of the matter is, there is and there are, is going to, is starting to, is designed to, etc.)
- Find alternatives for wobbly words—vague words that don’t add meaning (e.g., really, much, very, some, that).
- Change long noun phrases into short verbs whenever feasible (e.g., “the examination of” becomes “examine”; “the judgment of” becomes “judge”).
- Limit the length of your sentences to 21 words so readers won’t get bogged down and lose your intended train of thought. (Oh, my. This sentence exceeds 21 words by 2!)
- Pay attention to noun/verb agreements and pronouns, too. You hear people say “me and Michael went to lunch” but “me” is the wrong pronoun in this case. Know what’s right. Apply the right grammar rules; it’s important to your credibility!
- Construct your sentences using active verbs, not passive (e.g., “The stranger created a scene” is active; “A scene was created by a stranger” is passive.) Why is this important? The action you want to convey moves forward more directly when you write in active construction. Look for the word “by,” which clues you in to when passive construction is used.
- For accuracy, know which word to use when. Pay special attention to confusing ones such as “complementary” versus “complimentary.” Hint: the word “gift” and “complimentary” both have an “i” so when you’re being complimentary, think of giving away a gift. I call these “Word Trippers” and offer a word choice guide and subscription program to make it easy to learn the difference. (See www.wordtrippers.com)
Why should someone invest in hiring a professional editor? Editors are trained to be patient and thorough. They go through an author’s manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. That’s rarely the kind of diligence provided by friends or even critique-group members.
In addition to keeping the author’s voice, what else is a primary goal in the editing process? For nonfiction books especially, authors write them to support their business objectives. Their book forms the cornerstone of their company’s message and direction. Keeping that objective in sight during the editing process guides the editor throughout the multiple reviews. Does the book accomplish what it sets out to do for the benefit of the readership and the author, too?
What book editing questions do you have?
- Order Write the Book You’re Meant to Write on Amazon
- Seek advice on writing/publishing your book at www.DudleyCourtPress.com
- Contact Barbara McNichol for your editing needs.
by Barbara McNichol
Do you habitually start a sentence with the phrase “start to” or “begin to”? In a 5,000-word document I recently edited, those phrases appeared 14 times, while only five were deemed necessary to the meaning. That’s a lot of extra words!
To be more direct in your writing, skip the “start/begin” part and employ the phrase Nike made famous: Just do it!
These examples show how you can write a stronger statement by going straight to the action verb rather than “beginning” to go for it.
Example 1: Slowly begin to approach your teammate with your idea.
Better: Slowly approach your teammate with your idea.
Example 2: Start to make an agenda for the meeting.
Better: Make an agenda for the meeting.
Whenever you write “start to” or “begin to,” question it. Ask: Is “start” or “begin” essential to the meaning of the sentence? Chances are you can glide straight to the action verb without it!
Similarly, watch out for “decide to” in your writing. Which verb carries more weight in this example sentence, “decide” or “launch”?
Example: The president decided to launch the company’s implementation strategy next month.
Better: The president will launch the company’s implementation strategy next month.
Do you see how “decide” doesn’t add meaning while “launch” is vital to the message? When you catch yourself writing “decide,” ask: Is it needed?
Your goal is clearer, stronger writing so your readers clearly understand what you mean. Pay attention to these phrases and streamline them. It will make a big difference.
What similar verb phrases belong in this category? List them here. I will discuss them in future posts.
Barbara McNichol has created a Word Trippers Tips resource so you can quickly find the right word when it matters most. You’ll improve your writing through excellent weekly resources in your inbox including Word Trippers of the Week. Details at www.WordTrippers.com
Editor’s Note: You’ll have fun participating in this contest for this year’s National Punctuation Day!
by Jeff Rubin, founder, National Punctuation Day
This year we celebrate National Punctuation Day with a punctuation photo contest. Here are the rules:
PREPARING THE PHOTOS
1. Take three photos of incorrectly punctuated signage (stores, billboards, businesses, road signs, public transit, etc.), each showing a different punctuation error. (See example photo.)
2. Name the punctuation error(s) in each photo (there may be multiple errors).
3. Submit one entry of three photos per person.
4. You must be in the photos (see me in the “Member’s Testimonials” photo below). Selfies are OK. Photos with photoshopped heads will be disqualified.
5. Each photo must contain a caption, which will be considered when judging your entry. Be creative.
6. Photos must be submitted in .JPG format and be no more than 2 MB each.
7. The file name for your photos must include your last name in CAPS. For example: RUBIN photo #1.jpg, RUBIN photo #2.jpg, etc.
SUBMITTING THE PHOTOS
1. Send your submission to jeff@NationalPunctuationDay.com.
2. In the e-mail subject header write: NPD PHOTO CONTEST.
3. Include your name, address, and location of the photos (city and state).
The deadline for submissions is OCTOBER 31, 2017.
Jeff points out punctuation blunder.
National Punctuation Day
by Barbara McNichol
In many of the memos and manuscripts memos I read, writers take a convoluted approach to punctuation. Especially, too many semicolons show up in too many wrong ways. How can you remember what’s right?
Every time you’re tempted to use a semicolon, review these three brief rules.
- Use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses. Independent means each clause has both a subject and verb. Even though each clause could stand alone as a separate sentence, the semicolon indicates a relationship between the two.
e.g., I need to upgrade my writing skills; embarrassing mistakes have been creeping in.
Note: Do not use both a semicolon and a conjunction to join two clauses—pick one or the other. e.g., I need to upgrade my writing skills; but embarrassing mistakes have been creeping in.
- Use a semicolon before a transitional adverb such as “therefore” or “however.”
e.g., The payment is overdue; therefore, we owe a penalty.
e.g., It’s been a long time since we met; however, it’s not too late.
Note: Use a comma after “therefore” and “however” in these cases.
- Use semicolons to separate items or elements in a list that contains one of more internal commas.
e.g., She traveled to Beijing, China; Paris, France; and London, England.
e.g., He believes three things: that every situation, no matter how grim, can be resolved; that no one needs to suffer, especially Mother Earth; and that people are inherently good.
Note: This sentence could improve if it were broken into two or more sentences. Easier to follow!
Get clear on these rules; I guarantee knowing them will simplify your writing!
Nonfiction Authors Association presents its first-ever Fall Conference. It’s shorter than the annual conference held every spring, but comes loaded with value, content, and quality!
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- Patrick Schwerdtfeger – Keynote Gold: Speaking to Sell More Books
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By Kathleen Watson (used with permission)
News headlines draw us into a story. Report titles summarize what our readers can expect. Email subject lines should do both. That’s why these are the three worst places to make a grammar error.
Here are three headlines that don’t pass a grammar test and how they could be better:
- Bill Nye Only Needs 10 Seconds To Explain The Toughest Science Theories
The problem: misplaced modifier
Modifiers are words that add meaning or clarification. The emphasis of this headline is the minimal amount of time Science Guy Bill Nye needs to explain complex science theories.
Modifiers should be placed close to—preferably next to—the words they modify.
Bill Nye Needs Only 10 Seconds To Explain The Toughest Science Theories
- France’s Political Parties Are Banding Together To Stop Le Pen
The problem: redundancy
Not all sources agree but I consider banding together redundant.
My test for redundancy: Would the opposite descriptor—in this case banding apart instead of banding together—make sense? Do people ever band apart?
Of course not. So there’s no need to clarify that people—or political parties—band together.
As a verb, band is described this way: to unite in a troop; to come together in a group because of a common purpose or belief
Synonyms are to connect, to join, to unite, to merge.
France’s Political Parties Unite To Stop Le Pen
- Stabbing At Flint Airport Deemed Potential Act Of Terrorism By FBI
The problem: This wording could be interpreted as the FBI having committed a potential act of terrorism.
FBI Deems Flint Airport Stabbing Potential Act of Terrorism
FBI Deems Stabbing At Flint Airport Potential Act of Terrorism
News cycles rapidly, and writers are under pressure to publish stories in minimal time. Yet when I read these headlines, it took me just seconds to recognize better ways to compose them without a grammar error.
Whether you’re reporting the news, writing a title for a report, or crafting an email subject line, allow time to review what you’ve written. You’ll be more likely to catch these kinds of oversights that avoid detection when you write in haste.
If you see silly or questionable headlines, please note them here or send them to mailto:email@example.com
Kathleen calls herself the Ruthless Editor. She has created Grammar for People Who Hate Rules to help people write and speak with authority and confidence. Kathleen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This article struck a chord (not cord) with me and fans of Word Trippers. It offers numerous examples of written language misuses on television—networks that should know better! Be sure to leave your comments and examples below. (For a resource to find the right words fast, go to www.wordtrippers.com)
Reprinted from e-newsletter for Grammarbook.com
TV networks’ graphics departments have long been out of control with their intrusive cluelessness.
After 9/11, many cable channels initiated a constant “crawl” of news at the bottom of the screen. The spellbinding stream of words, slow and endless, is perversely distracting.
But if you run a news channel, shouldn’t credibility be a front-burner concern? Shaky language skills for all to see raise serious questions about your standards and practices. Are you stupid, or do you just think we are? Who put manic ignoramuses in charge of your graphics department?
The examples that follow all happened in recent months:
- An ABC affiliate, thinking mischievous has four syllables, spelled it “mischievious.” Another ABC graphic said, “Wake Forrest,” then proved it was no fluke with “Angeles National Forrest.”
- An NBC affiliate came up with “To good to be true.” We’re still taught about to, too, and two, aren’t we? Maybe it was Bring Your First-Grader to Work Day.
- Fox fell into a common trap with “wrecking havoc”—the proper phrase is wreaking havoc. And Fox embarrassed itself with “embarassed.” In “alledged embassy bomber,” it earned an F by adding a second d to alleged. A superfluous ‘i’ in “How has the president faired?” meant fare thee well, credibility.
- CNN joined the party with “theif” and “Iranian peoples’ belief.” Put that apostrophe where it belongs, would you? And CNN might have won the knucklehead sweepstakes with this bizarre bulletin: “Houses OKs climate change.” Where do you begin with that one? It’s an inspired fusion of horrid grammar and utter meaninglessness.
Why do TV networks, some of them scrutinized around the world, undermine themselves with sloppy grammar, spelling, and punctuation?
Please share your comments and examples of language misuses on TV.