by Barbara McNichol
“Author, edit thyself.” No, Socrates didn’t say this but if he lived today, he’d likely give you that advice.
Okay, that’s easy to say, but what exactly does “edit thyself” mean in practical terms?
To answer that question, I’m sharing a series of tips I urge nonfiction authors to adapt. Part 1 features five tips.
This requires changing a few embedded habits, I know. Now is the time to start. Then you’ll have the first five “aced” by the time you receive Part 2.
- Don’t mix “we” and “you” in same paragraph. Unexpected changes in points of view can confuse readers. If you must make the switch, start a new paragraph.
- Eliminate the words “you must” and “you should” as often as possible. They not only sound harsh, but they come across as bossy—not the tone you want.
- Get rid of wobbly words such as very, some, much, really. Truly, they don’t add meaning and the clutter they contribute takes away from the clarity you desire.
- In running copy, use “and so on” instead of “etc.” (It’s okay to use “etc.” in a list). This keeps the feeling of a continuing conversation instead of the abruptness of a list.
- Use contractions such as “can’t” and “don’t” instead of “cannot” and “do not.” Certainly do so in dialogue; that’s how people speak. But in nonfiction copy, using contractions speeds up the reading and, in most contexts, is preferred over spelling out these words.