Tips for Editing
Here are some guidelines that I find helpful:
Add concrete details from all five senses.
Use final emphasis.
- The last word of any sentence is the most emphatic – end with a verb or a specific noun. The last word of a paragraph or a full piece of writing is even more important!
Cut unnecessary words.
- No “running starts” – condense, compress and distill. Run the “search and find” command and eliminate words like “very,” “really,” etc. Replace “due to the fact that” with “because.” Check and double-check your word choice. Word choice can enliven or kill your writing.
Cut adverbs (words ending in “-ly”) when possible.
- Instead of “Mary walked quickly,” try “Mary ran, rushed, hurried, jogged, galloped, dashed, scurried, darted, jogged.” Use the thesaurus for ideas (Shift F7 in MSWord).
Use active voice unless you have a specific justification for using passive voice.
- Example ~ Active Voice: “Jack hit the ball” (4 words).”Jack,” the actor of the sentence is in the subject slot. “Hit,” the action of the sentence is in the verb slot. “Ball,” the recipient of the action, is in the direct object slot.In passive voice the sentence is: “The ball was hit by jack” (6 words). The subject of the sentence is now “ball,” which is actually the recipient of the action. The action (verb) is now “was hit” and the first word of the verb phrase is the weak word “was,” a form of the weak verb “to be.” The actor of the sentence, “Jack,” is hidden in a prepositional phrase.
Pay attention. If you find yourself using passive voice, consider your reasons. Often, writers transition into passive voice when they are afraid of directly addressing a particular emotional issue or memory their writing addresses.
Avoid “-ing” verbs – especially “being.”
- Direct, conjugated verbs usually work better. However, everything (“-ing” verbs, passive voice, etc.) is in the language for a reason.
Check tense and person consistency.
- Hint: Check “framing devices,” such as a conversation that frames a story, for tense consistency. Verify that you consistently use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person – and that you change tenses only when you have a logical and intentional reason for doing so.
Punctuate dialogue correctly – especially dialogue tags.
- Dates and times, names of places and people, dollars and cents, titles, etc. Don’t make your reader do the math.
- Check and double-check your factual information – or your readers/editors/critics will do it for you. And, believe me, they will be less forgiving.
Read what you’ve written out loud.
- Listen to the rhythm of your writing. You should hear a natural, credible voice. American novelist, Elmore Leonard, once said, “If it sounds like writing, I re-write it.”
Vary sentence length.
- Short sentences provide emphasis. If you use them too often, or too infrequently, you will lose your readers’ attention.
Look at what you’ve written, on paper.
- Don’t just revise on-line. Seeing your material, on paper, gives you a larger and different perspective. Additionally, it is extremely helpful to have someone else read what you’ve written to you. This enables you to hear how what you’ve written translates into a reader’s ability to understand your text.
- Computers offer us the wonderful gift of “spell check.” Take advantage of it.
- However, spell check misses a lot of things! Do not take the computer’s spelling assistance for granted.Make sure you leave yourself time to check the things that spell check misses – things like the misuses of “their” and “there,” as well as, “too,” “to,” and “two.”
- Be meticulous.
- Push yourself to a higher standard.
- Do not take constructive criticism personally. Rather, use it, intelligently, to make your writing unique, communicative and successful.