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7 Golden Rules of Writing and Editing: A Non-grammar-focused Guide to Irresistible Writing

7 Golden Rules of Writing and Editing: A Non-grammar-focused Guide to Irresistible Writing
    Photo by jjpacres' on flickr

    For the longest time, I was too scared to publish anything on my blog.

    I had the debilitating fear of making a mistake – a simple error. What if somebody catches my mistake, corrects it and lets the world know? I would agonize over this problem. I thought my credibility as a Business Writer would be shot to pieces.

    When you write, you constantly feel the pressure of mastering the art of using commas. You are required to understand the difference between a colon and a semi one, the misplaced modifier, and the rules on splitting the infinitive. Really, who has a brain to for that? Not me, for sure.

    Do we really need to go back to school and learn grammar and punctuation all over again? Do we really need to take writing classes to understand the basics of forming intelligent sentences?

    No and no. You need to do these things but you don’t necessarily have to go back to a classroom setting.

    Here is a list of 7 rules that will help you to revise and edit your work painlessly – or at least with the least amount of it.

    1. Make a good first impression

    What is the most interesting bit or angle about your writing? Clue the reader in early and don’t bury the introduction in the body of the text.

    If you lose your reader at this stage, there is no point to your writing. You might as well stop wasting your time as well as the reader’s.

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    2. Write to express, not to impress

    Why is it that you are writing, again? Is it to make a point or to show off your literary prowess?

    Always write so that everything is clearly understood.

    Use simple words. Use the first word that comes to your mind as that will often work best.

    Don’t look up fancy words in thesaurus as you go – write naturally. The only way you can get a better understanding of language is through your reading habit. Read more to increase your vocabulary organically.

    Avoid clichés and jargon. Think outside the box.

    3. Be specific – it won’t kill you

    Use short sentences. Use clear sentences. Pay attention to structure and craft sentences that inform or even entertain your readers.

    Use short paragraphs. Connect them in a logical, seamless flow. For every new idea you explore, start a new one.

    Write in the active voice – this will make the most difference to your writing.

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    In active voice, the subject performs the action – it is the most direct, straightforward way to write.

    “The dog chased by the boy.” This is passive.

    “The boy chased the dog.” This more direct. Remember to use active voice whenever possible. Passive voice is usually slow and boring, and often doesn’t fully convey the message.

    Often, the sentence becomes shorter as well. Writing in the active voice will make it much easier for you to stick to the text guidelines.

    Try using strong verbs for action, be bold.

    “She did the crime so she could pay for the jewellery.” Weak.

    “She stole from her Mum so she could splurge on the jewellery.” Much better.

    4. Reign over pesky punctuation and grim grammar

    Make sure full stops, commas, apostrophes and dashes are in their proper places. Do the best you can and then move on.

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    Check for spelling and grammar. Remember to use spell check as well as your eyes.

    Read for style. Make sure it is consistent throughout.

    5. If in doubt, leave it out

    Is there anything that really worries you? It’s much better to take it out now than to have regrets later.

    Brevity is the secret of good writing. Do not waste words, do tight editing where every word means something. Avoid unnecessary words.

    As Stephen King has said famously (and not famously said – remember not to split the infinitive),

    Kill your darlings.

    Do not get attached to your sentences.

    Edit, edit, edit. Anything that doesn’t make sense, anything that doesn’t sound right to your ears; kill it. Go on, be brave and kill your darlings now.

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    6. Pay attention to the boring bits

    Do attribute all quotations and allegations to someone. Check that the text does not defame anyone or breach copyright.

    Make sure the length of your copy is appropriate. If you need to cut, cut from the bottom. That usually works well.

    When you are satisfied you have edited the copy to the highest standard, read it again.

    7. The Final Read – One More Time

    You must become a tough editor of all text, even if it takes significant time and effort. Check and check again to see your basic ingredients are correct.

    Read aloud – one last time.

    While fear of imperfection should not stop you from writing, not educating yourself is not good enough of an excuse.

    Learn, write and most of all, have fun along the way. You will find many people supporting you, because they themselves have been caught in the act, in this case, publishing their work with a typo.

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    Marya Jan

    Marya is a business strategist. She shares tips about life and success on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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