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

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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.

    More by this author

    Marya Jan

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

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    Last Updated on July 20, 2021

    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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    How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

    You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

    Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

    Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

    Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

    1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

    According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

    “Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

    Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

    Warming up

    If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

    If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

    Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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    1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
    2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
    3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

    Stay hydrated

    Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

    To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

    Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

    Meditate

    Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

    Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

    Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

    Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

    2. Focus on your goal

    One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

    Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

    Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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    Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

    If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

    3. Convert negativity to positivity

    There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

    ‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

    It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

    Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

    Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

    Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

    4. Understand your content

    Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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    However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

    “No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

    Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

    Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

    One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

    5. Practice makes perfect

    Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

    In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

    Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

    6. Be authentic

    There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

    Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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    Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

    To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

    With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

    Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

    7. Post speech evaluation

    Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

    Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

    We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

    You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

    Improve your next speech

    As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

    Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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    • How did I do?
    • Are there any areas for improvement?
    • Did I sound or look stressed?
    • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
    • Was I saying “um” too often?
    • How was the flow of the speech?

    Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

    If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

    Reference

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