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Improve Your Writing with these Editing Tips

Improve Your Writing with these Editing Tips
Improve Your Writing with these Editing Tips

    Teachers, business people, and just about everyone else it seems complain often and loudly that people today (usually “kids today”) don’t know how to write. I’m convinced, though, that a big part of the problem (perhaps the biggest part of the problem) is that people don’t know how to edit. We labor under the notion that good writing flows easily from the pen or typing fingers, and that editing too much will “kill” our work.

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    The best writers know differently, of course — their memoirs and biographies and writing manuals are filled with stories of books that needed to be cut in half to be readable, sentences that took weeks or months to get just right, and lifetimes spent tinkering with a single work that never strikes them as “just right”. To paraphrase a common saying among writers, there is no good writing, only good re-writing.

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    But if writing isn’t taught well enough or often enough these days, editing is hardly taught at all. This is too bad, since editing is where the real work of writing is at. More than just proofreading, good editing improves the clarity and forcefulness of a piece. Here’s some tips and tricks to help you make your writing more effective:

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    • Read out loud: Reading a piece out loud helps you to identify clunky, awkward passages that seem to make sense to the eye, especially to the author’s eye.
    • Read in reverse: You may have heard about reading backwards, word by word, to help proofread. This works because you bypass your brain’s tendency to fill in what it expects to see, allowing you to catch spelling errors you might otherwise gloss over. This is useless, though, when it comes to content, where meaning comes from phrases and word order. Instead, read from back to front, sentence by sentence (or maybe paragraph by paragraph, or both) to make sure that each sentence and each paragraph is internally coherent — that it makes sense on its own.
    • Sleep on it: Wait at least a night, and preferably longer, before starting your editing. Ideally, you want to forget what you wrote, so that — again — your brain doesn’t see what it expects to see but only sees what’s really there. A lot of times we make logical errors that make sense at the time, because our minds are filled with ideas, examples, and arguments related to our topic; when we approach our writing with a clear mind, though, those mental connections are gone, and only what we’ve actually written counts.
    • Cut, don’t add: We are almost always too wordy. While you may need to add a word or two while editing, for the most part you should be removing words. Concise writing is more powerful and easier to read than lengthy prose.
    • Justify yourself: Every point, statement, question, joke, even every word should have a reason to be in your piece; if it doesn’t, strike it. Be harsh — if a word or phrase does not add value to your writing, get rid of it.
    • Establish cognizance of pretentious language usages and eliminate such material: That is, watch for fancy words and cut them. Inexperienced writers often ape the language of academia, or rather the language they imagine academia uses. Even if you’re in academia, don’t use academic writing as a model. While there is a time and place for jargon, for the most part jargon exists to exclude readers, not include them. For most readers, the language of journalists is a much more appropriate model — and that means aiming for at best a smart eighth-grader’s reading level.
    • Throw out and get rid of unnecessary redundancies you don’t need: This applies in both sentences and the work as a whole. In high school, you might have learned to “say it, say it again, and then say what you said”; for most readers, this is a waste of their time and an insult to their intelligence; in the end, they’ll just tune you out. Say it clearly the first time, then move on.
    • Kill unsightly adverbs: Some adverbs are fine, but usually they serve only to pad out a statement that doesn’t need padding. For example: “He ran quickly”. It is in the nature of running to be quick. If there’s something unusual about his running (perhaps he ran slowly), then mention it; if not, just say “he ran” and trust your readers to know what running means.
    • Passive sentences are to be avoided: Beware of the use of “to be” and its conjugations (is, was, were, are, am). These often indicate a passive sentence, where the subject is acted upon instead of acting. Passivity makes for weak, unconvincing writing. Passivity is often the hallmark of someone trying to weasel out of something: “Mistakes were made” assigns no blame, while “I made a mistake” tells the world you’re taking responsibility. It does not convey the action, it only suggests the effect. So avoid passive sentences.

    Good editing, like good writing (or, better, as part of good writing), is an art. It takes time and practice to develop a real talent for editing, but the end result is worth it — your writing will be more alive, more effective, and ultimately more likely to be read. And that is, after all, what’s important: that your audience reads and, just as crucially, understands your work.

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    Last Updated on June 26, 2020

    10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

    10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

    Problems and heartaches in life are inevitable. However, there are some things to remember when you’re right in the thick of it that can help you get through it. When everything seems to be going wrong, practice telling yourself these things.

    1. This Too Shall Pass

    Sometimes life’s rough patches feel like they’re going to last forever. Whether you’re dealing with work-related issues, family problems, or stressful situations, very few problems last for a lifetime. So remind yourself, that things won’t be this bad forever.

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    2. Some Things are Going Right

    When things are going wrong, it’s hard to recognize what is going right. It’s easy to screen out the good things and only focus on the bad things. Remind yourself that some things are going right. Purposely look for the positive, even if it is something very small.

    3. I Have Some Control

    One of the most most important things to remember is that you have some control of the situation. Even if you aren’t in complete control of the situation, one thing you can always control is your attitude and reaction. Focus on managing what is within your control.

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    4. I Can Ask for Help

    Asking for help can be hard sometimes. However, it’s one of the best ways to deal with tough situations. Tell people what you need specifically if they offer to help. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and family and ask them for help, whether you need financial assistance, emotional support, or practical help.

    5. Much of This Won’t Matter in a Few Years

    Most of the problems we worry about today won’t actually matter five years from now. Remind yourself that whatever is going wrong now is only a small percentage of your actual life. Even if you’re dealing with a major problem, like a loved one’s illness, remember that a lot of good things are likely to happen in the course of a year or two as well.

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    6. I Can Handle This

    A lack of confidence in handling tough times can add to stress. One of the best things to remember is that you can handle tough situations. Even though you might feel angry, hurt, disappointed, or sad, it won’t kill you. You can get through it.

    7. Something Good Will Come Out of This

    No matter how bad a situation is, it’s almost certain that something good will come out of it. At the very least, it’s likely that you will learn a life lesson. Perhaps you learn not to repeat the same mistake in the future or maybe you move on from a bad situation and find something better. Look for the one good thing that can result when bad things happen.

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    8. I Can Accept What’s Out of my Control

    There are many things that aren’t within your control. You can’t change the past, another person’s behavior, or a loved one’s health issues. Don’t waste time trying to force others to change or trying to make things be different if it isn’t within your control. Investing time and energy into trying to things you can’t will cause you to feel helpless and exhausted. Acceptance is one of the best way to establish resilience.

    9. I Have Overcome Past Difficulties

    One of the things to remember when you’re facing difficulties, is that you’ve handled problems in the past. Don’t overlook past difficulties that you’ve dealt with successfully. Remind yourself of all the past problems you’ve overcome and you’ll gain confidence in dealing with the current issues.

    10. I Need to Take Care of Myself

    When everything seems to be going wrong, take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, get some exercise, eat healthy, and spend some time doing leisure activities. When you’re taking better care of yourself you’ll be better equipped to deal with your problems.

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    Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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