From the Editor's Desk 

—Sandra Glahn

 

Top Three Re-Writing Tips

If you master nothing else, master these.

1. Use active voice

“Passive voice is used to make writing dull.” (You inform of action without having to know who did it.)

P.V. dehumanizes writing by eliminating people.

Passive voice can work for variety or to emphasize passivity, but it saps writing of color, power.

The subject does the action rather than receiving the action.

He trained vs. he was trained.

Passive usually has form of  “to be” + “verb-ed.”

She was coerced; thieves coerced her.

The winners were announced; the president announced the winners.

 

2. Use strong verbs

Verbs should make up 10% of your writing.

Nix forms of “to be.” 

“opposes,” not “is in opposition”

“insisted,” not “was adamant”

Russian, Hebrew allow sentences w/out “is.”

Blessed [is] the man who... (Psa 1)

 

To “be” . . . Or not

As part of editing, run “search” on be, is, are, am, was, were, being.

Exception: predicates (“equals”)

 

Change progressives to simple

I was brewing coffee; I brewed coffee.

I was going to work; I went to work.

I was going for a walk; I took a walk.

Maria was dancing; Maria danced.

 

3. Nix Negations

He was not aware = He was unaware or he was clueless.

I don’t want you to go = I want you to stay.

We experienced no peace = We felt constant turmoil.

There was no wind; the air stood still.

 

Make assertions, nix negations

The mind takes 48% longer to process a negation.

Eliminate no, not, don’t, can’t when possible.

It was not possible; it was impossible.

She was not happy; she felt unhappy; she frowned.

 

Other Tips:

 

Avoid these words when writing:

Sweet, cute, gorgeous, terribly, incredible, awfully, absolutely, and awesome

They’re subjective, imprecise and overused

 

12 most persuasive words

Discovery

Easy

Guarantee

Health

Love

Money

New
Safety

Proven
Results
Save

YOU

  Be concrete, specific

Details win

Food or spaghetti?

Drink or Sprite?

Animal or rabbit?

My car or my Jaguar?

Perfume or Chanel No. 5?

 

Save the strongest . . .

…sentence for the end of the paragraph

…word for the end of the sentence. 

 

We want to bring hope to each person.

We want to bring each person hope.

 

Write With Conviction

I’d like to welcome you. (Okay, go ahead.)

I think it was a tough slope. (It was.)

 

Avoid Overuse of Couplets

We felt joy and peace.

He is able to guide and protect us.

The hotel has simple and basic accommodations.

 

When Using Numbers . . .

Choose “round numbers”

Five Ways to Improve Your Income 

The Ten Commandments of Youth Work                  

Or use numbers with associations

The One, Two, Three’s of Teaching

Twelve Steps to Sales Success

Seven Perfect Reasons to Buy 

 

Items in a Series

In a series, go for odd numbers of items.

I went to the door, saw the burglar, ran for the phone, called the police, and hid under the bed.

I came, I saw, I conquered.

 

Make Statistics Easy

Avoid using too many statistics at one time

Convert stats

Instead of saying 80% of moms return to work when the youngest enters school, say four out of five.

In the two seconds it took you to read this, four women have given birth.

 

Grammar Rx

A preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with.

Sentence fragments - sometimes okay.

Try to never split infinitives.                            

But it’s okay to begin with “and,” and “but.” 

When dangling, watch your participles.

I turn white as a sheet and my skin crawls when I see someone use a cliché, perish the thought.

Aim for only one prepositional phrase in a sentence.

 

That’s Subjunctive

Subjunctive mood = wishes, dreams, things unlikely to happen

Quote in a publication I saw:              

A well-adjusted person is the one who can play bridge or golf as if it was a game.

 

Grammar Basics

Use semi-colons; they separate independent clauses.

Use colons after independent clauses for the following: listing people, places, or anything else.                                                                          

 

Common problems

The period goes inside the quotes, even if it’s just one word:

Pat it and mark it with a “b.”

That is, unless you are publishing in England .

Pat it and mark it with a “b”.

 

On starting a sentence with “and”

Dear Mr. Buckley, Don’t start a sentence with “and.” In the last paragraph of your column I see this, and apparently the Star-Ledger proofreader did not. (She sleeps a lot.) I am beginning to wonder just how good (or bad) your high school was, and how good (or bad) a student you were. Very truly yours, David Dearborn                                                         —Buckley: The Right Word, p. 10

Dear Mr. Dearborn: Verses 2-26 and 28-31, Chapter I, Genesis, all begin with “And.” The King James scholars went to pretty good high schools. Cordially, WFB                                                                                                                                                                                

 Comma, comma

Avoid using more than two commas per sentence.

Limiting the number of commas helps you avoid saying too many things at once.

It also helps prevent overuse of adjectives.

 

Adverbs

Keep the adverb near the verb it modifies:

Send out the children, rather than

Send the children out

 

She began, he started

Began and started

These two words prepare the reader for an interruption. “They started to eat breakfast, but the phone rang.

He began to mow, but the neighbor stopped him.

 

Manage to delete “manage”

Reserve “manage” for supervising. We often use it to mean “succeeded after some obstacle.”

No: I managed to get out of the car.

No: I managed to finish my story.

Yes: I managed an office full of employees.

 

All’s Well That Ends Well

Stay within word count limits!

Come full circle, if possible.

Leave no stories unfinished.

 

 

End Back Where You Started

Tie the story lede back to the conclusion.

Weave it in the middle, too, if you can.

Begin: Which do you like better at Christmas? To deliver a gift or receive one?

End: This Christmas when it’s time to pass around the gifts, volunteer to act as Santa. In your role as the jolly gift-giver, take the time to enjoy the expression on the receiver’s face.

 

Format Your Manuscript

Paper clip; never staple

If fewer than four pages: business envelope

If four or more pages, mail flat

Accompany with a cover letter

SASE

 

You’re Outdated if…

-You use hyphens for bullets

You use hyphens for m- and n-dashes

You use 12-point type

You use underlining

You WRITE IN ALL CAPS

You use straight quotes (feet, inches) ' instead of real quotes ‘  

You hit “enter” twice to mark a new paragraph   

You use two spaces after your punctuation.   Got it?

 

Other keys to strong writing 

Re-write!

Edit, edit, edit 

 

Show, Don’t Tell
Let the reader discover

Replace “he felt happy” with signs that show happiness—he smiled, he laughed, he cheered.

Instead of saying “She’s rude,” say “She belched, she swore, she gestured in traffic.”

Nix Adverbs

 “The adverb is the enemy of the verb.” —Mark Twain

 Modifiers flag spots where we need stronger verbs and/or beats.

 “I see the problem,” she said confidently.

Better: She held her head high. “I see the problem.”

“He blushed embarrassedly.”

Better: “He blushed.”

 

Fog index

If you change master’s-level writing to the ninth or tenth-grade level, 111 million adults (nearly  five times as many) can read it.

Do so by keeping a low average number of syllables per word.

 

Prune excess 

Future prospects

Past experience

Excess verbiage

Postpone until later

Other alternative

Absolutely necessary

Desirable benefits

Exact same

Past history

Hot water heater

Dead meat

Stupid mistake

Sketchy details

Untimely death 

Eliminate altogether

Without further delay

Sent a communication to

Just exactly

A large part

Exhibits a tendency to … 

 Other excess:

The

Very

Just

Really

 

There is . . .

= Weak sentence structure, especially at the beginning of the lede

“Thing” - weak, too

 

I remember . . .

Avoid saying you remember. Say what you remember.  

No: I remember that when I was a kid I flew kites with Dad.

Yes: When I was a kid, I flew kites with Dad. 

 

Tenacity!

Recognize that sometimes what you write is good, but unappreciated:

“The play was a success; the audience, a failure.”

 

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