Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Painless Writing?

I don't know if The advice in this article will take the pain out of writing, but it bears looking at, regardless. While Leila Morris' advice is geared toward report and article writing, much of it can be applied to fiction or any kind of creative writing. I'm never in favor of dumbing down your writing, but it often takes more creativity to be concise than it does to ramble.

How to Take the Pain Out of Writing
By Leila Morris

Your stomach tightens as you stare at your computer screen. You keep redoing the first paragraph because you just can't get it right. You are probably making the writing process much harder by trying to sound intelligent with obscure words and long, complicated sentences. The key is to write as you speak.

The first step is to get your thoughts and facts on paper. Then go back and fix it. It doesn't have to be pretty. If you are really stuck, dictate your thoughts onto a tape recorder and type them up. Here are some more tips to make you a better writer:

Keep it Organized

A lot of writers go off on tangents. They also repeat concepts throughout, which is very confusing. This is why you need to go back over your draft to see if you need to move paragraphs around. Using an outline can help you stay organized from the beginning. Write your first paragraph, which describes what your report will cover. Then make headings for the topics that you will cover. Organize your thoughts and facts under those headings.

Trim Excess Words

The most aggravating thing for a reader is to wade though your report to get to the point. Go through your draft and trim any words that do not add meaning. Pretend that you save a $100 for every word you cut. In the following example, I put brackets around the words that we can take out:

We are [currently] launching a [new] corporate sales team that will [have a specific] focus on increasing sales [specifically] in the Duluth branch and [also] in the Stratford Branch, which will [ultimately] increase [overall] corporate revenue and [or] profits [both] domestically and internationally.

I just saved $1,100!

Also, cut repetitive sentence. Here is an example of some copy that I edited:
Before: The presence of gum disease increases the risk of poor blood sugar control. Gum disease is an infection and infections worsen blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
After: As an infection, gum disease increases the risk of poor blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

Avoid the Passive Voice

When you put the subject of the sentence after the verb, you take all of the life out of your writing. Instead of saying, "She was kissed by him," say, "He kissed her." Doesn't that sound more romantic? The grammar feature on your spell check can be a great help in identifying passive phrases.

Put that $2 Dollar Word Back In Your Pocket

What the heck does "nascent" mean? Your vast vocabulary will not impress your reader. Anybody can look in a thesaurus. Instead, your reader will be annoyed at having to crack open a dictionary. Also, use the most common forms of words, such as "help" instead of "assist" and "people" instead of "individuals."

Break up Long Sentences

Some writers try to fit a hundred different concepts into one sentence. But our brains get overwhelmed. Here is an example of something I edited:

Before: A team approach is used including the PCP, specialist, member, family, caregiver, healthcare provider community, and internal programs to coordinate care, with a focus on member education and maximizing quality outcomes.

After: We use a team approach. The team includes the PCP, the specialist, the member, the family, the caregiver, and the healthcare provider community. We also have internal programs to coordinate care. The focus is on educating members and maximizing quality outcomes.

Don't Interrupt Yourself

Don't stick a phrase in the middle of your sentence. It's like adding a speed bump.
Before: Employers, more than ever, are looking for a retirement savings vehicle.
After: More than ever, employers are looking for a retirement savings vehicle.

Drop the Gimmicks

Some writers capitalize all the words that they think are important or, worse yet, they put words in all caps. This is won't get your point across any better and it's distracting. Another mistake is to highlight words with quotation marks. There are specific grammatical uses for quotation marks and this is not one of them Also, do not use quotation marks for common nicknames, terms that readers are likely to know, or well-known expressions.

All of these tips point to one thing: Think about your reader. Don't we all have too little time to read everything that comes into the inbox and over the e-mail? If you get to the point, you will get through to your reader.

Leila Morris is a professional business editor. Her hobby is her website,
Wed Cheaper is an ezine with fun and creative tips to slash your wedding costs.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Apostrophes: End the Abuse!

Hear! Hear! The misuse of the apostrophe is one of my pet peeves, so I'm glad someone else is finally mentioning it.

End Apostrophe Abuse
By David Bowman

We feel sorry for the little apostrophe. It is so abused, so often made to do what it shouldn't and so often forgotten when needed. The apostrophe is a proud punctuation mark with specific purposes and does not deserve to be misused. Again and again we see the same two abuses of this punctuation mark, not just in the pieces we edit but all around us in the "real" world. We'll discuss two of those abuses here, and we'll hope to restore some of the respect the apostrophe deserves.

Abuse #1: Plurals

To say it plainly: don't use apostrophes to make plurals. Sentences like Get your hamburger's here are simply wrong. The little apostrophe was not meant to make one hamburger into multiple hamburgers. Here are a few other other samples of the apostrophe being pressed into the wrong service:

These paper's need correcting.

Some writer's make a lot of error's.

Apostrophe's are not complicated.

Why do people do this to the apostrophe? The construction 's is meant to show ownership (or a contraction, as in the second abuse discussed below), not a plural. Perhaps people abuse the apostrophe in this way because they don't know the difference between ownership and plurals. Perhaps they see this abuse occurring so often that they don't even realize it is wrong (much like using data as a singular noun although it is really a plural.)

Villainous sentences like People living in the 1990's bought a lot of CD's certainly don't promote virtuous use of the noble apostrophe.

Abuse #2: Contractions

To say it plainly: put the apostrophe in place of missing letters. The little apostrophe is very powerful. It can stand in for all the letters of the alphabet without breaking a sweat. Do you want to leave out part of a word? The apostrophe is on hand to take its place. The apostrophe is mighty in this way and should not be forgotten. Here are a few correct examples of the apostrophe doing what it should:

We don't forget the apostrophe in contractions.

Here's the correct use of an apostrophe.

You're abusing the apostrophe again.

This is also the rule that explains why you don't put an apostrophe in its when using its as a possessive, as in: The apostrophe can take its place. In this sample sentence, its isn't a contraction for it is so you don't use the apostrophe.

The rules for using apostrophes are very simple, so our editors are often surprised that many writers (not writer's) make this mistake. The two cases where apostrophes are most often forgotten, in our experience, are in the words you're and they're. Sometimes the apostrophe is there, but it's in the wrong place.

End Apostrophe Abuse Now

Poor apostrophe. It can do so much for you when you use it correctly. In fact, knowing how to use apostrophes correctly is a sign of being a professional writer. Let's end apostrophe abuse and restore its dignity as a powerful and important member of your punctuation arsenal.

David Bowman is the Owner and Chief Editor of Precise Edit (, a comprehensive editing, proofreading, and document analysis service for authors, students, and businesses. Precise Edit also offers a variety of other services, such as translation, transcription, and website development.

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