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Checking and Editing
Revising and shortening
“It is a badge of honor to accept valid criticism.”
(Prov. 25:12, LB)
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” – Thomas Jefferson
Checking, editing and rewriting is an essential part of the writing process. In fact, it should take much longer than the writing of the first draft version. It is also very important to shorten pages and cut out all unnecessary words. Less is more.
If you are asking for, or providing editing/revision advice, be sure to understand and agree what level of editing is being requested.
Beverly Caruso is a freelance writer and editor, and has authored seven books and numerous articles. She has trained writers from 25 countries. Bev has kindly written this article for us. It is an illustration of the importance of editing and shortening, that she was able to cut her original 700-word piece down to 400 words.
Anyone can be a writer on the Internet. It seems everyone is – using poor spelling, poor grammar, poor logic! Add to that confusing instructions, incomplete thoughts, rambling nonsense, and dead-end links. It’s enough to make one want to reach for a well-written book from a reputable publisher!
We who would evangelize on the Internet must guard against weakening the Gospel through poor presentation. Instead, we can take time to think through what we want to say, say it, then go back and polish our work. When writing, less is more. One page of writing should feel like it was cut down from ten pages – always sharper and more focused. Do most editing and checking using paper printouts rather than on-screen.
- After writing, let it cool off for several days, you’ll look at it more objectively.
- Cut out any unnecessary elements. Look for tangents and digressions.
- Ask about each sentence, “Can I say this using fewer words?”
- Eliminate redundancies – two words with the same meaning: “few and far between”, “exact same”.
- Eliminate non-working words: “essentially”, “basically”, “the reason was”, or “because”.
- Look for repetition: “Our organization provides large scale humanitarian aid, establishes humanitarian programs, and supports humanitarian efforts.
- Choose nouns and verbs over adjectives and adverbs.
- Replace passive verbs with active verbs – this will also shorten word-count.
- Watch for jargon, cliches, misspellings, inaccurate-statements, wrong punctuation, etc.
- Change multi-syllable words to shorter words: “thought” instead of “cogitated”, “said” instead of “suggested” or “responded”.
- Rethink and rearrange – is your introduction really in the third paragraph? Move it to the beginning.
- You’ll spot errors more easily if you read your piece aloud.
- Set your work aside again for several days. Then ask yourself these questions:
- Is this piece coherent?
- Did I stick to my subject?
- Did I fulfill the promises I made my reader at the beginning?
- Did I keep unity of tone and style, or did I switch from folksy to formal, or from flowery to plain?
- Did I switch from writing in the first person to the third?
- Have I mixed tenses – starting out in the present and changing to the past?
- Can this be understood by someone whose mother-tongue is not English?
- Are all relationship between the ideas clear?
- Are transitions smooth?
- Use cut-and-paste to verify that every link is usable.
- Make a printout and have someone else go over it using this checklist. Be prepared to accept critiques humbly. The ideal person to ask is a writer, journalist, English teacher, or proof-reader. See Winning Words on writing simply and clearly, and also check our book recommendations for writing books.
- Information Pollution by Jakob Neilsen, the guru of Web usability: “Excessive word count and worthless details are making it harder for people to extract useful information. The more you say, the more people tune out your message.”
- Invite constructive criticism and learn from it.
Confused, or what? (Some words have multiple meanings!)
- We must polish the Polish furniture.
- He could lead if he would get the lead out.
- The farm was used to produce produce.
- The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
- The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
- This was a good time to present the present.
- A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
- When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
- I did not object to the object.
- The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
- The bandage was wound around the wound.
- There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
- They were too close to the door to close it.
- The buck does funny things when the does are present.
- They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
- To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
- The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
- After a number of injections my jaw got number.
- Upon seeing the tear in my clothes I shed a tear.
- I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
- Ths singer had to record the record.
- Will you be able to live through a live concert?
Write right, rite?
46 Rules for Writers. Not.
- Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
- Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
- And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
- It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
- Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)
- Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
- Be more or less specific.
- Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
- Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
- No sentence fragments.
- Contractions aren’t necessary and shouldn’t be used.
- Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
- Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
- One should NEVER generalize.
- Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
- Don’t use no double negatives.
- Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
- One-word sentences? Eliminate.
- Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
- The passive voice is to be ignored.
- Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
- Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
- DO NOT use exclamation points and all caps to emphasize!!!
- Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
- Understatement is always the absolute best way to put forth earth shaking ideas.
- Use the apostrophe in it’s proper place and omit it when its not needed.
- If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
- Puns are for children, not groan readers.
- Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
- Even IF a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
- Who needs rhetorical questions?
- Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
- The passive voice should never be used.
- Do not put statements in the negative form.
- Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
- A writer must not shift your point of view.
- Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences of 10 or more words, to their antecedents.
- Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
- If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
- Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
- Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
- Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
- Always pick on the correct idiom.
- The adverb always follows the verb.
- Be careful to use the rite homonym. And finally...
- Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
related pages within the Writing well menu links
recommended books on writing, including free downloads
valuable online videos about web ministry