Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Writing Tip of the Week

Most of my writing tips will be on small mechanical things, like eliminating passive voice or editing for wordiness.  However, the key to being a good editor is to be able to recognize these small mechanical mistakes.  For example, once one finds a passive construction, it is usually easy to eliminate it.   In college, most of us were taught to skim the material.  While this might be a good technique for reading a lot of material quickly, it is not conducive to good writing.   A good writer reads slowly when editing, looking at every word and even every letter and punctuation mark.  One way to develop this method of reading is to read your writing out loud and listen carefully.  This technique also helps make writing sound natural, rather than mechanical.



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When you get to things like "eliminating passive voice" please be careful. A sentence written in the active voice may not attribute agency (like this one). A sentence that does attribute agency may be written by its author in the passive voice (like this one). Cautioning our students to write vigorously, to specify responsibility (unless, of course, the client is better served by intentional vagueness) is not the same thing as telling them to not use the passive voice. For a better explanation, see http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/grammar/passives.html.

Posted by: Edward M. "Ted" McClure | Jun 10, 2011 4:38:25 PM

Your advice is mainly about editing, but if it includes punctuation, it also includes proofreading. Back on the literary magazine at Barnard College, we proofread in teams of two. One person would read the page proofs out loud, including reading the punctuation aloud, while the other team member would correct from the original manuscript. An example: He said, "Bring that!" Read aloud, this is "Cap he said comma quote cap bring that exclamation close.

Posted by: Mary Campbell Gallagher | Jun 8, 2011 9:03:24 AM

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