Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Roger’s 13 Very Useful Rules for the Editing of Things Which Are in Need of Editing and to Create the Case in Which Readability Is Very Much Enhanced
As I indicated in my introductory post back in January, I am an editor by profession and a writer by preference. My day job involves fixing other people’s writing. Having a good ear for language helps a great deal, but I also picked up a few tricks of the trade along the way. Some time ago, I pulled together thirteen of these trade secrets to share with other editors. Just on the off chance that some of you out there in the World Wide Web are aspiring writers or bloggers and yet are oblivious to the conventions of “good writing,” let me share these thirteen pieces of scribal wisdom with the hope that they may, in some minuscule (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) way, improve the quality of all the unedited stuff that gets posted in the blogosphere. And who knows? Maybe this post will pay other dividends (saving me some time and effort) if any of you submit an article to BYU Studies.
So, here goes:
1. Remove “there is” and “there are” wherever possible.
Wrong: There is a tendency among baseball players to spit.
Right: Baseball players tend to spit and exhibit other disgusting habits.
2. Change “which” to “that” wherever possible.
Wrong: He sold me a car which didn’t run.
Right: He sold me a car that didn’t run, and I sued him.
3. Don’t use “thing,” ever—unless referring to an ugly Volkswagen model from the ’70s.
Imprecise: The Thing was the ugliest thing on the road.
Precise: The Thing was the ugliest vehicle on the road, even uglier than the El Camino.
4. Eliminate “of” wherever possible. Of course, sometimes this isn’t possible.
Sort of wrong: One of the by-products of the job was to have the flesh of my hands peel off from the moisture and the heat of the cans.
Better: One by-product of the job was that the cans’ heat and moisture would peel the flesh off my hands.
5. Never use “very.” As one expert suggested, if you think you need to use “very,” replace it with “damn,” then cross out “damn.”
Wrong: That was a very fine vocal solo you performed, Luciano.
Better: That was a damn fine vocal solo you performed, Luciano.
Better yet: That was a
damn fine vocal solo you performed, Luciano.
Best: Wish I could sing like that, L. P.
6. Get rid of that “that” every chance that you get.
Nope: The third horizon that I hope is not lost is that of service.
Yup: The third horizon I hope is not lost is service.
7. Active voice is generally to be preferred over passive voice.
Wrong: The ball was struck by Casey with such force that the cover was ripped off.
Right: Casey struck the ball with such force that we had to go to Walmart and buy a new one.
8. Parallelism, shmarallelism!
Slightly askew: We would have to walk eight kilometers after having participated in a baseball practice or training for a track meet.
Parallel: We would have to walk eight kilometers uphill both ways after participating in a baseball practice or training for a track meet.
9. No sentence is too short. Prune mercilessly.
Wordy: Recently, a mother was interested in doing something about the time television was taking away from the elementary-school-age children in her neighborhood.
Low-cal version: Recently, a mother desired to reduce the time television was taking from her neighborhood=s elementary-school-age children. (21.3 percent less filling.)
10. Replace boring, nebulous verbs and their equally boring and nebulous objects with interesting, precise verbs and objects.
Nebulous: Even quality television programs can take too much of our time from other worthwhile activities.
Precise: Even quality television programs can divert us from eating chocolate and playing Scrabble.
11. Watch out for modifiers that don’t modify the intended word or that modify more than they should.
Our favorite example: As was Nephi, I was born in a good family with parents who were practicing Catholics.
Edited sentence: As was the Pope, I was born in a good family with parents who were practicing Catholics.
12. Don’t use “case.”
Wrong: It has rarely been the case that I am wrong.
Right: I am rarely wrong, and don’t forget it.
13. Never create a list that ends with an unlucky number.
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Bonus tip: Despite what AP style and British convention indicate, always use the serial comma. Using it never causes confusion. Leaving it out often does. My favorite example came from the Chicago Manual of Style’s website, but unfortunately they removed it:
Her heroes were her parents, the pope and Mother Teresa.