Publishing: getting the word right


Tips on how to edit your writing to make it the best you possibly can before your editor starts their work.

An insight into how your editor works with you to turn your writing into the story that your readers will enjoy.

Source: Publishing: getting the word right


What is the Value of an Editor?

Thanks to some fellow editors who introduced me to Molly McCowan’s blog, I want to share this with you, to encourage you to really consider just how much a good editor can add to your writing.

Enjoy – and remember to leave a comment.

Molly McCowan - Inkbot Editing

(Via Boston Public Library on Flickr) “Women in Quiet Study,” 1850–1920 (approximate). Courtesy of Boston Public Library on Flickr.

About a year ago, I was at a networking event when I was approached by a middle-aged man wearing a black sport coat over a lightweight periwinkle sweater. He was holding a glass of red wine in one hand, and the word “author” was written in blue Sharpie underneath the neatly printed name on his name tag. My name tag didn’t sport the word “editor,” so for the moment I was free to learn more about him before divulging my career.

We shook hands and exchanged small talk for a moment before I asked him what he was currently writing. He responded, “Oh, I’ve been working on my second novel. It’s part of a fantasy trilogy that I’ve been writing for the last few years.” I asked him about his first book and discovered that he had…

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Another quick tutorial on apostrophes…

So beautifully explained by Australian author, Amanda Curtin, this tutorial will help you on your quest for clear, sharp writing.

looking up/looking down

iStock_000018482964XSmallThis especially quick tutorial is to clarify a single apostrophe usage that often confuses writers.

In manuscripts—and even in print—I frequently see the following:

Let’s go to the Molloy’s house.

Grammatically, this means:

Let’s go to the house of the Molloy.

Now, perhaps there is a big burly guy out there who is referred to as ‘the Molloy’, as in ‘Give that burrito to the Molloy before he chews someone’s arm.’ In that case, the above would be correct. But what the writer usually means is:

Let’s go to the Molloys’ house.


Let’s go to the house of the Molloys. [a couple, or a family, or the three banjo-playing Molloy sisters]

If, on the other hand, the writer is referring to a particular Molloy:

Let’s go to the house of Molloy. [e.g. Joe Molloy]

then it would be:

Let’s go to Molloy’s house. [singular Molloy; no definite article]


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Tips for clear, engaging, sharp writing.

In an earlier article, I gave you some insights into ‘clear, engaging, sharp’ writing.

Now for more, this time grouped and with suggested sharper versions.

Superfluous words

We would like to invite you to …         You’re invited to …            We invite you to …

I would like to congratulate you …            Congratulations …

… better than what we expected.            … better than we expected.

In view of the fact that …             Because …

In the event that …              If …

In my personal opinion …           In my opinion …

There are many people wanting an answer to that question.
Many people want an answer to that question.
Many people want that question answered.

A summary of these findings is given in Table 6.
Table 6 summarises these findings.

The implementation of these maintenance procedures should occur immediately upon putting the motor into service.
These maintenance procedures should be implemented as soon as the motor is put into service.

Management has become cognizant of the necessity of the elimination of undesirable vegetation surrounding the periphery of our facility.
Please remove the weeds around the building.


Our bottom line is preventing disruption.
Preventing disruption is our main focus.

We need to take advantage of this window of opportunity.
We need to take advantage of this opportunity.

I don’t want you to move the goalposts part way through the project.
I don’t want you to change the brief part way through the project. 

We need to think outside the box to solve this problem.
We need to think creatively to solve this problem. 

Why not share your examples of superfluous words and clichés in the comments?

I’ll have another blog about ways you can please your readers with your clear, engaging, sharp writing.

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Finding your voice

Have you found your voice yet?

No, not your speaking voice.

The voice you use when you write.

Fiction writers work hard to develop their style and voice – we readers very quickly know if a story was really written by the author whose work we’ve read before. Long or short sentences, presence or absence of descriptive passages, how the words flow, use of familiar words (or ones that send us scurrying to the dictionary) – all indicators of their voice.

So it needs to be with nonfiction writers, especially when it comes to business writing. Your clients recognise the way you write, and it comes as a jolt when they read something that doesn’t quite line up with the style they expect. And the greater the number of writers in your organisation and the greater the number of document types you use, the greater the possibility of variations in your voice.

In business, we know the importance of our brand. We may have spent considerable dollars on getting it just right, and we’re persnickety about its use. Your voice, your writing style, is equally as important.

Before we look at the benefits of finding and recording your voice, let’s understand what I mean by ‘voice’.

  • Do you tend to write formally – very correctly every time – or in a chattier, friendlier way? Are your letter or email recipients addressed by their given name, or as ‘Mx Smith’?
  • How do you abbreviate your organisation’s name – Petersons Engineering Consultancy, PEC, Petersons? How do you refer to your organisation – ABC is … or ABC are ?
  • How do you format dates and times? Captions for tables, figures and illustrations? Lists? Measurements?
  • What specialised terms can you use without having to explain them?
  • Do you capitalise every word in headings? What about positions or roles in your organisation?
  • Are there certain text segments that need to be emphasised in a particular way?
  • How do you refer to a person of unknown gender?

These are just a few of the elements that make up your voice.
Your aim is to use ‘that’ voice for all written communications from your business
– regardless of the writer or the type of document.

But why? you may ask.

  •  It’s about professionalism and credibility, and sets the writing standard expected in your organisation.
  • Consistency reflects, protects and enhances your corporate identity and brand.
  • You’ll save time and money when you have unified written communications.
  • If you hire an external writer or editor, they will thank you – and their service will be speedier and less expensive, because they don’t have to ask you.
  • New writers in your business will become productive more quickly.

Capture and record all this information in your style guide.

Make sure every writer is familiar with it – and uses it every time.

So set to work and begin to build your style guide.

Remember that I’m here to advise or to lend a hand.

Avoiding confusion
Avoiding confusion

Oops! In the wrong place

Rather than trying to explain, I’m simply going to give you some examples.

Have a chuckle while you decipher the underlying principle.

There was a discussion yesterday on the worrying of sheep by dogs in the Minister’s room.

I have discussed the question of stocking the proposed poultry plant with my colleagues.

Lipolysis can occur in the milk of cows when chilled too quickly.

Born two weeks ago, zookeepers feared Shuffles would not live past her first few days.

Previously thought responsible for the damage, scientists found that the coral crab was in reality helping to repair the coral.

Standing just 5’7” tall, the other players nicknamed him ‘Muscles’.

Being a family company, these eggs are produced …

As the person that makes the purchase, Old Spice have recognised that they need to appeal to the female audience.

At only 23 weeks gestation, nursing staff said they had not expected the newborn would survive.

McEwan, an avid hiker, took part in a British expedition interested in climate change to Spitsbergen …

Crown Princess Mary has been given a reported dressing-down from her mother-in-law …

Now, how would you rewrite those examples for clarity?


Not sure about any of the examples?
Leave a comment and I’ll help you out.

I’d love you to share the ‘danglers’ you’ve met – just leave a comment 🙂


Perfect Pages sharpening your writing
Perfect Pages
sharpening your writing

You must answer these questions *before* you start writing.

Nonfiction writers’ dilemmas

Do you find your writing seems to lack purpose?
Does it really achieve what you set out to do?
Do you feel you have rambled on a bit?

If you answered yes, here’s another question.

Did you know that there are three important questions you need to answer
before you begin writing?

I remember them as PAM – purpose, audience, message.
They will help you focus on your readers and how you can make this a pleasant experience for them.

1. What is the purpose of this document?

Why are you writing this document? To explain, report, recommend, persuade, fulfil academic requirements, motivate, request, report findings …

Generally, you will have more than one purpose, but you should find that there is one purpose that is the most important.
That is the one that will determine the choices you will make about the type, structure, format of the document, and the language style.

  •  How might your purpose influence the type of document you will use?
    Will a letter, report or brochure be the best choice?
  •  How might the structure / format be determined by your purpose?
    Will the inclusion of tables or graphics be useful, or is all text more appropriate?
  •  How might your purpose influence the language style?
    How formal or informal does your language need to be?
    How much terminology can you use, or will you need to explain special terms?

2. Who is your audience?

  • Who will read this document?
    Primary readers (the specific person you think about when you write)
    Secondary readers (others who will read this, perhaps the financial manager or your primary reader’s supervisor)
  • How will they read this document?
    Will they scan it?              Will they read it all in detail?
    Will they read only the parts that interest them?
    Will they need a table of contents, index or glossary?
  • How will it be used?
    Will it be read frequently (a manual)?
    Will it be used to make a decision?
  • If you were the primary reader, what would you expect to see in the document?
  • If you were the secondary reader, what would you expect to see?

Always look at your document from your readers’ point of view.

3. What is your message?

  • What exactly do you want your readers to know, understand or do?
  • What is your core message?                   What is your call to action?

Your answer will help you give your readers a context for your document
and a structure to guide them to the conclusion you want them to reach.

Readers read your words, not your mind.
        If it’s not written, how can you be sure they will know what you mean?

Your answers to these three questions help you make decisions about:

  • how to present your document
  • how to use specialised terms, abbreviations and their explanations
  • how much detail to give
  • whether to use tables, illustrations or graphics.

Remember to answer these three questions before you start writing.

Expect to see an improvement in the standard of your document, and your readers’ perception of your professionalism.

What techniques have you used to help you focus on your readers?



Perfect Pages sharpening your writing
Perfect Pages
sharpening your writing