Edit, proofread, review…

Brisbane editor and proofreader, Desolie Page, Accredited Editor

You’ve got to the end of the writing and refining. You’ve read it a thousand times and you’re certain you’ve caught every last typo. You’re almost certain. You’re fairly certain. The truth is you don’t know anymore and you’re probably the last person to make that decision.

Here’s a thought before we get into editing. Writing and editing are two different skills. Writing is creative; editing is analytical. That means you should not try to edit as you write. Just get the words down.

When the writing stage draws to end, it’s time to review, edit, proofread … whatever you want to call it. Here are my tips to help you correct, tidy, refine, move and hone your work and have your readers saying, ‘Wow! That was easy to read!’

Before we look more closely at some techniques, here’s a question.

Why?

Not proofreading can very quickly diminish your credibility and professionalism.

Proofreading gives you the confidence that your writing achieves its purpose.

Proofreading ensures that you’ve actually written what you meant to write.

Proofreading ensures your message / call to action is clearly expressed.

Did you know that professional writers spend more time editing and reviewing than they do actually writing?

But where to start? The editing process requires you to take off your writer’s hat and don your editor’s hat; to be objective about how you’ve presented your information.

Give your brain some space.

Once you’ve done all you feel you can with your writing, put your work to one side. Take up another task.

Don’t be like a terrier worrying over a bone.
Just…don’t…think…about…it!

It’s important to give your amazing brain time and space to ‘think’, re-order, come up with better words or constructions—all without your conscious help.

If you find ideas popping into your thoughts, try to capture them. We’ve all experienced coming up with that perfect rewording, and then lost it because we didn’t record it.

Incorporate those new ideas into your writing – and refine the sentences around it.

Trick your brain into thinking it’s never seen this before.

Print your document. Without all those spell- and grammar-check squiggles, you’ll actually see what is there. You’ll pick up that you’ve really written ‘out’ when you meant ‘our’; spell-check would not recognise it as a mistake.

Show it differently on your screen. Change to Read Mode or Multiple Pages (View menu); change the Page Colour (Design menu); change to a different font or font size (Home menu). And remember to change back to the original when you’ve finished.

See it. Hear it.

By using both auditory and visual senses, you’ll hear those awkward constructions, or realise that you’ve actually written ‘is’ rather than ‘it’. It helps you to see what is really there, not what you think you’ve written.

You’ll be more aware of its logical flow, the transitions between paragraphs or topics, and its rhythm.

And if you need to take a breath before you reach the end of a sentence, it would probably benefit from being turned into two shorter sentences.

Listen to an outsider’s comments.

Ask a trusted colleague (preferably one that’s not been involved in the writing) or outsider. They will be able to tell you if they can understand what you’ve written, and how easy it is to read.

Tip: Ask them to tell you what it’s about, what you want them to do.

Call in the pros.

No matter the size of your document, we editors and proofreaders love to bring out the very best in your writing – and it will still sound like you.

Remember: small mistakes, such as misplaced apostrophes, can have a disproportionate effect on your readers’ impression of your work. 

Next up – What do you look for when you’re editing?

 

Focused nonfiction writing
Editing is vital!

 

 

Writing strategy

For some time, I’ve been trying to find a way to easily share the bare bones of the writing strategy I use when I write and when I teach it.

Here’s one attempt – and I really don’t know how well it will work.

Your feedback will always be appreciated. (with apologies to my talented designer friends).

Nonfiction Writing Plan

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.

 Cliches

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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sharp writing

Tautology Time

 

Every once in a while, I have something to say about tautologies – saying the same thing twice, superfluous words, double-speak.

So I thought I’d start a list here, and I’d love you to add to it.

In no particular order (as I’ve heard said many times) – And yes, I have heard or read all of these.

free gift                 extra bonus              proven track record                  return back
unite together

attempt to try          new innovations             reduce down             proceed forward
true fact

I myself was the only one there.

simultaneously at the same time                 a choice of options                      predict the future

expand out                    initially at the beginning                      a round circle
past history

We are planning our future growth. (Ummm, it’s hard to plan past growth.)

I’ll add to this – both your suggestions and ones that I find – and let you know.

Happy tautology hunting!

So here we are, three weeks later with a bit of an update.

How about these synonyms for tautology:
pleonasm                           superfluity                        redundance                      circumlocution
roundabout phrases                    periphrasis                        ambages                                equivocalness                           padding
filler                           digression                       irrelevance

And what about these double-speakers:
HIV virus                   ATM machine                  PIN number

Not quite sure how to categorise this one!
Ears pierced while you wait.

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?

 

 

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Clear, sharp writing?

I’ve been asked just what is clear, engaging, sharp writing.

So instead of going through a  dissertation that explains, defines, theorises (and probably bores), I’m simply going to give you a (very) few examples from documents I’ve edited or read.

Research has been done that shows…                   Research shows…

Training of personnel must be done…                    Personnel must be trained…

There are numerous books that deal with…          Numerous books deal with…

There are two consequent actions that occur when…         Two things will happen when…

Companies and the products they produce…                Companies and their products…

When they first started their business…                               When they started their business…

Many clients are under the assumption that…         Many clients assume that…

We will confirm the details with regard to agenda.           We will confirm the agenda details.

And to finish off with a chuckle (those misplaced or dangling phrases!)

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.

Born two weeks ago, zookeepers feared Shuffles would not survive after such a traumatic delivery.

Not sure why I made those changes?

Leave a question in the Comments or email me if you want the inside information

or any other help with your non-fiction writing.

Do you have examples of  less-than-sharp writing to share?

iStock_000018482964XSmall
sharp writing

 

 

Technical writing for non-technical readers – keep it simple!

When you write for your peers, you can use as many technical and esoteric terms as you like.

Why?

You know they will understand what you’re saying; you don’t need to explain what, to you, are everyday concepts.

But it’s a different story when you need to write for non-technical readers.

Your first task is to really think about your audience, and how you might present your expert knowledge in a way they will understand. Ask yourself:

  1. What are your assumptions about their exposure to your field of expertise, and to the technical terms you use every day?
  2. How many concepts are they likely to understand? How will you explain or illustrate them?
  3. In simple terms, what is your message? What do you want your readers to know or do?

With those answers in mind, use these tips to help you achieve clear, engaging and sharp writing. At the heart of your thinking is:

The more complex your content or the concepts you’re writing about,
the simpler your writing needs to be.

  • This is about expressing your thoughts with simplicity, not simplifying your work. Remember your readers: you want to show them the value of your work, not what a good writer you are.
  • Make sure you’ve thought about the logical progression of your report. Plan the structure of your document so that you lead your readers to the conclusion you’ve reached.
  • The simplicity inherent in the use of plain English (active voice, reasonable sentence length, wise use of specialised terms, no verbosity) will serve you well.

Let’s look at some particular areas this simplicity will help your readers.

Structure:

  • Determine the logical structure of your argument. Brainstorming and mind mapping can be valuable tools.
  • If possible, use headings: they are sign-posts for your readers. Headings give readers an overview and help orientate them, for which your readers will thank you if your content is complex.
  • Aim for a logical flow in the overall document, within its sections, paragraphs and sentences.

Words:

  • Use familiar words: use instead of utilise, on-going instead of chronic.
  • Explain unfamiliar concepts. Perhaps footnotes, diagram, glossary or appendix can be helpful – what will be easiest for your readers?
  • Explain abbreviations, and then use them consistently. You may have to remind readers of their meanings more frequently than you would for your peers.
  • Watch out for tautologies (new innovations, combine together) and clichés (the bottom line, explore every avenue, moot point).

Sentences:

  • Keep sentences shorter with a straight-forward, familiar construction.
  • It’s best to address only one concept in each sentence: that can be a main thought with supporting information.
  • Place your main idea at beginning of sentence: Writing Preventing disruption is our most important issue is preferable to Our bottom line is preventing disruption. The readers’ attention is immediately focused on what it is that is so important.
  • Check that you’re not providing unintended humour. A phrase in the wrong place in a sentence can be confusing or laughable.

Yesterday a lively discussion took place about the problem of wild dogs in the council meeting room.

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

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

Paragraphs:

  • As with sentences, it’s best to have just one main idea (with supporting information) in each paragraph.
  • That doesn’t mean you must confine each concept to just one paragraph. Use as many paragraphs as you need, because a number of shorter paragraphs doesn’t intimidate readers as would one long paragraph.
  • Again, keep the logical progression of your paragraphs within each section.

Lists:

  • Bullet point lists can be a useful way to present complex information.
  • Use a numbered list if order or priority is important.
  • Maintain structural consistency of points, eg each point as a complete sentence, or each point as a sentence fragment; same part of speech to open each point.
  • Be consistent in the way you punctuate your lists.

Non-verbal elements:

  • Illustrations, figures, graphs, charts or other graphics will often be easier for your readers than text.
  • In the text, make clear cross-references to the graphics, so there can be no question about how the text and the illustration are related.
  • Use table and figure captions consistently; check that the caption accurately reflects the information.
  • Review how both text and graphics sit on the page.

When you’ve finished writing, ask a non-technical ‘outsider’ to read your work, then tell you what they’ve understood. That should give you some indication of how well you’ve done your job.

Your final task – always, every time – is to review what you’ve written.

You might like to read my other blogs Writing for your readers and What readers want for other tips about ways to write while focusing on your readers.

Looking for extra information about any of these techniques? Ask me about other resources, using the contact form on my website.

What difficulties have you met when you’ve had to read outside your area of expertise?

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