Before and After: The Gettysburg Address

For this blog post, I thought it would be fun to take a famous speech and work backward, adding unnecessary words and phrases, making it so verbose as to be hard to recognize. I think my effort succeeds in showing how simplifications and reductions of the kind that a good copyeditor routinely makes can help a meandering piece of writing cut to the heart of the writer’s sentiment in a way that is truly memorable. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Ways for Writers and Editors to Trim a Piece without Losing a Shred of Content

Just as your time is valuable, so is your readers’. Who wants to read something longer when they could read something shorter?

In most kinds of writing, the fewer words you use to get your message across, the more impact your writing will have. If you use too many words, your readers will have trouble determining what’s truly important and will start to pay less attention. They’ll start skipping ahead and may miss crucial details and subtle turns of phrase. As a result, sooner or later they’ll wind up confused. If they’re still interested at that point, they may have to go back and reread. If that seems too tedious, they may just give up. To keep readers riveted, look for ways to reduce verbosity. Read the rest of this entry »

“If” vs. “Whether”

This week, I’ve created a new category of blog post called “Advanced Grammar.” This category is for the things they don’t teach you in school, even in college. This category is also for controversial grammar-related issues or those that I can’t find a satisfactory answer to, some of which I’ve already written about here and here. Without further ado, let’s examine “if” and “whether.”

Both “if” and “whether” are meant to be used when discussing possibilities or uncertain events. There is, however, a slight distinction, and saying “if” when “whether” would be more appropriate is one of those colloquialisms (i.e., common phenomena in speech) that often makes its way into formal writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Between vs. Among

OK, so a mistake here isn’t going to make or break you, but there is a difference between “between” and “among,” so why not learn it? If all of the following sentences sound right to your ears, read on.

A. It came down to a contest between Sally, Greg, and Consuelo for class president.
B. I couldn’t decide between lavender and strawberry scented air freshener.
C. Neil Armstrong truly was a giant among men.
D. Katniss decided that the forest was the safest place; she could easily hide among the trees.

Read the rest of this entry »

Extra Words

This week’s blog entry has to do with words that sometimes we just don’t need. I’m not talking about words that create redundancies, as in “PIN number” or “past history”; that’s a blog entry for another time. I’m talking about “filler” words. These words aren’t meaningless, but they’re not necessary either. Often, the writer’s meaning is completely clear without them. Read the rest of this entry »

Exhibiting a Pattern of Beating in the Immediate Vicinity of the Bush but Not Beating the Bush Itself

I’m concerned with the use of what I call “tentative language.” Tentative language is language that seems afraid to make a statement, is unnecessarily indirect, tries to be all-inclusive, or is overly helpful rather than instructive. If you follow the logic of tentative language, it tends to be circuitous. It avoids getting to the point.

I find that this kind of language crops up often in nonfiction and self-help books that I work on. As an author, why should you avoid “tentative language”? Read the rest of this entry »

Why Not Just Because?

It seems as though some writers are biased against the word “because.”

Maybe it’s because they were taught in grade school that you should never start a sentence with it. (Were you told also of this “crime”?) Of course, just as with the injunction against splitting an infinitive, ending a sentence with a preposition, or starting a sentence with “And,” although it may be a good means of helping students generally improve their writing and of creating some conformity among divergent styles—a boon to the poor teacher who has to read and grade twenty-five different versions of every assignment—a slavish adherence would be misguided. Read the rest of this entry »