Today is the late Nina Simone’s birthday (1933 – 2003),…
Today I want to share three quick tips I find useful in my day-to-day writing and editing process. The advice I’d like to share is applicable for writing fictional books, technical reports, blog posts; as well as having many other practical applications.
Before I start I would like to reference the book Editing Made Easy by Bruce Kaplan, as this book has inspired some of my points in this post. I highly recommend reading Kaplan’s book, of course I have included a few found tips of my own.
So let’s start with the first thing you’ll want to do, and that is to add punch to your writing. To hook your readers, you’ll need to make it easier for them to pay attention, and the best way to do that is to use Active Voice.
1. Active voice is the act of having your subject DO something. This is the opposite of passive voice where the target is placed before the subject and is therefore less active.
In the below example the subject is the word ‘teacher’, the target is the word ‘students’…
Passive voice: “The students were being taught by the teacher.”
Active voice: “The teacher taught the students.”
Can you see how the active voice example has more punch? Even better, I’ve gotten my message across using fewer words, making it less of a drag on the reader.
In Kaplan’s book he mentions a good way to tell if you’re using passive voice is to watch out for the word ‘by’. As you can see from my example I reworked my active voice sentence to omit the word ‘by’. Here’s another example:
Passive voice: “The apple was eaten by Jessica.”
Active voice: “Jessica ate the apple.”
I use a program called Scrivener to construct my manuscripts, and one great feature of Scrivener is that it enables me to conduct word searches on hundreds of pages of text. I have a growing list of words (including ‘by’) that I search and destroy during the editing process. It greatly improves the readability of my writing and I’ll share more words from my list in future posts.*Also note the use of passive voice isn’t one hundred percent incorrect, however it is harder to read, and less likely to keep a reader interested.
2. Turn your nouns into verbs, this adds to the ‘active’ nature of your writing.Nouns are naming words that refer to people, places, things etc. For example: ‘Jessica’, ‘London’, ‘Car’ etc. *Note: there are different kinds of nouns – Proper nouns, Common nouns and Collective nouns.
Verbs on the other hand are action words (or doing words) such as ‘run’, ‘jump’, ‘dream’, ‘feel’ etc.
Using a noun where a verb can, or should, be used works to slow down your writing. In the below example I have used the word construction (abstract noun) instead of the word construct (verb), then given you the better alternative:
“The company will begin construction of the bridge next week.”
“The company will construct the bridge starting next week.”
Notice once again how the last example is more compact and direct, making for a quicker read? Often the biggest culprit is abstract nouns (nouns which can’t be seen/felt/ heard, i.e. introduction, relaxation, concentration). Though it’s not a set rule, watch out of long words that end with the letters ‘ion’, as they are not very good for keeping things snappy.
Just for fun here is another example:
“The gardener was considering the propagation of new seeds.”
“The gardener may propagate new seeds.”
3. ‘of the’ + ‘noun’ = word marriage made in hell!
Something else worth scanning your work for is the words ‘of the’ when placed next to a noun. For example:
Principal of the School
Again, using such a technique helps to speed up and smooth out the reading experience, and this example doesn’t only apply to positions or titles. For example:
One of the chairs was out of place.
One chair was out of place.
Just because we might pick up a newspaper and see the use of less active writing, does not mean we should seek to emulate such technique. You’re only as good as what you know, and now you now better. I hope these tips have given you something to think about when next writing or editing a piece of text. Better yet, go find some of your work now and try implementing a few of these changes.
Hope you enjoyed today’s post. I love reading and responding to everyone’s comments, so feel free to leave a comment of your own.
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image edit: LMRitchie