A few years ago, we wrote the 7 Cures Series to help people with various problems they asked us about. The information is still useful.
In this article, I put on my editor's hat and take on some of my biggest pet peeves, when it comes to writing.
- Write shorter sentences.
Break up long sentences. People have been known to fall asleep in the middle of long sentences. Don't let that happen to your readers. If necessary, change long, complicated sentences connected with semicolons to two sentences.
- Use the active voice.
The active voice is usually shorter and more interesting to read. For example, this sentence:
Joe was fired.
is not as straightforward as
The CEO fired Joe.
The first sentence is vague because you don't know who fired Joe. Many
corporate memos hide behind the anonymity of passive voice. Only use
the passive voice if the object that is acted upon is truly more
important than the actor.
- Reduce redundancy and trim uncessary words.
Nothing is "completely unanimous" or "more unique" and there is no such thing as a "consensus of opinion." Other candidates for deletion include qualifier words like: very, in fact, pretty, quite, rather, and both. Also avoid anthropomorphic terms. A computer or software program does not "want" to do anything. Do not become so attached to your writing that you cannot edit it objectively.
- Make references obvious.
Be sure that reference words like "this, that, those, it, and which" clearly point to one noun or clause. Following the word "this" with a noun is a good rule of thumb. For example:
No: Cats sleep a lot. This is a good thing.
Better: Cats sleep a lot. The fact that they are frequently asleep is a good thing.
Don't leave the reader asking "this WHAT?" Be specific.
- Try not to begin sentences with there is or there are.
Rewrite the sentence so you can tell who is performing the action. Don't be afraid to use the word "you" in procedural text. For example:
No: There are many ways to skin a cat
Better: You can skin a cat in many ways.
- Use parallel construction, especially in bullet lists.
Make sure that every entry begins with the same part of speech. For example,
No: The cat did three things today: he ate, did some sleeping, and cleaned himself.
Better: The cat did three things today: he ate, slept, and cleaned.
- Use short words instead of long words.
Instead of accomplish or achieve, do; instead of affirmative, yes; instead of utilize, use; instead of locate, find; instead of obtain, get; instead of presently, now; instead of numerous, many (this list goes on and on).