10 Editing Tips To Punch Up Your Writing
Try applying these simple editing tips to your next college essay or research paper.
Ernest Hemingway wrote standing at his Royal Quiet de Luxe, which he kept on a bookshelf in his Havana home.
Nonetheless, this popular quote describing the hard work of writing is attributed to him:
As a 21st century college student, you don't pound out papers for your criminal justice or psychology courses on a manual typewriter. But as you labor over each word and sentence, you may sense tiny beads of blood dripping from your forehead onto your laptop.
At those moments, you might appreciate the words of another writer:
If you're pursuing a college degree online, then you know online degree programs require a lot of writing. From discussion posts and emails, to essays and research papers, writing is integral to learning.
And since writing is the primary basis upon which professors evaluate your knowledge, strong writing skills are also essential to your GPA.
By this point in your education, you probably accept the fact that the first words you tap on your computer are expendable. Knowing that effective writing requires rewriting frees you from the pressure to perfect your first draft. You understand that writing is a process that requires commitment and time.
How do you edit brilliantly? Try these techniques:
What should you look for as you edit? Start with these 10 tips.
You may use adverbs (words that modify verbs, such as "gently" and "quietly") because you think they give your verbs a boost. However, adverbs – particularly those ending in 'ly' – can weaken your sentences. To find your adverbs, read through your paper one time underlining every verb (including the little ones such as is, was, and were) and check for any neighboring modifiers. Does the adverb add color and punch to your writing? If not, use a stronger, more vibrant verb instead.
Empty phrases add no value to your writing and usually can be trimmed to one or two words. A few examples are:
Want more examples? Check out this list of 297 flabby words and phrases.
Redundant phrases clutter writing and obscure meaning. For example:
Check out 200 of the most common redundancies on About.com
Find your 'ing' words and they can often lead you to phrases that can you can tighten up. "I will be starting my classes in May" can be shortened to "I start classes in May."
Be specific. Be colorful. Replace "The car came quickly around the corner" with "The car zipped around the corner." Vague words like "thing," "good," and "bad" are boring. Painting pictures with specific words adds punch.
Do you have any long sentences that can be separated into two? Shorter sentences help the reader stay focused, and are easier and clearer to read.
If you need an exclamation point to add excitement to your sentence, then your sentence needs work. Exclamation points indicate laziness.
If you refer to a person, the correct preposition is "who," not "that." "The person who finishes the assignment gets an A" not "The person that finishes the assignment."
Using the adverb very, indicates the need for a stronger adjective. The same principle applies to the word "really."
If whoever or whatever is performing the action is the subject of your sentence, you're using the active voice. "The woman picked up the baby." If the noun being acted upon is the subject and it's difficult to tell who's doing what in your sentence, then you're using the passive voice. "The baby was picked up by the woman." (Hint: look for the word 'by' in your sentences.)
Still unclear? Check out Grammar Girl. Then tighten up your writing by eliminating the passive voice.
While it has nothing to do with parts of speech, grammar, word choice, or punctuation, the best editing tip is start your essay or paper early. Composing a first draft just a night or two before the assignment is due does not provide sufficient germination time – time to step aside and return to edit with fresh eyes.
Bottom line, give it time.
What other editing tips can you suggest?
Image credit: Paolo Bono on Shutterstock.com.