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Five Tips From a Frustrated Editor

Happy Hump Day Dear Readers,

As an editor, I see a lot of the same mistakes being made, time and time again. I’m not even talking about grammatical or spelling errors per se. You can benefit from the so-called wisdom of my experience, and make your advertising, public relations, or marketing copy a lot stronger by following these five tips. (They can benefit your fiction writing, too.)

1) Eliminate all exclamation marks. Now. Replace them with periods and review your copy to see if you actually needed to sound so excited. If you use an exclamation mark, it better be the most exciting phrase ever. Do you know how often I’ve read We Are Open Today! or something to that effect? Sure, it may be important news, but it’s not revolutionary. Overuse of exclamation marks screams amateur hour.

2) Use quotations carefully. When you’re reading a paragraph and a phrase is contained in quotes, if it’s not an actual quotation, it’s used as a wink to the reader. (Or should be.) If you write, for instance, our “talented volunteers” will guide you, you’re suggesting that the volunteers aren’t really talented. Or volunteers. In any case, something is suspect about the phrase. Unless you’re trying to say allegedly talented volunteers, skip the quotations.

3) Unique is not the word you want. Trust me on this one. Unique may be one of the most overused words in advertising copy. The true meaning of unique is “one of a kind”–as in, if something is unique, you honestly can’t find it anywhere else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the word unique describe a mass-produced item. A recent correction I read from one of my superiors at work said, “It’s not unique–we carry it in our gift shop.” It made me smile. So true.

4) Get rid of modifiers. Most of the time, you don’t need them. Almost, all, basically, nearly…these have no place in your copy. For some reason, when beginning writers script speeches, they insert the word “all” everywhere, so the speaker ends up sounding like a hillbilly:

I’d like to thank you all for coming here tonight. You all have made a difference to us, and we hope you all come back again soon.

If you’re in the deep South, this may work, but if you’re not, get rid of the all!

5) Cliches. These overused words and phrases are overused for a reason–everyone understands what they mean. They create an instant picture. They’re also lazy. Try to think outside the box (which is a cliche in itself). So is the one-of-a-kind phrase I used to define unique. You get the picture (another cliche).

There you have it. What are your favorite writing tips? What errors or examples of lazy writing drive you crazy?

I’m sure I’ll have more examples in the future.

Thanks for reading!
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  1. Zsanett

    I don’t have my own tips as I am not a writer myself but I would definitely listen to Kurt Vonnegut saying :
    “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

    Also from him some tips for short story writers that seem worthy to follow:

  2. Kim

    Yes… 100% agree. Especially the exclaimation point. It has it’s place… on FB.. when trying to imply intonation. That’s it. Nothing else.

    And agree with the semi-colon above. I read student papers and they are FULL of them. And the reason they are full of them is because the student is trying to sound academic and professional and figure a semi colon will hide their deficiency. 99% of the time I see them and they are actually 2 separate sentences.

    And don’t do what I just did, start a sentence with a numeral, bad bad bad… Ninety-nine percent bad.

    Redundancy bugs the crap out of me too. Repetativeness. It goes without saying that…. (well then why the hell are you saying it?)

    I deal with non writers and beginning writers almost daily. I teach academic writing and I often get stuff that reads like it should be in a magazine instead because they don’t understand voice and style. That bugs me too.

    I could go on and on and on and on… good enough!! (exclaimation points faceciously on purpose).

  3. Carol Ott

    Great advice – I will use in my consultation dictations today! (and yes I am that excited)

  4. Rand MacIvor

    The old favs – they’re, their and there. Second point: I often think that someone who writes to a higher level with large words and complex sentences is trying to impress and not necessarily communicate. People forget that plain language is a skill. If you write, you need to speak to your readers on their level.

  5. Lisa S.

    So basically what you’re “trying to say” (picture fingers in the air making quotatation marks) is that we need to strive to be our own unique individual writers; who don’t bore people with bad style!!

  6. Chris

    I concur. Eschew Brobdingnagian pleonasms!

  7. J.H. Moncrieff

    Thanks for commenting, everyone! Welcome back, Kim & Zsanett–it’s been a while. Good to see you here.

    @ Zsanett–I actually LIKE semicolons. To each their own, I guess. PS–Happy birthday!

    @ Kim–isn’t a semicolon properly used to separate two complete thoughts? That’s what the English geek taught me, in any case. I hate repetitiveness, too. One of my favorite writers repeats everything–it drives me nuts, but I still love him.

    I feel your pain.

    @ Carol – Me too! 🙂

    @ Rand – I completely agree. I hate pretentious, stuffy writing. Just slows the story down.

    @ Lisa S. – “Exactly.”

    @ Chris – Sigh….


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