Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: proofreading

Writng tips #2: 10 tips for writing more simply

[I have borrowed, translated and adapted these tips from a French website. That explains the references to French authors, in case you were wondering. These tips are intended for use in writing for the web, but would be useful in many other types of writing as well.]


1. Thou shalt write short sentences.

You are not Proust! So do not write sentences of more than one or two lines. If you hesitate between several constructions, always choose the one with the fewest words. Your texts will be more rhythmic.

Tip: exchange semicolons for periods.

2. Thou shalt limit thyself to subject, verb and object.

The subject + verb + object scheme is the simplest grammatically. It is instantly recognizable and understandable to the reader. So avoid complex grammatical constructions, subordinate clauses, interpolations and parentheses within the same sentence.

Tip: turn most subordinate clauses into independent sentences.

3. Thou shalt write one idea per sentence.

One idea per sentence, one point per paragraph, one subject per article. Don’t try to say everything at once, at the risk of drowning your reader. Prioritize your ideas and start with the most important.

Tip: If your article is too long, divide it into several articles grouped by folder or series.

4. Thou shalt simplify thy vocabulary.

You do not write to amuse yourself but to make yourself understood. Don’t try to dazzle your readers with exotic words or literary style. Favour simple words known to all.

Tip: use only words that you know how to spell.

5. Thous shalt translate jargon.

You don’t need to eliminate all trade or professional jargon, but ensure the first occurrence of such a word is translated into plain English, including all acronyms and words from other languages. Not only will your readers thank you, but it will be easier for search engines to find your page because you will broaden your semantic field.

Tip: imagine you are writing for your grandmother.

6. Thou shalt avoid negations.

It is forbidden to forbid! It is not always easy (as in this article which intends to be educational), but avoid negative terms as much as possible. Opt instead for positive constructions, more involving and more direct. Flee double negatives that need to be read twice to get the meaning.

Tip: always replace “do not hesitate to do this” with “do this”!

7. Thou shalt avoid the passive voice.

Better to write “The cat eats the mouse” than “the mouse is eaten by the cat.” Not only does the passive use more words than the active form (7 words against 5), but it is also more complex to analyse. Therefore reverse passive sentences, transforming the object into subject.

Tip: choose action verbs like create, produce, decide, etc.

8. Thou shalt avoid adjectives and adverbs.

“Journalists (…) who want to use an adjective come see me in my office. Those who will use an adverb will be shown out the door,”wrote Georges Clemenceau in a memo while he was editor of L’Aurore. Years have passed, the media have changed, but the counsel remains valid.

Tip: first remove all useless instances of “true” and “genuine” from your texts.

9. Thou shalt avoid the subjunctive.

Avoid the subjunctive: limit yourself to the indicative. Also avoid the tenses we learned at school like the pluperfect, future anterior, etc. Try to stick to the present, the past, the imperfect, the future and the imperative.

Tip: use the infinitive as much as possible.

10. Thou shalt read thy article out loud.

Proofread your text carefully before publishing it. Locate the long sentences, overly complex constructions, etc. Check that you have applied all the above rules.

Tip: re-read aloud to identify difficult to read sentences. Flaubert called it the gueuloir test, you will see, it works!

(I presume Gueuloir was Flaubert’s invention; it’s not found in any dictionary. Gueuler means to speak very loudly, to yell.)

If you read French, the original article is found at: http://editoile.fr/10-astuces-pour-ecrire-plus-simplement/

It takes a village to raise a book

The difference between a bad writer and a good writer is that a good writer knows he needs help. Publishers used to have people on staff to provide that help. Not anymore. We are on our own. Yet we dare not trust to our own evaluation of how good our writing is.

There are three stages of editing and we need other people’s eyes and brains at each step.The first stage is substantive editing. Definitions vary somewhat, but you need someone to do a thorough review and give an honest evaluation of the whole story, whether its fiction, history, devotional, doctrinal or whatever. Are there holes in the story line? Is there missing information? Is there information that does not belong in this story? Is it interesting? Do you lose your way half way through and wind up going in a different direction? Word usage, sentence structure, grammar should all be analyzed.

After we get over the shock of this first evaluation and get up enough courage to make the changes needed, we then need copy editing. This will include things like checking grammar and spelling and may involve rearranging some text, finding overused words, eliminating unnecessary words, suggesting stronger or clearer words. It is a good idea to check that your characters’ names are spelled the same way throughout the book.

The final stage is proofreading. This is the last run through the proofs before the book is printed, to ensure that all needed changes have been made and no new errors have inadvertently crept in.

A professional editor can make the difference between a book that seems like it could have been rally interesting, and one that really is interesting. Gathering a circle of friends ho are knowledgeable and honest enough to tell you what needs to be done will make the job of a professional editor much easier, and hopefully less costly.

This is where the village idea comes in. You need first readers who will read your raw manuscript, tell you whether it has possibilities and suggest what they think needs to be improved. Ask as many people as you can and consider what they are seeing in your book and what you want people who buy your book to see.

After rewriting and polishing your manuscript to the best of your ability, you need beta readers. Not just your close family and friends who will tell you what a lovely book it is. You want people who will point out every last flaw that they can find. Trust me, you do. Better those things should be found now than when the book is in print and being sold.

Finally, you need final readers. People who have not read the manuscript before, so that those pesky little mistakes that you and all the others have missed will pop out at them.

And then when the book is being sold, some reader will notice an obvious mistake that slipped by everyone else. It’s embarrassing, but it happens to the best of writers. The more people you have helping you along the way, and truly trying to help, the more confidence you can have that you have done your best.

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