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Archive for the ‘Editing and Writing’ Category

In a previous post, I offered 5 tips for improving writing skills.  Two of those tips included:

3. Practice makes perfect. Just like anything else that you want to improve, you must practice writing. Establishing a daily writing routine is a great way to ensure that you will continually improve, especially if you enlist the help of a professional or friend who can critique your work and point out areas where you may need extra practice. In this respect…

4. Join a group or take a class. Online courses are more readily available than ever, so you may not even have to leave your house to learn to write better. You can also always check out the course schedule at your local community college.

In this respect, the invaluable and illustrious Poets & Writers Magazine is currently offering readers a weekly creative writing prompt (poetry on Mondays and fiction on Thursdays) on their already fantastic site, stating “The most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline. Talent and luck always help, but having a consistent writing practice is often the difference between aspiring writers and published writers.”

This new feature is just one of the many outstanding tools available on their site. While you’re there, check out the “Writers Recommend” and the “Tools for Writers” features as well. The “Tools for Writers” section is especially impressive, providing writing-related job listings as well as lists of literary agents and magazines, grants and awards, MFA programs, and conferences and residencies.

Although this feature cannot provide feedback on your writing, it will help you establish a weekly routine that can (and hopefully will) eventually become a daily routine.

Most important, do not let yourself get discouraged. Always continue writing, and reading, and reading about writing, and you will always continue improving.

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In an earlier post, I noted that one should never use the word “that” when referring to a human referent, and one of my readers was quick to point out that this is not entirely correct. So, I wanted to add a brief post to clarify.

The whole question of “who” versus “that” as a relative pronoun with a human referent is quite a gray area. My reader pointed out that before the 15th century, “that” was the only option. He is not wrong; I do, in fact, recall that Geoffrey Chaucer, for example, (14th century English poet, author, philosopher, etc.) did indeed use “that” instead of “who” in his writing. However, as time progressed and the use of “who” crept into our language, it gradually became more acceptably “correct” to use “who” rather than “that.” Therefore, I suppose it is more conventional wisdom to use “who” with a human referent rather than a hard and fast rule (my use of the word never was probably too strong!). However, I do maintain that it stills seems more correct (and more humanizing) today to use “who.” Judging by a brief google search on “grammar who versus that,” I found there a lot of smart folks who agree with me.

Thanks for leaving comments!

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Make certain your referents are clear. Remember that your reader is not as close to the research or the writing you’ve been doing. When you write “this theory,” “that point” or refer to an “it,” is it clear to which theory, point, or “it” you’re referring? When you use “he,” “she,” or “the critics,” consider whether your reader will have to pause to try to figure out the answer to the question: who are these people?

The infamous “this.” As in: I will elaborate on “this” later. As writers, we often throw the word “this” around when we’re not entirely sure what aspect of our argument we want to draw our readers’ attention to, especially when making a complex argument with multiple elements. Occasionally, vague language can be a symptom of confused thinking. Stop and ask yourself, what does “this” refer to? What words could I replace “this” with that would clarify your intention to the reader? If you can’t answer easily, go back to what you’ve already written and clarify your ideas in that section. Remember, it is impossible for your readers to understand what you mean when you don’t understand yourself.

Never write “that” when referring to a person: As in: “The man that discovered numerous uses for…” or “The author that she referred to first wrote on the subject of bee pollination.” The man and the author referred to are people, not objects, and it’s rather insulting to call them “that,” not to mention completely grammatically wrong. Use who or whom, such as: “The man who discovered numerous uses for…” and “The author to whom she was referring….” Unsure of whether to use who or whom? Read on to the next section.

“Who” is what doing what to “whom?” Ask yourself the previous question when you’re uncertain which word to use. The one that does the action (the subject) is the “who.” The one that receives the action (the object) is the “whom.”

A tip for learning the rules. Although all this grammar stuff may seem challenging and like there’s way too much to learn, learning the rules once and for all will help you write freely and intelligently. To help with this task, try starting a text file in which you list the rules you need help with and refer to it when you write. I have done this numerous times as an editor. The best part is that you can add new information to your file any time you come across it. You can look rules up in numerous style manuals or on various sources available on the Internet. Just be sure your sources are legitimate and actually know what they’re talking about. One way to figure out whether your source is legitimate is to see who published it. Usually anything published by a university or college can be considered pretty reliable. You can also always consult with your friendly neighborhood editor.

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I recently came across an incredibly fun and useful resource for answers to any number of questions regarding language, grammar, etymology, writing, and more. This invaluable resource is provided by none other than the prestigious Oxford University Press and is called, quite appropriately, AskOxford.com.

From this one multipurpose site, the language lover can access the Better Writing section which includes tips for grammar such as commonly confused words, spelling, and CVs and job applications as well as the Ask the Experts section in which one can find help with everything from etymology and proper usage to answers to fun questions like “What is the longest English word?”:

aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic (52 letters), perhaps?

This monstrous “word” is only one example of a rather enlightening, detailed look into the many possible answers to this question.

I stumbled on the site during a google search for the etymology of the phrase “the bee’s knees,” to which they certainly do have the answer.

The Radcliffe Camera, a reading room annex of the Bodleian Library, Oxford

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Always identify abbreviations the first time you use them.

You do not need to identify the abbreviation if you feel confident that your reader is able to identify the acronym, such as when the acronym is more commonly used than the words it abbreviates (for example, it would be unnecessary to write out all the words for CEO, NATO, or AIDS). It’s always good to keep your audience in mind, however; although you may feel that readers who are specialists in the discipline for which you are writing may not want or need to have terms spelled out for them, some style guides require that this be done at the first occurrence of the term.

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Commas, semi-colons, and colons.

Remember to use commas after an introductory phrase of a sentence, for example:
At first, I always forgot when to use commas.

It may also help to read your sentences aloud to determine where you would naturally pause or draw a breath, for example:
If it’s a short pause, like this one, you probably need a comma.

However, if it’s a longer pause and especially if the information you’re providing is the beginning of a new thought that expounds on the information already provided, you probably need a semi-colon; remember that whatever follows a semi-colon must be able to stand on its own as a full sentence.

As shown in the previous examples, the colon should be used to present an example or a list, for example:
I made a list of fruit I wanted to purchase at the grocery: apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, and pomegranates.

And here’s where it gets complicated. If you’re list includes information that needs to be set off by commas, you must then use semi-colons to separate each list item, for example:
I made a list of fruit I wanted to purchase at the grocery: apples, which are red; oranges, which are orange; bananas, which are yellow; peaches, which are peach; and pomegranates which are red.

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As part of an online editing and writing group on LinkedIn, I have seen the topic of blogs come up in the discussion forums fairly frequently. Not so surprising, considering everyone seems to have one, or two, or five. Often, the topic (and ever-present question) is whether a blog is essentially “giving away the milk for free.”

I recently commented on one of these discussion threads summing up my feelings on blogging and why I blog (in quite a tiny nutshell) that went something like this: I must admit that I love blogging and that although I actually don’t get to do it as often as I would like, I feel it is a valuable enterprise as far as self-advertisement is concerned. I’m mainly a professional editor and proofreader who does light writing for enjoyment more so than pay, so perhaps my perspective differs a bit from one who is primarily writing for pay. However, I have to say that my blog has brought me paying clients and jobs that I would not have found otherwise. The posts I write consist mainly of grammar rules, my opinion/comments on pieces I see in various newspapers (which I then sometimes expound on with additional web sites or links), and I have a featured poem section that I post occasionally on Sundays. I think of my blogging as an extension/example of my professionalism, my expertise, and my love of language in all its forms. Additionally, I should say that I never put anything on my blog that I would hope to sell later, and I never spend hours upon hours working on my blog, as I don’t want it to interfere with the paying jobs. I blog when time permits, and I like to think that I formulate simple but informative copy quickly and concisely- hopefully that’s what my readers are getting!

Many others voiced a similar use for their blogs in the comments of the discussion thread: self-promotion, an opportunity for others to find you and your work, a way to move toward your goals, a way to create a following that will hopefully be interested and loyal enough to pay for your book or article once its published, and an opportunity to generate trust from future clients if your blog is well-written and your information is accurate.

I like to think that I keep my blog professional and that it reflects well on me as an editor, proofreader, and writer. I think it’s clear that my personal answer to the question of whether blogging is “giving away the milk for free” is no, certainly not. My advice (not that you asked, but that is part of the beauty of the blog!) is to use your blog to invite your readers to see what you can do but only give them a taste. Don’t post whole articles or stories, don’t post anything you are hoping to sell at some point, and don’t spend an inordinate amount of time writing posts.

I’d love to hear what you think. Please post some suggestions, comments, or your answer to the question: Is blogging “giving away the milk for free?”

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