I’ve been doing a lot of proofreading and copy-editing lately. I enjoy this side of my work, as I get to read about a range of interesting topics I otherwise might not learn about! Every article, blog post and manuscript is written in the author’s own unique style; however, I do find most pieces of writing need a little improvement in the same areas.
Here are five writing tips I frequently recommend to my clients:
1. Get rid of “that”
The word “that” is overused. There are times when its use is valid and it can help the flow of a sentence, but often it’s not needed and makes a sentence sound clunky. For example, “that” is unnecessary in the following sentence and can be omitted without changing the meaning: “The boat cruise that I went on yesterday was great!”
2. Verify your sources
I often proofread articles that quote research (eg. “Research shows that 90% of people use social media”) without saying who conducted the research. It’s hard to take a piece of writing seriously if it fails to cite its sources.
3. Be consistent with tense
Swapping between present and past tense is confusing for the reader. Sometimes it is necessary to switch between tenses, such as in this example: “I felt terrified but I took my chances. As I look back now, I think I made the right decision.” The following sentence is inconsistent with tense: “I ran forward, arms outstretched to catch the ball, but a dog runs towards me.”
4. Read your work
Before submitting your work for proofreading or copy-editing, read it to yourself from start to finish to ensure it conveys what you want it to convey. This helps the proofreader and copy-editor make the right calls when correcting your work. It speeds up the process, as they will be less likely to have to ask you to clarify ambiguous sentences or paragraphs.
5. Be concise
You don’t have to sound as though you’ve swallowed a thesaurus to produce a quality piece of writing. Of course, you have more room to move with long-form writing, such as a novel, but it’s best to keep things to the point with short-form writing, such as articles and blog posts. If you can say the same thing in 10 words or 20 words, choose 10.