Content Editing

Brevity is Best

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Charles Dickens used 26 words to introduce his main character in the first sentence of Great Expectations: “My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.
Herman Melville did the job in three: “Call me Ishmael.
Both approaches have their merits, though I think we can all agree that Charles could have gotten his point across more succinctly.
Florid prose is dandy if you’re writing a masterpiece of 19th-century literature, but for most of us, most of the time, brevity is best. Usually we just want to communicate an idea simply, in a way that’s easy to understand. However, such a task is hard to do if a sentence is weighed down by a lot of unnecessary words.
Here’s a paragraph that demonstrates many of the mistakes I see in (and cut out of) people’s writing:

I’m writing this letter to you to follow up on this issue. With regard to the leaky toilet, it still needs to be fixed. I was wondering if you have been able to figure out and determine what is causing the problem. I have also noticed that, in addition to the leak, the water in the back of the toilet tank is lower when compared to what it was before. (By the way, the manufacturer of this particular toilet is American Standard, a brand that we are able to find in bathrooms nationwide.) I have been reading the article “Toilet Leakage and You” by the author Chet U-bend. In the article it is mentioned that leaking toilets are a leading cause of flooded bathrooms. The author goes on further, calling leaking toilets a “blight on floor tiles.” After reading the article, I know that when it comes to leaky toilets, fixing them is important. (154 words)

This is perfectly understandable prose, but the same information could be conveyed much more simply. If this were submitted to me via editorr, the edited version would look something like this:

Redline Version

This corrected version reads:

The toilet still needs to be fixed. Have you figured out what is causing the leak? I have also noticed that the water in the tank is lower than it was before. (By the way, this toilet is manufactured by American Standard, a brand used nationwide.) In his article “Toilet Leakage and You,” Chet U-bend writes that leaking toilets are a leading cause of flooded bathrooms and a “blight on floor tiles.” Fixing leaky toilets is important! (77 words)

Note that I removed exactly half of the words in the original piece without losing any of the meaning!
There isn’t room to argue for every change, though I’d be happy to discuss my reasoning for the various cuts in the comment section. However, let’s just take a quick look at one sentence to get a taste of the process:
“I was wondering if you have been able to figure out and determine what is causing the problem.” If you’re asking a question, it’s pretty clear that you’re wondering about the answer. You can often omit the “I was wondering” intro and just ask your question.
A lot of people also add unnecessary words to their writing by tacking on synonyms. “Figure out” and “determine” mean pretty much the same thing in this context. Decide which of these terms works best and ditch the synonym.
The long and short of it is, don’t use a handful of words to express yourself when one will suffice. Unless you’re Charles Dickens, brevity is (usually) best!
By: Debra H., On Demand Editor for editorr

Content Editing

What Makes a Sentence Complete?

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Conveying Thoughts
Even though I’ve been writing for decades, I still like to remind myself why I write. People write to convey thoughts, i.e., to communicate.  So, we do our best to express ideas by using sentences.  But does a proper sentence always illustrate something well?  Does a complete sentence always capture a complete thought?  Let’s look at some examples.
Here is a complete sentence:
You can’t always get what you want.
Here is an incomplete sentence (a phrase):
If you walk away.
What do you think?  Do you think one sentence does a better job than the other?

Check out two more sentences:
She is falling.
“Yikes” expresses a complete thought, but it is not a complete sentence.  “She is falling” is a complete sentence, but it will leave most folks hanging (literally).
Decoupling Completeness – Back to Basics
We’ve seen that incomplete sentences can convey a complete thought while complete sentences may not. Instead of tackling the subjectivity of what is complete, it’s better to go back to the basics.
Whether or not it represents a clear thought, a proper sentence must always have two things:

  1. A subject (i.e., a noun or pronoun)
  2. A predicate (i.e., a verb)

To make a sentence complete, the subject and predicate must stand on their own— be independent.
Here are two proper sentences:
Here comes the sun.
I said, “It’s alright.”
Now, let’s take two incomplete sentences and turn them into complete sentences.
If you walk away.
When the sun shines.
If you walk away, I will follow.
When the sun shines, they slip into the shade.
Whether any collection of words complete a thought is subjective.  Therefore, using the idea of a complete thought to guide your sentence structure is risky.  Instead, loosely decouple (separate) the concept of completeness from the mechanics of a sentence.  Create proper sentences that are independent, have a subject, and a verb.  Then, you can spend your energy arranging your proper sentences to communicate your ideas.
By: Mark C., On Demand Editor for editorr


“If you don’t care about your writing, why should I care about you and your business?”

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IMG_4239I read an interesting quote today: “If you don’t care about your writing, why should I care about you and your business?”  Obviously, this quote hit home for me.  You can take the word “business” and replace it with many other words pertinent to your particular needs: resume, newsletter, report, email, blog post, cover letter, etc.

Nearly every day, I come across brochures, website copy, print advertisements, emails, blog posts, and newsletters that were poorly written.  That said, most of what I see has been written by highly competent professionals, often experts in their field.  The net result is that what they write diminishes their message and damages their reputation.

Writing seems easy enough, to most people, but as we now know, it’s not.  It’s an art form that needs to be properly addressed.  You have to strike a balance between providing too much information to the reader and too little, and between inflating the reasons for success and under-selling them.  While poor writing will hinder a good reputation, excellent writing will enrich it. Really good writing can create credibility where none existed before.  Good writing gets noticed and that’s good news for whatever business that writing is supporting.

Good writing not only gains the attention of the reader, it convinces.  Effective writing needs to be attractive, friendly,  and jargon-free, but it will still fail if its underlying message is not strong enough.  Whereas poor writing will sabotage a good reputation, excellent writing will enhance it.

Sounds simple enough, right?  You would be surprised by how may people do not take the time to write well, keeping them from fulfilling their highest potential.  Don’t be one of those people.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you think poor writing effects professional credibility?


Cheers to writing well!

Brian Robison

CEO and Co-Founder of editorr, LLC