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Writing with Style and Substance

Writing with Style and Substance

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Writing with Style and Substance

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  1. Writing with Style and Substance Sue Robinson & Marilyn J. Shaw Institute on PhilanthropyUniversity of Richmond Step 6: Revising and Editing June 2011

  2. Step 6: Revising and Editing Like “review,” “revision” means to look at again Why revise? • Focus so far -- what you wrote. Now we look at how you phrased it. • To communicate well, reach our goal: the right message, in proper English, in the right voice in the right medium (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  3. About Revising “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” --Elmore Leonard, Newsweek, April 22, 1985 “I'm all for the scissors. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”--Truman Capote in Conversations With Capote, by Lawrence Grobel, New American Library, 1985 (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  4. Revising: How Do I Start? Revising=big picture: rewrite, tighten vs. Editing=sharpen, correct, brighten • *Check readability (online at, others; via Word) • Determine next steps • Passive construction, grade level, etc. • Read the draft as a reader instead of as the author (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  5. Read Your Work Aloud • Read each word aloud. Mark where you: • Run out of breath • Hear sing-song prepositional phrases • Trip over incorrect punctuation, tense, grammar, subject-verb agreement • If you can’t read aloud (or can’t have Word speak to you), sound out the document silently to your inner ear.

  6. 3. Did You Hear These? • *Run-on sentences (I drive she walks.) • Mixed metaphors, jumbled figures of speech (You can’t change the spots on an old dog.) • Unintended shift in verb tense (“So I left,” Doe says. Doe said…) • Misplaced modifiers (only, just, nearly, barely)

  7. Placement Can Alter Meaning • *“Only”-- SOURCE: Only the new manual confused the PA. (The old one didn't confuse her.)The new manual only confused the PA. (It didn't spoil her day.)The new manual confused only the PA. (It didn't confuse other staff.)The new manual confused the only PA. (There was only one PA.) (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  8. Make every word count • Cut out redundancies (boiling hot, adding an additional, creating a new). • Unpack noun strings (“This report explains our investment growth stimulation projects.”). • Stamp out overwriting Online writer Rick Daley offers these choices: A) I extend to you an informal expression of welcome B) Hi. (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  9. *Overwriting • "Overwriting is the failure to make choices. . . . Linguistic bric-a-brac is literature's Elvis on velvet." --Paula LaRocque, “Championship Writing: 50 Ways to Improve Your Writing,” Marion Street, 2000) (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  10. Class Exercise: Clutter • *Cut the clutter: “There is a possibility that one of the causes of so many teenagers running away from home is the fact that many of them have indifferent parents who don't really care about them.” (33 words, 145 char.,15.52 grade level) (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  11. Class Exercise: Clutter (cont’d) • One possible revision: “Teens may run away from home because their parents seem indifferent.” (11 words, 1/3 as long as original; 57 char., 9.08 grade level) (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  12. Other Common Problems • Wordiness from “noun-ified” verbs & adjectives (-tion, -ize, -ity endings) • “The committee made a decision…” should be revised to “The committee decided…” • “Verbifed” nouns • (mouthed, taser, impact, accessed, chaired, dialoguing, debut, securitizing, host). “Verbingweirds language”—Calvin & Hobbs (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  13. Other Common Problems (cont’d) • Using negatives, “not.” Say what something is; not what it is not. • **Avoid “tried and true” cliches, “clear as mud” oxymorons and misplaced, danglingmodifiers, such as “Hiking the trail, the birds chirped loudly.” (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  14. After Revising, Start Editing Once the big picture is clearer, then edit. Again, first take a break from the writing. This time, hide or cover all but the line you are reviewing; read backward. The first rule of editing is “Do no harm”: • Add no mistakes • Change no meanings • Alter no context (except to simplify, clarify, explain) (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  15. Editing: Brands Depends on It Seen last week in Henrico: A medical transport van with the company name on the back end and on the front doors: GHOST Transportion Service (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  16. We’re All Judgmental • Did you spot the misspelling? • What was your immediate reaction to the company name? • Would you be a customer? Revise and edit to protect your organization’s image. Leave the reader with, at worst, a neutral reaction. (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  17. Editing: Overview • Know your strengths – and weaknesses. Edit with them in mind. • Set deadlines to allow time for several reviews of copy with fresh eyes. • Use a thesaurus sparingly and a dictionary often. • Read once through with a dirty mind (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  18. Editing Checklist • Subjects and verbs agree in person, number and gender. • Verb tense is appropriate. • (All) phrases are complete sentences (no dropped words). • Verbs are active. Original constructions involving “to be,” “it is/was” and “there is/are/was/were” have been rewritten. • Placement emphasizes important words. (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  19. Editing Checklist (cont’d) • Pronouns clearly identify with a noun • Modifiers are placed appropriately • Punctuation (periods, commas, quotes, colons, ellipses, parentheses, dashes and especially apostrophes) is correct • One readable font in a readable size. • Readability check (did needle move?) • Re-read aloud • **Spell Check (last; may be unreliable) (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC

  20. 10-Second Quiz • Count the letter “f” in this sentence: +++++++++++++++++++++++++++FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE-SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-IC STUDY COMBINED WITH THEEXPERIENCE OF YEARS+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ (c) Well Put LLC and Robinson & Assoc LLC