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How to improve your writing and editing

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Tuesday April 3, 2018

Keep it concise

It's always tempting to embellish your writing with phrases and slogans that sound good, but they often confuse or blur the message. In my many years of sub-editing, the question most asked of reporters was: "What did you really mean?" Their response was often exactly the words that needed to be written. Many writers use complicated words and sentence structures in the belief that what they write then becomes more important. The best writers keep it simple.

I believe print journalism fosters the best discipline in writing, simply because a newspaper or magazine can accommodate only a certain number of words. When words have to be cut out of an article, you look for everything superfluous to the message. I'll provide examples in coming blogs as I see them (or as readers tell me about them). Meantime, here's an example of too many words for a simple message.

"Michael took the opportunity to point out that he was contemplating resigning from his position in the not too distant future." – 21 words

A better version:

"Michael said he was thinking about resigning soon." – 8 words

And here's the editing required:

"Michael took the opportunity to point out said that he was contemplating thinking about resigning from his position in the not too distant future soon."

The number of words is trimmed by 13, even though the word "contemplating" is replaced by two simpler words "thinking about".

Why is it important to keep sentences short and writing concise? Because the reader's mind is a wandering thing. It will easily drift and lose interest unless it's getting clear messages.


Tip of the week

Overused word of the week is "very". In almost all cases, the word "very" is redundant. When someone says "It's very important", does saying "It's important" lose any of its impact? It's just some people's way of adding emphasis when it's not needed. We often see cases where the word is clearly ridiculous, such as "very huge".

Style guide

You or the business you work for might have a style guide that differs from that below. Mine is a guide only, but based on my experience and personal preferences. It will be added to regularly.

Numbers: Write out in copy numbers one to nine, and thereafter use digits (10, 11 etc). Except when using ages (the boy, aged 9 ...), percentages (9 percent), dates (March 9) and qualifiers such as temperatures (9C). The rules don't apply to headlines, tables and charts, when digits will apply in most cases.




Ian Carson : Latest Posts


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ID Media was established in 1994 as a one-stop-shop for newsletters and other publicity materials. We produce a range of publications under the Street Scene Bragazines brand - specifically Petone Street Scene, Otaki Street Scene and Carterton Street Scene. The bragazines (neither a magazine nor a brochure, but a mix of both) have proved popular as Keep Reading

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