5 Tips to Fool-Proof Your Writing
At the end of the 19th Century, novelists had the choice of using a typewriter or cursive writing. It took long hours to touch-type on a Remington as writers used only one or two fingers—the “hunt and peck” method.
As typing speeds caught up to longhand writing, the advent of computers presented a new set of problems. Writing still seems laborious today, despite the many tools writers have at their fingertips (and we use all 10 digits!) Self-editing tools abound but these tools are not foolproof. Hire an editor to look over the work; in the end a professional saves a writer time and money.
1. Punctuation. All writers make grammatical and punctuation mistakes—even bestseller authors. My go-to book for grammar is The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need, by Susan Thurman. Some of the more common grammar mistakes are the misuse of quotation marks, underline, and italics.
Italicize titles of long works (e.g. The Alchemist, by Paul Coelho), words used out of context, when adding emphasis (e.g. stop!), a reproduction of a sound (e.g. brrrr, it’s cold outside), and when using a foreign term (e.g. carpe diem).
Use Quotation marks to enclose the name of short stories (e.g. poems, essays), chapter titles in a book, episodes of a TV series, songs on a music album, and article and essay titles. Slang and technical terms also warrant quotation marks. Quotation marks are used when quoting someone directly: Dan said “It’s time to head to the airport. Hurry, we don’t want to be late!”
Underline. There is no difference between underlining or italicizing when using a computer. The rule is to be consistent.
2. Repeating Words or Phrases. Using the same words over and over makes the material dull for the reader. Spice it up, use a variety of words. Engage the reader. The key is to use words that the reader does not have to look up in a dictionary.
Here is a short list of overused words: Every, use, used to, seem, think, have got, went, just, very, important, stuff, things, often.
3. Writing Tense.
Most authors use the past tense, partly because it makes the reader feel more comfortable. The reader doesn’t question what is being said. One exception is literary fiction. An author will use the past tense when sharing an experience that might help the reader going through the same situation. Write in the present tense when you want a more cinematic feel to the work or if it works for the character in your book.
4. Point of View (POV). Always be consistent when you choose which personal pronouns to use in your writing. While many authors switch from third to first person (very well), some authors are not consistent and it confuses the reader. Do you ever read a sentence or two and must re-read it? (and not because it was super interesting). If the reader is pausing in places where they shouldn’t be, then the reader may have a problem with the point of view used in their story.
A Quick Guide:
First person (I, we, me, us): This is the writer’s point of view. Use this POV for writing your autobiography. Authors can use the first person when writing self-help and inspirational books, as the reader can often relate to a personal account of the story.
Second person (you, your): This POV addresses the reader and speaks to more than one person. Use this view for email messages, presentations, business, and technical writing.
Third person (he, she, it, him, her, his, its): The POV used most often in fiction writing, academic writing, novels and papers.
5. Run-On Sentences. We are all guilty of this writing blunder but it’s an easy fix. Read your manuscript, blog, or article—out loud. Try to also read email messages; it helps to see if the message sounds like you’re rambling.
The best ways to cut sentences:
- Use a period. Split your sentence into two or more separate sentences.
- Use a semi-colon and a coordinating conjunction.
- Use a comma, and a subordinating conjunction.
By Debbie McGarry