99 Ways to Edit and Revise Anything You Write

the penThis post is a finalist in our Ultimate Guides Contest. Show your support for this, or any of the finalists by commenting, sharing and joining the conversation!

Whether you’re dashing off a blog post or slaving over your first novel, you know your finished work has to be perfect, right?

Ah, baloney.

If you’re going to wait for perfection, you’ll never publish much of anything.

We’ve all been there: agonizing over our headlines, rewriting our opening sentence or paragraph to create the perfect hook, or searching the thesaurus for exactly the right word. It’s maddening.

Here’s the cure:

Confidence beats perfection every time.

When you write, revise, edit, and proofread with speed and assurance, you’ll be able to press Publish sooner and more often.

Ready?

Hang on!  Let’s race through these tips and checklists for making your writing awesome, not “perfect!”

7 Tips for Getting Started

Does the way you approach your writing and editing matter?

You betcha it does.

While there are laws against distracted driving, writers work with distractions both internal and external all the time. For better results, give these seven tips a try.

  1. Think first — a lot — then write.
  2. Shut the door. Great writing is best done alone.
  3. Turn off the TV. Music is okay. “White noise” can help you concentrate.
  4. Pick a Style. Follow a recognized style guide to keep your writing consistent.
  5. Write it all. Whether you’re composing a blog post or a book chapter, write the whole thing before you start editing.
  6. Picture one person. While you’re writing, imagine speaking to your ideal audience of one.
  7. Wait for fancy. Hold off on formatting until later drafts.

If you try only one of those, go for #6 and see how much easier it is to find your “voice.”

7 Pointers for Fixing The Big Picture

“Big Picture” issues are potential results-killers. Maybe your approach is flawed, or your introduction lacks a strong hook, or your chapters need to be rearranged.

The key to any of these problems is collaboration. No writer is an island.

  1. Refine or refocus your outline (or storyboard) before you rewrite.
  2. Stick to one “voice” for shorter works, especially blog posts.
  3. For fiction: Apply extra attention to “show” versus “tell”. Telling is saying, “It was a lovely fall day.” Showing is done by sprinkling in key details, only as needed–the crisp, cold air or the crunch of brittle leaves underfoot.
  4. Resist using more than two ongoing points of view in novel-length manuscripts. (Example: Hero in first-person, villain in third-person)
  5. Recruit one or more beta readers. “Fresh eyes” make a huge difference.
  6. If you have more than one beta reader, save some readers for revised drafts later on (especially for novels and full-length non-fiction books).
  7. Send your drafts to beta readers in your intended final format, whether it be in digital or printed form.

Which of these seven is most important? Hands down, it’s #5.

5 “Rules” to Decide for Yourself, Since Not All Editors Agree

Writing isn’t really black and white. It is, after all, something of an “art”. If you aren’t sure about any of these 5, go with the prevailing wisdom at first.

  1. Proofread first, then revise, (OR)
  2. Revise first, then proofread. (Generally preferred)
  3. Employ a template-defined structure for blog posts.
  4. For bloggers: A good “story” beats a great List Post. (Definitely debatable!)
  5. In fiction, always avoid using prologues. (And yet, many authors use them…)

13 Tips for Revising Your Drafts

Each of these tips comes from someone who edits text for a living. Experienced editors approach their work methodically. You can, too.

Most important skill to develop is to focus on one aspect of editing at a time.

  1. Let your first draft sit and stew for at least an hour before revising.
  2. Let lengthy drafts sit for even longer interludes. Time improves your objectivity.
  3. Never settle for a single editing “once-over” — remember, Once is Not Enough.
  4. Understand the difference between “editing” and “revising.” Editing involves fixing problems with content. Revising includes making small and large structural changes.
  5. Concentrate on those “big picture” changes before minor revisions (or basic editing).
  6. Print out your digital files for better and easier editing. (Great for beta readers, too!)
  7. Read sections of your work aloud to discover phrasing and missing-word errors.
  8. Watch and listen for clichés. Use hackneyed phrases only for effect and in story dialogue — and even there, not often.
  9. Similar to #8, look out for mixed metaphors. Those happen easily when you’re writing quickly. Find them and fix them. (And never nip a problem in the butt, okay?)
  10. The Passive Voice is often boring. (See?) Find and deploy strong verbs in your writing.
  11. Edit ruthlessly, cutting out repetitive thoughts. Then do it again.
  12. Save your “deleted” thoughts for possible later use. (This actually encourages you to remove material more objectively, since you won’t view it as “gone forever.”)
  13. Remember that your spell-checking software is no substitute for editing.

Interestingly, tip #13 may be the most valuable for writers. Keep reading, and you’ll see why.

18 Tips for Polishing Structure and Grammar

We’ve covered the big picture writing trips. Most of the following sections of this post address smaller issues.

Of course, the little things add up, too. These are the points that Miss Middlebrook tried to drill into you back in Freshman English. They still matter.

  1. See #13, above. Grammar-checking software is only a stopgap measure.
  2. Divide overlong sentences into two or more sentences; do vary sentence length to improve readability.
  3. Make sure your bullet points match: verb-noun, or noun-adjective, for instance.
  4. Use contractions to carry a friendly, conversational tone.
  5. Kill the Lee family — slowly, ruthlessly, and shamelessly.
  6. At this time, we don’t recommend you use the word “currently.”
  7. In order to improve your writing, get rid of “in order to.”
  8. Determine the best verb for each sentence. Given that advice –
  9. There is no reason to use the phrase “there is” in good writing.
  10. Whenever you begin to use the phrase “start to” — stop.
  11. Careful with those sentence fragments. Just sayin’.
  12. If you do want to break some grammar rules, do so clearly and with obvious intent.
  13. To whom it may concern: Work to avoid the “whom trap”. While you’re at it –
  14. Watch for “who” versus “that.” People are “who.” Dogs and lamps are “that.”
  15. Be wary of “which” as well. “Our dog, which used to chew the lamp cord…” is correct.
  16. In dialogue, use “he[she] said” and “he[she] asked” — avoid all other fancy attributions.
  17. Whenever possible, isolate dialogue from surrounding prose. Your readers will love you for it, though they won’t know why. (This is also why we “pull quotes” in blog posts.)
  18. If you find a word-error once, use your Find tool to look for more of the same. (Or use the “always correct to …” setting, if available)

What matters most, in grammarly stuff? Read #12 again. It implies you already know the other 17.

10 Pointers for Fixing Problematic Punctuation

…with helpful and (possibly) humorous internal examples.

  1. Learn how to use commas correctly, or use more periods.
  2. Decide in advance whether or not you’ll use the Oxford comma in series. (This, that, and the other thing rather than this, that and the other thing.)
  3. For the most part, avoid the evil semi-colon; use a period instead.
  4. Important: Use the standard colon sparingly.
  5. Know the difference between the dash and the hyphen — the long and the short of it.
  6. Beware the ellipsis … it’s often used incorrectly … and you don’t need it.
  7. Stick with “double quotes” in most cases. Generally, use ‘single quotes’ only when quoting another speaker within dialogue.
  8. Don’t use double quotes for “emphasis.” That method actually suggests skepticism.
  9. Use fewer parenthetical asides (I mean it!).
  10. Go easy on the exclamation points!! (I need to write this on my monitor! In Sharpie!)

Punctuation causes endless consternation for writers. Use and trust your style guide to help ensure consistency in your writing. When in doubt — opt for period, new sentence.

10 “Filler” Words You Should Destroy Without Mercy

In most cases, you don’t need these–whether in blog posts, short fiction, or full-length works. Of course, you can use these words judiciously for emphasis or tone. Watch for repetition, most of all.

  1. just
  2. actually
  3. usually
  4. really
  5. very
  6. toward
  7. might
  8. quite
  9. that
  10. which

Some word-count or grammar-checking software includes a method to show you which words you’ve used most often. That’s a great way to find and destroy those ten words (and others).

And now, some words your spell-checker won’t catch.

16 Terrible Twosomes to Fool Your Eyes (Not “Ayes”)

One of the biggest proofreading problems for writers and editors is the mess created by homophones — words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Grammar-checking software tries to catch these, but often fails. Our eyes read write passed them. (See?)

  1. Its and it’s. It’s important. Its head hurts.
  2. Past and passed. I passed the baton as the runner raced past me.
  3. Very and vary. If you want to induce change, use vary. Notice that both have an “a.”
  4. Weather and whether. We get these mixed up only because we’re always talking about the first one. If it helps, imagine a haughty Englishman over-pronouncing the first “h,” as in “whether ’tis nobler…
  5. Threw and through. I believe you know the difference. Also, “thru” is not a real word. And watch out for “thorough.”
  6. All and awl. There is no tool called an “all.” Never was.
  7. Insure and ensure. One of the most-often misused pairs. Ensure means “to make certain.” Notice the “e” in both ensure and certain.
  8. Hall and haul. Hey, could you help me haul this box down the hall?
  9. Oral and aural. Good oral hygiene has nothing to do with aural nerve pathways.
  10. But and butt. If it hurts or it’s funny or stinky, use butt. Enough said.
  11. Cord and chord. Music has chords. Amplifiers and woodlots have cords.
  12. Foul and fowl. It’s rare to hear barnyard fowl use foul language.
  13. Minor and miner. The 16 year-old coal miner couldn’t drink, since he was a minor.
  14. Pray and prey. Better pray the foxes don’t prey on your kittens.
  15. Plum and plumb. Both good words! Plum is always a noun or a color, never a verb.
  16. Vile and vial. The stuff in that glass vial smells vile!

Even Worse! 13 Threatening Threesomes Guaranteed to Trip You Up

In the English language, three really is a crowd. Homophonic triplets can be every bit as disturbing as that phrase sounds.

Most often, only one of the three causes most of the trouble. The proliferation of texting “shorthand” has only exacerbated this linguistic mess. The best way to route these out is to learn them, cold. (Oops!)

  1. Too, to, and two. We all know this one, don’t we? Just remember that “too many” needs that extra “o”.
  2. There, they’re, and their. These three are constantly abused. If you mean “they are” then you have to use they’re, never their.
  3. Your, you’re, and yore. In days of yore, before texting, your never meant “you are”. Still doesn’t.
  4. Rain, rein, and reign. Kings reign. Notice that both words have a “g”.
  5. Sense, scents, and cents. I love this trio! Just watch out for it.
  6. Peak, peek, and pique. Often violated. Picture the two e’s in peek as a pair of binoculars. And notice the “i” in both pique and interest: “pique your interest.”
  7. Sight, site, and cite. Cite is the base for citation. Your blog is a WordPress site.
  8. Write, right, and rite. As writers, we should all know this one, cold. The only tricky one is the last — a rite of passage. “Write on!” is, however, perfectly acceptable.
  9. Meet, meat, and mete. Another tricky one. Your editor will mete out punishment if you get that wrong.
  10. Pour, poor, and pore. Again, it’s only the final variation that gets missed most often. Match the “o” and “e” in both pore and its synonym ponder. When you pour over information you destroy it!
  11. Aisle, isle, and I’ll. That one was just for fun. We all remember Gilligan’s Isle, don’t we?
  12. Not, knot, and naught. That last one means “none.” Go figure.
  13. Way, weigh, and whey. No matter which way you weigh her, Miss Muffet eats whey. Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.

Those homophone (sound-alike) pairs and triplets may be fun to play with, but they cause more manuscript errors than many of the other editing problems added together. That’s because our eyes read what we expect to see, so words that “sound” correct just slide right on by our brains.

On the other hand, misused punctuation makes the larger impression on our reputations as writers.

I know, learning proper punctuation is boring. Take pains to keep your punctuation consistent. That way, you should at least look like you know what you’re doing.

In an ideal world, every writer would have a dozen beta readers, plus an editor and a proofreader on call.

Unfortunately, you have to find and motivate beta readers — and pay editors.

For most writers, patience is your strongest ally for editing. If you approach the process methodically, you can expect to catch at least 90% of your original mistakes.

If you can include at least two diligent beta readers, you might get closer to 99%. (I had two for this post. I hope that was enough!)

In the end, there’s little sense in trying to achieve perfection, especially if your lack of perfection prevents publication. Do the best editing job you can, and then get back to writing your next masterpiece!

Your Turn

Can you add one more piece of editing advice to take us to 100?

Do you have any other favorite pairs or triplets of homophones you’d like to add?

We don't have room to list all the writers and editors who helped Jim Bessey create this post. You can find most of them hanging out together in Jim's thriving Facebook Group. Check out the top sidebar at SoWrite.Us.com to learn more.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Jim,

    I am certainly guilty of many of these writerly snafus. I just love my adverbs so very, very much (not to mention the word just). Seriously though, I mix up waste and waist for some reason, and I’ve heard breath vs. breathe is another problematic twosome.

    I like this guide, but wonder if there would be a benefit to adding a section about basic formatting. Double-spacing is obvious, but what about the proper amount of space for paragraph indenting, how much space should be left at the top of the page when starting a new chapter, and so on. What kinds of formatting errors drive editors/publishers nuts? Two spaces after a period? What others?

    • says

      You’re right, Tammy. I could have included another whole section on formatting — and doubled the length of this post! (One space after the period, for most publishers now.)
      By the way, did you know there’s a HUGE prize for First Commenter? Do you prefer hardtop or convertible?

      @Samantha: Good call! I’m often guilty of overusing words like “pretty” and “very” and “quite”. Pass the red pen, please?

  2. says

    Jim, this is a veritable tome of points which might suitably be titled How To Write: The Quintessential List Collection for Authors. Well done. A former teacher of English, I read your words with interest, even relish.
    Danny, what a great guest to have on your blog.
    Well done, both of you.
    Elaine Cougler, author of The Loyalist’s Wife.

    • says

      I’m humbled by your response, Elaine. It’s a fine day when you can properly use the word “quintessential” in a compliment.
      With the benefit of hindsight, I have the utmost respect for teachers of English. We evil students tended to treat our English instructors poorly, while giving Social Studies teachers far too much courtesy. Not sure why that is.
      Thanks very much for reading.

  3. Terence says

    How about we kill one of the most prevalent, obnoxious word mis-usages: the use of “loose” when meaning “lose”?

    Great list. Here’s hoping you win.

    Terence

    • says

      GREAT catch, Terence!
      I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen that error, even in print books from Big 6 publishers. I need to add loose/lose to the list. I’m not sure they’re true homophones, but they’re a pain in the butt, anyway. :-)

  4. Shauna L Bowling says

    Excellent post, Jim. I’d like to add one more to your list: avoid redundancies. Two phrases that irritate the hell out of me (and are used by professionals and amateurs alike) are:

    hot water heater – Why would we find it necessary to heat something if it’s already hot? The proper term is water heater.

    reduce down – Reduce means to lower or lessen. When making sauces or gravies, the liquid is reduced by boiling – not reduced reduced (the literal definition of reduced down).

    • Katharine says

      Or, “”hot water tank, Shauna. I address that one every time it comes up.

      My favorite, though, is “newly renovated”.

      Here is a tip I love to use: When going over any work, I increase the font, so it is huge. I always find a few more mistakes that way. Another method is to email it to myself.

      Changes made in such simple ways can open tired eyes to new error.

      Thanks for a great post, Jim!

      • Shauna L Bowling says

        Katherine, “newly renovated” irks me, too. Does renovate not mean to change or update (make new)?

        I’ll like your tip. I’ll have to remember that one.

        • Shauna L Bowling says

          Oops! Not only will I like your tip, I like it now! Just shows to go ya – edit before hitting the “go” button! :-)

          • Katharine says

            Oh, yes! I know the feeling and, of course, saw the blip instantly, as you hoped I would not. Heehee.
            “To renovate” means “to renew”, you are right. I mostly find that one in advertising, though, where even misspelled words are acceptable. She sighs.
            Thanks for your kind comments!

    • says

      I think you have a topic worthy of entire post, Shauna — and Katharine!
      I’m also fascinated by the need to modify verbs with “up” or “down”. Which leads to interesting situations, like when “beat up” and “beat down” seem to mean the same actions.
      If I was even funnier than I already try to be, and far more creative, I’d love to write a whole essay about ups, downs, and redundancies like you listed.

      PS: How about “pre-enjoyed” or “pre-owned”? What was wrong with “used” in the first place?

      • Shauna L Bowling says

        Jim, the use of too many words to say something simple is a way of glorifying something mundane. Yeah, what’s wrong with “used”? When we were growing up my brother’s job was to take out the garbage. My mom called him the “sanitation engineer”. Ha ha. I’m sure it didn’t make my brother appreciate the job (or the title).

        • says

          I remember that whole “sanitation engineer” thing, Shauna! Ahh, those were the days…

          How about “administrative assistant”? Does that title come with higher pay? Should cabinet posts be “Administrative Assistant of Defense” (and so on)?

          “Glorifying something mundane” sounds like a job for an imaginative writer! :-)

    • says

      My mom was always obsessive about “those ones.” It’s more often said than written, I’d imagine, but all you need to say is “those.” Plus, if it’s “one”, why is it plural?

  5. says

    Jim, this is an amazingly thorough list. The English language does present it’s obstacles.

    Not sure if it’s listed here, didn’t see it, but “was” is another word to keep in check.

    I once revised a short story and removed about 95% of the word ‘was.’ It WAS and interesting exercise. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Rick says

    Great post!!! I mean… Good post? I should re–reed it.
    My favorite tip is to read whatever it is you are writing aloud.

    One tip that has helped me is to read from the end to the beginning. It helps to catch spelling errors, punctuation issues, and especially words that have been doubled. For me the most common is: to to.

    My personal goal is to never use the word paradigm. Except just then.

    Rick

    • says

      You and I seam to share a similar cents of humor, Rick. :-)

      I’ve heard that tip about reading backwards, but have never tried it. I had to smile at your mention of “to to” — I’ve definitely seen that in print before.

      OK, so what’s wrong with paradigm? Come on, tell us!

      • Rick says

        For me, the use of the word has moved it into the realm of finger nails on a chalkboard. It is overused and oversold. It may shift, move, be the Rio iPod to up pp press

        • Rick says

          (That is what happens when I use my phone to reply.) It may be the word thrown into a discussion with the hopes that the user can validate his opinion. Shift the paradigm and find another word for paradigm. Oops.

          • says

            Ahh, got it, Rick!
            I remember the first time I heard an instructor refer to “a new paradigm” I misheard it as “a new pair o’ dimes”.
            That was very confusing. :-)

  7. says

    Great article! I hope I can remember all of these but few points that I really liked and thus retained were – recruit some editors, read out-loud and let the piece sit and brew. thank you!

      • says

        Ha! thanks Jim. How I find beta readers – I usually try to give my writing for review to people who I know read a lot. They have a general sense of whether the story is flowing or not, or if I am ending things abruptly or there is not enough information about something etc. Also I ask them if they thought I came across as someone trying too hard :)
        I have not been writing too long, I am like a new born in the field of writing but i am an avid reader and advertising professional so my narrative gets help from that -I think.

  8. says

    Jim, this was a fun read! I enjoyed how you shared how to write and pointed out tips from sprucing up our writing. Do you have a book? I’d love to purchase it as a reference tool if you do.

    • says

      Thanks for your kind offer, Marcie!
      I’m putting the finishing touches on a companion handout called Proofreading Perils, which now includes over 75 homophone pairs and triplets. Trouble is, readers keep sending me new ones to include. :-)
      If you’d like to have your own copy of that when it’s done (end of this month), please contact me via FB or my website.

  9. louisa212 says

    Wow! Very thorough! I found your 18 tips for polishing structure and grammar particularly illuminating. As an aside, I feel sure I am not the only one nervous about posting this comment in case I break some of the rules in your article! :-/

    • louisa212 says

      At school I remember doing a great exercise called “Getting Rid of Get”. There are so many meanings for the word and it can almost always be replaced with a better one.

    • says

      You made me laugh, Louisa!
      Imagine how nervous I am, as I read and respond to all of these wonderful comments. I don’t have the ability to edit my own replies, so each time I click “Post” I wince.

      I’ve never come across that “Get” exercise. It’s a good one! “Get” is also another of those words often modified by “up” or “down” — and quite a few more, come to think of it. Now you’ve made me want to look back on some of my earlier posts. :-)

  10. Jeanine says

    I hear this so often: safety deposit box, instead of safe deposit box. It is a box in a safe.

    Thank you all for your help.

    • says

      Oh no, Jeanine!
      Now I’m worried that I’ve made that faux paux. I had to read your comment twice to realize the difference.

      One of the most interesting errors similar to that one is the author who had his characters checking their “review mirror” for bad guys chasing them. I thought it was a simple typo until the third repetition.

      Do you have any more tricky ones like your example? Sounds like a fun blog post topic for editors!

  11. says

    As someone who edits posts for my clients on a fairly regular basis, I was overjoyed to read this post. I kept nodding my head and going “yep, seen that one” and “oh yeah, seen that too.”

    In fact, maybe I’ll bookmark this and send it out as part of my onboarding materials . . .

    Thanks for the great work, Jim!

    P.S. I don’t know why, but this line cracks me up every time. “Know the difference between the dash and the hyphen — the long and the short of it.”

    • says

      I have discovered that some browsers and email readers can display a hyphen correctly, but turn a dash into a string of characters. So I never use hyphens any more. Very useful article and intelligent commentaries. Thanks, everyone.

    • says

      You’re too sweet, Felicity!

      I’m glad you found this bookmark-worthy. I’ve even happier that I managed to get a laugh from at least one reader. Heaven knows I try too hard sometimes. :-)

      @Edie — Now you made ME laugh with your second reply! I once read a great post that carefully detailed the differences between the hyphen, the en-dash, and the em-dash — even to the point of noting how different word processing software and browsers display them.
      I really should go back and find that post, because I’m sure I violate the dash-rules fairly often. I’m a dash lover; I admit it.
      Do you have any good suggestions for getting around the dash-use-display issue? I’m all ears, believe me.

  12. says

    A bit of advice from George Orwell, which turned up in an email from Drayton Bird this AM:

    1. Never use a long word rather than a short one
    2. Always cut a word out if you can
    3. Avoid expressions you are used to seeing in print
    4. Do not use jargon or cliches
    5. Use the active rather than the passive”

    • says

      One more thought….well, two actually. When hunting words to eliminate many text and word editing softwares have a “find” option you can choose to hunt down words or phrases. This is usually under”edit” in the top bar. It will pop up a box or toolbar where you can enter the word/phrase and then search the document for it.

      More words to cut out or evaluate closely for better “action” in your writing. These come courtesy of Jim Edwards book, – Turn Words Into Traffic – which is quite outdated on some counts but has some jewels like these:
      am
      are
      is
      were
      was
      be
      been
      have
      has
      had

      • says

        Thanks for adding those editing tips, Dave!

        Have you seen the late Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules for Writers”? His list goes along beautifully with what you’ve quoted here. In fact, I’ll have to look that up again.

        Of the five you listed, which do find is the most difficult to put into action in your writing?

  13. Kim Goldsworthy says

    Standard practices for newspapers do not match standard practices for books when it comes to the possessive apostrophe. AP Stylebook says that words which end in the letter S take only the possessive apostrophe. But in books, the practice is that it makes no difference: if a word ends in S or SS or X, as you are to add the possessive S regardless. But both applications have many exceptions to that rule, like for classical names, biblical names, and corporate names. So there cannot be a soundbite rule for the possessive apostrophe. Garner’s Modern American Usage article chew up thousands of words on this subject, describing its fifteen (!) exceptional cases.

    • says

      You’ve made a strong case for consulting the appropriate style guide for each venue, Kim. Making sure you’re following the right one in different places can be frustrating. And why are there always “exceptions”? :-)

      Where is Garner’s Modern American Usage generally applied? I’m not familiar with that one.

  14. Kenda Marks says

    Reading backwards is a good way to catch some easily missed errors. You still need to edit forwards to catch the two-somes, three-somes, and punctuation but this method helps to disconnect you from thinking about the content and prevents our inner auto-correct.

    • says

      Have you found that you can avoid skimming by reading backwards, Kim? I wonder if I’d have the patience to use that excellent editing advice. Would you recommend doing that one paragraph at a time, or more than that?

  15. Coco says

    I tend to obsess and labor over my writing to the point of making it a whole lot of no fun. So I have recently learned the skill of writing without stopping and then going back to proof, edit, and revise later instead of laboring over everything all at once.

    What a relief.

    But I’m horrified when I then see things like ‘sole’ when I meant ‘soul’ or ‘heel’ when I meant ‘heal.’ I have this vision of myself as one who knows very well the correct word to use, thank you very much!

    This new approach is indeed freeing and much, much quicker, yet I feel a lot like Anne Lamott when she worries that she’ll succumb to death’s call before she gets to revise her “shitty first draft,” and that everyone will then know what a dreadful writer she is after all. It’s risky to let go of the notion that I ought to be able to produce perfect prose in one sitting, yet now I’m getting a helluva lot more writing done.

    p.s. A shout-out to the Oxford comma: I don’t care what anyone else says, I love you, man. I know I’ve all but abandoned the two-spaces-after-a-period rule because of other people’s druthers, but I’m sticking with you no matter what anyone else says.

    • says

      I think we’re solemates, Coco! :-)
      Everything you’ve said rings true for me, both in the value and the frustration of trying to avoid perfectionism. I’ll bet that you and I are in pretty good company. We could probably form a support group and fill a whole bunch of folding chairs.
      I like the way you express yourself, Coco. Track me down if you might be interested in guest posting about this.

    • says

      That’s a great quote, Debashish, thanks!
      I can picture his mantra burned into a weathered wooden sign decorated in a seafaring motif.

      Now here’s the key question: Have you tried that method and proved out its value? :-)

      • says

        I’d like to have one of those weathered wooden signs too. :)
        I have used that method to get really good results. Letting my written articles percolate for a few hours/days has helped me to balance passion and brevity.

  16. says

    Great post – thank you Jim! I didn’t see the famous advice ‘show, don’t tell,’ which is a hard one. I would also add, if the story or post still works without a certain sentence (or even paragraph), take it out.

    I always say writing is an art AND a craft. The art is you creating the story or idea in your head and writing it all down. Once that’s done, the craft is editing, revising, and honing it to be the best it can be. So definitely don’t edit while you’re creating, and don’t think your writing is rubbish just because it needs crafting afterwards – that’s your talent working too.

    • says

      I’m almost certain “show don’t tell” was in there, fairly early where it may have been easy to miss. It’s a long post. :-)

      You’ve made a great point about art versus craft. Self-publishing, whatever the genre and type, has seen its reputation tarnished by too many writers who fell short on the craft end of it. Even inspired art needs professional presentation to achieve its full potential.

  17. Katina Vaselopulos says

    Amazing post, Jim! A extensive collection of great tips, all of which I will keep close by and make use of. Too bad I did not know all these a couple of years ago!
    Thank you, Jim for put it togeter!
    Thank you, Danny for bringing it to me!
    I appreciate you guys!

    • says

      Thanks, Katina. I also wish I had known many of these when I first started freelancing. I’ve since learned to pay close attention to my editors, and to my friends who are writers. Amazing what you can learn just by paying attention. :-)

      My thanks go out to Danny, too, for hosting this guest post!

  18. says

    (1) I am an ellipsis “super freak” … intentionally! I’ll read a bit more on this for clarity, since you don’t offer it here.

    (2) How might I have added emphasis to “super freak” without the double quotes?

    (3) For sentences ending with a quote, I’ve seen the period placed both inside and outside the end quote. Which is correct?

    Jim, this is an Excellent! post. (Okay, so I fudged a little with exclamation point.) I see why you’re a finalist. Had I a vote, it would be yours!

    • says

      Wow, Sheila, you hit on 3 of the most lively and tangled discussions we had in SoWrite’s FB writers group during my research for this post!

      Many long posts exist out there for each of your questions. I’ll insert my own brief take for each:

      1. Use the ellipsis sparingly, not as a substitute for the em-dash. Best use of it indicates a passage of time or thought.
      2. I don’t think “super freak” needs emphasis, since your intended meaning is perfectly clear. Italics are very handy for adding emphasis, as is underlining. Double-quotes flag the phrase inside them as somehow different or unusual.
      3. Period inside the quote is typical in the USA. However, there are so many special situations and exceptions, it’s almost absurd. I’ve seen posts of over 2,000 words which attempt to cover only that single question! :-)

      Thank you very much for your vote, which you cast by taking the time to comment. And thanks for daring to add that exclamation point!

      • says

        Jim, I appreciate answers to my questions and directions to get more.

        I’m going to offer my “Congrats!” now. It’s difficult for me to imagine a more instructive, comprehensive and amusing treatment of the tips and checklists presented in your post.

        Your generosity in both the post and feedback responses is impressive and appreciated. Your voice, particularly in responses to readers, strikes me as silky smooth and “easy like Sunday morning.”

        While the judges aren’t looking for these qualities, they make your post a more pleasant read. Hopefully, this will lock down the number one spot for you. Thanks a bunch!

  19. says

    Hi Jim!

    Thank you for a wonderful post with so many tips. My weakness is that I revise and edit at the same time. It gets confusing sometimes, yet I find that even with the mindset of doing them one at a time…I slip into doing them simultaneously. I’m also a ‘filler word junkie’ so your list is a great advantage. I’ll refer to this often. Thanks so much.

    • says

      Me, too, Lynn!
      I’m right there with you on both of your concerns. Maybe we both should try Hemingway’s advice to “Write drunk, edit sober” (borrowed from an earlier commenter, thanks!).

      If you come across a safer solution, please let me know. :-)

  20. says

    I find the overuse of the word “that” an imposition on the flow, and then at other times its absence causes confusion in the full meaning of the sentence. Also, “that” vs. “which” has become more misused. According to Strunk and White, The Elements of Style: “The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage.” (Tells which one.) “The law mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question.)

    And two more redundant phrases I frequently cringe when I hear on nationally broadcast news are “…reflect back on…” and “…continued on with the …”

    • says

      Well said, Martha!

      I think much of the who/that/which trouble can be attributed to the more casual way we use all three words in conversation.
      As for the way newscasters often mangle the language, that’s a losing battle. Broadcasters like to achieve a rhythm to their words, sometimes without regard to the rules of good grammar.
      I hope you were able to fix that lawnmower. (Great examples, thanks!)

  21. Mary Alice says

    As an editor and proofreader, I (heartily) approve of this post. Reading aloud works best for me when I’m editing my own work. However, I’ve found it’s quite difficult to proof my own writing, because I know what it’s supposed to say.

    My pet peeve is it’s and its used incorrectly (so I read through this several times before posting).

    I just thought of another tip. Plural nouns NEVER have apostrophes before or after the s. That’s another major peeve of mine that I see too often.

    • says

      Absolutely, about the use of it’s and its, Mary Alice. That has to be one of the top 5 common errors. I doubt any of us get it right 100% of the time.

      Now, I think you may have caught me out with your rule about plural nouns. Are you saying that the possessive case for plural nouns is indicated only by context and never by using an apostrophe? So, “writers’ group” would be incorrect? Or am I misreading your rule?

      • Mary Alice says

        I wasn’t talking about possessive case. I meant just regular plurals. For instance, the other day a friend had put a caption on a photo. It read The Fort Bayard Burro’s in the 1920′s. Both are incorrect! And it was laminated with the photo, so she had to totally redo it.

        Writers’ group is absolutely correct. That’s another place where apostrophes are not used correctly. In error, some would put writer’s group, which is simply not possible. One writer does not make a group.

        I LOVE grammar and proofreading – diagramming sentences was such fun in fifth grade.

        Our daughters call me a pedant. I had to laugh when the older one corrected me one day when I had used less when I should have used fewer. I raised them well. :-)

        • Katharine says

          Mary Alice,
          You reminded me of my only daughter. She and I have the same type of fun. One common corrections we share, we’ve named the “-ly”. So often, after someone speaks, using an adverb that should have had the -ly ending, we just add it–quietly–to his speech, share a smile, and feel good about our secret.

    • Lisa R says

      I have taught college writing for six years now. When I started, I was amazed at the number of college students who incorrectly spelled the plural and possessive.” I have two cats.” might be written “I have two cat’s.” Similarly, “my cat’s tail” would be “my cats tail.” If writers have this problem, I would encourage them to learn the correct forms now.

      Another favorite of mine regarding easily confused words: definitely and defiantly. I once read a paper that said ” X is defiantly my best friend.” My immediate response as a reader was “If that is so, it’s time to get a new best friend.”

      • Mary Alice Murphy says

        I don’t know about you, but every day when I read articles, books, newspapers, see ads and anything written, I am appalled at the lack of grammatical knowledge of people today. The use of absolutely wrong words, as in your definitely and defiantly example, is rampant. I blame much of it on spell check, but some is just plain ignorance.

        • Lisa R says

          I blame a lot spelling problems on the fact that many people just don’t read anymore. At least some spelling errors can be due to people only hearing words and not seeing them written. In normal speech we leave out sounds and even syllables, so trying to spell words based on how you pronounce them or hear them pronounced won’t work. I still remember the example of one of my favorite linguistics professors, Dr. Kenneth Pike: Jinjoyit? (Did you enjoy it?) “Ed had edited it,” is an even better example. Try saying that with a normal speech pattern and listen to how it comes out.
          Many say the extensive use of texting has ruined our ability to write, but I rarely saw text language in students writing. However, an alarming trend popped up in the last two semesters I taught: students were leaving off the articles a, an, and the. These are quite common in English, especially American English, so it is another area where writers should carefully check their work.

          • Mary Alice Murphy says

            I have a freelancer working for me, who is young. She does show texting language when she writes for me. I’ve broken her of some of the habit, but it’s still there. But she does a job for my online news source that nobody else wants to do, so I hope she keeps wanting to contribute.

            She is trying to learn, which is to her credit. She admits she was bored in English class when she was in school.

  22. Katharine says

    Hi, Jim!
    Great job here. My big downfall is overuse of exclamation points and other “word art”, as Mary Demuth called it. I also often miss when auto-correct is sneaking up on me and don’t always know how to make it stop, as you can see.
    My pet peeves are the split infinitive, the dangling participle, and overuse of “up”, except in the great Dr.’s wonderful Great Day for Up!
    Anything that trips the reader should be a primary target for revision. Fixing the split infinitive will not trip the illiterate reader, but leaving it will make the literate reader look for a red pen, or worse, a blue one.
    The dangling participle, though, often causes every reader to burst into laughter, which only works if the book is about humorous dangling participles.
    Passive sentences belong in instructional matter and almost nowhere else, to soften the choppy sound of constant imperatives. An occasional passive, to push the emphasis to the receiver, sometimes is the better choice, though.
    This was a fun read. Thanks for all the work I know you put into it!

    • says

      You’ve hit on some of the coolest grammar goofs, Katharine.

      You clearly have a strong command of the language and of smart editing. Now I want examples from you!

      I think you have plenty of material here for an entire post. That might be fun for you to put together. (hint, hint)

  23. Julia Reffner says

    Helpful post! The two that have helped me most are having critique groups (such as RWA–not to be confused with Romance Writers of America) and reading my work aloud.

    The other thing that has helped me the most with the rough draft part is setting 1K/1hr goal. And using social media to keep track of it, twitter #1k1hr. Little thing but it has helped get my speed up.

    • says

      I hadn’t heard about your 1K/1hr goal before, Julia. We should talk more about that during the next RWA meeting, unless of course we have to reschedule due to horrid winter weather in upstate NY.
      When I first read your reply, I thought briefly that your stated goal was $1K/1hr. THAT idea certainly grabbed my attention, esp’y if you were hitting that goal! :-)
      I’m so glad that you find our twice-monthly writers’ meetings helpful. Which do you feel is the larger benefit — group accountability, or having your writing critiqued?

  24. says

    Helpful and humorous post, Jim. I will print it out and paste it on my wall behind my computer. Despite having studied similar writing rules, I still make many of these mistakes in first drafts.

    I must strike the word “just” from my vocabulary.

    Here’s one of my pet peeves: whether or not. “Or not” is understood and redundant.

    • says

      You’ve added an interesting point, Jagoda.
      I had to think about it for a minute; now I’m sure of my own guilt in using “whether or not.” Can we chalk it up to idiom? I have to smile about it, having made mention of the quote, “…whether ’tis nobler…” in this post.
      Right beside you regarding “just” — and very, and really, too. We probably use these modifiers in conversation all the time, without finding them offensive. Tough to remember to leave them behind when we’re writing.
      Thanks for adding fresh insight to this discussion.

    • says

      Glad you liked it, Raymond!
      I think that you supplied at least one third of our original (much longer) list of troublesome homophone pairs and triplets. Thanks for the laughs we shared in the process.
      Aside to readers: I also have to thank Raymond for helping me learn the high value of collaboration. Working together, we both learned things about our writing that I don’t believe we’d have likely discovered otherwise.

  25. says

    Well done, Jim. And congrats for putting this post together. I have to say I am guilty of those ten filler words that can slip into any writing with ease and stay there unnoticed. That was the part that caught my interest the most.

    I’m currently editing my book draft – First edit. I’ve saved this page so I’ll have these handy tips ready for immediate reference. Thanks for putting this together for us. Timely and very helpful.

    • says

      From my experience, Mandy, you’re most guilty of spending too much time helping other writers find ways to earn money for their efforts! :-)
      Best of luck with your upcoming book. I’m glad you found this post useful for editing and revising your draft. Are you writing a novel, or crafting a non-fiction work?

      • says

        LOL Guilty as charged, Jim, but then I’m still trying to figure out what my ulterior motive is in trying to help other writers. :) However, I can’t think of anything specific, other than it gives me great delight in encouraging others to believe in themselves and ‘write’. According to me, a writer’s journey can be very lonely and tedious, but with a bit of encouragement it can be fun and adventurous, taking us ALL places.

        Currently I’m working on a Children’s Book named ‘Tambalacoque’ which was written in November 2012 and set aside for a better time; for when I was finally ready to edit my work (which in now, apparently). This is my first novel and so I’m very excited to be working on this. Most of my writing career I never actually believed I could be a storyteller, but there are a few good friends who have gently nudged me in this direction. I’ve already decided on the publisher I hope to work with and so what remains is my part of first editing my drafts well. Thanks for asking, Jim. :) I could use all the support and encouragement possible to motivate me to keep at it.

  26. says

    Hey Jim, I found your post not only interesting but entertaining, you’ve made me smile several times, and I’d really enjoy reading it again, and learning a lot more. Thanks a lot for this clever post!

    • says

      Thanks for appreciating my sometimes feeble attempts at grammarly humor, Carlos!
      Your compliment matters: If an informative post isn’t also entertaining, the writer risks losing his/her readers along the way, no matter how helpful the post might be.

    • says

      Hey, Lindsey — great to see you here!
      I met you about a year ago right here on Firepole during the first Scavenger Hunt. I’m very glad you enjoyed this post, no matter if you decide to toss out both baby and bathwater.
      Once you know the rules, you can choose to violate or ignore them as you see fit. :-)

  27. GMF53 says

    Great article. I am in the process of writing two books, and find your thoughts very helpful. You have answered a number of questions I had about my writing style. Thanks.

  28. says

    You covered the topic in great detail. So much good information! As a former editor in the newspaper industry one of my editing pet peeves is the use of redundant word phrases. I don’t recall any of these filler phrases mentioned in previous comments: advance warning, dark night, brief moment, completely full, ultimate goal, invited guests, cash money. The list is never-ending. These are all “totally unnecessary”. He he!

    I think one of the most important points you covered is recruiting beta readers to review your draft–and final manuscript. My rule of thumb is have at least two sets of fresh eyes proof the text. Oh, and the overuse of cliches is another great tip. Thanks for the post!

    • says

      Wow, thanks, Lisa!
      I love your list of redundant phrases. Those would have been fun to include in this post, if only I had thought of that tangent. This may well be a blind spot for me, since I’m probably guilty of using all but “cash money” at one time or another. As kids, we thought “bare naked” was perfectly correct!

      Good beta readers can help writers find and fix an almost infinite combination of style, story, and grammatical errors. Of course, great editors serve the same function; but they generally prefer to be paid for their efforts. :-)

  29. Marlene says

    Hi Jim,
    A great post. I say this because I enjoyed it and one of the reasons for this is the conversational tone that it had. You did not said anything new but the tone kept me reading!
    I read most of the comments , but I have a lot of other readings to cover so I had to stop. I saw a mistake ( I could be wrong) when you used the term’ seam’ instead of’ seems’ , in one of your response item. In the light of the contest I think it should be addressed.
    All the best .
    Marlene McPherson

    • says

      Thanks, Marlene. You have a good eye!
      You were probably skimming, and tripped over a line I offered in response to another commenter. I said something like “we seam to be solemates” — using homophones for both seem and soul because the commenter had mentioned a couple more pairs of sound-alikes.
      But you’re right: one of the trickiest parts of commenting on an editing post is trying to avoid making errors, since none of us can edit our replies. Good catch, and happy reading, Marlene!

  30. says

    Jim all I can say about that is WOW! Now I understand what “epic shit content” is. I asked Danny the other day to tell me the real meaning of “ESC” and he said “epic content” is just content that is highly, highly valuable to the people that you want to reach. Well sir in my opinion you hit the nail right on the head here because I wasn’t going to read it at first but I’ve read everyone else’ so I dove in. What a surprise as I was reading the first thing that came to mind was Mrs. Rucker my forth grade English Teacher she was so boring I nearly died in that class. I’m 61 and for you to bring up memories that far back is amazing in its self. I’d of learned a lot more if she’d of taught like you just wrote. All I can say now sir is Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! Excellent job.

    Gregory Henderson

    • says

      WOW! back atcha, Gregory. You just made my day, thanks!

      The whole “epic shit” concept scares the poop outa me most of the time. “How could I ever measure up to THAT?” I wonder, while stifling my creative self in the process.

      I love that this worked for you. I’m sure Mrs. Rucker did the best she could, given the system at the time. Just remember what happened to Robin Williams’ character (English teacher John Keating) in “Dead Poets Society” when he tried to buck the curriculum as dictated. He got fired.

  31. says

    I’m almost certain “show don’t tell” was in there, fairly early where it may have been easy to miss. It’s a long post. :-)

    You’ve made a great point about art versus craft. Self-publishing, whatever the genre and type, has seen its reputation tarnished by too many writers who fell short on the craft end of it. Even inspired art needs professional presentation to achieve its full potential.

  32. Dennis Goss says

    Thanks for all of the great tips. Do you have a recommnedation on what to begin tackling first when editing your first draft?

    • says

      Hey Dennis, great question!

      Friends of mine who edit books for a living say to avoid proofreading when you’re revising, because it distracts you from … revising!
      First round, make sure you’ve strung your ideas together the way you intended, whether in plotting or as outlined for non-fiction. In other words: does your narrative WORK?
      Either at the same time, or in another round of editing, slash unneeded words, cliches, poor constructions, redundancies, adverbs, extra adjectives, filler words, and so on. Delete with delight!
      Just make sure you’re saving some of what you delete, or have Revisions records available, in case you get overzealous in the process. :-)

      Does that sound like a workable approach for the way you prefer to self-edit, Dennis?

  33. says

    Great post Jim,
    I too like to set my writing to the side for a bit before proofing and editing. There’s a fresh outlook I guess, but it really seems to make a difference when I go back and see the things that I have and haven’t given time to “rest”. Keep up the good advice.
    Best wishes,

    Gerald Dlubala

    • says

      I’ll try, Gerald.
      Do you ever find yourself laughing out load at something you wrote a day or more earlier, thinking, “um, did I really write THAT?!”?
      Or even better, have you ever read something you wrote a week or more ago, and been surprised by words you don’t remember putting together? :-)

  34. Carol Gyzander says

    Jim, I love this post for all the various ways you share to approach the task – and the humor!

    But I think the best part of all is the idea that we can never make it perfect, and we just have to do our best within a reasonable window.

    My favorite phrase from back at college: “Done is good.”

    • says

      Aww, thanks, Carol.
      I’m so happy that you and three other readers found my post humorous!
      You’re also the first commenter to mention the point I offered in this post’s intro, about seeking perfection. So many of us suffer the perils of perfectionism (me, me, me!).
      “Done is good” is a GREAT motto, thanks for that!

  35. Helen says

    I know I’ll be referring to this post, thanks Jim, it’s comprehensive and a pleasure to read! Since you ask, and I really had to think of one – I have one more pair of homophones to add – which and witch.

    • says

      Hey, that’s great, Helen — thanks!
      How did I miss that pair? I’ve always loved, “which witch is which?”. (Also love the Mondegreen, “And to the Republic, for witches stands…”)
      Thanks for adding to the list, Helen!

  36. says

    A truly Ultimate Guide, Jim! This is fantastic.

    My nightmare when editing for clients is the repeated use of a word that isn’t *quite* what the writer thinks they wrote. For example, I had one client who always wrote “irrelevant” when he meant “irreverent”. Or just imagine if you’d accidentally called homophones “homophobes” throughout this post!

    • says

      LOL, you nailed that one, Sophie!
      I actually DID worry I’d make that slip and never catch it. Thank heavens for my beta readers, one of whom is a paid editor. They gave me peace of mind on that account.

      Back when I thought I was smarter than it turns out I am, I used to use the word “irregardless” in formal conversations. Imagine my chagrin when one brave friend finally muttered, “no such word, Jim.” :-(
      I still struggle with immigrate and emigrate…
      If you decide to write a post about mis-imagined words like your example, Sophie, I’d love to read that.

  37. says

    Awesome post Jim! Thanks a lot!
    About perfectionism: It’s evil and wrong! English is not my native language and in my first work I made a mistake (or an error) about every 80 words. I’m not much better now.
    But still my booklets are published and they are serving my readers well.

    What a deep mine of English knowledge! So there is a difference between a dash and a hyphen, you say? Interesting… I need to google that.
    What is an ellipsis? Is it conscious omission of a word, as my dictionary is suggesting?
    [and yeah, it's how bad I am regarding English; all you perfectionists should be ashamed]

    Some questions from my own experience:
    - I wrote a fitness book; what is the proper form “pushups” or “push ups”? The same goes with chinups and pullups.
    - I wrote a book about home teaching and both me and my American friend didn’t know what is the proper form of multiple instances of the same grade: Bs? B’s? “B”s? We went for “B’s” (with double quotes).

    I’m not going to bookmark this post. I saved it in Readability. I’ll print it. Study it. Make the notes. Memorize.
    And I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more ways to utilize it.
    Once again thanks a lot Jim.

    • says

      Bravo for you, Michal!
      You are an inspiration to me. I love that you’re willing to jump clear of the pony to grab the brass ring, and are damned proud of that courage.
      You said, “all you perfectionists should be ashamed” and made me laugh aloud at your pure, honest appraisal. :-)
      Any good proofreader and/or editor can help you clean up the little things like those examples you offered (push-ups looks right to me; Bs and Cs are probably correct, though they look funny — consult any style guide for help with those two). As long as YOU are the one with ideas, wisdom, insight, and determination — those are the qualities of leadership.

      Hyphens connect words. Dashes connect thoughts. Ellipses show an omission of some sort: time, a step, a thought, etc.

      Those are all little things in the end. What’s your next book, Michal?

      • says

        Thanks Jim,
        I started a book about internet marketing, but I got lost after about 8k words. It’s so ample subject! So I started the work from the beginning, I’m working on the outline, it’s already 3k words long and I think I’ll finish at 5k.
        So it won’t be ready within next 3-5 months. I publish mostly on Amazon and this platform loves consistency, so I guess I’ll publish 2 more short works (about 10k) in the meantime. The first will be about overcoming shyness by talking to strangers. The second… well, I have a dozen ideas ;)

  38. Marcy McKay says

    Wow, Jim. Are you a former English professor, or what? Really informative and well written. I write both fiction and non-fiction and need to decide a clearer “audience of once.” Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Marcy, very nice to meet you!
      I once dated a lovely girl (just 17 at the time) whose last name was McKay, though it’s unlikely you’re related. The closest I came to “English professor” was “journalism minor” in college. I wish I had made that “major” instead, because I still adore the newspaper business in all its faded glory.
      But thanks for asking, thanks for reading, and thanks for finding something valuable to you in the process. Happy writing!

  39. says

    I love this post. Bookmarking it so I have this wisdom at the ready when I start and finish a blog post. I have so many bad habits. ARG! Anyway, thanks for putting this in a comprehensive list…and if any of the contributors wants to have a beta reader, I’m raising my hand. :)

    • says

      Glad you found this useful, Summer!
      Simply KNOWING you have some bad habits is a great start. Then you can at least laugh at yourself when you revise your first drafts.
      Thanks for offering to be a beta reader, too. While this might sound easy at first glance, your offer is generous and valuable to writers who end up networking with you. I treasure my beta readers — the more brutally honest, the better! :-)

    • says

      Thanks, Mary Alice!
      Funny to think that editing is something you can “love,” isn’t it? But there’s a thrill to helping writers polish their work.
      What sort of editing do you do? Do you have a preferred genre?

      • Mary Alice Murphy says

        Mostly non-fiction. I have a couple of Internet marketers that I regularly edit their essays, but I’ve also done full-length books for friends and those referred to me. Plus, I own/edit and report for my local online news source, so I edit news releases and submissions by freelancers. I also edit my own reporting, but often miss things there. :-( If I edited fiction, I would have to read the whole thing first and then go back and read for errors. ;0 I always want to know how they turn out!

  40. says

    Jim, this is such a delight. and this cutting makes me appreciate the beauty of language all over again:

    Rain, rein, and reign.
    Sense, scents, and cents.
    Peak, peek, and pique.
    Sight, site, and cite.

    Loved your quips on how to decide which to use.

    • says

      You picked out four of my favorite triplets, Christine.
      I’ve seen examples from each of those sets used incorrectly in self-published books. I’m glad you liked my little quips — that’s how I drum things into my own head, so I hope some of them work for other writers, too.
      Good luck with your upcoming guest post, Christine. I hope it goes well and you have fun with it. Keep in touch.

  41. says

    SUBSTANTIAL, Jim.

    This is an excellent resource. I’m keeping it. It’s going into my *notes* for ever. (intended)

    In addition to useful, you’ve managed to create an article about editing that’s actually fun to read! Congratulations.

    • says

      The fact that you enjoyed this and felt it worthy of keeping means a lot to me, Gary.

      You are one of those treasured beta readers I alluded to earlier. In fact, you offered some pointed criticisms of this post’s second draft. Your feedback made this a better and more useful post. Thank you, sincerely, for that!

    • says

      Cool! Thanks for adding the “where” triplet, Jay.
      I think I may have missed that one, or listed it as a pair instead. I have a much larger “master list” of those, which astute readers like you keep adding to.
      “There and their” are without question one of the top 5 homophonic mix-ups.

  42. Lisa R says

    Some writers feel that good spelling and grammar are not important, but readers will judge you, in part, based on these things even if they do it subconsciously. (As Purdue’s OWL states it: “Too many careless grammar mistakes cast doubt on your character as a writer.” owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/04/) If all you had to go on was their signs, would you trust these authors: “Respect are country. Speak English” “No more youth in Asia.” (Read it quickly and think about it.) and “Get a brain, morans.” These are extreme, but I hope you get the point.
    If you consistently use poor grammar and spelling, readers may feel either you don’t know enough to write correctly (and then then may question if you know enough about your topic), or they may feel that you don’t care enough to write correctly (which indicates you don’t care enough about your readers).

    • says

      Wow, Lisa — you’ve written a more powerful introduction to my post than I did, thanks! :-)
      I LOVE your misspelled signs, too. I mean, really: how could anyone think Asia could get by without the contributions of its youth? (Yup, I had to read it twice, as you suggested. -smile-)
      Your conclusions are spot-on, based solely on my own experience. I have several authors marked in my notes as “avoid” simply because their ebooks were riddled with typographical errors. Once your count climbs above 1 error per (appx) 10,000 words, I’m done with you. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but my brain can’t handle the distraction.
      Thanks for adding your insights to this discussion. Lisa!

  43. says

    Well done! Great post! The error I see often these days is the use of ‘then’ instead of ‘than’. I hate that. Then there’s ‘could of, should of, might of and must of’ instead of writing ‘have’ in each of those cases. I have a couple of other editing tips. Run a ruler down the page to make sure you read every line. The eye like to jump ahead. Also, print the document out in a different font and proofread it in a different location. This makes the brain see it in a different light.

    • says

      These are GREAT editing tips, Dr Natalenko!
      Thanks for adding them here. I’ve never seen your suggestion of printing the doc out in a different font before — that’s a cool idea. I wished I could of thought of that one! (LOL, sorry, that’s one of my pet peeves, too. You made me laugh when I read it.)
      Good catch, noticing your own Comment typo. :-) Are you a professional editor?

      • says

        To answer your question, Jim, I am a professional editor – and I teach editing, too :) I’m glad you liked my tips. I don’t know about you, but another mistake I hate is ‘a lot’ written as one word.

    • Lisa says

      Oh my goodness, Rie, how could I have forgotten to mention the then/than problem. It is rampant. As a reminder, “then” answers the question “when?” Both “when” and “then” contain “hen,” and both indicate time.

  44. Tina Shafer says

    Loved the article! Gotta add my pet peeve. As a Holistic Healthcare Provider I wish I had a dollar for every time I saw another professional write complimentary in place of complementary. Grrrr! :)

    Tina

    • Lisa says

      I used to tell my students that I like compliments (note the “i” in compliment/complimentary. I also like tickets that are complimentary. On the other hand, things that are complementary complete (both with “e”) or enhance something in some way: complementary angles, complementary colors…

      • says

        Thanks for adding your compliments, Tina.

        Complementary and complimentary might hold the record for multi-syllable homophones. I love your tips for remembering which one to use, Lisa.

        As with so many of these sound-alike pairs and triplets, the trouble with most of these remains that spell-checking software isn’t likely to catch them. Which, of course, brings us all the way back around to “recruit capable beta readers”!

  45. says

    Congratulations on your well-deserved first-place win!

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post and have kept it on hand while I write my blogs. It’s amazing how many of those pesky filler words sneak in and need exterminating!

    • says

      Thanks very much, David!

      I’m glad you found this post worth saving. And, yeah, those filler words are the bane of my existence (I think — since I’m not dead certain “bane” is the correct word choice here; but it sounds right…)

  46. says

    Jim, this was delightful! I’ve written a few posts on writing foibles and effective editing, but yours swam many more strokes, and at greater depth.

    Congrats on the win—you’ll be able to buy the finest red pen around with that kind of dough.

      • says

        I am both, which of course means I often edit my own stuff, and having committed at least half the sins you list, end up only cleaning a quarter of them. And math was never my strong suit.

        Thanks again for the deep post!

  47. Rosanne Licata says

    Break-brake, and steak-stake are two pet peeve homonym issues I have . Would be nice if the errors went away.

Post A Comment

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *