My thoughts on writing tips found online and in published works (with some random thoughts thrown into the mix).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Proofreading for Others

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "First, do no harm."
    • This requires a lot of communication, either with the author you are working with or a team you are proofreading a document with. Make sure you discuss expectations, such as if corrections will be made in an original on-screen document or if marks will be used instead to indicate suggested changes. If the document is a hard copy, ensure that the document is saved somewhere that it can be reprinted and is meant to be marked on. Go over proofreaders' marks you will be using so any changes you want can be clearly understood.
  • "Make sure your input is wanted."
    • Make sure you find out exactly what the author expects from you. Do they just want help finding the smaller mistakes? Do they want a thorough dissection of the document? Are they just looking for encouragement? Also, find out what time frame you are working in. Knowing how long you have to do the work will determine how in-depth you can go with editing the piece. If you only have a small window, try to work out the most crucial errors, such as facts and figures and client names. Take this opportunity to evaluate the intentions the author has when passing the document to you. If it is not a typical author-editor relationship, such as with a coworker or a friend, consider their motives and what you think your relationship suggests you should do.
  • "Show sensitivity - always."
    • For most authors, they have some sort of investment in their work. They have spent a lot of time working on this piece, including a lot of stress and trying to make it "just right." If it is a creative piece, such as a novel or poem, they have also put a lot of heart, emotion, and personal perspective into the document. Be gentle with your comments and watch your tone in your suggestions. I'm not saying that you should be a wimp, but keep in mind that the author is human too, not a computer or a robot. If there are many mistakes of all sizes and you have time to go through several drafts, start with the big problems. With each draft, focus on the next level until the document is where you want it to be. To help with a writer's self-esteem when you have to make a good deal of corrections, mention something positive in the work to take the focus off of the negative.
  • "Do a competent job."
    • The best way to do this is to keep yourself in-the-know. If you want to be an editor or proofreader but don't have a strong grasp on the rules of the English language, such as comma usage or proper usage of prepositions, do your research. When you are put in charge of improving another person's document, you have a responsibility to do the best job possible and to know your stuff. Even if you are confident in your knowledge, keep several books on grammar and language rules handy to double-check yourself. Also, if any discrepancies come up, it adds to your credibility if you are willing to check your resources and even admit when you made a mistake. Rules change, so it is important to keep up.
  • "Work to create a partnership."
    • Don't let your head get big because you were asked to proofread someone else's work. Remember that this should be a partnership: you need to work together to improve the piece. Respect each other and remember that each person is human. Don't put yourself in a position where you put the other person down or think you are better than they are because you caught their mistakes. This is not an aristocracy, it is a partnership.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Using the Computer to Your Advantage

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Cut and paste features of your software."
    • All software programs have shortcuts built in. Some even allow you to input your own. Use these shortcuts to your advantage and save your time for more intense proofreading issues. Instead of erasing a line of text and retyping it farther down on the page, use the copy and paste features. Instead of using the "File" tab in Word to save your document repeatedly, hit "Ctrl + S." Though these moves only save you a minimal amount of time if you are a fast computer user, the seconds will add up to finishing your piece sooner. They are especially useful if you are slower at using a computer.
  • "Spell-checkers."
    • This is a very well-known feature of most programs. Many programs have a spell-checker built in that never did before, such as e-mail messages and even this blog post. Some, like Word, check automatically and highlight any misspelled words as you type. Though you cannot rely on this feature to catch every mistake, they provide you with a good starting point and can catch many errors you might have missed yourself. Be sure to double-check the suggestions that it gives you instead of accepting them blindly, because you may inadvertently insert a mistake where there wasn't one before. Spell-checkers have a limited dictionary and will often not recognize field-specific language. As always, it is important to have a human proofread the document well.
  • "Grammar-checkers."
    • Though grammar-checkers are less common than spell-checkers, they are also quickly gaining ground in computer programs. They are a useful feature but should not be relied on too heavily. Ultimately, it is up to your personal preference if you decide to use it at all. Some provide some much-appreciated advice, but others just take up more time than they are worth. Do whatever works best for you, but do not let the computer do all the work for you.
  • "Text-marking features."
    • Use these features when you are proofreading a document for someone else. This allows you to show what changes, additions, and deletions you would make without actually doing them. That way, the author or whomever you are sending the edited version to will be able to clearly see what needs to be done with the piece and will be able to improve the writing themselves. Also, it leaves room for you to make suggestions or ask questions that cannot be shown with normal proofreaders' marks.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Subject-Verb Agreement

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Singular subjects joined by and become plural."
    • A good test for this is to try to replace the subjects with one word. For example, in the sentence, "Jane and Nicole loves shopping," you can replace the two subjects with "they." This makes the sentence "They loves shopping," which is incorrect. If you replace "loves" with the singular verb "love," it becomes "They love shopping," which is correct. This means that the correct verb for the sentence must be "love," and the original sentence should be "Jane and Nicole love shopping."
    • A good test for this is to try to replace the subjects with one word. For example, in the sentence "Jane and I went shopping," you can replace the two subjects with "we," making it "We went shopping." The verb tense agrees with the subject, so it is correct.
  • "Singular subjects joined by or stay singular."
    • In this case, try getting rid of one subject to see if it sounds right. In the sentence "Sylvia or Tom go to the market," if you take away one subject and the connecting word, you get "Tom go to the market," which is incorrect. Instead, replace "go" with "goes," making it "Tom goes to the market." This subject-verb combination is correct, so therefore "goes" should be used in the original sentence, "Sylvia or Tom goes to the market."
  • "A combination of singular and plural subjects joined by or can be either singular or plural, depending on whichever occurs closer to the verb."
    • For this type of sentence, you have to ignore the first subject in order to determine the proper verb form. In the sentence, "The band members and Jack order dinner," you would ignore "The band members" and read the sentence as "Jack order dinner." This verb does not agree with the subject, so the verb must be "orders." Putting this back in the original sentence, it becomes "The band members and Jack orders dinner."
  • "Singular collective nouns (group, team) are singular."
    • In this case, it is pretty straightforward. In a sentence such as "The baseball team shovel snow," the collective noun is singular, so therefore the verb should follow suite. This would make the sentence "The baseball team shovels snow." If it helps, try replacing the noun (the baseball team) with a singular pronoun, such as "he." This would make the original sentence "He shovel snow," which is incorrect, so the second option must be true. "He shovels snow" is much better.
  • "Everyone, everybody, and each (when used as a pronoun) are singular."
    • Take, for example,the sentence "Everybody runs in a circle." If you replace the pronoun with another singular pronoun, such as "she," the sentence becomes "She runs in a circle." Because the subject and verb agree, this must be correct, confirming that the original sentence works.
  • "Prepositional phrases often end up between subjects and their verbs. Take care that you don't let them confuse the subject-verb match-up."
    • In the sentence "Each of the members come up with unique projects." the prepositional phrase is "of the members." After you identify this phrase, you can eliminate it from the sentence, making it "Each come up with unique projects." If you apply the technique for the rule we just discussed, it becomes "He come up with unique projects." Adjusting the verb into the correct form, the sentence is changed into "He comes up with unique projects." Applying this to the original sentence makes it into "Each of the members comes up with unique projects."
I know this sounds like a lot of steps, but it all happens very fast in your mind. Once you learn these easy-to-follow rules, it becomes second nature when you are writing. Just keep working on it and soon enough, you won't have to think about it at all!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Active vs. Passive Voice

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Passive sentences communicate information in a convoluted, less personal, and more wordy way."
    • There is only one upside to passive sentences: they allow you to be tactful, especially in sensitive situations. Through failing to place blame on any individual or group, they avoid upsetting any party involved. For example, when trying to explain a problem, it is better to start with "The project was late" instead of "You turned in the project late." Instead of causing the other person to become defensive, it allows the speaker to move past that fact and to the real issue at hand.
  • "Research as shown that: active voice sentences are easier to understand; active voice sentences are easier to remember; [and] active voice sentences require fewer words."
    • These three properties of active sentences all overlap. They are easier to understand and remember because they have fewer words. They are easier to remember because they are easier to understand and have fewer words. The best thing to do when you are writing is to use the active voice, both for the above reasons and because it engages the reader. It allows them to imagine that the action is occuring in front of them while they are reading, instead of in the distance or in the past. It also places them within the action, helping them connect intimately with what is going on in the piece.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Using Pronouns

Tips from Proofreading: Plain & Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Noun-pronoun agreement. For the substitution of [a] pronoun for [a] noun to work, they need to agree in number: a singular noun needs a singular pronoun to replace it; a plural noun, a plural pronoun."
    • The big debate with this rule comes with the substitution of "their" and "his or her." For example, take the sentence "Each student has to turn in his or her own work." Replacing the noun (student) with a pronoun comes with complications. The traditional English rules say that the pronoun should be "his or her", as in the example. However, many experts have recently started to turn towards the use of "their" in place of "his or her." In this case, the sentence would read "Each student has to turn in their own work." This usage is still hotly contested though, so stick to the original rule.
  • "Problems of pronoun case. A pronoun's case tells its readers whether it is acting as a subject in a sentence or being acted upon, as an object. Objects can be direct objects, indirect objects, or objects of prepositional phrases."
    • The problem that most writers run into in this area is the use of "and I" or "and me." When a sentence starts with two subjects, the accepted phrasing is "Tim and I..." This rule has been drilled into our heads so deeply that when the pairing becomes the object of a sentence, it is still tempting to use "...Tim and I." However, this is incorrect. If this phrase is used as the object at the end of a sentence, it should be "Tim and me." The same logic applies to "...Tim and myself." "Me" should be used in place of "myself."
  • "Ambiguous pronouns (this, that, these, which, it, they, them). Naturally, for pronouns to work at all, they must refer back to a previously mentioned noun. Pronouns used ambiguously leave room for misinterpretation."
    • If your sentence has multiple nouns or subjects, or if another part of the sentence could be confused by using a pronoun, it is best to avoid using the pronoun at all. Even though schools teach that repetition is a bad thing, this is not necessarily true in all situations. It is better to repeat a phrase than to lose the element of clarity in your writing. Watch carefully for this mistake as you edit and proofread any draft, as it is an easy mistake to make.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Using Modifiers Correctly

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Modifiers are adjectives and adverbs used to enhance the main idea(s) of a sentence...When used incorrectly, they can distort the message. Modifiers can be single words or phrases. To use them correctly, place them near the word or words they modify."
    • If they are put near the wrong part of a sentence, they can accidently be interpreted as modifying a different word or phrase. This can lead to confusion and distortion of the intended meaning of the sentence. To avoid having a modifier applied to the wrong element, keep it as close as possibly to the object. For example, in the sentence "In order to finish your homework, you only have to finish these math problems." The modifier (only) is far away from the phrase it is meant to affect (math problems). After rearranging the sentence, the intended meaning becomes clear: "In order to finish your homework, you have to finish only these math problems." Comparing the two sentences, each conveys a completely different idea.
  • "Modifiers really create problems when the word or words they are intended to modify are missing from the sentence altogether."
    • For example, take the sentence "As an important employee, your work is appreciated." The sentence is awkward because it is completely missing the proper subject. As it stands, the first part of the sentence and the second part of the sentence seem to have nothing to do with each other. It implies that your work is a valued employee (not you). To change this sentence, the correct subject must be put in place. The resulting sentences, "Because you are an important employee, your work is appreciated," or "As an important employee, you are appreciated," sound much better and their meaning is clear.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Strengthening the Message

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my commentary:
  • Is my message as complete as my reader would want or need?
    • Your writing should consider your audience and how much inside experience they have on the topic you are using. Feel free to get technical, if your audience is advanced enough for the information to come through clearly, but don't be afraid to simply it for a less in-the-know target reader either. Another point to consider is if you covered everything necessary to ensure clarity. Did you have to give any background information? Should you go more in-depth in a certain area of the piece? Keep the previous knowledge of your readership in mind.
  • Are my words appropriate to communicate with this particular reader?
    • Did you use jargon that applies to the field you are writing about? If so, how much did you use and how complicated was it? Did you use any language that might be offensive to a group you are focusing on? Evaluate what words, phrases, and sayings you used in the work to determine if they line up with your reader's expectations. Don't be afraid to do a little research to find out what fits in this category, either.
  • Is the tone I've established likely to get the response I want?
    • Whether you realize it or not, every piece of writing you do is persuasive. You want the reader to get involved in the story, you want the reader to absorb the information you have given him/her, and you want the reader to enjoy your novel, report, or essay. In order to accomplish this, you must have adopted a tone that will agree with the reader. If you write an essay about the joys of motherhood meant for expecting parents, you won't want a sarcastic tone to dominate your novel. If you want to persuade someone to agree with you, you will write a different way than if you are trying to get someone to disagree with your opposition. Allow your writing style to convey your meaning along with your words.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Condensing the Message

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Use strong verbs. More than any other part of speech, verbs carry the strength of your message."
    • This is much like the difference between active and passive voice. You have to choose the verbs that will have the most impact on your readers. This usually means finding the voice that shows the most expression. Sometimes that means using an emotion-packed word, a verb that stirs up controversy, or something at the extreme end of the spectrum. If you pick words that pack a punch, they will catch the reader's attention and keep their interest.
  • "Reduce clauses to phrases and phrases to words. Our language gives us an endless variety of ways to say the same thing. Concise writing never uses a clause when a phrase will do, or a phrase when a single word can get the same message across."
    • Have you ever read a paper or novel where the author seems to just go on and on about the same thing? Well, this is kind of about avoiding that. You want to get your message out without dragging the reader across a gravel road (or putting them through mental anguish). If you keep the writing short and concise, your reader will appreciate it and keep reading instead of giving up in frustration.
  • "Turn noun phrases into verbs. 'Nominalizations' are noun phrases less effective writers use in place of strong verbs. Use the verb form instead!"
    • For example, take the sentence "The team will ask questions to the department head." The sentence could be significantly shortened by turning it into "The team will question the department head." This also makes the sentence more pleasant to read as it flows better and is more direct. Whenever possible, make your sentences sound confident and reduce the distance between the text and the reader.
  • "Avoid overusing sentence 'warm-ups.' When we're speaking aloud, we often use sentence 'warm-ups' that provide just the instant we need to figure out what we want to say. But we can weed most of these out of our written language. The two most commonly used warm-ups, also called 'expletives' begin with the words it and there. Almost invariably, weeding out the warm-ups results in a better sentence."
    • There is a big difference between spoken language and the written word. In order to improve on your writing, you have to learn the differences between the two. One of the biggest is introduction words. If it buys you time in real life, it just wastes time on paper. This goes along with the second tip: reduce, reduce, reduce!
  • "Reduce unnecessary words and phrases. If you want your report read, reduce the number of words in it! The three keys mentioned so far will all help you reduce unnecessary words. See what else you can eliminate or rephrase."
    • After you have incorporated all of the previous tips into your writing, this will help you with editing it down. Go back over your work again and see if there are any other places that could be shortened. Be careful not to damage the piece by taking out important information. While length is a priority, clarity is even higher on the list.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Proofreaders' Marks

Tips from Publishing: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Proofread on paper rather than on screen."
    • Many proofreaders' marks are impossible to duplicate on the screen. When working with a paper version of the document, it is easier to insert the appropriate markings, write down suggestions, and ask questions. Also, as discussed in a previous blog about proofreading, it is easier to identify mistakes on a hard copy.
  • "Give yourself room to work; print your document in draft mode or otherwise increase the space between the lines."
    • This step is very important. Try marking up a document that is single-spaced, then try it again with a document that is double-spaced. The difference cannot be overstated. It is essential that the person editing the document (whether it is the author or an editor) has room to make the required corrections without having to squeeze them in. The point of proofreaders' marks is to help you improve the document; if you can't read the marks, all of that work was useless.
  • "Run the document through a computer spell-checker before you start proofreading; don't waste time finding easy spelling errors. If you don't have an electronic version of the document, have the writer or editor do this for you."
    • A spell-checker, though it will not find all errors in a document, will pick up a good portion of them. It also makes your document look more polished if you cut out any instances of "teh" for "the" and "sprak" for "spark." However, as for the last sentence, there is an issue with that. If you are submitting your work to be considered for publication, you must look through the document yourself. If your work is riddled with simple errors, it will look unprofessional and will lower your credibility. As a writer, it is your job to weed out as many errors as possible before sending it out to be read.
  • "Print with wider margins, if possible, in case you need room for an elaborate explanation or query."
    • As discussed with the previous tips in this post, you can not underestimate the importance of ample space to work. Some errors cannot be corrected with simple markings within the document. In order to allow your editor or proofreader (or yourself) to make your work the best it can be, you have to leave room for comments. If they don't understand a particular passage, they will want to write beside that paragraph. If an idea is confusing, they will want to explain why.
  • "Look back over your proofreaders' marks. Are they correct? Will they make sense to someone else?"
    • Though it seems redundant, it is important to proofreader your proofreaders' marks. If you accidently put the symbol for inserting a period instead of inserting a comma, it could really throw off your point and your credibility. This issue also helps bridge the gap between different groups. Though many proofreaders' marks could be considered universal, some can also differ from editor to editor. If a mark seems questionable, feel free to elaborate on what it means and why you think it needs changed.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Tips for Using Proofreaders' Marks

Tips from Publishing: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "While standardized marks are certainly a help, marking changes effectively requires good common sense. Never squeeze too much information into a small space! Your marks are useless if the author can't read them."
    • It is essential to have the appropriate amount of white space available. For drafts, it is okay to have extra-wide margins and greater line spacing, because this will allow the editor to do their job. The point of making the marks is to have them be readable, so make sure you have enough space to work.
  • "Cursive writing is fine so long as others can read it...However, some letters, especially when used singly, are easier to read one way or the other. Use the easier-to-read version; print i's, m's, and n's, for instance, but use cursive for l's and r's."
    • If you write like a doctor, find a way to write so that the reader can understand you. If you have meticulous handwriting, by all means, use it. The point in editing is not to show off your proofreading prowess; it is to help the author improve their work. Keep this in mind as you write so that your comments and corrections are clear.
  • "Use the simplest marking you can to correct the error. For instance, if several letters are missing from a long word, don't simply insert each letter, replace the entire word."
    • Basically, follow the age-old rule of "less is more." If you can use one marking to correct an error instead of five, do it. The less ink you splatter on the page unnecessarily, the easier it will be for the author to understand and follow your corrections. If you have to write a longer explanation, use the margins.
  • "Marginal notes are always an option. Circle marginal notes that are instructional or explanatory to distinguish them from actual changes."
    • Marginal notes should be used to make larger corrections, leave comments, or ask a question. Circling helps draw attention to them and will help your author focus more on the bigger problems after they have fixed the smaller errors.
  • "Don't waste time repeatedly correcting errors that a computer's global search and replace feature can do instead. If you won't be making the actual corrections, note global changes at the top of the document."
    • If you are proofreading a virtual copy of a document and sending it back to the author to make corrections, don't use the global search and replace feature, because the author may not realize that you have changed something. Make a note of what needs done and move on. If you are doing the editing, however, use the search and replace function to save yourself time and effort. Be careful to review the context of each word, because sometimes you might accidentally create more work for yourself by replacing something in error.
  • "Don't play mind-reader; if you're not sure about what the author intended, query the author. Usually this is done with a circled marginal note."
    • If an author put a date and a day together that don't match, make a note of it instead of guessing. If you only have two options for what the author meant, consider leaving a suggestion for what should be done in either case to avoid having to come back to it again.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Effective On-Screen Text

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary
  • "Includes both upper- and lower-case letters."
    • For any type of on-screen text (email, eBook, blog, Word documents, etc.), it is important to maintain the rules of proper writing. Thanks to texting and other mediums, it has become popular to write LiKe tHiS or LIKE THIS. This is not appropriate for a professional document. If you want people to take you seriously and appreciate your authority, you must follow the proper way to capitalize in the English language.
  • "Includes plenty of white space."
    • This makes your document easier to read. Just as it is hard to read a tightly-spaced document on paper, it is difficult to read a tightly-spaced document on screen. If you factor in glare and other distractions, it makes it even more important to allow some space.
  • "Gets right to the point right up front."
    • Many readers online tend to skim the text for the information they need. Very seldom will a reader take the time to read an entire, lengthy email. Instead of wasting your time writing a novel-length memo on the team's new project, condense the important information to a paragraph. Keep your correspondence short and sweet and everyone will appreciate it.
  • "Contains a concise, but specific subject line."
    • Let the reader know what they are clicking on before they even open the document. This gives them a preview of the information you are about to give them, which allows them to get in the right mindset to absorb your writing. Also, it will allow the reader to find your document if they need to refer to it later without a lot of searching.
  • "Is directed at a small, relevant distribution."
    • As with any other writing, know your audience. The more specific you can make the work to their needs, the better it will turn out. Use jargon and language that they are familiar with and they will most likely respect your authority on the subject. Address their needs.
  • "Contains clear, strong, and concise language."
    • You don't want to confuse the reader, because with one click they can be gone. You also don't want to bore them, appear weak or unsure, or drag it out. Use strong verbs and plunge right in to the heart of your story. Keep your writing short and use the active voice.
  • "Contains no errors, ideally; no important errors, definitely."
    • Spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are a nice tool, but they can never replace proofreading and editing your own work. If need be, ask a fellow writer or friend to look over your piece before you send it out. Keep a dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia handy, along with tips about proofreading from books or a blog (such as this one!).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sentence Structure

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Compound sentences...contain two independent clauses, which could in fact be two separate sentences."
    • There are three different ways that you could use punctuation in compound sentences. The first is to connect the two clauses with a comma and a coordinate conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). For example: I can write about flowers, but I cannot write about constellations. A second method is to connect the two clauses, using a semicolon. Example: I can write about flowers; I cannot write about constellations. A third option is to use a transitional phrase or word, called a conjuctive adverb, after a semicolon and before a comma. Some common conjuctive adverbs are consequently, however, therefore, furthermore, then, thus, nevertheless, moreoever, indeed, in fact, of course, in addition, and in brief. For example: I can write about flowers; however, I cannot write about constellations. By learning these three rules, you can vary your writing and make an impressive-looking document.
  • "Complex sentences...contain more than one idea, or clause. But in a complex sentence, one of the two ideas can't stand alone. The addition of one word, a 'subordinating conjunction,' makes one clause 'dependent' on the other to complete the thought."
    • Subordinating conjunctions are the words although, after, because, before, as, if, since, until, when, whereas, while, who, which, and that. In order to punctuate a complex sentence correctly, you have to be aware of two different approaches. The first type starts with a subordinating conjunction, followed by the dependent clause, then a comma, then the independent clause. For example: Although I can write about flowers, I cannot write about constellations. A second method starts with the independent clause and does not use a comma between clauses. For example: I cannot write about constellations although I can write about flowers. With these two ideas under your belt, you can write effectively and smoothly.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Clarifying Your Message

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Is the purpose of my communication immediately apparent to my reader?"
    • You don't want your reader to be confused from the very start about your topic. If they have no clue what you are going to talk about, they will have very little interest in actually reading your piece. Even if they do get that far, they will quickly lose interest and walk away. Obviously, the goal of writing is to get people to read the work. In order to do this, the topic of your document as to be clear from the start to draw readers in.
  • "Have I made my message relevant to my reader?"
    • When you write, you should have a target audience in mind. If you are writing to biologists, you have to make sure you pick an up-to-date topic that applies to their interests. If you report on a study that is 100 years old and well-known without finding a way to make it appeal to current readers, then your writing will fail. If you write about a different subject than the medium you want to publish in, then your writing will fail. You have to keep your focus on the reader and what they are interested in hearing about in order to be successful.
  • "Does each new thought make sense?"
    • Go through your piece, sentence by sentence, to analyze how clear each line is. When you go from one idea to the next, does the transition make sense? Can each separate idea stand alone (or does it at least follow logically, given the previous statements)? Keep your wording and ideas clear so that your writing can effectively convey your message.
  • "Do my thoughts flow smoothly and logically throughout my document?"
    • You do not want the reader to have to stop to question why you followed one idea with the next one. The connection between each thought should be easily apparent and should allow your reader to move continuously through the document without getting confused. The move from one thought to the next should be logical.
  • "Are my thoughts clearly expressed?"
    • This may be the biggest issue you will face. You could have a piece with a clear thesis that is relevant to your intended audience and has a lot of logical support, but if the writing is cloudy or jumbled, your writing will fall flat. Check, recheck, and triple-check your sentence structure, language usage, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Edit the piece several times and take a good amount of time to proofread for errors. Do everything possible to make the piece clear, concise, easy to read, and, above all, something that people will want to read.

Four Stages of Effective Writing

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Prewriting is identifiying and refining your document's purpose and your understanding of your reader's needs, then organizing your initial ideas into a general game plan."
    • Though it is perfectly fine to organize your document in your head, it is even more helpful to write your plan down. What statement can summarize your purpose? Who is your intended audience and how will the piece cater to their needs? What kind of language and/or jargon will you use? What ideas do you want to bring up? Are there any topics you want to avoid? Narrow down your initial concept into something managable and semi-concrete.
  • "Drafting is actually writing the document. To draft effectively, write quickly, loosely following your game plan, seldom stopping to make changes."
    • The most important part of this process is to let the ideas flow. Don't worry about being consistent with style or issues with grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Allow sentence structure to take a back burner to the words and ideas you are coming up with. Start with an opening sentence (even if you know it will not even be a part of your introduction) and let your mind drift from one sentence to the next. When you let the writing flow out of you without worrying about formality, you will be suprised with what you can come up with in a relatively short period of time.
      One other idea is to write several different drafts. Start at one point with the first draft, then start with a different idea for the second, and so on. This way, when you go back to edit and refine your essay into a single piece, you have many different options to draw from. Also, each train of thought could lead you to an idea you want to mention but would not hae thought about otherwise.
  • "Editing is clarifying, strenghtening, and condensing the communication you attempted at the drafting stage."
    • This stage should take most of your time. Go back to your first draft and rework it to make it follow the conventions of your genre. Rearrange your sentences so they fit a logical order and check for consistency. If you wrote several completely different drafts, see if there are any points you want to combine into a single, concise essay. Do this several times, going through many new rough drafts, until you have one that you are happy with.
  • "Proofreading is polishing the final draft, ensuring that no errors in communication, however small or seemingly insignificant, make it through to the intended reader."
    • Now is the time to focus on the small things. You have turned your intial rough draft into a worthy document by looking at the bigger picture. Go back through your final work and check for grammar, punctuaction, spelling, sentence structure, and other elements of proper writing. Ensure that your document is ready for whatever the next phase may be, such as being published or being submitted to your boss. This will represent your skill and proficieny as a writer, so pay close attention to the details. For tips on proofreading, please see the previous two blog entries.

Expert Approach to Proofreading

Tips from Proofreading: Plain and Simple by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Read the entire document - or a good-sized chunk of a larger document - once slowly, reading for overall content and meaning."
    • This helps you see the bigger picture. At this point, don't stop to make corrections or take notes; that will distract you from the main message the piece is trying to convey. Instead, just take in the feel of the document and make sure that it conveys what it is supposed to.
  • "Read the document again, this time aloud and even more slowly, correcting all errors you find."
    • Reading out loud helps you to comprehend what you are reading, which will make it easier to find errors. Taking words from the page and translating them into spoken language makes your brain process and concentrate on the individual words, which will alert you to any mistakes in the piece. This is also the time when you can correct any errors you found in the intital read-through.
  • "Read the document a third time, silently focusing especially on trouble spots."
    • Are there any places where the wording just didn't feel right? Spots where there were several spelling mistakes or grammatical errors? An area where the sentences didn't flow the way you want them to? Zoom in on these sections and concentrate on what you need to do to improve them.
  • "Read the document backwards. Note, however, that the verdict's still out on the value of taking this fourth step."
    • Though this step may be considered unnecessary by some people, I think that this proofreading technique is very valuable. If you read it backwards, you are more likely to catch issues that might hae otherwise been ignored, because you are forced to think about what you are reading. While it may not help much in the way of sentence structure or grammatical errors, it can certainly help with spelling. By removing other distractions, such as punctuation concerns and other proofreading errors, this method can be helpful to those that are concerned about their spelling skills.
  • "Scan the document at arm's length. Some of the most blatant, poor-impression-making errors can remain invisible until you pull back and consider the overall look and effectiveness of a page or document."
    • This tip will help you analyze your document as a whole. Instead of concentrating on the details, you can now focus on the white space, the font, the paragraph alignment, and spacing. By improving the overall look of your document, it will look more professional and impressive. It will also allow the reader to concentrate on what you have to say instead of being thrown off by an unusual spacing or extra-wide margins.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Direct Proofreading

From "Proofreading: Plain & Simple" by Debra Hart May, with my own commentary:
  • "Proofreading quickly and well is virtually impossible. To proofread most effectively, read slowly and deliberately."
    • Concentrate on the writing. Look at each individual word and punctuation mark. Zoom in on the details instead of trying to see the big picture so you can catch any misspellings or issues with grammar.
  • "Catching everything requires proofreading in several stages, typically focusing on particular aspects of the writing at each stage."
    • On the first read-through, try to find your spelling mistakes. In the next round, make grammar your focus. On the third reading, check your punctuation. By only doing one area at a time, you can keep your brain in one gear instead of switching between concerns. This will prevent you from accidentally skipping over a spelling mistake because you were focusing on word usage.
  • "Proofreading your own work is difficult because you are likely to see what you meant to write as opposed to what is actually on the paper. Always allow time between editing and proofreading."
    • Reading out loud can help counteract this problem. When you translate the words from the page into sound, your brain is forced to actually read each word instead of skimming over it. If you are embarrassed, try saying the words silently. This method makes you continue to form the words with your mouth, which makes you think over what you are reading, so it functions almost as well.
  • "Proofreading on a paper copy may be inconvenient, but you'll catch more, more quickly, and with less effort. Freelance editor and writer Helen O'Guinn summed up most experts' sentiments: 'I will catch errors on paper that I will never catch on screen.'"
    • When we use a computer, we are more likely to skim over the text to find certain markers. Most computer users have developed the habit of looking for information instead of reading the whole page, which has conditioned the brain to ignore most content in favor of a small selection. To overcome this automatic association, it is a good idea to print the page out. The physical paper in your hand will make it harder to let your mind drift away from your ultimate goal.
  • "Using the computer spell-check feature before you start can help save you a lot [of] time."
    • The computer can be wrong, however. Make sure you review each suggestion instead of approving everything blindly. Question what it gives you and keep a dictionary handy. Also, make sure you go back through the document and check spelling independently of the computer. The computer may not make a distinction between "there" and "their" when they are both spelled correctly, though the usage may be incorrect. In addition, the computer will not catch that you accidentally spelled "see" as "sea."
  • "Using computerized grammar checkers are generally not helpful. Even documents considered well-written by most people, take for instance, The Gettysburg Address, qualify as poorly written if we're to trust the judgment of most grammar-checking software currently available."
    • This is another one where you have to have your reference material handy. Technology still cannot reliably take the place of a dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, and your own knowledge. If you follow the above tips, you should be able to catch your own mistakes and intelligently evaluate any suggestions that a grammar checker offers up.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

To Make You Feel Smarter

'We don't necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of people.'
-- Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instrutor.

'The word 'genius' isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.'
--Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback &sports analyst.

'We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?'
--Lee Iacocca

'I love California . I practically grew up in Phoenix.'
--Dan Quayle

'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.'
--Al Gore, Vice President

'Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.'
--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington, DC
'I've never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body.'
--Winston Bennett, University of Kentucky basketball forward

'Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff.'
--Mariah Carey

A Small Rant

So, we are supposed to have a high of 52 degrees today.In the middle of January! In western Pennsylvania! All the snow we got last week is melted. The salt has been washed off the sidewalks by the pouring rain we had yesterday. It is warm enough to wear just a light jacket. I just pulled out my snow boots that are meant to keep your feet warm and dry in below-freezing temperatures, and now they sit by my door, useless. My shovel is sitting at the bottom of my staircase, lonely and looking out of place. I feel like I should be raking leaves or going for a brisk walk in just a long-sleeved t-shirt. There are so many things wrong with this picture! Mother Nature, tell me what to do!

The high tomorrow is supposed to be 26 degrees. Oh, okay, never mind.

Hotmail Amazement!

I just went to send out an email from my Hotmail account, and after I hit the "Send" button, a little message popped up. It informed me that it seemed like I had mentioned an attachment in the body of the email, but hadn't attached any documents. It asked if I wanted to continue sending or go back to add a file.

This should not blow my mind, considering I grew up in an age of great advances in technology. I'm still growing up in an era of life-altering computers and other gadgets. I'm barely out of my teen years, and some teenagers already have a leg up when it comes to new features and applications that I have barely heard of. So why was I so suprised when this message popped up?? As they have been saying for years now, pretty soon computers will overtake the world....The end is near! I can see the light! Oh wait, that's just my fish tank reflecting some sunlight, sorry.

Well, hello there!

Since this is the first post on my new blog, let me introduce myself a bit:
  1. I am passionate about everything that I do.
  2. I believe adult-sized playgrounds would be the greatest stress-reliever.
  3. I am a big fan of Peanut Butter Oreos.
  4. I enjoy shoveling snow.
  5. I adamantly believe that the original Disney Princesses are the ONLY Disney Princesses. That club is not taking new members.
  6. I am obsessed with having photos on every surface on my home.
  7. I procrastinate terribly when it comes to folding clean clothes.
  8. I love the English language.
  9. I am a Daddy's girl but talk to my mother more.