Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mini-tutorial on writing: part three

As an editor and writing coach, I run across the same grammatical issues over and over again. With the help of a colleague (thanks, Jack!), I’ve assembled this “writing tutorial,” which addresses some of these. This information, presented in alphabetical order, should assist you in writing professional, clear, succinct, and grammatically correct books, articles, and promotional materials. Although some grammatical information is given, other information is a matter of personal style and format suggestions based on a couple of decades of professional writing and editing experience. Naturally, the style and format suggestions are only recommendations. As with any of this, it can be viewed as an editor’s job anyway, but the fewer the problems, the less editing will cost you in the long run.I’ll be running this as a several-part series. I hope you’ll find it helpful!

Editing and Proofing
Developmental Editing. Understand that a developmental editor is not the same as a peer reviewer. I can tell you from my observations that they are not catching overall writing problems, and this is not the job of a copyeditor either. Whether you use me or someone else for developmental editing, it will be expensive but it will improve the overall read and feel of your writing. Even while your writing improves over time, you cannot expect it to be perfect--ever; that is just the nature of writing. I never depend on myself for my final edits but rather I send my work through one and often several professional editors at whatever cost to me.
Proofing. Always proof your work after completing it. It will save your editors and layout people time and will save you money.

Ellipses. Rules for ellipses are well defined. The Chicago Manual of Style defines the grammatical use as follows:
  • To indicate text missing from within a sentence, put a space before the first ellipsis, after the last ellipsis, and in between all ellipses. “The author...wanted all writing to be clear and concise.”
  • To indicate text missing from the end of a sentence, do not put a space before the first ellipsis, put a space in between all ellipses, and add an extra one at the end to indicate the final period. “The author demandingly wanted all writing to be clear....”
Gender-Specific Language. Avoid gender-specific language if possible. I prefer the “compromise” of alternating the use of “he” and “she” throughout a document rather than “he/she,” “he or she,” “(s)he,” or “s/he.”

Glossaries. Consider using them; glossaries are a great help for obscure terminology. They are as helpful, if not more so, than an acronym list.

In-text References. Always ensure that in-text references to book or article titles as well as Web site URLs are accurate. Incorrect references should never appear in a publication. Developmental editors and reference checkers catch these in the book and periodical publishing field, but when you are publishing your own materials you will either have to be extremely thorough and double check all material or pay someone else to do it.

Keep Verb Forms Together. Watch out for splitting verb forms. Opt for “also will be responsible for” over “will also be responsible for,” unless it is extremely awkward when the former is used. 

Knowledge Base. Be careful when writing about any topic in which your level of experience may be limited. Your knowledge base appears to have increased by about 300 percent since I have known you (not to mention the increased development in your writing style), but none of us are perfect. If I, as your editor, question some of your statements because my research shows different outcomes, others will question your authority as well. (In all fairness, though, understand that it simply could be a matter of sources that are referenced.) And this could not be good for your reputation or book sales. If you are unsure about a certain technology or industry, research as much as you can. It is labor-intensive and time-consuming, but you cannot expect to get complete and accurate information by asking a couple of people. Plus, other specialists and experts do not necessarily have the time nor the inclination to do your research for you anyway.
   Lists. If the listed items are in a hierarchy, use numbers or letters; otherwise, use some sort of bullet.

Microsoft Word Tools. Do not depend on spell check or grammar check. Know how to research spelling and grammar issues since Word tools often recommend incorrect changes.

Noun (Subject)/Pronoun Agreement. The old school was to always have these agree such as “Every writer must have his or her way.” Today, it is becoming more acceptable to write, “Every writer must have their way.” 

Numbers, Writing. For numbers, follow the under 10 rule, i.e., spell out numbers if they are under 10, except for time, measurement, and money. Also, if three numbers are used in the same sentence, use whichever style outnumbers the others. For instance, you would spell out for “the contestant won 6, 11, and 15 times in a row.” Note how “6” is under 10 and normally would be spelled out, but the number is used since the other two numbers are over 10. If you decide to follow the ninety-nine and below rule where numbers are spelled out, be consistent. (Keep in mind, though, that numerals are nearly always used with percentages and measures.)

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