Misc. editing tips roundup, vol. 1

Miscellaneous editing tips: a roundup

I think I’ll post these from time to time, as I find it fun, and someone out there might find them helpful. This batch consists of tips that I originally posted as tweets over the past year or so. (My Twitter is here, if you want it.) These came from the year-long editing course I took, as well as the paid editing work that keeps me paging through The Chicago Manual of Style on a regular basis. (Hire me if you need a copyeditor or proofreader! As a painfully sensitive writer myself, I promise I try to be very kind when editing.)

• A phrase like “looked to the sky above” can usually just become “looked to the sky,” because, well, the sky is basically always above. Similarly, in “looked up to the sky,” we probably don't need “up.”

• “Nodded her head” can just be “nodded,” and “shrugged her shoulders” can just be “shrugged,” because those are generally the only body parts you respectively nod or shrug.

• Technically speaking, “Realtor” is capitalized, because it's a trademark. To get around this, you can write “real estate agent” instead.

• When you find the phrase “off of,” you can usually delete the “of.” You don’t have to step off of the path and pick some apples off of a tree. You can step off the path and pick some apples off the tree.

• This will shock most people in the academic world (and shocked me to some extent), but MLA, Chicago Manual of Style, and Merriam-Webster all agree: use lowercase for names of degrees (when spelled out) and majors. Thus, you're not pursuing your Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, but your master of science in electrical engineering. If you abbreviate it, however, that would of course be your MS. Class names are still uppercase: you took Archaeology 101 from Dr. Jones. And naturally any proper name is always uppercase; your minor in English, say.

• It's not that passive voice is WRONG in fiction; it's that it's often bland. “Smoke could be seen in the room” is grammatical, but “Smoke billowed in the room” or “Smoke suffocated the room” are far more vivid. Hit up the thesaurus for robust verbs.

• “There was” phrases can often be tightened; e.g.: “There was a sadness in his voice that worried her” can be tightened up to “The sadness in his voice worried her.”

• “However” at the start of a sentence sounds ponderous (to use Chicago Manual of Style’s delightfully accurate word). Scoot it to the middle of the sentence, in the most appropriate place, and it goes over more naturally. Compare: “Many tasks lay ahead. However, she was famished and needed to eat lunch first.” Vs.: “Many tasks lay ahead. She was famished, however, and needed to eat lunch first.”

And finally, a reassurance: when people learn I’m an editor, they often say, “Please forgive my grammar mistakes!!” The instructors of my editing course said they answer at such times, “Don’t worry, I only look for errors if you pay me,” and I love that, and I now assure you of that same sentiment.


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