Editing at the Sentence Level Help (page 2)
Introduction to Editing Your Essay
To edit your essay effectively, you'll need to read each paragraph a number of times, paying careful attention to your sentences and the words that comprise them. While some students edit well on the computer, many others work better on a hard copy. Unlike revising, which entails the possible reworking of large parts of your essay, editing is a word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence task. Taking pen to paper may help you focus more closely on the pieces that make up your essay, rather than the work as a whole.
As you read the hard copy of your essay, pen in hand, ask yourself the following questions. Circle any problems as you encounter them. You might also want to make a quick note in the margin with an idea or two about how to improve the problem(s).
- Are unnecessary words and phrases cluttering up your sentences?
- Do you repeat yourself? Rework your point so that you say it well the first time, and remove any repetitious words and phrases.
- Are there any clichés, pretentious language, or confusing jargon?
- Do you use the active voice whenever possible?
- Do you avoid using ambiguous words and phrases?
- Are verb tenses consistent?
- Is the antecedent for every pronoun clear?
- Do you use precise adjectives and adverbs?
- Is your sentence structure varied? Sentences should not be the same length, nor should they be repetitive in any other way, such as all beginning with a noun, followed by a verb, followed by an object.
After you've read your essay a few times and highlighted any areas that need improving, focus on one problem at a time.
Why use ten words to get across a meaning that could be better said in five? Those ten words will definitely waste your reader's time and probably confuse the point you're trying to make. Many of the words and phrases that follow are both well known and, unfortunately, well used. They don't convey meaning, and are therefore unnecessary. The following are three of the worst offenders, with usage examples.
- Because of the fact that. In most cases, just because will do.
- Because of the fact that he was late, he missed his flight.
- Because he was late, he missed his flight.
- That andwhich phrases. Eliminate them by turning the idea in the that or which phrase into an adjective.
- These were directions that were well written.
- These directions were well written.
- That by itself is a word that often clutters sentences unnecessarily, as in the following example:
- The newscaster said that there was a good chance that election turnout would be low and that it could result in a defeat for our candidate.
- The newscaster said there was a good chance election turnout would be low and could result in a defeat for our candidate.
Wordy and Concise Sentences
Avoid Unnecessary Repetition
Unnecessary repetition is a sign of sloppy writing. It's easy to repeat the same thing, varying it slightly each time. It's harder to say something well once, and then write about your next idea or example. Repetition also wastes valuable time and space. If you are writing while the clock is ticking, or are limited to a number of words or pages, say it right the first time and move on.
Repetition can be found even in short phrases. The list that follows contains dozens of such phrases that can clutter your essay. Most of them contain a specific word and its more general category. Why state both? The word memoriescan only refer to the past, so you don't need to say past memories. We know that blue is a color, so describing something as blue in color is repetitive and therefore unnecessary. In most cases, you can correct the redundant phrase by dropping the category and retaining the specific word.
Some of the phrases use a modifier that is unneeded, because the specific is implied in the general. For instance, the word consensus means general agreement. Therefore, modifying it with the word general is repetitive. Similarly, mathematics is a field of study, so it does not need to be modified with the word field. You can tighten up your writing, saying it well one time, by eliminating wordiness.
Avoid Overly Informal and Overused Language
Words and phrases that are too formal, too obscure, or overused don't belong in your essay.
The last thing you want to do is turn off or offend your reader. Since it's difficult to know what kinds of language your audience may find offensive or in poor taste, err on the side of caution by not including any language considered even mildly obscene, gross, or otherwise offensive. This includes scatological and sexual terms, and words such as butt (as in "I worked my butt off "), hell (as in "hotter than hell"), God (as in "oh, God!"), and damn.
Clichés should be avoided not only because they are too informal, but also because they are overused. Your writing must be in your own voice, without relying on stale phrases such as one step at a time; no news is good news; have a nice day; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade; and no guts, no glory.
Slang is nonstandard English. Its significance is typically far removed from either a word's denotative or connotative meaning, and is particular to certain groups (therefore, it excludes some readers who won't understand it). Examples include blow off, canned, no sweat, and thumbs down (or up). It is also inappropriate and offensive to use slang terms for racial or religious groups.
Buzzwords are a type of slang. They're words (real or made up) that take the place of simpler, more direct words. They are, at best, pompous, and at worst, confusing. And, like other forms of slang, buzzwords don't belong in your essays. Examples include resultful (gets results), suboptimal (not the best), guesstimate (estimate), requisite (necessary), potentiality (potential), and facilitate (help).
Think Twice before Opening Your Thesaurus
Big words won't win points with your readers. Aim to sound like yourself, not to impress with your knowledge of ten-letter words. Here are three reasons to stop looking for and using so-called big words.
- They sound pretentious (you're supposed to sound like you, not a politician or chairman of the board).
- They can sound ridiculous (by using words that are not in your normal vocabulary, you run the risk of using them incorrectly).
- They may appear as a "tactic" (your reader might think you are trying to add weight with words because you are worried your essay isn't well written or that your ideas aren't worth reading).
To the point:I decided to keep it simple by packing only those things that I could carry in one suitcase.
Thesaurized: I determined to eschew obfuscation by packing only those things that I could transport in one valise.
To the point:At my summer job, I had the chance to learn about Information Technology as it relates to engineering.
Thesaurized: At my summer employment, I had the fortuity to obtain IT-related information as it pertains to the engineering field.
Don't assume your audience shares your interests or familiarity with technology; write instead for a reader who has a broad knowledge base that is not expert in any subject. That means explaining anything your reader might not be familiar with, without talking down. Examples include ISP (Internet Service Provider), screenagers (teens who are online), mouse potato (technology's answer to the couch potato), and I-way (information superhighway).
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