5 More Tips for Cleaning Up Your Writing Right Now

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Last week, I offered some simple advice for immediately improving your prose, including suggestions having to do with punctuation, capitalization, and the like. Here are more recommendations, this time dealing with more qualitative issues:

1. Avoid cliches like the plague: You can’t omit them altogether — and you shouldn’t try — but take care when recasting a tired word or phrase into something fresh and new. When calling attention to hypocrisy, instead of reciting the cliche “This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black,” you could write, “Keywords: pot, kettle, black.” You can also play with words, referring to an especially distraught drama queen as a trauma queen.

2. Avoid filler phrases: Delete content-free wording like “be that as it may,” “to all intents and purposes,” and “in the final analysis.” These prolix protrusions pop up naturally in speech to bridge a gap between one thought and the next, but although you’re forgiven for including them in a first draft, there’s no excuse for letting them pass inspection when you review your writing or edit someone else’s.

3. Avoid verbosity: Watch for wordy phrases like “in order to,” unnecessary words and phrases like currently and “that is,” and smothered verbs (constructions in which a noun can be transformed into a verb, such as “offered an indication” when indicate will do.)

4. Avoid redundancies and repetition and saying the same thing twice: Take care to avoid doppleganger words in stock phrases — common, like filler phrases, to spoken language but inimical to good writing — like “actual fact” and “completely finished.”

5. Avoid repetitive sentence structure: Craft your prose in such a way that phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs flow smoothly (avoid a Dick-and-Jane style of writing reminiscent of text in primary-grade reading books) — and consider the visual impact of your writing.

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1 thought on “5 More Tips for Cleaning Up Your Writing Right Now”

  1. I used to keep a Naughty List of my problem words back when I wrote fiction. After writing each chapter, I would do a word search for each one and try to eliminate them.

    The list is long gone, unfortunately, but I do recall a few of my particularly overused words such as, “also,” “then,” and “only.” Also, I then try to eliminate adverbs, but only if I can think of a suitable replacement. My advice to writers is to also make your own personal list of words that you tend to overuse, and then attack them! Only, sometimes you can leave them in if they also work in context.


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