How to Edit a Sentence

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I’ve suggested that it’s best to write first and edit later. But for many people, editing can be as intimidating as writing. So let’s edit a sentence together, shall we, and see if the process is as hazardous as we fear.

I got on my bicycle, taking my lunch to school, built in the 1970s.

Lots of room for improvement here. What is the main thing that’s happening anyway? Am I getting or taking or building or all three?

Taking my lunch to school, I got on my bicycle, built in the 1970s.

Okay, so I’m going. The sentence emphasizes the main verb now, but it makes the bicycle seem very old.

Taking my lunch, I got on my bicycle, heading to school, built in the 1970s.

That makes it more likely that the school is old, not the bicycle, but let’s sharpen our point.

Taking my lunch, I got on my bicycle, heading to school, which was built in the 1970s.

Taking, heading… which verb is more important? What’s the main action in the sentence? I need to make my actions as clear as we can. Three verbs reside in one sentence, but I resolve that only one action shall rule.

Taking my lunch, I got on my bicycle and headed to school, which was built in the 1970s.

Much better. Now got and headed are parallel, and the focus is on me. I like that focus. But the verb taking seems a little weak here. Meaning, the verb taking doesn’t accurately describe what I did with my lunch that morning.

Grabbing my lunch, I got on my bicycle and headed to school, which was built in the 1970s.

Neither does the verb got. I mean, it seems a little weak too. It doesn’t accurately describe what I did with my bicycle that morning.

Grabbing my lunch, I climbed on my bicycle and headed to school, which was built in the 1970s.

That is it. As you can see the editing process is done in cycles. It can take considerable time (sometimes just as much as the writing), but it is definitely worth it.

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8 thoughts on “How to Edit a Sentence”

  1. Writing is hard, but editing seems to be a bit easier (at least for me). Yet I didn’t realize that so much went into editing.

    I like the way you broke down the process of editing. Much simpler than the way I do it.

    Thanks for the tip.

  2. I usually go through at least 3 steps before I get to my final copy. I hand write the original ideas. Then I go to my computer and rearrange some of the sentences as I transfer my original copy to the computer. I print this out and look for needed changes and make them on the draft. I print it out again to see how the edited words flow. I like seeing it in print better than reading it off the computer screen.

  3. Hmm. I’d get rid of that last clause altogether. What’s the date of the school got to do with it? If it’s absolutely necessary, I’d go:

    I picked up my lunch, got on my bike and headed to my appallingly-designed school.

    ie I’d leave the first two verbs plain, emphasising the simple actions and making the grammatical (and rhythmical) parallel of the first two actions stronger. Next, I’d take whatever it is about the 70s school that is interesting (appalling design, light and airy, comforting pale brick…) and make it into one expression so that the point of the series of actions becomes the most interesting thing in the sentence (getting to school).

    Others would have different solutions of course depending on the context.

  4. I agree with Chris that I don’t understand why it’s important when the school was built in the context of that sentence. I can see that fact starting a second sentence. For instance: “The school, like my bicycle, was built in the 1970s.”

    Perhaps I’m being difficult and it’s easy to come up with a reasonable example where the complete, edited sentence makes sense. I’ll think some more.

  5. Yes. probably I should have left out the age of the school. It might be important in the context of the whole paragraph, but I don’t need to complicate things.

  6. Is Michael the author?

    If so, thank you, Michael. This is helpful information.

    It’s a terrific defense for why good editors change words over and over. They know that readers are always analyzing the message for its interest and veracity.

    Well written material can help to sustain a reader’s interest. But even valid messages can leak credibility if poorly written.

    It’s important to spare readers any struggle in getting the meaning.

  7. Help. need a setance changed not switched around, my sentabce is; as tough as a house. I need a new sentance but better cuz it duzent make sense. But house has got to be at the end of the sentance and it has to say its like something just like the sentance shows. Thanx HELP SOON!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. I totally love your compiled notes on daily writing,i am a big fan of creative writing especially poetry and fictional writing.The comment i have is which methods can i utilise to enhance my writing abilities?.

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