Today’s guest post is by Kathy Edens.
I spent four years in college working hard to achieve my bachelor’s in professional writing. I say this humbly because it’s certainly no great feat. In fact, using an editing tool for the past year has taught me things about my writing I didn’t learn in four years of college.
If you haven’t tried one out yet, an editing tool like ProWritingAid uses computer algorithms to compare your writing to hundreds of thousands of examples of published writing by great writers and authors. It then suggests ways you can make your writing more readable, and points out technical edits for stronger, more concise writing.
Its strength isn’t in finding grammar errors (though it does that too); rather, it’s in picking out those sentence structures or word choices that make your writing sound awkward or clunky.
These are the top five things that using an editing tool has taught me:
- Ditch the glue words
Analysis of published writing has shown a very low occurrence of sentences that contain more than 45% glue words (the two hundred or so most common words in English, including of, in, that, for, to, by, an, if, etc).
This means that most published authors use fewer than 45% glue words in their sentences. So, if the editing tool highlights a sentence with more than 45% glue words, this is a “sticky sentence” and its meaning should be stated more directly.
Whenever I run my first draft through the sticky sentence report, I invariably find two or three sentences that have excess glue words, and they are almost always improved with a rewrite.
For example, as I’m drafting, I may write, “he ran an inspection of the plates on the car.” The editing tool will flag this as sticky, and so I change it to “he inspected the car’s plates.” Much more concise and strong, wouldn’t you say?
One year after first using the editing tool, I still struggle with sticky sentences, but I’m happy to say there is marked improvement.
- Adverbs in conversation are fine, not so much in writing
The further away from college I get, the more my writing becomes conversational rather than academic, which brings a host of problems. How I word something in real-life conversation doesn’t always translate well to the page. I find I use more adverbs in conversations than I ever should in writing.
My editing tool showed me that I favor adverbs like “actually” and “completely.” I tend to overuse them to prove a point rather than find stronger verbs and phrases to convey my message. When I’m writing blog posts in a conversational tone, they somehow slip out.
It’s easy to fix once it’s pointed out though, and it makes a big difference to the strength of my writing.
- Watch out for redundant phrases
Another weakness I noticed is my tendency to modify a noun or verb with a word that means the same thing. I’ve written descriptions about “frozen ice.” But isn’t ice always frozen?
I like to write about families “gathered together” around the table to share a meal. It feels nice and homey, right? But “gathered” means “to come together.” You can’t gather apart.
The editing tool flagged these redundancies as I typed them, so over time I’ve learned to eliminate them from my content. Another point scored for technology.
- I’m much less vague and abstract
My favorite editing tool report is the one that points out vague and abstract words in my writing. Words like “some” or “interesting” or “almost” are open to interpretation (or misinterpretation!), and you want to be specific.
If you say that your book sales have almost reached their target, one person might understand that as 60% and another might expect you to be 90% reached. Use exact language to make your points sharp; don’t dull them with vague language.
Now, when I write, my fingers stop on the keyboard when the urge to type vague or abstract terms hits, and I think of precise words to use instead.
- I don’t repeat myself (as much!)
My last go-to report is the repeats report. I tend to repeat myself. And this is a particular problem when I go back and edit. If I’m dissatisfied with a sentence, I’ll reword it, often not realizing that I used the exact same language a sentence or two before, or in the following paragraph.
This is another key area where technology has superiority over the human ability to spot things. When you are editing, you lose that sense of “didn’t I just read that?” because you are reading everything over and over.
The repeats check creates a list of words and phrases that have been repeated in your document. It’s amazing how often I’ll find that I’ve accidentally repeated even a five- or six-word phrase within the same paragraph. The great thing is, unlike the human brain, my editing tool finds these repetitions 100% of the time, so I can reword them and keep my writing fresh.
Using the ProWritingAid editing tool has taught me more than these five lessons. It’s taught me to be cognizant of every word choice, to write lean, and to reach for unique turns of phrase.
I’ve learned to use pacing to consistently move readers through my content. And the editing tool has a visual report showing how I space out shorter, longer, and medium-length sentences for a rhythmic flow.
In fact, it’s taught me to self-edit better than I learned in my four expensive years of college. Bang for my buck, the editing tool is a clear winner.
Kathy Edens is a blogger, a ghostwriter, and content master who loves writing about anything and everything. She is a regular contributor to the ProWritingAid Blog. Check out her book The Novel-Writing Training Plan: 17 Steps to get your ideas in shape for the marathon of writing or contact her at her website here.