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Writing: Editing

Writing Clearly - A Mark-Up Critique

Today's Snack: Let's be clear: Jell-O Jigglers are just plain fun, especially since you can see through them. Make some Jell-O Jigglers in your favorite flavor, and cut them into shapes with a cookie cutter, or blocks. Eat with cut-up fruit, and drink some "see-through" white-grape juice.




Ask each student to bring a writing sample -

preferably, one that he or she is NOT happy with

Pair up with a partner

Either photocopy the abbreviations, below,

or project on a big-screen

All students will need a colored pencil and a No. 2 pencil with eraser


Good writing should make sense to you and sound good to you.

It also should make sense and sound good to your audience - the people reading what you write.

Most of all, good writing is clear. The reader should "get it" right away. If your reader has to re-read what you write, once or more, then you haven't been an effective communicator.

But it takes practice to write clearly. That's what we're here for!

Clear writing is a LOT easier when you learn to "pre-edit" yourself as you write. The less time you have to spend rewriting and fixing errors, the more fun you have writing. You won't dread having people read what you write - you'll look forward to it.

The best way to learn how to write clearly is to subject yourself to some constructive criticism. Then you can see what's keeping your writing from being clear, and preventing people from being able to immediately understand what you are trying to say.

So, even though it might be a little embarrassing, take a deep breath, let it out, and then let your partner "mark up" your writing sample with the following constructive criticisms. Just write the abbreviation over any sentence where you spot any of these writing problems. Use a colored pencil so it will stand out.

Remember, this "critique," or criticism, is intended to be helpful, not hurtful!

While your partner is marking up your paper, YOU can mark up your partner's. Remember to be kind . . . but honest. Try to make 3 to 5 criticisms. Fewer than that isn't helping very much, and more than that might hurt feelings.

Individually, each student can take a No. 2 pencil and rewrite the sentences that have been tagged with an abbreviation reflecting one of these writing problems.

You can talk about the markings and your rewrites later, with your partner or as a group. Or keep the constructive criticism to yourself, if you wish. It's fun to brainstorm with somebody else how you might have written a problem sentence better. But if you're sensitive to criticism, even gently-rendered constructive criticism, it's OK to keep your feelings to yourself, and just learn from the critique.

Next time you write, chances are you'll do MUCH better in the spotlighted areas.



Wordiness. Good writing is concise. That means it is brief, to the point, and efficient. Your meaning gets bogged down in the sheer volume of words. Don't use phrases like: I came to the realization that . . . He is of the opinion that . . . Concerning the matter of . . . Regardless of the fact that . . . the whole entire . . . generally pretty good.



Awkward Construction. "Having finished dinner, the football game was quickly resumed." What? You mean, the football game finished dinner? Better: "After they finished dinner, they went right back to playing football."



Passive Construction. "The dinner was enjoyed by me." Better: "I enjoyed dinner."



Monotonous Construction. If you are using the same words in every sentence, or the same length of sentences, that gets boring. Simple sentence, simple sentence, simple sentence, simple sentence . . . booooooorrrrrrrrring. Mix it up with some complex and compound sentences, too. Any sentence that starts with "There is" or "There are" is automatically a bore. Spice up your writing with diversity! Are all of your words predictable and obvious? Make your writing more interesting by using one unusual  and eye-catching word per sentence to jazz things up.



Lazy writing. Have you settled for the most obvious word? Or the easiest word to spell? That's OK here and there. But bland is boring! It takes energy and effort to come up with JUST the right words. You can tell when a writer has been too lazy to try to make the paper interesting and captivating. Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the "almost right" word is like the difference between lightning . . . and a lightning bug. Good word choice is worth the effort!



Vague writing. Don't use words that could mean different things to different people, or might mean something completely different than you intended. For example, if you write "interesting," you might mean it was something good, but the reader might be more of the sarcastic type, and might think you mean it as an insult - NOT interesting at all! Another "weasel word" that gets misused and fogs up meaning is the word "important." "It was a pretty nice deal, if you ask me."



Clichés. A cliché is a catchy little phrase, but it is so common that it has lost its distinctiveness and has become corny and annoying. Agree to disagree . . . deader than a doornail . . . last but not least . . . pushing the envelope . . . up in the air



Subject-Verb Agreement. If you have a singular noun, you'd better have a singular verb. If your noun is plural, you'd better have a plural verb. How about this sentence: "The cars is parked over there." Wrong! Why? Because "cars" is plural. Either write "The cars are parked over there," or "The car is parked over there."



Important Information Left Out. Don't assume you are being crystal clear with your reader. This doesn't mean to write as if your reader is stupid. It just means put yourself in your reader's shoes and try to anticipate questions the reader might have. Then write your story or paper in a way that the reader won't HAVE any questions.



Slang. If only an "in" group knows what the word means, you are excluding everybody else. And that's not good. Avoid "kid language" such as "sucks" or "bit" as negative terms, and avoid Instant Messaging abbreviations such as KWIM (Know What I Mean?) and LLYAS (Love You Like a Sister).



Misused Word. You may have meant "monotonous," meaning boring, but you wrote "monogamous," meaning, married to one spouse throughout life. Some people would say those two words mean the same thing (!!!) but that's a JOKE!



Pronouns On The Loose. Let's say your story has three male characters. They are talking to each other and doing things together. If you aren't careful, when you use the pronoun "him," the reader won't be able to tell which "him" you mean. It's best to use names along with pronouns to keep the reader up to speed on who's talking, or who's doing what.



Redundancy. Sometimes, it's as great idea to repeat a word as a way to unite your paper. But all too often, the same idea gets repeated more than once, or over and over, out of sheer laziness. You don't take time to think up new ideas, or at least a different way to say the first idea. Or you are such a thoughtless writer that you aren't even aware that you've repeated the same word or sentence. and it becomes "redundant" This tends to happen when you don't really know what your point is, so you just keep repeating an idea that seems fairly good in an attempt to conceal the fact that you don't really have a thesis (main idea) or conclusion.



Weasel Words. You need to avoid adjectives that are so general, or are used so often, that they are boring and obvious, and don't provide any new meaning. They are called "weasel words" because the writer is trying to "weasel out" of doing the work that it takes to explain the idea more clearly. Examples: neat, big, pretty, small cute fun, bad, nice, good, dumb, great and funny. Say what you MEAN! By "neat," do you mean "well-dressed" or "orderly"? By "big," do you mean a truck that weighs more than two tons, or "big" as in "important"? Always remember to "paint a picture" in your reader's mind so that your reader can see the meaning as clearly as you do.

By Susan Darst Williams Writing © 2010

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