Surely you know how often I urge you to proofread everything you write. Proofreading will turn up careless errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar, as well as typos. Yes, you should still check for all of these, but editing goes beyond that.
Editing makes certain your writing is clear. Are you sure you are conveying the message you intended? Have you assumed your readers know what you know? If so, then why are you writing? You are imparting new information. But you have to be confident you are not confusing your readers, that your information that is new to them is presented logically and cogently.
Editing makes certain your writing is concise. Look for digressions and extraneous words. Get rid of redundancies: last but not least, at this point in time, absolutely complete, true fact, four P.M. in the afternoon, new innovation, blue in color, exactly identical, etc.
I have noticed that when I edit and change wording or move things around, when I then reread what I’ve written I often find I have left a word out or need to remove a word I had inadvertently left in when I revised. This is the time to read your text out loud (quietly, but still audible to you) and one. word. at. a. time. That way you will send your document out without embarrassing glitches. If you read at your normal silent speed, you will very likely speed over them.
Remember, revise comes from the Latin, to see again.
One of my favorite programs is “The Great British Baking Show.” In an early season, a show photographer caught this image of a squirrel on the grounds where the program is shot. (The contestants often use nuts in their recipes, and this photo does indicate a squirrel that is definitely well hung. But I digress.)
My husband and I hung some of my paintings today. Since everything I do makes me think of language, of course I thought of the difference between hanged and hung, two words that are frequently used interchangeably and incorrectly. I originally wrote this post over four years ago, without the squirrel, so I thought I’d do a rerun. Here’s the scoop:
HANGED is used for executions or suicide: “The criminal was hanged.” Sometimes you see “hanged to death” along with “strangled to death” and “starved to death.” Those are all redundancies. If you’re hanged, strangled or starved, you are dead.
HUNG is used for decor: “Angela hung the picture of the well hung model on her bedroom wall.”
To my consternation, I have noticed that many people and advertising companies, perhaps the majority, omit a comma when a person’s or team’s name is in the sentence. I’ll add an X where commas belong in the sentences below. Pay particular attention to sentences that directly address a person.
Good for youX Henry!
NoX Sam, you are wrong about who started the argument.
Good morningX everyone.
In the last example, if you use the comma you are springing a surprise on Marlena. Without the comma, you are ordering someone to surprise Marlena as opposed to surprising someone else.
If words end in “c,” we need to add a “k” to keep the hard “c” sound when affixing the suffixes ed, ing, or y:
Picnic ————-> picnicking, picnicker, picknicked
Panic-————> panicky, panicking
Shellac———-> shellacking, shellacked
Misplaced modifiers are funny—except when you write them and become the object of derision at worst and gentle teasing at best.
Here are a few examples from the book I used in my business writing seminars, The Bare Essentials (Norton, Green, Barale):
Swimming isn’t a good idea if cold or polluted. (Who or what is cold or polluted?)
I learned about Joan’s having a baby in last week’s letter. (That must have been a tight squeeze.)
I saw the Queen and her entourage arrive through a plate glass window. (Ouch!)
At the age of five, the barber cut Jamie’s hair, which curled to his shoulders nearly for the first time. (Such a precocious barber. And did Jamie’s hair curl to his shoulders for the first time? What did happen for the first time?)
Here’s the rule about misplaced modifiers: Put the modifier right next to the word it gives information about.
How often have you come across writing in which the author wrote lose for loose (or vice versa) or chose for choose (again, v.v.) or quite for quiet (vice versa, yet again)? It’s so easy to write a word that is close to the one you want, and your spellchecker will never highlight it because if it’s a word, it will be accepted. It’s up to you to proofread your writing.
I will torture you once more with my proofreading suggestions:
- Read out loud what you have written. No orating, no pontificating. You can read in a very quiet voice, as long as you can hear it come out your mouth and go into your ear. That way you won’t disturb those around you, and you’ll pick up more errors than if you read silently.
- Read slowly, one. word. at. a. time. If you read at your normal pace, you will skip over mistakes such as you when you wanted your or and when you meant any.
- Proofreading backwards loses the meaning, so it won’t help you if you left a word out.
- Trust me.