Proofreading: 7 Editing Tips That’ll Make You a Better Writer in 2020

proofreading editing tips

There are some bloggers who seem to have a natural gift when it comes to writing. Some bloggers seem to be naturally gifted writers.

They manage to get their ideas across clearly and economically, which means that readers can easily follow their word choices. Readers devour their clear, economical prose.

Not only is there a lot of respect for what they have to say, but also the way that they say it. People respect what they say — and love how they say it.

Whenever they publish a new post on their blog, it always gets dozens of comments and hundreds of shares. Every new blog post attracts dozens of comments and hundreds of shares.

It would be great to be as successful as they are, but you don’t know what you need to do to make your writing better. You’d love to emulate their success, but you don’t know how.

The good news is that there are some proofreading and editing tips that you can easily learn which will improve everything you write from now on. Fortunately for you, a few simple proofreading processes and editing tips can transform your writing forever.

Copy Editors and Proofreaders: The Unfair Advantage Popular Writers Try to Hide

You know your writing heroes? Would you be shocked to learn that their writing is no better than yours?

Sure, the final draft is better, but the first draft is just as clumsy, flabby, and downright difficult to read as any of your own writing efforts.

(And, yes, many of them are riddled with the same typographical errors, spelling errors, grammatical errors, and punctuation errors you might be familiar with in your own work.)

What popular bloggers know that many people don’t know (or don’t want to believe) is that a post isn’t finished simply because they’ve said everything they want to say. In many ways that’s just the beginning.

Think of your draft as a rough diamond. Value is hidden inside it and you need an expert gem cutter to reveal its beauty and clarity.

Which is why many top bloggers hire a freelancer — a copy editor, editing service, or professional proofreader (or even proofreading service) — to transform their rough diamonds into gleaming jewels. That’s right — someone else is helping them.

Somewhat unfair, right?

No wonder their writing seems so much better than yours.

Fortunately, copy editing isn’t rocket science. A great writing tool like Grammarly or another grammar checker can help, but it’s actually easy to learn how to proofread and edit your own posts like a pro — if you have someone to show you how.

So let’s break down the rules that’ll help you transform your unremarkable draft into a perfectly polished post.

7 Proofreading & Editing Tips That’ll Transform Your Next Post

Tip #1. Don’t Pad Your Prose with Empty Filler Words

(Or: Avoid Using Grammar Expletives)

Grammar expletives are literary constructions that begin with the words it, here, or there followed by a form of the verb to be.

(Expletive comes from the Latin explere, meaning to fill. Think smelly literary landfill).

Common constructions include it is, it was, it won’t, it takes, here is, there is, there will be.

The problem? When it, here, and there refer to nouns later in the sentence or — worse — to something unnamed, they weaken your writing by shifting emphasis away from the true drivers of your sentences. And they usually require other support power words such as who, that, and when, which further dilute your writing.

Let’s look at an example:

There are some bloggers who seem to have…
The there are expletive places the sentence’s focus on some nebulous thing called there instead of the true focus of the sentence — some bloggers. And the writer must then use another unnecessary word — who — that’s three unnecessary words in one unfocused sentence.

Train yourself to spot instances of there, here, and it followed by a to be verb (such as is, are, was, and were) and adjust your sentences to lead with the meat and potatoes of those sentences instead.

(Tip: Use your Google Doc’s or Microsoft Word’s find functionality and search for there, here, and it and determine if you’ve used an expletive).

Other before-and-after examples:

  • It’s fun to edit — Editing is fun
  • It takes time to writeWriting takes time
  • There are many people who write — Many people write
  • There’s nothing better than blogging — Nothing’s better than blogging
  • Here are some things to consider: — Some things to consider are:

Caveat: If you previously described an object using there, here, and it, you’re not guilty of an expletive infraction. For example:

  • I love proofreading. It’s fun. (This is not an expletive construction since I previously described what it refers to.)

Tip #2. Don’t Weaken the Action with Wimpy Words

(Or: Avoid Weak Verbs; Use Visceral and Action Verbs Instead)

Not only does to be conspire with it, there, and here to create nasty grammar expletives, but it’s also responsible for its own class of sentence impairing constructions.

Certain uses of to be in its various forms weaken the words that follow. The solution is to replace these lightweights with more powerful alternatives.

Let’s see some before-and-after examples:

  • She is blogging — She blogs
  • People are in love with him — People love him
  • He is aware that people love him — He knows people love him

Other verbs besides to be verbs can lack strength as well. Use visceral verbs or verbs that express some action. Let’s edit:

  • Give outOffer
  • Find outDiscover
  • Make it clearer — Clarify
  • I can’t make it to the party — I can’t attend the party
  • He went to Mexico — He traveled to Mexico
  • Think of a blogging strategy — Devise a blogging strategy

Tip #3. Don’t Cripple Your Descriptions with Feeble Phrases

(Or: Avoid Weak Adjectives)

Weak adjectives sap the strength from your writing just as nefariously as weak verbs. Use the best adjectives possible when describing nouns and pronouns. And be mindful that certain words, like really and very, usually precede weak adjectives. Take a look:

  • Really badTerrible
  • Really goodGreat
  • Very bigHuge
  • Very beautifulGorgeous

Even if you don’t have a telltale really or very preceding an adjective, you can often give your writing more impact by using stronger alternatives:

  • DirtyFilthy
  • TiredExhausted
  • ScaredTerrified
  • HappyThrilled

Even worse than using weak adjectives is using weak adjectives to tell your readers what something isn’t as opposed to telling them what something is:

  • It’s not that good — It’s terrible
  • He’s not a bore — He’s hilarious
  • He’s not very smart — He’s ignorant
Weak adjectives sap the strength from your writing.

Tip #4. Trim Flabby Words and Phrases

(Or: Avoid Verbose Colloquialisms)

Today’s readers have limited time and patience for flabby writing. Their cursors hover over the back button, so say what you mean as concisely as possible before your readers vanish:

  • But the fact of the matter isBut (Avoid flabby colloquial expressions when possible)
  • Editing is absolutely essential — Editing is essential (Absolutely is redundant)
  • You’re going to have to edit your work — You’ll have to edit your work or You must edit your work (Going to and going to have to are flabby expressions)
  • Due to the fact that the editing process takes time, some people avoid it — Because editing takes time, some people avoid it
  • Every single person should love editing — Every person should love editing (Single is redundant; and shouldn’t married people love editing too? 😉 )

Tip #5. Don’t Pussyfoot Around Your Verbs and Adjectives

(Or: Avoid Nominalization)

Nominalization occurs when a writer uses a weak noun equivalent when a stronger verb or adjective replacement is available. Like expletives, nominals usually introduce other unnecessary words when used.

Count the number of words in the before-and-after examples below, and you will witness how badly nominals weaken your writing:

  • Give your post a proofreadProofread your post (verb form)
  • Alcohol is the cause of hangovers — Alcohol causes hangovers (verb form)
  • The plane’s approach was met with the scramble of emergency crews — The plane approached and emergency crews scrambled. (verb form)
  • He shows signs of carelessness — He is careless (adjective form)
  • She has a high level of intensity — She is intense (adjective form)

Tip #6. Throw Out the Rulebook on Punctuation

(Or: Use the Occasional Comma for Clarity)

Unless you’re an Engish professor, the rules around punctuation can be complicated, even for the humble comma.

But do you truly need to know the difference between a serial comma, an Oxford comma, and a Harvard comma to write a great blog post? Of course not. (And it’s a trick question — they’re all the same.)

So my philosophy on commas is simple:

Use commas sparingly if you prefer, but if excluding a comma MAKES YOUR READER STOP READING, add another bleepin’ comma — regardless of what any comma police may say.

Let’s look at an example:

You can ignore editing and people reading your post may not notice but your ideas will get lost.

By not including a comma between editing and and, I read this sentence and asked myself, “I can ignore editing and people reading my post? Really?” Of course, readers work out the intended meaning a moment later, but by that time, they’ve already stalled.

So, regardless of what comma rule I may break by adding a comma to this sentence, as long as my readers don’t get confused and stop reading, I don’t care — and neither should you.

Let’s look at another example that needs a comma for clarity:

One day, when you find success you can pull out your golden pen and write me a thank-you letter.

By not including a comma between success and you, I read this sentence and asked myself, “Is success something you can pull out of a golden pen?”

Regardless of your stance on commas, you ultimately want your readers to keep reading. You want them to continue down your slippery slope of powerful content and transitional phrases all the way to your call to action — without getting jarred from their trance to contemplate commas with their inner editors or a Google search.

Editing tips for commas

Tip #7. Be As Manipulative As Possible

(Or: Use Noun Modifiers Whenever You Can)

You won’t use this technique often, but at least be mindful of it.

When we use two nouns together with the first noun modifying the second, we are using noun modifiers. I like them because they hack the flab from our writing by shortening our sentences. Let’s review some examples:

  • Tips on editing — Editing tips
  • Great advice on how to boost traffic — Great traffic-boosting advice (Traffic-boosting is a compound noun here)
  • Information regarding registration — Registration information

These sentences have prepositions between the noun sets. Whenever you spot this construction, try to implement this noun-modifying technique.

Download our free PDF cheat sheet with seven questions that make editing and proofreading your writing a snap. Click here.

Proofreading is Easy. So, What’s Your Excuse Now?

These proofreading and editing tips are not magical, mystical, or complicated. In fact, you could consider them downright boring, plain, and inconsequential.

But applying smart proofreading and style guide rules is what separates your heroes from the masses, catapults them to success, and makes readers say, “I don’t know what it is about their writing, but it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Look at it this way: You’ve expended a ton of effort on starting your blog, SEO, content marketing, networking, and social media promotion, all in the hopes that you might make money blogging so you can quit your job and work from home. So when they arrive, shouldn’t your next post blow their socks off too?

And how about your last post and the one before that? (Yes, you can apply these rules to your old posts too!)

Or are you one of those writers who think they write well enough already? Well, you might be surprised by just how many of these crimes against clarity you’re committing.

Open one of your posts right now and see how many of these editing tips you can apply.

Read each word of your post. Is the word an expletive? Is it a weak verb? A weak adjective? Does it represent nominalization or flab or break any of the other rules mentioned in this post?

Run each word of your post through this checklist of editing tips. You will find something to improve. And your writing will be 100% more powerful as a result.

Because the search for perfection never ends.

And your writing is never too good.

Sure, proofreading and editing take time.

And yes, you’re already busy enough.

But your writing heroes edit, and they land the guest posts, book deals, and exposure you only wish you could.

So, take a break from #amwriting and start #amediting right now.

Your success will thank you.

And so will I.

About the Author: Shane Arthur is a former copy editor for Jon Morrow’s kick-butt Guest Blogging Certification Program that teaches writers just like you how to get their work featured on the world’s biggest blogs and online magazines.

315 thoughts on “Proofreading: 7 Editing Tips That’ll Make You a Better Writer in 2020”

  1. Shane

    I love posts that go into specifics – rather than those that make general points, which you can’t really get a handle on.

    So this really hits the mark for me.

    One thing though – each of the seven points would’ve been great serialised into seven mini posts over seven days (+ an intro post).

    For me, it was the perfect material to break down into bite-size chunks – with something new to look forward to every day.

    Mind you, that’s seven whole new attention-grabbing headlines to write.

    1. Keven: Writing one editing post is stressful enough! It must be error free after all, right? 🙂 Kidding aside, that’s a good idea, and I’ll consider doing so.

      1. Too right, Shane, it is stressful.

        Done a few of those types of post myself.

        But, as we both know, you have to put the legwork in to get any sort of impact.

        Looking at the post above, I can see you’ve done loads of that already.

      2. I hate to rain on your parade; BUT, you broke your own rules. !!! ???
        (e.g. see the next-to-the-last line in #6)

        AND, gerunds are NOT nouns.
        PLUS, you didn’t get the comma thing correct, either.

        Sorry. (“Every party needs a ‘pooper’ that’s why you invited me.”)

    2. Hi Shane!
      Great article! I am planning to use it as a checklist for my editing. Do you know of an actual more comprehensive checklist for editing that we can use? For some reason I find that using a checklist each time, helps me remember the points and ultimately I don’t have to look at the list any more. I appreciate any advice you have on that.

    3. Fantasmic! (Disney word.) My son recently completed his PhD in English and he talks like that too. He had me read William Zinsser’s book, “On Writing Well”. Even the chapter titles; Simplicity, Clutter, Words, Usage — all short. Just the opposite of what my high school students do when writing essays. Thanks for the reminders and suggestions.

      1. @John: I have that book. As an extra assignment to all the readers here wanting to test their editing skills, buy this book (a book on cutting the clutter and writing well, after all) and try to see if you can spot any instances where Zinsser could have cut his own flab. Yes, I’ve already done it (I’m so bad)!

  2. So I’m reading your post, Shane, and I’m thinking, “Man, this is good. This is *really* good.” Even though I know it’s a guest post, it seems like it’s something Jon wrote.

    Then I read your byline and I see that you’re one of Jon’s editors. 🙂

    Great work, Shane. I’m bookmarking this post!

    1. @Mark: Thank you. Yeah, Jon’s a fantastic writer. He’s a master of the smooth transition down the slippery slope of content. I study everything his writes.

  3. Shawn Hartwell

    Woah! What a beautiful list of information. Too much. A good thing is how much I’ve learned from this. Time to share it on some G+ communties, it’s that good!

  4. I know this…

    I forget this…

    I need this…

    Thanks to your post that I am now printing for reference with every new post I write, one day I won’t forget this!

    And yeah, you got that “Jon” style!

    Thanks for a great post!

    Mario Z

  5. I’m a professional writer, and I learned something. I mean, I knew the general principles (and I know the rules about the Oxford comma, too!), but you explain the how and the why in ways I hadn’t thought about. Like noun modifiers — I DO that, but I never thought about it that way. This is great. I want to geek out on this post. It makes me wish I were still teaching writing, because these are all such great ways of explaining why the edits are better and how to apply them to different situations.

  6. This is why you remain my favorite editor, Shane. 😉 One of these days when I write that next great novel, I’ll be sure to seek your services. Hopefully, we won’t be in wheelchairs by then. 😀

    1. @Lisa: I truly appreciate you saying that. And by all means, geek out! 😉 I know I geek out with editing — to the point it drives my writer-brain crazy.

      1. @Cathy: (Sorry, I put my reply to Lisa on your comment). You know I blush easily! But thanks. You’re a fantastic writer of crime drama, so get busy finishing that novel.

  7. Excellent, Shane! As time goes on I think I’ve been getting the hang of it and eliminating some of these bad habits – learning as I go. But I know there are gaps I need to close. It’s so helpful to know the top things you look for.

    I’ll be referring to this often. Thanks so much!

    1. @Leanne: Thank you. We’ll always have gaps in our writing. And just think how boring life would be if we already mastered them all and had nothing to strive for. 😉

  8. Great article and I’m definitely bookmarking it! Reading about doing this is easier than doing it! One of the reasons Stephen King is my favorite writer is because he is the master of the edit. His stories flow. Great tips for creating dynamic content. Implementing the art of the edit will ensure your article is read! Thanks!

  9. Great tips, Shane! Flashbacks of my high school English class now cloud my mind–in a good way! Am I the only one who enjoyed diagramming sentences and slaying passive voice? HA! ~Angela

    1. @Angela: Thanks. I remember getting transferred to an elementary school for one year and the teacher being awful — so much so that when I returned to my regular school a year later, I had forgotten how to read. I was in 2nd grade at the time and I had to use one of those reading machines to help me, and I had to sit at the “slow table” and read the Dick & Jane books until I caught up. I remember telling myself how bad that sucked and that I’d do whatever necessary to master language (no wonder I read The Little, Brown Handbook 10 times before reaching college).

  10. This came at a perfect time. I am launching a new website with a blog. I’m going to bookmark this to refer back to as I enter this new world. Thanks!

  11. My husband Jim and I read through your post together, admitting what we were each guilty of (we write & edit posts as a team). Thank you for the fabulous lesson, which I just added to my bookmarks!

    1. @Beth: You’d be surprised at how many professional writers AND publishing houses are guilty of proofing and editing errors. Last year I looked through a buddy’s book that was published by a major publishing house and I found 75 proofing errors (and they used three proofreaders on the project). How in bleep does that happen!

  12. Thanks for the post. As William Strunk Jr. said, “Omit needless words! Omit needless words! Omit needless words!” I often find wimpy constructions and needless words in my first drafts. It’s sometimes frustrating, because I know it’d save me so much time if I could simply banish them from my lexicon in the first place. (I’d save hours by avoiding them.) But losing the flab in the second draft is pretty thrilling.

    P.S. I’ll never stop using “pretty.”

  13. Great stuff Shane!

    Indeed, even the greatest of writers have to go through multiple edits and drafts in order to come up with a product that clearly and concisely gets the message across to their readers.

    As they say – write drunk and edit sober!

    1. @Darly: I like to say, “Write drunk, hire a sober editor.” 🙂 This post when through a ton of iterations. Usually after I write a post, I spot errors that I have to frantically email the blog owner about. Luckily, that hasn’t happened … yet.

  14. Thank you Shane for this insightful post. Editing tips are underutilized on line. I have clearly under edited many of my posts. Thank you again, I will be editing my posts much further from now on.

    1. @Paul: Thanks man. Just curious, what did you think of the opening where we used strike-through text. I’d like to know what readers were thinking when they saw this. I wanted people to jump right into the world of edited text to get a feel for what receiving a document with Track Changes from an editor is like.

  15. Shane, I just read this and I want to happy-dance. (But I’m in a public space, with limited acceptance for that)

    Will be dancing later tonight, blissfully happy about being able to edit my posts (I’ve struggled with it before. Bookmarking this page right now) Thank You!

  16. Brilliant. That’s the best introductory section I’ve seen in a long time – possibly ever. Talk about illustrating your point – that was great. Neatly done. The strike through text was really powerful … I had a notion as to what the post was going to be about from the good headline, but the strikethrough drove it home. I loved it!

      1. y’know, what it did was clearly demonstrate problems with my own writing. I’m sure that applies to 90% of people when they first come to this blog. Relating to your readership that quickly – without hitting them over the head with ‘YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG’ was smartly done.

  17. This is truly great information – I’m guilty of a ‘few’ of those however, sometimes it’s nice to “fluff” things. Great advice though, will use these guidelines for subsequent posts! 🙂 Have a great one Shane! -Iva

  18. I can’t remember the last time I read every word of a blog post.

    I, like most other blog readers, usually skim through posts.

    But you’ve contributed a wonderful piece, Shane.

    I wish to see more posts of this quality and value on major blogs.

    But there are a few points where I disagree with you.

    In general, I think a lot of the times we need to use certain words or phrases just to create emphasis in our writing.

    It’s not about grammar or structures.

    It’s more about getting your point across exactly the way you would do if you were talking to someone in person.

    But overall, a brilliant post with lots of value.

    Thanks!

  19. Great post Shane! It’s in my Evernote.

    I’ve been guilty of beginning a sentence with “there,” and then think to myself, “You know the sentence sucks. Rewrite it.” 🙂

  20. Very good advice Shane. After reading this post, I have a strong urge to edit all my previous posts. Your first point in particular gives me much trouble. Some times I detect the use of extraneous words but most of the time they escape and creep into my writing.

    I disagree with you on #3 however. I feel that sometimes one word substitutions subdue the effect that I am trying to convey. In some situations they can help but I don’t think that you should always replace phrases. I can’t think of any example at the moment though.

    Great post. Thank you for writing this.

    1. @Akshat: Always go with what you feel is the best choice for your audience, regardless of what I or anybody else says. Ultimately, we can list guidelines, but you know your writing and your audience best.

  21. Excellent write-up Shane! Very helpful and clear examples. The more I write, the easier it is to look at my posts for editing and clarity. I’ll have this one bookmarked!

  22. Excellent. Thank you! I run an online writing group and will be adding this to our editing resources.

    Even though I know the things on this list, I’m still guilty of bloating my writing with extras. It’s always good to have a reminder.

  23. As a recovering English teacher, I’m thrilled that a new hope has arisen for our language that is so often shredded online by bloggers more interested in quantity than quality. I second the comments about the brilliance of the intro, and the nitty-grittiness of the entire post is refreshing and highly useful. (And, yes, I just made up a word while commenting on a post about the English language.)

    Thanks, Shane, for such dedication in creating such a detailed and, no doubt, exhausting post to write and edit. Lots of “share” love coming your way on this one!

    1. @Cory: I’ve learned a ton from reading obscure academic websites specializing in writing and editing. Those sites don’t rank well with the search engines, but they’re golden. And if anybody would be able to spot something I did wrong, my money would be on a recovering English teacher, so I’m honored.

  24. I am a creative writer as well, have been studying creative writing for years, and I have never seen a better explanation of these rules anywhere else. Great post! I’m bookmarking this for reference in all my writing. Active vs. Passive sentences are one of the tricky things I’ve always struggled with, but now I have the answers (and examples) to help me. Thank you so much.

    1. @Hashim: I mentioned above that at some point, you will see edits like Neo sees zeros and ones in The Matrix. When that happens, it’s one hell-of-a-good feeling.

    1. @Connie: As I mentioned above, I have a ton of respect for academic folks specializing in language. Most of them could clean my clock in editing/proofing skills, so I try to learn as much as possible from them.

  25. Great post Shane. I’ll never forget your praise of my copywriting.

    Most posts on grammar, style, etc. make me go cross-eyed or start seeing words falling off the page. But this is a post I’ll be reading over and over.

    I believe in writing tightly but I also think “flow” is important. As is character. Editing your writing should take into account both. Otherwise it loses some of its bite.

    1. @Tom: I love your writing, man! I agree with your “flow” comment. You will be the best judge of what is best for your own writing and audience. Write on!

  26. Shane,

    Your post popped in my email box as I was about to hit “publish”! Your headline, of course, stopped me in my tracks and I’m so glad it did! 15 short minutes of editing using your tips were transformational. This is definitely going into my favorites. Thanks for sharing your expertise. 🙂

    1. @Yelena: That’s the kind of comment I love to read! Without a doubt, an editing pass will improve a blog post. We see this with EVERY post that goes through Jon’s program.

  27. BONUS TIPWhen proofreading or editing your post, read each word as if you are a robot. Don’t laugh! Try it right now. Read each word slowly as if you are a sluggish robot. This will help you not read past each word as you try to spot errors. If role play isn’t your cup of tea, click the Show/Hide Paragraph Marks button in MS Word. As you will see, it.puts.a.dot.between.each.word.which.will.show.you.down.
    See how that works!

    Before long, you won’t even need to hit that button.

  28. You have come perilously close to breaking a rule for guest bloggers, Shane: Don’t write a post so good and so popular that it makes your blogging host jealous. Always good to throw in an error to make them look good.

    Really, though, it’s a great post I’ll be referring to in the future. Thanks. And I’ll come back to read Jon’s posts, too.

    Andy

    1. @Alicia: Those expletives are such a sore spot of mine that I went and wrote a short book (which for the life of me, I don’t know why I’m still sitting on) dealing with those gremlins. I hope you will strengthen your writing by using less of them.

  29. Great blog – thanks! As I was reading, something struck me. I wonder if writing all those “500 word” essay assignments through the childhood years of schooling, trains one to come up with all the “filler words”.

    1. @Donna: I”m not a fan of making students write a specific amount of words, but I did love my creative writing class in middle school that let us write for 15 minutes at the beginning of the class. We didn’t have a word-count goal; we just had to think of something creative to write. Usually, I’d think of something so creative, I couldn’t even finish the idea in time. The emphasis should be on the love of the writing itself and not the constraint of word count.

  30. Shane, to steal one of Mark Twain’s terms, this one’s a corker. I’ve read many engaging grammar books (“Eats, Shoots and Leaves” and “Woe Is I” come to mind), and you deliver the same refreshingly clear information without being didactic. I think you need to have a slam poetry session with Grammar Girl and record it for posterity.

  31. Great tips. I’m constantly trying to improve my writing. I’m going to put this post on my WordPress Weekly I put out this Friday.

  32. Great article Shane! I’ll be using it as a double check guide before pressing “post” from now on 🙂 Thank you

  33. Shane, If you were a baseball pitcher your post was a fastball right down the middle, the pitch everyone swings at but few hit.

    Great post on sentence fixing and keeping the reader engaged.

  34. @David: Love the analogy. As long as the writers reading this post are the fans watching the game and not the people trying to hit the ball, because we want them to hit it out of the park! 😉

  35. Thank you Shane for clarifying how important editing is. I did not realize that a post was not done until it was edited until I came into the Boost Blog Traffic course. : )

  36. Flense the flabby words, expunge adverbs and adjectives, tighten your prose and fight for your own brand of punctuation — standard stuff, and sound advice, as far as it goes. Which is why it’s propounded by every good grammarian.

    And yet as an editor I’ve found these interminable lists often intimate the tyro into inaction — and, if that’s not enough, we further confuse the tyro by finding countless examples of good literature that breaks every rule mentioned here and elsewhere.

    George Orwell wrote the best and most timeless essay on the subject that I’ve ever come across, but even he has the good sense to note that in his very essay readers will no doubt find him guilty of many literary crimes he’s railing against.

    My point?

    My point is, don’t ignore these and all other sensible writing rules, but do realize that these rules will not, in the end, make or break your literature necessarily.

    The biggest rule of all?

    Beware the overly proscriptive:

    There is a formula (of sorts) to writing, but that formula should always be framed in terms of principles, and not concretes.

    Here, if I may, are some actual examples of do’s-and-do-not’s that I’ve recently read, all of which were taken from real-life editors and writers:

    “Do no begin your story with weather.”

    “Do not use ellipses.”

    “Do not use the word commence.

    “Do not use the word basically.

    “Do not use the word very.

    “Never end a chapter with your character falling asleep.”

    “Never begin your chapter with your character waking up.”

    “Do not use adverbs in your dialogue tags.”

    “Cut virtually all your adverbs.”

    “Never use of if it can be cut.”

    “Never use that if it can be cut.”

    “Never say in order to but only to.

    “Never use would except to project the future.”

    “Do not use italics for emphasis.”

    “In your dialogue tags, never say ‘said John’ but always keep it ‘John said’.”

    “Never introduce dialogue with ‘John said’ but always put the tag after the dialogue.”

    And so on, ad infinitum.

    This method of teaching ignores the method by which the human mind works — which is to say, in principles — and chooses instead to overload the brain with endless commands that come without explication of fundamentals. And yet it is only by grasping the fundamentals behind any given thing that people can grasp the full nature of what they’re doing.

    If you grasp the nature of what you’re doing, you’ll never run out of material.

    If, on the other hand, you never discover the principles behind the specific rules you’re commanded to obey, you’ll never feel secure in your craft or sullen art, and I indeed know successful writers who live in fear that they’ll never be able to duplicate their first and even second success. The fear comes because they’ve not learned the nature of writing, though they have polished their writing in large part by memorizing a great many do’s and do not’s.

    I assure you that every single rule you’ll ever read has been successfully broken by writers whose books and essays and stories endure and will continue to endure. The people who memorize and compile these laundry lists, however, do not, for the most part, write durable literature.

    Timeless literature captures some aspect of the human condition — “the human heart,” as Faulkner called it — and the technical do’s and don’ts are and always will be secondary.

    One man’s opinion.

  37. @Ray: Man, that was an excellent comment you left. My favorite quote regarding language is, “Language follows rules; it doesn’t follow orders.” All of the edits I do for Jon’s GuestBlogging program specifically state that the “suggestions” I make are just that — the author always has the final say. I try to limit what I do to techniques that state what needs stated in as few words as possible to keep the modern busy reader from bolting. Definitely not overly proscriptive.

  38. Vicky Global

    “Don’t Cripple Your Descriptions with Feeble Phrases.”

    I am guilty of this. Most of the times, I don’t find the appropriate words to express what I want to convey.

  39. @Vicky: I would guess that most of the time, time is the reason for not finding the appropriate word. If you have longer to work on a post, you’ll have more time to find that perfect word you’re looking for.

  40. Shane, I’m impressed by this post and glad the other Mitch shared it on G+. I use more words than needed often, and if I’m storytelling that’s not a bad thing. Other times… I need to be better.

    Of course you just validated me vs. Mitch about commas and let he still liked the post. 🙂

    1. @Dr. Rie: Considering your background, I’m honored that you would say that. Saw your website. I now know who to visit when I need some screenwriting tips. 🙂

  41. It’s great when a brilliantly informative post comes along right when you need it !
    Thanks Shane perfect timing.

  42. Please, please, please, don’t publish any more posts like this one! My niche is already too competitive, and if you keep teaching people to write more simply, clearly and powerfully, you take away what little edge I have. Whose idea was this, anyway?

  43. Oh, so guilty of so many points here! Must go back and edit older posts (but while trying to keep my voice intact. Writing is so hard, remind me why we do it, please).

    Thank you so much for adding the examples, I even took notes when reading 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  44. There was a lot of very good information in this blog post.
    This was a great post.

    I embarrass myself every day when editing my work. “Why did you jabber on like that?” I ask myself as I whittle a 20 word sentence down to 10.

  45. This is just great! Guilty of most, if not all of the mistakes you’ve listed. Now I need to edit everything I’ve every written, or simply start writing better. Thanks!

  46. This is probably one of the best articles I have read on writing compelling content! I will be keeping this as a guide for everything that I write from now.. from proposals to blogs!
    Thanks a lot Shane!
    Enough said! Time for me to share this post!

  47. Great post for writers seeking to be better writers – I should know :-] Editing is more important than writing just as playing music is more important than writing it down. Editing, I call it trimming (mostly), is also a page out of Nature’s teachings: Pruning and trimming are not an end to growth, but redirecting the way of growth.

    PS. “In order to” is one filler that always rubs me the wrong way – in writing and in speaking. [No offense to anyone who might have used the term here :-]

    With best wishes for 2014,
    Beat

  48. I’ll never forget the first time Shane edited one of my articles during Jon’s first guest blogging class. Ouch. My writing has never been the same. Thanks for the great resource! You are the king of concise prose.

    1. @Todd: Haha! That’s how I feel when Glen, Jon’s structural editor, gets hold of my writing. He sees bigger-picture flaws that I miss. But, once the ego sting passes, you know you’re better off for that extra set of trained eyes. Write on!

  49. I’ve waited for this article! (Just rewrote that sentence, following rules here!)

    Adding the form of the verb “to be” is one of my pet peeves. It takes all the action out of a sentence. Almost like passive voice.

    Thanks for sharing. And great to have Jon Morrow alert me about it.

    Charlie Seymour Jr

  50. A checklist is especially helpful when writing and editing late at night on deadline. Thanks for the useful post!

  51. Hi Shane. I took an editing course in college and believe I was the only one with a big smile on my face because I love editing! It’s like working crossword puzzles, in my book. Anyway, the course took us through the Gregg Reference Manual, so I’m familiar with most of your tips. However, I really like how you simplified it all and gave great examples. Thank you for another great reference tool.

  52. I’m guilty of this crime. Editing old, error-filled posts would send me to twilight zone, for sure. I’ve tried proofreading, editing my posts but only a dozen come to fruition. Proofreading, editing hundreds is no joke, eh. Geez, I’ve gotten about as much encouragement from this post. Woohoo!

  53. Thank you, Shane and Jon! Fantastic post and something I don’t pay enough attention to. The way you set it up made me want to read all the way to the end. Nice work!

  54. I loved the graphic opening of this post; great way to illustrate the point! In my own writing, I’ve found that trying to keep my posts to a certain word count (250-400) helps me to be more concise and lose some of the expletives. However, I will be more conscious of fillers after reading this. I’ll be bookmarking this post to refresh my memory!

    1. @Brenda: I wrote an article for Copyblogger about proofreading and I did something similar in the opening (link is in the article above). I knew I wanted to do something similar to drive the point home in this post. Go glad you appreciated that.

  55. Thank you for this. Great tips, succinctly presented.

    I consider myself a pretty decent writer, but I’m probably guilty of more of these offenses than I realize. I’ll keep this handy from now on, this is a great resource.

    Thanks again.

  56. This is the best explanation of passive and active voice I have seen, and it doesn’t even refer to itself as such. Saved and referenced. Thank you.

  57. I’m fairly new to blogging + being acquainted with your blog. So far every piece I read brought outstanding value. Thank you for your work!

  58. So far this is the most useful article on blogging I’ve read. I can’t believe how many of those mistakes I’ve made… Thank you so much for posting this!

  59. Thanks, Shane!
    I’ll forward this to my next guest blogger. She’ll appreciate it.
    The strikethrough introduction completely grabbed my attention. It worked like a film trailer and precisely communicated what would follow. I woke up and said “yes, yes!” before I’d read the meat. What a relief to find clarity online, first thing this morning!
    Thanks, again.

  60. Let’s do something fun for those who subscribed to the comments. Put in another comment with the url of a short post you’d like me to look at. I’ll see if I can tighten the post(or a portion of it if it’s too long) and post my suggestions in the comments. I may only do one of these. Just had a crazy thought to try it.

    1. @Rob: Okay, I gave it a quick pass.

      “““““““““““““““““““
      I found it so moving, it’s actually hard for me to write [I’m struggling to write] about it, but I will, because it says everything you need to know about the power of words in just a few words.
      “I’m blind. Please help,” the sign says [reads] and while the man gets a few small donations, most people pass him by [ignore him] or indifferently toss him a coin or two. Then a young woman walks up to the man, takes his sign and writes another message. Soon, just about everyone who passes by is giving [gives] the man pocketfuls of change.
      The girl returns later and the man asks her what she did to his sign. “I wrote the same,” she says, “but in different words.”
      Finally, we’re let in on the secret. “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it,” the rewritten sign says [reads].
      Of course, it’s a video played by actors, so there’s no proof [we can’t prove]the new message would have had its desired effect in the real world. Nevertheless, I was moved by the words because they enabled me to enter the man’s dark world. That, in a nutshell, is the secret to writing powerful words.
      In the first instance, the man was stating the fact [stated] that he was “blind” and needed help, but his words failed to move passersby because blindness was an abstract concept to them. When they read, “It’s a beautiful day and I can’t see it,” they were able to [could] empathize with him because the word “see” was part of their reality[,]((without this comma, this reads as if the word “see” is also a part of him inability to see)) and his inability to see the beautiful day they were enjoying was something they could relate to.
      As I proofread this short blog, I made a small change I think helped improve the text. Where it says, “pocketfuls of change” now, it said “large amounts of change” before[I changed large amount of change to pocketfuls]. “Large amounts of change”[don’t need the quotes here] is such a bland phrase, but you can see and feel pocketfuls of change.
      What can you do to make a better connection [nominalization – connect more or better connect] with your readers?

      “““““““““““““““““““
      (All of my strike-through text didn’t copy over so I hope manually putting in the html tags works when I hit submit.)

      1. Thanks so much for making these corrections! Some seemed like little things, but your changes made the text read more smoothly. I use a few phrases habitually and don’t even notice them. Examples:

        were able to (could)
        stating the fact that (stated)
        there’s no proof (we can’t prove)

        Now that you’ve pointed them out, they sound cringe-worthy.
        Thanks again.

  61. Thanks Shane! The hardest part for me is getting the thoughts out of my head and onto the computer. I think the reason is that I tend to overanalyze and pay too much attention to how the words flow (before I even hit the keys!) Get your ideas down first, worry about structure later. Editing should be the fun part. (well, maybe)

    1. @John: Exactly! Tell your inner editor to take a hike until it’s his time to perform! Seriously, train your writer brain to ignore all instructions while writing. Or give yourself a rule that you can’t hit the delete or backspace keys until you’ve finished the rough draft. Thanks for reading.

  62. Wonderful tips and suggestions. Your edits made everything more concise and I’m a huge proponent of not wasting people’s time, since time, in my opinion, is your most precious asset. Something that you can’t really put a price on because you can never buy it back, so be very careful how you spend yours 🙂

    Looking forward to more excellent articles and tips in the future.

    1. @Shiwangi: Thank you kindly. I’m thinking of my next post right now. Perhaps a list post of the 400 flabby words and phrases I have on file. Not sure yet.

  63. Hi Shane – loved the fact that you visually edited the first 18 lines of this post. Seeing the editing process is such a help for writers who are in the learning stages of how to tighten their prose/edit.

    When I taught writing, I came up with a few tips for my students. The first was having them ask this question as they edited someone else’s writing: “Can you make one strong word do the work of two or three weak words?” All of the examples you use in #1, #2 and #3 are perfect examples of how this question works.

    Reading aloud when you’re sure what you’ve written is in final form is a great way to catch any mistakes and hear the rhythm of your content.

    And, for those pesky spelling errors? I’d encourage my students to read their essays backwards, starting with the last word, moving the eye from left to right. Your eyes “read” individual words out of sequence, forcing any spelling errors to stand out.

    If I may, one last comment: writing poetry, even bad poetry, is a great exercise for cleaning up prose; it heightens your awareness for the power of individual words on a page.

    Thanks for allowing me this trip down memory lane. I’ve had fun reading all of the comments and appreciate having this post to refer back to.

  64. Nice that you like my homepage copy, Shane. Hopefully, you didn’t notice that links to all of the pages on my site are temporarily missing. lol Writing I can do. A techie I will never be.

  65. Shane this FANTASTIC. The secret to your brilliant word-smithing on my guest blogging submissions has now been revealed. Thank you!

  66. Shane, so good to see you on this blog. Your edits in the guestblogging forum have had such a huge impact on my writing. So I love this post.

    Also, your tip about using the find functionality made me laugh.

    I recently created a note in Evernote with a couple of words I could copy and paste into the find functionality to quickly spot points of improvement in my text.

    I started with “it, here, there, really, very” and then went through your edits of my old guest posts to see what else I could add. While going through this article, I added a few new ones 🙂

    it
    here / there
    really
    very
    be / begin / began
    start
    was
    going
    make
    made
    not
    n’t
    maybe
    might
    by
    want — wish, desire
    learn — discover
    find– discover
    best
    great
    is
    are
    on

  67. Shane.. The post you have created here is life-changing for me. As editing is something I neither understood or could accomplish without some assistance. I’m bookmarking this post. Honestly I deserve to read it a few more times in order to obtain complete understanding.. thanks so much.. keep smiling

  68. This is great. I have pared it down into a checklist that people who have studied English grammar will understand:

    Have you used…
    1. The existential “there”? Do you need it?
    2. The present continuous, or a phrasal verb? Could you replace it with a plain verb?
    3. An adverb like “really” or “very”? Is the adjective you’re using poor? Can you find another one?
    4. A negative description, eg. “not that good”? Can you put it positively?
    5. Weak verbs with nouns? Can you use those nouns as verbs? Eg. Alcohol is the cause of hangovers – Alcohol causes hangovers.
    Can you…
    6. Delete any unnecessary phrases, such as “the fact of the matter is” or “absolutely”?
    7. Use a noun modifier instead of a noun + preposition + noun?

    Are you…
    8. Using commas to effectively clarify meaning?

  69. Nice post Shane! I am guilty of many of the writing sins you pointed out. I tend to overdo the there, here and it business. But I don’t agree with your punctuation point. Here’s one reason why http://goo.gl/GzGiXu
    Not to mention that you yourself generously use the commas (both Serial and Oxford)

    P.S. You might want to edit this sentence.
    “You’ve expended a ton of effort on SEO, content marketing, networking, and social media promotion, all in the hopes that more people will notice your blog. So when they arrive, shouldn’t your next post blow their socks off too?”

  70. @Mohita: I agree with you. If omitting a comma get’s poor Grandpa eaten, by all means don’t omit the comma, but our example doesn’t get anybody eaten. 🙂

    Yes, we could have edited that sentence to read, “You’ve expended a ton of effort on SEO, content marketing, networking, and social media promotion, all [in the hopes that[so] more people will notice your blog.”

  71. I’ve spent my career speaking and writing, and I still need to take time with every thing I write to edit it down, remove the fluff and make it tight. When I started I didn’t like doing that very much, but now I view it as an indispensable part of the publishing process. Thank you for a great post, Shane.

  72. Thanks for some really specific, useful tips! I guess your writing style also depends on your audience, theme, language (!) etc., but I loved this both creative and serious way of showing how to keep it simple.

  73. Among the 100s of ‘how to blog’ articles I’ve read, this is the first post that’s actually about editing. This is a sight for sore eyes – I’m a total perfectionist and am constantly editing, refining, trying to remove those useless filler words, to the point where I only publish a fraction of what I actually start to write! But you’re telling me that’s okay… thank you!

  74. I like your content (it’s right up my alley) and I love the presentation — how you’ve broken the advice down into useful chunks and how you used different fonts, type faces and colors to make the scroll attractive and easy to use. I’ll try copying that!

  75. This was brilliant. Thank you. I just went over one of my emails and massively improved it by following your advice. I like to write but I was making quite a few of the mistakes you outlined above. I’m going to keep coming back to this page daily in order to learn how to make my blog a great read. I’m sure my readers will also appreciate that. Many thanks.

  76. Hi Shane. I agree to all your points. I wrote many contents using grammar expletives. But now, i learned to write a content without these boring grammar expletives. Keep writing this type articles.

  77. Hi Shane,

    I want to improve my writing skills. Can you recommend any good books? I tend to be wordy rather than direct & concise. Thank you in advance for your feedback.

    1. Okay, I’ll bite.
      1. You just wrote two sentences without capitalizing the first words of each. Is that part of your non-suck method?
      2. Have you been hacked? I ask this because clearly you can’t possibly think this is a good way to get hired. The whois data of your comment should help us determine this.

  78. Shane, serious question. Other than your own opinion, is there some verifiable data supporting the contention that the suggested edits will make one’s “writing more powerful”?

    IMO, blanket editing rules are quite dangerous to writers, especially inexperienced ones. Judging by the comments on this page, I wonder how many of them will now write “No time was there” instead of “There was no time”.

  79. Hi Shane. Again, you’ve provided great advice. (I already edited that sentence having committed two infractions). I guess that 1500 word post I wrote last night will become 700 quite easily now. Also, I suggest you check the G+1 button? I couldn’t scroll to the “post” button, your site kept jumping around. Probably why you have so few +1s. Kudos to your site AGAIN.

  80. I feel like I’ve struck gold reading your post. Will save and get a print.
    No time to waste. Going back to my old posts:) thank you loads.
    You’re a genius! Happy New Year

  81. Hey Shane, thanks – one hell of a post. I read every word, including comments. Essential copy checklist – even better on the second read. Loving it!

  82. Hey Shane, I just can’t thank you enough for this post. This is way beyond the usual “stop making it too wordy.” This is really, really good advice. Thanks for sharing.

  83. hey Shane,

    thank you for unveiling the secret behind the editing process of popular bloggers. Loved the way you elaborated with examples.

    Rather going to take action, taking action straight away, if you know what I mean 😀

  84. Lovely post and great comments….seriously I generally avoid reading such articles but this one is too fantastic that I read whole article and even read all the comments…….. too catchy….. 🙂

  85. Amazing post, Arthur.
    There are so many rules to be considered as a writer, that it’s really hard to respect them all.
    But learning to produce amazing content for your readers, while optimizing for search engines at the same time, is a necessary process to master.
    I like your suggestions on how to improve the effectiveness of your writing, by simply editing some words (leaving the same meaning).
    Thanks for sharing your insights! 🙂

  86. Hey Shane,

    Always loved this one of yours. One of my favorite Smart Blogger posts.

    Learning how to edit my work was, by far, my biggest breakthrough as a blogger. And this post has lots of great tips and ideas.

    Off to tweet…

    1. @Ahmad, my favorite book growing up was The Little, Brown Handbook. But, I think you’ll learn just as much from studying writers you love, too.

  87. I have been digging through the trenches of the internet to find a blog post such as this one. Your words will be my Bible for the next few weeks as I go through an editing makeover for all of my blog posts.

  88. I am reading a blog on this website for the first time and I would like to tell you that the quality of the article is up to the mark it is very well written.

  89. Usually, I never comment on blogs but your article convinced me to comment on it as is written so well. And telling someone how awesome they are is essential so that on my part I convince you to write more often.

  90. Thanks for sharing this relevant and good content with us. I read it all. By showing the editing mistakes you made us realize that what kind of mistake, we should avoid. As content matters a lot.

  91. I just like the helpful information you supply in your articles.I will bookmark your blog and take a look at again here regularly.I am somewhat certain I’ll be informed many new stuff proper right here! Best of luck for the following!

  92. Really enjoyed reading your blog.It is highly informative and builds great interest for the readers. For the people like us your blogs helps to get ideal information and knowledge. Thanks for providing such blogs.

  93. Great stuff! I was surprised to see that you didn’t link to the 297 Flabby Words article in #4 (which is another great article).

    Is it good or bad that I’m starting to see missed link opportunities in other people’s articles? 😀

    1. @Josh, thank you for mentioning that. I’ll pass that up the chain.

      I’d call it a GREAT thing you seeing missed links. You’re getting the editor-eye.

  94. Thank you for sharing this useful article with us. I could offer 3 words: READ, WRITE, OBSERVE. This will help you write. I love to read your post. I appreciate you to continue your hard work. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  95. 1, Read. Think about what you read. Talk about what you read. Listen to others talking about what they read. Read what they read. (This helps with content.)

    2. Learn the basics of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage. Use them. Study them. Pay attention to how well you use them. Study how others use them (or not). (This helps with delivery.)

    3. Get help on the parts you don’t do well, and consider the advice you receive. (This helps you combine join #1 and #2.)

  96. Awesome share.!!!!!!!! I have found here lots of interesting information for my knowledge I need. all the details you provide to us, it was very helpful and useful, thanks for sharing this amazing post.

  97. Hey Shane,
    What a great read. One of the greatest blog for readers. It is so informative, I also shared it with some of the collegues. Thanks for sharing.

  98. Fantastic post. As I have started my career in content writing, your tips have really proved helpful to me. Keep sharing your valuable knowledge with the users.

  99. Excellent write-up Shane! Very helpful and clear examples. The more I write, the easier it is to look at my posts for editing and clarity. I’ll have this one bookmarked!

  100. Awesome stuff Shane ! I will work on making my content better and better and sharing knowledge that will help others bigtime. I write on many subjects such as Cryptos, bio etc but I had other useful knowledge too, that I will share with my readers in a way better than before . Thanks for sharing.

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