As a former English and composition teacher, I’m often asked for writing advice. One of my favorite tips is this: Always think about grammar in the context of your purpose and your audience.
If you’re aiming for absolute grammatical perfection, it’s easy to feel intimidated. Yet, most of your readers won’t notice the occasional split infinitive or dangling participle. They’re more likely looking for a natural, easy-to-understand writing style and a distinctive author “voice.” The best grammar is invisible–it supports your ideas without distracting from them.
This does not mean, however, that all editing is worthless. On the contrary, setting aside time to proofread and edit your work is absolutely essential. While you may not catch every grammar issue, you will find unclear sentences, spelling and punctuation mistakes, and awkwardly organized paragraphs. These are problems that could potentially confuse your audience. Taking the extra time to find and fix them will ensure that you communicate your ideas in the best way possible.
Where to begin? Here are five practical editing tips that anyone can use:
1. Read your content out loud.
When you read silently, your brain often supplies missing words and punctuation marks that aren’t actually there. Reading out loud forces you to slow down and pay closer attention to the text. Another benefit of reading audibly is hearing the rhythm of your words. If you’re running out of breath, you might need to shorten a sentence or use a comma.
2. Watch out for repetition.
Writers often fall into ruts, using the same word or sentence construction multiple times in a small amount of space. Look at the first few words of every sentence. Do you tend to use the same words to introduce every idea? Do all of your sentences start with the same introductory phrase? Then, look at sentence length. Are all of your sentences roughly the same number of words? When possible, use a different word or sentence type to introduce greater variety into your writing.
3. Read for specific mistakes.
Remembering every rule of grammar all at once is nearly impossible. Instead, make a list of 5-8 common grammar mistakes and read your content multiple times, looking for a specific mistake each time. For example, you might read the text once for missing end punctuation, once for capitalization errors, once for comma issues, etc. Focusing on one problem at a time may take a larger amount of time, but it will greatly improve your chances of identifying mistakes.
4. Step away for a while.
When you’re working under a deadline, taking a break may seem counterproductive. Clearing your head, however, ensures that you’re editing your work with fresh eyes. Even if you can only spare a few minutes, distancing yourself from the content will give you a new perspective on your ideas and help you see problems that your brain previously missed.
5. Let yourself break the rules.
Like most rules in life, there are often legitimate reasons for breaking the rules of grammar. If your ultimate goal is to communicate your ideas to your audience as effectively as possible, you may need to end your sentence with a preposition or use all capital letters or leave out punctuation marks. None of this is “wrong,” as long as you’re doing it for a reason. Don’t be afraid to experiment once in a while!
If you’re looking for advice on generating content for your blog or if you have a writing/editing tip to share, we’d love to hear from you! Send us a note through our contact form or leave a comment below.