The Eyes Have It

A recent email I read from well known copywriter Bob Bly stressed having a second pair of eyes check over your writing before it is finally submitted to your reader(s). This of course should be a part of any writing regimen you may adopt. It is covered at several points in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on books and in print. It should be a part of any final review of your writing.

Of course, it is not always possible to have another person review your work. When you have completed a preliminary draft, you should not submit it to your reader before you have thoroughly reviewed it. You must act as the second pair of eyes if no one else is available. Achieving an effective level of writing requires that you thoroughly polish it so that it becomes the final draft – rewrite, revise, and edit it before considering it complete. Insist on absolute perfection in this regard, even for a simple letter. No writing should be seen by any reader until you are completely satisfied with it, no matter how many revisions it takes.

Pay attention constantly to completeness of information presented. Have another person review your writing or have it read aloud to someone else. Get as much feedback as possible. The object is to achieve a smooth flow of words.

Here’s a checklist for final review:
1. Review sentence structure for completeness of thought, unity, and
2. Grammar.
3. Diction.
4. Spelling.
5. Punctuation.
6. Document appearance. Review the physical appearance of the document
for any obvious deficiencies.

Use of precise words should also be part of your writing and is to be included in any final review. Describing exactly what you see in a certain locale is one example of where specificity is greatly needed. Generalization here will fall flat. For example, if you were to write that Murphys, California is a “cool” place to visit, the reader would have little understanding of what you mean and would have no incentive to go there. But if you wrote that it’s nestled in the farmland of the upper San Joaquin Valley, that you must drive through rolling pastoral countryside to get there, that it’s a living remnant of the Old West, and that it’s a shopper’s delight complete with casual dining and a nearby winery, the added specificity will make a visit sound much more inviting.

An overly general choice of words is frequently the mark of a lazy mind. Sharpen your word selection by resorting to an unabridged dictionary. A general word will usually have many definitions to choose from to make your meaning definite. When a shorter synonym for a word is available, use it. Often you will find that the use of a shorter synonym for the word you are using is the best option. Use common words such as “end” instead of “terminate”, “explain” rather than “elucidate,” and “use” instead of “utilize.”

Concrete words that can be seen or felt have a stronger appeal than vague words because the reader can readily come to grips with them. A good writer uses detail to encourage visualization and the formation of word pictures in the reader’s mind. Stronger writing will always use definite, specific language because it will be far easier for the reader to understand a concept when the reader’s mind can form images.

Also, be careful not to repeat redundant information unless it is for emphasis. Needless repetition will lengthen your writing unnecessarily and mark you as being a careless and inattentive writer. Reading the same material over again can be boring and even cause the reader to disregard information they have previously read. Cutting down on repetitious paragraphs and sentences will not only earn the gratitude of your reader and enhance your writer’s credentials but will reduce any printing and mailing costs involved in your writing project. Organize your preliminary outline (also covered in my book) to group related information together. This approach will help to identify and eliminate repetitious information.

Tautology, excess language or wordiness, i.e., saying the same thing twice in different words, also fits into this general area. This is an easily overlooked trap for the unwary. Redundant or tautological expressions are a form of “gilding the lily,” to use the vernacular. They are the mark of a careless writer, or one whose thinking is not focused. Either way, the reader may simply conclude that the writer is not entirely credible.

Copyright 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

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