Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Writer's Toolbox

I've been writing, editing, and proofreading for more than 20 years ... and I've been reading for a lot longer than that. I love words and how they're used.
There's an art and a science to wordsmithing. Even if you don't need to write very often, adding a few basic tools to your toolbox will help you sound like the pro you really are.

Here are a few tools you may want to try out for yourself:

  • Run spell check every time; however, remember that it isn't infallible. (Take it form me: You will regret it if your rely solely one your spell-checking software.)

  • Use the final comma in a series. Yes, I know that simple series don't really seem to need that comma before the "and" or "or," but if you just get into the habit of using it, you won't have to decide if your series is simple or complex. (It sometimes seeems as if writing is full of objective rules, subjective rules, and totally arbitrary decisions.)

  • Take the time to construct your document correctly right at the beginning. (That is, in your word-processing program, create styles for your various types of text, use tables instead of using the tab-tab-tab method, and set up tabs where you want them instead of using the tab-tab-tab-space-space-space method.)

  • Prune run-on sentences ruthlessly. (It's nice to have sentences of varied lengths and, let's face it, your readers have lots of things to do. Can you really count on them to stick around until you wrap things up?)

  • Use parallel structure. (Like to use bulleted lists? Great! Just make sure they all begin with a verb or a noun. My list illustrates this: run, use, take, prune, and use. Making your points parallel emphasizes their connection with each other and their collective connection to your lead-in sentence or phrase.)

  • Need help? Just ask! (Just to illustrate ... My brother got a double helping of the math/science gene and I got a double helping of the language/arts gene. Think math comes easily to me? Not so much. I have no problem asking for help figuring out percentages, fractions, and other math problems.)

I'll share a few more points in my next post. Questions? Just let me know, and I'll be happy to help!

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