Speedy Article Makeover -- the
by Paul S. Jenkins
August 10, 2000
You're in a hurry. Your thoughts are on paper (or on screen) and the piece is finished.
Or is it?
You're perfectly aware that given enough time you could hone and polish your article to perfection. But enough time is something you don't have.
Before you post that article, spare just enough of your valuable time to run down this list. If, as a result, you improve your article by one word, or even one letter, it will be worth it.
Check your facts. If you've put a statement of fact in your article, with the intention of checking it out later, check it now. It's easily overlooked, and facts that aren't facts can be, at best, embarrassing.
Length of Sentences and Paragraphs
Do your sentences and paragraphs vary in length? Does sentence-construction vary? Uniform length and construction can lull your reader to sleep. Paragraphs should not be too long, especially on screen.
Cut them out. Most adverbs weaken narrative and description. Over-use of adjectives can do the same. A quick way of tightening your prose is to eliminate all adverbs.
Check for incorrect words (they easily slip in when you're in a hurry), such as "it's" instead of "its"; "there" instead of "their" -- and many others.
Clichés are ready-made notions that some of us use without realizing. The effect of too many clichés is that the writing appears lazy, lacking freshness. If you find clichés, delete them.
Read your piece out loud, and if you stumble over anything it needs fixing. Reading aloud will also highlight 'word echoes' -- where you'll need to rephrase to avoid jarring repetition.
When the object comes before the subject, such as in "the plane was shot down by the anti-aircraft missile," this is passive construction, and tends to deaden the narrative.
What you need is action, or 'active voice' where the object -- the thing that the action affects (the plane) comes after the verb-group (shot down), which itself comes after the subject -- the thing that 'does': "The anti-aircraft missile shot down the plane." Eliminate every occurrence of passive voice.
Look at all occurrences of the verb 'to be', such as: 'is', 'are', 'was', 'were', and 'being.' Notice how the above example of passive voice has an extra occurrence of the verb 'to be' ('was shot down by').
You may well look at the above list and say, "But these aren't hard and fast rules. Sometimes, for stylistic effect or other reasons, I want to use an adverb, or repeat a word, or use a form of the verb 'to be.'"
Of course you do. Just use this list to remind you what to look for. I'm not saying you must follow it religiously -- it's a checklist.
The FLAWCAPS List:
There's an easy way to deal with any of the above items if you find them in your article. You might not like it, but the quickest solution (and you're short of time, aren't you?) is simple:
Cut them out. Don't bother to think up what to put in their place, just delete them and have done with it.
Paul S. Jenkins