One of the biggest problems that creative people face is how to take their imagined ideas and communicate them clearly and effectively in writing. I dread to think how many incredible adventures, concepts, and viewpoints are locked up in the brains of people who struggle with the technical elements of writing. The part of the brain that we use for imaginative thinking is quite different from the part that actually crafts the sentences. And the quickest way to lose a reader’s confidence—even if your ideas are water-tight—is to present them with clumsy, awkward, error-filled writing.
This is why ProWritingAid developed an editing tool for writers. There are a lot of technical writing issues that a software program can pick up and help correct. And not just grammar errors. Many writing issues can be grammatically correct but still make your writing sound clunky and amateur. There are 25 different writing reports that you can run on ProWritingAid, all seamlessly integrated into one app. We’ve highlighted some of our favorites to give you a sense of what our editing tool will find and how it can help your writing.
1) Simplify your sticky sentences
Sticky sentences are full of glue words (the 200 or so most common words in the English language: is, to, at, as, the, that, etc.) Glue words don’t add anything to your writing, they just hold your sentence together. A study of published works (i.e. good writing) show that the average published sentence contains less than 40% glue words. If your sentence contains a higher percentage, you should check to see if it can be rephrased in a more straightforward way. For example:
Original: Kate needed to get the key to the van and so she asked for the contact number of the person who was in charge of that department. (17 glue words in a 27-word sentence. Glue index: 63%)
Redraft: Kate contacted the Department Head to borrow the van key. (3 glue words in a 10-word sentence. Glue index: 30%)
The redraft saves 17 words in a 27-word sentence. The first sentence wobbles around searching for the point whereas the second sentence is concise and clear. The fact that she asked for the contact number is not relevant information, so it can be cut. In most cases, less is definitely more.
2) Replace adverbs and weak verbs with strong verbs and actions
When you are writing, it is often more important to get your ideas down than to get every word right. Spending too much time wrestling over every word can make you lose momentum. So if you need to write “Mike drove quickly back to headquarters” while you are pouring out a scene, then go for it. Your first edit is your chance to revisit this sentence and figure out how to make it stronger, e.g. “The tires screamed on Mike’s beat-up Honda as he raced back to headquarters.” The screaming tires show that Mike drove quickly, so there is no need to use the adverb, and adding the car’s description allows an upgrade from standard verb “drove” to the action-driven verb “raced”.
Or, if you are writing a blog post and in your first draft you write “One protester spoke angrily about the potential dissolution of the EPA,” when you edit, change it to “One furious protester voiced her frustration and fear of rising sea levels if the EPA was dissolved.”
Your first major edit is your chance to go back and reassess your adverbs, which ProWritingAid will pick out for you. Is it possible to replace your adverb and weak verb with a stronger verb? Or, is it possible to use action and description to make the same point in a more effective way? You won’t always need to replace them; sometimes an adverb will work perfectly. But, more often than not, you will come up with a stronger way to get your idea across when you go back and look again.
3) Fix repetitive use of initial pronouns
This used to drive one of my professors crazy. As an MA student, I had a terrible habit of starting nearly every sentence with a pronoun. He did this. She did that. It is correct. Now that I’m an editor, I understand her point: it’s so tiresome to read! Ideally, fewer than 30% of your sentences should begin with a pronoun. ProWritingAid will calculate your percentage use of initial pronouns, so that you can recraft those sentences and keep your reader engaged.
In fact, you should vary your sentence structure as much as possible. Some sentences should be long and sweeping; others should be short and concise. It keeps your readers’ attention and makes your writing more compelling. The editing tool will help with this in two ways: it will graph out your sentence length so that you can see the areas where you need to add variety, and it will highlight those paragraphs where you have repeated the same sentence structure too many times in a row so that you can switch it up a little.
4) Activate your passive voice.
Published writers almost never use passive voice. Like adverbs and initial pronouns, there are some very specific times where it will work, but overuse is irritating and will almost always weaken your writing. Let’s look at an example.
Active: Tom kicked in the door. He jumped on the armchair, shouted a warning and then ran through to the bedroom.
Passive: The door was kicked in by Tom. The armchair was jumped on, a warning was shouted and then the bedroom was run through by him.
The second sentence says the same thing as the first, but in the passive voice. It’s not grammatically incorrect, but it sounds weird! This is an extreme example, but you get the gist. Where possible, your verbs should refer to the one doing the action rather than to the thing having something done to it. So, when you are writing, use:
- “Jack oversaw the committee” instead of “the committee was overseen by Jack”.
- “Susan delivered the verdict” rather than “the verdict was delivered by Susan.”
- “Ed made Ellie a coffee” instead of “a coffee was made for Ellie by Ed.”
Writing in the active voice will almost always get your point across in a better way.
Try it for yourself!
These are just four of the 20 writing reports that ProWritingAid offers. Each writer will have their own favorites depending on their own writing strengths and weaknesses.
It’s free to use the online version of ProWritingAid. Sign up now and start improving your writing today.