- Ever heard of the ABCs of writing? Most writing books identify that as the acronym for accuracy, brevity, and clarity. Another variation is active voice, brevity, and common sense. I think the common sense part is that all writing needs to be edited and revised with a purpose, and that purpose it to be sure it's accurate, concise, and clear; that it qualifies as plain English. I can almost hear you, "No! "Not the dreaded editing and revising! "After all, if I followed all the principles "of plain English as I wrote, shouldn't my first draft "be my final draft?" Maybe you laboriously checked each word as you used it.
You counted the number of words in each sentence you wrote and the number of syllables in each word. You counted the number of lines in each paragraph. You made certain you didn't use the indefinite there and it and avoided every word that ended in T I O N. Really? Let's be honest and realistic. You didn't do that, did you? No one does! And you shouldn't. Statistically, we should spend 40% of our time planning a document, 20% actually writing it, and 40% revising and editing it.
You can't be the planner, the writer, and the editor all at the same time. Don't focus on single words and sentences until you're certain that the overall organizational structure makes sense. If you started with that all-important outline as a guide for the organization, you can then write a quick and dirty draft, and then begin the tuning steps. In reality, the entire writing process, planning, writing, and rewriting, is a circular, rather than a lineal process.
Just because you planned doesn't mean that you will never have to go back and revise those plans. Revising, editing, and proofreading are not the same, but do overlap, and even the experts sometimes don't always agree on what is included in each category. All you need to think about for this lesson is that you are doing things to your writing to make it plain English, and correct English. You revise to improve the clarity of your message, the flow, the content. You need to be ready to do a large scale revision.
Take out entire paragraphs or sections. Or add more at key points. Or decide on a different organizational pattern. You hope that your necessary revisions are more of the small scale type. Maybe tighter transition or clearer wording in a couple sections. Or delete one sentence that sounds repetitive, or work on more sentence structure variety. When you edit, you may look for those wordy, hard to read paragraphs and use a bulleted list. Constantly think about the reader and the reader's needs.
Proofreading is to make certain it's grammatically correct. I T apostrophe S for I T S. Or, principal, P R I N C I P A L for P R I N C I P L E. Or a sentence fragment. A left out word or a letter. Three standard pointers found on any how to revise list are, one, don't try to revise immediately after completing the writing project. Let it sit, preferably for 24 hours, although that's not always possible. For example, that response e-mail that needs to be sent in five minutes.
If you are able to wait, you will almost certainly have a clearer view of your writing. Don't be wedded to your writing. Look at it through fresh eyes. "But I spent so much time on it!" is never a valid reason for not making changes. And three, one we've already discussed, read it aloud. You always hear different things than you see. Your editing, revising, and proofreading will result in writing that is plain English to your reader.
The purpose is clear, reader questions have been anticipated and answered, irrelevant details are omitted, the tone is positive and conversational, the document looks easy to read, and it is mechanically correct. Effective plain English writing is the result of careful tuning. For the purpose of a plain English definition, let's group all of our terms under one, rewriting. Yes, rewriting can be frustrating, tedious, and time consuming, but oh, so necessary.
William Zinsser, a lifetime journalist and nonfiction writer and teacher said, "Rewriting is the essence of writing well: "where the game is won or lost." I would add, where the writing is plain, or isn't.
If you can write in plain English, you can save time, save money, and save face in communications. Start watching to learn how to make your writing more "plain": stronger, clearer, and more concise.
- Explain how to make your writing clear, concise, and straightforward.
- Recognize the average reading level for most audiences.
- Identify commonly overused words.
- Recognize how strong verbs can help avoid passive writing.
- Explore the benefits of deleting extra words.
- Define “weasel words.”