I have killed all three hundred and eighty words that end with ‘ly’. Yes those dreaded adverbs. In doing so, I found an alarming pattern. Here’s my top ‘ly’ offenders, in order of assassinations: suddenly, actually, exactly and finally. Now I know what to watch out for.
What are yours top offenders? What ‘ly’ words sneak into your drafts while you’re typing?
To reach the next level in my copyediting quest, I must now search out and destroy instances of ‘so’. This insidious word shows up too many times and I’m not going to take it anymore. I listened to a short audiobook/lecture that delved into some of the barriers to clearer more concise writing.
You know what? The word ‘so’ made the list. Strunk claims that little word is overused by writers. He likened the word ‘so’ to a crutch. One I didn’t realize I relied on. Well no more.
There are better ways of varying sentence structure. Though I must admit, I like short declarative sentences. They let you get in, say what you need to say and get out. No ambiguity about where that damned comma goes either. However, another copyediting book I picked up over the weekend made a very good point. Too many short declarative sentences in a row create tension in the reader. Occasional longer sentences with a looser structure allow readers to catch their breath before plunging back in.
I’m not entirely certain what a “loose” sentence is but I have a few guesses. I’ll be applying those guesses tomorrow as I examine sentence structure.
Another copywriter put ‘that’ on the list of words that are overused. She claimed that there are many situations where better word choice would eliminate the need for ‘that’. I’m not certain about this one. Since I’m copyediting this myself and I want to do the best job I can, I’m taking all the advice I get and applying it. Therefore, I’m going to examine instances of ‘that’. Perhaps doing so will make her point more clear and improve my writing. I will report back about my findings, just give me some time on this one. I’m quite certain a search for the word “that” will turn up a lot of responses.
What tools do you carry around in your editing tool kit?
I’m still building mine out but I’d love to discover what you have in yours. So far my copyeditor’s check list looks something like this:
- Kill all adverbs
- Rewrite sentences that employ the word ‘so’.
- Examine instances of “that”. Can some of them be rewritten to exclude “that”?
- Ensure that sentence structure varies