Writing Guidelines
Western Reserve Writers' Conference
  © 2014 Writeperson, Ltd., Western Reserve Editing - Nancy E. Piazza, Editor
www.writeperson.com   editor@writeperson.com


Editor's note: The following is a sampling of editorial issues I frequently encounter. This list is by no means exhaustive. Writing guidelines fill books and plenty of them. If you can master the ones below, you're well on your way to successful writing.

Read and write regularly. While writing, don't edit yourself. Just let loose. Yes, you should proofread and revise where needed, but there's plenty of time for that, preferably a day or two later.

Spell-check is a wonderful tool, but it isn't 100%, and it doesn't catch mistakes such as typing "there" if you mean "their."

The dictionary is your friend. If you're unsure if a word is hyphenated, two words, or one, look it up.

Make sure subject and verb agree. Birds fly. A bird flies.

Singular/plural pronoun agreement: A person should make sure they look both ways. (Incorrect--writers often use "they" to avoid gender bias or having to type: he or she, he/she, s/he looks . . .) One solution: People should make sure they look both ways.

Commas are the most under and overused punctuation marks. Be consistent when using them in a series. It's the last comma before "and" that varies according to publication.
    The flag is red, white and blue.  (AP Style Book--used for newspaper articles)
    The flag is red, white, and blue. (Chicago Manual of Style--often used for books)
For magazine articles, read the magazine to see what style it uses.

Place a comma between two independent clauses (both have a subject and a verb) separated by a conjunction (and, or, but). e.g. Sally went to the store, and she bought a dozen red roses. Sally went to the store and bought a dozen red roses.  (In the second example, there is no subject (she) after "and," so no comma.)

Use a comma to set off a nonrestrictive clause (something added but not necessary to the meaning of the sentence--more like an aside). e.g. John, who happened to be tired, fell asleep during the movie. If the clause is restrictive (necessary to the sentence), no comma is needed. e.g. People who listen to both sides of the story are more likely to be objective.

Write in the active voice vs. passive voice. Joe was given the award by the committee (passive). The committee gave Joe the award. (active) Active is stronger.

Use synonyms so as not to repeat the same words too often. e.g. Cary's house is beautiful. A few sentences later: Beautiful gardens surround the house. (Two repeated words.) Suggestion: Pretty gardens surround her home. (Or any synonyms that are natural to you.)

Unless you're writing a textbook or a formal paper, write as you speak--in a conversational tone. Your writing will be easier to read. The ultimate goal is to keep the reader reading. Be respectful of others, meaning write "politically correct." Publishers don't want to limit their audiences nor offend their readers and neither do you.

Point of View: Generally speaking, choose one. First person (I, we), second person (you, you), or third person (he/she, they).

Tense: Decide your tense (past, present, or future), and be careful not to flip around unnecessarily. Incorrect: Fred said he wanted a bike, and then he tells me . . .

About proofreading and friends: While others can proofread your writing, choosing your sister-in-law or best friend to edit, however qualified she or he may be, isn't always in your best interest. Close friends and relatives are more likely to tell you what you want to hear, not catch and correct every error.

Form: Submit double-spaced, 12-point-font manuscripts. This is correct form and gives you and editors space to make corrections and write suggestions. Use one space at the end of a sentence, not two.

Subject or object? Here's an easy way to know whether to use "I" or "me." e.g. He gave the book to Jane and me. Temporarily remove the proper noun (Jane) to determine if the sentence is correct. (He gave the book to me.)

A few words on content:
Show; don't tell.
If you're given a word count, stick to it. More isn't better.
Limit adverbs and adjectives. Let your verbs do the work.
Strong leads: Captivate the reader with your first sentence/paragraph.
Avoid clichés.
Vary sentence length. Too many short sentences make for choppy reading.
Read your work aloud. If you have to gasp for breath, the sentence is too long.
You can use fragments, but use them sparingly. In small doses, they add punch.


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