How to save money on copy editing #4: Untangle thyself

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Next in our series on how to save money on copy editing (aka ‘how to write clearly’) some tips for not getting yourself into a tangle. Here are just two ways.

1. What to do with ‘what’ and other pesky pronouns.

Quite often ‘what’ is not needed in a sentence. Moreover, starting a sentence with what sets off a chain of events that sends both writer and reader into a muddle. Some examples (all from real life):

‘What it does is it produces seven times the fruit.’

Change to…

It produces seven times the fruit. 

(Oh, god, doesn’t that feel better?) 

‘We believe that what happens in some soils when organic matter breaks down is that it leaves a waxy coating on the soil particles.’

One way to change …

When organic matter breaks down, in some soils it leaves a waxy coating on soil particles. 


‘What’ is not the only culprit… 

‘Looking at where my expectations were, I realised I had to change how I felt about the garden.’

Change to …

My expectations were high so I had to change how I felt about the garden.

‘Make sure the location where you supply the paints get at least six hours.’

This is a mess for a whole bunch of reasons, so much so that the meaning is hard to detect, but at a guess ...

Leave the paint to dry for six hours before touching or recoating.

In short, be careful with your use of what, which, who, why, when and how. As you can see, sentences usually become both clearer and shorter without them.

2. While I have you – a few words on prepositions. (You don’t need to know what a preposition is, just recognise them in your own writing.)

Consider these redundancies:

Please send through the documents.

It’s available up until the last week of October.

OK, you say, so what? It’s only one word in a sentence. Fair enough, unless your word limit really matters, which it often does. But check out this OVERLY PREPPY sentence and discover the ways you might improve it. 

‘The number of bees observed without delay after November was a reflection of the conditions of the season.’

Wow, five in one sentence!

Too many prepositions drags the poor old sentence kicking and screaming all the way to its sorry end.

Try this instead:

The bee numbers observed immediately after November reflected the season’s conditions.

(Ahhhh… )

Just observing these two small points in your writing will make your writing clearer, your sentences shorter and your copy-edit cheaper.

May your words pour onto the page,


Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash