Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Grammar and Editing Tools

There is an interesting set of exercises, tips, and grammar rules at the Kansas University’s School of Journalism site on editing. Most of these are specific to editing news stories but there are some excellent pages there for such subjects as when to use “because of” rather than “due to” or “that” instead of “which”.

The section that really entertained me was the one on knowing what word you want. It underscores the importance of knowing the meanings of the words you use. Nothing makes you look more foolish than malapropisms like these. If you’re going to use an unusual word, make sure you know exactly what it means.

Actually, if you are unsure your readers likely will be, too. It may be better to use a more common word than to confuse your audience. For instance, if I wasn’t positive that malapropism was the word that applied to the mistakes cited, I would have just said, “Nothing makes you look more foolish than using the wrong word when you’re trying to look smart.” If I were publishing this in a newspaper, I would definitely choose the second sentence. It’s a lot more accessible.

Using flowery adjectives is generally frowned upon in the more professional publications. They are generally a waste of words, when you could be adding more detail. Instead of “lashing winds” you could be writing “wind gusts up to 45 m.p.h.” Which one sounds more like someone who knows what they’re talking about?

Trying to find those impressive-sounding words is often what gets writers into linguistic difficulty. Write your story as sparely as possible and then add only what is necessary to keep it from being dry and boring. Keep in mind that you are writing articles to inform people, not to entertain yourself. This is something that I need to work on, as well. I tend to be focused on the “hook” as much as on the “meat”.