An Easy Editing Practice to Make Your Writing More Clear

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Todd Brison

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The goal of nonfiction writing is clarity.

You have an idea in your head. You want to tell us about it. If you were doing so in person, our blank stares and puzzled eyebrows could let you know when you’re confusing us. No such luxury exists in writing.

A reader will not muddle through unclear work. They won’t ask “what do you mean by this?” They will simply stop reading. And that’s a shame because it’s likely that what you have to say is worth saying. Otherwise, why would you bother writing it down?

This is why editing is so important.

Editing is not about combing through commas and searching for split infinitives. It is about making the unclear more clear. A common word that gets in the way of this goal is this one:

Something.

Something is a crutch of first drafts. Even when you don’t expect it, something will creep in and fill the gaps your poor, coffee-craving brain can’t quite fill. You don’t have a better noun. So go you with something.

“They’ll get it,” you think.

They won’t.

Let’s do an example. Here’s an excerpt from my friend Minnow Park’s blog.

“You go from amateur to a professional when you start making something for other people.

Professional isn’t merely getting paid. In 2021, getting paid to do something is easier than ever. If earning money is the only metric you are judging your work by, you’re starting off on the wrong, scarce foot.”

Nice. You get the vibe, right? It makes sense.

Is it as clear as possible, though?

I think not.

The question is — what do we replace that something with? For the first sentence, I think about the audience. Who is Minnow writing for? I think it’s creative people. A possible replacement might be this:

“You go from amateur to professional when you start making art for other people.”

Maybe Minnow isn’t targeting creative people, though. Maybe he’s going as broadly as possible, and that’s why he chose something in the first place. The word could still be swapped:

You go from amateur to professional when you start making work for other people.”

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