Editing Tips and Red Flags in Writing

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired of reading reviews that use “poorly edited” as an umbrella term for, “This isn’t how I would have done it,” “I didn’t like your writing style,” “You have to much description, or not enough description,” “This doesn’t read like a traditionally published book,” “You repeat phrases too much,” “I hate your characters,” “I hate you,” “Awkward phrasing,” or other some such thing. Some of those things are editing problems. The rest is just flak.

For the sake of my sanity, I made a list of words that may place you on the poorly edited list. I’ve used more than my fair share of these words. I’m positive you can find them in this short introduction.

I suggestion using the find feature to remove these words from your manuscript. It might take some doing, but your writing and your readers will thank you for it. So here’s the list:

• and – but (both can indicate run on sentences)
• that (unnecessary in most sentences, but there are times that it is necessary. Also be on the look out when “that” really should be “who”)
• just
• very
• nearly almost
• really
• seem appear
• felt feel
• begin began
• would should could
• quite
• few
• rather
• thing
• stuff
• anyway
• because
•“-ly” adverb
•-ingly (use sparingly. They’re trip ups for readers and can lead to confusion)
• so
• even
• then
• down up (as in sit down, stand up can be redundant)
• only
• got get
•-ness (some of the words with –ness at the end can be stumbling blocks that cause confusion)
•-ize (again, not all words with –ize are bad, but try to minimize them (Sorry couldn’t help myself))
• it
•is – are – was – were
• to be – be – being – been
• am
• has – had – have
• there is – there are – there was – there were

20 thoughts on “Editing Tips and Red Flags in Writing

  1. Go-Go Rach April 27, 2011 / 9:13 am

    Crap. I’m screwed. I use these words ALL the time! I would have to re-write my entire blog. Not gonna happen! I hope my manuscript isn’t torn apart…

    • Stephannie Beman April 27, 2011 / 2:29 pm

      I know the feeling, I use a lot of the words on the list too. For my Creative Writing students I challenged them to work on removing two or three words at a time from their writing. They didn’t feel so overwhelmed when they did this. I’m still working through the list years later.

  2. Barbie Scott April 27, 2011 / 9:39 am

    Excellent advice!

    Tiny editing blip in your first sentence 🙂

    • Stephannie Beman April 27, 2011 / 2:32 pm

      Thanks for pointing it out, Barbie. 😀 Even after reading through it several times yesterday, I still missed it.

  3. Rose Gordon April 27, 2011 / 12:18 pm

    Great list!

    You didn’t say this, but the rule regarding “that” is to read the sentence and if it still makes sense without “that” in there, then leave it off. I honestly didn’t know (or understand) this rule when I wrote my first MS and I spent two entire read throughs before publication just looking for excess “that’s”. I found 378 of them.

    Also, in addition to “who” as a replacement for “that”, “which” can work sometimes, too.

    • Stephannie Beman April 27, 2011 / 2:41 pm

      You are very correct, I forgot the ‘which’ for ‘that’. 😀

      I find a lot of authors use ‘that’ in excess when I edit their manuscripts. Much of the time all these extra words gum up the sentence and make it hard to understand. But there are times when the words on the list are necessary. It seems foolish to use ten words in exposisition when one would work better.

  4. Shaina Richmond April 27, 2011 / 1:09 pm

    Thank you for this list. I wrote something recently on my blog about passive voice and too many “that’s.” But this is a great checklist and I might have to copy and paste it – linking back here of course! 🙂 Really – thank you. This is great.

    • Stephannie Beman April 27, 2011 / 2:47 pm

      Thank you. Feel free to use the whole article, just credit it back to me. It’s a helpful list that can other help writers and that’s the whole purpose of sharing it. 😀

      • Shaina Richmond April 27, 2011 / 5:02 pm

        I posted it here:

        Not that I have a ton of followers or anything. I hope I credited you properly. So many people don’t realize that if we help each other, we’re only helping ourselves. A lot of people (myself included) just need to be made aware. I went through a phase where I almost did a ‘find and delete’ of every instance of the word “that” in my ebooks. 🙂 I’m slowly using it again, but I had no idea how much I’d overused it until I read about it somewhere.

        Thanks again for the great post! It’s such a handy list!

        • Stephannie Beman April 29, 2011 / 8:26 pm

          You’re welcome and the credits is great. I would have left a comment, but it won’t let me. 🙂

  5. Jodi Langston April 28, 2011 / 12:42 am

    What words are there left to use.lol Great list!
    You can please some of the people some of the time and some people none of the time.
    The find and replace feature on Word is very handy for these things.

    • Stephannie Beman April 29, 2011 / 8:39 pm

      True, some people will never be happy no matter what you do. It’s better to ba happy with yourself and what your doing.

      The Find and Replace feature is very helpful. It can just take a long time to do and sometimes I lack the patience. lol

  6. Lissa April 28, 2011 / 10:29 am

    I suddenly feel very small and insignificant.

      • Lissa May 3, 2011 / 8:39 pm

        I thought I was an OK writer. I thought maybe I could even sell stuff. But now I’m hesitating on my whole ‘natural’ approach to writing. I use a lot of those redundant words.

        • Stephannie Beman May 4, 2011 / 6:11 pm

          The thing about the words on the list is that they are more ‘telling’ word rather than ‘showing’ words. And as the writing advice goes, ‘show, don’t tell.’

          However, just because you use them doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer. There are times when these words are needful and it’s just silly to avoid them.

          Everything in writing really depends on the readers and your marketing efforts. I’ve some great stories from authors that make a pittance on their writing. I’ve also read books from authors that make $100k on their books and wonder what all the fuss is about.

  7. David Kubicek April 28, 2011 / 2:05 pm

    Great editing tips. Most of the time I edit out these words, but occasionally I use some of them for effect. For instance I sometimes use “and” because I want to run sentences together. The trick is not to do it too often, to pick the right time to do it and to know what effect you want to achieve. It goes back to the old saying: “You must know the rules before you can break them.” And this article is a good resource to help novice writers learn the rules.

    • Stephannie Beman April 29, 2011 / 8:49 pm

      You’re right. It’s all about effect and what effect you want to have.

  8. Christine Cowley April 30, 2011 / 4:31 pm

    A great list worth saving. Thanks for this post!

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