Take a Little More Time: Tighten Up Sentences


Proofreading Your Own Work


Lesson Info

Take a Little More Time: Tighten Up Sentences

We're gonna tighten up our sentences. We're gonna set aside a good afternoon to look at how the writing is and how we can improve it. Subject/Verb Agreement. If the subject is singular, verb and pronouns, must be singular. With plural, verb and pronouns must be plural. Now here, language changes, and we all know language changes, so it's important to stay abreast of everything that's new, and one of the new things is the fact that they has been approved as a singluar pronoun. You can say, everyone got their books. If people have a preferred pronoun of they, you can say, Heather went and got their book. So, make sure that, not only are you using them appropriately, check to see what the current usage of a word is. It changes, 'cause language changes. All right, here we have verbs, subjects. It gets sticky when they're separated. When we have either a collective verb, those are difficult because it's a collective thing, we want to put a collective verb with it, but they usually have a si...

ngluar verb. So librarians want, is pretty straight forward. It gets a little stickier with the coach, and her players. We want to say the coach and her players are nervous, because players is right there and it sounds correct, but if you take out, and her players, the coach are nervous, is just not right. Same thing with each of these arguments is valid. Each of these arguments are, we want to say are, because arguments is plural, but arguments isn't the subject, each is, and they're singular. The crew has, this is a collective, so it takes a singular. Same with one in three students stuggles. We want to say students struggle, but we're talking about that one, that one student struggles. And it's in these places where you want to take more time and dig out where the subject is. Once you can identify the subject, it's much easier to determine what the verb should be. That will be sentences that are lines, lines long, and there's pronouns, and there's all these extra other subjects added, and once you dig back to the original, you'll know which one you need. Weak words, we use these all the time because they're easy. Writing is already so hard, it takes all that extra effort to dig out, a word beyond the one that comes to you easiest. These are the words that can replaced with more descriptive terms. So they're usually vague, unnecessary, or just filler. Things and stuff. Things are good. We're expecting stuff next week. I'm sure that's true, but we can also say, things are good. Results show progress. We're expecting stuff next week. We should receive the files next week. And these are words we use when we're either in a hurry, or we've already expended so much energy on writing the other parts, that these filler words and these weak words find their way in, and when you're proofreading, you have a chance to flag these, and replace them with something stronger; something that carries more weight and more meaning. Very/really. It was a very long day. The site is really good. It was a tiring day. The site is impressive. If you're using any of these terms, it's because there's gonna be a word nearby that's just a little bit better, and you're in the ballpark of a really good word. Really and very, (audience laughing) are like that key where it's there, let's just dig for it. Don't bury the verb. She made the decision; she decided. The executives had a discussion; the executives discussed. Here's one; he is responsible for providing advice to new teams on improving efficiency. All right, he provides advice on new teams, but we could do better. He advises new teams. These are always great opportunities, not only tighten it, but to create more action in your writing. If it's feeling heavy, or like you're not getting the flow you'd like, look at how your verbs are, look at the pacing, look if your verb is buried somewhere. Are they responsible for advising or are they advising? Very often, as a writer, you're gonna be tasked with introducing something new. Now, if you're gonna do this, the best way is to start with something understandable and familiar. So say you have to introduce a new idea, a foreign term, or a complex argument, start with something familiar, and then lead in. So for example, say you're writing about a newly discovered creature, who lives deep under sea, you could start with its scientific name, and say was discovered in, and people are already lost. You could say, in the depths, of the arctic ocean, we've found this, you know, what kind of creature, octopus type creature called the. Start with something familiar. Let people be grounded in what they know, and then lead them into something that they're learning. Commas, commas, and commas. Serial comma, it is the final comma in a list. The golden rule here is to be consistent. You can use it, you can not use it. Some people feel very strongly, usually they're pro serial comma users, both are okay, no judgment. It's only an issue when they start to being used inconsistently, because that could change the meaning. Commas splices are so easy to write. I find I write them a lot, because I'll just throw it in there, and I want to keep going with my thought, and I'll go back and be like, nope, I meant to use a period, or a conjunction, or sometimes a semi-colon, if I'm feeling really fancy. (audience laughing) And, I mean a semi-colon's a fancy punctuation mark. You're trying to impress somebody if you pull a semi-colon out. (audience laughing) So here we can see it's really easy to fix. You just replace it with either one of those options, and our comma splice is gone. All right, we use them around non-essential clauses. My aunt, who is a night owl, calls me every night after dinner. If we take out, who is a night owl, we have the essential information. We don't put commas around essential information. They're only around something that can be picked up, and taken out, without changing the meaning. Our car, which is 15 years old, stalled on an icy hill, both of those are true. The main point is, if you have commas around a piece of writing that feels essential, really take a look. If you can take that piece of text out, and the meaning isn't changed, you're good, but if you take that text out, and the meaning changes, you need to remove the commas. Use with coordinate, not cumulative adjectives. So adjectives can get a little bit tricky. Basically, if you can replace the comma with an and, than you've used it right in a list of adjectives. So, it was a long, hard run. It was a long and hard run, you're exhausted. Her green cotton shirt, it is not her green and cotton shirt, and these are one of those things that, it's easier for a native speaker to intuitively feel when it's right and when it's wrong. Cumulative adjectives, one informs the other. We know that the green shirt is a cotton shirt, and than the cotton shirt is green. The coordinate adjectives, both refer to the run. So it was a long run and it was a hard run. So if you can stop and replace it with an and, you've got the comma in the right place. If you can't, take the comma out, doesn't belong there. So if we had put a comma in between small and blueberry, it's a small and blueberry muffin, that's not right. All right, there's a few things you can let go. Split infinitives, to boldly go, would we remember if they were like, to go boldly? No, we wouldn't. They have use, and we can use them in our writing, and they'll be appropriate. Ending a sentence with a preposition. This is a gray area, people do it, you understand the meaning. Sometimes when we try to remove a preposition from the end, we create a sentence that is so disjointed, it feels unnatural. You don't have to do this, you can let it stay. Beginning a sentence with a conjugation, word spell checker loves this. You started a sentence with but, and you're like, I know, I did, let's move on, it's okay. (audience laughing) Same thing with the passive voice. It has its uses and its place, and it's not reflective of weak writing. You have to be aware of when these are good times to use them, but these are things that don't have to be automatically changed. You can make writing decisions to use them. All right, apostrophes are one of my pet peeves. You'll see something in the apostrophes, just in the most random place, and you're like, oh no, I can't shop there (laughing). (audience laughing) So, I think one of the best ways to make your writing look professional as possible, is to master your apostrophes. Show that they show possession, they indicate a contraction, and they are not used for plurals, not ever. We do not use them for plurals. Dog's is not dogs, their fun, but that's not dogs. So here we can see to show possession, Susy's dog. If we have a plural that ends in an s, it goes on the outside. So your parents' house, is the house both your parents live in. If it's parent's house, it's one parent's house. It's, it's is a tricky one, there should not ever be an apostrophe on the outside of that s. I-t-s shows possession, down on the next line, we can see I-t-'-s, shows a contraction, it is. We can't; she won't, those indicate a contraction with the apostrophe, and then we're good to go. So these are one of the things, where especially with the s in a possessive use, double-check your usage. Make sure you've got the apostrophe in the right place. Quotation marks. We should only be using these unless we're talking about dialogue, with a direct quote, or an unusual term or phrase. So with our direct quote, exactly what the CEO says there, surrounded by quotations. If we paraphrase, no quotes. We do not use them for emphasis. We do not use them in places where we want a word to be noticed. We can choose italics, maybe another type of formatting, not quotation marks. They can be direct quotes and they get to introduce an usual term or phrase. Sometimes, some publications, will use italics for this. Some style guides that say, introduce the new word in phrase and italics, and the definition in quotes, or vice versa, so there's some flexibility, but this is one of the situations in which you would, use quotes. Hyphens, okay, so hyphens are what the grammar girl calls a look it up punctuation mark. There are so many rules. (audience laughing) There are so many rules. Matter of fact, the bonus material available with this course, is the Chicago Manual of Style Hyphenation Table, and it's longer than you would expect. (audience laughing) But generally, generally we're gonna use hyphens to connect terms, so they make sense, and they work as one. It's a long-term relationship. It's a two-year-old dog. Two, year, and old, are one term we're using to refer to the dog. The (laughing) small-state senator. I love when there can be changes in meaning because of hyphens. So, is it a senator of a small state, or is it a small state senator? (audience laughing) The hyphen completely changes the meaning of this phrase, and this actually happens a lot with complex terms or phrases, and people have to make sure that they're using not only the right word, but they're hyphening it correctly, because a change in hyphenation can change the meaning, which is why that Chicago Manual Style Hyphenation Table is about four pages long. It covers everything. And than when we use them with numbers, five-foot pole, 15-foot pole, we still follow general usage rules for numbers. Most style guides recommend that you do words for one through nine, and numbers for above. There's flexibility in that, but either way, when we use a hyphen, we still treat the number the same. So word or numeral, we hyphenate it as you would hyphenate any other term.

Class Description

Before you share your writing with anyone, whether it be an editor, a business associate, a client or a reader, you need to make sure it’s tight, clean and error-free. That’s why it’s critical for all writers to learn how to proofread their own work.

Detecting the flaws and mistakes in your writing is difficult because you’ve grown so familiar with it. This class will teach you the tips and tricks you need to come at it with fresh eyes. Heather Saunders, an experienced writer, editor and proofreader, will provide hands-on advice on how to go about the proofing process as well as the common errors to look out for.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Approach the text in new ways by removing distractions, reading it aloud, changing the appearance of the document, and taking a break when needed.
  • Read your work from the perspective of your intended audience.
  • Fact-check your writing.
  • Figure out if the piece accomplishes its purpose.
  • Identify habitual errors, such as weak words, excessive use of adjectives and adverbs, and punctuation issues.