The biggest improvement in my writing skills happened when I became an editor.
Writers are often too familiar with their own ideas to spot mistakes and poor phrasing in their work. When you’re reading someone else’s writing, though, you see points that need clarity and sentences that can be worded better.
Entrepreneur contributor Shaun Buck reminds us that people have an “infinite number of options” for media consumption and that if they get bored with your piece, they’ll simply find another article to read. It’s crucial to capture and keep readers’ attention with concise, to-the-point ideas; long-winded narratives will only drive them away.
As a professional copy editor, I read and review dozens of articles every week, and I’ve noticed some common clunky or extraneous phrases.
Whether you’re writing as yourself or ghostwriting for a client, do a quick self-edit and see whether you’ve slipped any of these “fillers” into your piece.
Phrases to cut
I edit out the following phrases 99 percent of the time:
- “I think/believe that…”
- “In my opinion…”
- “Based on my experience…”
- “From what I’ve seen…”
- “In order…”
- “Be sure that you…”
- “At the end of the day…”
These fluff phrases don’t add value to your main ideas and, in some cases, can undermine your credibility. Which of these sounds more authoritative?
1. “In my opinion, the tech sector will see massive growth in 2018 due to advancements in AI.”
2. “The tech sector will see massive growth in 2018 due to advancements in AI.”
If you’re writing an op-ed piece or personal essay, readers already know they’re getting your perspective based on your experiences. By eliminating “my opinion”-type phrases and letting your ideas stand on their own, you’re strengthening your position as an expert.
Although phrases like “in order” and “be sure that you” don’t necessarily detract from your ideas, they do create clutter; brevity and clarity are key to keeping a reader engaged.
For example, you can edit the following sentences to make the main point more directly:
Before: In order to get your team on the same page, be sure to hold regular meetings.
After: To get your team on the same page, hold regular meetings.
Before: At the end of the day, I believe that every leader needs to build trust in order to run a successful team.
After: Every leader needs to build trust to run a successful team.
Phrases to amend
Microsoft Word now acts like a built-in copy editor, making useful suggestions to improve your writing. It often takes several-word phrases and offers a one-word alternative.
Below are some common phrases, along with shortened suggestions:
- “A number of”—many; several; numerous
- “Take into account”—consider, account for
- “So as to”—to
- “Is/are able to”—can
- “Whether or not”—whether
- “Each and every”—each; every
Tips for better writing
Stop focusing on perfection. Don’t worry about getting a polished piece on the first go; just put your ideas down on the page, even if it’s just a bulleted list of incomplete thoughts.
From there, refine your main points one at a time. Once you’ve distilled your core arguments into clear and coherent sentences, start building your piece around them. Incorporate a statistic here or an anecdote there, but add something only if it supports your ideas.
When you’re done with your draft, set it aside. Walk away for a few hours or even a full day, but take at least 30 minutes to switch gears and get out of “writing” mode. Then, return to your piece with a fresh eye and dive into “editing” mode. Continue polishing, rephrasing and improving until you have a piece you’re proud of.
How do you edit your own writing?
Follow Nicole on Twitter @nicolemfallon. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.