Principles for good writing and editing

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Principles for Good Writing and Editing

From Jennifer's Writing Workshop!

Here are some tips and tricks I have found useful when writing my personal newsletters, or articles for the YWAM International Communications Network. Hopefully they will help you too!

When Writing

  1. Pray pray pray -- invite the Holy Spirit to write through you, to communicate His heart for the ministry or story you are telling. I write from my knees, because I'm no good on my own.
  2. Then, just write! Don't waste time fretting to find the perfect words and sentences in the beginning. It's possible to be paralyzed in writers block while trying to produce the perfect paper immediately. Instead, try telling the whole story in one sitting, then go back and refine all that straw into gold. It helps me to get a general framework written first, then fill in the gaps later. The faster you say what needs to be said, the less writing anxiety you will have. And remember writing should be fun! =)
  3. Remember your audience. Who are you writing for? Are they missions supporters who know a lot about your ministry already? Then don't bog them down by re-explaining your ministry - tell them the fresh news! However, if you are writing for the general public who knows nothing about your ministry, take time to explain what you do and why.
  4. Make it personal. Try to write in first person, not in third person, especially for prayer letters. People like to feel as though you're confiding in them as a friend, not some cold vague audience.
  5. Be concise. I constantly check my sentences to delete unnecessary words. Don't use three words when one will do. Don't clutter your writing with long phrases, explanations, and lists. It only slows the reader down. We want to keep the momentum going. If they have to work hard to grasp too many concepts and analogies, they will quit reading. So focus on the action in your story, not your impressive vocabulary. =)
  6. Use active, energetic language. Whenever you can, try to substitute active verbs for passive, general phrases. For example: instead of saying "at the present time" say "now". Instead of trying to sound clever or politically correct, just use plain good English (or French or Dutch =) Instead of writing "We are currently experiencing increased precipitation" just say "it's raining". Try not to tack prepositions onto verbs (like free up)or adjectives that describe what the verb already implies (like strong Samson).
  7. Unity. Be sure that your story follows a natural progression from one paragraph to the next. If you must change topics or stories be sure to write a transitional sentence, so the reader knows what's happening.
  8. Consistency. Try to stay within the same tense if possible. The reader gets confused when we write about the past in one sentence, then move to the future, then the past, then the present.....If it's necessary to switch tenses do it carefully, to keep the reader from getting dizzy and confused. The same rule applies for speaking in first person, second person, or third person. Decide which person you want to be as the writer, and stick to it the whole way through.

When Editing

After checking all of the above writing tips :-) looking for unity, clarity, and clutter free sentences...

  1. Carefully check each sentence for spelling and punctuation errors. Your writing may be impeccable but if it's littered in simple spelling and punctuation errors you lose aloft of credibility as a writer. (Did you catch my error?)
  2. Check the facts in the story for accuracy - are the names, dates, and statistics correct?
  3. Check for redundancy -- are there two sentences or paragraphs that say basically the same thing? Even if it's a cute way to say the same thing, be ruthless and cut it out.
  4. Does it have a good lead and a good ending? The most important sentences in your paper are the first and the last. The first should inspire curiosity, the last should satisfy it.
  5. Ask a trusted friend/co-worker to proofread you paper before publishing it. Be willing and eager to take criticism. Our eyes often miss mistakes that other people catch.
  6. While reading the final draft I always always read it aloud a few times. So much of reading is hearing the words -- if you read it aloud your ear will catch things your eyes did not. Also read it to see if the story sings! Some words flow very easily into the sentence but others are hiccups -- the words you choose make a huge difference in sentence flow and clarity.
  7. It also helps me to print the final draft and edit the story on paper. I catch a lot of mistakes and improvements with the paper in front of me, reading it aloud.