5 Reasons Why Hiring a Professional Editor Is Better than Using Online Editing Tools

“The life of an editor is not a glamorous one. You’re a fixer; you make things better.” —Courtney B. Vance

Typically, most people think editors are folks who wield big, red pens. However, a professional editor is far more than someone who corrects written content.

An editor needs to dabble in mind-reading. For starters, an editor needs to glean what is in the writer’s mind and understand what the writer wishes to convey. This is necessary because the editor’s goal is to adequately transmit the writer’s message in the best possible manner.

Secondly, an editor must read the audience’s mind to understand the reader and what they expect to get from the text. Consequently, an editor must have one foot on each side of the writing equation.

That is certainly not an easy task.

With the advent of computer-aided tools, many writers and even publishers have increasingly turned to automated online editing tools. However, there’s no doubt that an old-school approach is more appropriate in professional editing.

All About Automated Online Editing Tools

Good editing  requires a careful and deliberate process. After all, there is an evident reason why publishers hire professional editors. They have the necessary skills to sift through literary works to uncover any needs for improvement.

Contrary to popular belief, the job of an editor is not to simply “correct” mistakes.

Editors must interpret texts so they can ensure the content is clear and transmits the message it intends.

Generally speaking, an editor should be able to polish up a book.

Here is one way to think of it:

A master craftsman produces a beautiful table. The table goes into a showroom for customers to purchase. The sales staff polishes the table one last time before customers buy it.

This example underscores the need to make sure books are as neat as possible. Editors can catch minute details that may get past an author or beta readers (non-professional test readers who read a manuscript before publication).

However, the increasing trend toward automation has naturally crept its way into the literary field. The case for automated editing tools lies in their simplicity and efficiency. After all, using automated online editing tools can seamlessly “replace” an editor– or so some might believe.

Automated tools cost a fraction of what an editor would charge. Most online tools offer a free basic subscription. Extra features can be obtained with premium packages which cost more depending on the application.

The NY Book Editors group offers this insight into what an automated editing tool can provide:

“This type of tool proofreads your writing, checking for grammar, spelling, and a host of other errors. While your text editor will probably have built in spelling and maybe a grammar check, a dedicated editing tool can find hidden errors that are easily missed on a standard text editor.”

This statement encapsulates the purpose of an automated editing tool. Consequently, automated tools are a great way to catch spelling, grammatical, and some relatively basic style errors.

However, the NY Book Editors also drop this small dose of truth: “Remember that no automatic editing tool can ever take the place of a human.”

Indeed, there is no way to replace a human editor. There is a reason why publishers still hire professional editors. They can check for style, voice, and messaging in the writing. They can determine the appropriate tone for the subject matter.

Moreover, professional editors can intuit what readers want to get out of the text.

These services are things no automated editing tool can do.

Nevertheless, there is no reason to dismiss automatic online editing tools entirely. These tools can drastically facilitate the editing process and  provide further support to the author.

As such, it is worth taking a look at the most popular text editing tools on the market.

The Most Popular Automated Online Editing Tools

Cyberspace contains various automated online editing tools. With such an array of options, choosing the right one might be somewhat confusing.

To help you make the decision, we have compiled a list of the most popular online editing tools available, focusing on their pros and cons.

Grammarly

Grammarly has taken the automated editing market by storm. This app has quickly become a fan favorite across the board. This is because Grammarly is quite comprehensive, even with its free version.

Basically, Grammarly is a turbo-charged proofreading tool. It can capture spelling, grammar, subject-verb agreement, and clarity errors.

Its artificial intelligence (AI) engine can adapt to various writing styles. For instance, its AI can check text using an academic approach.

Other settings include business, casual, and creative. The main difference lies in how strictly the writing adheres to convention  (academic, business, casual, or creative styles). For example, the academic setting will strictly enforce all grammatical and style conventions such as contractions, personal pronouns, and passive voice.

Grammarly.com

Another of Grammarly’s interesting features is its word choice and sentence structure check. These features are part of the premium package. Nevertheless, they are worth the money for professional writers and editors.

The word choice feature provides suggestions on synonyms and related terms. This feature is useful, particularly when writers get in the habit of overusing a single term. The structure check offers helpful hints on improving clarity and removing “wordiness.” However, wordiness is a relative term as some authors prefer more complex sentence structures.

Grammarly offers suggestions on four specific areas: correctness (spelling or grammar), clarity (logic and coherence), engagement (engaging and interesting), and delivery (connotation or meaning of words). Correctness pertains to fundamental mistakes such as grammar and spelling. Clarity and engagement are not mistakes per se.

However, these suggestions may constitute mistakes depending on the degree of formality. For instance, the use of passive voice may not be suitable for formal writing. In contrast, the passive voice would be acceptable for informal writing. Furthermore, delivery focuses on style issues such as adverbs, adjectives, and word order such as prepositions ending a sentence.

Also, Grammarly offers various levels of formality. There are three levels: formal, neutral, and informal. These three levels determine how strictly the writing should adhere to writing conventions. The formal setting requires the strict observance of all related American English spelling, grammar, and style conventions.

Perhaps Grammarly’s best feature is checking text based on “audience.” There are three types of audiences: general, knowledgeable, and expert. Naturally, each type of audience sets Grammarly’s AI to sniff out terms that may be too infrequent for a general audience. By the same token, the AI may suggest more formal terms for common words and expressions.

On the whole, Grammarly is a wonderful tool. Many will find the paid subscription is worth it, especially for writing and editing pros.

However, Grammarly is not perfect. Its AI tends to confuse terms from time to time. For instance, Grammarly’s AI may not recognize technical or legal terms. Additionally, text that makes consistent use of a specific term trigger constant suggestions for synonyms. But there are times when synonyms do not make sense within the material’s context.

The good news is that Grammarly’s AI continues to improve as writers and editors feed its engine. Nonetheless, writers and editors must be wary of accepting suggestions on auto-pilot. Grammarly is not perfect and thereby requires attention when editing texts. Grammarly easily installs onto Microsoft Word as an add-on and it easily facilitates editing for those working directly in Word.

Hemingway

Named after the Nobel laureate, Hemingway is a no-nonsense online editing app.

Its most interesting feature is its color-coded system.

Essentially, Hemingway identifies various types of errors by highlighting them with different color schemes.

For instance, blue indicates adverbs, green is passive voice, purple points out simpler phrases, yellow shows hard to read sentences, and red points out very hard to read sentences.

Hemingway’s main purpose is to encourage simplified writing. Therefore, its suggestions aim to make writing short and sweet. Mainly, this app looks to reduce the use of adverbs and wordiness as much as possible.

Hemingway also assigns a grade level for texts. Thus, writers and editors can assess the reading difficulty of their materials. This feature enables writers and editors to simplify or increase the complexity of their texts to meet their target grade-level reading.

One of the great things about Hemingway is that it is also free. Anyone can use it directly from its website. A relatively recent desktop app has also been created.

The verdict on Hemingway is that it is a good app for shorter pieces of content. Texts around 1,000 to 2,000 words work very well with Hemingway. But the app is less suitable for full-length book manuscripts. Nevertheless, blog posts, articles, or shorter materials work very well with it.

CorrectEnglish

CorrectEnglish is essentially a proofreading app. It works very well by sifting through texts for grammar and spelling errors. Also, it helps with readability and overall flow. However, this app is not capable of full-fledged editorial work. As a result, authors and editors should proofread a text before conducting a deep and detailed read.

AutoCrit

AutoCrit is specifically made for fiction writers. It aims to reduce redundancy, passive voice, filler words, and adverbswith a goal of improving overall pacing and dialog. It is very good for weeding out common writing mistakes. These features make AutoCrit  great for authors looking to clean up a manuscript. The app carries a $5 monthly fee.

WordRake

WordRake is a great proofreader. It works in tandem with Microsoft Word. Specifically, this editor seeks to reduce confusing prose by avoiding redundancies and highlighting mistakes such as subject-verb agreements, incorrect tense use, and misspelled words. It is great for tightening up texts. WordRake is quite popular with lawyers and students. However, there is one major drawback. WordRake does not do a deep dive with grammar and spelling. Therefore, users may need to rely more on Word’s built-in spellcheck capabilities to cover these areas.

When to Hire a Professional Editor

Automated editors are wonderful tools to have. They can facilitate the proofreading process by doing most of the heavy lifting. However, the truth is that there is just no substitute for a human editor.

Indeed, there limitations to what automated tools can achieve. And there are times when the best option is to hire a professional editor.

As such, here are five specific areas where hiring a professional editor is better than only relying on automated editing software.

1. Developmental Editing

At its essence, a developmental edit is a “significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript’s discourse.” In other words, a developmental edit looks at a manuscript’s structure, whether or not the text accomplishes its purpose, and if there are any missing pieces.

A good developmental edit requires using an experienced editor familiar with the subject matter.

The result should be an editorial assessment that publishers and authors can use to improve a manuscript’s quality. In some cases, the recommendations from an editorial assessment may lead to significant rewrites.

This type of assessment is suitable at all stages of the writing process. But developmental edits are best for finished and proofread manuscripts undergoing the initial editing process.

2. Fact-Checking

In the non-fiction domain, some editors specialize in fact-checking.

Specifically, fact-checking ensures that the information, claims, and advice presented in the material is accurate. Furthermore, fact-checking helps writers avoid using misleading or partially true information. Naturally, authors and publishers must ensure accuracy to avoid legal consequences.

Also, fact-checking is an essential task that automated editors cannot carry out. After all, AI has yet to reach a point where it can differentiate between fact and fiction. Professional editors have the ability to cross-reference information to ensure they are on the right track.

3. Quality Assurance

Author Copilot founder J. Thorn believes “…an editor should be hired when the author believes the manuscript is as good as it can be.”

A professional editor plays a crucial role in quality assurance. After all, authors do not always have an objective opinion about their work.

Even when authors receive honest and constructive third-party criticism, an editor provides an impartial opinion on the manuscript’s overall quality.

Please bear in mind that this quality assurance role should not involve proofreading. Grammarly (or a professional proofreader) can take care of that.

A professional editor’s quality assurance role should focus on honestly assessing “big picture” items. In other words, a professional editor must ensure the manuscript’s cohesion, logic, and narrative.

4. An Expert Opinion

Publishers often take a professional editor’s opinion at face value.

Why?

Professional editors are seasoned veterans who can distinguish between a good manuscript and a subpar one.

Hiring a professional editor gives authors an expert opinion on their work. Professional editors know what makes good writing, and can help authors improve their manuscripts.

Authors and publishers should hire a seasoned editor to provide an unbiased appraisal. Editors can help writers refine their work and create the best possible manuscript.

When authors or publishers neglect to get an editor’s opinion, they are unlikely to publish the best possible version of the work. The publication may fail to deliver on expectations.

5. The Human Touch

There is one thing that AI will never be able to deliver: the human touch.

Automated tools may be great at sifting through the linguistic minutiae. However, automated tools do not have the human intuition that great writing requires.

Words can trigger emotions. Great prose can create images in a person’s mind as imagination soars. Only humans are capable of determining the impact of wonderful writing. Only a professional human editor can assess how effectively a literary piece is able to produce feelings in the reader.

At the end of the day, a professional editor provides insight that no machine can deliver. Perhaps technology may be able to supplant a human editor at some point. For now, the human touch will always be an important component of all great writing.

The Final Verdict

The debate between automated editing tools and professional human editors should focus on combining both approaches.

Automated editing tools greatly facilitate the proofreading process. These tools save time, allowing editors to focus on the most important aspects of the editing process.

Consequently, authors, editors, and publishers could consider adding automated online editing software as another arrow in their quivers.

It may be that AI will never be able to replace the human touch. Professional editors will likely always have a place in the literary world.

The decision to hire a professional writer ultimately boils down to wanting to produce the best possible manuscript. Automated editing tools can help make that aim easier to accomplish.

What Kind of Editing Do I Need?

“Can you edit this?”

It’s arguably one of the vaguest requests heard in the world of editing and publishing.

That’s because there are multiple types of editing, and they often mean something very different to each party in the editing relationship – the writer and the editor.

A basic Internet search of “types of editing” can send you into a flurry of terminology controversies and confusion.

As an example, the Grammarly blog breaks apart developmental and substantive editing into separate definitions, while the Institute of Professional Editors uses another term for developmental editing (structural editing), and lumps substantive editing into that category.

The list goes on and on.

The growing popularity of self-publishing, has only served to contribute to the confusion.

Whether you’re an author seeking to self-publish a book or a corporate communicator finalizing a marketing brochure, determining what level of editing your project needs and effectively communicating expectations to your editor is key to a satisfactory process and end result, says Wintress Odom, owner and editor-in-chief at The Writers for Hire.

“I cannot tell you how many times we get a piece of copy and are asked to, ‘Just proofread it,’ or, ‘Please edit this,’” Odom says. “Most of the time, our clients have a very specific idea of what this means to them, but a lot of people don’t realize that those terms are used vastly differently by different people, so you really have to clarify, or you could get something back from an editor that was not what you expected at all.”

So how do you, as a writer, navigate the editing portion of the process to achieve your desired result?

Let’s explore the types of editing, consider overlapping terminology, and look at some ways to ensure you get what you want out of your editor.

Editing and Proofreading Are Very Different

First, let’s clear up some editing basics.

Editing is a process that shapes and modifies your manuscript or piece of copy to prepare it for publishing.

This can mean many different things, as we will go into below, but it typically involves fundamental changes to aspects such as flow, grammar and consistency.

This can mean many different things, as we will go into below, but it typically involves fundamental changes to aspects such as flow, grammar and consistency.

Proofreading, on the other hand, is a final step to review your copy as it will be printed, with the intent of catching any mistakes that may have been made during editing.

While proofreading is considered part of the overall editing process, having your piece proofread is not the same as having it edited.

Levels in the Editing Process

Most editing authorities use somewhere between three and five levels of editing, including proofreading as a final step in the process.

Let’s review the main categories and some of the terminology you may encounter.

1. Developmental editing

Developmental editing (also often called structural and substantive editing) is the most intense level of editing and could involve vigorous rewriting, so you may also see terms such as heavy editing or content editing used. This is a bigger-picture overhaul of your manuscript for style, structure and flow.

For nonfiction, you need developmental editing if your material is lacking logical flow.  In fiction, you may need developmental editing if you need assistance improving plot and/or character development.  Developmental editing will typically include reworking:

  • Book organization and topic flow.
  • Big-picture transitions.
  • Overarching stylistic choices.
  • Plotline and characterization (fiction).

2. Line editing

Line editing is sometimes lumped in with copy editing below, but it’s a more detailed, sentence-by-sentence edit.

Line editing isn’t focused on the big-picture aspects of the book as in developmental editing, but it may include sentence rewording to address areas such as:

  • Flow or pacing issues.
  • Removal of sections that may not fit.
  • Improving sentence content, style and voice.

3. Copy editing

Copy editing is also a sentence-by-sentence edit, but more technical in nature, focusing on cleaning up your copy to prepare it for publishing. If you are happy with the organization and flow of your piece and think it is ready for technical polishing such as grammar and punctuation, this may be the right level of editing for you.

Not all editors agree on what copyediting entails, but common services might include fixing:

  • Errors and inconsistencies in style (like the Oxford comma or hyphenation consistency)
  • Errors in dates, URLs, page numbers or other pertinent details.
  • Repeated facts.
  • Internal contradictions within the piece.

4. Proofreading

If you speak to a writer, proofreading often includes fixing typos and grammatical errors, as well as all or several of the items listen in copy editing (above).

However for a publisher, proofreading is very different.  Proofreading for publishers occurs only after final layout, and is intended to catch any errors made during the layout process, such as:

  • Missing words or sentences.
  • Odd line breaks or picture formatting.
  • Missing pages or page numbers.

Determining Which Level You Need

As you can see, even within these four categories, there are many overlapping and interchangeably used terms within these levels, and your editor may break them down differently.

In his work with indie authors, Friedlander finds it useful to simplify by dividing editing into two areas of need – the information and the copy.

“If you think your book has problems with the way it flows, it isn’t quite complete and you’re not sure how it compares to other similar books … in the market, then consult with a developmental editor about what you need to shape your book,” he says. “If you’re already over that part, you know what should be in the book, you’ve written books before and you’re satisfied with the way the information flows, then talk to your editor about preparing the book for publication with a copy edit.”

Odom agrees that a consultation with your editor detailing your needs is the best approach.

The key is understanding the general terms out there, and clarifying what that means to your editor as it relates to your specific project.

To help guide your conversation, Odom recommends asking yourself these questions:

  1. What are my goals with the editing process?
  2. What are my biggest concerns?
  3. Am I happy with the book’s overall chapter organization?
  4. Does the logical flow need help (i.e. does it make sense)?
  5. Does the stylistic flow need help (i.e. is it clunky to read)?
  6. Am I comfortable with an editor rewriting large portions of my manuscript?
  7. Would I prefer that the editor stick to fixing egregious errors, leaving the manuscript essentially as-is?
  8. Do I want my editor to fix style inconsistences (such as writing out numbers or consistency in capitalization choices)?
  9. Does the editor need to fact check for me? If so, what types of facts (e.g. spellings of places, historical dates, specific magazine quotes)?

It is true that the editing process can be confusing.

With an understanding of the nuances and variants that go into editing, though, you can arm yourself with the necessary tools to make the relationship with your editor a successful one.

This will, in turn, result in a more successful outcome for your project.

The End All Be All Guide to Editing and Proofreading Your Own Writing

So you’ve just written your first draft. Congratulations! Getting words onto the page can be one of the most painful parts of the writing process.

Unfortunately, you’re not done yet.

As every seasoned writer knows, your first draft is just the first step. Rarely (if ever) does a piece move from the writer’s brain to the page in a single flawless leap.

So how does a writer go about editing their own work?

Keep reading for a step-by-step guide that will help you turn your so-so copy into powerful prose.

The Elements of Editing

When we use the term “editing,” we’re referring to the high-level reading and revising all writers must undertake to ensure their ideas are communicated clearly, succinctly, and with maximum impact.

In publishing terms, editing in this sense is a combination of developmental editing and copyediting.

When you edit your own work, you’re looking for big-picture changes—rearranging paragraphs, rewriting sentences, adding or deleting information—that will help reshape the content into a better version of itself.

This includes casting a critical eye toward the following:

  • Structure: Is the piece organized in a logical way that allows readers to easily follow the thread of your ideas?
  • Content: Have you provided the reader with all the information they need to understand the intended message? Have you defined unfamiliar terms and concepts, provided background when necessary, deleted extraneous information, and checked for redundancy?
  • Consistency: Are the facts and details you provided consistent throughout the document? Have you unwittingly introduced any contradictory information?
  • Sentence construction: Are your sentences worded clearly and without clumsiness? Are there places where readers misinterpret your meaning? Do your sentences vary in length and use the active voice?

The Elements of Proofreading

In contrast to the deep dive of developmental editing and copyediting, proofreading is a more straightforward undertaking that involves looking for surface-level errors.

In a publishing house, proofreaders are typically the last set of eyes to look over a text before it goes into production.

Their job is to catch all the little things that developmental editors and copyeditors may have overlooked while evaluating for big-picture changes.

Proofreading involves reviewing for the following:

  • Spelling and grammatical errors, such as misspelled words, subject-verb disagreement, misplaced modifiers, etc.
  • Correct use of punctuation, including periods, colons, dashes, and apostrophes
  • Formatting and typesetting mistakes, such as consistent use of bolding, italics, and bullets
  • Stylistic inconsistencies, particularly as they pertain to the chosen style guide (Chicago Manual of Style, Associated Press Stylebook, etc.)

A Step-by-Step Guide to Editing Your Own Writing

Now that you’re familiar with the two levels of editing, let’s talk about how to go about it.

All writers have their own way of approaching the editing process. The longer you write, the more likely you are to land on a method that works best for you.

Until then, below is a step-by-step guide to help you get from first draft to final draft as painlessly as possible.

1. Take a Break  

Editing your own writing requires fresh eyes.

Never try to start editing immediately after completing your first draft. At minimum, give yourself 24 hours between completing a draft and starting the editing process to give your brain time to rest and reset.

Even better, wait several days before diving in.

2. Know Your Audience

What type of person do you intend to reach through your writing? Is your work designed to entertain or to educate?

Are you an expert explaining a topic for the layperson, or are you writing for other professionals in your field?

Keeping your audience in mind throughout the editing process will help you assess the structure and flow of your piece, as well as ascertain whether certain information is necessary or superfluous.

The tone of your writing—casual, formal, or somewhere in between—should also be decided based on your intended audience.

3. Plan for Multiple Rounds of Editing

Trying to find all the mistakes in your writing in a single sitting is a recipe for disaster—not to mention exhaustion.

Instead, plan to do multiple rounds of editing. Each one should focus on a specific purpose.

How many rounds are necessary? This will vary depending on the length and complexity of your writing, as well as external factors like deadlines.

Nevertheless, try to plan for at least three rounds.

The first round of editing should focus on big-picture elements, like the structure, tone, and flow of the piece as a whole.

Next, read your writing sentence-by-sentence, editing for elements like syntax, word choice, clarity, and redundancy.

For the third and final round of editing, proofread your almost-final draft to catch any surface-level errors like misspellings or formatting mistakes.

4. Zoom Out for a Big-Picture Edit

On your first round of editing, avoid reading too carefully. Instead, do a “big picture” edit to assess the structure and flow of your piece.

This is the time to decide if paragraphs need to be moved around or deleted, if additional context or background information is needed, or if certain information is superfluous or redundant.

Ask yourself: Is the writing arranged in a way that’s both clear and compelling? Would certain sections benefit from being divided up or rearranged?

Is any information missing? Is all the included information serving a purpose?

Take notes as you read, then make revisions as needed.

5. Zoom In for a Closer Look

After you’ve done your big-picture edit, it’s time for a deep dive. On this second round of editing, you will examine your writing sentence-by-sentence.

Here are some common mistakes to look out for:

Check for passive voice: Passive voice construction means that the subject is the receiver of the action. Rewriting these sentences in the active voice—i.e., making the subject the performer of the action—will almost always result in a stronger, more direct statement.

  • NO: Our services are offered by dedicated professionals.
  • YES: Dedicated professionals are on-hand to deliver our services.

Avoid generalities: Good writing is in the specifics. Whenever you spot a generality, try to replace it with specific information.

  • NO: Our products save you time.
  • YES: Using this patented system, customers report saving almost two hours a day.

Crush your clichés: Clichés are a waste of space, plain and simple. Whenever you spot one, replace it with a specific example or delete it altogether.

  • NO: At our company, we think outside the box.
  • YES: The Better Business Bureau ranked our company among the best for small business innovation.

Use positive language: Rewrite negative statements using words like “can’t,” “never,” “not,” “hardly,” “barely,” and “none” so that they use positive language instead.

  • NO: We would not be successful without our dedicated customers.
  • YES: Our dedicated customers have made our success possible.

Keep it simple: Don’t go out of your way to use obscure words and phrases when more common choices will suffice. While the thesaurus is your friend, you don’t want to alienate your readers by using words they’re unlikely to understand.

  • NO: We offer a variety of delectable accoutrements to complement our small-batch ice cream.
  • YES: We offer an assortment of delicious toppings for our small-batch ice cream.

Use modifiers sparingly: Adverbs and adjectives can often be eliminated by opting instead for vivid verbs and strong nouns.

  • NO: This difficult problem was in need of a solution.
  • YES: This challenge was in need of a solution.
  • NO: He looked intensely at the flyer.
  • YES: He scrutinized the flyer.

There are also certain overused and/or superfluous phrases to be on the lookout for. In most cases, sentences containing the phrases below can be rephrased to be more concrete and concise:

  • That’s why…
  • Our goal is to…
  • Our mission is to…
  • We believe…
  • Our vision is..
  • We pride ourselves on…
  • The fact that….
  • In order to…
  • There is…/There are…
  • It is necessary/important/crucial that…

Here are a few examples of the above:

NO: Our mission is to cut costs.

YES: We cut your costs.

NO: Our team lost revenues owing to the fact that we were understaffed.

YES: Our team lost revenues because we were understaffed.

NO: There are roses on the patio.

YES: Roses grow on the patio.

One final tip: In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King declared that a writer should aim to reduce the word count of their first draft by at least 10 percent during the editing process.

While 10 percent is not a hard and fast rule, don’t be afraid to be ruthless.

Here are a few things to look out for when it comes time to slash and burn:

Redundancies: If your ideas are communicated clearly, you only need to explain them once. Scour your text for places where you may have restated the same idea or concept multiple times. Choose the best one and delete the rest.

Digressions: Every piece of information included in your work should serve a purpose. Check your writing for areas where you may have descended into tangents or included information that’s unnecessary or irrelevant.

Needless transitions: Words like “indeed,” “however,” “nevertheless,” “likewise,” and “similarly” are often unnecessary and can interrupt the flow of your writing. Reading your work aloud can help guide you on when these transition words should be deleted.

4. The Final Step: Proofreading

Proofreading, like more high-level editing, is a skill that isn’t easily cultivated.

Just as with solving math equations or learning a foreign language, some people simply have a knack for noticing small errors that other eyes easily gloss over.

Nonetheless, there are certain best practices you can follow that will make you more likely to catch glaring, potentially embarrassing errors in your own writing.

For our list of proofreading tips, visit A Proofreader’s Checklist.

Everything You Need to Know About Writing Style Guides

Jonathan Culver, an author renowned for challenging the foundations of the English language, once stated, “The English language is a work in progress. Have fun with it.

Indeed, the English language is a magnificent living organism. And unlike other languages, there is no “right” way of using it. Quite the contrary, English can lend itself to specific purposes and transform itself to suit the needs of its users.

That being said, while there is no “correct” way of speaking or writing English, it is essential to adopt a standard style when producing content. After all, defining a particular writing style is crucial to maintaining a consistent level of quality in the content you’re producing.

In this article we will explore the various style guides content producers can use to adapt English according to their purposes.

How to Pick a Style Guide for your Writing

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Often, writers and content producers ask themselves, “What is the best writing style?” The answer to that question largely depends on the type of content and target audience. As such, it is worth looking into both elements.

The type of content defines the writing style. Writers often mistake this process by allowing the writing style to define content. For example, academic papers must use a formal writing style. In this situation, a different type of writing style would cause the paper to lose credibility.

Additionally, the target audience defines the type of written discourse. A highly technical topic intended for a general audience must have a digestible writing style. Therefore, content producers must strive to make complex material user-friendly.

Once the target audience and type of content are clear, there are three additional factors to consider. These factors encompass the content creator’s specific characteristics. Therefore, these elements must reflect the intended writing style.

  • House style. When working with publishing houses, they may have specific style guides. Moreover, private corporations may have a particular style guide they follow. Therefore, these guidelines should determine the text’s writing style.
  • Medium. The medium of publication is highly important. For instance, academic journals may require a specific writing style. In contrast, mainstream media outlets may espouse a journalistic style. Also, fiction publishers may have specific conventions that writers must follow.
  • Niche. There are times when material corresponds to a particular niche. In such cases, a distinctive writing style would be necessary. This concept is especially true for fiction content. Nonfiction content may also need to follow specific guidelines based on the type of content. For instance, a how-to guide may need simple language, while a marketing manual might employ a more conversational tone.

In addition, writers and content producers should avoid the following key mistakes.

  • Attempting to sound “smart.” A common mistake lies in attempting to impress the audience. This strategy may backfire, particularly if the target audience is a general one. Attempting to sound smart implies using highly sophisticated language that clouds the text’s message. As a result, sounding smart may result in giving the wrong impression.
  • Making mistakes in style. Beyond spelling and grammar, style mistakes entail tone, style, and voice. For example, writing in the first-person singular (“I” statements) may seem too informal for a serious publication. In contrast, an impersonal, third-person narrative may seem distant to a general audience.
  • Neglecting a consistent style. Maintaining a consistent style provides uniformity to a text. It also reflects a high degree of professionalism. For instance, mixing the active and passive voices may give off the wrong impression. Consequently, writers should avoid the passive voice as much as possible.

Renowned novelist Stephen King once said, “Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation.” Certainly, adopting a writing style will help avoid the self-consciousness that comes with writing. Maintaining a coherent writing style is the ultimate confidence booster.

So, here are the top four writing style guides successful writers and organizations use to drive home their message, straight to their target audience.

Top Four Writing Style Guides

Associated Press Stylebook

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook is a collection of writing guidelines intended primarily for news media. As such, it contains a clear journalistic tone.

Usage of the AP style is predominant in newspapers, online news media, and blogs. Additionally, content marketers tend to use the AP style when seeking a more natural tone.

The news media has adopted the AP style as the de-facto style. Its guidelines on grammar, spelling, and punctuation attempt to capture mainstream cultural references.

For instance, the AP Stylebook recommends the usage of gender-neutral pronouns. Moreover, this style utilizes American English conventions.

Many European publications also use the AP style when publishing content for American audiences.

The AP style is useful when producing content for general audiences. This style focuses mainly on economic writing. Consequently, long and elaborate sentences are deemed superfluous.

Ideally, writers using the AP style should be as clear and concise as possible. Over-embellishment is not advisable within the AP style. Furthermore, standard terms are preferable over complex and obscure words.

Content marketers, bloggers, and nonfiction writers all find the AP style appealing. In particular, it facilitates communicating information to a broad audience. Therefore, the AP style is not advisable for a niche publication or academic journals.

The AP Stylebook goes through frequent revisions, every other year at the end of May. Its most recent updates took place in 2020. The official guide goes by the name “The Associated Press Stylebook.” Plus, the AP Stylebook Online contains a solid overview of style and form. AP editors gather to review the Stylebook at the annual conference of ACES: The Society for Editing.

Chicago Manual of Style

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is a staple of English-language writing. From journalistic to academic writing, the CMOS is a standard in the world of literature. The CMOS first saw publication in 1906. And in 2006, it went online for the first time.

The CMOS contains a set of guidelines on appropriate writing. It focuses on nonfiction writing. As such, it is most common in commercial texts (manuals, guides, and whitepapers) and academic writing.

Colleges frequently ask their students to use CMOS style while writing their papers. In fact, in the academic realm, the CMOS is the predominant citation style. Additionally, it is not uncommon to see text with the AP writing style use CMOS citation styles.

Linguistically, the CMOS uses American English as its base and offers its recommendations for grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

The most distinctive aspect of the CMOS is its manuscript formatting guidelines. For instance, the CMOS recommends the use of the Times New Roman font, 12 pt. Also, the text should contain double line spacing with a left-justified alignment. Moreover, the page should contain one-inch margins all around.

Writers and content producers looking to publish formal, scientific, or academic works should employ the CMOS. Specifically, the humanities make extensive use of the CMOS guidelines. Nevertheless, long-form blog posts and non-journalistic articles commonly utilize the CMOS.

The CMOS’s last revision took place in 2017. It is available online as the Chicago Manual of Style Online and its companion Chicago Style Q&A. This manual is a handy quick-reference guide.

American Psychological Association

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) style guide has become a go-to writing reference guide in recent years.

The APA guidelines first emerged in 1929. Its initial authors came from psychology, anthropology, and business backgrounds.

The first edition of the full manual reached publication in 1952. Since 2009, the APA Style Blog constitutes an online reference guide.

The APA style guide is the standard for scientific writing.

On the whole, the APA manual’s purpose is to simplify academic writing. As such, its core lies in document formatting and citations. Citations vary considerably from the CMOS, as citations are in-text, instead of being listed as traditional footnotes.

Standard American English conventions are the basis for the APA style guide. Additionally, grammar, punctuation, and spelling follow generally accepted guidelines. For example, the APA format allows the passive voice, unlike the AP Style. However, writers should be wary of overusing it.

Overall, academia appears to prefer the APA style. More and more colleges, journals, and even high schools encourage writers to use the APA style.

It is worth noting, however, that the APA writing style is not as common in commercial, marketing, or informational materials. Moreover, the medical profession favors the Vancouver citation style which uses numbers within the text that refer to numbered entries in the reference list . Consequently, the APA style is more common in humanities, social sciences, and some natural sciences.

The APA guide does not undergo frequent revisions. A new guide reaches publication roughly every 10 years. The latest guide has been available since 2019.

Modern Language Association of America

The Modern Language Associate of America’s (MLA) writing guide has been a stalwart in the academic world for decades. While not the oldest, the MLS guide quickly caught on within academic circles.

The MLA’s first publication was released in 1951 as the “MLA Style Sheet.” Then, the MLA Handbook first saw publication in 1977 and has been available online since 2009.

Initially, the MLA Handbook intended to serve academic writers and college-level students. However, it now caters to writers of all areas since 2016.

The MLA style guide primarily focuses on citation and paper formatting. So, the bulk of its recommendations center on manuscript creation more than writing mechanics. As such, grammar, spelling, and punctuation all follow general American English conventions.

For example, the MLA style calls for 8 ½” by 11” paper, one-inch margins on all sides, and the first word of every paragraph with a half-inch indentation. Also, the font size should be 12 pt. There are no specific recommendations on the font type.

On the whole, easily legible fonts are preferable. The most common font types are Times New Roman and Arial. Additionally, academic papers should have double-spaced lines.

As for citations, the MLA style uses footnotes. Endnotes are also prudent, though this decision largely comes down to individual preferences. Publications such as journals and magazines may have specific guidance on citation location.

In general, the MLA style is predominant in the humanities within the language field. Some social sciences may use the MLA style over the APA. However, these decisions depend on individual schools and faculty members. On the whole, most schools prefer the MLA over APA.

The last MLA updates hit widespread publication in 2016. There are revised print editions every three to five years. In addition, there is an Online MLA guide available that provides key insights into formatting and citation.

Conclusion

Implementing and sticking with a specific writing style is a must for content production. Adopting a writing style helps portray professionalism, stemming from the consistency in written materials and promotional items.

Therefore, it is crucial to choose a writing style that falls in line with the target audience and publication medium. Most importantly, a writing style should reflect the spirit of the content presented.

Most brands opt for the AP writing style, particularly if they publish across various platforms. Nevertheless, the MLA or APA styles work well when publishing white papers or research materials.

As for writing conventions, the CMOS provides appropriate guidance on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, especially in conjunction with the MLA format.

Overall, style decisions boil down to ensuring that the right message reaches the right audience across the proper platforms.

The Six Types of Editing: Knowing Which Is the Right One

Legendary novelist Stephen King once said, “To write is human, to edit is divine.”

Indeed, nothing is perfect the first time. Writing is no exception. Effective writing requires a progressive approach. No matter how good writing is the first time, a good edit can take a text from good to great.

When readers lay their eyes on a finished piece, they see the result of writing, editing, proofreading, and fact-checking. These processes all play a significant role in producing great literary pieces. The trick is recognizing how editing could improve good writing.

Editing is an invaluable part of effective content production. Timely edits can facilitate a book’s publication, reducing the probability of extensive rewrites and thereby cutting down on overall writing, editing, and publishing times.

In this article we will explore the six types of editing. We will also discuss how writers and editors can take advantage of these editing types to take great writing to the next level.

1. Developmental Editing

Developmental editing refers to an arduous process of producing major edits on a partially or fully completed manuscript. As such, this type of editing also receives the name of “substantive” or “line” editing.

Developmental editing entails “significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript’s discourse.” Therefore, developmental editing significantly alters the text’s nature and composition. In some instances, these edits can shift storylines or transform the prose itself.

In Scott Norton’s comprehensive guide to developmental editing, editors “provide broad direction by helping the author to form a vision for the book, then coaching the author chapter by chapter to ensure that the vision is successfully executed.”

Consequently, editors may choose to work closely with a writer to guide them throughout the writing process. This coaching support does not suggest the editor will act like a schoolteacher. The author may lean on the editor in terms of “big picture” items such as themes, storylines, or character creation.

Additionally, developmental editors may choose to “get their hands dirty with the prose itself, suggesting rewrites at the chapter, section, paragraph, and sentence levels.” This approach is akin to the editor taking a red marker to highlight the changes needed. The extent of the changes depends on the editor’s willingness to drill down on the prose itself. Thus, major rewrites may stem from detailed developmental editing.

In fiction writing, developmental editing generally focuses on plotlines and character building. Editors may suggest specific changes to the story itself or request major rewrites to fix plot holes or inconsistencies.

In nonfiction writing, a developmental edit focuses on reviewing cohesion among concepts, themes, and topics. Also, editors may suggest rewrites to match tone, voice, or style (academic, casual, or general).

The outcome of a developmental edit is an annotated manuscript. It consists of notes made directly on the manuscript, either directly on a hard copy or an electronic one.

Also, an editor may produce an editorial report. This report contains general notes on the manuscripts with some specific examples. Editorial reports generally emerge from finished drafts, whereas annotated manuscripts best serve a chapter-by-chapter review.

2. Editorial Assessment

An editorial assessment is a great option for works in progress. Writers looking for feedback can turn to an editor to get a bird’s-eye view of a working manuscript. Thus, an editorial assessment intends to provide general guidelines on the main plot lines or thematic issues.

A solid editorial assessment can reveal early plot issues, character contradictions, thematic inconsistencies, or even factual inaccuracies.

Editor and writing conference founder Rebecca Faith Heyman describes an editorial assessment as a “tough-love letter from an editor to an author.”

This concept emerges from the premise that an editorial assessment is an unbiased critique of the manuscript. In consequence, this critique opens the door for some unpleasant feedback. Nevertheless, feedback is necessary to ensure the overall quality of the work.

The most significant advantage of an editorial assessment is timely feedback. Since the manuscript is still in progress, the writer can go about making changes without significantly altering the manuscript. Timely feedback allows writers to save time and effort moving forward.

Conversely, edits on a final manuscript would constitute a developmental edit. Naturally, major edits on a finished draft would be more time-consuming and laborious than on a work in progress. Hence, writers should always be open to the notion of an editorial assessment.

Editors produce a report in a letter format stating their recommendations following their assessment. This report generally contains broad points on the main aspects of the manuscript. While specific examples may serve to highlight an issue, an editorial assessment does not focus on details.

Therefore, this assessment does not constitute proofreading or fact-checking. These elements are part of the developmental assessment or specific proofreading and fact-checking procedures.

Writers should seek an editorial assessment if they feel unsure about their manuscript’s quality. As such, an editor can help the author transform their vision into a coherent piece. Writers could employ an editor themselves for a fee. Also, editors may work on a publisher’s behalf as part of a book development process.

Please bear in mind that editorial assessments should yield positive feedback. Therefore, writers should not take observations personally. Hence, an editorial assessment is an exercise in “tough love.”

3. Structural Editing

As its name suggests,  structural editing focuses on a literary piece’s construction.

For fiction books, structural editing often centers around plot construction, narrative, and story elements. For instance, a structural edit focuses on ensuring that the sequence of events in a story line up appropriately.

Also, story elements need to match according to the main plot events. As such, a solid structural assessment provides writers with specific feedback on the story’s overall construction.

For nonfiction books, the structural edit focuses on the book’s organization and formatting. Particularly, nonfiction books must focus on coherence throughout their development.

This coherence pertains to the main theme and congruency among chapters. Hence, a solid structural edit should point out inconsistencies in tone (casual, academic, or general) and narrative (first-person or third person).

There is often confusion between structural editing and proofreading. While structural editing may underscore grammatical and spelling issues, it is not its main objective. A profound structural edit may reveal linguistic issues such as overuse of the passive voice, inconsistent punctuation, or common spelling mistakes. However, this editing would only highlight examples of such issues.

A structural edit may also tackle a writer’s tone and narrative in a fiction piece. Generally speaking, editors focus on a consistent narrative style. Also, the editor may suggest changes to pacing and overall tone.

For example, the narrator may lack engagement with a climactic scene in the story. Additionally, a character’s voice might not match its persona. Consequently, an editor would point out this issue.

Also, structural editing in fiction may lead to storylines broken up into different chapters or splitting the story into different volumes. Moreover, this editing may recommend specific parts be cut out from the story. While the aim is not to interfere in the creative process, these edits establish a cohesive story throughout the book.

Editors generally write a report that lists the major issues that require attention. The report might include specific examples to highlight the edits required. However, the editor may not go into greater detail until the developmental editing phase. Therefore, the structural edit should provide the author with guidelines to ensure the book’s structure adheres to the story or theme’s overall vision.

4. Copyediting

Image by Anne Karakash from Pixabay

After completing developmental and structural edits (including an editorial assessment), the copyediting process is ready to begin. In general, copyediting reviews a finished manuscript for linguistic errors.

The copyediting process, also known as “line editing,” focuses on the areas of spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word choice, dialogs, narrative, and inconsistencies (character depictions, scenes, location). As such, copyediting is an arduous process that looks to address linguistic aspects in addition to story elements.

Copyediting is the next step following a developmental edit. Also, a thorough copyedit can stem from an editorial assessment.

Both developmental edits and editorial assessments address “big picture” issues. These assessments provide broad strokes on the working manuscript’s quality. Once finished, copyediting does a deep dive into the manuscript’s construction. Therefore, the copyediting process may reveal problems that may need a revision or even a rewrite.

The copyediting process does not constitute the final step before publication. Copyediting intends to refine a final manuscript so the author can put the finishing touches on it.

Moreover, copyediting is not “beta reading.” Beta readers are untrained audience members who provide feedback on the story prior to publication. Therefore, copyediting constitutes a quality assurance process meant to ensure a high-grade publication.

Also, please note there is a difference between line editing and copyediting. While line editing and copyediting are generally synonymous, copyediting encompasses a global review in which both linguistics and prose receive consideration. However, line editing hones in on text flow. As such, line editing involves improving the readability of text as opposed to focusing specifically on linguistic elements (grammar, spelling, or word choice).

The copyediting process may break down into two separate parts: line editing and proofreading. On the whole, proofreading is generally the final step in the quality assurance process. Therefore, line editing becomes an integral part of the review process. After all, a trained editor can provide valuable insight into the story’s overall flow and development. Consequently, line editing allows authors to capture anything that might fall through the cracks.

Lastly, copyediting does not provide any insight into creative issues. Recommendations on creative matters are the domain of developmental editing or editorial assessments. Therefore, the copyediting process should not yield any creative guidance.

If a copyeditor feels there are major creative matters to address, the copyediting review might become a developmental edit. Hence, copyediting should occur only after a developmental edit and editorial assessment have taken place.

5. Proofreading

Proofreading generally represents the final step prior to publication. At this stage, the manuscript is final. As such, the manuscript will not undergo any further developmental edits.

Since the story is complete, the manuscript must now undergo an exhaustive linguistic review. This review entails checking grammar, spelling, punctuation, voice, and any other linguistic items that comprise the book.

In fiction pieces, proofreaders check all linguistics components. In addition, proofreaders check to ensure consistent spelling in names of characters, places, and events. Moreover, proofreaders ensure that the prose is consistent with the convention of British or American English.

Proofreading tends to be a painstaking and time-consuming process. Therefore, proofreaders may work on a chapter-by-chapter basis. This approach reduces the overall time needed to check an entire novel.

Please bear in mind that authors should communicate any creative liberties in the text. For example, the uncommon spelling of names, fictional places, or slang should comprise notes submitted along with the manuscript. These notes receive the name of “style sheet.” A style sheet is quite common in fantasy novels.

For nonfiction works, proofreaders go over additional aspects such as graphs, illustrations, tables, font, and citations.

Authors should disclose their citation format. For instance, the author must indicate the use of MLA, APA, Harvard, or Vancouver citation styles. Therefore, proofreaders must be familiar with these citation styles. It is worth noting that a copyediting review may reveal citation errors. Thus, authors may enlist a proofreader’s services to review citations specifically.

Proofreading also addresses specific formatting issues. Formatting includes font type, font size, margins, spacing, page numbering, line counts, or paragraph alignment. Some publishers may have very specific requirements. Consequently, an experienced proofreader can help meet those specifications, thereby ensuring the final draft meets publication requirements.

Additionally, more than one proofreader may participate in this process. For example, one expert may check citations and formatting while another may focus solely on linguistic issues. In other instances, several proofreaders may go over stylistic and linguistic issues to double-check edits. This process is common when major rewrites occur in a working manuscript.

6. Fact-Checking Review

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A fact-checking review may be required, particularly in nonfiction works. Fact-checking reviews focus exclusively on verifying the accuracy of information presented in the text.

While the author may be a renowned expert on the subject matter, fact-checkers dig deep into the claims presented in the text. This approach ensures 100 percent accuracy of the information provided in the book.

There are various reasons why fact-checking is immensely important. First, fact-checking ensures complete accuracy in the text. Thus, total accuracy builds the author’s credibility. Naturally, a recognized authority on a subject cannot afford criticism for inaccurate claims.

Second, a fact-checking review ensures the accuracy and reliability of sources. This process is particularly important in academic works.

When authors present their sources, fact-checks make sure these sources are precise and contain updated information. When authors fail to disclose sources, fact-checkers may do some digging to find support. If no support is available, then fact-checkers may recommend editing claims. In some instances, authors may have to remove claims altogether.

Third, fact-checking verifies figures and dates. In particular, a developmental editor may request a fact-checking review in the manuscript’s early stages. This recommendation may occur on a chapter-by-chapter basis to avoid any major rewrites at the latter stages of the book’s production.

Fiction works may also require a fact-checking review. Novels based on real historical events may need a fact-checking review to determine if any plotlines conflict with facts.

Of course, novels do not necessarily need to ensure accuracy. Nevertheless, a developmental edit might pick up story elements that make the plot implausible. For instance, stating that John Doe fell asleep in a hotel in Singapore, but then met a friend in a café in New York early the next morning would hardly be possible. Therefore, a fact-check edit would suggest that the author re-think his or her timeline.

Fact-checking, like proofreading, ensures that nothing slips through the cracks. Ultimately, these processes ensure high-quality materials.  

Conclusion

Editing is a crucial process in book production. Therefore, writers and publishers must be open to employing editors’ services throughout a book’s creation. Indeed, no manuscript is perfect right from the start. As such, writers need to be open to improvements.

The type of editing utilized depends on the stage of the book’s development. During its early stages, a developmental edit can help the author refine a book. In doing so, copyediting, proofreading, and fact-checking can take place uneventfully.

Ultimately, editing serves to ensure the writer’s vision comes to fruition by delivering high-quality content to readers. This process not only fosters credibility but also saves time and unnecessary effort. Timely edits can reduce the likelihood of major rewrites, thereby facilitating the overall publication process.

How Our Fears Have Changed Our Language

If you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books, then you know all about “he who shall not be named.”

However, it may surprise you to hear that the practice of not speaking the names of the things we fear—and instead calling them by something else—is actually something that’s been done since the beginning of time.

In fact, according to this great article from getpocket.com, many of the names for things in our everyday vocabulary are actually derived from the alternative names that scary things were given long ago.

Take the word “bear” for example. “Bear,” as we call it in English, comes from a Germanic word that literally means “the brown one.” It seems that the original name of the bear, h₂ŕ̥tḱos, was too scary for people to say, because of the threat that bears imposed on the northern areas where Proto-Indo-European was spoken. So, in an attempt to take power back from the scary h₂ŕ̥tḱos, people started calling them by descriptive words instead.

The fear of physical threats is not the only thing that has changed language over time, though. Human beings also have a fear of words that are deemed as “taboo” or “bad.” And, as a result, many alternative words have been invented using similar sounds.

If you want to see an example of this practice, just visit your local playground. You’re sure to hear plenty of “frick,” “gosh darnit,” and “son of a biscuit” from parents, trying to keep their language clean in front of their kids.

While it has become a common practice, changing our language because of our fears may actually be counter intuitive. After all, as the great Albus Dumbledore once advised, “always use the proper name for things” because “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

Style and Tone in Writing: What They Mean and Why it Matters

As a writer, you hear the terms style and tone bandied about quite a bit, and frequently together.

But are they something you need to pay attention to? Or do they just happen when you write?

You know that all writing has some form of tone and style, but what do the terms really mean? Aren’t they essentially the same thing?

While both are ways to express yourself in your writing, style and tone are distinctly different from each other. And they each serve an essential purpose in your writing.

Here’s what you need to know about tone and style and why every writer needs to use them conscientiously. 

Style

Regardless of whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, your writing style is the way in which you tell your story. It’s the nuts and bolts of language.

Do you like long, flowing sentences? Maybe you prefer short sentences with simple, easy-to-understand words. The writing tools you choose—such as the words, sentence structure, and grammar—create your style. 

Think about some of the authors or different genres you’ve read. Typically, each genre will have some style similarities, but each author will put his or her own touch on it. 

For instance, both Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens are authors of literary fiction, but compare these two lines:

“‘Hello,’ I said. When I saw her I was in love with her. Everything turned over inside of me.” – from A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway.

“The freshness of her beauty was indeed gone, but its indescribable majesty and its indescribable charm remained. Those attractions in it I had seen before; what I had never seen before was the saddened softened lift of the once proud eyes; what I had never felt before was the friendly touch of the once insensible hand.” – from Great Expectations by Dickens. 

Each passage is a description of the narrator seeing a woman with whom he is smitten.

Hemingway’s is three sentences while Dickens’ is only two, but as a whole, Dickens’ is much longer. He even uses two semicolons in the second sentence.

Hemingway uses action words while Dickens dives into descriptive phrases. The way in which each of these writers uses language to tell their story is their style. So, why does that matter?

On a basic level, you want to be certain that your writing style fits the genre you’re writing. There’s always room for flexibility, but a press release should not read like a romance novel or a history of the Civil War.

Readers have expectations, and veering too far off the established path can cause them to lose interest. Or, even worse, it could jeopardize your project.

Find the appropriate style for the genre you are writing, and make it your own.

Tone

In some ways, tone is less technical than style. It is the attitude the writer takes towards the subject or even the reader.

It can be formal or academic. It can also be friendly or even humorous. What is appropriate may vary with the type of writing being done. 

Here are two passages from essays on motherhood. They are both talking about essentially the same topic, but they come across very differently:

“In the weeks after my first son was born, I squandered hours of precious sleep leaning over his bassinet to check that he was still breathing. I researched potential dangers that seemed to grow into monstrous reality by the blue light of my smartphone.” from “How Motherhood Changes the Brain” by Chelsea Conaboy published by theweek.com.

“A couple of years ago my daughter began climbing into our bed in the morning. I liked it. I love a morning snuggle, the promise of the day whispered in scratchy voices and the weight of my kids’ bodies warm against my side.” from “Motherhood” by Amy Flory published on funnyisfamily.com.

While both authors are writing about motherhood, the tone in Conaboy’s passage is decidedly more ominous. It’s filled with worry. Flory’s piece, on the other hand, oozes affection and comfortable joy.

Their styles are not significantly different, but their tones set very different moods for the reader. 

So, why does your tone matter? Because it affects how your readers receive your message. The wrong tone can make any story or message fall flat— or worse!

Your tone sets the mood for your book.

Would you enjoy a romance novel written with an authoritative and distant tone? Or, how about a true-crime book written in a fun or even silly tone?

It is possible to be “tone deaf” in your writing. Just as in public speaking, you want to speak to your specific audience when you write.

Using Style and Tone in Your Writing

You’ve heard it before: It’s not just what you say but also how you say it. When you combine style and tone, what you have is your distinctive writing voice.

Here are a couple of tips for using style and tone in your writing:

  • Be intentional – Do some research, and figure out what styles and tones can work effectively for your genre. How do you want your work to come across to the reader? Choose your style and tone before you even begin. Remember, you want to find the appropriate style and tone and then make them your own.
  • Be consistent – Make sure your writing stays true to those choices or make a full change if needed, but don’t flip flop. This involves reading your work closely after you have finished, to ensure your style and tone stays consistent throughout. Inconsistencies in style and tone can leave the reader confused or annoyed.

Know What’s Hot 

The rules for style and tone can change with time.

There was a time when books about history were always written in a very formal, journalistic style, for example. Then, a couple of decades ago, the idea of creative non-fiction took hold. Even history books started to read more like novels.

It’s important to know what’s “hot” right now because that establishes the reader’s expectations.

That being said, you don’t want to be unduly influenced by it, either, and try to write in a style or tone that is not comfortable for you.

Put your finger on the current pulse, and then align your skills and your project with that.

Editors vs. Proofreaders: They Don’t Wear the Same Hat

The words you put out on behalf of your company are essential to your bottom line. They reflect your brand and your mission, and they attract potential customers or donors.

With so much at stake, it is imperative that you have multiple sets of eyes on your final copy before it goes out for all the world to see.

So, who should those eyes be?

Every piece of solid writing has three people behind it: the writer or author, the editor, and the proofreader. And they all play different roles in the production of outstanding content.

An editor is not a proofreader. And a proofreader is not an editor. 

Both an editor and a proofreader may use the mighty red pen, but they have different jobs.

“The two roles are different. Editors do developmental and line edits. Proofreaders make sure the copy is free of errors and adheres to house style,” said Sophia Stewart, an assistant editor at The Los Angeles Review of Books.

An Editor’s Hat  

Someone in the editor’s role looks for concrete ways to improve the quality of writing, particularly when it comes to language use and expression. 

As the author, you sometimes become too close to what you’ve written and need an outside, objective look at your work. A good editor will look for ways to sharpen your writing, make it more consistent, and amplify the overall readability. 

An editor may move sentences or paragraphs around, cut excess words, and make sure the tone is conveyed accurately. 

Put simply, an editor’s role is to ensure your writing has the maximum impact, and your audience is stirred to take action, feel an emotion, or whatever it is you want them to do.

An editor will look for the following:

Clarity: Does each sentence convey what you want it to say? Are there vague details or confusing descriptions that could confuse your reader?

Awkward sentences: An editor will go back through your copy to make sure your sentences are not clunky. 

Sentence length: It’s a good idea to make sure you strike a balance between long sentences and shorter sentences. This leaves some variety for your readers. Using too many short sentences can make your copy come across as choppy. 

Unnecessary words: Are there too many words burying what you’re trying to say? An editor will look for words that don’t enhance or add to your written piece’s meaning. 

Passive vs. active voice: In most cases, you will want to write in the active voice since doing so makes your writing more concise and efficient. An editor will go back through and make sure you’re using an active voice. 

Flow: An editor will look for the flow of ideas and concepts. If necessary, they will shift paragraphs and sentences around to make sure your point comes across clearly. 

A Proofreader’s Hat 

A proofreader, on the other hand, will check for surface-level mistakes. They take a quality piece of writing and make it shine, looking specifically for the following:

  • Spelling errors
  • Correct use of commas, colons, and semicolons
  • Style mistakes (Associated Press, Chicago, or your in-house style)  
  • Appropriate use of quotation marks and apostrophes
  • Double spaces or any other wonky formatting

Right-brained vs. Left-brained  

Editors and proofreaders possess different talents and skillsets.

Based on the research done in the 1960s by psychobiologist and Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry, you might conclude that they each use different sides of their brains to complete their respective tasks.

According to Sperry’s research, people who are more creative and artistic tend to be right-brained, while the more verbal, analytical, and orderly are left-brained. 

Since editors consider a written piece’s emotional appeal, editors may be more right-brained, according to Sperry’s findings.  

And because proofreaders base their jobs on technical accuracy and stick to strict rules and guidelines, proofreaders, according to Sperry’s research, would tend to be more left-brained. 

It is often said that editing is an art, and proofreading is a science. Both require proficiency and command of the English language, but just in different ways.

“The two tasks require completely different skill sets,” said Amanda Eisele, a teacher in Bryan-College Station, Texas. “One is for content and organization while the other is for grammar. Not everyone is a grammar expert.”

There is a time for everything, including proofing and editing. 

Did you ever stop to think about how many steps a book goes through before it’s produced for your enjoyment? Multiple!

First, the author comes up with the idea, drafts the book, and then they finesse it until they are completely satisfied with it. This is known as the revision stage, and it can go through multiple rounds.

The author or ghostwriter will go through the manuscript to make sure ideas are entirely developed, re-order paragraphs, add material, etc. 

While you do have the option to self-edit, it can be challenging to be objective. It’s best to hire a professional book editor who will offer an outside perspective, provide suggestions for improving clarity and readability, and organize the content so it flows.

Editing plays an important role but should be done so that it does not lose the original writer’s authenticity.

According to owlocation, a blog by self-publishing expert, advocate, and former trade newspaper editor Heidi Thorne, “Editing should be done to make the writing better, not to turn it into something it’s not.”

Then, after the editing stage is complete, it’s time for the proofreader to work their magic.

Proofreading is one of the last steps in the writing process and is done before the book is published. It’s a final sweep of the content and helps solidify the credibility of the author.

Proofreading requires an innate level of detail and precision and plays a critical role in producing the final product.

While your editor could technically also perform proofreading duties, it is best practice to have someone who’s not familiar with the book serve as your proofreader. That way, your book gets the final read-through and polishing it deserves.

If you’re concerned about how much it will cost to hire a professional book editor and/or proofreader, companies like The Writers For Hire provide a talented group of editors and proofreaders at reasonable rates.

Do you need an editor, proofreader, or both?

How do you determine if you need the skills of an editor or a proofreader or both? In general, if you want to improve your written English effectively, you need an editor. If you want your document checked for syntax, spelling, or grammar mistakes, enlist a proofreader.

Here are some more examples:

Professional Editing and Proofreading Services 

Several editing and proofreading tools, such as Grammarly and Microsoft Word Editor, are available via the Internet to help with very basic editing and proofreading.

Grammarly is an artificial intelligence-based writing tool that checks for common grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes.

You can access the tool by going to the Grammarly.com site or as a Microsoft extension, meaning it integrates with your Office applications (Outlook, Word, and PowerPoint) and your favorite browsers, making it a great tool to check your social media posts for errors. 

You can download the free version, and it will provide you with the basic support, or you can upgrade and pay $11 to $12 monthly for the premium package. The premium package checks for punctuation, context, sentence structure (passive vs. active voice), and suggests alternate words.

Grammarly will also check for potentially clunky sentences and suggest alternatives for making your writing more concise. It will also review your tone and check for missing words and formatting mistakes, like extra spaces.

While it’s certainly helpful, it’s not 100% foolproof. Some of its suggestions don’t make sense, so you will want to double-check your work once you’ve run it through Grammarly.  

Microsoft Word provides a built-in editor as well. It’s useful for catching spelling and some grammar mistakes and is an extension for Chrome and some other browsers.

It’s cheaper than Grammarly but is not nearly as robust.

Microsoft Word can be a helpful tool for very basic documents, but it’s not a good idea to rely on it 100%.  

When it comes down to it, a digital program cannot or should not replace a human being for these functions.

Editing and proofreading require special skills and training, so it’s smart to call on experts for these critical jobs. After all, you don’t want to pour hours into writing a book, brochure, newsletter, annual report, blog post, or website copy only to fail to convey your message or to present material riddled with careless mistakes.  

For more resources on editing and proofreading, here is some suggested reading:

Proofreading Always Counts 

The Ps and Qs of Proofreading

Think You’re Done Editing? Take a Step Back

Rewriting: What to do when you have to rephrase someone else’s words

Fantastic Words That Are Begging for a Comeback

Have you ever heard a word, and found yourself thinking, “Wow! Now, THAT is a great word!”?

We’re not talking ordinary, everyday words here. We’re talking about words with meanings that perfectly describe certain situations or people.

Take the word “groke,” for example. You know that guy (or girl) who stares at you when you are eating, just hoping that you will share? That’s a groke!

How about people who suffer from “dysania” (extreme difficulty getting out of bed in the morning) and like to sleep in much later than necessary? Those are “slugabeds.”

I am positive that everyone knows at least one “grumbletonian” who is concerned about the “snollygosters” reducing us to a “kakistocracy.” (Translation: Person who is unhappy with their government and is concerned about the unprincipled people reducing us to a society governed by its least suitable or competent citizens.)

And, of course, we are all familiar with the “ultracrepidarians,” or, in other words, people who give opinions on subjects they know nothing about.

With words as amazing as these, (as well as the others we found in this fun blog from sadanduseless.com) one can’t help but wonder why they ever went extinct. I, for one, am all in favor of bringing these wonderful words back!

Who’s with me?!?

Buying a Cat in a Sack and Other Funny Idiom Translations

Languages are fascinating and funny things. And there are so many sayings and idioms that we use in our every day speaking that we rarely think twice about.

But if you ever try to translate idioms from one language to another, you realize just how strange some of the things we say really are.

Take the following idioms, for example:

  • “It’s a piece of cake”
  • “That’s the last straw”
  • “Beat around the bush”
  • “A perfect storm”
  • “Under the weather”

Most native English speakers are familiar with those sayings and know what they mean. However, when you translate them into Spanish or Italian, for example, the literal translations make no sense at all.

English isn’t the only language that uses funny idioms, though. This great blog from Ted.com explores some seriously funny literal idiom translations from languages around the world. From the German “Die Katze im Sack kaufen,” which translates to “Buy a cat in a sack,” to the Polish phrase, “Z choinki się urwałaś?” which translates to “Did you fall from a Christmas tree?”, these idioms from around the globe are sure to give you a good laugh.

And of course, there’s my personal favorite, the Kasakh phrase “Сенің арқаңда күн көріп жүрмін” which literally translates to “I see the sun on your back,” but is used to mean “Thank you for being you. I am alive because of your help.”

Do you have a favorite idiom (or two!) that probably doesn’t translate well? If so, we’d love to hear them in the comments below!