How to Editing the Essay

When you read writing you like, ask yourself: How did the writer do that? How did the writer make me see this image, feel this feeling? Try to figure out how the writer achieves those effects, and then try some of those moves on your own. Don’t feel guilty about this; all great writers are great readers. In finding a new way to say something, we’re always building on what came before, adding our voices to an ongoing conversation. Here are more ways to help you editing your Essay.

1. Try to avoid repetitive sentence structure.

Try to vary the rhythm in your sentences. Try to avoid starting all your sentences the same way. Try to write sentences of differing lengths. (The structure and the length of the preceding sentences make this choppy and dull to read, and readers get so distracted by the monotony of the sound, that they lose focus on the sense of what you’re saying.)

2. A word to the wise: watch out for cliches.

Phrases that we hear all the time have lost their impact and vividness, and you want your readers to feel that they’re hearing a fresh voice when they read your essay. Of course, avoiding cliches altogether is easier said than done. Sometimes a cliche is just what you need to make a point, and trying to avoid them at all costs can make your prose seem strained and unnatural. You don’t want your prose to be so demanding that your readerscan’t see the forest for the trees. So get in the habit of questioning phrases that come to you especially easily to determine whether they might be stale, whether there might be more powerful ways of expressing your idea. When you use a cliche, do it intentionally, and don’t do it too often. This is just the tip of the icebergon this subject, but let’s not push the envelope.

3. Be sparing in your use of rhetorical or stylistic flourishes—cutesy touches like alliteration, double entendres, or extended metaphors.

A well-placed sentence fragment or a sentence beginning with “And” or “But” or “Or” can emphasize a point well. But too much of this sort of thing and you’ll sound shrill. Or dull. It’s okay to wink at your reader every now and then, if that’s appropriate to your essay’s tone, but try to avoid spending so much time winking that you never seem to have your eyes open. (See, that’s a little cutesy, but at least it’s not an example of #4.)

4. Beware of mixed metaphors.

While metaphors can help make abstract ideas more vivid and concrete for your readers, piling them one on top of the other can be confusing. Consider: “The fabric of society vibrates to the fluctuations of the stock market.” There are too many metaphors here competing for your readers’ attention. Does it really make sense, anyway, to say that fabric vibrates? It’s usually better to pick one image and stick with it. So if you want to use a metaphor like “fabric of society,” choose language that’s appropriate for talking about fabric: “The fabric of society is more delicate than it sometimes seems.”

5. Don’t use “crutches” to support weak, imprecise language.

Phrases like “It is almost impossible to extricate….” or “The writer’s almost magical ability to transform….” use “almost” as a crutch. Either it’s “impossible” or it’s not, “magical” or not. If it is impossible, or if you’re claiming it’s so, be bold and say it! Take responsibility for your claim by being direct about it; don’t hide behind an “almost.” If it’s not impossible, be clear about what it is. Tough?Very difficult?

6. Don’t call something a fact that isn’t one, even if it may be true.

“The fact that Shakespeare is a great writer …” That’s not a fact, even though most people agree that he’s pretty good. “The fact that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit …” That’s a fact. Similarly, don’t call something unprecedented if you just mean to say it’s rare or surprising. Unprecedented means something specific and literal. (Of course, all words have literal meanings, but not all of them need to be

 

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