Writing Checklist: Ten Essential Tips to Clean Up Your Writing

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Editing is a crucial part of the writing process that can be a tricky and laborious task. But fear not, because our friends over at ProWritingAid have compiled a handy writing checklist for polishing your work.

Read the full writing checklist below to discover ten essential tips for perfecting your prose, and how a good editing tool can help you focus on the finer details.


 

Take care of the basics

The first step to proofreading is to run your basic spellcheck program to capture spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Then you can turn your eye to addressing punctuation and making sure your sentences all have a subject and verb.

Easy, isn’t it? With your basic spelling and grammar checks completed, the next step is to really analyse your writing style…

 

Time to go deeper

Now it’s time to analyse every word to ensure you’re saying what you mean in the most concise, coherent way possible.

In addition to your spellchecker from the previous step, an editing tool like ProWritingAid can automate the following steps for you:

 

1. Find those glue words

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Reducing the proportion of “glue words” in your writing will improve readability

There are over 200 words that add only fluff to your ideas, such as in, on, the, was, for, that etc. Strong sentences should contain less than 45% glue words.

Use your editing tool to find those with more so that they can be rewritten for clarity’s sake. Consider this example:

Jocelyn went into the pet store in the mall to see if there were any tiny kittens that she could buy. (Glue index: 61%)

Jocelyn checked the mall’s pet store for tiny kittens for sale. (Glue index: 33.3%)

 

2. Eliminate too many pronouns

If every other sentence begins with “He said”, “She said”, “They said”, your sentences become dull. Replace some pronouns to mix it up.

You should aim for pronoun usage between 4% and 15%, so check your score in the editing tool to see if you need to add more variety.

 

3. Discard those adverbs

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Finding strong verbs will help eliminate the need for adverbs in your writing

Many famous authors point out that adverbs should be cut wherever possible.

Adverbs tend to be used to modify a weak verb, and more often than not, you’re better off finding a strong verb to take its place:

Weak verb + adverb: Patrick went quickly to class.

Strong verb: Patrick sprinted to class.

Weak verb + adverb: Janet walked quietly into the house.

Strong verb: Janet tiptoed into the house.

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4. Avoid passive voice

Active sentences are structured with subject + verb + object. Passive voice turns that on its head: object + helping verb + subject.

It’s not technically wrong to write in the passive voice, but it’s not as engaging for readers. Consider the following example:

Active: Peter climbed the tree.

Passive: The tree was climbed by Peter.

 

5. Also avoid clichés

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Try to come up with original phrasings and metaphors rather than relying on overused clichés

Clichés were once-clever sayings that were brilliant when first used, but are now old and tired.

It’s the lazy option for getting your point across. You will make a much greater impact with a fresh, new metaphor.

 

6. Find repeated words or phrases

In the heat of writing, it’s easy to use a word or phrase repeatedly because it’s foremost in your mind.

You normally don’t notice a repeat unless you read your work out loud. An editing tool will point out a word or phrase you’ve used five times in six consecutive paragraphs!

 

7. Discard redundancies

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Streamline your writing by identifying and removing unnecessary filler words

You probably don’t notice the redundancies that find their way into your writing. Redundant words are extra fillers that don’t need to be there.

Consider the following examples:

The trouble first started when bullies pushed the young boy to the ground. The word started means “the first occurrence,” making first
redundant.

She climbed up out of the ditch. To climb means “to move up.” Therefore, up in this sentence is redundant.

 

8. Avoid overly long complicated sentences

These are those sentences that your reader has to read twice to figure out your point. They are easy to write when you are in the flow because the words keep coming, but readers get bogged down.

An editing tool will help you find those overly long sentences and split them into more readable sentences.

 

9. Vary your sentence length

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Mix it up between long and short sentences in order to vary the pacing and make the text easier to read

Most published work contains sentences between eleven and eighteen words in length. You should aim to use a variety of short, choppy sentences, average length ones, and long, flowing verbiage to increase your readers’ interest.

An editing tool will score your average sentence length, letting you know if you’re in range. It also graphs your sentences, giving a visual representation of your sentences to help you identify where you need more variety.

 

10. Alternate your pace

Your writing should alternate between fast, action-packed prose and dialogue that moves your reader along, and slower, more contemplative sections that allow you to delve into character building.

Remember that book you put aside because it had pages upon pages of scenery description and very little action? Alternate your pace to keep your readers interested. The editing tool will highlight slower-paced sections to ensure you have the right mix.

 

Reminder

One thing to remember is that an editing tool can only make suggestions based on statistics. It’s up to you, the writer, to decide whether the word or sentence works.

Sometimes an adverb is exactly right; other times a long, complicated sentence is just what you need to make your point. In a clean text, you may end up ignoring more tips on this writing checklist than not, and that’s fine.

 


If you found this writing checklist helpful, click here to find out more about ProWritingAid’s writing reports.

For more information about the tips on this writing checklist, and many other editing tips, check out the free eBook:

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Lisa Lepki writes and curates a goldmine of tips and techniques for writers in the ProWritingAid Blog.    

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