Editing & Style

Since the first draft is complete, it’s time to start rewriting and editing. The manuscript is at 126 Microsoft Word pages which is equal to about 210 softcover book pages (depending on size, font, etc.,). I’ve started rewriting the preface. The goal with the preface is to shorten it 20% and it looks like I might be able to exceed that. I’ve also started to put in the appropriate footnotes. And then it struck me: I can’t remember all the formats! It’s been eight years since I’ve done this sort of stuff. Same for editing. I haven’t edited anything in these last eight years either. Rusty. Of course, the goal is to get professional editors to go through everything. But the goal also is to get it to the very best of my ability before getting outside help. Junk in, junk out, as they say. And if you’re wondering, no, my ‘academic’ writing isn’t the same as my ‘blogging’ writing. Too bad. Because my ‘blogging’ writing actually has some good things going for it. It’s short. It’s fairly concise. It’s readily understandable. At least that’s what Yoast SEO reports: ‘The copy scores 70 on the Flesch Reading Ease test which is considered easy to read’. I’m pretty sure if I fed my manuscript into WordPress Yoast SEO it would yell at me for making things too difficult to read. Time to change that. I think I might try too hard to appear clever in my academic writing. This is where having a blog sorta helps me out.

Off to the Library to Find Editing Books

So, at the library I found four interesting volumes. And on the bookshelf at home, there was a good old standby. Here’s the library picks:

Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. I’ve never read this before. But everyone swears by it. It’s the only book to appear on every top 10 list. And it’s short. Actually, all these style guides are short. Maybe that’s some sort of hint to would-be writers. Some famous writers read this volume yearly. Wow. Here’s the back blurb:

Making ‘every word tell’ is what The Elements of Style is all about. This famous manual, now in a fourth edition, has conveyed the principles of plain English style to millions of readers. It is probably the only style manual ever to appear on the best seller lists.

Whether you write letters, term papers, or novels, the ‘little’ book, as it has come to be called, can help you communicate more effectively. It will show you how to cut deadwood out of your sentences; enliven your prose with the active voice; put statements in a positive for; approach style by way of plainness, simplicity, orderliness, simplicity.

The original ‘little’ book was written by William Strunk, Jr., late professor of English at Cornell, for use by his students. Years later, one of the most illustrious of those students, E.B. White, prepared an edition of the book for the general public, revising the original and contributing a chapter of his own that sought to lead the reader beyond mere correctness toward distinction in English style.

I like it. The goal of writing is to ‘communicate’ with readers. Put this way, I’m beginning to understand why simplicity and concision are desirable: it’s just like talking with people. Who appreciates a conversation when someone is hammering them over their head with huge words and sentences which never end?

Number two is the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. I used to have the 5th ed. Now it’s up to the 7th ed.! This volume has all the goods on the format footnotes go in, how to do abbreviations, and so on. Maybe it will even tell me how to differentiate between ‘which’ and ‘that’: that’s something I’ve forgotten how to do! Here’s the back blurb:

The MLA Handbook is published by the Modern Language Association, the authority on MLA documentation style. Widely adopted by universities, colleges, and secondary schools, the MLA Handbook gives step-by-step advice on every aspect of writing research papers, from selecting a topic to submitting the completed paper.

The seventh edition is a comprehensive, up-to-date guide to research and writing in the online environment. It provides an authoritative account of MLA documentation style for use in student writing, including simplified guidelines for citing works published on the Web and new recommendations for citing several kinds of works, such as digital files and graphic narratives.

Number three is The Canadian Writer’s Handbook. Here’s its blurb:

For over twenty-five years, The Canadian Writer’s Handbook has provided invaluable guidance on all aspects of the writing process, from the mechanics of building effective sentences and paragraphs to the intricacies of writing, formatting, and documenting full-length research papers. Building on the foundations laid by William Messenger and Jan de Bruyn, Judy Brown and Ramona Montagnes, both of the respected UBC Writing Centre, have updated this comprehensive and authoritative text.

This volume has MLA, APA, Chicago, and CSE style guides for citing references. I can compare it with the MLA Handbook to come up with a style appropriate for my book.

Last there is my own dog eared copy of Style: Toward Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams. Here’s what its back blurb has to say:

This acclaimed book is a master teacher’s tested program for turning clumsy prose into clear, powerful, effective writing. A logical, expert, easy-to-use plan for achieving excellence in expression, Style offers neither simplistic rules nor endless lists of dos and don’ts. Rather, Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb explain how to be concise, how to be focused, how to be organized.

Filled with realistic examples of good, bad, and better writing, and step-by-step strategies for crafting a sentence or organizing a paragraph, Style does much more than teach mechanics: it helps anyone who must write clearly and persuasively transform even the roughest of drafts into a polished work of clarity, coherence, impact, and personality.

Wow! I am SOLD! And, believe it or not, I find books on style actually quite entertaining to read.

Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong and I am editing and re-Doing Melpomene’s Work.