Category Archives: Editing

Treat your writing like driving – better without distractions

In short, notifications = distractions. Here’s a great writing and editing tip from software entrepreneur Paul Jarvis in one of his regular Sunday Dispatches: “Nowadays I treat my work time as if I’m driving.”

He says: “If we aren’t paying attention to our work, we’re not going to be able to do it properly. We may not cause a crash, but we won’t be able to get things done effectively or efficiently either.”

Paul focuses on electronic notifications, but distractions can be from a range of sources:

  • notifications from digital devices about new emails or social media messages
  • ringing phones
  • noise from within or outside the workspace
  • blinking or flashing lights
  • other people and interruptions
  • an environment which is too hot or cold
  • clocks ticking over to a deadline.

Everyone has different distractions. Listening to music is a distraction for me, but it may work for you.

To focus on your writing and editing, minimise distractions.

  • Turn off notifications on computers and other technology devices.
  • Minimise software and apps open.
  • Wear headphones or ear muffs to block out noise, choosing the highest quality that works.
  • Reply to contacts when it suits you, not instantly.
  • Schedule regular breaks so you know when you can be distracted.

In early 2019, Paul published Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business, the outcome of writing without distractions.

If you have distractions while writing and need an undistracted, fully focused editor, please contact me at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

Wise up to Word features to make a writer’s life easier

Writing usually means typing, which usually means using Microsoft Word software. Word has many powerful features which can make life easier for a writer. The longer the document, the more important it is to know about and use features in Word wisely.

Many of the features make it easy for a writer to make changes, update a document after changes, ensure consistency and format a document for effortless reading. The exact commands can vary with the version of the software, but be aware of what is possible.

Here are some ideas for easier formatting:

  • Insert a page break to start a new page, not multiple hits of the Return button.
  • Insert a section break to switch the page orientation between portrait and landscape.
  • Use Styles to ensure consistency in formatting of headings and text throughout.
  • Use auto-numbering for headings, lists and tables.
  • Use cross-references to refer to chapters, sections, tables and figures.
  • Create a table of contents – the easy way.
  • Set paragraph formatting to avoid widow and orphan lines.
  • Explore the use of macros to simplify common, repetitive tasks.

Word can be very complex, so how can you learn about using Word efficiently?

  • Ask someone more experienced in Word and long documents to show you.
  • Explore all the features of your software, by clicking on all the menus and options.
  • Use the inbuilt Help function in Word – the new way to read the manual.
  • Search online for tips and help.
  • Go to a workshop for practical hands-on experience, with or without your own computer.

There’s always more to learn about writing and Word. Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

The role of writing support in PhD completion rates

Many factors affect PhD completion rates, as identified and discussed in a 2018 article on The Conversation  by Dr Tim Bednall from Swinburne University of Technology.

Setting aside debate about just what the true completion rates are, completion factors relate to students themselves, their supervisor and the university environment.

Students write so many items throughout their candidature including proposals, funding applications, conference papers and journal articles, as well as the thesis itself, that good writing skills and good practices make life easier.

Writing support is part of the university environment and different forms of support are available. Bednall noted that universities do provide research training and related training and support to increase the skills and capabilities of students. To overcome bad habits such as busyness, procrastination and disorganisation, Bednall described helpful actions such as scheduling dedicated writing time, reframing difficult tasks as learning opportunities, and developing a work routine.

Bednall also noted that some universities have Shut Up and Write sessions, which turn writing into a social experience and limit distractions, and there are supportive online communities and blogging which can be useful.

Is writing a social experience? I’m not sure. Perhaps social in the sense of support, rather than writing in a group. It depends on the writer.

Students should check courses at their university learning centre on writing in general and specific aspects of academic and research writing. Experienced editors are also a source of advice on writing for students and academic staff. With or without support, there’s no substitute for actual writing.

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

Avoid the former and the latter, respectively

The former and the latter, and respectively, are often used to avoid repetition and save words. But thinking of the reader, it is better to write more clearly so there is no doubt about the intended meaning and what refers to what.

Readers might be reading quickly, skimming and scanning the text, and not familiar with the content. It can be hard to track words in very long and complex sentences. Not all readers know the former refers to the first of two things (remember f and f), and the latter refers to the second or last of two things (remember l and l). Don’t risk a confused reader.

The use of respectively might appear to save words, but it is better to rearrange a sentence and be absolutely clear. The example below shows how the former, the latter and respectively can be avoided without wordiness.

Compare these three options:

  1. Two surveys of employees and employers were undertaken. The former is discussed in Chapter 6 and the latter in Chapter 7.
  2. The surveys of employees and employers are discussed in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 respectively.
  3. The survey of employees is discussed in Chapter 6 and the survey of employers in Chapter 7.

It’s all part of the make it easy for the reader mantra.

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

NaNoWriMo or why targets and deadlines work

Is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) relevant for non-fiction writers and thesis writers? Yes, indeed. The month shows the power of a target and a deadline.

The concept of NaNoWriMo is based on writing 50,000 words of your novel between 1 November and 30 November. There’s no limit on how many people can win! Everyone can be a winner.

Targets of words per day, week or month can work for writing tasks when you know roughly what your target word count is, and can divide the total by the time available.

While both the word count and the deadline in NaNoWriMo are arbitrary, the targets do seem to work for many people and can help achieve a first draft.

It is easier to edit and improve work once the words are on the page. Knowing something is a just a first draft to be refined later also helps overcome writer’s block or the need for perfection the first time.

NaNoWriMo also answers the question: what do I do after the month is over? If nothing else, congratulate yourself on your hard work.

For more, see my previous related blogs on:

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

High impact headings

Headings are so important in guiding readers, I’ve already written about Are your headings helpful? and Make your email headings clear and informative. Here’s more on two approaches for high impact headings.

1. Use alluring alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of the same or similar sound in a series of words, usually at the beginning but sometimes within the words. Alliteration usually refers to a consonant sound (known as consonance), while assonance is the repetition of a vowel sound. Alliteration captures readers’ attention without them even realising. It is memorable and flows.

If a simple word change retains or enhances meaning, try alliteration in headings. But don’t overdo it and don’t distort the intended meaning just to achieve alliteration. Keep it for more informal or casual writing.

2. Use questions or answers

Headings can be phrased as questions or provide answers. Questions like who, what, why, where and how provide a good structure if it suits the topic. These work well for shorter documents like explanatory brochures or factsheets.

For longer document, headings worded as answers or statements can save time for readers, and the table of contents becomes a good summary of the document. Avoid generic headings which do not have high impact.

See more on high impact headings with a table of contents:

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

Font type – is there a right font?

Here’s a follow up to a previous blog on Font size – Is there a right size? Just as there is no right font size, the choice of font type depends on the purpose and audience for a document.

A font can be used to stand out or fit in, so consider what you want to achieve and what your readers are expecting to see. The font type has a huge influence on the look and readability of the page or screen, often without the reader even realising why.

The impact of font type depends on many design choices such as:

  • font size
  • alignment of the font: left justified or fully justified
  • spacing between lines and paragraphs
  • bold and italic forms of the font
  • contrast between fonts for text and headings.

Graphic designers experiment with all these elements for creative impact, but for academic writing, stick to what is most common and expected. For academic writing such as a thesis, Times New Roman is popular. A draft journal article in a font designed to look like handwriting, such as Comic Sans, is likely to be poorly received by reviewers, despite its merits. Using Courier font will make your work look like it was typed on an old-fashioned typewriter – fine if that is the intention.

It is common to choose between a serif font such as Times, Cambria or Palatino or a sans serif font such as Arial, Calibri, Geneva or Helvetica. Experiment with different fonts to find what works best for your document and audience, whether print or digital.

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com