Quick Tip: "elegant variation" wastes your readers' precious processing power

by Heath Sledge

In the piece I'm editing right now, my client was talking in one sentence about a set of "frameworks," and then in the next sentence she referred to some "tools." It took me about two seconds of puzzling before I realized that "tools" was referring back to the frameworks.

In academic writing, it's usually best to just use the same word for a key concept over and over rather than substituting synonyms.

Although our elementary school teachers insisted that we shouldn't use repetitive vocabulary, that's not necessarily true in academic writing. When the ideas are highly complex, the language shouldn't be.

Every time your reader has to stop and puzzle over what you meant ("are tools the same thing as frameworks?"), she uses a little bit of cognitive energy that should have gone towards understanding your argument.

Clear as many roadblocks as you can for the reader so she can focus on the logic and support and stakes of your argument. 


Disclaimer :)

by Heath Sledge

I just discovered that some people think that a sporadically updated blog means the website owner is no longer interested in the site. Not true!

I only update this blog at the confluence of three things: when I have something to say, when I have time, and when I feel like it.  Those three things haven't happened together in a while now. (I had to force time to add this four-sentence update!) 

Quick Tip: paragraph transitions

by Heath Sledge

Transitions come at the beginning of the transitioned-to paragraph, not at the end of the transitioned-away-from paragraph.

The end of a paragraph is a spot for a button--like a punchline. It wraps up all the great info you gave in that paragraph into a tidy little sentence and puts a little rhetorical bow on it.

(If you want the long version, you can read more here.)

Handling intensively edited documents with lots of tracked changes

by Heath Sledge

When I do a substantive/line edit for a client, there are often a LOT of tracked changes to deal with. (A recent 50,000-word manuscript had more than 13,000 tracked changes in it.)

Here's the process I generally recommend my clients follow when getting back a heavily edited manuscript like this. I send two versions, a clean version (with all changes accepted; this version only has the comment bubbles remaining) and the marked-up version with all tracked changes still live.

1. First, read through the text of the clean version (ignoring or hiding comments) to see how the edited document flows and hangs together.

2. Read through the comments on the clean version to see the broad thrust of the queries and to get an idea of the kinds of changes I'm asking you to make. 

3. Dig into the version with tracked changes:

    a. First, hide formatting changes to reduce the visual clutter. (You can accept them if you want, but I often use highlighting to draw your attention to particular passages; it's easier to remove the highlighting by rejecting the change than by selecting and applying "no highlight" to the text.)

    b. Next, go through and accept the changes that you are fine with. (If you select a bunch of text whose changes you want to accept and hit the “accept changes” button on the "Review" tab, it will accept all the changes in the selected text, but none outside the selected text; this keeps you from having to go change-by-change.) Leave unaccepted the changes you want to ponder.

    c. Address the comments and queries, in order; delete them as they’re resolved, leaving only the sticky ones—ones you want to think more about, or that require more intensive revision, or that need additional research to resolve.

At this point, you shouldn’t have very many changes and queries left; with a less cluttered document, you can attack these sticky remaining problems one-by-one.