To Be or Not To Be
In ninth grade English, one of our first assignments was to produce a book report without using the verb “to be” in any form. The purpose was to expand our vocabulary and make us actually think when we wrote (I think). It was hard, but it shaped how I approach writing. I would even say it helped me find my voice over the past decade.
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When I am editing a potential blog post, I find myself Googling the difference between certain words, like “may” and “might”. Other examples include “between” or “among” or “ie” versus “eg”. The latter is incredibly important in scientific writing. Not only do I improve my writing, but I also learn a fun fact to annoy my friends with later.
When writing my master’s thesis, I learned firsthand how much work and analyses goes into a research project than is presented in a manuscript. Every time I express this to a mentor, I feel the glow of instant camaraderie, as they truly appreciate this revelation on my part. Branching over from statistical analyses to writing, many final publications are skeletons the first draft. The ideas in your initial plan may not make it to the final draft. What we, as writers, hold on to may end up being a topic that tanks our paper. Learning to let go of these things is hard, but makes you better. Knowing that you can always write about that in the future helps. Here’s the tip: keep a deleted file. A professor at Hopkins shared this with me. Every time she needs to cut something out of a paper, she copies it into another document called “Deleted”. Just the act of “saving it for later” allows her to let go and move on.
Just Say No...to Parentheses
As I’m writing a first draft, I use parentheses and dashes to mimic the natural thought process or spoken flow. However, a senior year English teacher instilled in me a dislike of parentheses as a waste of space. “Anything in parentheses”, she said, “must not be that important. If it is, you will find a way to add it to a real sentence.” On that note, when I go back to edit, I don’t bemoan my previous use of parentheses, but instead use it to recall the tone of voice I was going for, and then delete the phrase or add it into the body of the text elsewhere. Most of the time, I delete it. I encourage you to do the same.
Lastly, remember to always include a noun after you say “this”. I often correct myself on this rule. It usually pops up when sentence 1 introduces a noun, and sentence 2 references the same object with elaboration. However, sentence 2 should be able to stand on its own, so the reader needs to know what “this” is!
What gems of advice do you have? Share with fellow readers in the comment section below.
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