Once upon a time, there was a self-publishing podcast from which sprung a Facebook group, which evolved into The Indiepreneur Writers Collective. Within the group, a few dedicated editors started a weekly thread sharing editing advice with the community.
Today, I’m sharing a tip from Laura Martone. Laura is a freelance editor, novelist, and former travel guide author.
Howdy, y’all! Your friendly neighborhood word nerd is back with more persnickety editing advice.
In previous posts, I stressed the importance of consistency and clarity for writers and editors alike. Many people even consider these qualities to be two of the “five C’s” of good copyediting – the others being correctness, conciseness, and comprehensibility.
Naturally, these aren’t the only aspects that reliable editors and self-editing authors focus on when revising and proofreading a manuscript, but they can certainly help you craft an article, essay, story, or book that readers will appreciate and better understand.
So, I thought it would be helpful to focus on correctness this week. After all, accurate content and language will minimize any potential confusion for your readers – and help to keep them engaged in your fiction and/or nonfiction.
Whether you’re writing a memoir, an epic fantasy, or something else altogether, you should always strive for accuracy. Of course, deciding when to focus on the matter of correctness will depend on each writer. Regarding historical facts, for instance, some authors prefer doing their research before the drafting process, some enjoy looking up stuff as they go, while others would rather wait for the final version to check such details. Likewise, some writers feel more comfortable correcting misspellings, punctuation problems, and additional errors during the drafting process, while others save such tasks for the revision, copyediting, or proofreading stages.
Regardless of your preferred method, here are seven tips for writing and editing with correctness in mind:
Do your research
Although the old adage “write what you know” is excellent advice, especially when it comes to creating authentic characters and situations, no author should feel limited by his or her real-life experiences. How then would gifted reporters write nonfiction books about doomed fishermen and unlikely racehorse legends? Conversely, how could novelists explore dystopian landscapes, isolated planets, and magical kingdoms they’ve never seen? With research and imagination, of course!
It might seem that only nonfiction books require vast amounts of research, but that’s not true. With enough “studying,” you can write skillfully and convincingly about any topic or within any genre. As a writer, you might have creative freedom, but it still pays to get the facts right – especially if you’re unfamiliar with certain locations, events, occupations, or other critical elements. Seemingly insignificant details can help bring your story or subject matter to life, but getting them wrong can annoy your readers, especially those with a bit more knowledge than you, and, worse, make you seem unprofessional and noncredible. So, research everything that might matter, including important dates, geographical and historical facts, product and company names, scientific data, and so much more.
Start with the Internet, which offers a vast array of information, but be careful not to believe everything you read. Not all websites are created equal – which means it helps to have multiple sources. Public and university libraries, for instance, provide plenty of useful resources, though perhaps your best bet is to consult actual experts of the places, fields, and topics you’re interested in. Most folks are more than happy to help you get the facts right – especially if you thank them in the acknowledgments. 😉
Remember your audience
Even if you’re not writing to market, you should always keep your target audience in mind. If you’re crafting a basic how-to book about gardening, for instance, be sure to organize and present the material in an appropriate, accurate way for your readers, which will likely be novices, not gardening experts in search of advanced advice. Likewise, fiction writers should be aware of the tropes and reader expectations of a given genre – such as understanding that most romance readers (if not all) expect an HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now) at the conclusion of each book in a series.
Perusing other articles, stories, and books in your topic or genre of choice is a terrific way to prepare yourself for such expectations – even if your goal is to turn them upside down. You need to know the rules before you can break them, right?
You will also satisfy your readers by aiming for continuity within your own work. For nonfiction authors, that might mean avoiding factual contradictions – or it could be as simple as sticking to your convictions about a given topic (unless the point of the work is to explore an evolving mindset). Fiction authors, meanwhile, might need to verify that all dialogue has been attributed to the right characters – or perhaps double-check a sequence of events to ensure accurate physical descriptions and a stable narrative timeline. Either way, the aim is to keep readers from questioning your thoroughness or losing focus on the work itself.
Strive for consistency
Although I’ve already broached the subject of consistency, I think it bears repeating in an article about correctness. After all, inconsistencies in a manuscript can upset the flow and confuse the reader. So, be sure to recheck all character and location names, physical features (of people, animals, places, etc.), and other relevant details – and make sure they’re consistently spelled or described throughout your work.
Proof the language
Though it might seem tedious, you should do your best to correct all errors related to spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and diction. Whether you hire a copyeditor or excel at self-editing your own work, it’s important to get such details right. No manuscript will ever be perfect, of course, but the cleaner and more accurate it is, the less likely you will distract the reader from what really matters: your content.
Use editing programs
To assist you in catching errors, opt for editing programs like Hemingway Editor or Grammarly. Both can help you improve your writing by highlighting misspellings, grammatical errors, confusing sentences, and other elements that could befuddle your readers and disrupt the pace of your story.
Read it aloud
As other editors have often suggested, be sure to read your manuscript aloud during the revision process. Sometimes, hearing the words will allow you to notice inaccuracies that your eyes have ignored – especially if you’ve already reviewed the manuscript several times.
Accurate writing will naturally help you seem more professional, but more importantly, taking the time to correct grammar, facts, continuity errors, and other problematic elements will alleviate potential confusion, eliminate unnecessary distractions, and compel readers to devour your words. But this skill, like all the rest, takes time, patience, and diligence to master, so be kind to yourself. As with most things worth achieving, it gets easier and better with practice.
As always, I hope you’ve found this post useful, but if I’ve forgotten any important guidelines regarding correctness in editing, please leave a comment below. Thanks—and happy writing!