Ask the Editor – 5 tips to improve your writing


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, January 8th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

One quick request before we continue. We are running low on prerolls—those listener introductions to the program that everyone loves to hear. So if you haven’t recorded one yet, or if you’d like to record another one, visit worldandeverything.org and click on the Engage tab. Under that you’ll find, “Record a preroll.” Follow the instructions there and send the file on over to us. Remember, we love to have families participate, but please have only one person speak at a time. And please keep your recording to no more than 20 seconds. Thanks!

Well, next up, Ask the Editor. This month, WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky offers aspiring writers a few tips.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: One WORLD reader asked, What are the biggest writing mistakes you see? Today’s a good day for me to tackle that, because my wife and I are teaching right now a World Journalism Institute mid-career course. Here are five ways to improve your writing.

First, scientists have found that most so-called junk DNA is valuable, but that’s not true for junk ABC.  Get rid of words like kind of, sort of, could have, seemed to, begin to. Avoid starting sentences with “there is” or “there are.”

Second, make adverbs rare. Change she went quickly to “she sprinted.” Change he listened surreptitiously to “he eavesdropped.” Avoid adverb (or adjective) intensifiers like completely destroyed. 

Third, avoid the wimpy semi-colon. Periods, commas, and colons are useful, but schedule a semi-colonoscopy as soon as possible. Remember that Americans fought a revolution for the freedom to put periods and commas inside quotation marks, not outside as the Brits still do.

Fourth, dump danglers. Here’s an example: Walking down the street, a statue of George III appeared. Was the statue walking? Listen closely to this example: Topped with pepperoni and covered with extra cheese, the children devoured the pizza. The pizza, not the kids, had those toppings.

Last and worst: the passive construction. Here are some examples: from newspaper stories: Change The party is dominated by a secularist elite to “a secularist elite dominates the party”. Change Day-to-day military operations are managed by U.S. Central Command to “U.S. Central Command manages day-to-day military operations.” Have no pity for passives: They suck the life out of sentences and often are ways to avoid responsibility, as in the classic example mistakes were made.

So, avoid those filthy five. If you want to review what I’ve just said, please go to the transcript of today’s show at worldandeverything.org. What’s the best way to improve? Find a teacher or friend who will confront you on your mistakes. 

I’m Marvin Olasky.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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