Editors reveal the writing they hate

Knowing how to avoid writing mistakes likely to send an editor scrambling for the “delete” key is a good way to smooth having your submission accepted for publication.

Writers know their work must pass an editor's inspection before it is published. Veteran writers warn that editors are often impatient with sloppy grammar or muddled prose. They often have neither the time nor the staff to chase down missing essentials such as time, date, place, and cost of an event you may be trying to publicize. Even editors willing to call for missing information complain that telephone numbers and Web or e-mail addresses often are missing too, creating further barriers to publication.

Knowing how to avoid writing mistakes is a good way to smooth having your submission accepted for publication. Further, editors are more likely to publish something as written if it already is clear, concise, and error-free.

Clichés to avoid--and why:

  • Free gift. Redundant. A gift is free by definition.
  • Sketchy, as in “details are sketchy.” Conveys: “I don't know much, but I'm going to talk anyway.”
  • Issues, when the writer means “problems.”
  • All too. The meaning is all too obscure, and it's used all too often.
  • Vast. Must every majority be vast? Every expanse? Every difference?
  • Different, used redundantly for emphasis: “Her vacation to four different countries was easy because she speaks five different languages.”
  • Exact same. Grammatically challenged cousin to “exactly the same as.”
  • At this point in time. A long-winded substitute for “now,” this phrase also has become a bad synonym for “then.”
  • Impact is not a verb. Thus it can't be mutated into a past-tense transitive verb as in: “Crime has impacted the neighborhood.”
  • Clearly, especially when used to begin a sentence, both reveals the writer's bias and lends a condescending tone.
  • Far from, as in, “The game was far from over.” Why not, “not”?
  • A pair of, as in “a pair of singles.” Usually, two.
  • “The bottom line,” “blow-by-blow description,” “last but not least,” “unsung hero,” “man's best friend,” “war chest,” “sacred cow,” “this man (or woman) who needs no introduction” and “couldn't care less.”
  • A New Zealander: “take no prisoners,” “worst-case scenario,” “gets the nod,” “continue to monitor developments,” “showered with good wishes,” “brandishing a weapon,” “went the extra mile,” “beyond his/her wildest dreams,” and “a disaster waiting to happen.”
  • The English language has dozens of synonyms for “snow.” So there is no excuse--ever again--to speak of frozen precipitation as “the white stuff.”

Avoid over-qualification

Good writing should be straightforward. State what is known for sure. Explain, qualify, or equivocate sparingly and briefly. Disclaimer sentences that are filled with words like “allegedly,” “sometimes,” and “in some cases,” tend to weaken the writing--and the reader's interest.