EHO Style & Writing Tips
It is generally expected that a professional will continually work to improve his or her skills; those who are genuinely professional certainly will, and writers are no exception.
What? You don’t consider yourself to be a professional? Well…change that perception right now. Your work is published in a professional magazine, therefore those who read you consider you to be a professional.
So you’re a professional and as a professional – especially one who desires to do work pleasing to God – you will strive to improve your writing. With that in mind, we offer here some pertinent tips, ways for you to avoid making the most common mistakes that plague EHO writers and have, on occasion, driven EHO editors slightly mad.
Now… Put on your hard hat; you may need it.
Homeschool – Note that we write this as ONE word.
New King James – EHO uses the New King James version when quoting the Bible. We have a permission posted for this version in the footer of all of our pages and would appreciate our writers using it unless it is absolutely necessary to use another version. (When using another version – other than King James – you will need to track down the proper wording for the permission and include it in your review.) You can find the New King James online at http://bible.gospelcom.net/.
Abuse of !!!!!!!! – Abuse of the exclamation mark is, perhaps, Empress Beverly’s greatest pet peeve. We suggest that, if you use exclamation marks in your reviews at all, you take time to read those reviews aloud before pronouncing them finished – to read them aloud with appropriate vocal expression and to, every time you encounter an exclamation mark, shoot both eyebrows straight up towards your hairline. You will feel ridiculous and hopefully be reminded that too many exclamation marks make writing look a bit ridiculous as well.
Tense Hopping – If abused exclamation marks are Empress Beverly’s pet peeve, tense hopping is Queen Tammy’s. Few things are as likely to send her over the editing edge, twitching and screaming, as a tense hopping review. Please, we do implore you, begin in one tense (the present tense if at all possible), continue in that same tense, and end in…yes…the very same tense. For instance, when one has been writing a review in the present tense, and one then remarks that “The hero was quite wimpy,” one has erred. Trust us, if the hero was wimpy when you read it, he is still wimpy and may be referred to as being such in the same present tense that you have been using. And our fictional hero brings us to another often-exercised tense hopping crime. When reviewing children’s books, fiction, or anything else that leaves you telling a bit of the story, pick a tense and STICK WITH IT. (Is it becoming clear that even thinking about this topic makes your Reviews Editor, dare I say it, a little tense?) It is maddening to see. “Baby Bob first turns to his bear and then to his ball…. And then he had breakfast.”
[cough] Calming self and climbing down from top of wall.
It’s Alive! – And here we enter the realm of yet another pet peeve. As a former reviewer expresses it, “My pet peeve is dull, lifeless writing that makes me yawn and wonder why the writer bothered.” Write with words and expressions that really mean something to the reader, words that are interesting or entertaining. Pull out the thesaurus and substitute fun or powerful words for the wimpy choices that have a tendency to roost in our writing simply because they are perched on the tops of our heads. Follow the advice you give your student children and make careful and creative substitutions. For example, instead of “This textbook is dull and boring,” you could say “Here’s one that’s as dry as the Sahara.” As a reader, which sentence would you rather encounter? As a reader, how does your writing make you feel? Readers come to EHO for many reasons and information is only one of them. They could read dry, boring books if all they wanted was information; from us they also expect to find enjoyment, so don’t disappoint them.
That/Which – Admittedly, this word switch whichery did not concern us until we learned that there are, indeed, rules regarding the use of the word “which”. Now that we have learned of this rule, we desire to see it enforced.
To explain, we turn to our beloved Strunk & White (The Elements of Style, that is.)
That is the defining, or restrictive, pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive. (See Rule 3.)
The lawn mower that is broken is in the garage. (Tells which one.)
The lawn mower, which is broken, is in the garage. (Adds a fact about the only mower in question.)
The use of which for that is common in written and spoken language (“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.”). Occasionally which seems preferable to that, as in the sentence from the Bible. But it would be a convenience to all if these two pronouns were used with precision. Careful writers, watchful for small conveniences, go which-hunting, remove the defining whiches, and by so doing improve their work.
Rogue Apostrophes – Rogue apostrophes are wicked things, sneaking in where they do not belong. The most obvious instance is when they barge into “its” to change its meaning and take away its possessive nature by turning it into “it’s.” Its, which will be dealt with in a moment, is an exception to a long-standing rule. When one sees an apostrophe, this means one of two things – that letters are missing from a contracted word (“Do not” becomes “don’t”) or that one thing belongs to another. Your Reviews Editor often amuses herself (Because, as one friend said, it is either to laugh or to cry.) by watching for rogue apostrophes in advertising and professional publications. (It does not amuse her, however, to see them in her own department.) Consider, if you will, a restaurant sign that says “Happy Landing’s.” Hmmmm… Well, according to this sign, the restaurant must necessarily be owned by one whose name is Happy Landing, yes? Please peruse reviews with particular pickiness, plucking those rogue apostrophes before they do damage most foul.
It’s/Its – These must be the two most difficult words in the English language. In typing, the potential for pain is even worse, because the most knowledgeable fingers have been known to type the one when the author’s brain quite clearly understood that it was the other that was needed. Memorize this, please. It’s is a contraction meaning “It is.” No matter how much one would rather it were not so, if the word typed is “it’s” then the meaning must necessarily be “it is.” This leaves only one option then, and this is for “it” in the possessive form to possess NO apostrophe – thus…”its.” It’s a problem only if one does not handle its apostrophe correctly.
Subject-Verb Agreement – Yes, subject verb agreement is a most foundational language usage topic. Yes, this particular point has made it into this list specifically because many EHO writers, over time, have had difficulties with subject-verb agreement.
Admittedly, this can be a challenge, most particularly if one is writing complicated sentences where one loses track of which word is the subject. Basically, we all know that the number of a subject must be in agreement with the number of that subject’s verb. When it comes to this one point, any words that lie between those two words don’t matter. Toss those extra words out, look only at the subject and its verb, and make sure the two words agree.
Here are some examples to clarify, again from Elements of Style.
The bittersweet flavor of youth – its trials, its joys, its adventures, its challenges – are not soon forgotten.
The bittersweet flavor of youth – its trials, its joys, its adventures, its challenges – is not soon forgotten.
See the difference? Instinct might make one feel that the verb needs to agree with “challenges” because it is the word closest, but it is not the sentence’s subject. The subject, flavor, is single. Therefore the verb must also be single.
This is only one of the common ways in which people tend to blunder where subject-verb agreement is concerned. We strongly suggest everyone read the pertinent pages in The Elements of Style or some other helpful manual.
BE Verbs Belabored - (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) What can we say? BE verbs are like literary pennies. They cost us nothing and we toss them around indiscriminately. They are easy to use and every reader knows it. They cheapen writing terribly. Don’t use them when there are other verbs available, please.
Word Love Affairs - “Very,” “just,” and “that” are only three of the words with which we have caught EHO writers having love affairs. Every writer (even this writer) has his or her favorite words, words that enter whenever given leave, words that are vain enough to demand undue billing – occasionally appearing in every other sentence (or even multiple times in one sentence!) in a single paragraph. Be on guard. Watch your heart and your pen. Do not let these overly-loved words gain more than their fair share of exposure. When you find any word appearing more times than it ought, cut it ruthlessly, allowing room for other, more worthy words to shine. (Besides, being totally frank, in most cases the three words that we specifically pointed out can be removed from a sentence and the sentence never even know the difference. In other words, they are often worthless words – and no sentence needs worthless words.)
Edit your own work – Yes, this is an issue we will belabor if we must, because we too often find ourselves working on reviews that the writer obviously did not edit properly – because if he or she had edited them properly they would have caught certain obvious mistakes. Please, schedule ahead and wait 48 hours between finishing a review and editing this ‘final’ copy. THEN, once you have honestly edited the final version, upload it and count it as ‘done.’
“I think” – Except in certain, rare cases, the reader will be well aware that you are expressing your opinion. Please don’t state the obvious.
Active Voice - Active Voice Active Voice Active Voice – If you do not understand the difference between the active and passive voices (Yes, you know I am going to say it.) pull out your copy of The Elements of Style (Because of course you have purchased it by now) and study the pertinent pages. In essence, in a sentence written in the active voice (good) someone or something is doing something – is active. In a sentence written in the passive voice (bad) someone or something is having something done to them or it – is passive. Passive is bad. Remember that.
Also remember that we only mention, in this section, mistakes that our own writers make; we will not waste either our time or yours on mistakes that do not apply to this group of people. With this in mind, do not assume that these rules apply only to others and your writing is mistake free. The odds are good that you would be mistaken.
“I must say that.” – Picture us shuddering. WHY must you say it? Perhaps this editor is a bit touchy, but I must say that in my opinion this phrase sounds a bit effected.
Bias – Bias is, in writing, unacceptable. Be unbiased in your writing. You may not like a thing because it doesn’t suit your style or tastes, and this is fine, but if you choose to review it instead of returning it so that someone more suited to it can review it, then you must set your biases aside and give an objective review.
Dead & Dated Words – Useless and pointless words should never find a home in an EHO product review, yet I am forever whacking out words that ought never to have made it into the writer’s final copy. Words that are extremely trendy should also be prevented from barging into EHO reviews. We have reviews that are 8 years old and the reviews you write today may well still be around 8 years from now. No one should ever be able to look at a review and say, because of the use of slang or other trendy language, “Oh that was written 8 years ago.”
Quotable - You might try keeping the publisher in mind. Publishers very much appreciate bites – short bits that they can lift out and put in their advertising and on book covers. Pick up a few books and product ads and you’ll probably see what I mean. Catchy, memorable or powerful, but brief, quotes are like gold for those who handle book and product promotion. If your writing includes them, you may well find that your words go farther than you ever dreamed they would.
Clarity - Write carefully, ensuring that you really say what you intend to say, rather than something else entirely. Even something so simple as a misplaced comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence and your Reviews Editor has not refined her mind reading skills enough to anticipate you.
Take a look at these two examples of how dramatically punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence.
“A woman, without her man, is nothing.”
“A woman: without her, man is nothing.”
The Elements of Style - Yikes! There it is again! Yes, we repeat. Invest in a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style and use it. At EHO, we use TheChicago Manual of Style, which is the standard in the publishing industry. It’s a hefty choice, though, and far more than you need. In Strunk & White’s tiny tome, however, you will find the answer to almost every style question you could ask, maybe even some questions you only thought you already knew the answers to.
Finally, please remember that there is a difference between casual writing and professional writing. Whether you think of yourself as a professional or not (Surely you do, by now), you are standing in the professional’s world, and professionals rise to a higher level of skill. In fact, true professionals are continually trying to improve even when others think they have already reached perfection. Yes, we at EHO have been known to work with people whose writing was far from professional, editing it until it made the grade, but those days are pretty much over. Even with the extra editors we’ve brought on board, there is no time in our schedules for extensive rewrites. It’s a sad truth, but truth nonetheless.