9 Simple Tips for Writing Clearer & Cleaner

As an editor and writer, I understand the importance of having someone else edit your work. As an editor, I often see the same mistakes—writers trying to sound writerly and the wild misuse of punctuation. After editing countless articles and copy editing manuscripts, here are some common things I see writers do all the time.

1. Don’t use italics, bold, or underline to say your point.

Instead of using the right words, some times people heavily use italics in dialogue or prose. Don’t go crazy with CTRL + I, CTRL + B, CTRL + U—just use your words.

2. Exclamation points and quotation marks should be used sparingly.

Why does every sentence need to end in an exclamation point? Quotation marks are for dialogue and indicating a song or poem. You don’t have to use them for every single word in your manuscript.

3. Simple is better than fancy.

I’ve seen some sentences where every adjective is stuffed into one awkward phrase. Simpler is often better and cleaner.

4. Read your work out loud.

If your sentence doesn’t make sense when you say it out loud, it doesn’t make sense on paper.

5. Don’t use the same word over and over (and over and over) again.

I’m guilty of this! Just keep an eye out for it and vary your words. Make friends with a thesaurus.

6. Ellipses are meant for missing phrases.

Ellipsis indicate that portions of the dialogue or sentence are missing. That’s all. I once had a writer turn in articles with ellipses at the end of every sentence. I asked her not to include ellipses. She wrote back, “What is an ellipses?” I stopped assigning her articles.

7. Learn how to use a comma.

I’m a devotee of the serial Oxford comma because I think it clarifies sentences so much, but not everyone uses them. At least learn the basics of using this often misused punctuation mark.

See this example.

8. Don’t capitalize or use all caps for everything.

This isn’t AOL instant messenger. Don’t capitalize everything. It’s distracting and annoying. If you’re using it as a literary device, fine, but don’t go crazy capitalizing or using all caps.

9. Your, you’re, there, their, they’re, peek, peak, and pique are all different words.

Please just learn what the difference is between all of these words. I don’t want a sneak peak peek! This doesn’t peak pique my interest!


Please don’t commit word crimes. Thank you. For the best answers on all of your grammar questions, check out Grammar Girl.


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