3 Basic Edits to Improve your Writing Right Now

Learn the top 3 edits to improve your writing, your sales, and your readership from a professional!

Writing is a valuable tool, but when coupled with strong editing, it becomes a powerful tool. As a writer and an editor, I often see mistakes that people make that drive me away from that product or service. 

I’m only one person--one potential sale. But if you’re not fixing these editing problems in your writing, you’re potentially losing out on a lot of money from people like me.

Issue 1: Capitalization

Capitalization seems simple. Capitalize the first word in a sentence, the personal pronoun I, and proper nouns, right? 

Yes, but it’s not always that simple. The first word in a sentence is easy. The personal pronoun I is easy, but we often forget it or get lazy in allowing autocorrect to fix it. But a proper noun--that’s a little more complicated.

Proper nouns are specific, formal versions of people, places, things, or ideas.

The thing is, often people can’t distinguish between the noun and the proper noun. (Some of that confusion is because they don’t know, but there are some nuances in the English language that make it more complex.) 

Protip: When in doubt, consult the dictionary or Google or just change the word!

Issue 2: Sentence structure

Sentence structure is the variety that spices up your sentences. When you don’t have a variety, your sentences are boring. When you have too much variety, your message gets shrouded in the construction. It’s also essential to use proper punctuation to clarify your sentences.

Sentences have independent clauses and dependent clauses. Independent clauses can stand alone while dependent clauses cannot. 

There are four basic sentence types: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.

Simple sentences

Simple sentences have one independent clause. 

  1. One subject with two or more verbs
  2. Two or more subjects with one verb
  3. Or a combination of the above without falling into one of the other categories.

    For example: Sally and Bob go to the store and buy groceries.

    • Sally and Bob are the subjects.
    • Go and buy are the verbs.
    Protip: Simple sentences are best used with complicated ideas that need to be simplified.

    Compound sentences

    Compound sentences have two or more independent clauses.

    1. An independent clause with a semicolon and another independent clause
    2. An independent clause with a comma, coordinating conjunction, and another independent clause
    3. An independent clause with a semicolon, a subordinating conjunction, a comma, and another independent clause

    For example: Sally and Bob go to the store, but they forgot their grocery list.

    • Sally and Bob go to the store is an independent clause.
    • They forgot their grocery list is an independent clause.
    • The two clauses are joined together with a comma and a coordinating conjunction.
    Protip: Compound sentences are best to use with ideas that have clear relationships.

    Complex sentences

    Complex sentences have an independent clause and a dependent clause.

    1. An independent clause with a dependent clause
    2. A dependent clause with a comma and an independent clause

    For example: Sally and Bob go to the store because they need groceries.

    • Sally and Bob go to the store is an independent clause.
    • Because they need groceries is a dependent clause.
    • The two clauses do not have a comma because of their order, but if they were flipped, there would be a comma: Because they need groceries, Sally and Bob go to the store.
    Protip: Complex sentences are best used for reliant relationships among sentences. 

    Compound-complex sentences

    Compound-complex sentences build upon the concept and structure of compound sentences (two or more independent clauses) and complex sentences (an independent clause and a dependent clause). 

    For example: Sally and Bob go to the store because they need groceries; however, they realized they forgot their list, so they had to go back home to get it.

    • Sally and Bob go to the store because they need groceries is a complex sentence.
    • They realized they forgot their list, so they had to go back home to get it is a compound sentence.
    • They are joined together with a semicolon, a subordinating conjunction (however), and a comma. 
    Protip: Compound-complex sentences are best used for ideas that have clear relationships but are not overly complicated in context, and they are also best used occasionally rather than back-to-back.

    Issue 3: Commas

    Commas are complicated. Back in the day, we used to have these tips and tricks that were presented as rules. We got used to them and used them, but they were wrong. And those of us who know better are suffering.

    STOP using commas as a pause. Written language and spoken language are different. Commas are not spoken; pauses are. Pauses are not written (unless you’re writing narration); commas are. If you use pauses as a guide, fine, but you need to make sure you edit them. 

    There are a lot of rules around commas, but I’m going to list the top 5 comma rules and uses.

    Rule 1: Lists

    When you have four or more items in a list, separate the items by commas. If you have three items in a list, a comma is optional (Oxford comma), but whatever you decide should be consistent.

    For example: Sally bought apples, bananas, and strawberries from the outdoor market.

    Protip: Just use the comma in lists of three or more!

    Rule 2: Numbers, dates, and places

    When you have certain numbers, date formats that are the same (words or numbers), or places that are layered, use a comma to separate them. 

    For example: On July 12, 2021, Sally and Bob went to the outdoor market in Naperville, Chicago, Illinois to get 1,200 blueberries.

    Protip: If you find you have too many commas, rearrange or separate your sentence to get rid of some.

    Rule 3: (SOME) Introductory words or phrases

    This rule is where that pause complicates ideas. When you have an introductory word or phrase, you use a comma; however, many people cannot define what an introductory word or phrase actually is.

    For example: Sadly, Sally lost Bob at the market when she got distracted.

    Protip: So does not need a comma after it!

    Rule 4: Sentences

    Comma use in sentences is very particular. The two most common errors in this rule are:

    Not using commas correctly with compound sentences

    Not using commas with complex sentences

    For example: Sally and Bob found each other, but they ended up missing out on all the blueberries. 

    Protip: Eliminate the subject or verb on either side, omit the comma. (Sally and Bob found each other but ended up missing out on all the blueberries.)

    For example: Because they missed the blueberries, Sally and Bob had to go to another market.

    Protip: Switch the sentence around and omit the comma. (Sally and Bob had to go to another market because they missed the blueberries.)

    Rule 5: Interruptions

    Sometimes, there are words or phrases that interrupt a sentence. If that interruption is essential, commas are not necessary, but if that interruption adds information that could be omitted, use commas on both sides of the interruption.

    For example: Sally and Bob, who had been together for 5 years, never got distracted at the market again. 

    Protip: If you’re looking for areas to omit from your writing, offset phrases are the first place to start!

    Editing is extremely complicated. It involves more than capitalization, grammar, usage, and punctuation but knowing the three tips above will help your readers understand what you’ve written, but it will also help your readers feel a sense of fluency, flow, and connectedness to your writing. 

    If you’re looking for more tips and tricks on how to improve your writing, subscribe to my newsletter here.

    Categories: writing, editing