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Revising, Style, and Time – Revised

Revising, Style and Time

Excellent writing takes time which you may not have.

Tighter writing is better writing by making reading and understanding easier. That writing, though, takes time and alters the style of a piece. In revising other people’s writing, crisp writing costs.


There are various underlying causes as to why our state’s elder care facilities function poorly. For-profit residences are especially noted for their rigid business competition, which may lead some to take shortcuts in their service. These may involve disregarding industry guidelines, cost-cutting on equipment, hiring untrained staff, and reducing staff levels altogether. A 2018 study actually found that 280 facilities in Illinois have low staff levels.


Our state’s elder care facilities function poorly for many reasons. For-profit residences face rigid business competition which leads some facilities to shortcut service. Residences may disregard industry guidelines, spend little on equipment, hire untrained staff, and reduce staff. A 2018 study found 280 Illinois facilities have low staffing.

Revising this writer’s work took me five to seven minutes. A twenty paragraph document like this might require an hour or more to revise. Given deadline pressure, that might not be possible. What to do? Produce one or two standout paragraphs and let the rest go? That results in two different writing styles: wordy and non-wordy.


Make minor and less impressive changes throughout the document. As always, concentrate first on a strong opening. Your minor changes will be better than the original. Stop chasing perfection by endlessly editing. Deadlines can’t be met that way and if you are revising or writing for others then deadlines must always be met.

For most writers it is challenging enough to produce content, never mind writing it with style or brevity. Just producing a somewhat polished article or story may be all a deadline allows, leaving finishing to editors. (I’ll write on editing soon.)

At some point, though, we must all improve. Those less impressive changes I mentioned should over time become more impressive. We must all get better, be that at writing, revising, editing, or all three. We can’t be the writers we were years ago. Something must be learned and applied over time.

As Montaigne or someone like him once said, “If I had more time I would write you a shorter letter.” Exactly.

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We The Few . . .

We The Few . . .

I found an interesting web page with its content below, as various people phrase a common thought in various ways. Here’s the thought:

“I’ve done so much, with so little, for so long, that now I can do anything with nothing”

How would I put this? How about:

“We the few, who have done so much for so long with so little, now attempt the impossible — with nothing.”

I’d change “I” to “we” to broaden appeal and to appeal to power. One person is important, more people more important.  The em dash is really called forhere. You don’t want a rolling sentence to roll over a point of emphasis.

I’m still thinking about how to incorporate the “ungrateful” element in many of the sentences below. That word traces back to a complete thought by Konstantin Jireček. He said:

“We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.”

Hmm. Maybe:

“We, the poorly led and thankless, who have done so much for so long with so little, now attempt the impossible — with nothing.”

Better? How would you rewrite this? Please leave your sentence in the comment box.



Variations of this thought: I’ve done so much, with so little, for so long, that now I can do anything with nothing.

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More On Real World Revising and Editing

Content writers don’t care about word choice. Not ultimately. It’s up to the editor, perhaps their boss, or  maybe the client who makes the final decision on words and word usage. That’s why assessment tests with difficult grammar problems make no sense.

As I’ve stated previously, recasting a sentence is far, far easier (internal link) than looking for a possible answer on the web. Unless you are revising, proofreading, or editing for a print book, and you have an extremely fussy author, then your choices go.

This means that difficult grammar questions are resolved by the editor and not by the writer. Yet assessment tests ask the writer to act as an editor. Not their job.

The content creator’s job is to submit a polished, well-researched piece as grammatically correct as possible given the writers’ workload, word count, deadline, and pay. The editor cleans up what is submitted.

The only time I get questioned on my writing is for clarity. An online or print editor may ask, “Do I understand this correctly?” or “Can you please rewrite this paragraph to make it clearer?”

I have never received a question on whether a colon or a semi-colon should be used, nor asked if I am okay with an editor’s revisions. I rarely get proofs to review, certainly not in the online writing world.

The freelance contract writer has a subject and a word count. If they really botch the job, an editor may ask for a rewrite. They won’t ask for a writer’s opinion on revisions and the freelancer probably doesn’t care. They just want the next job and a check. That’s the real world.

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Real World Revising and Editing

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Assessment Tests

Rockhounding site here:

Assessment Tests

From my writing website:

Assessment tests are often required but results depend on the writing style and preferences of the test writer. Or the guide they use. CMOS? AP? MLA? Importantly, will the tester tell you the guide used for developing the answers? Or is it, again, the writer’s own preferences?

I stand on my published writing before any assessment test. Do you like my writing or not? That’s fair, isn’t it? No problem if you don’t. Yet, I recently had to take an assessment test.

This was a timed test on grammar problems. Eleven minutes. This lack of time kept me from looking up solutions to these difficult, unusual thought experiments.

Editors like myself rarely spend time researching usage, we just recast a sentence. That’s far quicker than musing over conflicting opinions and guides. In this test, however, we were supposed to dawdle on things like whether “womens” or “women’s” was correct in a particular sentence. Good grief. Just revise. And get on with the rest of your work.

Their first question probably revolved around a semi-colon. I don’t use them in business writing since they slow things down and make things less direct. Although I admire how Melville and Tolstoi used them to string together 150 word sentences with six tangents. Want to hear something shocking?

I sometimes substitute a comma when a semi-colon is called for.

That’s when one of our writers pens an otherwise well-crafted or intriguing sentence which only needs to move faster. Jazz would have never developed if musicians always stuck to playing the correct notes. More eccentricities? I don’t use dashes, parentheses, or italics. I let our writers use them but only to a certain extent.

Did you notice my comma after the word parentheses? Most people don’t add a comma after the last list item. I do. I want every item in a list clearly delineated from each other. That’s how I punctuate. Unless a boss, editor, or client prefers otherwise. They know their publication best and how they want it presented. Their call. But back to the test.

The test writer consistently used “of been” instead of “have been.” That’s a style question, not a grammar problem.

Question seven moved me on before I was done. Technical problem.

Question eight referred to Catalan. Odd. I thought the area Catalonia, like in Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia. The test writer then called the people catalans, not capitalizing the “c”. That’s like calling a Californian a californian. Yet there was no way to point out this mistake, instead, the grammar problem in this question was about something else. I’m being graded by a writer who can’t capitalize?

Question ten had problems in the text underlined and noted as “A” through “K.” “Select which ones have a problem.” “K” had a problem but there was no “K “radio button to click. The button list only ran through “J.” Another technical problem.

Five professional editors would grade differently with this test. Does CMOS, MLA, or AP agree on everything? Of course not. And if you are working for a publication that has its own style sheet, well, it may not agree with any of these guides.

For comparison, the writing test I took five years ago for InFocus required twelve hours to complete. They paid me for my time and I wrote a number of papers on subjects they chose. An extended essay test. I’m still working for this honest and professional company.

An eleven minute assessment test is better suited to math or other fields whose problems have definite answers. In writing there are grammar mistakes that all can agree on but there are also thousands of instances in which writers or editors will disagree. There’s an art to English that an assessment test cannot assess.

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Three Good Paragraphs

I’m happy if I can write three good paragraphs in a row. In my now dead book project of 60,000 words, I probably had 11 or 12 instances in which I produced a set of three good paragraphs. I still liked the work overall but only those groupings approached what I’d call memorable writing or perhaps great writing.

Certainly my book did not compare to what the great writers produce routinely page after page. What’s happening here? Shouldn’t I have more to show after writing for work and publication since 1994? After all, I have practiced and struggled and endlessly edited and researched and read dozens of great writers. Yet, I’m happy to achieve only three good paragraphs in a row? Shouldn’t there be more? Perhaps not.

Practice does not necessarily lead to greatness. Ray Bradbury advocated writing several thousand words each and every day but that only leads to better discipline. Hunter Thompson once wrote that before he went into a coffee shop, he stole a newspaper, “just to keep in practice.” I can’t do that. I’m not that witty. I don’t have his imagination or his life experience to make a casual remark like that seem funny and convincing. Your high school English class won’t teach you that and Journalism School won’t teach you that.

Orwell’s first novel is wonderful and depressing at the same time. In his twenties he wrote a work that I cannot and will never match if were to keep practicing for another hundred years. Great writing involves not just practice, intelligent and diligent research, fretting over word selection over hours or days, but inspiration and insight as well. I understand there are comedian schools but I doubt they will produce a Mark Twain, a Will Rogers, or a Jerry Seinfeld. Practice all you want, but realize there are other things at work with great writing.

I consider myself a draft horse rather than a thoroughbred. Like a Clydesdale or a Friesian,  I can pull my weight and get the job done. I finish my assignments. Like a Friesian sometimes used for dressage, I can be showy at times but I am still a draft horse. As working writers, we need to be proud of what we do, even if we can never measure up to our heroes.

Too often practice is said to be the way to greatness when that may never be enough. If you  look at long distance runners, every one of them is trying equally hard. If you look more closely, though, many have genetically superior physical characteristics which help them push into elite, world class status. A different body type exists for most athletes and you’re not going to be a superior volleyball player if you are a male who is 5′ 4″ tall, no matter how much you practice.

The thing is, get better at what you do. Meet deadline, meet word count, listen to your editor. Produce clean copy. Double and triple check your research. Pare down word count.

With the exception of the Corvette, the early 1960s produced a number of stodgy looking American vehicles until the 1964 1/2 Mustang came along. Where did that design come from? Completely different, beautiful looking, instantly popular. A design later destroyed by people who had to fiddle with it. The same weight of sheet metal as in a 1964 Dodge, yet much better looking. Same thing with words. We all have equal access to them, but who  is better at making them go together? This is beyond practice and into art.




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More on Revising

Updated August 26, 2021

Editing and proofreading fiddles with copy, revising recasts. A team member submitted a page with this paragraph. He is a fine writer but under deadline. I have more time as I am generally not doing original research and writing, rather, editing and revising material already written.

Here’s the troublesome paragraph:

“When you are in a difficult situation, you don’t want your lawyer to be inaccessible, unsympathetic, and only speaks in confusing legal jargon. You want legal service that’s not only effective but compassionate as well. That’s exactly the kind of service our clients get at Donovan and Reed.”

Did you catch all the negative sounding words? They are: 1) difficult 2) don’t 3) inaccessible 4) unsympathetic 5) confusing 6) not.

Public business writing must be positive. These everyday words and phrases together present a negative tone. Instead of saying what a client doesn’t want, say what a client does want. And, perhaps most importantly, what the firm wants as well.

It took an hour and at least ten revisions before I was happy. This time was abnormally long for a single paragraph, however, this was for a client’s home page. Home pages must be positive, copy has to move — no rambling!

Here’s my revision:

“You want a lawyer who is accessible, sympathetic, and plain speaking. You also want legal service that’s effective and compassionate. That’s what we want, too. And that’s exactly what we provide at Donovan & Reed.”

Details? Besides knocking out the negative words, I eliminated, “When you are in a difficult situation.” The client is undoubtedly already in one if they are looking for a lawyer.

As I mentioned, it’s important to state that the law firm’s wishes are the same as the client. “We want that, too.” This invests or aligns the company with the client’s concerns. It’s not just the client desiring something, it’s the business as well.



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Good Writing is Unnatural

First draft writing resembles contemporaneous speaking.

Record yourself for five minutes delivering an impromptu speech on a subject and then transcribe it. Then think about how far it is from tight, vigorous, organized writing. It’s a long way.

We think things out as we talk. It’s spur of the moment type stuff, with no regard to how it would appear in print.

Similarly, many people write their first draft in the same way, rolling out thoughts as they come.

It’s only when we collect our thoughts on that first draft, do more research, take out tangents, do we better focus on what we want to say.

In other words, tight and direct writing is completely different and unnatural to the way we speak. Dialog is a different matter.

Too often I am presented with first draft material which should be third or fourth draft material. Time is a problem, of course, a deadline taking precedent over fine thoughts well organized.

That aside, know this. We should not write as we speak. Unless you are Twain. Although I know he battled over every word he wrote. A casual and readable writing style is quite the trick. It has to be worked on. It is a product of thought and revision. It doesn’t just come to you. It is not natural.

This is part of the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, taken by me yesterday near dusk. Public domain.
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Another Revising Example


In certain cases, an existing Texas child custody order may need to be modified by a court after custody has been initially determined. This means you can request a court to modify a custody order when a new and substantial change in family circumstances have occurred since the initial custody decision has been made.

If the change will considerably affect the best interests and welfare of your child, a court may find it necessary to modify a child custody order.


A court may modify an existing Texas child custody order to reflect a new and substantial change in family circumstances since the initial custody decision was made. The court may modify the child custody order if the change considerably impacts the best interests and welfare of the child.


I substantially rewrite openings and introductions. The reader must start the piece, otherwise, the rest of the piece means nothing.

I’m still not happy with how long the first sentence is. But how much more revising time should I put in? How much better will it get with that extra time?

The original writer faced the same decision when producing the post: how many more drafts can I do consistent with my deadline and the hours I am allowed to bill?

In deciding, concentrate on the opening.

Revising depth is often controlled by time and business reasons and not by artistic ones.

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Shun “tion” in Revising

I recently worked on this paragraph from one of our writers. Mentioning the state name repeatedly is for SEO purposes.


“Assets and debts division is frequently a major point of contention for divorcing couples in Arkansas. As a rule, a spouse filing for a divorce must divide their marital assets and debts. If they could not reach an agreement, a Virginia court judge must determine how to divide their assets and debts”

First try at revising:

“A major point of contention with divorcing couples in Virginia is dividing marital assets and debts. If the couple cannot agree on the matter, a Virginia court judge will decide it for them.”


Shortening helped. Opening paragraphs on the web must be quick. But I don’t like the word contention, I would much prefer contending. “tion” makes words dull and stupid. “tion” words don’t move, they aren’t active.

Second try:

“Divorcing couples in Arkansas frequently clash over dividing marital assets and debts. If the couple cannot agree on the matter amongst themselves, an Arkansas court judge will decide it for them.”


Introduced the aggressive word clash, eliminating contending or contention. Put in “amongst themselves” to be more complete. I’m bothered that the problem for the judge is not identified. There’s no need identify the dividing debts and assets matter for the couple since the problem was described before the comma. The judge’s problem, however, is several words removed. Will naming the judge’s problem make the writing better?

Third try:

“Divorcing couples in Arkansas frequently clash over dividing marital assets and debts. If the couple cannot agree on the matter amongst themselves, an Arkansas court judge will decide the problem for them.”


This last sentence now seems complete but redundant. I decided to use the second try, leaving readers to make the common sense conclusion that both parties are dealing with the same problem.

Concluding remarks

This paragraph could be reworked endlessly, I’m sure there are better choices. This paragraph, though, is just one of a dozen or more paragraphs needing editing and revising in a 1,000 word post.

Any business like the one I work for needs to get writing out the door; no one will suffer a writer trying to perfect a post over hours and hours to make something 10% better. When time crunched, concentrate on the opening. Revising a thousand words means nothing if a reader doesn’t go past the first fifty.

Notice how slow these words are compared to their more active counterparts:

division, dividing
multiplication, multiplying
addition, adding
revision, revising
motivation, motivating
contention, contending
summation, summary

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