Edit your writing
1. The scenario
When talking to someone, we may not always be able to phrase our thoughts appropriately and can thus get into trouble. Luckily, when we write, we have a chance to edit (correct and/or improve) what we’ve written.
Our write-up could contain several errors—spelling, punctuation, wrong word choice, incomplete structures, inappropriate linking words, missing logic or sequencing of thoughts etc.
Most of us, however, do not bother to take a look at what we put in print. It never occurs to us that what we’ve said can be confusing, embarrassing, vague to readers. We aren’t worried about the image that what we’ve shared in writing can create in the minds of readers. If we did, we’d definitely go over it. At the minimum, spelling disasters can be avoided.
Editing is like breathing. It gives life and health to our writing. When we edit, we take care of simple mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation. When we edit, we remove or add ideas or sentences, we rearrange them for better presentation.
When we edit, we are improving our thought process and its expression through a medium, which in this case is English. Doing something well is in itself its reward.
3. Tips for error-free writing
Bear in mind the following tips as you are writing:
1. Construct sentences that are direct, simple, short, vigorous, lucid.
2. Use concrete, simple, short words that the reader can understand without recourse to
a dictionary. Avoid ‘cliches’, Latin, French or Greek words.
“He (Dev Anand) might be 84, but his join de vivre was more convincing
than his black hair.”
The phrase in bold is a French expression.
3. Achieve clarity by breaking down a longer sentence, if necessary, into two or more
4. Though long sentences with a main idea and several sub-thoughts are a common
feature in any good writing, see that the linking does not confuse the reader.
5. Use specific words [blue/red], not vague ones [brightly-coloured].
Use concrete words [rain/fog], not abstract ones [bad weather].
Use plain words [began, said, end], not [commenced, stated, terminated].
Make positive statements [he was poor] instead of negative [he was not rich].
Use active voice [the police took no action]; use the passive voice only when it can
express a thought better or is essential to convey a thought with or without the ‘by-
phrase [no action was taken].
6. Avoid using more words as a group when they don’t add to the meaning:
‘the question is ….’ is crisper than ‘the question as to whether…..’, ‘not withstanding
the fact that’ is too long-winding whereas ‘[al]though’ is concise etc.
7. Avoid the common error of using expressions to indicate ‘scope’ [quantifiers] with
absolutes: quite impossible, glaringly obvious, most essential
adjectives: true facts, active/serious consideration, definite decision,
unfilled vacancy, integral part
The underlined expressions are superfluous and hence meaningless.
8. Use one main clause in one sentence.
9. Vary the length of sentences, avoid repetition of the same subject.
10. Take care of ‘concord’ and don’t mix up tenses.
11. Avoid dangling modifiers [that cannot sensibly modify any word in a sentence]:
After studying for two days, the test was easy.
After studying for two days, I found the test easy. [or]
Because I studied for two days, I found the test easy.
Being very tired, the alarm was not heard.
Being very tired, I slept through the alarm.
Being a vegetarian, the options were not many.
Being a vegetarian, I didn’t have many options.
12. Avoid misplaced adverbial:
Floating peacefully near the oil rig, we saw two whales.
This sentence actually means that ‘we’ were ‘floating’, which is meaningless.
But it should have been written as:
We saw two whales floating peacefully near the oilrig.
13. Use parallel listings and headings:
Each item in a list should have the same structure but the list in box 1 has a sentence, phrases and a single word. Box 2 contains the same list with the same structure for all items—phrases.
1. Keep your writing aside for a whole day or for an hour or two and give your mind a
little rest. After such rest, your mind will be fresh, and you’ll now be able to look at
what you’ve written with a clear mind. As you read through, some simple errors like
spelling and elementary errors in sentence structure jump at you, and you might even
be puzzled how you could have made those errors. You’ll be able to identify sentences
that are not properly linked, and you’ll know that you knew words which you could
have used instead of the ones you’ve used.
2. Read what you’ve written as its writer.
Read through the whole text without changing anything. Make notes as you
check for continuity of thought flow from one thought to another, one paragraph to
· Have I said all I wanted to say?
· Is everything I’ve said linked logically at the thought level?
· Is there a thought or an idea and its elaboration that are out of
context and that affect the logical sequence?
· Do the paragraphs have topic sentences?
· Are the topic sentences appropriately developed with relevant
elaborations and details?
· Do the topic sentences elaborate the central thesis [the topic]
sufficiently well for the reader to follow your thought process?
· Are your thoughts/concepts within the level of your reader’s
comprehension level? [For this you should know your readers well.]
3. Use your notes and make changes or fill gaps in your thinking; add or
eliminate or reframe topic sentences and/or sentences that support the
4. Now read the piece as its reader [how a reader will understand it].
5. Read your writing aloud; this will help locate weaknesses and errors better than when
you read it silently:
As a reader
· am I able to understand my thoughts with the help of the words,
sentence structures and paragraphs I’ve used?
· do I see any defect in the development of the topic through the topic
sentences of each paragraph?
· do I also see any problem in the development of the topic sentences of
the paragraphs through the sentences that follow as major and
· do I find any weaknesses in my logic or in elaborations or expansions
supporting the topic sentences?
6. Make notes as you did last time. Match this with that of the previous one. There are
bound to be mismatches, set them right.
7. Now read your work for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and choice of words.
The best way to detect spelling and punctuation errors is to read from bottom up. When you read from the last sentence upward and end with the first sentence, you’re not looking for the thought flow, and so errors will be visible now. Use a blank piece of paper to cover all the lines except the one you’re reading. Move the paper upward as you read line by line until you reach the first sentence.
To get answers to the questions asked in 2, 5 and 7, try these steps:
1. Write down the main point of each paragraph in the margin. This main point, that
is, the topic sentence, is derived from the topic. After reading each paragraph, if
you can’t find the main points, there is a problem with some or all the
paragraphs. If, by any chance, you find two main ideas in one paragraph, you
need to remove one and use it to write another paragraph. This means you’ll have
to rewrite and reshape the paragraphs.
2. After noting down all the main points, take a look at these and check if they
have expanded or developed the topic logically. If they have, one problem is less.
If they haven’t, read those main points that don’t go with the topic, either modify
them and the related paragraphs or eliminate them.
These two steps should take care of unity, coherence and development at the thought level.
3. Now you can check for structural connection between sentences and between
paragraphs. See if appropriate word or phrase ‘connectors’ link sentences and
paragraphs to each other and mark the ‘transition’ between ideas, and the flow of
ides is smooth.
4. Check for unnecessary repetitiveness of ideas. If they exist, avoid the
repetition. Or make sure that the repetition is essential to comprehension or for
5. Now look for all grammatical errors:
· incomplete sentences [without subjects or verbs]
· run-on sentences [two independent clauses together without the proper
punctuation or connecting words.]
· sentences separated by commas instead of full stops, conjunctions, semi-
colons, linking expressions
· tenses, concord, articles, parallel structure, prepositions, extra words.
6. See if the words you’ve used to form sentences do convey or express your
thoughts without confusing the reader.
What do we use as basis to call something an error?
The English have their English, the Americans, theirs, the Australians, theirs and the New Zealanders, theirs. Whereas we, Indians, have no English of our own because we continue to use British English as standard. Today’s youth seem to use certain expressions from American English like ‘cool’, ‘an admit card’ and follow American pronunciation in words like ‘schedule’.
1. All examples pertaining this Unit should preferably be related Science &
All examples pertaining to this Unit should preferably be related to science
‘To’ should be added in two places. Letters ‘s’ and ‘t’ should be in the lower case because here they are common nouns and do not refer to any specific course or activity. The symbol ‘&’ should be avoided in continuous writing as a substitute for ‘and’.
2. Today’s attack is yet another remainder to the international community that it must
step up efforts to eradicate terrorism wherever it exists.
Today’s attack is yet another reminder to the international community that it must
step up its efforts to eliminate terrorism wherever it exists.
‘reminder’, meaning something that makes you remember, is to be used instead of ‘remainder’ which means something that remains.
‘eradicate’ means ‘destroy something completely’, like disease or racism. ‘eliminate’ means ‘remove or get rid of or kill an opponent’.
Terrorism cannot be destroyed but is an enemy that should be killed or an evil that should be got rid of. So ‘eliminate’ should replace ‘eradicate’.
To make the grammar complete, ‘its’ should be added before ‘efforts’.
We write letters for various purposes. To friends and relatives for personal messages informally, to officials, strangers, superiors for official messages formally. Informality or formality depends on our relationship with those we write to. When we write letters, we may be saying little or a lot. We may have to be careful with our language or we may be free with choices of words and sentence structures. The choice of words and structures depends on the level of intimacy we have with whoever we are writing to. The relationship will define what we will say, how much of it we’ll say and how we will say it. What’s this relationship? The relationship may be informal, semi-formal or formal.
We write letters to people: friends, relatives, officials, superiors, strangers. To some of these, our messages include personal thoughts, opinions and even gossip. To some others, our messages can only be impersonal. With some, we are free with our language while with some others, we should not be free with our language, that is, we need to be polite. In other words, what we say and how we say it depend on to whom we are writing. This freedom or restriction results from the relationship we have with people. This relationship is generally known as informal, semi-formal and formal. We are informal or semi-formal with friends and relatives whereas we are formal with officials, superiors and strangers.
‘B’ is better than ‘A’, isn’t it? Unity and coherence are better in the latter than in the former. ‘A’ begins with ‘purposes’ but nothing much is said about ‘purposes’. It goes on to talk about people and the relationship between people and how that affects communication. ‘B’ begins with ‘we’, goes on to say what we write and how we write, and then provides reason for the differences in our writing.
While writing a critique on Amartya Sen’s ‘The Argumentative Indian’, I edited it at least three times, here they are with the final draft:
The picture of the ‘argumentative Indian’ Amartya Sen presents remains incomplete without the inclusion of the role of South India—the culture, history and identity aspect of Dravidians has been ignored.
Seeing India through the eyes of great intellectuals or leaders is not of course faulty but it is when not seen through the eyes of the common Indian. For instance, the majority of Indians of varied religious faiths living in harmony for centuries except occasionally has been integral part of the argumentative Indian’s personality but has not at all been dealt with. Instances there are several in Indian history that reveal the common man’s role through his response to calls by leaders of the past and the present.
Most statements and hence paragraphs are too abstract and conceptual in nature and content and thus they are hard to conceive and comprehend for a lay person like me.
The English used is definitely not lay person-friendly, it rather caters to the erudite and experts like him. His word choices make comprehension for a lay person difficult. Ordinary lay persons will find it extremely difficult to follow his thought process and analysis clothed in the garb of others’.
Additions to draft 1
This book is definitely not for the common Indian who is certainly ignorant of multiple references to scholars and experts whose mental and verbal exercises become Sen’s. And as such he becomes a willing prisoner and thus makes himself definitely incomprehensible.
Of course, the choice of how he expresses himself is solely his; he could’ve, however, been original, he could’ve spoken as Sen. But he has chosen to entangle himself in the webs of others and has thus become a willing prisoner and becomes delightfully incomprehensible. The ‘educated’ reader is made to feel helpless and ‘uneducated’. The reading is more a burden than a pleasure as the statements and assertions are far too abstract.
The book essentially lacks three things. Sen’s perspective of the argumentative tradition excludes the role of Southern India—of the Dravidians. More importantly, more fundamentally, this book is so scholarly that it’s not for the ordinary reader who has a fairly good mastery of English, who for lack of a need hasn’t acquainted himself with the prodigious references. The demands it makes on him are beyond his reach. The English Sen employs caters rather to the erudite. Sen’s language and thought are so heavily pregnant that they require verbal and mental gymnastics. The quotes, which are one too many, mystify rather simplify or clarify.
The book leans and draws heavily on the sayings of leaders and intellectuals; theories and concepts abound but absent are the common man’s involvement reflecting these for instances there are several in history that reveal ready responses to calls of contexts and leaders.
Some thoughts on Amartya Sen’s ‘The Argumentative Indian’
After reading the book, I realised I could appreciate someone’s work without fully understanding it.
To my mind, however, it lacks three things:
1. Sen’s perspective of the argumentative tradition excludes (ignores?) the Southern Indian
2. More importantly, more fundamentally, the book is so scholarly that
The quotes, which are one too many, mystify rather than simplify or clarify. Of course, the choice of how Sen wishes to express himself is solely his; he could’ve been himself but, he could’ve spoken as Sen. But he has chosen to entangle himself in the webs of multitude of scholars and thinkers and has thus become a willing prisoner and consequently becomes delightfully incomprehensible. The ‘educated’ me feels glaringly helpless and ‘uneducated’. The reading is more a burden than a pleasure, the statements and assertions being far too abstract.
3. Most importantly, most fundamentally, the book leans and draws heavily on the heavy-weights. Theories and concepts abound but visibly absent are the key roles of the common man reflecting them through spontaneous actions; of course history is replete with instances that reveal ready responses to calls—cultural, social and political. Is it because the common man doesn’t
Note: I wanted to give expression to Sen’s daunting job, Himalayan task, and its completion. Hence the first
sentence in the first paragraph of the final draft.
Thoughts on Amartya Sen’s ‘The Argumentative Indian’
The book is monumental in its effort, terrific in its approach, stupendous in its research, awesome in its content, complicated in its treatment, severely complex in its exposition, forceful in its argument. After going through its pages, I realized I could appreciate someone’s work without fully understanding it.
To my mind, however, it lacks three things:
1. Sen’s perspective on the argumentative tradition excludes (ignores?) the Southern Indian
2. More importantly, more fundamentally, the content and its presentation lack simplicity and
directness. The book is so scholarly that I get only a general drift of the ‘argument’ though
I must say I do possess a fairly good mastery of the English language and can fairly
follow a serious analysis.
The demands the book makes on me are beyond my reach. Sen’s lexis, syntax and content
are so heavily pregnant they require constant verbal and mental gymnastics, which is tiring
(and can become a tiresome exercise with time). The implications arising from the smooth
blend of his thoughts with those of others’, which occurs at almost every statement, slip
through my fingers at every step I take. Probably, he was so taken up with the ‘issues’ that
it may not have occurred to him that readers like me, who are not as enlightened, may want
to read the book, understand its essence with and enjoy it through all the attendant
The quotes, which are one too many I’m afraid, mystify rather than simplify or clarify. Of
course, the choice of how Sen wishes to express himself is solely his; he could’ve been
himself but, he could’ve spoken as Sen, but. Yet he has chosen to engage himself in the
webs of multitude of scholars and thinkers and has thus become a willing prisoner and
consequently becomes delightfully incomprehensible. The ‘educated’ me feels glaringly
helpless, inadequate and ‘un-read’. The reading is more a three hundred-and-odd-page
struggle than an enjoyment, the statements and assertions being far too abstract.
So, the implications (understand and enjoy) inherent in Bibek Debroy’s wish—‘every
Indian should read this book’ (printed at the back cover of the Penguin 2005 edition)—
which must also be Sen’s (why would he otherwise have the content printed)—may not be
realised in its entirety.
3. Most importantly, most fundamentally, the book leans and draws heavily on the heavy-
weights. Theories and concepts abound but visibly absent are the key roles of the
translator—the common man reflecting these through spontaneity; of course history is
replete with instances that reveal ready responses to calls—cultural, social and political. Is
it because the common man doesn’t traverse the realm of ‘ideas’ (only through which Sen
has planned his grand tour)?
These observations of mine may not be, I suspect, a lone cry in the wilderness. Or for that
matter they can be mine alone.