Identifying the Passive Voice

I’ve written before about When Passive Voice is Permissible. Strunk and White admit that “Use the active voice … does not, of course, mean that the writer should entirely discard the passive voice, which is frequently convenient and sometimes necessary.”   But one of the biggest problems writers face in critique groups is the problem …

When To Outsource Your Grammar

When we talk about the mechanics of a manuscript, we are ultimately talking about details: grammar, spelling, punctuation, and the like. Style is also a component of mechanics, as is manuscript format. But remember that when I introduced the Elements of Nonfiction Editing Checklist I said it was in order of importance. There’s a reason Mechanics …

Using Words as Words

Often when we’re writing nonfiction we need to refer to words in such a way that the term being used is itself the subject of the discussion, rather than the concept the term describes. If I say “My Sunday school students have difficulty understanding the concept of propitiation,” it means something very different from “English …

What Semicolons Are For

An editor once excised the semicolons from my writing with the marginal note “Death to semicolons.” He changed every one of them to a period. Not every editor is so vehement about this much-maligned mark, but those who are may be provoked by the fact that so many writers don’t know how to use it …

What to Do with Hyphens

The guidelines for hyphenation are complex and inconsistent. At least copyeditors are kept in business, but it can be frustrating for a writer to understand when to hyphenate and when not. Hyphenation errors are among the most common spelling problems I see. Yes, spelling. Hyphens are often thought of as punctuation, but matters of hyphenation …

Using Ellipses Properly in Nonfiction

The rules for ellipses in nonfiction differ slightly from those in fiction. In fiction, ellipses signal a hesitation or trailing off of speech. But in nonfiction, they indicate omissions from quoted material. If you’re writing a memoir or other narrative nonfiction, you may use ellipses the way they’re used in fiction. When you use an …

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