A good copyeditor is always on the lookout for language that is imprecise. But what exactly is imprecise language, and how can subject matter experts or technical writers learn to find it on their own? More importantly, once it’s found, how do you replace it without using jargon or $5 words?
Well here’s one place to start. Check your verbs. Verbs should reflect an action that the subject is doing. Forms of the verb “to be” usually don’t accomplish that. These are hard to spot because they show up in lots of different forms.
Is are am were are all simple forms of the to be verb. If you find one in your sentence, look for another word that could be a verb and try rearranging your sentence, like so:
There are 37.6M people living in the state of California.
More than thirty-seven million people live in the state of California.
Here’s another suggestion. Look for verbs that are too complicated. Sometimes verbs need an auxiliary, like in the present progressive.
While we were walking to the store, we saw the prettiest robin.
Were walking are both parts of the verb. And they express a necessary relationship between the two actions. But if you have more than 2-3 words in your verb, you may want to rephrase your sentence, like so:
The liquids’ reaction can only have been caused by storage in sub-zero temperatures.
Only storage in sub-zero temperatures could cause such a reaction in the liquids.
Finally, check your verb for prepositions. If you’re using one, chances are you can replace the verb with its active form, or choose a more precise word. Here’s a short list of a such verbs.
|aware of||we know|
|confronted by / with||we confront|
|engage in||enjoy, join|
|faced with||we face|
|familiar with||we know|
|get off||depart, go|
|get on||embark, climb, ascend|
|get up||rise, awake, stand|
|participate in||enjoy, join|
|stand for||represent, permit, endure|
|take part in||enjoy, join|
And now you know a few of the ways that copyeditors work their magic on your manuscripts. Be sure to subscribe for more handy writing tips. And follow me on Twitter as well, @CorpWritingPro.