A Step-By-Step Description of How I Edit for Flow

One of my clients was impressed by an edit. We then shared this delightful exchange:

Them: `How did you edit this section to make the article flow better?` 

Me: `I can use any information to prove any point.` 

Them: `That’s scary.` 

Me: `I know. That’s why I don’t work for Philip Morris.`

I then described my process. Here’s that walk-through:

You expressed curiosity about how how I solved the “disjointed” problem. I mused on my approach a bit and can better articulate it in writing here. It’s somewhat of an engineering approach… I think… (I have never done engineering outside of that one time I built a shelf):

  1. What are our aims? What are our problems?
    1. The two sections feel disjointed. We want them to feel connected smoothly.
    2. The comment _______ made has interesting info–let’s find a way to include it. 
  2. Implicit step: What are our requirements? What are our constraints?
    1. We’re constrained by our medium, so “published on the web” (Writing, web formatting (especially headings & subheadings), hyperlinking, bulletpoints, and pics/drawings are the big ones.)
      1. Meta: I don’t think about this so much consciously any more. Not for this medium, at least (for other media, yes!). There was a time, however, when I thought obsessively about “what are the constraints of the written-for-web medium?”, which was super formative in becoming facile with the tools. (The biggest one that people mess up in this medium is headings and subheadings. It’s like a table of contents to guide you while reading! Who doesn’t appreciate an easy-to-use map?)
  3. Structure the content to achieve the goal.
    1. ________’s comment had very interesting info, albeit some of it was framed off-topic-ly. However, everything can be on-topic in one sentence or less. 
      1. This is kinda a cool idea. I think of it as “bridging” because that’s how I was taught: you find a relevant trait of topic A, highlight that piece, bridge to a similar nugget in topic B, and then go to point B. This parallels the way our brains process language: we fire neurons in clusters around each word. So, to go from “Sheep” to “cloud”, one could use “white” or “fluffy”. These are trivial examples, but the concept stays the same: From my dog to Trump could be The Adorable Smidgen -> Chihuahua -> Mexican wall -> Trump. You get better at it over time, finding the shorter (and in the case of logic/business, actually relevant) paths. (That said, in persuasion, you don’t even need relevance! Crazy concept that’s super scary when you think about it…)
    2. In this case, we had a starting point (the paragraph before) and an end to get to (the next section). We also had the content of the middle bit (which I got by breaking ________’s points into their constituent pieces). Now use the technique “bridging” and the thing structures itself! It naturally lends itself to an order… the one that links most logically!
  4. Make the new text as short as possible while still being easily readable.
    1. Good writing is short. Good nonfiction, especially. For me, this comes from a concatenation of “aims” and “medium constraints”–we want to give the reader the most value for their effort/time. It also aligns with standard writer wisdom that “shorter is better” (and, I suppose, the simple economic notion that wasting resources is bad).
    2. The easier an article is to digest, the more readers will value it (i.e. there will be more economic surplus since it took them less time). 

I don’t always think about these pieces consciously. Some are now gut instinct (like “eliminate the maximum number of words”). Others are more well-defined and intentional, like the order in which I do each step in my writing process.

^I hope this is interesting! You expressed curiosity; thought you might find it cool! Feel free to poke if anything interests you. (I’m always a sucker for writing about my process. For some wonderful reason, it’s one way I improve… 🙂

I put the punctuation outside the quotes.

I put the punctuation outside the quotes. I also hyphenate adverbial constructions ending in -ly. I know these are “wrong”. I understand they’re conventions. The conventions are stupid.

A sentence ends with a mark of punctuation. A quotation may include a mark of punctuation in the quote: 

  • David said, “Where are we going?”
  • Did David say, “Where are we going?” 
  • Did David say, “We are going north?” 

Oh shit. You see the problem? It’s that third sentence. The one where your English teacher would demand the question mark go inside the quotes, but putting it inside the quotes is misleading. 

An English sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark. This system works. It doesn’t need to change when it’s in a fucking quote. 

I’d punctuate that last, dastardly question like this: 

  • “Did David say, “We are going north.”? 

Why? Because David spoke a fucking sentence.

Let’s reverse it. What if the sentence is a statement and the quotation’s a question? 

  • David asked, “Where are we going?”. 

See what I did there? I tossed a period into the sentence, after the quotation marks. Why? Because “David asked, __________” is a sentence. It should end with a punctuation mark. Omitting the punctuation makes us assume it’s a question… and David’s quoted query doesn’t make my statement an inquisition. 

Some will be uncomfortable with these ideas. “But my English teacher taught me…” Well, tough titties. Language lives. We grow and improve it. Did you know the word “okay” comes from a mid-1800s comedic misspelling of “all correct” as “oll korrect”? Is it stupid that old-timey people misspelled words for humorous effect? Yep. But aren’t you glad we now have that damn valuable word? Language is for communication. If it works, use it. 

Maybe punctuating outside the quotes “looks ugly” or “feels weird”… but think of our children! They’ll live in a much clearer grammatical world. They’ll inherit a world where the sentence is the sentence and the quote is the quote, where you can tell whether the person said a full sentence or not by checking the quote itself. 

  • Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon…”.

Without the ellipses in the quote, you’d assume that as his whole sentence. With the ellipses, you know he continued. 

  • He finished the speech, “… in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”. 

Grammar should make writing clearer, not hold onto outdated structures. 

Join the resistance. Punctuate proper.