I often edit pieces of writing for friends and family and lately I’ve edited a couple of letters and a resume. I noticed a few of the same issues coming up. Back when I edited medical textbooks and articles, the same things came up—and that was a long time ago.
The first thing I noticed is how often people don’t say (write) what they mean. When I ask, “What did you mean here?” the author of the piece can usually tell me in one sentence. So I write that down. Instantly, the communication is clearer.
Another common mistake is putting the most important information last. Why not lead with what’s most important, whether it’s a letter or a resume? People don’t always read through an entire piece, so you want to make sure you put your main points toward the beginning—that’s why reporters put the “who, what, where, when, and why,” in the first paragraph of a newspaper article.
The last common mistake I see over and over is a lack of parallel construction. Parallel construction, also called parallelism or parallel structure, is the use of phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure.
Use of parallel construction is important for fiction writing as well as all kinds of nonfiction and business writing. Just making sure you use parallel construction can improve a piece of writing immensely.
The grammatical structure can be simple, as in this example:
“I like to cook, run, hike, and craft in my free time;”
or more complex, as in this example:
“I convened a committee, created a work group, and monitored the progress of the work group until the new clinic was a reality.”
Writers who don’t use parallel construction in fiction pull the reader out of the story, which is potentially when the reader could put down the book, and in nonfiction or business writing, lack of parallel construction allows miscommunication to happen, especially when you shift from active voice to passive voice.
An example that lacks parallel construction:
“Job description: Lectured twice weekly to undergraduate students, reviewed graduate student theses, and was able to have research done on a weekly basis.”
I don’t know about you, but when I read this, my first thought was—who did the research?
As an editor, I can ask and find out the answer (the person writing the resume did the research,) but it would have been clear if the author had just used parallel construction:
“Job description: Lectured twice weekly to undergraduate students, reviewed graduate student theses, and did research every week.”
In conclusion, it’s good to take a look at whatever you are writing with an editing eye—or give it to a grammar-loving, detail-oriented friend, like me!
Diane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m enjoying the spring weather and looking forward to the day when it’s warm enough for me to sit out on my back deck and write.