Hack The Flab #6

Hack the flab from your writing or your readers might shout obscenities in your direction stop reading. Avoid the following 10 examples of flab:

  1. Big –Weak adjective. Replace with something more precise. Ex: He was a big man. Better: He was six feet tall and 250 pounds.
  2. Blend together – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need together. Ex: The colors blend together nicely. Better: The colors blend nicely
  3. Bouquet of flowers – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need of flowers. Ex: The bouquet of flows was beautiful. Better: The bouquet was beautiful.
  4. Brief moment – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need brief. Ex: For a brief moment, he was speechless. Better: For a moment, he was speechless.
  5. Brilliance – Nominalization (verb or adjective turned into a noun). Use the verb or adjective form for more powerful sentences. Ex: Not all posts require brilliance. Better: Not all posts must be brilliant.
  6. Cacophony of sound – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need of sound. Ex: The cacophony of sound from the band annoyed the crowd. Better: The cacophony from the band annoyed the crowd.
  7. Cameo appearance – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need appearance. Ex: The famous actor’s cameo appearance caused a riot. Better: The actor’s cameo caused a riot.
  8. Can – Authority Alert. If you believe something is true, don’t say, “It can do something.” Say, “It will do something.” Ex: Following these tips can improve your writing. Better: Following these tips will improve your writing.
  9. Cancel out – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need out. Ex: It’s too late to cancel out my subscription. Better: It’s too late to cancel my subscription.
  10. Care about Flabby verb construction. Use value or like to save a word. Ex: Do your readers care about grammar? Better: Do your readers value grammar?

Hack The Flab #5

Hack the flab from your writing or your readers might shout obscenities in your direction stop reading. Avoid the following 10 examples of flab:

  1. As yet –Flabby expression. You don’t need as. Ex: No word on survivors as yet. Better: No word on survivors yet.
  2. At all times – Empty phrase. Don’t use or fix. Ex: Be careful driving at all times. Better: Always drive carefully.
  3. Attempt – Use simpler replacement, like try. This word can be nominalization too (verb or adjective turned into a noun). Use the verb or adjective form for more powerful sentences. Ex: Attempt it again. Better: Try again. Ex: His attempt at comedy was met with failure. Better: He attempted some comedy but failed miserably.
  4. At the end of the day – Empty Phrases. Don’t use it. Ex: At the end of the day, it’s the toughest that survive. Better: The toughest survive.
  5. At the present time – Empty Phrase. Don’t use or fix. Ex: I have no money at the present time. Better: I have no money now. I currently have no money.
  6. At this point in time – Empty Phrase. Don’t use or fix. Ex: At this point in time, I know better. Better: Now I know better.
  7. Bald-headed – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need headed. Ex: He was bald-headed. Better: He was bald.
  8. Basic necessities – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need basic. Ex: Prepare for disasters by stocking basic necessities. Better: Prepare for disasters by stocking necessities.
  9. Belief – Nominalization (verb or adjective turned into a noun). Use the verb or adjective form for more powerful sentences. Ex: It’s his belief that editing can be done with ease. Better: He believes editing is easy.
  10. Best ever Redundant Phrase. You don’t need ever. Ex: John’s party was the best ever. Better: John’s party was the best.

Hack The Flab #4

Hack the flab from your writing or your readers might shout obscenities in your direction stop reading. Avoid the following 10 examples of flab:

  1. Armed gunman – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need armed. Ex: An armed gunman robbed a bank. Better: A gunman robbed a bank today.
  2. Armed gunmen – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need armed. Ex: Armed gunmen robbed a bank. Better: Gunmen robbed a bank today.
  3. As a matter of fact – Empty Phrase. Don’t use it. Ex. As a matter of fact, I did eat all the candy. Better: Yes, I ate the candy.
  4. As being – Flabby expression. You don’t need being. Ex: She is known as being the smartest in the school. Better: She is known as the smartest in the school.
  5. Ascend up – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need up. Ex: Ascend up the steps to reach the top. Better: Ascend the steps to reach the top.
  6. As far as I’m concerned – Empty Phrase. Don’t use it. Ex: As far as I’m concerned, all politicians suck. Better: All politicians suck.
  7. Ask the question – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need the question. Ex: Ask the question to your mother. Better: Ask your mother.
  8. Aspect – Vague noun. Cut or use more specific word. Ex:  Commercials are an aspect of television I don’t like. Better: I love television, but I hate commercials.
  9. Assemble together – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need together. Ex: Assemble together the parts included in the box. Better: Assemble the parts included in the box.
  10. As to whether – Flabby expression. You don’t need as to. Ex: I didn’t know as to whether he’d stay or go. Better: I didn’t know whether he’d stay or go.

Hack The Flab #3

Hack the flab from your writing or your readers might shout obscenities in your direction stop reading. Avoid the following 10 examples of flab:

  1. Always – Be weary of absolutes. Use in commands or instructions only. Ex: Always wear your seat belt.
  2. Analysis – Nominalization (Wordiness introduced when someone uses the noun equivalent of a verb or adjective). Use the verb or adjective form for more powerful sentences. Ex: His analysis of the data led to a cancer cure. Better: He analyzed the data and cured cancer.
  3. And etc. – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need and. Ex: She loved dogs, cats, frogs, and etc. Better: She loved dogs, cats, frogs, etc.
  4. Anonymous stranger – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need anonymous. Ex: An anonymous stranger sent her flowers. Better: A stranger sent her flowers.
  5. Anxiously – Weak Adverb. Replace with descriptive text. Ex. Larry waited anxiously. Better: Larry never looked away from the phone as he paced the room, sweat dripping off his head.
  6. Approach – Nominalization (Wordiness introduced when someone uses the noun equivalent of a verb or adjective). Use the verb or adjective form for more powerful sentences. Ex: The plane’s approach was met by the scramble of emergency crews. Better: The plane approached and emergency crews scrambled.
  7. Appearance – Nominalization (Wordiness introduced when someone uses the noun equivalent of a verb or adjective). Use the verb or adjective form for more powerful sentences. Ex: His appearance caused gasps in the crowd. Better: He appeared and the crowd gasped.
  8. Are – Passive voice alert. Weak to-be verb alert. If a verb follows this word, your sentence might have passive voice. If are is used as a to-be verb phrase such as “there are,” rework your sentence. Ex: The movies are liked by Tom. Better: Tom likes the movies. Ex. There are movies that Tom hates. Better: Tom hates some movies.
  9. Area – Vague Noun. Cut or use more specific word. Ex: James left the area. Better: James left Maryland.
  10. Are after – Clunky verb construction. Use follow, or seek, or desire. Ex: The events are after the lecture. Better: The events follow the lecture. Ex: Determine what goals you are after. Better: Determine your goals.

Editor Interview #7 – Mark Allen

Mark Allen

Mark Allen

Mark Allen is a freelancer who writes and edits for a financial services company and for a variety of other clients, mostly in academia. He spent most of his career reporting, editing and leading special projects in Michigan, and he now lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his wife and two children. He answers questions and posts daily editing tips on Twitter as EditorMark and blogs at editormark.wordpress.com.


  1. What is it about editing that drew you to it?
    I was interested in reporting before editing. I’m a journalist, and I believe strongly in the importance of information and conversation. Others tapped me as an editor, and I went along because it involved a nice title and, at first, better hours. If I weren’t editing, I’d be involved in disseminating information in some other fashion.
  2. What character/personality trait, if any, do you believe is necessary to edit well?
    I keep going back to a piece of advice I got when I was a high school journalist. I’m probably stretching it, but I find it applicable beyond its intended message. The advice was that there is rarely any reason for a print journalist to ask a question at a press conference. Radio and television reporters ask questions so they can record themselves. Print journalists are too busy catching up on their notes. All the important questions are going to get asked, so let someone else do it.

    This applies, I think, because the message is: It’s not about you. It’s about the information. The key to good editing is to not feel the need to put yourself into the story. A good editor can make a story more clear and more compelling, but only by first respecting the information and respecting the reader. Oh, and respecting the reporter. Usually.

    All this takes humility.

  3. What’s the most common mistake you find when you edit?
    As a freelancer I edit many nonwriters, though I hate to use that term because everybody is a writer. I mean people who don’t consider writing their focus. So, I see a lot of basic mistakes with comma usage and run-on sentences. I also see a lot of jargon and wordiness. That’s also true with academic editing. I guess the single biggest mistake I see involves comma usage. That’s surprising because it’s so basic, but people love to add commas.
  4. What advice would you give aspiring editors or beginning writers?
    There is no training as good as the careful reading of good writers. We can learn some rules and basic structure, but writing and editing are both very practical tasks. If you are aware and honest when it comes to your writing, you will continue to improve. Likewise, the more you edit the better you get. So, start by doing. And remember that empathy thing. It’s easy to think it’s about you. Know that you don’t know it all, and that what you think you know doesn’t always apply. Our language peccadilloes should not obstruct a well-formed idea.
  5. Would you share your favorite editing resources with us (books, web sites, conferences, etc.)?
    I wrote a column for the American Copy Editors Society newsletter listing some of the electronic resources I rely on, and there are many good places for an editor to turn. The column is here http://editormark.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/copy-editors-no-longer-need-to-keep-paper-books-on-hand/. There are some great lists of lists, including the Journalists Toolbox (http://www.journaliststoolbox.org/) and Katharine O’Moore-Klopf’s Copyeditors’ Knowledge Base: http://www.kokedit.com/library_CE4.shtml. For usage issues,   a great site is Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage list at http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html. I archive daily grammar, usage and style tips at http://www.markallenediting.com/allen/Twitter_archives.html.

    I keep a copy of Garner’s Modern American Usage by my desk at home and on my iPhone. I also use Merriam–Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage and the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage notes, along with several online usage resources. I subscribe to the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. Several free online style books are searchable at http://onlinestylebooks.com/, but it’s important to remember that style guides by their nature are going to differ. I converse with many editors and linguists on Twitter and I maintain lists of some of them at twitter.com/EditorMark.

    And I attend the American Copy Editor Society conference each year. That does wonders for recharging my editing skills.

  6. Anything else you’d like to add regarding editing?
    No, but thank you.

Mark, thank you for doing this interview. I’m a big fan of your twitter archive. Thanks for compiling that.


Hack The Flab #2

Hack the flab from your writing or your readers might shout obscenities in your direction stop reading. Avoid the following 10 examples of flab:

  1. Add up – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need up. Ex: Add up your hours and see if you qualify for overtime. Better: Add your hours and see if you qualify for overtime.
  2. Added bonus – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need added. Ex: Winning the girl was an added bonus. Better: Winning the girl was a bonus.
  3. Aid and abet – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need aid and. Ex: Teens aid and abet their friends’ mischief. Better: Teens abet their friends’ mischief.
  4. Almost – Use approximations like this sparingly. Specific terms are better. Ex. It was almost time for class. Better: Class started in one minute.
  5. All of – Flabby expression. Drop of. Ex: All of the guests loved the party. Better: All the guests loved the party.
  6. All time record – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need all time. Ex: He broke the all time record for home runs. Better: He broke the record for home runs.
  7. All things being equal – Empty phrase. Don’t use this phrase. Ex: All things being equal, we should arrive tonight. Better: If all goes well, we should arrive tonight.
  8. All things considered – Empty phrase. Don’t use this phrase. Ex: All things considered, the damage could have been worse. Better: The damage could have been worse.
  9. Alternative choice – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need choice. Ex: He had no alternative choice but to fight. Better: He had no alternative but to fight.
  10. All throughout – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need all. Ex: War exists all throughout history. Better: War exists throughout history.

Hack The Flab #1

Hack the flab from your writing or your readers might shout obscenities in your direction stop reading. Avoid the following 10 examples of flab:

  1. About – Try not to use this term when you are approximating measurements. Use approximately or a range instead. Ex: About 20 people attended. Better: Approximately 20 people attended. (OR) Between fifteen and twenty people attended.
  2. Absolutely essential – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need absolutely. Ex: Water is absolutely essential to this recipe. Better: Water is essential to this recipe.
  3. Absolutely necessary – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need absolutely. Ex: Reading is absolutely necessary to write well. Better: Reading is necessary to write well.
  4. Accuracy – Nominalization (Wordiness introduced when someone uses the noun equivalent of a verb or adjective). Use the verb or adjective form for more powerful sentences.  Ex: The accuracy of his report wasn’t great. Better: His report wasn’t accurate.
  5. Actual facts – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need actual. Ex: Listen to the actual facts of the case. Better: Listen to the facts of the case.
  6. Admit to – Flabby expression. Drop to. Ex: You should admit to stealing the coat. Better: You should admit stealing the coat.
  7. Advance forward – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need forward. Ex: The army advanced forward. Better: The army advanced.
  8. Advance planning – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need advance. Ex: The heist required advance planning. Better: The heist required planning.
  9. Advance warning– Redundant Phrase. You don’t need advance. Ex: The storm hit with no advance warning. Better: The storm hit with no warning.
  10. Add an additional – Redundant Phrase. You don’t need an additional. Add an additional meal to your daily diet. Better: Add a meal to our daily diet.