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|Issue #37 of the Writing.Com Reviewing Newsletter.
Your editor is: Arwee
[ Table of Contents ]
1. About this Newsletter
2. Letter from the Editor
3. Editor's Picks
4. Ask & Answer
5. Useful Links
[ About this Newsletter ]
An English Professor once told me to write a research paper like you’re explaining your topic to someone who has never heard of it before. Good advice for most of the writing we need to do. And it’s an extremely good idea when it comes to pointing out technical problems in a writer’s work. In this newsletter, I will go over the idea of explaining your technical suggestions to a reviewee.
[ Letter from the Editor ]
In one of my earliest issues of the Reviewing Newsletter, I talked about the importance of explaining yourself in reviews (Issue #7). While that newsletter spoke about explaining yourself in a more general sense, I want to go into specifics in this newsletter. Specially, explaining yourself when it comes to technical criticisms.
I am not the greatest person to come to if you want advice on avoiding independent clauses. But, I am getting better. The instances where I have independent clause problems
have gone from twenty in a piece of writing to under ten. Sometimes I’ll have a good day and I’ll have less than three (). And while the progress is slow and sad at times, it is being made. I have my reviewers to thank for their guidance and their patience.
I never would have made it down to ten from over twenty if I had never known what independent clauses are, what causes them, and why I should avoid them. It was a wonderful thing when a reviewer sat down and wrote out some examples for me and helped me understand what was happening.
It is because of moments like those, where a reviewer took the time to give me a mini-lesson on grammar, that I feel many writers will also benefit from more elaborate write-ups regarding technical problems. Especially those whose grammar skills need a bit more help than others.
There is nothing wrong with a piece if there is a typo here or there and certainly if there are typos, a lengthy explanation about every single one of them is rather unnecessary and time consuming. Before we spend a ton of time explaining to a writer the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’, we need to be able to tell the difference between a typo and a consistent grammar problem. It is sometimes annoying for a writer to receive a lengthy explanation about a grammar issue that they know about when the problem was just a typo to begin with.
I will usually give the writer the benefit of the doubt two times during the reading of a story and assume that it is a typo. If a writer demonstrates the same problem a third time, I will presume that it is a grammar problem. If it seems like they are alternating in their usage of the word (using it wrong in one line, correctly in the next, wrong, then correctly again, and so on), then I will presume that it is a problem and that they are guessing and hoping that one of the two is correct. I’ve done it and I admit it. I also tend to keep in mind common technical problems writers might have. For example, I see people often get the words ‘loose’ and ‘lose’ confused so I will usually offer up an explanation for that. Please keep in mind that these are not 100% accurate and effective ways to tell between typos and grammar problems. They work for me most of the time. If you have better techniques or more ideas about this, feel free to share!
Now that we know when to gauge between a grammar problem and typos, let’s talk about the sort of information you can include when you are going to write up an explanation. While it is useful to point out the error, the writer may not understand why that error happened in the first place. Many of us have been writing and reading for a long time and know our way around a sentence. But it is dangerous to assume that everyone operates on the same level. Just like with subjects at school, different people are good at different things. You might be great at knowing when to use a comma, someone else may not be and might need your expertise.
Before you tell them straight up what happened and what was wrong, understand that
explaining things to other people is useful, but it is very easy to accidentally adopt a condescending tone. Try to stay upbeat and clear in your explanation and avoid being
overly technical or confusing. Remember, the point is to help them understand and avoid
the error, not exacerbate the problem by confusing them further. Start off with a simple
explanation of what you think the problem might be.
I’ll use the confusion between the word ‘loose’ and ‘lose’ as my example:
I’ve noticed that you’ve been confusing the words ‘loose’ and ‘lose’ often. This is a pretty common problem and it’s easy to fix once you know the difference between the two words. The word ‘loose’ refers to something that isn’t tight or something that has been
released. The word ‘lose’ means to fail or misplace. In this instance, you used the word ‘loose’ when you probably meant to use the word ‘lose’.
In the above example, I kept technical English terms out of my explanation. Meaning, I
could have gone into how lose is a verb and loose can be a verb, adjective, adverb and so
on, but those types of technical terms further confuse some writers. Not to mention that for the purposes of your review, the writer may not need so much detail. I’ve encountered many writers who do not know the difference between an adjective and an adverb. So, it is best to keep things on simple unless you are ready to go into that sort of conversation with them.
One of the more likely scenarios when it comes to pointing out technical errors is explaining what you mean by active voice and passive voice. I see this one all the time,
and it’s becoming quite the pink elephant in the room. There are a lot of opinions about when it is appropriate to use active voice and when it isn’t. Some people think some instances of passive voice are alright, while others believe that all forms of passive voice should be active. Therefore, when you get into telling a writer to change a sentence from passive to active, be prepared to explain why.
So, what happens when you need to explain a more complex concept like active voice and
passive voice? It is difficult to make someone understand something like that from a definition alone.
This is where examples come in:
I noticed you have a few passive voice passages in your story. It’s not a bad thing to use passive voice, but there was a lot of it in your piece and I felt that it was taking away from the narrative. I think if you changed some of that passive voice into active voice, you will get a more concise style that will help future readers move through your story more smoothly.
Here’s an example from your story of what I mean by passive voice:
Passive: “Water is drunk by everyone.”
Technically, it is a correct sentence, but the order of it is a little confused and a bit difficult to read. However, when you turn it into active voice by moving the object acted upon (the water) to the end of the sentence and placing the object doing the acting (everyone) to the beginning, you get:
Active: “Everyone drinks water.”
Things are more clear and concise in my opinion and you used less words to say the same
Examples are a great way to get illustrative with your review and explanations. But don’t feel that you have to use dry and boring examples all the time. You’re a writer! Use that creativity to come up with some colorful examples or even funny ones. Standard examples are fine and get the job done, but people have an easier time remembering funny or creative examples. Which would you remember more clearly? The teacher you had in school who made jokes and came up with interactive lesson plans, or the one who looked miserable all the time, had the monotone voice, and spent most of the day making the students read the textbook word for word? The only thing you have to keep in mind is to keep it clear enough for the sake of your reviewee. It is okay to be fun, but do it on simple terms!
The key to this explaining business is the same basic principle behind newsletter #7, which is to elaborate and explain yourself. If you see a writer having problems with commas, it is fine to say, “You’re using too many commas,” but it is more helpful for a writer struggling with their grammar if you help them along with an example and an explanation.
Now, it’s time to be realistic. Most of us don’t have the time to go into lengthy explanations about grammar for every item we read. There’s so much out there on the site to see and to review! It’s a bit silly to expect everyone to write mini-lesson plans whenever they go to review and, let’s be honest, it’s not fun most of the time and takes away some of the time you could spend discussing the plot and the characters and how the story made you feel overall.
You don’t need to explain your technical suggestions all the time and for every review. But it would be nice to do if you happened upon a writer who was consistently struggling with an aspect of grammar that you’re well versed in. Share the knowledge. We are all in this together.
[ Editor’s Picks ]
[ Ask and Answer ]
If you have any questions, comments, general suggestions, or a suggestion for an editor’s pick (even your own work! ), please send them to me. I’ll be more than happy to feature them in the next newsletter and address them to the best of my ability.
The Dark Lady Wrote re: “Getting Reviews”:
Excellent Newsletter! For me, personally, the timing of an NL about how to garner attention and gain reviews is perfect.
I've never been one to sponsor one of my items; I'd rather spend my GPs on something more "fun" like buying more sigs than I can use, or supporting groups or causes on WDC. Even, once, when I had many many more GPs than I've ever had (or probably ever will again! ) I used them to lower the cost of my upgrade.
And I've hardly ever been impressed by the reviews done for GPs Automatically Rewarded, simply because a lot of people seem to do the bare minimum to get that character count to the necessary point to earn the GPs. But don't get me wrong; I've jumped on Automatic Reward Items myself -- and I hope that the reviews I've given have been more along the lines of what they're hoping for, when they decide to shell out the "cash".
It does seem hard, all too often, to get much attention on the public pages, where each post vies with so many other plugs.
I think my best bets have been to join reviewing groups and to host a contest for those
willing to raid my port. The former is an on-going thing -- a regular and continuous investment, and wholly worthwhile, when you find a group that meets your needs. The latter
produced so many excellent reviews, I'm anxious to try it again -- but I need to finish using the reviews I got and get myself some extra GPs to offer as incentive prizes. I think everyone should take into account how much work there might be to do after hosting
such a contest... it's one of those situations where I have to tell myself, "You asked for it. You got it."
Thanks for the reminders!
One other thing, though: Entering Contests. I've hardly ever entered a contest and not gotten at least one review, even if it wasn't from the person running the contest.
Wow, thanks for the great comments and some tips too to help expand the
content of Issue #34. Also, entering contests is one that I completely forgot to mention
but is a wonderful way to get reviews as well. Looks like we both reminded each other of
Satuawany Wrote re: “Getting Reviews”:
The thing that really impressed me was the fact that I've read a lot of NLs and direction-type things that went over such things. But they seemed to lean toward sponsorship and auto-awards and left out groups and getting out there and reviewing yourself. (I believe in reviewer karma.)
It was just an excellent re-take on such advice. Awesomeness!
[ Useful Links ]
"Feedback Central" – Send the editors some suggestions and general feedback.
"Reviewing Newsletters" – View previous issues of the Reviewing Newsletter.