Reach for That Red Pen

You don’t have to agree with me, but I think some aspects of editing are fun. There, I said it. When editing doesn’t require the unwieldy task of reorganizing, and mainly entails catching a typo here and a missing apostrophe there, editing can be a breezy exercise. So grab your imaginary red pen and live it up. See if you can improve each of the following sentences. (Hint: You might notice a theme.)

1. He’s a renowned author, but he’ll always have a bad stigma hovering over him because of the plagiarism charge.

2. This is her first debut with the orchestra, but I expect her to perform like an old pro.

3. Our reputation for quality, world-class care is unparalleled.

4. The team has been receiving a lot of great accolades since its long winning streak.

5. We were basically knocked out of first place after the Santa Fe series.

6. Once Thompson refused to answer any questions about the budget, that should have set off plenty of alarm bells.

7. The appointment of Wilson to replace Thompson was nowhere on my radar screen.

8. My nephew has a very unique workout routine.

The answers

In case you didn’t pick up on the theme, I tried to help you with #8, which contained one of the most prevalent redundancies in speech and writing: “very unique.” Because “unique” means “one-of-a-kind,” sticking “very” in front of it doesn’t make sense. (You can see more on this in my late-December post,

And now for the rest:
1. “Bad stigma” is redundant. Delete “bad.”
2. Delete “first” in “first debut.”
3. “World-class care” sounds pretty good to me. Is “quality, world-class care” better?
4. Delete “great” in “great accolades.”
5. “Basically” is usually just clutter. It adds nothing in “basically knocked out.”
6. “Bells” is superfluous in “alarm bells.” All we need is “alarms.”
7. “Radar screen” is similar. Strike “screen.”

The bottom line

Editing can be gratifying because it gives us an opportunity we don’t have when we talk: cleaning up our communication. And sometimes editing doesn’t merely involve the mechanics of our writing; sometimes it involves appreciating the grandeur of a word like “accolades” or purity of a word like “debut.” When we fail to change “great accolades” or “first debut,” we are writing with less precision and … yes, missing out on some of the fun of editing.

In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at

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