Neater, Lighter, Quicker

Let’s look at one sentence very closely to see how it works and doesn’t work. Imagine a psychologist writing about a young patient. The writer is making interesting, indeed moving, observations, but this first draft is overwritten, obstructing the free flow of her sympathetic attention: The argument crystalized and froze the boy’s psychological development which …

Criticizing by Intention

To criticize—in the good sense of the word—means to evaluate something according to its intention. Criticizing is part and parcel of revising a draft composition, and to the degree that no one knows better than we ourselves what we mean to say, we are our own best critics. Often, though, what we’ve written does not …

Getting Thoughts in the Right Place

If writing well means writing precisely, then where we place our words is just as important as the words we choose in composing a sentence. That’s because English relies heavily on word order to communicate meaning, and simple changes can turn a sentence around—or over. Take, for example, this short sentence: I thought of what …

Precise Changes

A student of mine was trying recently to describe the peculiar feeling many of us have unfortunately had since spending so much time in virtual conversations during the pandemic. The protagonist in his story complains that her digitized relationships “feel ghostly,” and when she ends yet another online chat, the friend she had been speaking …