Elegantly bending or breaking the rules

April 4, 2013 By Jonathan Sims Freelance Edito Conferences

Sometimes editors need to lay down the large, bold marker and pick up the fine-point pen.

Bill Walsh discussed this idea during his Friday morning ACES session, “Tiny Acts of Elegance: Editing Like a Writer,” which focused more on the acts of elegance than editing like a writer.

Walsh, author of “The Elephants of Style,” “Lapsing Into a Comma” and the anticipated new book “Yes, I Could Care Less,” gave many examples of how both writers and editors can muddle text. Writers muddle it because they typically don’t know any better, and editors muddle it because we’re often too strict and cling to our style books.

His plea, however, was for editors to clean up text for clarity’s sake, and he mentioned several rules that can be bent or broken in order to improve clarity.

He pointed out that it is not an error to flagrantly split an infinitive, begin a sentence with a conjunction, occasionally throw in a fragment, use a sentence-ending preposition, or use “due to” or “impact.” And he argued that idioms are fine to use if they present clarity to the intended audience.

His primary purpose was to say that our job is to make the writer look good. If we can elegantly bend or break the rules to which we cling, we can help the writer create their best work possible.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had an incorrect title for Walsh’s book “Lapsing Into a Comma.”

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