… or how to improve your writing
As the word suggests, agreement is about how words relate to one another. Different parts of a sentence must concur. It’s also known as concord: verbs must agree with subjects and pronouns with antecedents (Liz/she or Liz/her). Tenses must be harmonious. Here is an example that is incorrect: One must put on socks before you put on shoes. ‘One’ and ‘you’ are not in agreement here.
Sentences should be a good length, but should be neither too long nor too short. Aim for variety. It is not uncommon for an editor to break a lengthy sentence into two shorter sentences. This makes the reading flow more easily and keeps the attention of the reader. Choppy abrupt sentences one after the other can jolt a reader. It’s important to find a balance.
Sentences must be congruent in mood and parallel in structure. Mood is when one refers to fact or hypothesis while parallel sentence construction ensures correct placement of words. In the first sentence in the point above, if I had written “…, but should neither be too long or too short” there would be at least two errors: the placement of ‘neither’ (split infinitive and not parallel) and the use of ‘or’ (neither-nor is a correlative pair; they belong together always, just like either-or, between-and). In this example, the mood is not consistent: If he were to buy that car, he will never be home. In this case ‘were’ is the subjunctive mood and ‘will’ is the indicative mood (‘will’ should be replaced by ‘would’).
Writers like commas – often so much so that a comma is favoured over a full stop for no apparent reason. A comma splice happens when two sentences that should stand apart are separated by a comma. Have a look at this example: She was lying on the tattoo artist’s plinth, surprisingly she seemed comfortable and relaxed. That comma needs a full stop (and then the comma can be better used after ‘surprisingly’ rather!).
A dangling modifier happens when one cannot ascertain who the action belongs to in a sentence. Editors correct this by identifying a subject. Here is an example: Running quickly, the sun set behind the mountain. This could mean that the sun ran quickly! An editor would check who is running and make sure the message is clear in this sentence.
This one also speaks for itself. Authors make a part-statement that cannot stand alone and should form part of the previous or following sentence. While I wait. That was an example. It does not make sense and you might be wondering what’s happening while I hang about.
When we use two or more words that mean the same thing, this is a form of redundancy. Editors remove superfluous words to clarify meaning and create a stronger message by eliminating redundancy in texts. Sometimes people do it for effect but it’s not generally necessary or effective. Examples of redundancy are ‘completely finished’, ‘end result’, ‘since the time when’.
Editors work with sentence construction. This is their expertise and it’s complex and intricate. Fine-tuning the placement of words is important for writing if you want it to be strong in its message and convey meaning clearly to the reader.
Have a look at this article for other issues editors are good at identifying and correcting: http://www.alexisgrewan.co.za/2020/06/04/make-grammar-current-clear-message/