Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit, and Rewrite

Getting the Words RightBy Theodore A. Rees Cheney, @ 1983, Writer’s Digest Books, 215 pages.

This is a book my grandmother gave me, which has turned out to be quite handy. The following are great tips for writing and editing. The looming question is how do these tips apply to advertising copy, and do they? Are these tips universal in their value? Well, regardless, I like them.

Purpose of Writing—to communicate with the reader

Purpose of Revision—to get the ideas and the words that express them as clear, accurate, and attractive as possible

Purpose of Reduction—to increase clarity and ease of reading

Types of Revision

  • Revision by Reduction—Eliminate words that don’t add meaning
  • Revision by Microreduction—replace a longer word with a shorter word where reasonable; use the simplest word that will make your point

Places to Revise

  • Redundancy—repetitiveness, superfluity, and excess
  • Tautology—saying the same thing that’s already been said; she wrote her own autobiography.
  • Pleonasm—having extra words that may be deleted without changing the meaning or the structure of the sentence
  • Verbosity—containing an excessive number of words
  • Prolixity—a form of verbosity; the mention of things not worth mentioning
  • Circumlocution—a form of verbosity; saying things the long way around, to talk around the subject; evasion
  • Repetition—when unwarranted, redundant


  • Proportion—the relative proportion (of words, space) given to various points
  • Position—(put important ideas or words near the end, next best place is near the beginning of the sentence, paragraph, article, story); put the emphasized word in the last position of the sentence and proceed it by a comma
  • Repetition—(of ideas, words, phrases, letter sounds—alliteration)
  • Diction—choice of words and phrases in speaking and writing; (Sentence, paragraph, and chapter length—contrast for emphasis)
  • Word Order—putting the adjective after the noun (normally occurs before)
  • Pauses—create by putting the idea in the middle of the sentence and surrounding it by commas; “however,” “for example”
  • Humor—establishes a report with the reader; brings topic to their attention
  • Irony—a figure of speech used for humor and for emphasis, achieving its effect by saying just the opposite of what is true


  • Exclamation Point—do not use; inappropriate for formal writing
  • Passive Voice—when you can’t identify who is performing the action of the sentence. Mistakes were made. Who made them?
  • Abstraction—opposite of concrete; stated without reference to a specific substance; impersonal
  • Euphemism—obscures reality; substituting a mild, indirect, or vague term for one considered harsh, blunt, or offensive
  • Intensives—overuse of adverbs and adjectives; means nouns and verbs are not strong enough
  • Worn Words—clichés, catchwords, hackneyed expressions, trite words and expressions, slang, colloquialisms, and obscenities
  • Hyperbole—a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis: “This book weighs a ton.” Easily overused.

Examples of Deadwood

  • a type of
  • in nature
  • appears to
  • like a
  • seems to
  • as though
  • seemed like
  • seemed as though

Examples of Pleonasm

  • The reason is because —>because
  • Based on the fact that —>because
  • Due to the fact that —> because
  • In as much as —> because
  • In the neighborhood of —> about
  • With reference to —> about
  • Of the order of magnitude of —> about
  • Despite the fact that —> although
  • In the very near future —> soon
  • At this time —> now
  • Disappear from sight —> disappear
  • For the purpose of providing —> provide
  • Perform an analysis of —> analyze

Often Idle Nonworking Words

  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives
  • Of (when an adverb)
  • There (often promotes the use of the passive voice)
  • Weak verbs of being

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