Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Too many words

Dr. Thomas W. Jones is the co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ).  I am surprised this man doesn’t have the words “King of Conciseness” tattooed on his forehead.  One of our assignments was to bring in a 500 word writing sample.  We were to self-edit the sample and then send it to Dr. Jones.  He then edited it.  Oh my.  He is truly a master at what he does.  When I looked over the edited piece (which was now missing quite a few words) there was not one thing I could argue.  His edits made the piece more readable and clear. Before you ask, no, I am not going to post the before and after drafts.

When I got back from Birmingham it was time to submit the final draft of my last ProGen assignment.  I cheated because the introductory section of the ProGen paper was the 500 word sample that Dr. Jones edited and I felt no guilt whatsoever when I used the edited version in my final draft (I did tell everyone that I did this so don’t get too whacked out about it).  I went back through the rest of the paper and changed quite a bit using the principles Dr. Jones taught us.  I have to say it is actually fun going through a piece to see how many words you can take out without losing what you are trying to convey. 

Dr. Jones has 20 recommended reference books/articles listed in editing section.  I already have 6 out of the 20.  I am not going to list everything he recommends but I am going to tell you what the top 4 are on my wish list are.

  • Blake, Gary and Robert W. Bly.  The elements of Technical Writing, The Essential Guide to Writing Clear, Concise Proposals. Reports, Manuals, Letters, Memos, and Other Documents in Every Technical Field. New York: Longman, 1993.
  • Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1994.   Dr. Jones highly recommends a usage dictionary in addition to your regular one.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “Genealogical Editing.” In Pennsylvania: Cradle of a Nation. 1997 Conference Syllabus, National Genealogical Society. Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 1997.
  • Plotnik, Arthur.  The Elements of Editing: A Modern Guide for Editors and Journalists. New York: Macmillan, 1982.


Before you start picking my blog posts apart, I don’t do a lot of editing. I do try to proofread for any major spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors but the blog posts are informal.  Right now I am talking about TECHNICAL writing.  An example of technical writing would be an article published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) which is a scholarly journal.  This is very different than the writing style you would use if you were writing a narrative story or a book about a family geared toward “normal” people (or blog posts) though many of the same principles still apply.  I will address storyteller style soon.

Dr. Thomas W. Jones = technical writer
Dr. John Philip Colletta = storyteller

We heard both Dr. Jones and Dr. Colletta lecture at IGHR so both types of writing were presented.  These two men have totally different writing styles and it was nice to see the contrast.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Loved this post! Even in story telling mode I use too many words. I took a class from John Colletta in which we had to turn in a brief story which he then edited. Even though he didn't remove too many of my words, his few edits just made the whole piece so much crisper! Wish I had an editor for all of my writing. :-)

    1. I am looking forward to taking more classes with Dr. Jones and Dr. Colletta. They are both great. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have your own personal editor!

  2. Michele,

    What were the word counts of your version and Dr. Jones' edited version?

  3. Arg! Okay, I will tell you. It started at 505 and he cut to 424.