How to identify weaknesses in your writing

Self-editing isn’t easy, but you can easily weed out unclear sentences, clichés, passive voice and other bad habits by asking yourself these eight questions.

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Here’s what we decided:

Here’s how you can identify bad writing:

1. Are your sentences too long?

People often freak out when I ask this question, but isn’t it harder to read a long sentence than a short one? (Raise your hand if you survived the 958-word first sentence of “Remembrance of Things Past.” I didn’t.)

Sentence length is often a placeholder for other problems:

It’s easier to miss these issues in long sentences. In short ones, they stand out like shorts at a funeral.

In our TV- and Internet-modulated society, readers respond best to sentences that are, on average, 14 to 18 words. Note I said average; don’t make all your sentences the same length.

2. Are your sentences are too similar ?

Most schools don’t teach grammar these days, so I’ll keep this basic. Consider this sentence:

Madison went to the store.

It begins with a subject (Madison) and includes a predicate—a.k.a. a verb—(went) modified by an adverbial phrase (to the store).

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