Take This Test To See How Redundant You Are

Last week I got the opportunity to go to Taylor University in Upland, IN, and observe an editing class. The course is part of the writing program offered at Taylor. Ginger Kolbaba, the editor from Today’s Christian Woman, was the guest speaker. (If you haven’t had the chance to check out this magazine, you can click here for more information. While you’re there check out their writer’s guidelines and pitch Ginger a story.)

Ginger’s presentation was about her magazine’s editing process. Whoa! I had no idea so much went on behind the scenes.

It was insightful to see what goes on after we submit our articles.We got to see why magazines request a certain word count from their writers. (And a chance to pretend to be YOUNG college students again. Loved it!) Editors only have so much space for content and if the number of words surpasses that, it doesn’t work. They won’t fit. To me, trying to put all the pieces together was worse than trying to put together a left-brained  jigsaw puzzle, a job that doesn’t appeal to me. Editing our stories dealt with numbers and columns and spacing issues. The whole layout structure intimidated me, causing me to break out in a hot sweat (okay, maybe it was a hot flash, I’m old) and brought my opinion of Ginger, and all other editors, as high as the clouds outside my window. I’m so thankful that God gave us all different talents. I’ll stay with story telling.

Part of an editor’s job is to read through query letters and decide which ones look impressive enough to request the full story. Another job, after she chooses which stories to run, is to SQUEEZE out our unnecessary words. Nothing screams AMATEUR louder than a writer using redundant words. I loved Ginger’s examples of good queries and bad queries and her redundancy test, so I thought I’d share them with you in hopes that they’ll improve your writing.

First, TAKE THIS TEST and see how redundant you are. Do you use any of these? How could you write tighter? (Answers are below.)

  1. at the present time
  2. have the ability to
  3. perform an assessment of
  4. few in number
  5. field of engineering
  6. qualified expert
  7. plans for the future
  8. thought to myself
  9. stand up
  10. throughout
  11. vanished out of sight
  12. For me, personally…
  13. mischievous grin on her face
  14. They built a new church.
  15. natural instinct
  16. merge together
  17. newly created innovation
  18. lift up
  19. sufficient enough quantity of
  20. the reason is because
  21. stand to your feet
  22. sum total
  23. end result
  24. postponed to a future date
  25. “Stop it!” he shouted angrily.
  26. ecstatic with joy
  27. She nodded her head.
Below are TWO QUERIES Ginger received from writers. Would you request the story after reading these pitches? WHY or WHY NOT?
Query # 1
Dear Editor,
     First of all, I do not have any writing qualifications, according to the writing experience. I do, however, have a great passion for writing. My expertise comes from a wonderful, long-time marriage and each of us owning a business while still having a great relationship….I am in the process of closing my business. In closing, I now have the time to freelance for anyone who will gibve me a change.
     I have been very happily marriage for 27 years and enjoy writing, a great deal. My article is titled, “Truly One” and focuses on having a healthy, helpful relationship. Being helpful is the key to our marriage. I really believe anyone would benefit from reading my story, as it takes the focus off ‘me and mine’ and places it on ‘ours.’ It offers ideas on being helpful to one another, so as to spend more time with each other. The end result is having a fun time hanging out with my soul mate.

Query #2

Dear Ginger:

I have guard duty today. Yes, guard duty. I do not resemble GI Joe. Sadly, I am a matronly 45-year-old woman who wears relaxed-fit jeans (elastic on the sides, please), and arch supports. I clip coupons. But today, I, along with thousands of other women, will take on Mission Impossible, putting my life on the line for those I love. My comrades-in-arms and I are the mothers of teens with boyfriends.

Nothing stops us. We will mine the yard, throw a grenade between two Velcroed teenagers, even play Tennessee Ernie Ford music throughout the house–anything to douse the fires of adolescent stirrings.

Until that still, small Voice reminds us that we were once 16; that Christ is not only our Sovereign Lord, but theirs too; and that he expects us to act like Christians (!) when dealing with our teens.

As the mother of three teenagers, I often face the dire, delightful dilemmas of parenthood. May I send you my article ‘Guard Duty’ (73 words) to assiste other women who struggle in this role? I can send it at your convenience.

Would you ask this woman for the story? Why or Why not?

Here are the answers to the test above:

  1. now
  2. can
  3. assessed
  4. few
  5. engineering
  6. expert
  7. plans
  8. thought (who else would a thought be to?)
  9. stand
  10. throughout
  11. vanished (if it’s gone it’s out of site.)
  12. me
  13. mischievous grin (where else would a grin be but on her face?)
  14. They built a church. (Duh, of course it’s new.)
  15. instinct
  16. merge
  17. innovation
  18. lift
  19. enough
  20. because
  21. stand
  22. total
  23. result
  24. postponed (isn’t that a future date?)
  25. “Stop it!”  (the exclamation point tells us he’s angry.)
  26. ecstatic
  27. She nodded. (we know it’s her head nodding.)
How many did you get right? Do you have another one you’ve seen or used?

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  1. I enjoyed your blog. I did get almost all of them right, but it is amazing how many times we use unnecessary words and phrases, even when we speak.
    I sent a query letter to Christian Woman a few weeks ago. I hope they are considering it and will ask for the entire article. I have decided (in my own little writing world) query letters should be written the way I was taught to begin a book report when I was in elementary school. I was told to grab the reader’s attention in the first few sentences. I try to do the same with an editor; not ridiculously, but thought provoking. So far, it has worked pretty well.

  2. Hi Gloria! Thanks for commenting. I’m sure you’ll hear from Ginger at TCW soon. She’s a class act and always gets back to her authors. I like the way you start your queries, too. I do that too–try to get the reader’s attention from the get-go with a question, something funny, or a profound statement.
    Didn’t you love the second query here? The writer was so funny. That’s such a gift.
    I saw you story at SPLICKETY yesterday. Congrats again!

  3. Robin says:

    Loved this article. It’s interesting how hard we make it on ourselves sometimes, isn’t it?

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