By Bobbie Christmas
Q: A friend read my nonfiction manuscript and said it lacks conviction, as if I’m not an expert on my subject matter. I have advanced degrees that prove I’m an expert on the subject of my book. What might she mean?
A: First let me say that one opinion should not shatter your dream. We editors know the old adage, “Ten editors, ten opinions.” Nevertheless, if you think the comment has merit, I have some suggestions that will help. Note that my recommendations do not apply to textbooks and academic books, which have restrictions, but to how-to books and other less formal nonfiction.
How can authors set themselves up as the expert on a particular subject? Here are some tips.
Be the authority. Instead of adding quotations from other sources, write the information as your own. I don’t mean to plagiarize, but instead make the information something you know for a fact.
Instead of writing something like this: A 2015 Harvard Business School study proved that . . . .
Write this: Studies show that . . . .
Avoid words such as “somewhat” or “rather,” which weaken the author’s position on a subject and choose strong verbs that strengthen your position.
Instead of writing this: The results were somewhat interesting.
Write this: The results amazed researchers.
Write tight and spurn meek phrases such as “I think,” “I believe,” or “I feel.” Instead state things as fact. Be strong in your conviction.
Instead of this: I believe the best way to write well is to use a good editor.
Write this: Strong writers employ good editors.
Pay attention to chapter titles. Make them exciting, playful, powerful, or intriguing. As a result, the table of contents will lure readers in. For example, in my book, Write In Style, I could have used the label Infinitives for the chapter that covers infinitives and other formations that weaken sentences. Instead I playfully titled the chapter To Infinitives and Beyond.
Avoid adding footnotes and endnotes. Readers can grow lazy or tired from jumping back and forth to read the information in footnotes and endnotes. Instead of footnotes and endnotes, find ways to consolidate vital information into the body of the book. Save endnotes for a bibliography in the back, if desired or required.
These tips are just the beginning, but they give you a few good ways to add conviction and authority to a book.
Q: I’ve seen the word “cousin” abbreviated as “coz,” “cuz,” and “cos.” What’s the right abbreviation?
A: The problem is that common use can make words, and even abbreviations, acceptable to the masses. In addition, not all dictionaries agree on or even list all abbreviations.
Instead of arguing the point, I prefer to refer to one dictionary, Merriam-Webster, the one recommended by the University of Chicago Press, producer of The Chicago Manual of Style. Merriam-Webster lists “coz” as the accepted abbreviation for “cousin.” It lists “cos” as an acceptable abbreviation for “companies,” ”consul,” “consulship,” “cosine,” and “counties.” You can see why The Chicago Manual of Style recommends avoiding abbreviations whenever possible.
FYI, the Scrabble dictionary accepts “cuz” as an abbreviation for “cousin.” No wonder we’re all confused. I’ve probably been guilty of using “cuz” in emails and on Facebook, myself, but I will use “coz” from now on. I wonder how many people will know what I’m talking about, though, when we’re so accustomed to seeing “cuz.”
Bobbie Christmas, book editor, author of Write In Style: Use Your Computer to Improve Your Writing, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.