Friday, February 19, 2010

Editing Tip # 22: Five Common Nonfiction Flaws

Kathy Ide’s Editing Tips
© Kathy Ide, 2010

In this column, freelance author, editor, and speaker Kathy Ide shares tips on self-editing your manuscript.


Following are five problems I often see in nonfiction manuscripts:

1. Rambling Introductions

Most new authors spend too much time talking about themselves (their background, credentials, or personal experiences) and/or explaining why or how they wrote this book. Your reader will lose interest if you don't get to the "real" information as soon as possible.

2. Explaining "Why" but not "How"

If you write about the importance of doing something without explaining how to do it, you’ll leave your reader thinking, "Okay, you've convinced me, but now what?"

3. Not Asking the Right Questions

Even experienced writers can fall short of a reader's expectations by failing to ask (and answer) the right questions—specifically, the questions a reader is most likely to ask about the subject you've chosen to write about. Often, this is due to the writer's closeness to the subject. It's easy to forget what it was like when you didn't know anything about this topic. Find someone who knows less about the subject than you do, and ask that person what he or she would want to learn about your subject.

4. Lack of Organization

Present material in a logical order. Don’t simply jot down ideas and information as they come to you.

Break each main topic into subtopics and use headings. Then look at each paragraph or idea and determine where it belongs—or whether it belongs at all. You'll probably find material that doesn't fit into your logical structure. If so, you must take this material out.

Put some of your material into lists, such as "Five Ways to..." or "Ten Steps toward...." If your material isn't "how-to," it might be organized chronologically, in order of occurrence, or some other logical sequence.

5. No Conclusion

Too often, when an author runs out of information, the manuscript simply stops, leaving the reader to wonder what happened to the rest of the material. Endings bring closure, wrap up loose ends, and help the reader make sense of what has gone before.

Always provide a conclusion to your material, even if it's just a couple of sentences. One way to conclude is to briefly summarize what you've said. Another is to refer back to the beginning. If you opened with an anecdote or analogy, consider closing with a related anecdote or analogy. If you asked a question in the introduction, recap the answer in the conclusion. If you described a process that will benefit the reader, recap those benefits.

Each chapter needs its own ending as well.


While these five flaws aren't the only problems possible in a nonfiction book, they provide a good checklist to keep in mind as you’re editing your manuscript.


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Kathy Ide has written books, articles, play and movie scripts, short stories, devotionals, and curriculum. Her books include Polishing the PUGS and Fiction and Truth. Kathy is a full-time freelance editor, offering a full range of editorial services for authors and publishers. She also speaks at writers’ conferences across the country. She is the founder and coordinator of The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network ( and the Christian Editor Network ( To find out more, please visit

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