Most skills are learned largely through imitation. It’s common sense that if we want to improve as an ice skater, we find someone who is better than we are and watch them skate. The more skilled we are at observing, the more effective we’ll be at adapting what we see another skater do into what we can do. We have to know, as precisely as possible, what to look for, and then we have to practice what we’ve observed. The same concept works with writing.
Have you ever attended the livestock judging at a county or state fair? I have. But even if strolling the carnival midway and watching your step as you approach the 4-H barns remain gaps in your experience, you’ll still be able to follow what I’m about to suggest. In watching the judging of the livestock at the fair, I’m always at a loss. Let’s use the steer judging as an example. These powerful animals are led into the ring where a judge armed with a clipboard and evaluation form sets about examining the animal almost as closely as a jeweler examines a diamond. When all the animals have been judged, the ribbons are awarded. Then I slog through the murkiness of the barns to see if I can figure out why one steer was awarded a blue ribbon and another steer failed to receive a ribbon at all. But I can’t.
Why? Because I have never been taught exactly what to look for. I’ve never been taught how to make a valid judgment. I have no idea what separates a blue-ribbon steer from an also-ran. Many people are in a similar situation when it comes to evaluating writing. They don’t know an effective introduction from a mundane beginning. They can’t tell a powerful quote from a bunch of words encased by quotation marks. They can’t even recognize the redundancy of saying things like, “He wore a huge smile on his face.” We don’t need the prepositional phrase, “…on his face,” do we? The sentence is more concise and, therefore, more effective if we delete this obvious fact, which is something we can help you with here at ProofreadingPal. But if you haven’t had the obvious pointed out to you, it may not be obvious. That’s me in the livestock barn. Don’t let it be you with a piece of writing.
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