Dos and Don'ts

While the art of writing often occurs in the first draft, the real craft lies in the editing. Your first draft may say roughly what you mean, but you can always find ways to significantly improve it.

The ideas below are meant to streamline and sharpen text for publication. Skirt the danger zones, but never lose your spark. That balance is very important.


Use a spell and grammar checker before submitting your article. Trim overly long sentences, remove excess prepositional phrases, and delete adjectival strings. Make an effort to maintain variation in sentence length.

Break up long paragraphs when necessary and where appropriate. In general, it's good to aim for an average paragraph length of around 4-5 sentences.

Find alternatives to the verb "to be." You can almost always find a more interesting way to phrase things than saying "X is Y." Interesting verbs make writing exciting; flat verbs make it stupefying. (A few more flat verbs: "to say," "to have," "to do.") It's usually best to root out these banal verbs after you've finished your first draft, when you're fine-tuning the piece.

Use full names or last names when referring to artists. The use of first names should be reserved for cases where different family members are involved (or a few other special exceptions). First name references create a chummy atmosphere which isolates the reader and often denies the artist full respect.

Do not...

Do not refer to a release as "the artist's latest" (or "newest," "most recent," etc.). Your words are going into an archive that is already 17 years old--and what is new now will not be so new another decade down the road.

Do not suggest that readers purchase music under review. This sort of commercial behavior is entirely inconsistent with editorial objectivity. The point of writing a review is to assess the music at hand, not to sell it.

Use of phrases like "Check out...". Most readers won't have the opportunity to hear the music being discussed, find a more general way to make the same point.


Passive voice. For example, instead of saying "The record was made by Butch," you should say "Butch made the record." Usually you'll have to rearrange the sentence, but direct writing always works better.

Gratuitous references to yourself. Most readers have no interest in the personal life or experience of the writer, unless it relates directly and uniquely to the work at hand. Your goal should be to personalize your piece without referencing yourself, so be indirect about it. Give opinions and state the emotional effects of the work without discussing yourself. This also includes using terms like "this listener" or "this reviewer."

Telling the reader what he/she will experience. It's a faulty assumption to suggest that all readers, even if they hear the music, will experience it the same way you do.