“Please edit” takes a hard look at tone

Word count: 683 words

Reading time: Less than 3 minutes

Today I provide the next issue of my “Please edit” feature, in which I give advice and counsel for a short piece YOU have written ….

Today is another installment in my regular “Please edit” feature. This month’s winner, Jim, from Red Deer, Alberta, submitted part of an article he wrote for a golf magazine.

Here is what he sent:

Dramatic views of the ocean, mountains in the background, lush greens and fairways and just the right amount of sand to swallow up a wayward shot for good measure. Where can you find this type of golf experience? Well, there are many locations which fit this description but I will give you a hint — it starts with an I and ends with l-a-n-d. If you guessed Ireland you’d be close but incorrect.

This little gem is a bit further north and to the west of the Emerald Isle. I’m talking about Iceland!

Yep, they have golf on this piece of rock which I’m sure many people think of as a place for ice, moss, reindeer and volcanoes. O.K. they do have some of that but mixed in with the flora and fauna are about 65 golf courses within the country’s golf association and another handful  which exist outside that official recognition.

More than fifteen thousand golfers stroll the fairways as registered golfers and another ten thousand or so pay their green fees each year. Pretty good for what many perceive as a frozen rock.

Now golf in Iceland doesn’t have a long history in comparison to Scotland or many other countries which have a link to golf  but it has been around a lot longer than you might think.

The first written reference of golf in Iceland is found around 1912 and the first golf club founded is 1934, with three clubs founded before 1940. Most of the early golf courses were developed by people who really enjoyed the game and wanted to continue playing it on their own turf.

Thanks, Jim, for submitting this clearly written piece. What I like about it is its informality and very basic vocabulary. (That is not damning with faint praise — as I wrote in last week’s column, many writers unwisely work hard at sounding sophisticated. You don’t. )

I ran your piece through a readability statistics site and was pleased to see three of the five indices put it at a grade 8 level. Only the Gunning Fog index ranked it as grade 11. (If you’re unfamiliar with readability stats, note that most writers should aim at a range of grade 7 to 9. This does not mean readers are uneducated; it simply means they’re short of time!)

I do have one major suggestion, however. I think your tone (which isn’t measured by readability stats) is just a little bit off.  There’s a slightly brittle bonhomie running like a ribbon through much of the piece.

Here are some examples:

The guessing game at the beginning feels strained. As a reader, I don’t want to play games. I want to be informed and entertained.

The word “gem” in the second paragraph seems too “sales-y” — not an impression I want from a travel article where I hope the writer is giving me the unvarnished truth.

There’s an exclamation mark at the end of the second paragraph. (These marks should always be reserved for true exclamations, such as Wow!)

The word “yep” at the beginning of the third graph feels forcedly jovial — again, the kind of thing a salesman might say.

After paragraph 3, you start delivering facts and while you explain them clearly, my brain starts crying out for a good anecdote. Travel writing should be filled with stories. Even if you’ve never been to Iceland yourself you surely have some good golfing stories. Tell me more. Make me believe it.

Jim, you have a talent for clear writing — you just need a few tweaks to make it more affecting and effective.