Writing is rewriting, as the saying goes, and that applies to recipe writing too. When I’m editing recipes for clients, whether individuals or publishers, part of my job is to line edit. That means rewriting to make the instructions clearer.
Line editing requires constant vigilance. I tighten, choose the most specific word, clarify, and strive for elegance. There’s a fine line between spelling everything out and not being too obvious. Sometimes I vote for the reader and common sense instead of more explanation.
Here are 11 recipe instructions I found recently that needed revision:
1. Avoid mixtures. This kind of instruction makes me crazy: “Mix together two mixtures with a mixer, and then mix the mixtures together in a mixing bowl.” First of all, there are six uses of versions of “mix” in one sentence. That’s just nuts!
If you keep referring to “mixtures,” your reader has to go back and figure out which ones you’re talking about. And trust me, you never want to mix up your reader. Substitute specific words or terms for a mixture, such as batter, custard, wet ingredients, and dry ingredients.See this previous post on using the word mixtures. And for heaven’s sake, don’t add more“mix” words to make your sentence even more confusing.
2. Set aside “set aside.” I don’t like overused terms, especially superfluous ones. Here’s an example: “Prepare a pan. Set aside. Combine the apples and sugar. Set aside. Prepare the mixture. Set aside.” Stop setting things aside. Just go on with your recipe.
3. No need for two words that mean the same thing. You don’t need the word “in” for these examples: “Add in the cold water.” “Gradually add in the flour.” Just add it.
4. Trim, trim, trim.Verbosity is one of the most common problems for editors, and I’ve got plenty of examples:
- “Roll out the dough with a rolling pin.” What else are readers going to roll it out with? Stick with “Roll out the dough.” Similarly, “Place the cookies 2 inches apart from one another” works just as well by eliminating the words “from one another.”
- Replace the sentence “Transfer to the refrigerator to chill” with the word “chill.”
- No need to say “Place in the oven” when just “bake” or “roast” works fine.
- There’s rarely a reason to tell people to remove food from the oven either.
6. No need to top with a topping.“Spread the chocolate topping on top of the cake.” Hmm. I’m either getting rid of top or topping, since both don’t work in one sentence. I changed it to a sauce. A chocolate topping and a chocolate sauce are similar enough.
7. Things don’t begin to happen — they happen. There’s usually no reason to say, “when the soup begins to boil.” Nothing is lost if you just write “when the soup boils.”
8. Write like you talk. I like recipes that read the way that someone talks. No one ever says, “To a large oven-safe saute pan, add the butter and melt it.” Besides, starting a sentence with an action verb is livelier. So try “Add the butter to a large oven-safe saute pan and melt it over medium-high heat.”
9. No permission needed. No need to let or allow objects to do things, such as”Allow the cake to cool” or “Let the soaked beans sit on the counter overnight.” For the first sentence, the word “cool” is sufficient in its entirety. For the second, “Soak beans overnight at room temperature” is sufficient and specific.
10. Don’t state the obvious. If you end a recipe with, “Serve hot, cold, warm or at room temperature,” what’s left? There is no other way to serve it. I deleted the sentence. Since the writer had no preference, there’s no need to mention it.
I’ll leave you with a good one, on the same theme. I found this line at the end of an ice cream recipe: “Serve frozen.”