10 Ways to Write Clear Recipes

May 212013
 

No matter what you want readers to make, instructions must be clear and concise. That sounds obvious, I know.

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.”

***

 

  100 Responses to “10 Ways to Write Clear Recipes”

  1. I think of you, Dianne, every time I write up a recipe to post. Many thanks – Liz

  2. Love your list, Dianne, but I things that seem obvious to you, me, and to most people, aren’t always obvious to everyone. i.e. your #10 and really…the whole list.

    I frequently/multiple times per week have people write in with questions/statements along the lines of…I don’t want to use a stick of butter and I’m going to replace half of it with applesauce. The cookies will still work, right? Ummm… sure.

    Or, I didn’t have any brown sugar but wanted to make your brown sugar cookies and I used white sugar and my cookies don’t look like yours do in your pics. (really? shocking :))

    So I have found that even the most OBVIOUS things, require explanation. My most popular recipe on my entire site is a smoothie. And I get at least 3-4 questions a week on how to blend a smoothie or questions related to that recipe.

    Such a juggling act to try to write recipes succinctly but also balance it with KNOWING that if I write things in such a way, I’ll end up answerign the question over and over in the comments or on email.

    And #8 – Love this. And I feel like we ‘have to’ start out, “To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment…” because that’s the way cookbooks seem to be written but I wish it wasn’t the current norm.

    Love this post!

    • Oh gosh, this is sad, Averie. People don’t know how to blend a smoothie? On “blend” in the BLENDer?

      There’s lots of bad cookbook writing out there. I’m expecting my readers to do better. Lead the charge!

      • Love this article, Dianne. I am always trying to think of the correct way to say things, without being too wordy. I have the same problem with my readers that Averie does though. I find they all want to be spoon fed, and not have to interpret or figure anything out on their own. Maybe a lot of my readers have no kitchen experience at all, I’m not sure. But to get all the ” I changed this, this, and this, and it didn’t work at all” makes me want to bang my head on my keyboard some days.

        • It’s frustrating when readers don’t follow the recipe and create a failure. I don’t see how you can control that. If people want to do their own thing, you can’t stop them! Just don’t take any blame for it.

  3. I’ve gone over things like these with copyeditors, who ask for more clarification when I say things like “chill for 12 hours”, and they’ll ask to clarify where it gets chilled. (In the refrigerator, which I think is obvious but I guess isn’t…) And I’ve been asked by readers for things like how much a medium banana or two slices of cheese for a sandwich weighs. Two excellent cookbook editors said to me recently that you can’t have too much information so I try to keep that in mind; the balance between telling as much as I can, but in a succinct way. Great tips to set aside when writing a recipe! ; )

    • You are kidding me. Next time tell them you leave things on your window ledge in winter. And the second example is just hilarious. You can’t have too much information, I agree, except for when it’s too much. Such as “serve frozen.” I think that was too much.

      • It’s such a funny balancing act because if there is a question or something not mentioned in a recipe, someone will be sure to ask it. If you include everything – including all the variations and possible substitutions, well, then you’ve got a 3 page brownie recipe on your hand, with step-by-step photos. Yet folks love books, tv shows, etc that dissect recipes and explain food science and so forth in detail. So hopefully there’s room for all – and people can cross reference books and websites to find answers.

        • It’s true – I just had an editor ask me in which type of vessel I should store components of a multi-step recipe I’m writing! (Um… should I admit that I just throw things into whatever cereal bowl’s clean while I’m moving on to the next step?) It’s an interesting balancing act to provide as much information as possible without dumbing things down too much.

        • Indeed. That’s what’s great about a blog post: write as short or as long a recipe as you like, and include links to videos and more discussion of technique or ingredients. If only books were so flexible.

      • Ha! Don’t laugh about the window ledge thing. My husband grew up learning that keeping things on the window ledge in winter is an alternate source of chilling. I also know a blogger (an excellent, experienced baker) who had to cool something very quickly and placed it outside in the snow – to her the best and quickest way – only to discover that the squirrels had a sweet tooth.

        But just to add to what David said, sometimes I do add things to my recipes just to stress for the reader who doesn’t pay attention, like “bake in the preheated oven” – to remind them that the oven should, in fact, be preheated. I do tell readers to place in the refrigerator to chill. It not only tells them where but what it should be doing, as in “chilling is a necessary step of the recipe”. I really think it all depends upon the level and knowledge of our readers – the ones who actually use our recipes. Enough feedback and we learn what they want and need. Over the years, I have streamlined my recipes but still add the details that I think my readers – or at least part of them – need.

        • “Bake in a preheated oven” sounds fine to me. Re chilling, it’s often necessary to tell people how long. But “chill in the refrigerator” sounds redundant. Hey, if you want to chill it outside, who cares? It will work.

          The window ledge reminds me of a story. I visited a cousin in Montreux when I was fresh out of high school. He had only a hotplate and a tiny apartment, but he cooked a family meal and left the pots outside on the ledge overnight. His fridge was too small to accommodate even one pot. I was scandalized by the idea but it made a lot of sense, considering the alternatives.

          Details are always important in a recipe, I agree. Redundancy is not.

  4. This list is great, and I know I’ve been guilty of most of these at one time or another. I think, though, that my over-explaining comes from years of receiving emails from people who clearly don’t have much cooking experience. I remember once I wrote a recipe that called for “milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips” (which, in retrospect, perhaps wasn’t the best choice of words either). I got a terrible review and an angry email from someone saying she had used milk but the mixture was way too watery, and why wasn’t there any chocolate in the recipe? Yes, she had used just plain milk instead of milk chocolate chips, and of course it had failed.

    This experience, and other like it, have made me err on the side of caution and NOT assume too much knowledge on the part of the reader. But I am sure that my verbose recipes could still use some judicious trimming. Thanks for the reminder. :)

    PS I’ve only recently started following your blog, but I’ve been a fan for years. I’m currently working on a proposal for my second book and am re-reading the proposal chapter in Will Write for Food. Thank you for all of your great information!

    • Hah! That’s funny. The answer, of course, was to say milk chocolate chips or semi-sweet chocolate chips, which is wordier but less subject to interpretation. There’s a difference between being succinct and clear and succinct and leaving readers scratching their heads. I suspect you know which it is, most of the time.

      Thanks for the hat tip. There’s probably even more to say about proposals. I too have to try to be succinct.

  5. Smiles of recognition on many of these, Dianne! I prefer “refrigerate” to “chill” as it solves both purpose and location in one word. As for “add the butter to the bowl,” it conjures for me an awkward image of mixing bowl and butter together. Can’t we just say, “mix the butter and sugar in a medium bowl,” “heat the oil in the pan, then add the potatoes and stir to coat,” etc.? (Latter case: you are adding the potatoes to the oil, not to the pan!)

    • “Refrigerate” is fine. It is more specific than “chill” although kind of old-fashioned. I like your sentences more than “add the butter to the bowl” which seems awkward. “Add” is such an overused term in recipe writing, sometimes worse than “mixture.”

  6. Perfect timing Dianne! I am just over a week away from turning in my cookbook manuscript and am raking over my recipes as we speak. I totally agree with all of these points you have made, however I’m also nodding my head reading Davids comments above. After hearing back from recipe testers I’ve actually gone back and added in more detail as many thought my explanations were not in depth enough… like assuming people know how to boil a corn of cob themselves! It’s a bit sad I know, but it’s true that many people out there don’t even know the basics of cooking and so we are teaching them through our books.

    I’m feeling the urge to actually go back over my manuscript again just to double check I haven’t got to many ‘mixtures’ ;-) xx

  7. Great advice Dianne! I’m currently reading your book and will be at the Cook’s Warehouse event. I can’t wait to learn more about food writing.

  8. Yikes, sometimes I do put food outside in the snow to chill. Covered, of course. So, I guess I better skip, “Cover and set aside to chill in the snow. If you don’t live in Colorado or Montana, refrigerate.”

    But, seriously, you’re my “go-to” reference for anything recipe related. You’re a master and I appreciate all your help! And your good humor.

    Melissa
    PS Will be calling on you again one of these days.

    • I like that explanation of “chill.” But you can only get away with it once per book, I imagine. Look forward to working with you again, Melissa.

  9. Great pointers, Dianne. Looking forward to meeting you June 1st.
    I once blogged on making Peanut Butter, Banana French Toast. In the directions, I said “prepare a peanut butter, banana sandwich, then coat both sides of the sandwich in the egg mixture.” Before I learned about SEO and traffic building, I was posting my recipes on a particular website. A world wide, well known website. My recipe was placed in the queue until I made changes. One of the admins asked me to “describe in detail” how to make a peanut butter, banana sandwich. I was befuddled. I was told “there are many in the world who view our site and may not know how to make a sandwich.”
    Some details we take for granted but one must always consider the lacking of our pleasures in other parts of the world. Our pleasures meaning…peanut butter banana sandwich.

    • Definitely, Pam. Peanut butter and banana on toast is one of my favorite breakfasts,but there’s no reason readers of an international site would know about it — or appreciate it, for that matter.

      PS Thanks for spreading the word about Atlanta. See you there!

  10. you have definitely struck a nerve here Dianne, old habits are hard to break and your post reminds us how important being precise with our writing is.

    Thanks for all you do to help us become better food writers!

    Cheers
    Dennis

  11. As a writer I appreciate trimming unnecessary verbiage to be as succinct as possible (thought share Averie’s experience of reader questions from readers on terms that might be surprising). Something else sprang to mind as I read this with regard to copyright provisions. With content theft being so constant, ordinary terms in recipe instructions leaves exposure for them not to be shielded by copyright provisions. Therefore an argument can be made for writing uniquely and perhaps not as succinctly to ensure if ones work is stolen there is recourse. Just a thought.

    • That is an interesting point, Toni. I’m not suggesting that people write boring copy. There are lots of lively ways to write instructions, and I don’t want to tamp any of that creativity down. Julia Child, for example, wrote very long instructions, but they were never verbose.

  12. Thank you for these tips. I’ve just started food blogging and find your site so helpful. I know I’m new at this but I wonder if it makes a difference who the targeted audience is? There are a lot of people out there now who have no idea how to cook. They don’t get it much in school, or even at home. So what seems like common sense to me might not be understood by someone else. Thanks again for the tips. Time to go back and edit again!

    • Definitely! Excellent point, Marie. You need to know the skill level of your readers, and write to them. If that takes more explaining, so be it.

  13. great tips, as usual!

  14. I do think that a couple of your “no no”s are useful sometimes. “Set aside” can help people who are easily confused, although those specific words aren’t necessary; they may be looking at the recipe and say to themselves, “Wait a minute! I was just working on a flour mixture, and now I’m doing something with liquids. What happened to the flour?” Also, sometimes I roll out dough with my palm rather than a rolling pin so one does have to specify on occasion. Otherwise, I love your list!

    • Yes, many people disagree with me on that one. But I don’t think there’s any confusion when someone goes from greasing a pan to making a dish. My point is that “set aside” is overused.

      Re “roll out the dough,” roll implies a rolling pin. If you were to use your hands, you might write something like “Stretch out the dough to form a 8-inch diameter circle.”

  15. Gerat tips – love #9 “No permission needed.” Recipe writing is such a fine balance about being succinct but also guiding the less educated home cooks out there too. Always enjoy your posts and learn so much from them.

    • Thanks for saying so, Deanna. Yes, the less educated home cooks need guidance, no question about that. I’m not opposed to explaining more, must to being verbose or boring.

  16. Dianne, thanks for offering the replacement words for “mixture”. I always try to avoid using that word, based on your advice, but often I don’t know what word to use in it’s place! Helpful post.

  17. Thanks for the great tips on recipe writing. I too have been guilty of adding too much information which might be redundant. Believe it or not, some people do not know that you need a rolling pin to roll out dough.

    • I suppose that goes to who your readers are and whether they know how to roll out dough. I can see your point.

  18. I just edited a recipe where I used “top” five times in one paragraph. Wish I’d had this checklist at hand at the time.

    Your advice on mix/mixture had me laughing. This list is a practical and entertaining reminder to all recipes writers. Don’t set aside. Print out!

    • Ooh. Sorry about that Charmian. It happens all the time. That goes to my first point about how writing is rewriting. You probably looked at it several times too.

      Glad you got a laugh out of this post. The “mixture” thing makes me crazy!

  19. Thanks for this list, Dianne! As a new food blogger, I’m guilty of a lot of these, especially the “allow/let” the food…..(fill in the blank). I now realize how ridiculous that sounds – and I guarantee your way of phrasing it will have me re-thinking every time I try to tell people to allow their food to do anything.

    I just started following your blog but have read your “Will Write for Food” many times over now – if ebooks could be dog-eared, my copy of your book would be!

    Thanks!

    • Oh good. You’ve realized you don’t have to give foods permission to chill. Excellent, Jessie.

      Thanks for the compliment. My book doesn’t sell as well as an e-book, probably because people love to mark it up.

  20. Thank you. I will think of this post each time I write.

  21. I have been reading and writing recipes for decades. The biggest offense in my opinion is this: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare dough. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight. Wait for electric bill!

  22. This is great. I am in the process of editing all my recipes and this will come in very handy. Thank you for this insight and for sharing.

  23. There is such a fine line isn’t there? Brevity is a problem for some; I was recently lambasted for not spelling out to test a cake to see if it was done…because hers was not and evidently needed more cooking time. I suppose I write with some presumption of experience and knowledge on the user’s part regarding variances that can come from ovens, ingredients and even in my case…altitude.

    Nonetheless…this post was good for several chuckles and that was sorely needed this morning!

    • Oh good. Happy to give you a laugh, Barbara. Regarding telling whether a cake is done, usually people give two estimations: time and a visual description. You probably did that.

  24. This is a great list – I always try to balance how I would actually say things with what is specific enough for someone who’s never baked before – but I do like to assume people have common sense! I had a comment once “I found the dough too sticky so I added another cup of flour. This recipe tasted way too floury, I won’t make it again” – HA! I love your “permission” one, I’ve never thought about it before, how generously we “allow” the bread to rise :)

    • Hah! Too floury. That is funny and kind of sad, eh?

      Yes, we have so much control over our lives that we can allow bread to rise. Who knew?

  25. Dianne, thank you for your common sense approach to recipe writing. I used to type cookbooks for a living and the publisher’s catch phrase was “simplify” — not “dumb it down” or resort to redundancy. If/when I do spell it out too much (or not enough), it’s because it makes sense to me! But, that’s the beauty of the comment section. Questions and clarifications = dialogue!

    • Yes, they are definitely two different things. Not everyone understands that. Your kind of blog comments sound productive — mostly commenters have been writing about how people change the recipes and then wonder why they don’t work.

  26. P.S. Have fun in Georgia! Wishing I could join you… checking the info now. (Thanks for the links!)

  27. I laughed when I read this, Dianne, because I totally agree with you on all points. However, I’ve read again and again in recipe-writing manuals/books/etc. that you have to assume that the reader will NOT know what you’re talking about and, therefore, you should be as explicit as you can. So, I’m guilty of most of those points in my cookbook. Although, I’ve trimmed down my recipes since then. Thanks for the list.

    • I am all for being explicit. If that means, for your readership, you have to write “roll the dough out with a rolling pin,” so be it. But most of the examples are writing that is neither explicit nor useful. I doubt that you are guilty of that, Roberta.

  28. Killed myself laughing at your advice. I am keenly aware of all, but do the “set aside”. Must stop that. Hope I have the others under my belt. I should. They drive me crazy, too – but, no one proof reads my recipes. I should also change that.
    Thanks for the eye-opening giggle. :)
    Valerie

    • Oh that’s good. Happy to give you a good laugh, Valerie. Not everyone agrees with me on “set aside.” And yes, someone besides you should be reading your recipes. You’ll be better off.

  29. Excellent tips, Diane! Hard to read, poorly written recipes drive me out of my mind. Thanks for the helpful reminders.

  30. Such a comprehensive list! Thank you so much, Dianne!

  31. Dianne, you would have been driven mad by the instruction booklet that came with my blow dryer. Instructions included: “Do not use in the shower or bathtub.” What? I like to lather my hair, dry it, rinse it and dry it again?!

    • Don’t get me started. My favorite instruction is one my husband told me about, on the back of a disposable wipe: “Tear open.Use.” Just in case it wasn’t clear.

  32. Thanks for the tips!

  33. [...] at Will Write for Food, 10 Ways to Write Clear Recipes [...]

  34. I LOVED this post – I’m going to review it every time I post !! Thanks ! (I found your wonderful website via a link at FoodieCrush !)

  35. Quick comment – about the “serve frozen”… sometimes the directions for a frozen dessert tell you to leave it out for a bit before serving… perhaps the writer wanted to specify… never mind… I just remembered your rule – Don’t State the Obvious!
    Wow – I’m already learning !!

    • Hah! You mean like when you make an ice cream cake, and it’s hard as a rock. Yes, in that case, you need to tell people to let it sit out for 5-10 minutes so they can cut it.

  36. Dianne – I really, really, really like this post (so useful!). But, I have a question about rule #2: “set aside.”

    Should we fully set aside “set aside?” I was recently revising a frittata recipe and wanted to make sure the beaten eggs were seasoned and prepared ahead of time. This way, recipe readers could simply “add the eggs” without interrupting work flow when the time came (i.e., “add the eggs”).

    I cross-referenced many frittata recipes from a wide variety of sources (all of which can be very different) and noticed that David Lebovitz’s instincts to prep, then “set aside” the eggs in step 1 were the same as my own. (His example, step 1, here: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2013/03/kale-frittata-recipe/)

    Since all rules are not hard and fast (and many have exceptions), what do you say about “set aside” when it speeds things up? Or, creates clarity? Or, should we just “go on with the recipe?”

    Thanks again – your blog is, hands down, my favorite! So glad to have your tips and tricks at my fingertips!
    -Helana

    • Really, it’s up to you Helana.

      I sense your question is about needing to tell readers, at the end of a step,”you’re done with that for now.” It’s superfluous! Can you imagine working on your car where it says “you’re done with that for now” that at the end of every step? You’d throw that manual across the garage.

      Readers can see that the step has ended because another step follows.The fact that it is a new or different step shouldn’t throw them. They can see how many steps there are, and that there are more to go. They can see they’re not finished yet.

      In this example, they are making a frittata. Eggs are kinda critical. They can conclude that they will use the eggs in a later step. I don’t think I’m giving them too much credit.

      Maybe I’m alone in this point of view, but there it is. My real issue is that “set aside” is overused. If it’s in a recipe once, so be it.

      I’m interested in your point that writing “set aside” speeds things up. Can you explain?

      • To get around “set aside,” I will often write my next step with words like “in a separate bowl…” in order to help the reader realize that we are in fact onto a new task within the recipe. Depending on the order/steps of a recipe, I don’t think one can always assume (especially with inexperienced cooks) that readers will pick up from context not to add ingredients to the same mixing bowl, skillet, etc. as the previous step, and so I think there are indeed situations where language is necessary to state “we are done with this now” – sure not every time, but certainly sometimes. I have certainly made that mistake before when I wasn’t reading carefully enough!

        • That seems like a good solution, Jenn, for when it’s not obvious that the task is different. You could also indicate size of bowls to show that they are different tasks too.

  37. Thanks, Dianne–so timely! I’m uploading a blog with a couple recipes in a few days, and I’ll have to check them against your advice. As always, enjoying your writing…

  38. [...] for me, there are some great resources out there, and I came across this one this week: Dianne Jacob’s blog about how to write recipes for clarity. If you’ve read that, then I will have to confess to [...]

  39. Hi, Dianne! How are you?

    I’d just like to thank you for “Will Write For Food”. It is a great book about writing and it has inspired me to do it again, which, as weird as it may sound, since I am a journalist, I hadn’t done in a long time. In April, I started my own food blog, about sweets, where I post everything from recipes I make to books and TV shows I like (regarding sweets, of course), and I just love working on it and getting all the nice and helpful feedback from my readers. It is amazing!

    Again, thank you very much for inspiring me to do so and congratulations on your great, great work. :)

    Best regards,

    Nathalia

    • Hello Natalia, thank you very much. I do understand that even though we are both trained as journalists, we don’t always write. It has happened to me as well. But now you are back, and I hope it continues to be a source of joy for you.

  40. What a fantastic go-to list. I’m printing this out and keeping it close. I find recipe writing so difficult because of the need to explain directions vs tell a story. These instructions will be so very helpful! Thank you!

    • My pleasure, Rebecca. I find recipe writing difficult sometimes too. When I’m stuck, I go to my cookbooks to see how they have explained it. I always find the answer.

  41. I’m guilty of so many of these but the most common one is 7- When the soup comes to a boil but perhaps that is because that’s the way I would talk to a friend about the recipe. So which way do i go?

    • It’s not a huge change for you to say “when the soup boils.” It still sounds like regular conversation. Go for it! You can do it!

  42. Great list Dianne. A good reminder no matter how long you’ve been writing. As I’ve begun my first cookbook project (co-authoring), I will keep all of this in mind. Of course, we will see what the editor eventually does!

    I aim to do #4…trim, trim. It’s always a balancing act to find the right amount of explanation versus being too wordy. How we write a recipe may depend on our audience, whether it’s a more experienced group or just learning to cook. I also review older recipes and sometimes revise the language to try and improve or clarify.

    I had a reader (and a good friend!) write to me about a list of ingredients. I wrote in the recipe “add x through x”. He said that confused him. He wanted me to list each ingredient he was adding. I always think about him when I write a recipe now.

    I appreciate #8 too. If I find myself writing this way and it sounds too stuffy, I revise and make it sound more like I would talk. Maybe it’s an older way of writing, and we are striving to do the “right” thing. Nice thing about blogs, we can revise so easily!

    The examples of people putting food outside to cool made me laugh as I thought of my mom putting Thanksgiving stuffing out in the garage overnight because of not enough fridge space. Today that makes me cringe from a food safety standpoint, yet no one ever had a problem with her stuffing!

    • Good luck with the co-authoring project, Sally. You’ll probably get tons of comments from the copy editor.

      Yes, definitely a balancing act. The key is knowing your audience and being concise, from my standpoint.

      Don’t worry, there are still tons of cookbooks and blogs with recipes that start with “In a bowl, combine.” No one talks that way either.

      Seems like a lot of people have memories of food cooling outdoors. Hey it worked and no one got sick, right?

  43. Nice list, Dianne, some very salient points!

    Curious about “comes to a boil” – how do you write if you want the reader to take action as soon as the food is boiling? I think saying until boiling implies that there is not nearly as much of a time dependence, as if boiling were a state to be held in perpetuity – that I could go tend to something else while I wait, come back and notice my pot was boiling and then continue on with my recipe. However, “coming to a boil” implies to me that the next step will be necessary at the very beginning of the boiling process and that I will need to watch it to make sure I don’t miss the right time to carry out the next step. Maybe I read too much into the semantics of these phrasings…

    • It’s good that you think about semantics this way, Jenn. I applaud it.

      What I find is that inexperienced writers write about what is “going to happen” or “about to happen” when they could just say that it happens. When I see too many of those in a recipe — or in writing — the writing looks weak.

      If it’s a critical to take the next step immediately, the second that a sauce boils, that’s different. But most of the time, it’s not.

  44. Well, this was educational. All this time when a recipe said “chill”, I thought I was just supposed to get a brandy, put on some jazz, and sit back for a while.

    So after reading all the comments, I have to ask, who exactly is the audience? Are some of you adding all those words to write to he dumbest person wh might use it, or is it better to assume that if someone is using your recipe, that they have at least some level of intelligence? And if cookbook editors are so worried, maybe they need to start adding a standard glossary to the back of the book with common definitions. Then, the recipes can be more simple, and the people who do not understand that “bake” might actually require an oven would have a place to look.

  45. [...] technical side of food-writing. Dianne Jacob indulges us with her recent and excellent guide on writing and editing recipes for clarity and [...]

  46. Thanks for these helpful recipe-writing tips, Dianne! I’m printing this page and framing it above my desk. This is a must-learn for everyone who writes recipes and food articles.

    • My pleasure, Betty Ann. Just when I think I’ve got nothing new to say about recipe writing, I get an editing job and find even more to rant about!

  47. [...] 10 Ways to Write Clear Recipes, and 2 New Events [...]

  48. […] 7. Check your recipes. If you include a recipe, make sure you’ve listed all the ingredients, and that they are listed in the order used. Don’t even get me started on all the other things that can go wrong, but this one is number one. I’ve written lots about recipe writing here. […]

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