MECHANICS OF WRITING
Words That Are Redundant
- years’ time
He intends to retire in three years’ time.
“Time” is redundant here and can be deleted. The sentence has the exact same meaning without it: “He intends to retire in three years.” Adding “time” only increases the chance of forgetting to use the apostrophe after “years.”
- currently + being done
The bridge is currently being repaired.
The word “currently” is both unnecessary and incorrect here. The present continuous passive structure “is being repaired” tells us that the action is taking place now. Including “currently” merely repeats that.
Alternatively, we could say,
“The bridge is currently under repair.”
- past experience
Research has shown that past experience helps us make complex decisions.
The word “past” should be removed. In this context, “experience” means knowledge based on past events or circumstances. “Past
history” and “past tradition” are similar examples.
- the mark / the level
Turnover fell below the two million mark.
“Turnover fell below two million” is sufficient. By adding “mark,” we are simply putting a redundant word at the end of the sentence.
- estimated at about
Profit is estimated at about 10 million dollars
“Estimate” and “about” have the same meaning. Write either “is estimated at 10 million dollars” or “is estimated to be 10 million dollars.”
- very unique
Kurt Cobain had a very unique voice.
Something cannot be “very unique,” not even Kurt’s voice. Things are either unique or not unique.
- think to myself
I thought to myself how strange it seemed.
And that is a very strange thing to write. After all, who else can we think to other than to ourselves? Make it “I thought how strange it seemed.”
The mistake most people make is using “less” when they actually mean “fewer”, rather than the other way round.
“Fewer” refers to items you can count individually.
“Less” refers to a commodity, such as sand or water, that you can’t count individually.
How not to do it:
There are less cakes now
Ten items or less
How to do it properly:
There are fewer cakes now
Ten items or fewer
These two work in the same way as “less” and “fewer”, referring respectively to commodities and individual items.
“Amount” refers to a commodity, which can’t be counted (for instance water).
“Number” refers to individual things that can be counted (for example birds).
How not to do it:
A greater amount of people are eating more healthily
How to do it properly:
A greater number of people are eating more healthily
The rain dumped a larger amount of water on the country than is average for the month.
- lose vs. loose
lose = a verb, to come to be without something; to suffer the loss of something.
loose=an adjective, free or released from attachment; not bound together; not strict.
How to do it properly:
I do not wish to lose more weight.
I was about to lose my ear ring.
She cannot stand the thought of losing him.
My belt is very loose around my waist.
She likes to wear her hair loose and free.
That is a loose interpretation of our document.
Companies who practice green manufacturing can get government grants.
People that like peanut butter and bologna are weird.
Companies that practice green manufacturing can get governmentgrants.
People who like peanut butter and bologna just have different tastes, that’s all.
- Singular vs. Plural Matching
Is it “Neither of these sandwiches is” or “Neither of these sandwiches are vegetarian?”
Since “neither” is singular, treat “neither of these sandwiches” as a singular noun and make the verb match.
Neither of these sandwiches is vegetarian.
- Good vs. Well
People use ”good” and “well” interchangeably.
Good is an adjective, but well is an adverb. An adverb modifies a verb — How do I sing? I sing well
But an adjective modifies a noun — What tastes good? Dinner tastes good. That’s because an adjective will also follow sense-verbs and be-verbs, so you can look good, smell good, feel good, be good. But you don’t look well, smell well, feel well, or be well.
I sing good.
Dinner tastes well.
I sing well.
Dinner tastes good.
When two or more sentences are combined incorrectly in one sentence, the sentence is a run-on.
Sentence 1: It was a beautiful day.
Sentence 2: The students went to the beach.
Run-on: It was a beautiful day the students went to the beach.
Correct run-on errors by:
- Changing the sentence into two separate sentences:
It was a beautiful day. The students went to the beach.
- A compound sentence:
It was a beautiful day, and the students went to the beach.
- A complex sentence:
Since it was such a beautiful day, the students went to the beach.
A succession of short sentences, without transitions to link them to each other, results in choppy sentences.
Our results were inconsistent. The program obviously contains an error. We need to talk to Paul Davis. We will ask him to review the program.
We will ask Paul Davis to review the program because it produced inconsistent results.
Excessive subordination is not an effective substitute for choppiness.
Doug thought that he was prepared but he failed the examination which meant that he had to repeat the course before he could graduate which he didn’t want to do because it would conflict with his summer job.
Doug thought that he was prepared, but he failed the examination. Therefore, he would have to repeat the course before he could graduate. He did not want to do that because it would conflict with his summer job.
Parts of a sentence which are in sequence must all follow the same grammatical or structural principle.
I like to swim, to sail, and rowing.
I like to swim, to sail, and to row.
Avoid Using the Passive Voice Unless Absolutely Necessary
Awkward passive: It is recommended that this experiment be tested for its effectiveness. (recommended by whom? tested by whom?)
Better (still passive): The effectiveness of this experiment should be tested.
(but tested by whom?)
Better (active): We should test the effectiveness of this experiment.
Be Simple and Concise
Choose a short word instead of a long one when the meaning is the same, and avoid jargon.
Wordy: It is expected by management that great progress will be made by personnel in providing a solution to these problems in the near future.
Better: Management expects that personnel will soon solve these problems.
Pronoun this or that
Avoid starting a sentence with the pronoun, this or that, unless it is followed by a noun or refers clearly and directly to a noun in the previous sentence. These pronouns should NOT be used to refer to the concept of the entire sentence (or paragraph, or essay) preceding it.
Example: A scientist’s work has no value unless he shares his thoughts with the scientiﬁc community. That is the cornerstone of science. (What is ‘that’? Try “That communication . . .”)
Avoid the Use of ‘there is’ or ‘there are’ to Begin a Sentence
After you complete these programs, there are many leagues available for you to join.
After you complete these programs, you can join one of the many leagues available.
A modifier (a word, phrase, or clause that describes something else) must modify something in the sentence. A dangling modifier occurs when the element being modified is implied rather than stated.
Turning the corner onto Peachtree Street, the park looked scenic.
(In this sentence, it is unclear who or what turned the corner. Grammatically, it seems that the park turned the corner.)
Turning the corner onto Peachtree Street, we noticed the park looked scenic.
(“We” turned the corner, so “we” needs to be in the sentence.)
An infinitive is “to” with a verb. A split infinitive is an infinitive with a word or words in between the “to” and the verb. Split infinitives do not necessarily cause confusion, but many readers disapprove.
The professor asked the students to quickly take the quiz.
(“To take” is an infinitive and should not be split by an adverb.)
The professor asked the students to take the quiz quickly.
(“Quickly” can be moved after “to take the quiz.” It is important not to create misplaced modifier by placing “quickly” at the beginning of the sentence.)
A fragment is an incomplete sentence. A sentence is incomplete because it is a part of a sentence separated from an independent clause or because it is lacking a subject or predicate.
The inevitable laying off of faculty and staff.
(This sentence has no predicate. )
The laying off of faculty and staff is inevitable.
(The sentence is no longer a fragment because there is now a subject, “the laying off of faculty and staff,” and a predicate, “is inevitable.”)
Lack of subject/verb agreement
The verb in a sentence must agree with the subject in number and person. If the subject is plural, the verb form must also be plural. If singular, then singular. Additionally, if the subject is first person, the verb must be also.
One of my professors always spill coffee on my papers.
(Although “professors” is plural, the subject of this sentence, “one of my professors,” is singular. The plural form of the verb is wrong.)
One of my professors always spills coffee on my papers.
(Both the subject and verb are now singular.)
Vague pronoun reference
A pronoun must clearly refer to a subject. A vague pronoun reference occurs when a pronoun could refer to more than one subject or the subject that the pronoun refers to is only implied. Either way, the reader can be confused as to what subject the pronoun refers to.
If your students don’t do well on their quizzes, they must not be very good.
(“They” is a vague pronoun in this sentence because it could refer to the students or the quizzes.)
Your quizzes must not be very good if your students don’t do well on them.
(In this sentence, it is clear that “they” refers to the quizzes and not the students.)
Lack of pronoun agreement
Use pronouns exactly and consistently. The pronoun must agree with the number, gender, and type of subject.
Each member of the rowing team had to set their alarm for three in the morning.
(“Each member” is singular, so the pronoun must also be singular.)
Each member of the rowing team had to set her alarm for three in the morning.
(The noun and pronoun are both singular.)
Use of needless words
There are two kinds of thats — ones that you need, and ones that you don’t. When you delete a that, re-read the sentence and
see if it still makes sense. If it does, you didn’t need it; if it doesn’t, you did.
Delete: This is the food that I ordered.
Keep: I want to eat that steak.
- Anything that ends in -ly
You can get rid of almost any adverb in your writing; adverbs weaken writing because they detract from what’s being said. It’s one more unnecessary word that bogs down the narrative, and when it’s overused, can jolt a reader out of their reverie.
An adverb modifies a verb, but why would you need to? Never describe a verb, use a descriptive verb instead.
Delete: He ran quickly.
Keep: He raced.
Delete: The cannon fired loudly.
Keep: The cannon thundered.
Delete: She ate noisily.
Keep: She gulped down her food.
- I think, it seems, in my opinion
Unless you’re writing a news article, everything in your blog is your opinion. It’s not a fact, evidence, or an incontrovertible truth. So you don’t need to tell that it’s your opinion by littering it with “I think,” “in my opinion,” or “IMHO.”
If you want to be more authoritative and credible, remove all references to your opinion, unless it’s absolutely necessary to mention it. For example, if you’re writing a news article, but you have to add something you’re not sure of, then drop in a qualifier to avoid confusing the reader who might mistake your opinion for a statement of fact.
Delete: I absolutely think that it will greatly improve your writing.
Keep : It will improve your writing.