Simple, clear help for your writing problems

Archives for October, 2009

I read an article recently about Justin Timberlake’s golf course. The article explained that Mr Timberlake had played the first round at a golf course he had bought and rennovated. The article went on to say: The Memphis native got the idea to buy the course from his dad in 2007.

Do you see any problems with the statement?

The Problem: Did Mr Timberlake buy the course from his dad? Or, did Mr Timberlake get the idea from his dad? The statement allows either interpretation. Most readers will figure this out, but you should never ask them to work that hard.

The Fix: Rearrange the sentence and it becomes:

The Memphis native got the idea from his dad to buy the course in 2007.

Alternatively, the sentence could read:

The Memphis native got the idea from his dad in 2007 to buy the course.

Can you avoid such writing problems?

There’s no easy trick for eliminating these types of writing problems. Perhaps the simplest defense against them is to read your work carefully… twice… out loud. If there is any ambiguity in meaning, rewrite the sentence to remove the ambiguity.

This sentence fails because it introduces Justin doing two things: getting the idea, and buying the golf course. It identifies only one party with whom Justin might have been involved. That should get you asking: which of Justin’s actions actually involved his dad? If it’s not difficult to interpret the sentence either way, assume that there is something wrong and rewrite to fix it.

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