Simple, clear help for your writing problems

Archives for word choice category

Is verbosity among your writing problems? It may be, and you don’t even know it. Why? Because conversation is usually loaded with unnecessary words… and writers typically create “conversational” prose. (If your prose doesn’t sound conversational, visit Writing Problems Explained often; we’ll keep working on it.)

Verbosity means wordiness. Wordy writing is bad writing. A reader faced with too many words may give up. The Internet reinforces this: if the point you’re making doesn’t fit on one screen, you may lose your reader; scrolling is too much trouble.

Edit for Brevity

Good writers and even very bad editors focus on brevity. One goal of a magazine or newspaper editor is to cut as much from an article as possible without losing the story’s meaning or the author’s voice. A succinct writer decreases the editor’s workload and sees fewer changes from final draft to published copy.

When you create web content, cut your own words. Be brutal: chop the chaff from every sentence. Chuck sentences—and even paragraphs—that don’t contribute to your main point. Here are some strategies to help:

Don’t Be Chatty

Unless you’ve written fiction or a journal entry, get to the point. Comments about your dog or your niece add character, but inject too many of them and you’ll distract your readers to annoyance.

Don’t Try to Sound Authoritative

Most people trying to sound authoritative sound stiff; they say too much and they load what they say with big words. Consider the spokesperson for a police investigation:

“We have absolutely no information at this time, but we’ll make a formal announcement the moment there’s a change in the situation.”

Without the swagger, the spokesperson might have said:

“We don’t know, but we’ll tell you when we do.”

Sound authoritative by being authoritative, but don’t try to sound authoritative.

Scrutinize Your Wording

As you write a sentence, ask yourself: “Can I say this more efficiently?” Here are examples of changes I made as I wrote this article:

I wrote: A goal of a magazine or newspaper editor reworking an article is to cut out as much text as possible without losing the meaning of the story or the voice of the author.

And edited to: One goal of a magazine or newspaper editor is to cut as much from an article as possible without losing the story’s meaning or the author’s voice.

I wrote: Of course, when you create web content, if falls to you to cut your own words.

And edited to: When you create web content, cut your own words.

I wrote: You add character by throwing in comments about your dog or your niece, but…

And edited to: Comments about your dog or your niece add character, but…

I wrote: Here are examples of changes I made on-the-fly as I wrote sentences in earlier paragraphs of this article:

And edited to: Here are examples of changes I made as I wrote this article:

Do your readers the favor of editing your work before you make it public on the web.

Eliminate Common Verbosity

There may be hundreds of popular turns-of-phrase that employ unnecessary words. You probably use them in conversation and in your writing. Here are examples:

Allows you tonever say this. Replace it with Lets you.

Now and Currently—very overused words. In the opening of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, you can see the folly of the word now on a sign that reads You are now in Bedford Falls. A sign reading, You are in Bedford Falls would be just as clear, and would cost less to make. A meteorologist who announces that the temperature is currently 72 degrees, wastes three syllables. You’d understand perfectly the announcement, The temperature is 72 degrees.

Absolutely certain—unnecessary overstatement. If you’re certain, then your knowledge is absolute; you can’t be more certain than certain.

At this time or At this point or the nauseating At this point in timestop using these phrases! Instead, use the word now. It’s a good word.

Practice to Reduce Writing Problems

Here are several verbose phrases that I lifted from various blogs. Rewrite them using fewer words. My rewrites follow the list:

  1. Take into consideration that…
  2. If you think that having bluebirds in your yard is a near-impossible idea…
  3. If you want to save on time…
  4. This is over and above other ideas you might consider…
  5. You may want to put a gasket…
  6. As it stands right now…
  7. Overall, the ultimate goal of Jack Plunket’s art is to show the world from the point of view that Plunket’s dog saw it.

My rewrites:

  1. Consider that…
  2. If you think you can’t have bluebirds in your yard…
  3. To save time… (Also: Save time by…)
  4. Also consider…
  5. Put a gasket…
  6. As it stands…
  7. Jack Plunket’s art shows the world from his dog’s point of view.

Keep practicing. Be vigilant. Verbosity should not be one of your writing problems.

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I haven’t done a scientific study, but I suspect that misusing the words your and you’re is among the most common writing problems on the internet. It is unbelievable how often internet content creators mix up these two words.

I suspect that nearly all internet content creators can correctly explain the meanings of your and you’re. Still, these words show up incorrectly in blog-after-blog, and article-after-article.

Eliminate You’re and Your from your Writing Problems

Here’s the simple explanation:

The word you’re means you are.

Your means that which belongs to you.

Every writer owes his or her readers a promise to know this and to exercise the knowledge. If you ever have problems with your and you’re, there’s a simple trick you can use to make sure you choose correctly:

When you’re writing a sentence with the word your or you’re in it, stop and do this:

Recite the sentence out loud, replacing the word your or you’re with you are.

If the result is nonsense, use your in the original sentence.

If the test sentence makes sense, use you’re in the original sentence.

This always works!!!

Why is You’re one of Your Writing Problems?

This is a bigger question than one blog post can answer; the internet publishing arena encourages—even rewards—behavior that gives rise to writing problems. If you seem always to swap your with you’re, it could be simply because you’re working too quickly.

But there are other insidious reasons to mess up with these words. For example, your spell-checker software recognizes both your and you’re as acceptable spellings of real words. Worse: grammar-checking software can be lazy. It may flag an instance of your not because the word use is incorrect, but because the grammar-checker really doesn’t know; it alerts you heavy-handedly that your may be the wrong word choice!

So, reread everything you write before you commit it to the internet. Habitually run each your and you’re through the test I proposed above. If mistakes continue to slip through, create a cheat sheet and tape it to your monitor, or place it in some other prominent place where you can glance at it as-needed while you’re proof-reading your work.

Practice to Reduce Your Writing Problems

Here are some examples of the “you are” test in action:

In the sentence, What’s your problem? Replace your with you are. It reads, What’s you are problem? The test sentence is nonsense, so your is the correct word.

Try: If your reading this, your going to reduce you’re writing problems. The test sentence becomes, If you are reading this, you are going to reduce you are writing problems. Fixing the original sentence is a piece of cake: Replace each your with you’re and replace the your with you’re.

Enjoy these other articles to help with your writing problems:

  • Writing An Outstanding Blog Post In 5 (ok, make that 6) Easy Steps – Wether you’re blogging for fun, for fame, for money, to get your thoughts on paper (err, i mean, on computer screens), because you’re a relationship geek, or for no particular reason. You probably want people to read your stuff! …

  • Common Grammar Mistakes – I’m not a language expert. I just know some basic English. I just like to share some of the most common grammar mistakes that I know of. Actually, I also fall for these mistakes from time to time. 1. Your and You’re. …


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Apparently, most grocery and discount store managers have writing problems. Their misuse of the word less has been decried by patrons for decades. I hope you know I’m talking about those signs at checkout counters that read, 12 items or less.

Store managers don’t seem to care that they’re contributing to the world’s writing problems. You see, people shaping society today grew up reading those signs, and many don’t know the difference between the words less and fewer. People who do know the difference may be put off when they see the wrong word at work in your prose. For example, when Turner Network Television (TNT) started running adds with the tag line, “Get more movie, less commercials on TNT,” I was aghast! These guys have hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of employees, and they couldn’t come up with a grammatically sound tag line.

You’ll be more successful as a creator of internet content if you learn the difference between less and fewer. (And your writing will be better than that of Turner Network Television.)

Decrease your Writing Problems by One

Here’s what every writer needs to learn:

If you have discrete items, you can have more of them and you can have fewer of them.

If you are describing something that you can divide into portions of any size—and any amount of that thing is still that thing, then you can have more of the thing or less of it.

Here’s how it works: A candy bar is a discrete item. If you have ten candy bars and you eat some, you end up with fewer candy bars. In contrast, candy is not a discrete item. If you have a whole lot of candy and if you eat some, you’ll have less candy.

Get it Right, Always

If you’re about to use the word less in a sentence, do this:

Identify what less is referring to and ask the question “How much (item) do I have?”

So, if you’re about to write, “Belinda was concerned about having less apples than she needed to make the pie,” stop. You’re talking about apples, so say the sentence “How much apples do I have?”

Does the test sentence make sense? No! You can safely conclude that less is the wrong word; use fewer.

If you’re about to write, “Belinda was concerned about having less flour than she needed to make the pie,” you’ll be pleased when you construct the test sentence: “How much flour do I have?” The test sentence makes perfect sense, so less is the correct word.

Reinforce the Lesson

Use the word fewer when you’re talking about discrete items. Use the word less when you’re talking about indiscrete stuff. Here are some examples to help ingrain the difference:

Fewer apples, less applesauce

Fewer ice cubes, less ice

Fewer grains of sand, less sand

Fewer cans and bottles, less junk

Fewer boxes, packages, and cartons; fewer groceries; less food

To answer the question proposed in the title of this article: You want fewer writing problems, fewer mistakes, less difficulty.


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