Simple, clear help for your writing problems

Be Clear About Who is Who

There’s a class of writing problems that are very subtle. They arise when you lose track of the person about whom you’re writing. Simple statements become, at best, silly, and at worst, gibberish when you make this type of writing error.

A classic example of these writing problems has been running in a television advertisement lately. The announcer says something like, Do you have a problem with intangible digiplasitosis? Talk to your doctor. I did. It’s pretty clear what the announcer meant, but what the announcer said is that she talked with my doctor: Talk to your doctor. I did.

Keep Track of Who’s Who

I hope the announcer never talked with my doctor. She could reassure me by suggesting: Talk to your doctor. I talked to mine. Her mistake was that she started talking about my doctor, then switched to talking about hers without telling me about that switch.

You’ve probably heard someone at least as confused expressing concern for you or others. People say such things as: As your boss, tell me what you need so I can get it for you, or the much more subtly incorrect, As your friend, let me help you with your writing problems.

Consider the first example. We’ll assume the person talking is the boss, so saying As your boss, starts the sentence talking about the boss. But the phrase, …tell me what you need… isn’t about the boss; it’s about you. Putting the two phrases together, the sentence begins by establishing you as your own boss: As your boss, you tell me what you need…

The boss should have said, As your boss, I want to know what you need so I can get it for you. But don’t stop with fixing only writing problems. There’s also an ego problem in the boss’s statement. Simplify and add humility so it reads, Please tell me what you need so I can get it for you.

The second example unravels the same way. In that sentence, who is whose friend? The confusion is subtle, but at the word let, the speaker switches from talking about himself or herself to taking about you—without telling you about the switch. The error becomes clear if you change the sentence to read As your friend, you let me help you with your writing problems.

Any number of rewrites can fix the mistake:

  • As your friend I want to help you with your writing problems.
  • I’m your friend. Let me help you with your writing problems.
  • Let me help you with your writing problems.
  • Let me, as your friend, help you with your writing problems.

Fix These Writing Problems

Each rewrite makes it clear who the sentence is talking about at every moment. The only way to eliminate writing problems involving who’s who is to stay vigilant. Make sure it’s clear who you’re taking about so your readers don’t think you’ve been visiting with their doctors.

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