Up Your Writing
Last month's newsletter suggested ways to tighten your writing by restructuring paragraphs and sentences.
That was the forest. This month, let's look at the trees: small words and phrases to extract or change for a stronger overall message:
1. Essentially, basically, and other "extra" adverbs: Always
question your use of "essentially,"
"basically," "ultimately," and "inevitably" (to which I would add "actually"), recommends Theodore A.
Rees Cheney. In his book Getting the Words Right, he labels them "idle, nonworking words." Can you delete them without
losing the sense of your thought? Then do.
2. Let verbs be verbs: Stabilization, indication, demonstration, renovation--not only do you turn active verbs into wimpier nouns, but also you usually need more words to get the same thought across. ("We put on a demonstration" versus "we demonstrated.")
3. So: Such a little word, such overuse. So have you ever noticed how many people begin a presentation or comment with it? How often people write "so as to..." when they could just write "to" ("I am writing so as to let you know..."). Its too-frequent use as an adverb? ("I am so happy to...").
4. There's no there there: Leave "there" to Gertrude Stein. Look at every sentence that begins with "there are" or "there is," which NTC's Handbook for Writers call pseudosubjects. Can you replace these weak words with "real" subjects and active predicates?
5. Write with words that people say: Have you ever heard anyone talk about an "addressee" or "disseminator," or use "whereas" or "heretofore" in a spoken sentence? Sometimes unavoidable, but, that said, write simply to write more clearly.
What Lies Beneath?
In June, I attended the Alexandria Archeology Museum's first institute for adults. We learned about digging techniques and how archeology helps in the understanding of, in our case, Alexandria's 18th and 19th centuries.
Our dig site was on Shuter's Hill. For those familiar with Alexandria, the Masonic Temple that towers over Old Town now occupies the site. A large home with slave quarters, owned by a family called the Delaneys, sat there in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The Union Army built a fort there during the Civil War.
Each two-person team had a small square to dig. Here was ours when we began:
Nothing much there, right, except maybe that white thing half-buried in the middle?
Not so fast!
Click here to see what we found less than a foot underground.
We conjectured that people (most probably enslaved, based on the location, which was the former laundry out-building) tossed out bits of food (animal bones, teeth, oyster shells) and pottery (little shards of many different kinds), as well as the occasional button and pin.
Have you written a book or article? Do you have a communications-related blog or newsletter? I would love to share the information with others. Let me know what you have created. I'll write about it (and link to it) in another issue of this newsletter.