Jean Cleans out a Folder

My folder of odds and ends about writing has started to fill up! Here’s a sampling.

1.  I copied three clumsy sentences from Quora (a question-and-answer website):

–  How can we remediate misinformation?

Remediate (“fix” or “correct”) is jargon. But that’s not the only problem.

This is a meaningless question. You and I are powerless over most misinformation. It’s true that sometimes we can write letters to the newspaper, email the author, or call the radio or TV station. But often there’s nothing we can do. How can anyone possibly write a useful answer to this question?

–  Who has the provision of academic freedom?

“The provision of” doesn’t add anything useful. Here’s better wording: “Who has academic freedom?” Answer: most college and university professors.

–  What subjects do I need to study to become a doctor in high school?

“Doctor in high school” is clearly a dangling modifier. Here’s better wording: What subjects do I need to study in high school to become a doctor?

2.  Here’s a sentence from a recent Carolyn Hax advice column:

“I have a friend whose daughter is struggling with depression and has been hospitalized twice in as many months.”

I would change it to “twice in two months.” You may have been told (wrongly) that it’s wrong to repeat a word or use two similar words (twice/two). That’s nonsense! Professional writers repeat words all the time. What you should avoid is repeating conspicuous words: stupendous, horrific, eternal, romantic.

Everyday words are almost invisible. Don’t worry about using them again and again. If you’re writing a piece about a train ride, guess which word you’re going to use again and again? Train! But don’t say – more than once – that the ride was amazing, adventurous, or delightful.

3.  Emma Donoghue’s Room is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. Here’s a paragraph that offers some good advice about planning a writing task:

“It’s more like planning a military campaign or something. It’s quite exciting, because what you’re trying to do is to keep up the reader’s energy at every point. You’re looking for those spots where things would sag or get lost or come off the rails. You’re trying to keep up the momentum.”

a manila folder with a paper clip


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