I have a desktop folder where I store ideas and examples about writing. It’s starting to fill up again! Here are a few recent items:
- I had a shock last week when I read “The Recipe for Life” in the February 5 New Yorker. I’ve always insisted that a “though” idea must be attached to a complete sentence. Here’s an example:
I enjoyed the movie. Though it should have been 30 minutes shorter. FRAGMENT
I enjoyed the movie, though it should have been 30 minutes shorter. CORRECT
Well, The New Yorker apparently doesn’t agree with me. Here’s the problematic sentence:
Though I have observed that, whenever a patient on a TV show like “Marcus Welby, M.D.” or “Ben Casey” presents with odd symptoms, my father always makes what proves to be the correct diagnosis long before the first commercial break.
(I can understand that someone might wonder if this long clause really is a fragment. Yes, it is! Here’s how you can tell: Cover up “Though” at the beginning and read it through. It’s a perfect sentence. Put back “Though” at the beginning, and it turns it into a fragment.)
- Last week I read this weak sentence in an information box on the Light Classics cable-TV station:
“Ketelby received a scholarship to Trinity College, where he attended.”
Talk about a sputtering sentence! Here’s my version: “Ketelby attended Trinity College as a scholarship student.”
- Unnecessary words can weaken your writing. Often you can (and should!) delete now, presently, currently, available, respective, existing, certain, and given. The word now (and similar words) doesn’t add anything useful. “I now work part-time at Walmart” means the same as “I work part-time at Walmart.”
Similarly, it’s silly to talk about “available” products, funds, dates, and so on. If they’re not available, you couldn’t do anything with them!
Check labels on available products to see which ones are safe for children. WEAK
Check labels to see which products are safe for children. BETTER
The same principle often applies to respective, existing, certain, and given. There’s no difference between “their respective offices” and “their offices,” or between “on a given Tuesday” and “on a Tuesday.”
Existing is another word that drives me crazy. I hear statements like this one: “We need to deal with existing problems.” If they didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be worried about them!
The word certain can be particularly vexing. “Certain foods can cause allergic reactions” tells me…nothing. Which foods? How do I obtain a list?
Bottom line: Careful word choices help give your sentences crispness and clarity.