Jean Cleans Out a Folder

I have a folder where I jot down ideas for blog posts. It’s filling up, so here’s an assortment of writing tips and other odds-and-ends for you:

1.  Good writers are careful not to overuse personal and personally. Take a look at these two sentences:

Of all the cars I’ve personally owned, the Karmann-Ghia was my favorite.

Joe Maguire has been a close personal friend for many years.

Delete personally! All friends are personal (otherwise they would be acquaintances or colleagues). Everything you own is a personal possession.

2. Here’s a sentence I would never write, even though it’s correct: Either you or I am going to be the next president of the club. (The rule is that the or part of the sentence determines the verb: I am going.) I would deliberately write it incorrectly: 

Either you or I are going to be the next president of the club. (Go ahead – sue me!)

3. The words that exist and existing are often unnecessary. Take a look at this sentence from an AP News story:

Robin Bonifas, a social work professor at Arizona State University and author of the book “Bullying Among Older Adults: How to Recognize and Address an Unseen Epidemic,” said existing studies suggest about 1 in 5 seniors encounters bullying. 

If the studies didn’t exist, you wouldn’t be talking about them!

4.  Stephen Pinker’s book The Sense of Style includes samples of marvelous writing from other writers. Someone described Maurice Sendak’s books for children as “roundly praised, intermittently censored, and occasionally eaten.” An obituary of Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown noted that “she was 90, though parts of her were considerably younger.”


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