Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bad Writing Advice From Books That Should Know Better

Sometimes books on writing give truly awful advice. One of my goals here at Quick Writing Tips is to turn that bad advice into insights readers can actually use.

From the otherwise useful book Effective Writing, here is a terrible example of how to begin a paragraph:

The growth of America's capital in recent years has indeed been remarkable.

indeed: this word is superfluous, nix it.
has been: QWT readers know what to do with compound verbs. Replace with is.
remarkable: A strong statement of opinion probably should employ a more forceful or memorable word. Consider stunning or striking. Better yet, help the reader quantify the growth:

America's capital doubled over the past ten years, a striking economic achievement.

This sentence carries more force, more information and less redundancy. There's now a chance your readers might keep reading.

Let's look at one more opening sentence from the same book:

By almost any measure, Chile in 1995 has an economy that it is difficult to find fault with.

By almost any measure, this sentence is horrible. Let's fix it.

By almost any measure: Trite and unnecessary. Omit it.
Chile in 1995 has an economy: Why the odd word order?
that: a needless word. Omit.
it is difficult to find fault with: Not only is this phrase in passive voice, it ends with a weirdly awkward preposition. Further, the word "it" can be omitted.

Here's more direct and better-phrased version of the sentence:

It is impossible to find fault with Chile's economy.