Sunday, February 17, 2013

Think, Or Write Badly

Readers, take a look at the following passage from the self-help book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill:

The great artists, writers, musicians and poets become great because they acquire the habit of relying upon the "still small voice" which speaks from within, through the faculty of creative imagination. It is a fact well known to people who have "keen" imaginations that their best ideas come through so-called "hunches."

These two sentences--chosen from countless atrocious examples throughout this book--provide us with an object lesson of how not to write. Here are four obvious problems:

1) Superfluous quote marks. There's no reason words like still small voice, keen and hunches should have quotes around them. No "reason" at all.

2) Needless words. There are 51 words in these two sentences. If the author cut his word count in half it would be ten times easier to understand him.

3) Weak, wordy verbs. Avoid using phrasal verbs or verb/adverb combinations. For example, the phrase they acquire the habit of relying should be replaced by the word rely.

4) Proof by vigorous assertion. The phrase it is a fact well known to people is a dead giveaway of an all-too-common logical fallacy. Which people? What did they say? What evidence did they have to support their assertions? Readers are left to guess and wonder.