by Barbara McNichol
Have you crossed that line? There are some common phrases to avoid if you don’t want to come across as arrogant or condescending.
It’s important that you temper your language when writing. You don’t have the benefit of voice intonation, hand gestures, emotions…all the things that impact a face-to-face encounter with your audience.
If you give off the wrong signals in person, you have an immediate opportunity to correct your misstep.
That can’t be said of your writing. Once you’ve pressed “Send”, mailed the letter, circulated the memo or published the book, your opportunity to explain your intent has passed.
You don’t want to set a tone that can be misconstrued if you’re not there to explain what you meant.
There are several phrases you can avoid – they pad your writing with extra words but don’t add any meaning to your message.
Here are 12 phrases to avoid that will save you from sounding pompous:
- Not to mention… Okay, then don’t mention it.
- It goes without saying… Right, then don’t say it.
- If I may say so… Well, since you’re the author, of course, you can say so.
- I believe that… Now the reader wonders if your message is based in facts.
- In my humble opinion… An automatic signal that you’re not feeling humble.
- To tell the truth… Implies you’ve lied to your reader in the past.
- To be honest with you… Again, a suggestion that you’ve been dishonest.
- For the record… If you’re not under oath you don’t need this qualifier.
- Let me be perfectly clear… Usually followed by complete bafflegab.
- This may sound stupid but… Check yourself, the rest of that sentence probably sounds stupid.
- With all due respect… The prelude to an insult, no respect implied or taken.
- In other words… The worst culprit. Just use the right words the first time.
Take these pompous-sounding “fillers” out of your writing to avoid confusion and gain clarity in your writing. This is particularly helpful in business communication, approach your reader assuming they’re pressed for time. They need information, not prose or poetry.
Are there other “filler phrases” that make writing sound pompous? Share them in the comments section below or send them along and I’ll add them to the list.
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This article was originally published on September 22nd, 2016, and has been updated.
by Barbara McNichol
When it comes to English grammar, disagreements show up in writing and editing all the time – and mainstream media has blurred the lines along the way.
I can hear you saying, “Fine, but why does it matter?”
Well, precision in language is important, because an exception on one platform – a printed newspaper article or spoken news broadcast, for example – will have different repercussions than an exception in an academic paper, a technical manual, or a formal business document.
If you’re creating content on one platform that doesn’t adhere to basic English grammar rules and suddenly find yourself in a situation, at work or in university, where you’re expected to follow them to the letter you’ll be at a disadvantage.
By following the basic rules of English grammar at all times you will establish yourself as an authoritative, clear, and precise communicator. And there are some simple ways to stay on the right side of grammar rules, but first…
What does the media have to do with it?
As I mentioned, mainstream media has influenced English grammar.
The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook gave writers the green light to use one disagreement: the plural pronoun “they” as a singular noun. This change came about because of issues surrounding gender identity, and it’s a worthy endeavour to represent people more accurately.
AP’s solution to this shift is to substitute:
- He or she with “they”
- His or hers with “theirs”
- Him or her with “them”
The Stylebook suggests that writers use the person’s name wherever possible if they’ve asked to not be identified by gender. Further, when using the plural pronoun in place of the singular pronoun, to be sure the reader understands you’re talking about one person, not several.
In theory, this leaves less room for ambiguity on the reader’s part when he or she is taking meaning away from a news item.
Grammar experts are asking themselves…
Why is this necessary?
It’s a fair question.
Isn’t it more important to follow English grammar norms – especially when there are easy fixes to some common problems?
Here are some common examples of noun/pronoun disagreement, and the simple solution:
- “We want the school board to do their job.”
Problem? It’s one school board, not several. Here are two potential fixes for this grammatical error:
“We want the school board to do its job.”
“We want the school board members to do their job.”
- “Your reader can peruse your book at their leisure.”
Problem? There’s only one reader, not several. Here are grammatically correct alternatives:
“Your readers can peruse your book at their leisure.”
“Your reader can peruse the book at his or her leisure.”
In order to keep agreements in place – to not switch between singular and plural – when dealing with gender identity, you can use these writing tips:
- Use the person’s name instead of a pronoun.
- If you don’t know the gender (or preference) of the person you’re citing, use “his or her”, “he or she” or even “s/he” – they’re all grammatically correct.
- Alternate between masculine and feminine pronouns – I edited a book for an author writing about raising a baby who did this seamlessly.
Just because it’s old…
You could argue that it’s not relevant to hang on to the “old” English grammar rules and it’s true that they have flexed and changed slightly over time. But it’s wise to hang onto those basic rules, and there are ways to adapt your message to current communication standards without abandoning the basics.
I’ve got a handy Pronoun Chart you can use if you’re in doubt – request one here.
Finally, I’d like to know what you think. Given our ever-changing language, would you side with the exceptions the AP Stylebook offers, or do you prefer to put accuracy above all in your writing?
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by Barbara McNichol
Incremental learning makes a difference when you set any goal for yourself, including becoming a better writer.
Why would you desire to have better writing? To get hired or promoted, to attract more clients, to build your reputation and boost your book sales–to name only a few benefits.
Your action item: To reap these benefits, set aside time for 18 days to improve your writing, whether it’s for book chapters, reports, or sensitive emails.
In each of those days, you would study one of these easy, effective tips to hone your writing craft. Using them habitually, you’ll find you get better results and your confidence will grow. Any time you might spend in a writing WordShop (including those I offer) is reinforced by the ideas in this e-guide.
Your assurance: These practical, immediately usable tips have been compiled over years of editing nonfiction books and conducting business writing classes. You can feel assured writers have tested them thoroughly!
Your goal: Make a point of integrating a fresh tip into your writing every day. You’ll see how perfecting the communication loop through improved writing benefits your readers, your coworkers, you clients, and ultimately your career.
Your Key to Better Writing
This e-guide can be purchased for only $14.95. Click here to order. Use code 18DAYS to receive a $4.95 discount! Any questions? Contact me at email@example.com
Have you already worked with this e-guide? If so, please leave your comments here. How did it help you? Inquiring minds want to know!
by Barbara McNichol
To be a better writer, when should you stop using the word start?
Now. Good writing includes the ability to craft strong, clear statements. Extraneous words and phrases water down communications. An outstanding example of this is the overuse of the words “start” and “begin.”
Look at these examples of creating stronger statements by going straight to the key action verb rather than “beginning” to go for it.
Example 1: Slowly begin to approach your teammate with your idea.
Better: Slowly approach your teammate with your idea.
Example 2: Start making an agenda for the meeting.
Better: Make an agenda for the meeting.
True confession time: Do you ever overuse “start” and “begin”? Please don’t start!
I hope this tiny Pop Quiz gave you a BIG idea for tightening your writing. If that was helpful, there is more.
What if you had a program that could guarantee you would become a better writer, making you a more valuable, promotion-worthy professional?
Even if you’re doing well in your job, you can have more within your reach.
The Word Trippers Tips ADVANTAGE Program does all that—and for less than the cost of a night on the town.
Becoming a better writer doesn’t just happen. I challenge you to …
From tennis nut to word nerd and successful book editor, Barbara McNichol has built a career around her love of the English language. She can show you how great writing skills can help you get hired … win promotions … and build better working relationships. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Barbara McNichol from June 2018 issue of Speaker Magazine
As a professional, you send your ideas into the world in writing—via books, blogs, articles, and more. In today’s crowded marketplace, the more you write, the more every word counts.
Who can help you break through the clutter? Editors: your conduit to communicating to those you want to influence. For if an experienced editor doesn’t “get” your message, neither will they. And because the written word sticks around longer than the spoken word, it matters!
Why You Need an Editor
It’s tempting to regard hiring editors as an unnecessary expense. Instead, see it as an investment in effectiveness. Here’s why:
- You grow as a writer. Pay attention to editors’ changes and learn the tricks of the editing trade. That includes getting assurance that your piece meets your objective.
- You improve your book’s marketing power. A good editor can wordsmith titles, headings and subheads as well as incorporate keywords to hook readers during online searches.
- You gain insight and save embarrassment. Your writing benefits from an editor’s initial “deep massage” that asks insightful questions and makes suggestions to hone your message. It’s followed by a tight copyedit to find those pesky grammar gremlins and wording errors before readers do. After you make changes, your editor reviews everything, does a final proofread, and keeps your project moving.
Then at the end of the process, you can declare with confidence, “My writing sounds just like me—only better!” (As an editor, that’s what I desire for my clients.)
Choosing an Editor
For books, the magic of selecting the right editor lies in the Sample Edit—a complimentary edit of your work from your manuscript. Sure, you get value from seeing Before and After of someone else’s project, but don’t skip this step. Request samples from all contenders. That’s how you come close to comparing apples to apples.
I call the Sample Edit “magic” because you get to see:
- the level of editing required
- how clearly your message can be expressed
- if the edits changed your voice—a huge concern for authors.
And it does something else: The Sample Edit helps determine your project’s place on the editing spectrum. Does it require proofreading, copyediting, or a complete rewrite? Along with word count, that determines an editor’s customized fee, communicated in writing up front.
In your selection process, be sure to examine prospective editors’ credentials. Study their websites and peruse their portfolios. Testimonials are great, but also ask for references so you can pose questions to their clients related to your needs.
In short, don’t miss the opportunity to deliver your best writing. After all, it’s you, your voice, your contribution to the world. Make sure your message comes across clear and strong. It’s that important!
Tricks of the Editing Trade
- Enliven your text by using active (not passive) construction:
- Active: “The boy chomped into the juicy watermelon.” The verb “chomped” is active.
- Passive: “The juicy watermelon was eaten by the boy.” The word “by” is a clue that it’s passive.
- Keep it simple:
- One idea per sentence
- One distinct point per paragraph
- No more than 21 words in a sentence.
- Whack wordiness:
- “I really think it’s time to go.” (“It’s time to go.”)
- “Due to the fact that” (“Because…”)
- “There are m[M]any experts that believe in magic.”
Word Alert: The word “that” doesn’t substitute for “who” when referring to a person. You’d refer to someone who speaks, not someone that speaks.
- Use the correct word to say what you mean. Even from excellent writers, editors often encounter misused words: browse vs. peruse, compliment vs. complement, advice vs. advise.
As an expert editor, Barbara McNichol proudly helps speakers/authors change the world with their well-crafted words. Over 24 years, Barbara has placed more than 350 books (and counting) on her editor’s “trophy shelf.” She is also the creator of Word Trippers Tips, a resource for better writing available at www.WordTrippers.com.
by Barbara McNichol
In my recent post on the blog of Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), an author asked about confusing words this way:
Barbara, I’d love to see you do an article on the difference between “as” and “since” and “because.”
Here’s a summary of what my research told me.
Both “because” and “since” imply cause. They can be interchangeable when “since” means “for the reason that.” e.g., “Since my dog needs exercise, I take him for a walk.” e.g., “I walk every day because my dog needs exercise.”
One source suggests using “because” when the reason is the most important part of the sentence and “since” or “as” when the reason is already well known and is less important. e.g., “The match was cancelled because it was raining.”
I endorse this as an important distinction and use it myself.
Note that “since” also refers to a time frame. But look at this example. “Since we ate lunch, we had lots of energy.” Do you see how this statement is ambiguous? Does it mean “from the time we had lunch” or “for the reason that we had lunch”?
To avoid confusion, I recommend using “because” when your meaning relates to “cause” and “since” when it’s a factor of time. Keep the meanings distinct; it’s a good way to add clarity to your writing and power to your pen.
For clarification of commonly confused words, request a free reference guide at Word Trippers.com
What word pairings trip you up? Share them here.