Avoiding Common Writing Problems
Rex C. Mitchell, Ph.D.
Unless one is a genius, it is best to aim at being intelligible -Anthony Hope

Good writing skills are vital to your future career success, as we have discussed in class. To assist you in improving your writing skills, I recommend studying the little book by Jan Venolia,Write Right (2001, 4th ed., Ten Speed Press). She also has published two excellent companion volumes, ReWrite Right (2011) and The Right Word (2003), both from Ten Speed Press. Note especially the following list of common writing problem areas:

In addition to the items above, you should read the Style section (# 6) in Venolia several times before writing your reports. Your reports should be a competent business report from you, as a consultant, to an important CEO client. This includes the expectation that you will take the time to write a solid, concise report, rather than stop with a rambling, lengthy draft.

  • Ben Yagoda wrote an interesting book, How to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Errors and the Best Ways to Avoid Them (Riverhead, 2013). He identifies "seven bogus grammar 'errors' you don't need to worry about":
    1. Don't split infinitives (putting an adverb between "to" and a verb) "To boldly go where no one has gone before."
    2. Don't end a sentence with a preposition "This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put" - Churchill
    3. Don't use "which" as a relative pronoun
    4. Don't start a sentence with a conjunction
    5. Don't use the passive voice. (However, only use it judiciously)
    6. Don't neglect to use singular verbs
    7. Don't use words to mean what they've been widely used to mean for 50 years or more. (It's okay to use "like" to mean "such as" and "verbal" to mean "oral")
  • We all deserve some empathy in trying to master English, given its many irregularities. Here are a few examples of why the English language is hard to learn:
    1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
    2. The farm was used to produce produce.
    3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
    4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
    5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
    6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
    7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
    8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
    9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
    10. I did not object to the object.
    11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
    12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
    13. They were too close to the door to close it.
    14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
    15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
    16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
    17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
    18. After a number of injections my jaw got number.
    19. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
    20. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
    21. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

    To make our words count for as much as possible is surely the simplest as well as the hardest secret of style. (Wilson Follett)
    He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I ever met. (Abraham Lincoln)

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    Last modified March 30, 2017Copyright 1984-2017 Rex Mitchell