Posts Tagged ‘wordiness’

To continue to keep….Another example of “bopping it twice.”

Monday, December 7th, 2015

It is easy to bop a concept twice when you are writing something. We all do it. Common examples include using ALSO and AS WELL together, BOTH of the TWO people, ALL of the TOTAL income, and money earned ANNUALLY PER YEAR. These examples have appeared in previous Grammar Glitch posts. 

I came across a new one in an article for The Birmingham News last week. In discussing gas prices, Leada Gore wrote this:

So how low can we go? According to AAA, prices are expected to continue to keep falling into 2016.

bopping it onceWhoops! Only one of the red phrases is needed. Either prices are expected TO CONTINUE FALLING or prices are expected TO KEEP FALLING. Bopping the nail on the head once will do!

The trick of a good writer–even a reporter who is on deadline–is to read back through and spot these redundancies before hitting the SEND button on the copy.


Seven errors in one article?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

In my last post, I promised to continue discussing the frequency of errors in newspaper articles. Last week I tried to read an article in The Birmingham News about a woman who had been recruiting homeless people to cash counterfeit checks for her. By the time I reached the end of the article, I had highlighed seven errors, which I will share with you here, along with their corrections.

Whoops #1: As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the woman was driving a car that had a typewriter for a sidecar.

Law enforcement recovered $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving along with a typewriter, he said.

The problem here is poor word order. The phrase about the typewriter belongs next to the counterfeit checks because both things were recovered.  The sentence should read this way:

Law enforcement recovered a typewriter and $22,000 in counterfeit checks from the car she was driving, he said.

 

 Whoops #2: The problem with this sentence is subject/verb agreement.

According to a preliminary estimate, a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks were seized by law enforcement from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.

 A LITTLE OVER $110,000 is a lump sum of money and should be considered singular. It should not be used with the plural verb WERE. The verb should be WAS.

 NOTE: An even more efficient way to improve this sentence and avoid the WAS/WERE decision is to make it active rather than passive:

According to a preliminary estimate, law enforcement seized a little over $110,000 in counterfeit checks from Tate's home and car the day she was arrested, Bailey testified.

 

Whoops #3: This glitch has to do with verb tense.

…her role was to show others involved where the banks are and where the homeless people congregated, he said.

The writer should decide whether he is speaking in the present tense or the past tense. If he says HER ROLE WAS, then he should not say WHERE THE BANKS ARE (present tense) and then flip back to the past tense with THE HOMELESS PEOPLE CONGREGATED. If they congregated in the past, why would you need them where the banks are now? The sentence should read this way to be parallel in structure and verb tense:

…her role was to show others involved where the banks were and where the homeless people congregated, he said.

 

 Whoops #4 and #5: Strings of phrases can confuse meaning. The writer should also remember that AN rather than A is the correct article (noun determiner) in front of a word that begins with a vowel.N N writer should also remember that An    g. The also 

Investigators had been looking into Tate and others  after a  incident in the fall of 2011 after authorities were alerted to a incident in Trussville where someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.

The two AFTER(s) confuse the time frame.  The two uses of INCIDENT make it sound as if there are two separate incidents.  WHERE should refer to location, not function. Here is what I consider a better version of this sentence:

 Investigators had been looking into Tate and others after authorities were alerted to an incident in Trussville in the fall of 2011 during which someone tried to cash a counterfeit check.

 

 Whoops #6: A comma should not needlessly separate one clause from another. If a subordinate clause comes after an independent clause, it should not be set off with a comma.

The woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle, when police approached.

NOTE: This sentence might be more effective if the WHEN clause were placed at the beginning. If it is placed there, the comma would come after APPROACHED: 

When police approached, the woman from Atlanta tried to hide about $15,000 in counterfeit checks under the vehicle.

 

Whoops #7: When using pronouns like THEIR and THEM, it should be clear to the reader who THEY are in the sentence:

Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them during their investigation.

As written, this sentence makes it sound as if the homeless people were conducting the investigation.  THEM refers to the homeless people Tate recruited, but THEIR is meant to refer to the police investigators. That won't work. The phrase DURING THE INVESTIGATION should probably be left completely out of this sentence because I doubt that Tate was doing the recruiting during the investigation. Here is how the sentence should read:

Between six and 12 homeless people have identified Tate as having recruited them.

 

Seven errors in one article would suggest that the writer did not proofread what he wrote. It would also suggest that The Birmingham News is no longer making good use of copy editors in the newsroom.


Bopping your idea twice does not improve clarity.

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Every writer's first draft–a report, a business letter, a novel, or even a simple email–is full of redundancy because the writer is trying hard to make a point. The trick is to proofread and edit out unnecessary wording so that the writing doesn't sound as if it is trying too hard. Here is a good example:

Either one or both of the two men then started shooting, he said.

 In this sentence, the words BOTH and TWO mean basically the same thing.  Only one of them is needed. In this case, the word needed is BOTH. TWO can be edited out, as follows:

Either one or both of the men then started shooting, he said.

 Here is another example of what I like to call "bopping it twice when once will do."

The end result is that this procedure will hinder our forward progress in 2012.

 END and RESULT mean about the same thing, and I have never known PROGRESS to move in any direction other than FORWARD. The sentence is much more effective this way:

The result is that this procedure will hinder our progress in 2012.

  


Muddled sentence has multiple problems.

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

Here is a badly muddled sentence that appeared in a Birmingham News article last week.  A substitute teacher did not report the spill of a large vial of mercury in a school chemistry lab, and officials were concerned about exposure.  Here is the sentence:

Birmingham city school officials will get results from mercury tests it conducted Friday on Putnam Middle School students and faculty in about a week, but don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down the school this week.

Oh my! Where do I begin to correct this? First, the pronoun IT is not clear.  What does it refer to?  If the BIRMINGHAM CITY SCHOOL OFFICIALS (plural and human) are going to get the mercury test results, then it seems logical that THEY (not IT) conducted those tests.

Second, the phrase IN ABOUT A WEEK is way out of place in this sentence. It needs to be much closer to what it refers to, which is the MERCURY TESTS. 

Third, as worded, this sentence makes it sound as if the verb phrase DON'T EXPECT is directed as a command or imperative to the reader, but I think the reporter meant to suggest that those Birmingham school officials at the beginning of the sentence are the ones who DON'T EXPECT to find anything problematic.  The simple fix for this is to use the pronoun THEY a second time to refer back to the officials.

Fourth, I think the information in this sentence should be reversed, putting the expectations of the officials before the BUT.

Here is my suggested rewording:

Birmingham city school officials don't expect to find anything problematic after a spill shut down Putnam Middle School this week, but they will get results in about seven days from mercury tests conducted Friday on students and faculty.

 

A NOTE OF WELCOME to new readers from my Grammar and Usage workshops in Mobile and Montgomery this week.  Please feel free to comment or ask questions, and don't forget to use the Search slot on the Home Page to find other blog posts that interest you.


Bopping it twice with ALSO and AS WELL.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Birmingham's Bargain Mom offers good ideas for saving money at all times of the year, but in her column for today'sThe Birmingham News, she is not as frugal with words as she is with cash. While suggesting that readers visit the Family Circle Facebook page for some cookie recipes, she created this sentence:

You can also download a free slow cooker e-cookbook from their page as well.

The word ALSO means the same thing as the phrase AS WELL, so it is not necessary to use both in the same sentence.  Careful proofreading will usually catch this Glitch. It doesn't matter grammatically which choice you get rid of, but my style preference would be for dropping ALSO and keeping AS WELL.  Someone more casual might do the opposite.  I'd like the sentence this way:

You can download a free slow cooker e-cookbook from their page as well.

 

If you'd like to keep up with the money-saving tips of Birmingham Bargain Mom, you can find her on page 2A of The Birmingham News, or you can visit her website at http://blog.al.com/bargain-mom.

orororor you The 

 

 


Bopping it twice when once will do! PROOFREAD!

Friday, November 4th, 2011

I am happy to hear that Independent Living Resources of Greater Birmingham is getting a new 8,000 square foot facility next spring.  Since 1980, this agency has offered a wide variety of vital services to disabled people in our community, and their new building on Sixth Avenue North is well deserved.

When Birmingham News reporter Roy L. Williams wrote about this, he created a redundancy in the following sentence:

The $2 million, 8,000 square foot facility should open in the 1500 block of Sixth Ave. North by April or May 2012, said Dan Kessler, executive director of the agency that assists 2,000 individuals annually a year.

 I am certain this reporter knows that ANNUALLY and A YEAR mean the same thing, and I am certain he did not intentionally bop this point twice (as I refer to this crime in my business writing workshops).  He probably tried one version (ANNUALLY), then considered the second version (A YEAR) and then forgot to delete one or the other.

If he had proofread his copy, he would have spotted this redundancy error.  Apparently, the copy editor missed it, too. That is my point.  All of us create redundancies (bopping something twice when once will do), but the good writing trick is to proofread carefully and weed out the extras before going to print.  I would have worded the sentence this way:

The $2 million, 8,000 square foot facility should open in the 1500 block of Sixth Ave. North by April or May 2012, said Dan Kessler, executive director of the agency that assists 2,000 individuals a year.

 Are you wondering why I chose A YEAR and got rid of ANNUALLY? Two reasons: First, if two words or phrases mean exactly the same thing (no difference in shade of meaning), I always choose the simpler one, which is A YEAR. Second, I try to avoid placing multi-syllable words next to each other.  INDIVIDUALS has five syllables, and ANNUALLY has four.

COOK'S RULE: Avoid redundancies. Do not bop things twice when once will do.

 

FUNNY FOOTNOTE: In the headline of a recent post, I referred to an ambiguous "it," meaning a pronoun that did not have a clear antecedent.  As I often do in the body of a post, I used capital letters for the word I was referring to.  The headline read this way:

Benefits only available on Monday? Plus an ambiguous “IT.”

 

My new webmaster, who is an expert in IT (Information Technology), saw that headline and wondered who the ambiguous Information Technologist was!  Perhaps others did, too, so I have changed the headline to make it clearer that I am referring to the pronoun "it." It now reads this way:

Benefits only available on Monday? Plus an ambiguous “it.”

Welcome, Sam!

 

Wel MMymy M


All the total income? Wordiness is alive and well.

Monday, July 18th, 2011

 The former mayor of White Hall, Alabama, has been sentenced to two years in prison in a case involving tax returns. (Apparently, fraud is alive and well, too!) The following description of his crime appeared in a news brief in yesterday's The Birmingham News:

Court documents state that Jackson was accused of filing false tax returns in 2004, 2005 and 2006 that did not report all of the total income earned by him and his spouse, according to court documents.

First, the word ALL means basically the same thing as TOTAL.  One or the other will do in this sentence.  Second, the writer puts COURT DOCUMENTS STATE at the beginning of the sentence, and then for good measure, adds ACCORDING TO COURT DOCUMENTS at the end. In my workshops, I refer to this as "bopping it twice when once will do."

A quick proofread should have caught both of these redundancies before the newspaper went to print. This sentence should read as follows:

Court documents state that Jackson was accused of filing false tax returns in 2004, 2005 and 2006 that did not report the total income earned by him and his spouse.

 

BONUS GLITCH FOR THE DAY: Here is another gem from the blogosphere–I hope you read lot's of things. Whoops!  LOTS is simply plural, not possessive. This sentence should read–I hope you read lots of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Edit of Fifty-four Word Sentence, as Promised

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

None of my readers took me up on the edit challenge for the following lengthy and confusing sentence:

While saying there has been nothing to show where the contaminants came from its plant, Walter coke, the largest company still operating in the area that has had many heavy industrial operations, is voluntarily paying for some soil testing in the area, as well as soil replacement at Hudson K-8 and 23 surrounding properties.

I do not mean to suggest that a 54-word sentence is always incorrect, but this one, with its strings of phrases, is extremely difficult to follow.  First, TO SHOW WHERE is very casual English and adds confusion here.  INDICATE would be a better verb choice than the expression SHOW WHERE.

I think this information is clearer if the sentence is separated into two sentences.  Here is my suggested rewrite:

The area in question has had many heavy industrial operations, but Walter Coke is the largest company still operating there. While saying that nothing indicates the contaminants came from its plant, Walter Coke is voluntarily paying for some soil testing in the area as well as soil replacement at Hudson K-8 and 23 surrounding properties.

 

WEEKEND BONUS GLITCH:Here is a sentence I came across yesterday in a blog post by someone who owns a writing and social media marketing agency:

I write everything under the son.

Hm-mmm. I'm wondering what is underneath this person's son (male child) that could so interesting to write about.  "Everything under the sun (that huge star that shines down on the entire earth)" is the expression this writer is looking for.  I hope he has hired a good proofreader for his business.  The sentence should read this way:

 I write everything under the sun.


Redundant phrasing, also known as a “dog puppy,” weakens wording.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

In one of those clinical trial advertisements this week, I came across this question:

Do you have sore or bleeding gums, type 2 diabetes and are you at least 35 years of age or older?

It is always a good idea to read back over something you have written and look for what I like to call "dog puppies." (That is, if you tell me you have a puppy, I can assume it is a dog unless you have an unusual baby pet.)

In this question, it is not necessary to say both AT LEAST 35 YEARS OF AGE and 35 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER? One or the other will do.

I would also suggest making this two separate questions for more impact.  I think it should read this way:

Do you have sore or bleeding gums, type 2 diabetes? Are you at least 35 years of age?

 

NOTE: Apparently no one among my readers was brave enough to take on the 54-word sentence in my July 11 post, so I will offer my best edit in the next post.

I'd love to hear from any of you who have great examples of "dog puppies" to share.


Redundancy + agreement issue create poor sentence in email.

Monday, April 25th, 2011

 

Jefferson County (the county that includes Birmingham, Alabama) is mired in debt, largely because of poor decisions about sewer issues. Jefferson County Commissioner Jimmie Stephens, who has responsibility for the county finance department, sent an email recently that included this sentence:

Cooperation and working together   to craft a solution is key as we move forward.  

 

Let's address the redundancy (a terrible form of wordiness) first. What is COOPERATION? The answer, of course, is WORKING TOGETHER. One or the other, but not both, will do. I would choose WORKING TOGETHER in this sentence because it blends better with TO CRAFT A SOLUTION.

Second, the AND in the subject creates a compound (plural) subject, so the verb should have been ARE rather than IS. However, because I am recommending dropping COOPERATION, the singular verb IS would be correct.

Here is my rewrite of this sentence:

 

Working together  to craft a solution is key as we move forward. 

 

I hope my readers agree that this is a much smoother and more efficient sentence.