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Writing pet peeves

Date: 2013-10-14
Tags: writing pet-peeves

I was helping my wife edit an essay and immediately cringed at the repetition of Is and entire phrases everywhere. I would tell her (often like this) and try to help her reword those sentences. This led to to a rules-of-thumb which I think makes sense and sort-of guide my own writing:

20-Word Rule

If you’re repeating a word with-in 20 words of using it, and your point isn’t to be repetitious, rewording your sentences will lead to more interesting and cleanly written prose. The lack of needless and inadvertent repetition also makes the purposeful repetition stand out more and have a greater impact on your reader.

I personally find that the constant repetition of words and phrases leads me to get lost in the flow of the words and what is being said doesn’t get absorbed by me as well. Also, I have a difficult time finding my place if my concentration is broken.

Dummy pronouns

The essay also had a bunch of un-de-referencable its laying around as well. These Dummy pronouns, I feel, make the writing awkward. Often it’s necessary to say what the “it” refers to shortly there after anyway, so why use it? (This is a quirky little peeve too, because using dummy pronouns is so common; I just did it in the previous sentence without thinking. Let’s try this rewrite: “Often the antecedent needs to be written shortly thereafter anyway, so why not just start with it?”). I often find myself trying to figure out what is being referenced, pausing and breaking my concentration, only to find the antecedent at the end of the sentence.

This peeve also includes using unattributable nouns, like “some people,” “they,” and “society” (not that my Annie did this). Unless you’ve established a societal norm by examples or immediately follow up “some people” with those people, it’s a baseless subject and adds absolutely nothing to the sentence.