Word Nerd: How to Weaken Your Writing

1 Aug

How-to-Weaken-Your-WritingThink of good, vigorous writing in human terms. It’s athletic: wakes up at daybreak, jogs 5 miles, then goes for a game of tennis. And it still looks like it just stepped out of the shower. In other words, good writing is fresh, confident and precise.

Now, let’s think about mediocre or weak writing. It huffs and puffs as it does the rounds. And passes half the day before it gets from point A to point B. When it arrives, it’s wearing a slather of sweat and a dour face. Neither is it easy on the eye, nor is it effective.

In this edition of Word Nerd, we are taking good grammar and spelling for granted. The absence of either makes writing bad. Instead, we want to look at the defects which weaken writing – the bad carbs of language.

Well, actually, there may just be a number of very many things. And filler or crutch words come right at the top (as they did in the previous sentence). They are the words you use to buy time for arranging your thoughts as you speak. Here’s an example:

“Tim, did you steal from the cookie jar?”

“Um, well, actually, I basically took just a few. Wouldn’t call it stealing, Mum.”

In writing, filler words perform a similar function. They allow you to dawdle. They make excuses. They sap the vitality of your work. You know ‘literally’ is a poor word choice to make if you want to prove a point. ‘Actually’, ‘basically’ and ‘naturally’ belong in the same category. Your language doesn’t need that flab. So lose it.

Another category is hedge phrases – ‘I think’, ‘I believe’, ‘I feel’ and ‘in my opinion’ and so on. Insecurity on the page does not build a reader’s interest or confidence. Your writing is already your opinion and not a statistical report. If you think Harry should have paired up with Hermione, we know that it’s how you feel, not what Rowling intended. So don’t tell the reader what he or she already knows.

Do we need to explain why you shouldn’t use words like ‘stuff’ and ‘things’? You will sound the opposite of profound if you write, “Well, things happened. Good things and bad things. That’s the stuff my life is made of…” No one will know what you’re talking about, or why, because you’ve said nothing.

Qualifiers also weaken your writing – making it creak at the joints. Mark Twain gave the following tip for those of us prone to qualifying everything:

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Or, just be your own editor and delete the qualifiers in your writing. It will be that much stronger.

Are there any unhealthy habits that weaken your writing?

Email us or leave a comment below! Check out previous Word Nerd posts here!


By Skendha Singh

One Response to “Word Nerd: How to Weaken Your Writing”

  1. Manan May 6, 2017 at 8:25 pm #

    Loved this post!..

    p.s.- regular reader, but don’t send me emails please

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