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who works in an organization needs to have a good command of the written
language. To make your writing as clear as possible, use the following Five
Top Techniques and you'll communicate in a more powerful way.
Make Verbs Dance
meaning of a sentence comes across effortlessly and clearly when its verb
comes "alive." Compare these sentences:
- "The juicy watermelon was eaten by the boy."
- "The boy chomped into the watermelon's belly, enjoying each
lively, active verb make this sentence dance.
you put a singular subject with the plural form of the verb, you weaken your
writing, risk confusing your readers and make grammarians groan. In the
example "a group of clients were in town," the subject of the
sentence "group" is singular while the verb "were"
belongs with a plural subject. So you would write "a group of clients
was in town" or "several clients were in town." Better yet,
liven up the sentence with an active verb: "a group of clients landed
beware of verb agreements using the subject "none" as in:
"None of the clients were in town." In this case, "none"
means "not any of the writers," which makes it a plural subject
requiring the plural form of the verb.
Stay on a Parallel Path
mixed bag of sentence structures wiggle their way into sentences
unnecessarily. Here's what I mean: "His attitude makes a difference in
changing, succeeding, and when he wants to move on." The writer forces
the reader to shift gears too abruptly by throwing in the non-parallel
phrase "when he wants to move one." You want to avoid breaking an
expected pattern. To keep the mental gears from grinding, write; "His
attitude makes a difference in changing, succeeding, and moving on."
Watch for Mixed Modifiers
thinking about a good place to eat, many choices are available." Are
the "many choices" doing the thinking? I doubt it! Mixed modifiers
and dangling participles get in the way of crisp, intentional communication.
Write this instead: "When thinking about a good place to eat, the
traveler had many choices." Clearly, the traveler is doing the
Select the Right Word
certain words trip you up? Do you write "further" when you mean
"farther" or "accept" instead of "except?"
Select the correct word from two similar-but-different options to save
confusion for the reader and embarrassment for you. Jump into your
dictionary to differentiate between "choose" and
"chose." Better yet, keep a reference guide handy, one that
quickly clarifies trick combos such as than vs. then, stationery vs.
stationary, loath vs. loathe and so on.
easy and entertaining reference is Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner (Riverbend
Books, New York, 1996). A former editor at The New York Times Book Review,
Patricia conducts grammar course for employees at the Times. If you have a
favorite resource, please let me know. Our goal is to get the message across
clearly - without making grammarians groan.
McNichol works with speakers, authors and business communications to polish
their marketing materials, web sites and manuscripts. She is the creator of
Word Trippers: A Quick Guide to Words That Trip You Up. Contact Barbara at
303-450-7377 or visit her web site at www.BarbaraMcNichol.com