“Let us contemplate evil’
Sheridan Baker in his Practical Stylist begins one of his chapters with this invitation about
‘evil. And he offers us some evil practices that will keep you from becoming the writer you could be. So here is the second set of tips plus one.
The one you really need to get rid of is the following practice:
In idiomatic English, all you need to write or say is ‘emphasize’ followed by
whatever it is that is emphasized. So ‘Fitzgerald emphasizes the wildly expensive
antics of the newly rich’ or ‘Duffy wants to emphasize the desires of women.’
Get rid of the ‘on’ forever! when using the verb.
But note that as a noun, ‘emphasis’ is sometimes followed by ‘on. See the second sentence below.
And from Sheridan Baker, 3 good recommendations for the elimination of evil in your writing.
His real obsession is a fault many of us suffer from: wordiness. You will find that most advisories about writing will share his emphasis on paring down your words.
So here are some more ways to clear up our wordiness:
1. Avoid ‘the use of’
For example, ‘He uses the device of foreshadowing’ can just as effectively be communicated with ‘he foreshadows,’ or ‘Through the use of logic, she persuades.’ Why not just ‘Through
logic she persuades.’
2. And speaking of which, utilization of and utilize really don’t make your writing sound more impressive when ‘use of’ and ‘use’ serve very well to convey your meaning.
3. A third evil Baker would like to see disappear is the addition of ‘type’ as a supposed way of making things clear when it just makes things wordy. So have you fallen into this evil: ‘fascist-type thinking’ or ‘academic-type writing?’ It’s pretty obvious both could lose ‘type’ without any loss of meaning.
As Baker wryly observes, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ would likely, under the ‘type’ impulse, become “Give us this day our daily-type bread.’
Yes, these things may seem ‘picky.’ But good writing pays attention to picky.