Sunday, March 27, 2016

Found Around—Random Writing Tip 2: Eat Those Ands!

A playful tip that I give learners in my writing seminars is to become andeaters. Just as anteaters shovel ants into their waiting stomachs through their elongated snouts, we should use our equally remarkable eyes to capture our missteps with and, which often adds unnecessary words at best and causes confusion at worst. Here are some examples.

Example 1 

Sentence: The partnership with the firm will benefit and advance our mission.

Problem: The word and joins benefit and advance. If the company advances its mission through the partnership, then it surely benefits. Using both words is unnecessary unless the writer wants to show a cause-effect relationship.

Solutions: The partnership with the firm will advance our mission, or, The partnership will benefit our company by advancing our mission.

Example 2

Sentence: Quality Assurance provides information about a recurring technical error in our payroll system, seeks management's approval to remedy it, and requests $16,000 to purchase a superior software package that will eliminate the problem.

Problem: O my goodness! In this opening sentence of a proposal, Quality Assurance claims to take three actions, joined by and: provides, seeksrequests. By definition, proposals offer suggestions for solving problems, so we can cut provides information; in addition, we don't need to remedy and eliminate a problem when one of those will do. We can reduce this 33-word sentence to 16 words.

Solution: Quality Assurance requests $16,000 for software to eliminate a recurring technical error in our payroll system.

Example 3

Sentence: This project aims to raise awareness and understanding of this issue affecting the community.

Problem: In this case, and joins awareness and understanding. This one is not as easy as it might look, because we can be aware of a problem without understanding it. For instance, we are all aware that gun violence is a problem, but opposing factions believe their rivals don't understand why it's a problem. Alternatively, we can understand a problem, say a deadly virus, without being immediately aware that it has afflicted our community. But when I asked the writer whether understanding implied awareness in this situation, she agreed, as I thought she would. Below is how she changed the sentence.

Solution: This project aims to help the affected community in understanding this issue.

Moral of the story: Be an andeater!