December 27, 2012

The wimpy word that weakens your writing

A tip on editing yourself.

There’s a wimpy word that weakens your writing. And it is …


Most of the time, this little conjunction is a waste of ink or breath (or electrons, if we’re talkin’ digital). The problem? It joins two things together without specifying what the connection is. There is very often a stronger, clearer way to express the connection.

Sure, sometimes it’s useful. It serves well enough in “red, white and blue” or “peanut butter and jelly,” but the reason to scour your first draft looking for this little weasel word is stuff like this:

“The Congress scheduled a vote on Thursday and the President threatened a veto.” What does “and” do in that sentence? Are these two independent actions? Is one the cause of the other? Did they happen in sequence? Could we substitute “when” “because” “before” “after” “despite” or any number of other clarifying words? Yes, we can.

The other wimpitude is when you have a long loopy thought that’s two independent clauses joined by comma/and. You could always break it into two short sentences, or use a semi-colon. Either way the wimpy word goes away with no loss in meaning. (Listen to your inner Will Strunk saying “omit needless words!”)

Using a semicolon, of course, may mark you as an elitist pinky-extended tea drinker. If you travel in those circles, try to be brave.