On my plane ride home from the STC Technical Communication Summit, I read a fun little grammar book that tried to show how to avoid the problems in “weak writing.” Yes, I read an entire grammar book in less than 2 hours. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fast reader, and this is quite a feat. It helps that this is a simple grammar book, with only 7 chapters, all of which follow the same structure and flow.
The book is “The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the Mysteries of Weak Writing” by Bonnie Trenga. I love mysteries, when I read fiction, and so the theme and examples used throughout the book made this a fun little grammar book to read. Each chapter starts with a few paragraphs of text that demonstrates the problem that will be addressed. Each chapter is also filled with tips for how to detect and how to avoid the weak writing problems.
The 7 weak writing problems that it addresses are:
- Passive voice – Use passive voice only when it is important to omit the subject
- Nominalizations – Nominalizations hide the subject (like passive voice) and dull the action by hiding the verb
- Vague -ing words – Once again, these types of words or phrases allow you to omit the subject or act as the subject, and can lead you to create misplaced modifiers. Always try to use specific language.
- Weak verbs – Weak verbs are unclear, especially “there is” and “it is.”
- Misplaced modifiers – Phrases that begin with or include -ing phrases, past participles, or the words as or like, just might be misplaced modifiers, especially if the word it or there follows the introductory phrase set off by a comma.
- Super-long sentences – Long sentences typically include conjunctions. Also, with long sentences, the subject and verb are further apart. Long sentences lead to confusion in the reader.
- Wordy writing – Wordy writing is often dull, and usually leads to confusing the reader.
As I type this post, I am wondering just how many of these problems my casual writing contains.
Although this grammar book did not focus on technical communication, I think that these seven problems plague much of the technical communication I edit every day. What a nice, quick refresher of the basic writing problems and how to quickly fix them.