The season of renewal has arrived! After you scrub your floors, rearrange your tchotchkes, and clear your closet, take some time to spruce up your writing skills.
Whether you are a veteran or green to the writing scene, we all need a grammar refresher from time to time. Here are three quick tips for cleaning up your writing style this spring:
Modify Misused Words
Self-identified grammar nerds are irked when someone mistakes your and you’re or misuses affect and effect, but what about words that aren’t as obviously confusing? Scan your writing to ensure you don’t get tripped up by these tricky terms:
1. complement and compliment
- complement – to bring together or make complete
- compliment – a praise or polite phrase of adoration
2. desert and dessert
- desert – an arid geographical region; to abandon
- dessert – a sweet dish that is generally eaten at the end of a meal
3. e.g. and i.e.
- e.g. – for example
- i.e. – that is to say
4. hoard and horde
- hoard – a stockpile; to amass
- horde – a large group of people
5. regimen and regiment
- regimen – a prescribed course, such as in fitness
- regiment – a unit of military troops; to control
6. cite, sight, and site
- cite – to quote as evidence
- sight – the ability to see
- site – a particular location or area of ground
7. ironic – when what happens is opposite of what is expected
8. literally – a strict matter of sense; precisely or exactly
Then there are terms like irregardless and conversate, which rear their heads in everyday exchanges but aren’t recognized as standard words. For a heftier (and hilarious) dose of language crimes you may not realize you’re committing, read Buzzfeed’s summary of misused and made-up words.
Prune Your Prepositions
One of the easiest, yet overlooked, ways to improve your writing style is weeding out unnecessary prepositional phrases. These needless additions make long work of otherwise concise points.
- The judge’s opinion… vs. The opinion of the judge…
- My mother responded angrily to my question. vs. My mother responded to my question with anger.
- The thief stole her watch. vs. Her watch had been stolen by the thief.
- A storm is coming; please seek shelter. vs. In light of the coming storm, please seek shelter.
Tip: Use CTRL+F to search for prepositions in Microsoft word or your Internet browser. For a quick preposition guide, check out EnglishClub’s Prepositions Short List.
Stop Using Really. No, Really.
Overusing really is fine when you’re Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers on Saturday Night Live, but leave it out of your professional writing.
Instead of making this lazy attempt at emphasis, take the “less is more” approach. Note that removing really from all of the following sentences doesn’t change the meaning:
- She wanted to go on vacation. vs. She really wanted to go on vacation.
- This assignment is difficult. vs. This assignment is really difficult.
- I liked the steak. vs. I really liked the steak.
This isn’t to say accentuating the intensity of your words is frowned upon – far from it. But rather than funneling your ideas into empty words, go about emphasis using richer language that heightens the reader’s experience and doesn’t skate over details.
- She wanted a vacation more than a baby wants its mother.
- This assignment is as difficult as eating one potato chip.
- The steak was juicy and well-seasoned.
Do you have other suggestions for spring cleaning your writing style? Please leave your quick tips in a comment.