Friday, July 3, 2009

Elements of Style: Some hackneyed and redundant words

In the Elements of Style Series, I relay helpful hints for good writing from the classic book, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.

The Elements of Style is full of practical advice. This week is a case in point. In the section on Misused Expressions, Strunk and White point out several words that are hackneyed and often redundant. You want to write cleanly and originally. Therefore, you should avoid using these words whenever possible.

Case: Whenever not referring to Case Western Reserve University, Strunk and White say that this word is "usually unnecessary."

Character: When not refering to the main character in a play, this word is redundant. What's Strunk and White's example? Acts of a hostile character can be replaced by hostile acts.

Fact. When used in the phrase "the fact that" this word is redundant. In other uses, it is misused as well (see my previous post on Word use and abuse)

Factor. This word lacks freshness. Most of the time when you use it, the passage is not direct or concrete. Strunk and White tell writers to avoid using this word.

Feature. As Strunk and White said, "Like factor it usually adds nothing to the sentence in which it occurs."

I'm sure you can find plenty of times where I use these words in my writing. That's because bad habits are hard to kick. I try, but like you, I am only human. Despite our humanness, we should avoid using these words. As it is difficult to avoid using these words, here's one suggestion to try:

When you finish writing an essay, do a keyword search on each of these words using Edit--> Find in your word processor. In each instance, revise the word out with a more direct phrasing. By the time you reach the end of the document, your writing is a punchier and more direct.

The next installment of the Elements of Style Series will appear on this blog on Friday, 10 July 2009. I will continue this series each Friday until I run out of interesting topics in grammar, style and writing.

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