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  • Jennifer Rubio

Two minutes for tripping


Okay, so maybe I just wanted to use a hockey analogy as a blog title... We do a lot of harping on grammar errors—things that are just wrong according to the rules we have set up for formal written English. But there are minor sins in writing, too, and most of them aren't "wrong" per se. They're just jarring, and they can trip your readers up. If your readers are immersed in your content, one of these tripping hazards can be enough to bring them out of it—and, perhaps, click the "back" button or pick up something else to read. Most of these hazards are the result of trying to do too much at once. Good writing flows naturally from one idea to the next, with a minimum of fuss. Have a look at the list below. Are you prone to making these mistakes? Person shifts. One minute the writing is addressing the reader, and the next minute it's talking about some hypothetical person. "If you are looking for excellent software, our company can help organizations get connected." What happened to you?

The reader is drawn in by the first part of your sentence, thinking the payoff will involve them as well. Then, they're told something about nebulous organizations. If you start by talking to me, keep talking to me. And if you're talking about something else, don't throw a "you" in there on an aside. It gets confusing. Tense switches. If you're talking about what your product does, don't change halfway through to tell us what it will do or would do. This is one of those things that operates on a subconscious level—it's not something that your reader will note outright, but it can cause enough of a "huh" moment to take them out of your prose. And if you can be consistent, why not be consistent? Too many parentheticals or em dashes. If you're trying to tell a story (and a story is what you're trying to tell), you probably—I'm guessing—don't want to (I mean, you definitely don't want to) interrupt yourself too much—even if you think your interruption is totally interesting. (Tired yet?) Watch out for prose that starts to look like the above. Generally, one set of em dashes per paragraph is plenty, and parentheticals used outside of a technical context should be used even more sparingly. Again, simplify what you're trying to say. Your audience doesn't need to know every last detail of your thought process. Subjects far from verbs. Nothing, not rotten eggs or a broken lawnmower, which is a pain in the butt let me tell you, because then you have to borrow a neighbor's, and the neighbor then thinks you owe them something for the rest of the year, is worse than a sentence where the verb is separated from the noun by a bunch of comments. See what I mean? This is usually used when the writer feels the need to add more information about the subject of the sentence. "The software we released on November 30th as part of our partnership with GreedCorp. to create a multi-vendor solution for sales is running well." See how much information there is between "software" and "is running"? There's no reason not to take some of that info and put it in a separate sentence. Keep tabs on this, especially considering that when your explanatory phrases get too long-winded, you can sometimes forget where you're going and end the sentence without getting to the verb at all. Extra information that feels like an aside from the narrator. This is a bit of a generalization from what we've already talked about. It often happens in the forms seen above, but it can also happen at any point in the sentence. If you feel really excited to share a bit of information, do your best to objectively think about whether it's relevant to the reader. If you think you're making a super-clever or witty comment, try to fight the urge, especially if your document doesn't have that kind of tone. And if you're me writing a blog, really do try to avoid putting in random hockey references just because you're a hockey fan. Being aware of these traps will help your writing be more succinct and more readable, no matter how complex the subject. Stay out of the penalty box and keep your readers skating along. (Look, I couldn't keep them out forever.)

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