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Bad Phrases in Writing, Round 1

When I’m working with writers, I find a number of phrases that I immediately strike because, to be frank, they’re bad phrases. Some just take up unnecessary space on the page and time if read aloud. Others are subtly insulting. And in all cases, they don’t actually add to what’s being said. The following is an incomplete list:

As you can see,
Put “as you can see” in the list of phrases to rarely use. Either the reader already sees them, in which case it’s irrelevant, or the reader doesn’t, in which case you’re unintentionally demeaning.

Perhaps…
As in “Perhaps the most important…” Don’t use “perhaps”. The reader isn’t musing with you. She’s trying to learn from you.

Keep in mind… and Remember…
These are not assertive statements. On rare occasions, “Keep in mind” is the right thing to do, but normally it should be struck. And “Remember” is a more condescending version of “Keep in mind.”

In other words,
If you have to do this in order to make your point come across, you didn’t explain it right the first time. Strike this and rewrite that passage.

Thus,
Too academic. Granted, that’s more situational, but I look at that word very carefully.

…rule of thumb…
Ever since I saw the (possibly untrue) explanation in Boondock Saints of “rule of thumb” meaning you could beat your wife with something as long as it wasn’t wider than your thumb, I have an association with this phrase. Additionally, it’s a lazy writing tool (and sometimes a lazy design tool).

…in your game/campaign/story…
This is implied. Kill it wherever it crops up.

…often varies…
When  something “often varies,” that’s not really a variance on anything. That leads me to thinking you don’t know what you’re talking about.

It is possible to…
Passive voice! Kill this.

It’s worth noting that… (similarly, Note that…)
I assume so, since you’re noting it. As with some of the others, here’s a case where you can just strike the clause, capitalize the next letter, and the edit’s done.

 

There’s more, oh so much more. And you editors out there might have some to share in the comments. And to be absolutely clear, we all do stuff like this. Writing this doesn’t make you a bad writer; taking them out makes you a better writer.

– Ryan

P.S. Some of these are used in the Fantasy Editor’s Bingo page I made that Logan Bonner uses while he’s working.

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8 Responses to Bad Phrases in Writing, Round 1

  1. Brian Engard says:

    I also try to strike “basically” and its fancy cousin “essentially” from my writing. Like “in other words”, the implication is that you’re saying the same thing a different (and simpler) way. Say it clearly the first time and you don’t need it. If it’s the first time you’re saying something, you still don’t need it.

  2. Kit says:

    That explanation for “rule of thumb” is almost certainly untrue; the OED lists the first printed use of the phrase at 1685, and the first printed use of that explanation at 1976. But nonetheless, the image is a powerful (and disgusting) one, and it’s the association I have with the phrase, too.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Kit,

      Yeah, I couldn’t find that association elsewhere. That said, it’s been entered into the geeksphere thanks to the cultistness of that movie.

      I do stand by it being an allowance for lazy writing & design, though.

      – Ryan

    • Justin says:

      Yeah, the description used was made out of whole cloth. The original “rule of thumb” was using your thumb (the first knuckle, specifically) as a ruler (it’s about an inch.) The software ate my lengthy dissertation on the topic.

      The summary is this: along with picnic and Wall St., there is no need to fabricate outrageous outrage within our language. I have a distinct affection for the English language, and I dislike the demonization of perfectly crommulent words.

      It’s also worth noting that Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law (1765) deals with spousal abuse in English Common Law. Husbands were permitted “moderate correction” of their wives, but specifically forbids “violence,” “striking,” “whipping” and “beating with sticks.” The context of the Comentaries was a codification of the common law that had been in place for at least 600 years. The punishment for beating your wife with a stick was the same as beating anyone else with a stick: death, banishment, maiming or flogging, as a judge sees fit. I think our forebears took spousal abuse very seriously.

  3. JDCorley says:

    “Here’s the thing”
    “Here’s the real story”
    “Consider this”
    “Now, back to”
    “Consider”
    “Let’s be honest”
    “Only problem there is”

    and things like saying

    “Who knows what happened” two paragraphs before saying what happened.

    Saying “and so on and so forth” in cold blood.

    By the time I’ve entered this obscure hobby, found your non-D&D book, bought it, brought it home, and are reading it, you don’t have to tell me to think about what you’re writing, or tell me you’re about to tell me something. I’m in, okay?!

    Just start your paragraph! I’ll come along, I promise.

  4. Christoph says:

    W00t! My book is 250++ pages and I’ve avoided this pitfall. I feel strangely triumphant and approved of by Ryan; I’m sure it is an illusion, but a pleasant one. :)