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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Writing the Right Way

I found a photo on a Facebook page early last week, which inspired today's topic.

In a modern time consisting of instant messaging and texting, it appears the use of proper writing has been tossed aside. I can't help but cringe each time I've spotted terms as "b4", "h8", "u", and others like them in communiques outside of online and text messaging.

Has our society gotten so lazy that writing a complete sentence -or even one word - is becoming a chore? Sure, the "modern shorthand" may look cute on a smartphone and may fit well for something requiring 140 characters or less, but for everything else from manuscripts to professional correspondence, such writings won't make their authors appear very professional.

I also cannot tell you how many times I've read everything from online ads, blog posts and comments, and even actual articles that used various words such as "there", they're", "their", "you're", and "your" incorrectly. I've seen "loose" written for "lose," and vice versa.

The aforementioned aren't the only faux pas committed in modern writing. Pitfalls from past years still exist today:

Double negatives: Do you ever find yourself wanting to go back to the days when it was acceptable to tap the knuckles of an offender with a ruler who said, "I didn't do nothing?" Imagine if an editor saw the same on paper; they'd have a field day with their red pencils.

Unfortunately, double negatives still happen. For some books, such things may be all right for certain settings or time periods (such as a backwoods story), but majority of other genres - especially non-fiction, double negatives have no place.

Filler words: We've all been guilty of using filler words, including I. "Filler" words include "it, that, there", among others. Clearly, an occasional "filler" word is needed to complete specific sentences, but overuse can lower the quality of a good manuscript. One way to find out if you're using too many filler words is to take this test by entering a small sample of your writing. The results may surprise you.

Spelling: Everyone misspells words now and again, and spell check won't always catch them, which is always why it's a good idea to have a dictionary nearby. I've seen "distraught" spelled "distrait", "gefelt" for "gefilte", and other "creative" words of other than proper spelling.

However, there is an exception. Several English-speaking countries don't use American English (e.g. they spell "favour" in contrast to the American spelling of "favor", which is acceptable).

Slang: Works in moderation for books aimed toward young adult readers and some "niche" genres (e.g. sports). Otherwise, best to avoid using slang in any other writing.

Punctuation and run-on paragraphs: At least once, I've stopped reading something online not because the subject was of no interest to me, but because paragraphs ran on without proper breaks. Writers of such may not realize it, but run-on paragraphs without proper breaks and/or punctuation make their work more difficult to read. As a result, the reader will lose interest in what the writer has to say.

When in doubt where to insert specific punctuation or when to break paragraphs, there are plenty of useful web sites that can help, or you can consult an editor.

Adverbs: The use of adverbs is an ongoing debate. Some writing instructors advise not to use them, while others say adverbs are fine in moderation. Face it; if adverbs weren't meant to be used at all, why were they created in the first place? As far as this subject is concerned, I'll say there's no right or wrong and just feel comfortable what you write, as long as you don't overuse adverbs.

Have you started a new writing project? If so, look it over and see if it contains any of the above problems. If you're getting ready to start a new work, make it a New Year's resolution to write the right way. Happy writing!

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