Write How You Write, Not How You Speak
Recently, I wrote about word patronage, the often-unnecessary inclusion of self-referential expressions as “as you will” and “so to speak” in one’s writing. This post expands on that one to recommend that you inspect your writing for anything that smacks of spoken English.
If you’ve ever seen a transcript of an extended discourse — a written record of someone’s comments, rather than the prepared script for a speech — you’ll understand how widely spoken and written English can diverge.
Spontaneous speech, at least, is riddled with qualifications and equivocations. It’s easy enough to dispose of “um”s and “uh”s, “well”s and “you know”s when converting a transcript to an essay, but writers should purge their prose of other utterances, words, and phrases as well that add a lot to a word count but little to a description or an argument. (See this post, for instance, for a list of adjectival intensifiers and their adverbial forms to avoid.)
In addition, omit hedging phrases such as “as I see it,” “from my point of view,” “in my opinion,” and “it seems to me.” Search and destroy such pompous filler as “be that as it may” or “other things being equal.” These are all understandable (though not necessarily forgivable) indulgences in spoken English, whether impromptu or rehearsed — at best, they’re nearly meaningless phrases one tosses off while thinking of what to say next, and at worst, they clutter a speech, distracting and discouraging listeners. But readers expect your prose to be direct and dynamic, and there’s no place for such self-gratification in written form.
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