RESPECT: Showing Consideration for Readers through Economy of Words, Elegance, and Correct Grammar

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Ulla de Stricker, de Stricker Associates

Following on her piece in the August 2013 issue, Ulla de Stricker offers additional examples of common but easily avoidable errors in English language usage.

Word to lose: Basically. It provides no useful information and should be banned!

GRATING: Basically, the team has concluded it would be better to start the project next year.
APPROPRIATE: In summary, the team has concluded … (or just: The team has concluded …)

Is there a cure for this-itis?

When you feel tempted to use the word “this” … look for an unambiguous formulation. Let me illustrate:

POOR: The number of emails has increased dramatically. This represents a strain on employees’ time, and they feel stressed. We are attempting to address this

[the strain or the stress or both?] by issuing a policy. But unless everyone pays attention to this [the policy or the strain & stress?], it won’t help.
CLEARER: The number of emails has increased dramatically. The increase represents a strain on employees’ time, and they feel stressed. We are attempting to address that strain and the resulting stress by issuing a policy. However, no policy will help unless everyone pays attention to it.

And is there similarly a cure for that-itis?

When you feel tempted to use the word “that” …. ask if it’s truly needed.

GRATING: The attitude that she projects is contagious. I wish that I had the energy that you have. Judging from the way that the meeting is going, it could be a long one.
MORE ELEGANT: The attitude she projects is contagious. I wish I had the energy you have. Judging from the way the meeting is going, it could be a long one.

Trick: Remember the saying “the way the cookie crumbles”. We don’t say “the way that the cookie crumbles”.

Wait on? Not unless it’s hand and foot!

WRONG: We’re waiting on the chair, so the meeting is delayed.
CORRECT: We’re waiting for the chair, so …

“Wait on” means “serve”: We enjoyed the lovely dinner on the terrace – three staff were waiting on us!

Trick: Recall the play Waiting for Godot. Those two gentlemen were definitely not waiting “on” Godot! …

I know, “subjunctive” sounds scary, but don’t be afraid of the were-wolf – it’s only there in the imagination.

WRONG: If I was in that situation, I would be concerned. If the meeting was held earlier, I could attend.
CORRECT: If I were in that situation, I would be concerned. I could attend if the meeting were held earlier.

And since we’re on the topic of imagined situations, here’s a real cringe-inducer:

WRONG: If the meeting had have been earlier, I could of attended.
CORRECT: If the meeting had been earlier, I could have attended.

Asbestos is no longer permitted in buildings. Neither should it be in your communication!

WRONG: As best as I can tell, … We worked as best as we could.
CORRECT: As best I can tell, … We worked as best we could.

Advanced or advance? It’s easy: sophisticated, progressed? … or so that there is extra time to react?

WRONG: We give advanced notice to selected customers about the upcoming event.CORRECT: We give advance notice … (notice in advance)

“Advanced” means ahead in comparison with something else, or moved forward or up: She is at an advanced grade level in school. The time line has been advanced so that the office cleanup will occur two weeks earlier than originally planned. The team has advanced to the regional soccer playoffs.

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