Writing Workshop

I just stole the following list of writing mistakes from Undine’s blog. Sorry, Undine, I just really like it and I couldn’t control myself.

Let’s see which of these things I do on a regular basis.

  • Basically. Why is it basic, and if it’s basic, why do you have to tell the reader it’s basic? I don’t do this and I HATE it when students do. For some reason, they seem to adore their “basically”s and “actually”s.
  • Also. Go ahead–I dare you to do this: copy & replace every “also” with nothing (I say to myself).  Does it make a difference? If it does, you didn’t need it. I don’t do “also”, but I’m very enamored of “at the same time.” Do you, folks, believe it is as bad as overusing “also”?
  • In particular. Can’t you see that it’s a particular example? I don’t do this.
  • Attempts to serve as, attempts to prove.  It does or it doesn’t. Get off the fence and make this a more definite verb. God, I do this all the time. But Undine is right, this is bad, weak writing. I need to let it go.
  • Is also evident in. How about “informs,” a more definite verb? I don’t remember doing this.
  • Dashes and semicolons. Think about how your eyes glaze over when you see a semicolon-laden sentence, however nicely parallel the clauses are.  What are you, a writer or a mouse?  If you need a new sentence, start one. I use a lot of dashes in personal writing (I’m a Russian-speaker, after all) but almost never in academic writing. I actually thought there was something wrong with me if I never used any semicolons so it’s nice to see somebody who is anti-semicolon.
  • Way in which. Is anyone really going to care if you say “how” instead? Yes, I’m totally a “way in which” person. 
  • Trendy words–er, important critical terms like “discourse.” Do you really need these words? I don’t think I do this all that often. Am I kidding myself, though? I use “discourse” and Co a lot in oral communications but only when I’m trying to be funny.
  • Thus.  If the inference really does logically follow what you’ve said, do you need to signal it? “Thus” is important when you’re presenting a paper, but is it a signpost that the written paragraph really needs? My thesis director scared me away from “thus” many years ago.
  • Just as . . . so too and Not only . . . but also.  Apparently First Draft Undine loves these parallelisms, but Subsequent Drafts Undine should learn that she is not the 21st-century Henry James of sentence stylings or Milton in writing epic similes. Every Single Draft Clarissa LOVES these, as well. I need to get rid of these tributes to Spanish writing style.
  • This doesn’t even count the places where I add in a critic who maybe wrote something that referred in passing to a text in 1992 and who I see in my imagination glaring at me and crucifying me in reviews if I don’t cite him or her. I can’t tell you how often I do this. My reason for doing it is not the same as Undine’s, though. I mostly just feel like I need to demonstrate my erudition. It’s a bad idea every single time but I can’t control myself.

I’m going to do a lot of academic writing in the coming year, so I need to read as many posts like the linked one as possible.

5 thoughts on “Writing Workshop”

  1. Wow… Undine and I live on different planets.

    Clarissa, do you know if scholars like to police academic writing as much in other languages as they do in English?


    1. Me too. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any particular item on the list…. as long as it’s not overused (a judgement call, but I’m fine with those).

      On the other hand, writing that slavishly follows a laundry list of taboos and has been over-edited for maximum! impact! every! single! sentence! is! horrible! to! read!


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