That hidden fat

pinch fatIn this age of body-shaming, no one wants to use words like bony, scrawny, chubby, pudgy, or fat. We say slim, willowy, curvy, big-boned … euphemisms to avoid making people feel awkward about their physiques. But when it comes to writing, almost everyone needs a wakeup call, even if it hurts.

Your writing is probably fat. Sorry, but there’s no other word for it. We all use meaningless clichés without even realizing it. They’re part of our conversational vocabularies, and they creep into our writing like midnight refrigerator raids. You ask, “Why should I care? I’m not a swimsuit model – I mean – professional writer!” Perhaps not. But you might write emails, business reports, letters to the editor, announcements, notices, or bulletins for the Cub Scouts.

The trouble with fat writing is that the extra words dilute your message and subtract from its meaning. Readers get bored and stop paying attention.

To guard against releasing fat writing into the world, self-edit before you publish or send. These examples of voluminous verbiage show what to look out for, and what you could say instead:

  • so on and so forth (so on)
  • first and foremost (first)
  • last but not least (last)
  • over and over and over again (repeatedly)
  • far and away (clearly)
  • in some form or fashion (somehow)

And you can usually leave these out altogether:

  • as a matter of fact
  • as I said before
  • at the end of the day
  • it goes without saying that
  • for all intents and purposes
  • to tell you the truth

I know you’re not shallow and it’s not for vanity’s sake. I’m concerned about your health and want you to have a long and successful (writing) life.

So cut out the F-word, fat, and flex those nouns and verbs. Your writing might even make it to the Sports Illustrated cover.

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗  Dear readers  ∗∗∗∗∗∗∗

amazon coverThe spirit of this blog is now captured in a book: From the Errors of Others, available online at these links:

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble

Archway Bookstore

Richard Nordquist, Grammar and Composition expert for About.com, says:

From the Errors of Others is a refreshing alternative to those heavy handbooks we never opened in school…. Imagine that: a smart book about writing and speaking effectively that people will actually enjoy reading.”

Cotton-candy writing

cotton candyHappy childhood memories … the county fair, the school carnival, the baseball game! The junk food—hot dogs, caramel corn, and my favorite, cotton candy.

Kids love the spun-sugar treat because it’s light, pretty (don’t think about what’s in that food coloring), easy to eat, and completely devoid of nutritional value.

Online articles often make me think of cotton candy. Puffed up, spun around, brightly tinted, full of empty calories. They catch your eye with enticing headlines, but fail to deliver the content you expect. If you would like a career as a cotton-candy-article writer, or if you’re a college student who needs an essay – fast – be sure to use these techniques:

Adjectives and adverbs
great, many, quite, perfect, awesome, any, interesting, particular, incredible, amazing, very, really, usually, dramatically, just, especially, kind of, hopefully, probably

Clichés
At the end of the day
In the final analysis
When all is said and done
It is what it is
The bottom line

Meaningless phrases
It has often been said that
As I have mentioned previously
Certain unnamed sources have alleged that
In some circles it is accepted practice to assume that
To be perfectly honest

In the course of growing up to be a successful scientist, my brother was an excellent college student. But, like many of us, he awoke one morning to realize he had a writing assignment due in a couple of hours and he had nothing prepared. Armed with only a dictionary and a typewriter (before personal computers, no Internet, Google or Wikipedia), he had to spin something out of nothing … and fast. Using many of the techniques I’ve listed here, I’m sure, he cobbled together the required number of pages with no knowledge of the subject whatsoever. When the paper was returned, the professor had written in the margin:

Congratulations. I read your paper. I now know less about the subject than I did before.

It takes some work, but if you master cotton-candy writing, you can always go into politics.

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