Failing to Credit Readers Intelligence

Think about your readers, and avoid telling them what they already know or can easily infer from the context.

f> Don't Define What Is Common Knowledge

Accountants sometimes function as auditors (people from outside a company who check the books kept by the company's own accountants).

All the italicized words in that sentence are dead. If readers understand there is no reason to suppose that

"auditors" requires definition. Gratuitous definitions not only make deadwood, but interfere with communication in another, more serious readers by seeming to insult their intelligence.

Granted, it is not easy to decide when a word ought to be defined. In the following instance the naturalist Joseph Wood Krutch, writing for general readers, realizes that they will not understand geological terms and neatly explains what they need to know:

To even the most uninstructed eye a scorpion fossilized during the Silurian or Devonian epoch—say something like three hundred million years ago—is unmistakably a scorpion.

Ask yourself whether a definition is needed by the reader whom you have in mind. (And remember that it is not too much to ask people to look into a dictionary now and again.)

> Don't Spell Out What Is Clearly Implied

Unless there is a clear chance of confusion, you do not have to state what is entailed in a word's meaning (the deadwood is italicized):

Her dress was blue in color. He was very talI in height.

combinations often contain deadwood caused by overexplicitness. In many cases the adjective is unnecessary:

There is considerable danger involved. We question the methods employed. The equipment needed is expensive. The store stocks many products to be sold.

CONCISION 289

Each has a special purpose when it is used.

This question has two sides to it

Most countries of the world have their own coinage.

In other cases it is the noun that is dead:

They committed an act of burglary.

The quarterback is noted for his passing ability.

It has existed for a long period

She was an unusual kind of child.

The punt return resulted a fumble situation.

The last major barrier to the westward expansion movement was the Rocky Mountains.

Categorizing words such as kind, sort, type, class, and so on are especially prone to dead use. Emphasis or tone will sometimes justify "He is the kind of man who...Otherwise, the more concise "He is a man who ..." is preferable.

Often in these noun-adjectival combinations, the adjectives can be used substantively, that is, as nouns:

On quilts, silk patches replaced the homespun ones. BETTER: On quilts, silk patches replaced homespun.

Verbs, too, hide implicit meanings, which, whether expressed as a complement or a modifier, are often better left unsaid:

She always procrastinates things. He tends to squint his eyes.

I have been told by various people that smoking is sophisticated.

Sometimes an idea is clearly implied by the total context rather than by any single word. Each of these phrases is dead:

Writing poetry requires experience as well as sensibility. A prerequisite to writing poetry is being able to write prose.

I dislike television. Most programs on television are unbelievable.

A good personality will help anyone, no matter what profession he or she chooses in life.

A special but frequent form of overexplicitness is the un-needed connective, especially common with conjunctive adverbs like however, therefore, furthermore, and so on. The following sentence does not really need the connective:

People think that stamp collecting requires money; however, it doesn't.

BETTER: People think that stamp collecting requires money; it doesn't.

The negated verb establishes the contradiction, and removing "however" even strengthens the point.

Probably it is true that inexperienced writers use too few conjunctive adverbs rather than too many. Even so, it pays to check howevers and thuses and consequentlys. Be sure that you really need them, or rather, that your readers really need them.

It can be wordy and tiresome to spell out all the connections of your ideas. The same impulse can make you heavy-handed in explaining your intentions—telling the reader what you're going to do next, or have just done, or won't do at all. Such explanations are like scaffolding around a new building. Scaffolding can be helpful in early drafts, enabling you to see where you're going. But when they revise, experienced writers dismantle most of these planks and ladders. Some should remain—enough to help readers where they need help. Where they do not, where they can follow your progress for themselves, scaffolding gets in the way, obscuring thought as staging around a new building conceals its shape.

it cannot be justified by is a particularly awkward kind of scaffolding. An overworked formula is "Let me say" (variants: "Let me make clear," "Let me explain," "Let me tell you something"). Be on guard against pointless announcement at the beginning of a composition. Many readers react negatively to this sort of opening:

The essay that follows is about baseball. Specifically, it will deal with the business organization of a major league team. BETTER: Supporting every major league baseball team is a complex business organization.

Good writers help their readers, but they do not assume that readers are helpless.

t> Avoid Empty Redundancy

Empty redundancy is pointless repetition. It is often found in headwords and modifiers:

bisect in half modern life of today >

vital essentials sufficiently satisfied

It is clearly evident that

He hanged himself, thereby taking his own life.

Unlike legitimate restatements for clarity or emphasis, such redundancies are awkward and illogical, special instances of not understanding what words mean. A phrase like "vital essentials" seems to imply that there are "essentials" which are not "vital," a contradiction. Can you "bisect" anything without cutting it "in half"? Can a man hang himself without

"thereby taking his own life"? (Never mind the rope's breaking; bang in such a context means to cause death.)

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

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