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Include needless words

Include needless words to the extent that the redundancy helps with clarity as opposed to just looking weird. One example of a good needless word that can help a reader understand is “instead”.

It’s usually not logically necessary:

“Baba is not you. Instead, Keke is you.”

The word “instead” is needless there but it makes it clearer.

Same goes for being careful when you can use “ands” vs “buts”. Again, pure logic is the enemy when the semantic content is contrasting.

“I don’t like guns, and knives are alright” is confusing. Instead, “but knives are alright” would make more sense.

I’ve found that including a lot of these needless clarifications has cut down on a lot of problems. Endless hours of arguing with angry scrubs who mistakenly believe I think the opposite of what I think, because they were reading sloppily, and they conflated what was intended to be contrasted in my overly implicit and terse style.

As a fellow sloppy reader, I can sympathize.

“Mistakenly believe” vs “correctly believe” (or even “know”) is another distinction I’ve started trying to be more explicit about.

Strunk famously wrote “Omit needless words”:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

But a sloppy reader is no machine.

Most of his examples are good edits that I completely agree with. The needless words in them add noise and not signal. Brevity is awesome and helps clarity.

However, there are some exceptions where he is removing clarity or making the text grammatically iffy.

s/I was unaware of the fact that/I was unaware that/

For example, “I was unaware that you liked the forest”. His edit goes against some L1 speakers’ instinct since it uses an S in NP position, and many people instinctively add an “of the fact” there. This doesn’t tend to happen with “I didn’t know that you like the forest” since the “didn’t know” predicate ends with a verb while the “was unaware” predicate ends with an adjective. Ultimately follow your own instinct and natural voice over grammar rules, if you’re an English native speaker. Grammar is meant to map and explore and discover your language, not dictate and constrict it. (Us non-native speakers, on the other hand, are well-served by nerding out with grammar books.)

s/His brother, who is a member of the same firm/His brother, a member of the same firm/
s/Trafalgar, which was Nelson’s last battle/Trafalgar, Nelson’s last battle/

Two great examples where switching back from his edits and instead using the more explicit style has cut down on misunderstandings. Anecdata alert! If you make real studies on this, send me the results.♥︎

He also proposes editing this:

Macbeth was very ambitious.
This led him to wish to become king of Scotland.
The witches told him that this wish of his would come true.
The king of Scotland at this time was Duncan.
Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murdered Duncan.
He was thus enabled to succeed Duncan as king.

to this:

Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth achieved his ambition and realized the prediction of the witches by murdering Duncan and becoming king of Scotland in his place.

That’s not good. That’s a recipe for having the sloppily-reading scrubs at your door with pitchforks and torches.

The edited, shorter version raises a lot of questions:

js wrote in, adding:

Native speaker here. Another point: I think “realized” in the terse Macbeth summary is confusing (or, at best, archaic).

“achieved his ambition and realized” is very garden-pathy to me. I’m thinking “what did he realize? something about himself? the nature of power? etc”

Note the “long” version (which is also quite succinct imo) doesn’t explicitly point out that the witches’ prediction came true. It’s flexible enough to let the reader put that together themselves.