I have a problem with extraneous words. “Stood up” can usually be written as just “stood” if you have a character sitting at the kitchen table since there is no where else for him to stand. “Bob stood as Mary entered the room” flows better than “Bob stood up as Mary entered the room.”

As a commercial real estate appraiser, I have read many appraisal reports over the years. It drives me crazy to see someone write this: The subject property is rectangular. The subject property is level. The subject property has all utilities available.  The subject property is zoned for commercial uses.

Now, you have to understand there will be a heading at the top of page, usually in bold caps, that says “Subject Property.” So we understand the writer is referring to this property and not the one next door. This could be written as “The subject is rectangular and level with all utilities available. It is zoned for commercial uses.” Not only does this save nine words, the sentence flows better.

“The” is the most widely used word in the English language, and is also the most overused. I was reading a story the other day and ran across “The snow was falling as they neared the barn.” Doesn’t “Snow was falling as they neared the barn” read smoother? “The” may be necessary if you are writing about a specific group: “The kids were running amok in the park” may refer to your own kids while “Kids were running amok in the park” refers to all of the kids.

I read everything from newspapers and magazines to fiction and histories, and the liberal use of “the” bothers me. I usually will pause and wonder, “Did he mean his kids or all of the kids?” Making your reader pause can be a kiss of death since if she pauses too often, she may, as my friend Harvey Stanbrough says, throw your book across the room.

If you are a writer, especially a technical writer, please read what you write, preferrable out loud. I am guilty of using extraneous words when banging away at the keyboard trying to get words on paper (or should that be pixels) as fast as I’m thinking. However, proofing will usually allow me to correct these little hiccups.



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