Thursday, July 17, 2008

Transitions require special care (2)

In the previous post, I discussed why clear transitions are so important to clear writing. In particular, I explained how the sloppy use of the phrase as such can confuse the reader.

Another commentator made the same point, but inadvertently. Writing in the Language Log, Mark Liberman argued that the sloppy use of as such is often acceptable because readers will know what is meant.

He provided this example:

“Attorneys are often in deposition or court and as such they may not call back for two or three days.”

Then he commented:

“In this case, it’s clear that we’re meant to infer something like ‘as people who are often in deposition or court’ or maybe just ‘as busy people’.”

Although he claimed that the reader will know what is meant, he hedged his claim three times in one sentence: first by using “something like,” second by providing two versions of what is meant, and third by using “maybe” before the second version. I argue that Professor Liberman inadvertently proved that the writer’s meaning is not clear.

The Takeaway: Don’t rationalize laziness. Put a little extra effort into making yourself clear so that your readers won’t have to guess. Clear writing expresses not only your meaning but also your respect.

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