My writing is atrocious: that’s something that becomes apparent after making even slight passes through this blog. Recently, I decided to improve my writing by completing daily grammar exercises. The exercises take roughly 20-30 minutes a day and involve some very basic examples (e.g. comma and colon use). I did not consider how drastic the improvement in my writing would be after improving my grammar.
There are a few grammar rules I found myself repeatedly breaking. Having my errors pointed out definitely helps in correcting them. My common writing mistakes include:
- Dangling Modifiers
- Faulty Parallelism
- Cliché Use
- Mixed constructions
This error is one that I often commit in the drafting process. The error comes as part of the automatic typing frenzy that ensues after I have some general idea set. Here’s an example:
Dangling: Walking across the field, the goalie came into view. Revised: Walking across the field, I saw the goalie.
In the example with a dangling modifier, the reader must make the assumption that it is surely me - and not the goalie - that is walking across the field. The revised sentence is explicit with the pronoun I.
I never realized this was a grammar mistake. My writing often has cases of faulty parallelism. Here’s an example:
Not parallel: During the summer, we hunted, canoed, and set plans. Parallel: During the summer, we hunted, canoed, and planned.
The first sentence uses past tense for the first two terms and present tense for the third term. The corrected sentence uses past tense for all of the terms.
This one actually hurts a bit when you read the sentences. There’s nothing that quite kills the flow of words like a giant cliché in writing. Following George Orwell’s number one rule in his essay “5 Rules for Effective Writing”, one should, “never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” This is a rule I use to break a lot in the past. Now, however, it seems slightly easier to avoid. But, I suppose some clichés do have their place.
By reviewing essays written by myself and others, it became apparent that this issue plagues many writers that have not been introduced to academic writing. The issue arises, I assume, due to the writer wanting to explain, in great detail, exactly what they are thinking. But, the extra text is unnecessary. Here’s a sentence I wrote as an example:
I had never seen a dead corpse.
For what reason would the reader need the adjective of dead in front of corpse? Of course the corpse is dead - that’s why it’s a corpse. The word “dead” does not add any new information at all. Removing the modifier improves the sentence by getting rid of redundancy.
Mixed constructions include a range of things ranging from: subordinate clauses being used as the subject of a sentence, subjects not being included in the main clause, or words not relating to each other logically. I was definitely the most guilty of using words that did not relate to each other logically. Here’s a great example I found:
Not: AIDS is a disease where the immune system is weakened. But: AIDS is a disease that weakens the immune system.
I imagine the grammar mistake arises from confusing norms in verbal and written speech. It’s quite common to use informal language such as “where the immune system is weakened” in oral speech.
I guess that’s what I have to write so far about improving my grammar. If you’ve actually read this far in the post, I commend you. This must be a ridiculously boring post for someone else to read. But, I suppose that’s why it’s labelled under “tomyself.”