Avoid common technical errors to tighten your language.

  1. Currently. Since it’s always used with the present form of the verb “to be” (e.g., “am,” “is” and “are”), “currently” is always redundant. If you are living in your parents’ basement, it’s obvious that that is a current arrangement. Otherwise, you would have said that you were living there or will be living there. Some similar words and phrases: “presently,” “exact same,” “brand new,” “clear and concise.”  
  2. In order to. The phrase is almost always extraneous and avoiding it makes for tighter, more concise sentences. There is no meaning lost between “I took the driving test in order to get my license.” and “I took the driving test to get my license.” 
  3. Make. This is a vague verb that weakens the action you’re describing. Replace it with a stronger, more specific verb. Instead of saying, “I made a right on Broad Street.” say “I turned right on Broad Street.” Some similar pitfalls: “do,” “get,” “go,” take,” “serves to,” “in order to.”  
  4. Passive voice. Avoiding passive voice is a stylistic choice, and some authors deliberately use passive voice to set a certain tone for their story. Passive voice can come across as convoluted and slow-going, however, so avoid it unless you have a specific reason to use it. Instead of “The coat that belonged to John was picked up by Mary.” say “Mary picked up John’s coat.” Some trigger words to watch out for: “of,” “by,” “has been.” 
  5. Past. Often used when you actually mean “last.” For example, if it is Sunday and you want to tell someone that you have been sick since Friday, you should say, “For the last two days, I’ve been sick as a dog.” That tells your audience that you are referring to the two most recent days (the last two) that have gone by. If you say, “For the past two days...” you could be referring to any two days that have gone by – any two days that are in the past. 
  6. Start to. Though not always extraneous, this phrase is often used with a verb that is clear on its own. Instead of “I started to walk to the store and arrived in less than 10 minutes.” say “I walked to the store and arrived in less than 10 minutes.” 
  7. There are. This phrase at the beginning of a sentence is usually extraneous, and the sentence can probably be reframed, and made more concise, without it. Instead of “There are far too many stupid people who think they can become politicians.” say “Far too many stupid people think they can become politicians.” Eliminating the phrase also varies your language. 
  8. Thing. Think of a more specific word. “Thing” means nothing to your reader, and suggests that you were too lazy to think of something better – excuse me, a better word.  
  9. Try and do. This phrase is an incorrect variation on the phrase “to try to do.” The use of “and” implies that you are separately “trying” and “doing,” If you have never ridden a bike before and are attempting it, you are not both “trying” and “riding a bike,” you are “trying to ride” a bike.  
  10. Very. As an adjective or adverb, the word is usually extraneous. You hardly ever need more emphasis than the main point implies, so tighten your language by avoiding “very.” Similar word: “really.” 
  11. Adverbs. Stemming off of the “very” tip above, most adverbs are extraneous. Adverbs, words that end in “-ly,” weaken your sentences and are not as descriptive as other words you can use in their place. Instead of “Deprived of food for days, the boy quickly ate the piping hot soup.” say “Deprived of food for days, the boy inhaled the piping hot soup.” 
  12. Head-hopping. If you have more than one narrator in your story, do not switch between narrators within a scene and even a chapter. It is very jarring for the reader and can often leave them confused about which character’s head they’re in at any given moment. 
  13. Punctuation. Not too much, and not too little. Too much punctuation (particularly hyphens, en/em dashes, semicolons, parentheses etc.) slows the flow of your sentences because each symbol makes the reader stop reading. Commas are almost always an effective alternative, as are periods (followed by a new sentence). Too little punctuation can, of course, muddle the meaning of your sentences. 
  14. Positive over negative. It’s easier for a reader to understand something that did happen over something that didn’t happen. Be as straightforward as possible. Instead of “I didn’t go to the store, opting to head home and take a nap instead.” say “I drove past the store toward home, planning to nap.” 
  15. Simplicity. Don’t feel the need to use big words to impress anyone; you’ll more likely end up confusing your readers. Focus on writing well, conveying your point in a way the reader will understand. 
  16. People. Like the Whos down in Whoville, people should be referred to as “who” rather than “that.” The same principle applies when you are referring to people by their titles (e.g., “the writer who wrote the award-winning essay”) and in groups (e.g., “the organizers who put together this event”). 
  17. Over and under. When referring to numbers, use “more than” or “less than” rather than “over” or “under.” Numbers stand for individual units of the thing you are referring to, and can’t be clumped together as one unit. Instead of “The group raised over $100 million for the charity.” say “The group raised more than $100 million for the charity.” 
  18. Hyphens. Hyphens are always used when you are modifying a noun with two words. But note: Only use a hyphen when the two-word modifier is being used as an adjective or adverb (often coming before the noun). You may have a full-time job, but you work full time. Also note that adverbs that end in “-ly” don’t need a hyphen to connect to the word that follows (e.g., “I am fully employed”).