for a strong, fast pick-me-up
This tip will help you improve your writing – whether you work in the media or in another industry.
(My prized Olivetti Lettera 32 – we don’t use these in the newsroom)
These days I write and sub-edit for a major Australian commercial TV news network and need to constantly read and listen to news stories from papers and radio stations (and yes other TV competitors). I consider myself lucky to get to see plenty of examples of good writing…and writing that could be better.
One news story that caught my eye this week was from a newspaper report about a murder verdict being re-instated on appeal. Gerard Baden-Clay was guilty or murder – then manslaughter (on appeal) – then murder AGAIN after a further appeal to the highest court in Australia – The High Court.
Wife-killer Gerard Baden-Clay is guilty of murdering his spouse Allison once again…
The problem is the time element ‘once again’ being placed next to ‘murdering his spouse Allison’ – so it reads:
murdering his spouse Allison once again
No, you can only murder a person once.
The tip: place any time element close to the words it is meant to apply to – what is happening at that time?
What has happened once again is: he has been found guilty once again.
So, a better way to write this line is:
Wife-killer Gerard Baden-Clay is guilty once again of murdering his spouse Allison..
Time elements are also vital for business communication. So many costly mistakes occur because the reader misinterprets the writer’s message. In my previous ‘word nerd’ job WI helped big organisations such as Apple improve their work communication – and I stressed avoiding time ambiguity.
An example of time ambiguity: I said two weeks ago I moved to Singapore.
What happened two weeks ago? the saying or the moving?
Make your message clear by keeping the time element closest to the words it’s meant to modify. The problem with the above sentence is the time element is close to both verbs – said and moved.
Better to be clearer by moving the time element – depending on what you mean to say.
Two weeks ago I said I moved to Singapore.
I said I moved to Singapore two weeks ago.
You can apply the same technique to that news report sentence above.
Once again, wife-killer Gerard Baden-Clay is guilty of murdering his spouse Allison…
Remember, in news writing, you usually like to start a sentence with the most dramatic words such as: Wife-killer Gerard Baden-Clay..
Another tip: you can make an ambiguous sentence (such as I said two weeks ago I moved to Singapore) clearer by just inserting the word that.
I said THAT two weeks ago I moved to Singapore.
I said two weeks ago THAT I moved to Singapore.
If you like writing tips – I like to pass on many tips I’ve learned from great writers who taught me.