How To Not Write Bad

Although a short session, Ben Yagoda’s presentation offered valuable tidbits to consider as we write our research and analysis papers. He outlined seven mistakes, although I believe his book outlines eight, that we tend to make when writing in an academic setting.

According to Yagoda, the first mistake is being wordy. Unless we really do need all those words, we should really try to cut down and simplify. He suggests reading essays out loud, making sure to revise and edit, as well as continually informing ourselves through constant reading of any kind of material. The second mistake is starting weak. We have already worked on this in class through revision of “to be” verbs and passive voice. Next, the third mistake is using the word “reside,” or more so those types of words. Yagoda actually recommends using simpler words such as “live” instead of “reside.” Mistakes four and five go hand in hand as Yagoda recommends not relying on spell-check and the online thesaurus. Once again, he prefers to keep word choice simple and through keeping ourselves well-informed and well-read, the use for spell-check is minimized. The sixth mistake is using the word “literally” and other skunkers. I took this more to mean that we should be careful with word choice in order to make sure that the words we choose are actually expressing exactly what we want to say. Finally, the last mistake he talked about was using a bit too many qualifiers and intensifiers. Instead of just relying on adjectives, we must ensure that we provide evidence to back up our statements and claims. Show don’t tell.

Although I do not personally agree with all of these tips, probably due to the way I was taught to write in high school, the session was useful because now I have these ideas in the back of my mind as I research and write my paper. I tend, and actually like, to use a thesaurus and words such as “reside” because I feel that it provides variety in writing, and that is also how I was taught to write so I do not know if I could easily break that habit. Nevertheless as I continue my work, I do intend to correct Yagoda’s first mistake of being wordy because I tend to do that a lot. Sometimes it is necessary, but I want to continue forward with the goal of cutting down on words whenever possible. Overall, the session was insightful and served to instill small reminders to use as I write.

Seven Mistakes Outlined:

  1. Being wordy

  2. Starting weak

  3. Using the word “reside”

  4. Relying on spell-check

  5. Relying on the online thesaurus

  6. Using the word “literally” and other skunkers

  7. Using a bit too many qualifiers and intensifiers


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