Quick Tips: The Forgotten An

Posted by on Nov 15, 2013 in Business Writing | 0 comments

OK, time for a riveting GrandpaHank’s quick tip! On occasion, I’ll be giving small editing tips that aren’t at all based on mistakes I’ve recently noticed in my own writing because everything I do is flawless from start to Finnish. I mean finish. Damn it.

One of the most commonly overlooked errors has to do with “a” and “an.” These tiny little indefinite articles are very easy to miss as you scan through a sentence. They’re the benches between skyscrapers. You don’t notice them at all until a week after they’re removed and you think to yourself, “Wait a minute, weren’t there benches here last week? I swear there were benches here last week. Who removes benches for no reason? I bet it was vandals. Vandals love benches. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe there were never any benches here. That’s a shame. This would really be a great place for some damn benches.”

Now most people know when to use “a” and when to use “an.” If the following word starts with a consonant, use “a.” If it starts with a vowel, use “an.” Pretty simple, right?

It is. It’s very simple. You don’t say, “Hey, give me a orange,” or “I just found an great bargain.”

Unless you’re five.
Or drunk.
Or trying to make a point on a blog.
And drunk.

So why does this get screwed up in the body of your work so often? It’s because of this…
Say you write…

These five things are a completely essential part of a balanced breakfast.

And then you think, “Hmmm, this paragraph is just a bit too long to fit on the brochure. If I could just eliminate a word or two here or there without changing the intent… but where? A-HA! I’ll just eliminate the word “completely.” There aren’t many things that aren’t COMPLETELY essential. I’ve never heard someone say, “Well, that’s kind of essential.” It’s either essential or it’s not. Yup, “completely” is gone. I’m a daggum genius.”

So what do you do? You go ahead and highlight the word “completely,” hit DELETE, pat yourself on the tummy and move on. Except now what you have is….

These five things are a essential part of a balanced breakfast.

Uh-oh. You didn’t check to see how the elimination of one word affected the rest of the sentence. And since the “a” is barely even there, you skim right past it.

It’s even worse when the opposite happens and you throw a word into a sentence that wasn’t originally there. You look at your bland sentence and think, “Ya know what, I’d better just insert some sort of modifier before “essential.” It needs more punch. Oooh, ooh, I’ll just throw in the word “completely.” Yeah, there we go. That looks GREAT!”

These five things are an completely essential part of a balanced breakfast.

See how easy it is? Your eyes are most likely focused on the word you’re eliminating or adding so you completely miss the mistake in the sentence as a whole. So that’s the quick tip of the day…

When adding or eliminating words, read the ENTIRE sentence to make sure what you’ve done hasn’t created a mistake somewhere else.

Also, take a little time to enjoy your favorite bench because you never know how much time you have before the vandals get to it.

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