All writers make mistakes, certainly including me. It’s better to spot your own instead of having a reader do it.
You’ll find a few examples, listed below, that challenge you to correct them.
One of the most common mistakes? Writing that does not say what it means:
“As president of the Kennel Club, his poodle had to be perfectly groomed.”
Peruse that sentence and you’re likely to conclude that the president of the Kennel Club is a poodle.
The first word after Kennel Club has to be “he.” That’s because “president” needs immediate identification. And it certainly isn’t “his poodle.”
The desire to compress information. The writer packs it all into a sentence without thinking it through.
One solution: As president of the Kennel Club, he insisted his poodle be perfectly groomed.
Another classic error, often appearing in news releases from sports publicists:
“Born in Denver, his record for touchdown passes in one season has stood for 23 years.”
When you write “Born in Denver” you must immediately identify the person born in Denver. His passing record was not born in Denver; “he” was.
Grammarians have a name for that sin: “Born in Denver” is a dangling modifier. It dangles in limbo, unconnected to what it intends to describe.
So, writers, do not dangle; do not drift.
Drifting: another of the most common errors writers commit.
Do not let related ideas in a sentence drift apart. Drift can cause disaster. Spot errors in the following real-life examples and, before you go on to finish the column, correct them.
If you find yourself laughing, you are on the right track. There’s more than one way to correct the drift in these examples. Remember, one key to clear writing is … rewriting. Rewrite these, and have some fun.
1. Atlanta’s very recognizable Ted Turner presented Edwin Moses the gold medal for winning the 400-meter hurdles while dressed in a yellow-and-white-striped gold shirt, gray sports coat and a borrowed burgundy tie.
2. The gardens were rescued from decades of neglect and vandalism by the Women’s Committee.
3. The family lawyer will read the will tomorrow at the residence of Mr. Daniels, who died June 19 to accommodate his relatives.
4. Organ donations from the living reached a record high last year, outnumbering donors who are dead for the first time.
Besides laughing, you were on the right track if you spotted the mistakes: Edwin Moses did not run his race dressed in coat and tie; the Women’s Committee did not vandalize the gardens; Mr. Daniels did not die to accommodate his relatives; and dead donors did not come back to life to donate again.
For more fun, create your own sentence that drifts deliberately and send it to the e-mail address on my website. I’ll honor the author of the most delectable entry and include it in my next column.
Gary Gilson, a Twin Cities writing coach and five-time Emmy Award winner in public television, has taught writing-intensive journalism courses at Colorado College for 22 years.
Contact him through www.writebetterwithgary.com.