You could also call this article Pet Peeves in technical writing gold Wow I guess I wasn’t thinking when I wrote that. You may notice, as you type, well, anything, that the tendency is to slip into some questionable, actually very bad writing habits. Sometimes, like when writing creatively, these habits aren’t so bad. Sometimes the writing style is relaxed and conversational so the laziness of the writing doesn’t show as much. In technical writing, all that laziness is bullshit.
Take the word “very”. If you can find it in the paragraph above, you will notice that it was part of the phrase ‘very bad’. I read an article recently that the word “very” is a great example of lazy writing. If something is “very” anything, there is probably a word for it. Like ‘very bad’ it could be ‘terrible’ or ‘awful’ or even ‘disastrous’. I could definitely see his point. Personally, I cringe every time I hear a newscaster say, “Stay tuned for the latest news on that story.” If anyone can tell me how much later is the latter than the latter, which for the record is the superlative for late, I will greatly appreciate it.
Note– Previous use of very was for sarcastic emphasis, not due to stylistic flaws on my part. Just say.
Another lazy form of technical writing is the overuse or even use of the phrases “hay” and “hay”. It is so easy to start a sentence with ‘there’. It seems to help you start your writing process. If you need to do that while writing down the ideas, please do so and then go back and rewrite these sentences so they don’t exist. For example, in the second paragraph of this article, see where I wrote “… there is probably a word for it.” If this was not an example, I would go back and rewrite this sentence as “probably a word for it already exists”. No more ‘there’. By the way, this is an extremely difficult habit to break.
Another junk word in technical writing is “really.” Yes, it really annoys me when “really” is used as an emphasis in technical writing. If you’re not really writing teen dialogue, you can probably really get rid of this word entirely in the white papers.
Just to complete the lazy author’s pantheon of what not to do, let me mention the word weeds. These are words that we group into empty sentences. You can usually replace each phrase with a single word. My favorite is ‘para’. All you want to say is “to”, so use “to”. It seems harmless enough but trust me, all those excessive words are getting in the way of what you are trying to say. Let me give you a few more examples:
- Most of … most
- A number of … many
- In the present moment … now
- Right now … now
- Have the ability to … power
- In the event that … yes
- In view of the fact that … because
- It often happens that … often
- Refer to … refer to
- Daily … Daily
- On the grounds that … because
- Take into consideration … consider
- Until the moment that … until
Obviously, because our speaking style often shapes our writing style, many of these junk words and phrases magically appear in our tech writing documents. That is not a sin. The sin is leaving them there and that’s where laziness comes in. After you’ve typed something, go back and look for the usual suspects like misspellings and passive voice. When you’ve done that, reread your copy and delete all the junk. You will really be very happy that you did.