The hard part of writing, part the umpteenth

rogersgeorge on October 12th, 2011

I’ve been allowing my day job and other things to interfere with this website, and the English language has been falling apart around me while I have been slacking off. As if this humble site makes a difference, but I do like to think that the tender souls who read this site improve their writing as a consequence, and I’ve been sadly negligent. Please accept my humblest apologies. If it’s any comfort, I regularly flag errors I see, so I have a nice supply of topics in store for you. Look for one every other day, for a while, at least.

What’s the hard part of writing? It’s knowing what to do when a sentence is grammatical, but it’s still not right. The hard part is making it right. First a little back story: Last weekend I attended the Annapolis Boat Show, sailboat edition (next weekend is power boats),  to take some photographs for a friend who couldn’t be there. I shelled out $17 to get in, so I spent some time (seven hours) cruising around the walkways picking up samples and asking a lot of questions. I caught a bit of the sailing bug, and could consume several pages describing my adventures at the show, but I’ll save most of that for my travel blog, Travel with me. One thing I picked up was a copy of the magazine Living Aboard. I plan to read it cover to cover, including the ads. But it needs a proofreader! Someone like me, maybe. Here’s the sentence I want you to look at. It’s in an article about buying a used boat.

While this should not come as a real surprise to anyone I think it is fair to safely conclude that those with the financial means still prefer quality and are willing to pay for it.

Okay, first let’s fix the punctuation. Comma after “anyone.” (Separate a subordinate clause from the rest of the sentence with a comma, but you knew that, right?) That’s minor. So now we have a perfectly grammatical sentence, but it’s wrong:

While this should not come as a real surprise to anyone, I think it is fair to safely conclude that those with the financial means still prefer quality and are willing to pay for it.

Do you see what’s wrong? It’s the phrase “fair to safely conclude.” It contains a redundancy. Take out “fair” or “safely” so you have “fair to conclude” or “safe to conclude.” The writer needs only one to make his point.

I’m not done chopping up this sentence yet. Look at that introductory subordinate clause. “While” means “during the time of.” I don’t think he means that. What does “this” refer to? The fact that he comes to a conclusion? The fact that people with money prefer quality? How about “real”? Can you have a false surprise? Perhaps I’m being picky—he could have put “real” in there for effect, but the word is not necessary. But now for the final question. By saying it’s not a surprise, he’s saying that the following is a plain fact. Why not just state the fact and let it go at that? Delete the whole subordinate clause and you end up with a nice, tight conclusion to the paragraph.

Here’s some of the context, and I’ll supply the rewritten sentence at the end:

…these [higher-priced] boats were holding their asking prices very well and the sellers did not appear to be willing to give up the boats. These boats were in contrast to the lesser quality boats…which were taking large hits. I conclude that people with the financial means still prefer quality, and are willing to pay for it.

Nice and tight, like a good ship’s rigging. In conclusion, here’s what I imagine owning some day:

Perfect for cruising around the Caribbean. Click the picture two times to see it correctly.


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