What’s wrong with this sentence? “Refreshments were served and a good time was had by all.”
I nominate it as the worst sentence in the English language; I’ll come back to it in a minute.
Almost every business executive I know complains about the lack of writing skills among the company’s staff.
As a result, messages are misunderstood, companies are embarrassed, managers (assuming they themselves have the skills) have to become editors, and they spend so much time correcting bad writing that productivity and the bottom line suffer.
I have found that many people fear writing. So they write what they think writing is supposed to be, and what comes out is stilted and murky.
Forget any formal idea of writing; what we’re after is communication. When you get home from work you probably say, “Honey, wait till you hear what happened today.” Then you tell Honey. And you have no trouble doing it.
So . . . write that way. Write the way you talk. Then read aloud what you have written, to see if it sounds right. Clean up the clutter, and you’re in business.
Among the most frequent fundamental errors in writing:
1. The Dangling Modifier. My favorite example: “As president of the kennel club, his poodle always had to be perfectly groomed.” Or this one: “Born in Omaha, the Green Bay Packers drafted him number one at quarterback.”
See the problem? The first sentence makes the poodle the president of the kennel club. The second says The Packers were born in Omaha. When you start a sentence with, “Born in Omaha,” the very next word has to be the person who was born in Omaha.
Why do people write that way? Because they feel a need to compress information.
2. The use of the passive voice: “A good time was had by all.” Who in the world has ever uttered such a sentence? No one. So why write it that way? “Was had” is passive; write with active verbs, so that the party has life, color, a sense of joy — so we can see people actively eating, drinking, playing and having a helluva good time.
You can have a good time writing, if you just relax and write the way you talk.
Gary can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org and at (612) 203-4843.