Wednesday, January 4, 2023

How to improve writing (no. 106)

I was going to quote a sentence from The New York Times this morning until I realized how awful it was:

The Republicans who blocked Representative Kevin McCarthy of California from becoming speaker on Tuesday include some of the most hard-right lawmakers in the House; most denied the 2020 election, are members of the Freedom Caucus, or both.
The lack of parallelism in the sentence almost — almost — passes by unnoticed. But once you notice it, it’s, uh, noticeable: there’s no pair of elements for both to tie together. Here’s a simpler sentence to illustrate the problem, about members of an imaginary musical group:
Most studied piano, are guitarists, or both.
A possible revision:
Most are proponents of the “Big Lie” or members of the Freedom Caucus or both.
Elaine thinks that including numbers would help:
Nineteen of the twenty are members of the Freedom Caucus. Twelve are election deniers. Eleven are both.
Both revisions improve on the original.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[In news coverage, the Times typically uses quotation marks with Big Lie. This post is no. 106 in a series dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

comments: 4

Fresca said...

I especially like Elaine's solution. "Most" is vague--numbers are information.

Michael Leddy said...

I agree. I think the series of short sentences is more effective too. The numbers are in the article, with pictures, group by group — I think that’s why I didn’t think of a more drastic revision.

Fresca said...

I just saw a reference to a book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air by David MacKay that says, 'MacKay’s mantra is “numbers not adjectives”'.
Numbers not adjectives!
I like that.

Michael Leddy said...

I like that too. Immediately graspable.