Monthly Grammar Tips: February 2017

Opus is a full-service marketing agency. As such, we consider each and every member of the Opus team to have a direct hand in marketing. Every point of contact with customers, prospects, and partners presents an opportunity to further our brand. We take pride in the quantity and quality of our communication—no matter the medium—which makes it even more important for our writing to be strong and free of errors. To that end, Opus sends out weekly “Friday Grammar Notes” with the aim of raising the bar of the written word across the entire agency. Our notes should provide utility to everyone, whether you’re a fledgling scribbler or a confirmed word nerd. 

This month we trim our excess words and phrases, acclimate ourselves to the differences between adapting and adopting, put an end to asking guests to “RSVP, please,” and remove redundancies in our writing. 

PURGE THE PAUNCH: SLIM DOWN YOUR WRITING

It’s perfectly normal for the beginning of the year to feel a little… flabbier… than usual. The holiday season is already a couple months in the rear-view, but it’s never too late to make a positive change. This year, consider resolving to slim down your writing by cutting out flabby, unnecessary words and phrases. Here are a few common offenders to avoid:

  • Really, very. These overused qualifiers are the Pumpkin Spice Lattes of the adjective world: so basic it hurts. If you’re hoping to emphasize your point, or describe something in exaggerated terms, there are surely more descriptive options. A particular caterer’s fare wasn’t very good, it was mouth-watering. The parking situation wasn’t really difficult, it was wall-to-wall gridlock. If you’re struggling to find a better option, consider cutting the offending word and moving on.
  • A lot. This term falls into the same category as really and very. It’s a stand-in that can be useful in casual conversation (and is often written incorrectly as one word), but is too vague to be effective in business communications. When possible, provide more information to the reader to make your point clearer. We won’t need a lot of pipe and drape, we’ll need dozens of yards of it. If you don’t have enough information to at least provide an estimate, simply cut it and move on.
  • There’s no need to use the word just unless you’re writing on the subject of fairness and social equality (or killer Radiohead songs from the ’90s). In most writing, just is used as a qualifier to signify insignificance. It can usually be removed without hurting the sentence’s meaning, or replaced with something more descriptive.

Streamlining your writing by cutting or replacing these superfluous words and phrases will make your communications clearer, and help your readers connect with your message more readily. It really doesn’t take a lot of effort; just trust us on this one.

TECHNOLOGICAL TRAILBLAZERS: ADAPT vs. ADOPT

The tech world moves blisteringly fast. As such, our clients have a customer base full of technology early adapters—or wait, is it early adopters?

This is an easy mix-up to make, and comes down to the differences between two similarly spelled words with related meanings.

Adapt means to modify something (or someone, including yourself) to function with a new purpose or within a new environment. In our writing, we might talk about adapting to a new role on the team, or adapting your favorite fanny pack to function as a cross-body purse.

Adopt, on the other hand, means to take something up or accept something as your own, including children, attitudes, ideas, positions, or courses of action. In the case of our first example, people who are quick to take up new technologies are known as early adopters, because they are among the first consumers to accept emergent tech products or standards as their own.

The confusion between these terms comes from their close relation in meaning. One might need to adapt their lifestyle in order to adopt a new technology. Here’s a handy mnemonic:

To adapt, you must make adjustments; when you adopt, you take ownership of something new.

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE: LET ME GET AN INVITATION THAT DOESN’T SAY “RSVP, PLEASE”

Anyone have any big social events coming up soon? Did the invitation include a note from the host or hostess asking that you kindly “RSVP, please”?

Well then, we’ll forgive their unfailingly polite redundancy. The four-letter acronym RSVP became ubiquitous so long ago, it’s easy to forget it’s an acronym at all. This bit of civilized etiquette hails from—where else?—the French, and is shorthand for répondez s’il vous plaît, or respond please in English. So that well intentioned additional “…please” means the inviter is effectively saying, “respond please, please.”

Nit-picky? Perhaps. But effective writing is all about clarity and economy—redundancy is the enemy. (And don’t even get us started on entering your PIN number at an ATM machine!)

ROUTING OUT REDUNDANCIES

Here’s another entry in our series of notes aimed at eliminating redundancy in writing. Cutting these words and phrases will make your writing cleaner, slimmer, and more effective.

  1. First… We’d like to first start with the word first, which becomes unnecessary when paired with a verb implying something is happening or has happened for the first time. For example, you don’t need to say something is first introduced, premiered, started, invented, initialized, conceived, announced, discovered, or learned. Typically deleting first will leave the sentence cleaner, with the meaning unchanged.
  2. In order to… In order to clean up your writing, it’s almost always possible to delete ”in order” from a sentence like this one. Simply saying “to clean up your writing” means the same thing, without the superfluous words. Deleted!
  3. In the process of… We are in the process of improving our writing skills. While some tasks may be arduous enough to seem like a “process,” this phrase is unnecessary in such a construction. What are we currently doing? We’re improving our writing skills. Enough said.

Good writing is just as much about what’s left off the page as what’s left on; don’t hesitate to give your delete key a proper workout!

Do you like what you read? Whether you’re a fellow grammar nerd or you’re pretty sure a diphthong is a type of sandal, we’ve got plenty more grammar tips to go around. Until next month: good writing!

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