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Fall 2009 Volume 5 Issue 4

The Write Stuff

Fall 2009  Volume 5 Issue 4

Focus on “Smart” Writing

Earlier this week, a client wrote to ask me what he thought was a grammar question. He wondered which of these sentences is correct:

  • She had been in the market.
  • She had been at the market.

My response might have surprised him, as it didn’t have anything to do with grammar. In this instance, as in many others that occur in our language, it isn’t a question of what’s correct, but what’s preferred. My preference is “at,” but “in” isn’t wrong.

Many of you probably think English is rather rigid, but once you’ve escaped the grasp of an English teacher, it’s important to unearth its tremendous flexibility. If you’re a smart writer, you can provide yourself with a competitive advantage; you must “prefer” in ways that are most pleasing to your audience.

One good example of smart writing involves denoting the passage of time. You often see phrases like, “for more than 25 years,” and from a grammar standpoint, that’s fine. It’s just not smart. You’re better off using years (“since 1984”) because a clause like that will never have to be updated. References to numbers of years need to be revised annually…and who wants to worry about remembering to do that?

Using a conversational tone is another way to write smart, and that’s especially important in marketing collateral, letters and e-mails. Contractions can prove to be very handy tools to add “friendliness” to your communication. Just look at a clause from above:

  • …it isn’t a question of what’s correct, but what’s preferred.

How does it read without the contractions?

  • …it is not a question of what is correct, but what is preferred.

Minus contractions, the clause is a little more clunky and not as conversational…so it’s not as effective in getting the message across.

As we enter the season of pumpkins, colorful leaves and giving thanks, I hope you “fall” into smart writing habits.

If you’re in the market for a talented, responsive and economical writing or editing resource, please think of me. Learn more at or call (619) 291-4645 to discuss your needs.

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