Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Writing tip o’ the month: Make sure you’re saying what you want to say
Here’s something that bugs me: sentences constructed as “this needs to happen.” For example, on a news report about the lack of mental health care workers in Nunavut, the journalist said “more nurses need to be hired in Nunavut.” Maybe nurses do need to be hired. Professionals need jobs. But that’s not the point the journalist wanted to make. What the writer was trying to say was “The territory needs to hire more nurses.” This is what I call a “false active” sentence. Grammatically, it is active—the subject performs the verb. However, the idea that the writer wants to express is that the object of the sentence needs the subject: “Nunavut needs to hire more nurses.” In other words, the sentence is structured in reverse of the intended meaning. It all goes back to the writing process that I outlined oh so long ago: get a GRIP. What are you trying to say? State your main idea in one clear sentence. This will allow you to express all your ideas clearly to your audience. Then, if you apply that focus to the entire written piece, whether it’s a news article or a novel or anything in between, you can be sure that you’re writing what you want to express. I admit that most audiences can interpret the real meaning. But we’re not always dealing with native English speakers. So let’s be clear, and let’s make sure we are actually writing what we mean.