Carroll Dale Short

• Writing Tips •

Qualified? Not Necessarily a Good Thing

Being qualified? That's usually a good thing, especially if you're running for political office.

But for us writers? Not so much.

In writing, a “qualifier” is a word or phrase that serves to modify or limit another word or phrase. There are a gazillion of them.

In practice, it's virtually impossible to avoid using qualifiers altogether.

See? I hit the trifecta: “in practice,” “virtually,” and “altogether.” Take all those out, and the statement still makes perfect sense. Uh, makes sense.

While qualifiers serve their purpose, it's easy to slip into the habit of over-using them. When you do, you run the risk of annoying your reader, even though he/she might not realize exactly what the problem is.

What you're doing is giveth-ing information with one hand (the verbs) and taketh-awaying with the other (the adverbs). This gives your writing a tentative feel. Strong prose can be described in a lot of ways, but “tentative” and “wish-washy” aren't among them.

Mark Twain famously said, “The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” That's particularly true of verbs. Often, you'll find that an adverb is necessary only because you haven't picked quite the right—i.e., most exact—verb.

The phrases “kind of,” “sort of,” “pretty much,” and “for the most part” come naturally in conversation and dialogue. But readers of prose have much higher standards; they expect us to edit out this useless flab and get on with the story.

A side benefit is that de-qualifying a piece of writing can cut the length substantially—as in the statement, “Please pardon me for writing you a long letter; I didn't have time to write a short one,” variously attributed to Pliny, Voltaire, and a bunch of other folks who were none too shabby writers.

Please note: As with all writing tips in my book “A Writer's Tool Kit,” this one is only to be used when RE-writing, never when writing.

Trying to keep any kind of rules in mind while you're writing can turn your brain into concrete, also known as “writer's block.”

As Aesop said, “Forewarned is forearmed.” Or was it Pliny?

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