A 20-Minute Exercise in Using Specific Language
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 Writer's WorkshopMaybe you only have a little time to devote to writing today, or maybe your paper is due this evening and you're wondering what other revisions you can reasonably make before needing to submit your work. Here's a quick exercise you can do in just 20 minutes to strengthen your writing.
Step 1:Use Microsoft Word's "find" feature to find every this and it in your paper. Hold down the CTRL key and the F key at the same time, which will open up a navigation panel or box:
|In MS Word 2010, this navigation panel opens on the side of the page when you hold down CTRL + F.|
Step 2:Highlight every This or It that starts a sentence in your paper.
TIP: When you use the find feature, Microsoft Word automatically highlights the word you searched for in your text. You want to highlight the search results manually, on top of Word's automatic highlights, as the automatic highlighting will disappear once you close the navigation panel.
Make sure that each highlighted This is followed by a specific noun rather than a verb. If a verb comes directly after This, either replace This with a specific noun or add a specific noun between the This and the verb. For example:
Original: The project involves data collection through an emailed survey. This requires that the participants...
Here's another example:
After Thanksgiving dinner is a natural time to take a nap. This is caused by tryptophan in the turkey.
You, like many readers, may be asking yourself: This what is caused by tryptophan? To make the sentence's meaning clearer, the writer should include a specific noun or phrase after this, like This urge to nap.
TIP: Not sure what specific noun to use? You can often use keywords or phrases from previous sentences. Repeating these words, or forms of the words, can help make connections between your sentences.
Step 4:Now, review each highlighted instance of it, and replace It with a specific noun.
People in the United States celebrate New Year's Eve each December 31. It typically involves a countdown and a ball drop.
Revision: People in the United States celebrate New Year's Eve each December 31. The holiday typically involves a countdown and a ball drop.
Why is using specific language important? You might think that what the this or it refers to is clear--but you're the writer, so of course it's clear to you. An unidentified this or it can be confusing for readers, but using specific language helps readers know exactly what you're talking about.
Give this exercise a try, and let us know what you think in the comments!
Anne Shiell is a writing instructor in the Walden University Writing Center. She also coordinates the center's social media resources.