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I could also call this article Pet Peeves in Technical Writing or Oops, Guess I Wasn't Thinking When I Wrote That. You may notice, as you write, well, anything, that the tendency is to slip into some questionable, actually very bad writing habits. Sometimes, like when writing creatively, these habits aren't so very bad. Sometimes the writing style is just relaxed and conversational so that the laziness of the writing doesn't show so much. In technical writing, all that laziness is just blather.
Take the word 'very.' If you can find it in the previous paragraph, you will note that it was part of the phrase 'very bad.' I read an article recently that the word 'very' is a great example of lazy writing. If something is 'very' anything, there is probably a word for it. Like 'very bad' could be 'terrible' or 'awful' or even 'disastrous.' I could definitely see his point. Personally, I cringe every time I hear a newscaster say, "Stay tuned for the very latest on that story." If anyone can tell me how much later the very latest is than the latest, which for the record is the superlative for late, I will very much appreciate it.
Note: the above use of very was for sarcastic emphasis not because of any stylistic failings on my part. Just saying.
Another lazy way of technical writing is the over use or even just the use of the phrases 'there is' and 'there are.' It is just so easy to start a phrase with 'there is.' It seems to get you started on your writing process. If you need to do that while you are putting ideas to paper, go ahead, do it, and then go back and rewrite these phrases out of existence. For example, in the second paragraph of this article, see where I wrote "... there is probably a word for it." If this wasn't an example, I would go back and rewrite this phrase as, "a word probably already exists for it." No more 'there is.' By the way, this is an extremely difficult habit to break.
Another junk word in technical writing is 'really.' Yeah, it really irritates me when 'really' is used as emphasis in technical writing. If you are not really writing really teenage dialogue, you can probably really get rid of this word altogether in technical documents.
Just to round out the lazy author's pantheon of don't dos, let me bring up word weeds. These are words that we clump into empty phrases. You can usually replace each phrase with a single word. My favorite is 'in order to.' All you mean is 'to' so just use 'to.' It seems harmless enough but, believe me, all those excess words are just in the way of what you are trying to say. Let me give you some more examples:
A majority of... most
A number of... many
At the present time... now
At this point in time... now
Have the capability to... can
In the event that... if
In view of the fact that... because
It is often the case that... often
Make reference to... refer to
On a daily basis... daily
On the grounds that... because
Take into consideration... consider
Until such time as... until
Obviously, because our speaking style frequently shapes our writing style, many of these junk words and phrases magically appear in our tech writing documents. That is no sin. The sin is leaving them there and that is where the laziness comes in. After you have written anything, go back and look for the usual suspects such as misspells and passive voice. When you have done that, read over your copy again and excise all the junk. You will really be very happy that you did.
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