Develop Your Writing Skills and Avoid Annoying Phrases

I often include tips for my students to become better writers.  If you are looking to hone your writing skills, I highly recommend a book by Paula LaRocque.  LaRocque is the author of The Book on Writing:  The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well.  I wanted to write a blog highlighting the most important points from her book.  However, it was difficult to choose from so many wonderful tips.  I would suggest reading the entire book.  For now, I’d like to include part of a quiz she uses to teach some common grammar mistakes.  Check out the following examples to see if you would write correctly:  

  • If I was rich, I’d do something about the homeless.  This is incorrect.
  • If I were rich, I’d do something about the homeless. This is correct.

To find out why this is correct, check out her book or look up subjunctive clauses.  

  • The administration hopes the faculty will set their own goals. This is incorrect.
  • The administration hopes the faculty will set up its own goals. This is correct.

Why is this wrong?  This is a pronoun/antecedent agreement problem.   

  • We feel badly that we missed your call. This is incorrect.
  • We feel bad that we missed your call. This is correct.

This one might surprise some people.  It should be bad because it modifies “we” as the subject.  It isn’t badly because badly describes an action and therefore would only modify a verb.

Her book contains more examples.  What I think is helpful, is that she explains why one is correct and the other is not. 

I particularly liked the section in her book that she referred to as “much-hated words and expressions”.  She suggested that the following words have enjoyed enough undeserved fame:

  • Closure
  • Empowerment
  • Got Game
  • Having Said That
  • Litmus Test
  • Make No Mistake About It
  • Push the Envelope
  • Raise the Bar
  • That Said
  • 24-7

Her list has many more excellent examples.  However, I have a  few more words and phrases I would like to add her list of things that I am personally tired of hearing:

  • Heads Up (this may be number one on my list)
  • From the Get Go
  • Think Outside the Box
  • Paradigm Shift
  • FYI or PDQ
  • My Two Cents
  • Taking it to the Next Level
  • Bring Your “A” Game
  • I’d Like to Pick Your Brain
  • No Pain No Gain
  • Throw it Against the Wall and See What Sticks
  • Low Hanging Fruit
  • Win-Win
  • There’s no I in Team
  • Let’s Touch Base
  • Let’s Run it Up the Flagpole
  • Less is More
  • Mum’s the Word
  • Onward and Upward

If any of you would like to add a few of your own, I’m “all ears”.  Oh . . .add that to the list as well.