Sunday, November 4, 2012

Examining Elements of Bad Writing (Part I)

First of all, let me emphasize that the following critique of a local news story is in no way intended to diminish the accomplishment of rebuilding the first home in the fire-ravaged Mountain Shadows neighborhood of Colorado Springs. It’s a huge step toward getting life back to some semblance of normalcy following this summer’s devastating Waldo Canyon fire.

What I do take issue with is the poor writing that peppers this story about a neighborhood triumph. Those who get paid to write, whether it’s business correspondence, magazine articles, or online news stories, are presumably paid to write well and correctly. It’s called “professionalism.” And yet shoddy writing continues to proliferate – especially on the Internet.

We’ll start with the headline of this story, which struck me as just plain awkward:

First home rebuilt after Waldo Canyon Fire is finished

Is the home finished, or is the fire? I think the writer could have omitted “is finished” without affecting the meaning, since “rebuilt” implies a completed project.

The story’s first sentence mentions “the Boyd Family” as the homeowners. As used here, “family” should not be capitalized.

Then comes this quote:

“…it's nice to be back home again," Joseph Boyd, who's destroyed home was rebuilt said.

First, the correct word is “whose,” not “who’s.”

Second: What’s with that syntax? While not an unusual sentence construction in journalism, this passage would flow better by simply moving “said” to the beginning of the attribution.

“…said Joseph Boyd, whose destroyed home was rebuilt.”


“…as you turn onto their culdisac…”

My word processing program highlights “culdisac” as improper; why didn’t the reporter’s? The correct word is “cul-de-sac” according to the New Oxford American Dictionary.

Then there’s another quote:

“…but this is Colorado Springs," Trish Boyd, who's destroyed home was rebuilt said.
See above.

Finally, there’s this:

The Boyd's credit the speedy construction to…

Since this is a plural, no apostrophe is needed.

A half dozen issues (or more, depending on how you tally the errors) in one article is a lot to digest. Check back in a few days for further discussion.

Meanwhile, congratulations to the Boyd family. I wish them, and everyone else who is coping with the aftermath of disaster, many blessings.

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