Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Is It Only Me?

In my work as an editor, I move a lot of words around. And I'd say the word I move most often is the word only.

It ends up in the wrong place more than any other, and I think most writers don't notice (or care). For that matter, I bet most readers don't notice, since they've become so accustomed to seeing it in the wrong place and mentally—subconsciously—putting it in the right place.


Frédéric only speaks French.

No reader would be confused about this sentence. We get it—Frédéric doesn't speak English or Korean or Portuguese. But what this sentence says is that Frédéric only speaks (French). He doesn't eat or dance or work.

The sentence should say:

Frédéric speaks
only French.

The word only belongs next to the word it modifies; otherwise, confusion may result. (Many grammarians disagree, arguing that this kind of precision isn't necessary.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

I hate sentences with modifier pileups. Here's one:

Here are the top five stories from the world of work you might have missed this week.

The problem here is that "[that] you might have missed this week" is misplaced. It seems to modify the word work, because of its position. It should modify the word stories.

These sentences make for confusion but are easy to fix. Here's one way:

You might have missed this week's top five stories from the world of work. Here they are:

I prefer a more direct, less accusatory sentence in this case. This was my suggested edit:

Make sure you didn't miss this week's top five stories from the world of work:

10/12 Update: The New York Times grammar blog "After Deadline" has more examples of modifier pileups.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Making Contacts

When you edit and write advice for job seekers, you quickly come to learn the importance of networking—all the experts say that it's a crucial aspect of not only a modern job search but also career development.

Network or perish, they say. Even I say it in a recent HotJobs article, "How to Turn a Stranger into a Network Contact."

I have to be honest—this is a case of "do as I say, not as I do": I'm not a great networker. Shyness is my primary problem. And shyness is a killer (in my case, it often gets read as stuck-up-ed-ness, I hear).

Personal improvement becomes easier when you set small realistic goals for yourself, so I'm going to do that for myself. I'm setting three networking "challenges":

1. I will attend the next professional networking event I can, and I will introduce myself to at least three new people. I'm a member of several professional groups that have social events I don't attend (there's that shyness again).

2. I will update my blog at least once a week, and I will link to it from my online social profiles.

3. Right now, I will do something helpful for a LinkedIn contact I rarely speak to.

Do you have trouble networking? What realistic challenges can you set for yourself?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Unconditional Conditions

If you're looking for workplace fashion tips, Robbins is an expert on professional style.

This sentence contains an error of logic I read (and revise) a lot: I call it a "false conditional."

The conditional clause is the the dependent clause that starts with the word if—a conditional sentence follows this formula: "If A is true, then B is true."

In the example sentence, the independent clause's truth doesn't really depend on the conditional clause's truth—Robbins is an expert whether you're looking for fashion tips or not. So the sentence is illogical. And it bugs me.

Here's a better (and shorter, even) sentence:

If you're looking for workplace fashion tips, Robbins has expert advice for you.