Here’s another example of how much good we can do ourselves by putting aside a rough draft and returning to it later with renewed energy and refreshed lenses. The brief paragraph, from an online newsletter, describes employees who merit supervisory training. How many glitches do you spot?
This is a leader that is congenial, well-liked, and has above average soft-skills. They are extremely supportive of their employees and approach management interactions more like coworker relationships.
What is the most obvious glitch? That might be profiling a “leader” (singular) and immediately using “They” (plural) to begin the next sentence. When we catch that inconsistency, it’s usually easier to make everything plural (These are leaders …).
Another fundamental glitch is fairly easy to sense, but not as easy to identify. It appears in this sequence: is congenial, well-liked, and has above average soft-skills. Does that sound clumsy? It does because the first and third attributes follow verbs (“is” and “has”), but “well-liked” stands by itself. So we have a classic lack of parallel structure.
How do we fix that? Often we add a verb to get everything on an even plane, but here that would be difficult, so let’s give the verb “are,” which had replaced “is,” double-duty. Then our sentence (still not fully refined) reads like this: These are leaders that are congenial and well-liked, with above average soft-skills.
Still not happy? Neither am I. Using “that” to refer to people isn’t dead wrong, but it’s much classier to use “who” (These are leaders who are …). And wait. Shouldn’t we just shorten that to These leaders are? Yes. So now we have this sentence: These leaders are congenial and well-liked, with above average soft-skills.
Deciding when to use hyphens, combine two words into a compound word, or write two words separately can be an annoying aspect of the editing process for a number of reasons: 1) These situations come up constantly. 2) The rules on correctness are hard to remember and in some cases subject to style (“fund raising,” “fund-raising,” “fundraising”). 3) Our language is always changing, so what was once “good-bye” is now “goodbye.”
In these two sentences we have four calls to make. Ugh. Our writer went with “well-liked,” “above average,” “soft-skills,” and “coworker.” The easier ones are “coworker” (yes, it’s in the dictionary) and “soft-skills” (no, that would seem to be two words).
That leaves the tough ones: “above average” and “well-liked.” Both are wrong only because of placement. The words “above average” precede the thing they are describing, “soft skills,” and when that happens we need a hyphen (above-average soft skills). But “well-liked” comes after “leaders,” so we want two separate words. (Think of a well-liked teacher vs. a teacher who is well liked.)
So now we have this: These leaders are congenial and well liked, with above-average soft skills. They are extremely supportive of their employees and approach management interactions more like coworker relationships.
During editing, we want to focus on more than correctness and conciseness. We also want to examine our content to make sure we are saying presisely what we mean, and we want to see if we can word anything more stylishly. So I’d make two final changes:
“Employees” isn’t quite right. The people who work with the leader are not his or her employees. They are the employees of the owner. So “fellow employees” is much better.
The various forms of the verb “to be” (“is,” “are,” “were,” “will be,” “have been,” etc.) have no dynamism. Our most important verb is not our most dazzling. Therefore, whenever we can substitute for the verb “to be” or eliminate it, our writing gains in aesthetics. Seeing as both sentences rely on “are,” let’s get rid of “They are.” This would then be my final version of the paragraph:
These leaders are congenial and well liked, with above-average soft skills. Extremely supportive of their fellow employees, they approach management interactions more like coworker relationships.
The lengthy look we gave this brief paragraph might lead you to conclude that editing requires more time and effort than it is worth. But doesn’t that depend on the importance of the message? The faulty paragraph we edited was going online for broad consumption.
And remember, we needed to spend inordinate time because the paragraph was hand-picked. It had issues!
In addition to presenting workshops on writing in the workplace, Norm Friedman is a writer, editor, and writing coach. His 100+ Instant Writing Tips is a brief “non-textbook” to help individuals overcome common writing errors and write with more finesse and impact. Learn more at http://www.normfriedman.com/index.shtml.