Paper Cuts II


As noted last week, observing what newspaper and magazine writers are doing to inform and entertain us can be quite instructive … while catching their occasional errors can bolster our confidence. I know I felt pretty smug when I read about a football team giving a habitually misbehaving player “second chance after second chance after second chance.” (Apparently, the coach sat the player down and said, “Okay, we’re going to give you a fifth second chance.”)

Here are a few more sentences for you to evaluate for clarity, correctness, and conciseness.

Exhibit A

(His) gripes with the city, however, are secondary to the airport’s responsibility to ensure the public that Cleveland Hopkins will be safe to use this winter and that all FAA requirements will be met.

The sentence seems fine except for one surprising error. Although it’s sometimes tough to choose between “ensure” and “insure,” we shouldn’t have any trouble with “ensure” vs. “assure.” Let’s review.

Ensure. This might be the one we learned last as we developed our vocabulary, but it’s probably the one we most frequently use in our writing as adults. It means “make sure.” We need to ensure this won’t happen again. (“Ensure” is often followed by “that.”)

Insure. Although this one doesn’t always pertain to an actual insurance policy, it’s helpful to think of “insure” as taking out insurance. That’s why we often write or say “insure against” (but not always). We need to insure against any unruly interruptions.

Assure. To “assure” is to give confidence, so the recipient of this verb is always a person or persons (unless you have a really smart dog). I assure you I’ll arrive before 6.

So the newspaper editorial erred with “ensure the public.” Obviously, that should have been “assure the public.”

Exhibit B

In recent weeks, Cleveland has been the site for two exciting and cutting-edge events: Content Marketing World and the Cleveland Clinic’s Hackathon. Both have reason to be proud.

The paragraph ends sloppily: “Both have reason to be proud.” What is the antecedent of “both”? We’re talking about two events. Events don’t have feelings. Writing that the organizers of both events have reason to be proud would have been far superior.

Exhibit C

The first-ever Cleveland Medical Hackathon will wrap up today with judging on all the software that was developed during the course of the 24-hour session.

Did you catch the classic fat phrase, “during the course of”? “During” can handle the job by itself.

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

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