As an editor and translator with years of experience in correcting English written by non-native speakers, I have come across certain areas that seem to be major pitfalls for Chinese speakers when writing in English. These mistakes are usually the writer's Chinese grammar or diction unconsciously coming out in their English exposition, or perhaps simply a unfamiliarity with English composition at its higher levels.
This monthly column can teach you to spot these common writing pitfalls and thus avoid having them find their way into your English composition. It will not be a list of grammar rules to follow, but instead a look into how we can improve the style and force of our English writing.
Common writing errors by non-native speakers of English #1: Wordiness
Wordiness comes in my forms, but, generally in non-native writers of English, it occurs when they use too many words, belabor a point, or are simply redundant in their writing. Some examples:
1，What is the government planning to do to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future?
2，After two months of cleaning, Mary and Joe can finally live in a home that is safe and healthy for their bodies and minds.
3，It is difficult to recognize which twin is which, as the two look extremely alike.
Often a good place to look for redundancy is at the end of a sentence. Do you end your sentences in a way that leaves your reader with a clear, concise image, or are you drowning out your point in excess verbal baggage?
Let’s take a look now at our examples. At first glance, it seems like there is nothing wrong with them. While that may be true grammatically, they all suffer from bloated endings, or wordiness.
Take a moment and see how you would change the sentences…
Welcome back. Let’s now take a look at our first sentence:
What is the government planning to do to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future?
Here the obvious wordiness is found in the relationship between the phrases “happening again” and “in the future.” To “happen again” points to a date in the future; thus, we can say that “happening again” already has in it the assumption of an act “in the future.” Therefore we find that if we remove the redundant “in the future”, we get a sentence that is much more concise and vivid in its question to its readers:
What is the government planning to do to prevent such a tragedy from happening again?
Now how about our second example? Again our culprit lies at the end of the sentence with the phrase “bodies and minds.” Here again, “bodies and minds” is best left unstated as readers will be able to fill in the blanks without our obvious and heavy handed prodding. They know that a home described as “safe and healthy” is safe and healthy with regard to the bodies and minds of those living within. Once again, the sentence can be strengthened by eliminating the final phrase:
After two months of cleaning, Mary and Joe can finally live in a home that is safe and healthy.
Finally, we come to our last sentence. I believe that by now readers can guess where the problem is and how to fix it. So I’ll leave this one to you.