Give Your Customers the Gift of Fewer Prepositions
In college, I spent some time in the University Writing Center in Cavanaugh Hall at IUPUI helping students edit their work. And, if you know anything at all about teaching or peer tutoring, you know I was learning way more than they were.
When students had their big idea already on paper and it was revising time, I’d invite them to commence nitpicking. My favorite students were ones with overbearing writing tics or favorite words. “Okay,” I’d hand the student a yellow highlighter, “I want you to mark every place you wrote ‘due to the fact that.’”
At the end of the exercise, the too-proud-of-herself frosh would be holding a 10-pager drowning in yellow. “But if I take all of those out, I’ll only have 7 pages!” she’d cry.
Another easy way to improve your writing is to examine preposition usage. Since that’s what this post is really about, let’s get started.
First, you need to understand why prepositions can be harmful.
- Use them too much, and your writing gets wordy. If you irritate your clients, you make less money. So chuck the useless details.
- Excessive use of prepositions makes you sound stuffy and bureaucratic. If you irritate your clients, you make less money. So write like you’d talk to them.
- Overuse of prepositions makes sentences too long and boring. If you irritate your…oh wait. Shhh. Your clients are sleeping.
Next time you write a blog post, an e-newsletter, a proposal or even an email for your small business, take a few minutes to examine your prepositions. If you can’t remember them all, use the list of common prepositions I’m spoon-feeding you. Find ‘em and highlight ‘em in your text. (Bonus tip: Writing in MS Word? Use the “Find” tool to locate and judge each instance of ‘in.’ Then it’s just lather, rinse, repeat for the other preps.)
Flashback to my days as a tutor: “But, Emily,” the whining starts, “it’s impossible to write without prepositions.”
“Well, duh. Just get rid of the frivolous ones—not all of them. Let’s start where you have three or more prepositional phrases in a sentence.”
Deciding What’s Frivolous
Let’s keep this simple and focus on just two things.
- Get rid of details your readers don’t need.
- Put your subject first.
In college, I spent some time in the University Writing Center in Cavanaugh Hall at IUPUI helping students edit their work.
After re-examining, I don’t think my audience of small business owners and bloggers really needs to know that I worked in the Cavanaugh Hall UWC. (There was also a University Library UWC, but I bet you don’t care about that either.) So I revise the sentence and eliminate one of the prepositional phrases:
In college, I spent some time in IUPUI’s University Writing Center helping students edit their work.
The best place for the eating of pizza is at Chicago’s in Clermont.
This time, I’m going to be hardcore about it. Betcha I can rewrite that sentence with just one prepositional phrase!
Chicago’s in Clermont is the best place to eat pizza.
Of course, you could always try to say the same thing without prepositions.
The Clermont Chicago’s has the best pizza.
How would you edit the following sentence?
Using the products from our brochure will add to the value of your company by reducing the amount of downtime you have between your projects.