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Examples of bad writing

There are many ways in which writing can be bad and a common one is the inclusion of words which don't add anything to a sentence. This page has some real examples and my suggested improvements. Try to improve each of them yourself before looking at my suggestion.

Bad versions

Example 1
``The reason that this is called a linear function is because the output is formed from a linear combination of the inputs.''
Example 2
``Thus a given state s is defined by a set of values for each of the random variables that define the state space of the problem: we have s = {X1, ..., Xn}.''
Example 3
``We consider the architectural style of the system, the structures and properties of the components that comprise the system and the interrelationships between them.''
Example 4
``Essentially, what has happened is that as of July this year (2003) the University adopted the uPortal framework for an initial test run on the usability and functionality of employing a portal system as the main `web-top' for a number of staff-related information needs and tasks.''

Better versions

Example 1
``The reason that This is called a linear function is because the output is formed from a linear combination of the inputs.''
or:
``The reason that This is called a linear function is because the output is formed from a linear combination of the inputs.''
Personally, I don't mind the "formed from". It's redundant but to me it makes the sentence a little more vivid. (This can probably be explained by the different grammatical roles of "formed from" and "combination" (if they do have different roles) but I don't know enough about grammar. Please mail me if you do.)

In addition to the stylistic problems with this sentence, there is also a semantic problem. It's not clear what the author intended to explain: what a function is, or what "linear" means, or what a linear function is. If the sentence is supposed to explain what a linear function is, it does not do a very good job because it does not explain what "linear" means. Instead, it just uses the word "linear" in the explanation. This is a bit like saying "A linear function is a function that is linear", which does not explain very much! The sentence doesn't really explain what a function is either, although it touches on the idea that outputs are somehow determined by inputs.

Example 2. The initial version wrongly suggests each random variable is a set, and is very awkward. A better version is:

``Thus a given state s is defined by a set of values for each of the random variables that define the state space of the problem: we have s = {X1, ..., Xn}.''
Example 3. In the following I've added new text in bold.
``We consider the architectureal style of the system, the structures and properties of the its components that comprise the system and their interrelationships between them.''
Example 4
``Essentially, what has happened is that as of July this year (2003) the University adopted the uPortal framework for an initial test run on the usability and functionality of employing a portal system as the main `web-top' for a number of staff-related information needs and tasks.''
I still don't like the better version, especially the last part. The following more substantial change doesn't have quite all the details of the original but I find it far more readable.
``In July 2003 the University started initial evaluation of the usability and functionality of uPortal as the main `web-top' for some staff information and tasks.''
An even more tidy version, with pretty much the same content, is:
``In July 2003 the University started initial evaluation of the usability and functionality of uPortal as the main `web-top' for some staff information and tasks.''

Conclusion

Your writing should be concise and to the point. You should aim to explain, not to impress. You should keep things as simple as possible (but no simpler). Every section, paragraph, sentence and word should serve a purpose -- if not, throw it out!

Tim Kovacs, Feb. 2010