Have you ever read one your draft blog posts 10 times and realized only on that tenth round of review that there was a glaring typo in the post? If you have, you may remember wondering how on Earth you overlooked the mistake the first nine times you read the post. After all, you have a decent grasp of English spelling and grammar, so why didn’t you catch that you accidentally used “comprise” when you should have used “compose”?
The reason why it’s hard to spot our own typos is because our brains try to make our lives easier for us by simplifying the reading process as much as possible (imagine that!). Instead of processing every single detail about our writing (e.g., how letters look on a page), our brain takes high-level information from what we see on our computer screen and combines it with our understanding of what our document is supposed to say. The version on the screen competes with the version we have of the document in our head, and this can make us miss typos.
We don’t just miss typos
However, typos aren’t the only things we tend to overlook. We also end up overlooking descriptive words and phrases that make our writing wordy and weak. At a time when storytelling is a popular technique for communicating and producing content, it can be easy to stuff our sentences with wordy descriptive phrases. Three of these wordy descriptive phrases are “in nature,” “in a ____ manner,” and “in a way that is ____.”
1. “In nature”
You may find that you use the phrase “in nature” when you describe the characteristics of a person or thing. For example, you may tend to use “in nature” in sentences like these:
- “The iPhone 6s is large in nature.”
- “This app is complex in nature.”
- “The box that the mattress comes in is small in nature.”
Although there isn’t anything grammatically wrong with using “in nature” in these sentences, it makes the sentences wordy. Why? Because “in nature” doesn’t add anything to these sentences that isn’t already conveyed by other words in the sentence.
For example, in the iPhone sentence, “in nature” doesn’t provide us with any new information that we don’t already have from reading “The iPhone 6s is large.” If Paul Silvia, the author of How to Write a Lot, was looking at this sentence, he would say this: “if the iPhone 6s is large in nature, what is it like in captivity?” As he explains, you don’t need to use “in nature” in your writing unless you’re actually talking about being outside in nature (literally).
When you remove “in nature” from your sentences, you end up with leaner sentences like these:
- “The iPhone 6s is large.”
- “This app is complex.”
- “The box that the mattress comes in is small.”
2. “In a ______ manner”
“In nature” isn’t the only wordy phrase that we use when we try to describe the characteristics of something. When we describe actions, we have a bad habit of using the phrase “in a ____ manner.” For example, we tend to use this phrase in sentences like these:
- “He wrote the report in an efficient manner.”
- “They walked up and down the hallway in a frenetic manner.”
- “She stared at me in a cold manner.”
Just like the phrase “in nature,” there’s nothing grammatically wrong with using “in a ____ manner” in your writing. You can throw it into an ebook or white paper, and no one’s going to call you out for having grammar errors in your sentences. However, you do end up making your sentences wordy and stilted when you use this phrase. So unless you’re writing some Downton Abbey fan fiction, you can write in a simpler way. For example, let’s see how we can rephrase the example sentences above:
- “He wrote the report efficiently.”
- “They walked up and down the hallway frenetically.”
- “She stared at me coldly.”
As you can see, you can often make your sentences leaner by adding an “-ly” to the key word in “in a ____ manner” and getting rid of the rest of the phrase. The sentence you end up with isn’t only shorter; it’s also livelier because it includes more powerful words (e.g., “efficiently” instead of “in an efficient manner”).
Note: everything we’ve talked about in this section applies to the phrase “in a ____ way,” which means that same thing as “in a _____ manner.”
3. “In a way that is ______”
Another wordy phrase that we use to describe things is “in a way that is ____.” You might find that you use this phrase in sentences like these:
- “Try to write this in a way that is clear.”
- “Make sure you document the incident in a way that is accurate.”
- “Salima reviewed the document in a way that was meticulous.”
Like the two phrases we’ve talked about above, “in a way that is ____” is a grammatically correct but wordy sentence. When you use it, you end up taking up more space (and more of your reader’s time) to say what you want to say.
You can trim your sentences by using a trick similar to what we suggested for tackling “in a _____ manner”: add an “-ly” to the word in the blank and get rid of the rest of the phrase. You’ll end up with a tighter and punchier sentence. See how we transformed the examples above:
- “Try to write this clearly.”
- “Make sure you document the incident accurately.”
- “Salima reviewed the document meticulously.”
Even when you know that “in nature,” “in a ___manner,” and “in a way that is ____” don’t belong in strong writing, they can still creep into your blog posts and website copy. Why? Because we’re so used to using these phrases when we write and speak that our brain reads right over them. After all, if our brain doesn’t always pick up on basic spelling and grammar mistakes, how can we expect it to spot every wordy phrase we use?
The good thing is that there’s a simple tool you can use to help you spot wordy phrases – your word processor’s “find” function. Have your computer search your document for “in nature,” “manner,” or “in a way that is” so that you don’t have to look for them manually. If you find any matches, you know exactly where you need to focus to trim your writing.
Fortunately, your computer doesn’t work the same way your brain does, so you can be sure that your computer will pick up on a specific wordy phrase that you’re looking for (as long as you type it in properly). So use that “find” function and trim away!
Want to see more tips for writing killer blog posts, web copy, and reports? Check out our ebook “How to Write Clearly.” It contains 12 tips for writing awesome sentences. Download it here.
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