Fast food signs taught my twin nephews to read when they were only two.
They couldn’t whip out the dictionary and rattle oﬀ definitions. But they could spot a familiar logo and correctly assign language and context to it. The big golden “M” meant a possible lunch break; “DQ” meant ice cream; “SA” was for bathroom breaks. In my book, they were reading, if only on a rudimentary level.
Drivers tend to stop noticing how frequently those same signs appear along the roadside. But if you’ve told the backseat duo that you’ll buy them some ice cream, trust me—there’s no way you’ll be allowed to overlook the next “DQ.”
There are a couple of “bad” writing habits that work something the same way. These habits tend to be scattered all over our writing, but we often overlook them—until we make it our specific mission to notice how often they pop up.
The ﬁrst habit is overusing some form of the verb “feel”: “felt,” “feeling,” etc. Examples are: “He felt angry.” “She’s feeling sad.” There’s a stronger way to convey that emotion—in writers’ lingo, you want to “show” instead of “tell” your reader how the character is feeling. Instead of saying he felt angry, have him kick the wall. Instead of telling us she’s sad, have her weep. The emotions will be more intense, and the writing will be stronger.
The second habit is overusing adverbs. Look for any words ending in “ly.” Then work to reduce these adverbs while also fortifying the verbs they modify. An example? Instead of saying, “He ran quickly,” say “He raced.”
So here’s a quick revision tip: Have your students scan their documents, circling or highlighting any form of “feel,” and any “ly” endings (or if it’s computerized document, they can use the “ﬁnd and replace” function). Then have them follow the advice above to strengthen their writing.
Once they see how much difference these quick ﬁxes can make, you won’t even have to bribe them with ice cream.