In the Year 2009, and Other Troubling Times for Writers

Writing about time, such as the year 2009, can create difficulties and result in poorly written text. Poor writing about time falls into 6 categories. Each category is matched with an editing concept that we, as editors, apply to improve clients’ documents, regardless of the topic. 

Unnecessary words
People may use more words than necessary to describe time, particularly years.time2

  1. “In the year two thousand and nine”: Writing out the year is no longer the standard convention. This can be written “in the year 2009,” which brings us to the next example.
  2. “In the year 2009”: This can be written simply as “in 2009.” The content should provide sufficient indication that “2009” refers to a year.
  3. “At the time when” can be written “when.” 

Overly grandiose
Some writers intentionally write in a grandiose (i.e., overly fancy and complicated) manner. In nearly every case, this produces poor writing. Expressions referring to time are not immune to grandiose writing.

  1. “Since the dawn of time” can be written as “historically” or replaced with “have always.”
  2. “In the year two thousand and nine” is grandiose. Use “in 2009.”
  3. “In the year of our Lord, 2009” is no longer used. In most cases, this can be replaced with “in 2009.” However, if the reader won’t understand that this is in the current era (i.e., after the birth of Christ), use “2009 A.D.”  

Redundant writing repeats information. It can be the result of not thinking carefully about what you write. While we could think of many examples of redundant writing, here are a few that relate to time.

  1. “3:00 a.m. in the morning” If the time is a.m., then it must be in the morning, and vice versa. This can be written “3:00 a.m.” OR “3:00 in the morning.”
  2. “16:00 p.m.” When you write using a 24-hour clock (a.k.a. military time), you never need “a.m.” or “p.m.” “P.M.” refers to afternoon, and “16:00” can only occur in the afternoon, so this is redundant. Simply write “16:00.” If you want to use “a.m.” and “p.m.,” then you should write “4:00 p.m.”
  3. “simultaneously . . . at the same time”: For example, “They simultaneously stood up at the same time.” “Simultaneously” and “at the same time” have identical meanings, so you only need one, if either.
  4. “Sometimes people will on occasion”: This has the same problem as the previous issue. “Sometimes” means “on occasion.” Choose one. 

Self-explanatory expressions tell the reader information that he or she already knows or that is obvious from the context. Here are two examples of this.

  1. “After lunch, in the afternoon”: “After lunch could mean 11:00 p.m., which is, after all, probably after lunch. Because so few people eat lunch in the morning, the reader will understand that the time is “in the afternoon.”
  2. “At night, when the sky was dark”: The sky is usually dark at night (except in rare locations, such as near the north and south poles). You only need one part of this expression. Choose the one that provides the information most relevant to the context. 

Misleading text communicates an unintended meaning.

  1. “A long day”: Each day is approximately the same length as the previous day. Generally, this expression refers to “a tiring day,” which is a more accurate way to state this concept. 

Simply wrong
Some uses of time expressions are incorrect, however common they are.

  1. “Bi-weekly meeting on Tuesdays and Thursdays”: The expression “bi-weekly” is often used to mean “twice a week,” as indicated by this example. This is becoming so common that it may seem right. “Bi-weekly” actually means “every two weeks.” The correct way to say this is “semi-weekly.”
  2. “6-month, bi-annual meeting”: Similar to the example above, “bi-annual” means every two years. This sample indicates meetings twice a year, so it should be written “semi-annual.” 

While this article specifically discusses text about time, it also illustrates 6 concepts that editors use when revising clients’ documents. As editors, we help writers produce text that has the following characteristics, whether fiction or nonfiction:

  • Concise: Information is stated using the fewest words possible.
  • Stylistic: The words, expressions, and sentence structures are appropriate for the audience and the purpose of the document.
  • Necessary: The text adds value for the reader.
  • Informative: Information is new to the reader.
  • Clear: Words and expressions communicate what they are intended to communicate.
  • Correct: The information is accurate and conveys the accurate meaning. 

We are not the first to communicate these concepts. Joseph Pulitzer said, “Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it, and above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.” Mark Twain said, “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English. It is the modern way and the best way.”

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1 Comment

Filed under Authors, Editing, Mechanics, OOPS!, Writing

One response to “In the Year 2009, and Other Troubling Times for Writers

  1. My favourite example of a waste of time in writing is “At this moment in time…” which is common in the UK but can easily be replaced by “now” or deleted altogether.

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