On the Topic of Prepositional Phrases in Writing

A few months ago, a pastor/author I’d never heard of contacted me and asked if I’d consider reviewing a book he’d written before it hit the market.

The book’s topic about owning your Christian faith sounded interesting enough, so I said sure,Prepositional phrase and maybe he could reciprocate some time. No problem, he responded, and a virtual handshake deal was done.

A few days later the book arrived, and I carved out some time to give it a thorough read. Just into page two, this paragraph screamed:

“I have long been compelled to write this book because I have discovered solidarity with my fellow second-generation Christians as we search for authentic faith. Children of the church live in a paradox between the biblical knowledge in our heads and the wanderlust in our hearts. Ours is a misunderstood struggle, unknown to those who have been dramatically rescued from enslavement to the world, their faith still fresh.” emphasis mine.

Let’s bypass the passive voice, and save that for another post.

This man is a previously published author, represented by a fairly prominent agent.

Prepositional phraseI read the paragraph several times fighting for comprehension that never came. I read on, hopeful it was an anomaly, only to find it was just the beginning of a literary disaster – in my opinion – which is exactly what he’d requested.

I struggled with a response. Who was I, in particular, to judge this man’s work? I wanted to rip the text apart, and offer an honest reply that it was among the most convoluted things I’d read. My editor would have had a field day with it.

So with respect, realizing he was previously published, and represented by an agent of some regard, this is what I said:

“Dear XXX: Thank you for your contact and book review inquiry. Because I cannot give your book a favorable review, I’d prefer to pass this time. I believe your editor, and your agency have done you a serious injustice, allowing text into a book that’s not yet ready for publication. If you’d like to know my concerns more specifically, please feel free to contact me via email.”

The author did contact me, and I pointed to countless areas in his book where prepositional phrases were rampant. It’s not that prepositions are bad things. They’re just not the best of things, and overuse points to seriously amateur work.

Prepositional Phrase

Every writer does it. It’s a terrible trap, and one I work hard to avoid  (see there) – and it does take work. But to make our writing its best, we should avoid prepositional phrases like the plague.:)

It’s a subliminal thing. When a reader pours through copy permeated with prepositional phases, he/she may not know exactly what is bothering them, but they know something is bothering them. It may not be enough to compel them to toss your work aside, but it may well be distraction enough that they never get a clear picture of what you really mean.

Example:

Incorrect: The opinion of the manager.

Correct: The manager’s opinion.

Another example:

Incorrect: The obvious effect of such a range of reference is to assure the audience of the author’s range of learning and intellect.

Correct: The wide-ranging references in this talk assure the audience the author is intelligent and well-read.

See the difference?

Sentences and paragraphs with too many prepositional phrases, simply lose their point. It’s in there somewhere. The reader just can’t find it, and he can’t pull it from your brain, or what you meant.

Take a look at your own work and see how many prepositional phrases you can eliminate. Then go back and judge for yourself if your work’s not clearer, more concise and more to the point of what you want your reader to know.

What tips do you have for using, or not using prepositional phrases, or better writing in general?

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(Timing + Buzz) x Tags = Blog Hits

It’s a formula that will demand blog hits every time. A recent event in my home town proves it works.

Quick Background: On the evening of July 28, a young man was arrested in Jonesboro, AR, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a patrol car. Moments later, he somehow managed to commit suicide.

The arresting officers were white. The man placed under arrest was black. And for several weeks to follow a divide between races went public. National news agencies from all the major networks covered the story, only adding to the local community buzz.

Ten days ago, Rev. Jesse Jacksoncame to Jonesboro to lead a prayer vigil and a

chavis carter and jesse jackson

Chavis Carter

peaceful march questioning the details (or lack thereof) of Chavis Carter’s death.

***

From a blogger’s perspective, a story like this has the perfect ingredients for a recipe that will set your blog afire.

When Jackson arrived, I spent no more than a grand total of 30 minutes snapping photos and doing a quick interview. But it was important to be there in a physical sense to observe and get a “feel” for the environment.

I came home, tired from a long day, and really didn’t feel like writing the full story, so I published an immediate tease with a photo of Jackson. The short post gave readers notice the story would appear on the blog first thing next morning. The tease story, a photo and one paragraph, generated hundred of blog hits over night while I slept soundly in bed.

Early the next morning, I wrote the full story with a headline designed to get search engine attention, tagged the photos and story with key words, and the blog lit up like a match.

Some readers even criticized the post for “stirring up a mess.” I’m okay with stirring up a mess when it’s based on facts and newsworthy events. The fact is, controversy generates attention.

Since the time of the original post more than 30 different phrases have been plugged into various search engines leading them straight to my blog.

In all, the original post’s had more than 1,500 hits, and a day hasn’t gone by when a search engine didn’t lead a reader to the story.

It’s an opportunity that presents itself more often than you may think.

Here’s another example:

Were there more hours in the day, I’d write an additional post today about Hurricane Isaac, a story that’s dominated the news for days. The hurricane, now a tropical

hurricane isaac

Arkansans will receive much needed rain from now Tropical Depression Isaac. Just a different angle to the story.

storm, soon to be a tropical depression, is headed straight up the gut of my home state. While it’s created havoc at the point of landfall, Isaac will bring much-needed rain to hundreds of thousands of acres devastated by drought conditions over the last four months.

Isaac is actually a positive weather event in my neck of the woods, and it would be a great angle for an original blog post. There’s just not enough hours in the day. But you understand the strategic potential.

When you’re presented with an opportunity that has the elements of timing and buzz, you can choose to make a small investment of time, think “tag-strategic,” and readers will come.

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