300 Days of Better Writing

June 26, 2012

Reduce ambiguous “counting” phrases to single words.

Filed under: WritingExcellence — preciseedit @ 11:13 am

An ambiguous “counting” phrase is a phrase that tells the reader that multiple things exist without giving the precise number. Ambiguous counting phrases include a number of, a few, more than a few, more than one, a large number of, and two or more.

If you know the exact number (and wish to reveal it), then write the exact number. However, if you need to be ambiguous (because you don’t know the number or you are trying to “spin” your facts), you might choose to use one of these phrases.

The problem with these phrases is that they weaken writing. They use too many words. You can replace these weak phrases with more direct, but still ambiguous, words. Some examples are some, several, many, multiple, and myriad.

Note: You have to be careful with myriad. It literally means thousand. In common usage, myriad refers to a very large, but unspecified, number, as in “The myriad questions posed by scientists have challenged traditional religious thinking.”

This is the strategy for day 92 in 300 Days of Better Writing, available at Hostile Editing in PDF, Kindle, and paperback formats.

For a sample of 300 Days of Better Writing and other books by Precise Edit, download the free ebook.

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