clarity and conciseness

As if punctuation, spelling and grammar weren’t enough, Microsoft Word is now flagging ‘clarity and conciseness’. Unfortunately, it gets many ideas wrong. Fortunately, my particular editing task means that I can ignore it all anyway, and I must find out how to turn it off. But then I’d have less to blog about.

Some of its rules are questionable at the best of times, and some take a reasonable rule beyond its useful extreme by not looking at the context. 

It flags ‘all of’, suggesting a change to ‘all’, eg ‘all of the time’ to ‘all the time’. Fair enough, ‘of’ is not essential, but ‘all of the N’ is an established if less-used variation of ‘all the N’, perhaps slightly informal. Crucially, it sometimes occurs in the longer phrase ‘some or all of the time’. Close to no-one says or writes ‘some or all the time’ or even the possible ‘some of or all the time’.

It flags ‘similar to’ and suggests ‘like’, but the context was that ‘N1 is likely to be similar to N2’. ‘N1 is likely to be like N2’ is used, but is awkward.

It doesn’t like the word ‘particular’, suggesting changing ‘a particular school’ to ‘a school’. But the issue was not whether a child should go to ‘a school’, but rather whether s/he should go to that specific school. ‘Particular(s)’ can also be used as a noun. ‘When asked to provide more particulars, he stated …’ cannot be changed to ‘When asked to provide more, he stated …’.

Finally, ‘sufficient’ is not interchangeable with ‘enough’ when used attributively: ‘an acceptable or sufficient record’ cannot be changed to ‘an acceptable or enough record’.

Certainly, some speakers or writers fall into habits of unclarity and/or unconciseness, but these words are not unclear or unconcise in and of themselves (< I would expect it to flag ‘in and of’). 

PS 4 August. Yesterday, I noticed that it suggested changing ‘make a decision’ to ‘decide’. Today, just before I turned it off, I noticed ‘make a decision favourable to the plaintiff’, which cannot be ‘decide favourable to the plaintiff’, but might be ‘decide in favour of the plaintiff’.

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