Chris Eidhof tweeted a good thing:

One of the replies to the tweet was also very good:

This reminds me of a lesson learned back when I was an English major 1.

I’d turn in papers filled littered with clearly and obviously binding a piece of evidence and a conclusion, like:

Obviously, Shelley’s ending for the Creature — like much of the action prior — mirrors the fall of Satan as depicted by Milton. The passage by which Viktor remarks, “the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil”, is an homage to Paradise Lost (and clearly, by extension, the greater English canon, and the way by which author’s literary creations assume lives of their own, for good or for ill.)

Each time I did that, my professor would correctly point out:

We use words like “obviously” to point out things that are not necessarily obvious; we use words like “clearly” in absence of a better way to provide clarity.

Those little bridge words don’t just belittle (and, on occasion, befuddle) your reader: they are bad prose and betray your lack of mastery of a subject. The next time you find yourself writing “simply”, ask yourself: is it that simple? Or are you just trying to will simplicity into existence?

  1. Oh, those halcyon days! [return]
Liked this post? Follow me!