Errors & Omissions: Compare and contrast – and thoroughly confuse the reader


It is a jolly idea to start a story with a contrast, capturing the reader's attention with the implied question, "Is it this, or is it that?" Well, here are two contrasting attempts at this rhetorical trick, from two news stories published this week.

First this, published on Thursday: "To its supporters it blends seamlessly into the commanding moorland setting, evoking the high principles of green thinking with the mystical atmosphere of an Orcadian neolithic settlement. Those who are not so keen on the planned futuristic dwelling of Manchester United star Gary Neville believe that it bears more than a passing resemblance to the troglodyte abode of the Teletubbies."

And now this, from Wednesday: "For most people the arrival of summer provides the perfect excuse to try to master the tricky skill of cooking on a barbecue, sunbathe in a garden they usually never use and walk shirtless in places they otherwise would not. But for the police the hot weather signals one thing: a spike in crime." The first of those paragraphs is a success, the second a disaster. I would single out two reasons.

First, both end with an effect like a deflating balloon. But in the first case it works, swooping from the high-flown "mystical atmosphere" all the way down to the Teletubbies. In the second case the opening sentence just seems to lose the will to live, with the dying mumble of "... places they otherwise would not."

Note also that the first passage is all about the subject of the story – the futuristic house. In the second we don't get to the point – crime in the summer – until the second sentence. To reach it, we have to plod through a lot of stuff about barbecues that the reader already knows, put in by the writer to manufacture a contrast.

University challenge: Peter Jefferson Smith writes in from south London to draw attention to a news report in Thursday's paper. It dealt with poor job prospects for new graduates: "Mark Wiseman, 22, who is studying maths at Queens' College, Cambridge, has tried in vain to seek a job as an actuary when he leaves the leafy spires of his university this summer."

Full marks to the writer for getting the apostrophe in the right place in the name of the college, the foundation of which involved more than one queen. Queen's College is in Oxford. A pity that this success is followed by two bloopers.

The lad hasn't tried in vain to seek a job. He has sought a job all right. He has tried in vain to find one. And what is all this about "leafy spires"? Mr Jefferson Smith comments: "I was at Cambridge in the late 1950s, and I don't remember any leafy spires then: but biotechnology has made wonderful progress." Well said, but it's even worse. The writer evidently has a vague memory of the "city of dreaming spires", but that is Oxford. The old churches and college buildings of Cambridge favour towers, not spires, whether leafy or not.

Don't sneer: A complicated sentence with a negative is always a minefield. This one blew up in the face of Matthew Norman on Wednesday: "Many of us are delighted by the prospect of the legislature treating the executive with other than sneering contempt."

This must be the wrong way round. It is the executive that many people say has been treating the legislature with sneering contempt in recent years, a matter they hope may be put right by the Government's reforms.

Fruitless controversy: Here is the opening of a news story, published on Wednesday: "Plans to create Europe's biggest asylum removal centre at Heathrow airport have been condemned by inspectors, who say the detention conditions will be like an 'oppressive prison'. The controversial extension to Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centre will more than double the number of refugees and immigrants held there."

"Controversial" is one of those words that can be shot on sight. (See also "famous" and "relatively".) The readers have been told that the plan has been condemned by inspectors. They can work out for themselves that it is controversial.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
people
News
people
News
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
news
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May