Errors and Omissions: Significantly overstating the significance

Our Letters editor takes to task this week's Independent coverage

Share

 “Labour is drawing up plans to go into the next election with a manifesto pledge to increase NHS spending significantly should the party be returned to power,” declared the opening sentence of Monday’s front-page lead.

Thank goodness the word “significantly” was there. Otherwise the reader might assume that we had chosen to lead the paper with news of something insignificant.

“Significantly” should always be struck out. You may think you need it, but you don’t. “To increase NHS spending” conveys as much information as “to increase NHS spending significantly”; it also paints the same picture in the reader’s mind.

Seeing is believing: We continue to attribute to abstractions a strange power of visual perception. This is from a news story on Tuesday: “Last month’s decision has seen Google swamped with requests from people wishing to erase their digital history.” A decision that can see things: I picture it as something like Yoda from Star Wars – a funny little wrinkly creature with big eyes and a judicial air.

Never explain: This is from Wednesday’s report of the Clegg-Cable drink in the pub: “Clegg’s people, determined that nothing should disturb their peaceful photocall, locked reporters out from the Queen’s Head, creating a scene reminiscent of the climax of Shaun of the Dead, the classic spoof horror movie in which the heroes and heroines are trapped in a pub with a horde of demented zombies in the street outside.”

Ideally, no illustration or simile should need to be explained. If it’s not immediately obvious, it is a bad illustration. If you feel you have to help some readers out, keep it short and casual. This should do: “... a scene reminiscent of the pub besieged by a horde of demented zombies in Shaun of the Dead.”

At all costs avoid a plodding exposition of the plot of a “classic spoof horror movie”, which makes the reader feel as if trapped in a pub by a horde of obsessive film buffs.

39 words too many: This comes from a theatre review, published on Thursday: “But she brings a terrific impatient energy to Cleopatra’s capricious changes of mood and a wry spontaneity of spirit to the compulsive histrionics that ensures the performance steers well clear of the terminally self-knowing raddled drag queen act.”

At first reading it is difficult to tell whether it is only the “spontaneity” that “ensures”, or if the “energy” also does some ensuring – in which case “ensures” needs to be “ensure”. However that may be, a sentence of 39 words, of which eight are abstract nouns – energy, changes, mood, spontaneity, spirit, histrionics, performance, act – gives the reader a hard task. It needs to be split up – or just taken out and shot.

Order, order: On Tuesday, we reported on the forthcoming auction of what is believed to be the world’s rarest stamp: “Later this month, that same scrap of reddish octagonal paper is expected to sell for up to $20m.” No, it is an octagonal scrap of reddish paper: there is no such thing as octagonal paper.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Ashdown Group: PHP Web Developer / Website Coordinator (PHP, JavaScript)

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: PHP Web...

Recruitment Genius: Estates Projects & Resources Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in London, Manchester, Br...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: moderate, iconic royals are a shoe-in for a pedantic kicking

Guy Keleny
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: Cameron is running scared from the “empty chair”

Oliver Wright
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us