If you don’t have the resource of an in-house copywriter, and your marketing budget won’t stretch to outsourcing your copywriting needs, then you’re often left with little choice over who writes your content.
But you can drastically improve the clarity of your work by following this one simple tip: avoid using vague and faulty pronouns.
Okay, so what does that mean?
What does what mean?
See what I did there? ^
If you’re giving your content a once over and notice a lot of words such as ‘it’, ‘that’, ‘this’, and ‘which’, you could be in danger of using vague and/or faulty pronouns.
So what exactly is a vague or faulty pronoun?
Let’s start with an example…
Have you ever read a sentence like:
After I lit the candle with a match, I blew it out.
And when you read sentences like the example above, are you left knowing without doubt whether it was the match or candle that was blown out? Or are you left having to guess?
If you’re doubting the answer, you’re not wrong. The writer has used a vague pronoun so we can’t know for sure which noun is being referred to, the candle or the match. The best we can do is assume. Leaving your readers to assume isn’t great if you’re trying to give guidance or even sell your services/product.
We have to remember, that as writers, we should never want to leave our readers in doubt, especially when it’s an important statement. The purpose of good writing is to be clear and understandable. So, if your readers aren’t sure which noun you’re referring to, your writing isn’t clear and you’re not doing your job.
❌ After I lit the candle with a match, I blew it out.
– Blew what out? The candle or the match?
✅ After I lit the candle with a match, I blew the candle out.
✅ After I lit the candle with a match, I blew the match out.
❌ I took the bike out of the shed so I could fix it.
– Fix what? The bike or the shed?
✅ I took the bike out of the shed so I could fix the shed.
✅ I took the bike out of the shed so I could fix the bike.
❌ Lucy told her mum that the next door neighbour thinks she’s really pretty.
– Who does the neighbour think is pretty? Lucy, or her mum?
✅ Lucy told her mum that the next door neighbour thinks Lucy’s mum is really pretty.
✅ Lucy told her mum that the next door neighbour thinks Lucy is really pretty.
Although grammatically correct, if you’re not so keen on the repetition of names, try rewording the sentence using dialogue. This is a great fix for fiction.
✅ “Mum,” Lucy said, “I overheard our new next door neighbour say that he thinks you’re really pretty.”
Remember: every pronoun you write should refer clearly and unmistakably to one particular noun; this is known as the antecedent.
A vague pronoun can include words such as: it, that, this, and which. They can leave the reader wondering what or to whom the pronoun refers. To improve your writing, replace vague pronouns with the noun that you are referring to (as shown in the examples above), or try rewording the sentence.
Whichever fix you choose, ensure that you’re never leaving your reader in doubt.
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