Don't Be Vague -- Be Specific​

There's a great film on Vimeo, THE BLACK HOLE. It's short, two minutes and 22 seconds! Blink and you'll miss it.

In one scene, the man has a piece of paper with a huge black dot printed on it. He's at his office, in a room with a safe in it. He kneels down and scotch tapes the paper to the door of the safe.

Describing that action, my student wrote this:

He places the sheet of paper on the safe located in the room.

First, "located" is useless, so take it out. The sentence is a little bit better.

He places the sheet of paper on the safe in the room.

We know we're in the room, so don't tell us again.

He places the sheet of paper on the safe.

He doesn't "place" it, he scotch tapes it.

He tapes the sheet of paper on the safe.

Now, here's the part about "be specific." "Vague" gives the reader a way to misunderstand your writing. The guy doesn't tape the paper "on the safe," (which means on top of the safe) but where does he tape it?

He tapes the sheet of paper to the front of the safe.


"To the front of the safe" is more specific than "on the safe."  "To the safe door" might be even better!

The first draft was not specific and gave the reader the wrong idea of what happened. Now the sentence is specific and creates the correct picture in the reader's mind. When you look at your sentences, ask yourself, "Am I being vague here, or could I be more specific?"  Most of the time, you'll want to be more specific.



If you can talk, you can write!

Writing doesn't have to be scary.

Some people like to write with a pencil. I'm one. I've written plenty with a typewriter or computer. Lately, I've discovered dictating.

Mrs. Ravenbach's Way was dictated! After I had an outline, I wrote the first draft by talking into a recorder in the car, driving to and from work. You can imagine what anyone would have thought if my windows had been rolled down and they heard me yelling into my recorder, pretending to be a woman with a German accent! They would have hauled me away and locked me up. Fortunately, I kept the windows closed.

If you have a smart phone you can talk into the Memo app, and then email what you "wrote" to yourself. Putting in the punctuation is easy. You say "open quote," "close quote," "comma," "period," "open parenthesis," "close parenthesis," and "new paragraph." Bingo!

Do that for a while and suddenly you have a first draft!

I don't use my phone. I use a digital recorder and have "Dragon Dictate for Mac" transcribe the audio, which means "types it up." Just talking gives you a first draft without much effort…! Well some effort, because you have to have an outline first, otherwise what you dictate will be a big, fat, colossal, stinking mess.

Once you have a first draft, you rewrite it. Of course.

Fun fact to know and tell:  I dictated what you're reading!


If you have a problem getting your thoughts on paper, dictating may be helpful.