Are you planning to take a road trip this summer? If so, do you look forward to making a wrong turn? How about getting lost in the middle of the Mojave?
Of course not!
(If you do, I wish I had 1/8 of the gall and 1/4 of the free time you have.)
Going backward is not just the purview of time travelers, backstroke swimmers, and certain kinds of snakes. Backtracking is, unfortunately, the bane of too many readers.
So don’t waste your readers’ time by making them go backward!
Have you ever reread a sentence – or, gasp! an entire paragraph – because you had no idea what the writer was referring to? Chances are you’ve wasted precious minutes you could have spent making your summer vacation even more awesome.
One cause of reader backtracking is the use of pronouns without clear antecedents.
Let’s do a quick pronoun review…
They – “They” is a personal pronoun in the subjective case. That means it can be used as a subject. Duh. What’s not “duh” about “they” is that readers often don’t know what it refers to. “They” can stand in for people, cacti, and creepy gas station attendants who charge you an arm and a leg to use their phones. If there’s any doubt, write it out.
His / Her – “His” and “her” are not just towel types. They’re personal pronouns, too, in the possessive case. For “his” and “her” to make sense to your reader, you must mention one female and one male only in the preceding sentence. Otherwise, we won’t know if it were Holly, Polly, or Molly who drank the last ounce of fresh water.
This – Demonstrative pronoun “this” is used pervasively in every type of writing – from academic papers to social media posts. The keys to using “this” effectively are to never use it at the beginning of a sentence and to never substitute it for an abstract concept. Your reader is already clueless about the impact of irredentist politics on ethno-cultural customs in the American Southwest.
Remember, when you use pronouns without a clear antecedent, you exponentially increase the odds that your audience won’t read to the end. Even though you spent so much time on it!
Keep your readers on track this summer – at least when it comes to writing. Use pronouns sparingly, and only when they have a clear antecedent.
For more tips to prevent pronouns from confounding your readers, give me a call at 410-312-0081.
Chrissy Hoffmaster / Copywriter