Watch What You Write: This page is devoted to defending the English language and encouraging disciplined writing. Our regular contributor will be Adrianne LeMan who will seize on sloppy writing and firmly remind us of the need to write correctly. However, we welcome other contributors. Just send your piece or any comments on what we have published to

Adrianne LeMan

I am a confessed newspaper addict, but so many writers subscribe to the “why use one word when you can use three (or more)” syndrome, that it’s not really good for my blood pressure.

Recently, for example, it was reported that Judge Anthony Pitts told the Southwark Crown Court “…the figure may be in excess of £200m” – why not “the figure may exceed £200m”? And in a piece about an Alfred Hitchcock season, “…one of the highlights…will be to fully restore nine of the director’s silent films”. Who needs “fully”? Apart from splitting the infinitive (and, yes, I am one of those dinosaurs who hates split infinitives), they’re either going to be restored, or they’re not.

The most frequent culprit is, of course, “of”: “all of” instead of “all”; and “inside of” and “outside of” instead of “inside” and “outside”.

This superfluous-words tendency spreads: it’s become common to talk of people having a good track record in, for example, business, and having a road map for something they plan to do. The only place you can achieve a track record is running round a track – what people in business or any other endeavour have is a good record; and a road map is just that, a map to get you from one place to another, by road – what they actually have is a plan or a strategy.

Back in the day, as they say, with the exception of direct quotes, newspaper subs corrected grammar, cut copy to fit without losing important parts of the story, and wrote headlines, captions and stand firsts (introductions) that accurately represented what was in the piece – which isn’t always the case nowadays.

Adrianne LeMan originally trained as a designer. She worked on the art desks of newspapers and magazines before moving on to work for, and run, design consultancies. Since 1992, when she founded her own business, she has also written and edited annual reports, websites, brochures, etc, for a wide range of major companies. She retired from her business in 2008 and now works as a freelance writer/editor – again working for major companies. She is interested in words: their use, and misuse, the way they are spelled and the way they look. She is also interested in the use, and misuse, of language, which should be clear and to the point. 

Adrianne has a post graduate degree in design from the Royal College of Art and an MA in Contemporary History and Politics from Birkbeck College, London University.

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