The Control-F Hit List

 The Control-F Hit List

What is it?

The control-F hit list is an editing technique designed to use the computer to help people get rid of annoying passive voice and vague constructions in their writing.

When do we do it?

When you have a piece of writing that’s basically done — it has all of its component parts and has been read over once or twice, it’s ready for the Hit List.

What do you do, exactly?

  • You open your document in Microsoft Word.
  • Using control-F (the “Find” function), you type in the word you’re eliminating in the “find” box.
  • If your teacher is leading you, s/he might ask you to look for specific words all together as a class, e.g., “Okay, folks, everyone type in control-F and the word is.”
  • In order to find ONLY that word as a whole word, click “more” for the drop-down box and choose “Find whole words only.” That way, if you’re looking for the word “is” (for example), the computer will only find “is” by itself and won’t hit every word with “is” in it as part of the word (like in vision, island, etc.).
  • Eliminate the offending word or term.
  • Sometimes this will involve restructuring your whole sentence. I’ll give you examples below.

 

Why should we do this?

Turn this vague, wordy piece of writing…

It has been argued by many people that some music is good. People, however, like what they like and it is different for everyone. One artist who is good is Tupac. Tupac wrote a lot of music that people like, including songs and CDs. One of Tupac’s good songs is “Me and My Girlfriend.”

Into this far better and achievably specific piece of writing:

Rap fans from New York to California argue that music moves us all. Rap fans’ tastes differ, but one artist receiving nearly universal praise is Tupac Shakur. Tupac wrote a wide and popular variety of songs. “Me and My Girlfriend” remains Tupac’s most moving song.

 

The Hit List

Search for and eliminate most or all of the following words from your document in order to improve clarity, decrease passive voice, get rid of abstract and bogus “filler words” and replace them with words that have flavor and impact. 

Passive Voice Enablers

To be in all its forms, including…

  • Am
  • Is
  • Are
  • Was
  • Were
  • Be
  • Being
  • Been

 To have in all its forms, especially when it is used by itself…

  • Has
  • Have
  • Had

Why do I fix this?

Passive voice makes writing wordy, unspecific, and vague. Even if a sentence isn’t written in passive voice, to be verbs make your sentence wordy much of the time.

How do I fix this?

Get rid of most of these by turning them into action verbs.

  • Before: Romeo was watching Juliet dance at the ball.
  • After: Romeo watches Juliet dance at the ball.
  • Before: The ball was thrown by Marisol.
  • After: Marisol threw the ball.

Sometimes you’ll need to restructure your sentence. That’s okay too.

  • Before: Romeo was watching Juliet dance at the ball.
  • After: Watching Juliet dance at the ball, Romeo falls in love.
  • Before: Sergio has many songs on his MP3 player.
  • After: Sergio listens to many songs on his MP3 player.
  • After: Sergio stores many songs on his MP3 player.

 

Boring Modifiers

  • Good
  • Bad
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Fun
  • Interesting
  • Boring

Why do I fix this?

These words are very vague and it’s often difficult to tell what you mean. What do you actually mean by “good”? By “interesting”?

How do I fix this?

Ask yourself who or what you really mean by “good” or “fun” or “interesting.”

  • Before: We had a good time.
  • After: We saw the video of the Star Wars kid on YouTube and laughed until our cheeks ached.
  • Before: She’s an interesting person.
  • After: She’s writing a story about a vampire kitten who writes a blog about stamps from World War Two.

Words That Say Nothing While Appearing to Say Something

  • People
  • Person
  • Persons
    • Anyone
    • No one
    • Someone
    • Everyone
  • Society
  • Thing
    • Anything
    • Something
    • Everything
    • Nothing
  • Stuff
  • A lot
    • NOTE: This word is never spelled “alot.” Never.

Why do I fix this?

These words are very vague and it’s often difficult to tell what you mean. Really, do you actually mean “people”? All people that have ever lived on the whole earth throughout time?

How do I fix this?

Ask yourself who or what you really mean by “people” or “society” or “thing.”

  • Before: People believe that advertising doesn’t hurt them, but it does.
  • After: Americans — especially teenagers who watch more than six hours of television a day — often believe that advertising doesn’t hurt them, but it does.

 

  • Before: We did a lot of things at the party.
  • After: At the party, we saw Sergio and Katie, we ate way too many Doritos with that fake French onion dip that Christine’s mom makes, and we came home late enough so that my mom yelled at me.

Wordy Prepositions

  • of
  • by
  • in

Why do I fix this?

These prepositions are the handmaidens to vagueness and passive voice. Get rid of them and many problems with wordiness magically disappear.

How do I fix this?

Reword your sentence so that it’s simpler and more efficient:

  • Before: The point of the author is that true love is never easy.
  • After: The author’s point is that true love is never easy.
  • Before: In Days of Obligation, a book by Richard Rodriguez, the point of the author is that Mexican-Americans often feel an identity divided between two places, the old world and the new.
  • After: Richard Rodriguez’ book Days of Obligation suggests that Mexican-Americans feel their identity divided between the old world and the new.

Vague Relative Clauses

Clauses beginning with…

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Why
  • That

Example: He told him what he had learned.

If you use these words in a sentence and that same sentence does NOT end with a question mark, you probably have a mystery clause.

Why do I fix this?

These wordy clauses puff up a piece of writing and make the writer seem as if s/he’s making a relevant statement, but if you look harder, you’ll notice that the writer has given you no new information (or no specific information).

How do I fix this?

Reword your sentence so that you explain what you mean by the mystery clause.

  • Before: He told him what he had learned.
  • After: He told him he had learned algebra.
  • Before: He told him when he’d gotten home.
  • After: He told him he’d arrived home at 9:00.
  • Before: He told him why he thought Akon was cool.
  • After: He told him Akon was cool because his songs flow and his lyrics are intelligent.
  • Before: He told him that he was going to the Akon concert.
  • After: He told him he was going to the Akon concert. (Just eliminate the “that”.)

Words and Phrases That Say Nothing

  • Feeling(s)
  • Emotion(s)
  • Sensations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Similar
  • Different

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I fix this?

These vague words really say absolutely nothing. Think about what this sentence actually says — and what it doesn’t say.

“He felt strong emotions toward her, but she could not hide her feelings from him.”

What does this mean? He felt anger toward her? Hatred? Passionate love? Godlike devotion? What did she feel toward him? Indifference? Boredom? Fascination?

How do I fix this?

Three words: NAME THE EMOTIONS. Give them actual names. Anger. Exaltation. Kurt Cobain-like depression.

Can’t name your emotions? Try this link: Words for Tone!

Why do I fix this?

These vague words also say absolutely nothing. EVERYTHING is similar to something, and everything is different from something. Think about how little this example actually says:

“He looked different from everyone else.”

Well, so do you. So do I. So does everyone (even identical twins aren’t precisely “identical” in appearance, especially as they age).

How do I fix this?

Simple: Explain HOW or IN WHAT WAY something is similar to or different from something else.

Example: H e had bright pink hair spikes all around his head like a terrified dandelion.

 

 

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