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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Criminal Sentence 649: What is good or bad?

From something I'm editing (about how to create an effective review site):

"Reading actual comments from past customers, good and bad, can be the most influential component on a review site."

The problem here is the "good and bad" phrase. It is supposed to modify "comments" but it sits next to "customers." Perhaps the customers are good; perhaps they are bad. But the writer didn't mean to talk about their character. Let's move the phrase to the right place:

"Reading actual comments, good and bad, from past customers can be the most influential component on a review site."

I might even like to change the commas to em dashes--to make what I'm saying more prominent:

"Reading actual comments--good and bad--from past customers can be the most influential component on a review site."


ChildsPlay said...

When I first read the sentence, I did not see the problem because I could still discern the meaning.
When you are editing, do you have any tips or tricks for finding errors like that, or is it just a matter of very careful reading? Thanks.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Good question.
I believe it is a matter of careful reading and many years of experience. I don't know what to recommend other than to ask yourself when you see a phrase in commas like that, "Is this phrase next to what it modifies?"
I'd like to think that I catch everything, but I miss things (grrr!). That's why I often read my assignments twice (if there's time). I always catch things on the second pass.

Jeff Straathof said...

Reading isn't a component on a site; the collection of comments is. Comments—good and bad—can be influential, or one can derive value by reading them.

The Sentence Sleuth said...

Very true, Jeff. I was focusing on the "good and bad" phrase. A plus for you!