You see it everywhere: in a news article, an academic essay, a work of fiction, or a sales landing page. Awkward phrasing can be difficult and confusing to read, and it can slow down readers.

When I say “awkward phrasing,” I’m not talking about sentences with incorrect syntax or riddled with grammar mistakes. An awkwardly written copy can be technically correct but may sound “rough” and not proofread. 

In some cases, especially in the Filipino corner of the internet, awkward phrases appear when there are transliterations of vernacular ideas or Filipino idiomatic expressions (i.e., ideas directly translated to English).

How do we spot these awkward phrases in our writing? Here are a few examples and how you can fix them.

1. A sentence can be awkward because there is no parallelism in its structure.

When a sentence is not parallel, all of its grammatical parts or units are not balanced.

Example: I want to study biology, to work hard, and becoming a good epidemiologist.

Fixed: I want to study biology, work hard, and become a good epidemiologist.

2. A sentence can be awkward because of a dangling clause.

Example: While riding a bike across the street, the bus hit her. 

(Did the bus really ride a bike to cross the street?

Fixed: The bus hit her while she was riding a bike across the street.

3. A sentence can be awkward because it has too many unnecessary nominalizations.

When a sentence has mixed construction, the subject of the sentence does not match the verb, or the verb does not match the object. It’s easy to get confused.

Example: Attempts at explanations for increases in voter participation in this year’s elections were offered by several candidates.

Fixed:  Several candidates attempted to explain why more voters participated in this year’s elections.

4. A sentence can be awkward when written in the passive voice.

Sometimes, when we write in the passive voice of the verb, the doer of an action is not immediately apparent. This is not wrong; it just has the potential to make your writing harder to read and follow. 

Example: Attempts at explanations for increases in voter participation in this year’s elections were offered by several candidates.

Fixed:  Several candidates attempted to explain why more voters participated in this year’s elections.

(Yup, it’s the same example as the previous one. It’s hard to read, no?)

5. A sentence can be awkward because it is filled with uncommon words.

Example: It is important to effect the verbalization of concepts through the utilization of unsophisticated terminology.

Fixed: Speak simply.

Good writing is not about using the most sophisticated word; it is about using the best word.

6. A sentence can be awkward because it is repetitive.

Example: The best teachers help each student become a better student both academically and emotionally.

Fixed: The best teachers help each student to grow both academically and emotionally.

The word “student” is used twice. Replacing it with a different word will make it less awkward. 

7. A sentence can be awkward because it uses deadwood and superfluous phrases.

Here are some phrases you can weed out in your writing to tighten your work.

Don’t WriteWrite
A large proportion of, a large number Many, most
In the neighborhood of, in the vicinity ofNearly, about 
If conditions are such thatIf 
It appears thatApparently
Sufficient amount ofEnough 
With reference toAbout
With the exception ofExcept, except for
Would be able toCould

8. A sentence can be awkward because of incorrect idiom usage and metaphors.

Example: We guarantee that we won’t be a bother to your wallet because we are extremely affordable!

Fixed: Our affordable services are easy on the pocket.

9. A sentence can be awkward because of incorrect idiom usage and mixed metaphors.

Example: Wake up and smell the coffee on the wall.

Fixed: Wake up and smell the coffee.

Two common metaphors someone can use to tell you to get a clue are “wake up and smell the coffee,” implying you need to be more alert, and “read the writing on the wall,” implying you need to see the bad news that is already right in front of you. When someone combines the two and says, “Wake up and smell the coffee on the wall,” suddenly the imagery doesn’t make so much sense. Did someone throw coffee on the wall?

10. A sentence can be awkward because it has a string of nouns.

Example: This report explains our investment growth stimulation projects.

Fixed: This report explains our projects to stimulate growth in investments.

Try not to string nouns together one after another because a series of nouns is challenging to understand. One way to revise a string of nouns is to change one noun to a verb.

11. A sentence is awkward because it is filled with clichés.

Make your writing more colorful and impactful by not resorting to tired clichés.  

Example: In this day and age, good teachers are few and far between. My deepest, darkest secret is my desire to be one of those teachers – one that is worth her weight in gold, who works her fingers to the bone, hand in hand with students to prepare them to meet the trials and tribulations of life. 

Other examples include: Bend over backward, win-win, go head-to-head, think outside the box, take it to the next level, avoid ~ like the plague.

Read Next: Five Tips on How to Improve Your Writing