1. ColinE
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    ColinE New Member

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    Overuse of the word 'However'

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ColinE, Mar 7, 2012.

    Hi All,

    I am not sure whether Writing Forums covers technical writing as well as creative / fiction, hopefully I have found the right place!

    I write quite a lot of technical blog posts and articles on computing and IT related topics. I think my writing style is generally OK, however, I have noticed that I have this one little problem. I tend to over-use the word 'however'.

    Since one of my colleagues pointed this out, I have noticed that I use the word very often. As an example, here is an article I wrote last year that has 19 uses of the word 'however', in some cases, I use it three times within a couple of short paragraphs:

    <link removed>

    I am struggling to find an alternative. When proof-reading I try to substitute it for 'although' and 'whereas'. However, I feel there is something more fundamentally wrong with the way I am constructing my sentences.

    It is not uncommon to focus on contrasts when writing technical articles, which is generally how my sentences are constructed:

    "Make some point A that is generally considered true, however, point B has some significance that should be considered also".

    I have compared my writing style with others who write similar articles and have found that in similar length articles they do not use the word 'however' at all!

    I would be very grateful for any advice that might be offered.

    (Note, I have used the word 'however' twice in this post, I consciously allowed myself to use it where it felt natural rather than consciously suppressing it).

    Finally, if there is a more appropriate forum for this form of discussion - please let me know!

    Regards, Colin E.
     
  2. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want to keep the sentence structure exactly the same, write your article as usual, then do a search (ctrl/F) and substitute these, as appropriate for the meaning and emphasis. You may need to change the punctuation as well, of course:
    -on the other hand
    -but
    -conversely
    -nevertheless
    -while
    or change the structure slightly and use:
    -although/even though
    -in spite of/despite
    -whereas

    It's good that you are aware of your habit, but I'm surprised you haven't noticed 'however' is not the only word out there...
     
  3. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    Over time I found when writing technical or scientific papers I was better off doing them more as an outline rather then in the form of a pure lecture. That way exceptions, cases and other datum could be expressed in a more visually declarative manor rather then verbally. When that's not feasible you simply have to pay attention and use alternatives or come up with some way to avoid them.
     
  4. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    I tend to overuse the word "but". I don't worry about it when I write the rough draft but at somepoint I use the find tool and go through and remove as many as possible. I have found that many of the sentences can be broken into two sentences. It doesn't sound quite like I would say it but the two sentences make perfect sense without the "but". You could try to replace your "however" with another word except the sentences will still have the same structure which is where the problem lies. By removing the pet word as often as possible it is forcing you to vary your sentence structure. That's a good thing.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i'd ditto what mad had to say... and i'd add 'and' to the list...

    take a look at some of the ways you could have avoided this 'however':

     
  6. superpsycho
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    superpsycho Contributing Member

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    It really depends on the sentences them selves. Some you can rewrite and some you won't be able to.
     
  7. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's fair to say you are a bit keen:

    From the Corpus of Contemporary American Usage -

    Use of however per million words (1990-2011):

    Sci/Tech academic papers - 874
    Magazines - 375
    Fiction - 115

    Difficult to determine whether there are structural issues that have given rise to this overuse. I suspect that if you had hitherto made greater use of synonyms/near synonyms, the suspicion that there is some structural peculiarity/ difficulty would not have arisen.

    Anyway, are you sometimes providing information which could reasonably be assumed to be redundant?

    eg Some people think Obama is wrong on the budget issue. However, some people think he is right on the budget issue.

    Very much related to this: are you making sweeping statements that demand a rebuttal of sorts?

    Judicious use of may be, perhaps, it might be thought, we might think etc might obviate the need for lots of howevers (or equivalents). (Be advised that some people think that such deployment reflects wooly thinking or a want of decisiveness. Be advised that some people struggle to tell their right from their left. That said, ;) you do not want to swap one addiction for another.)

    Are you constructing a contrast, tension, needlessly?

    eg Some birds have green plumage; however, some have red.

    When we might say:

    Some birds have green plumage and some have red.
     
  8. ColinE
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    ColinE New Member

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    Thanks to madhoca and mammamaia for some useful alternatives to the word 'however', I have been using 'although' and 'but' in the past, but will certainly make use of 'nevertheless' and OTOH in future.

    AnyHolt, I'm glad I am not the only one with these writing quirks! I have just finished another article and did exactly as you describe, found all the instances of the word 'however' and tried to substitute about half of them.

    superpsycho, I understand your point about scientific papers. Currently I write for my blog and magazine-style websites where I feel that a more informal writing style will engage the readers.

    art, I hadn't thought of checking whether my frequency of use is above average. It is nice to have my suspicions verified, and interesting to note that the word is more frequently used in scientific / technical writing, where contrasts and arguments are more prevalent. I appreciate your suggestions which go beyond substitutions for a synonym. I will take my most recent article and see if I can spot redundant information and needles contrast.

    Removal of redundant information will also help me hit the 4,000 word limit I am struggling to meet on my current article!

    Thanks to everyone, some great idea there that I will definitely act on.

    Colin E.
     
  9. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    Oh man I have this same problem!

    If I notice it a lot when re-reading a piece, I'll ctrl-F to find any appearance of the word, and just hit the delete key. Half of the time, I don't even need the word, and it forces me to think of some other way to express whatever the hell it is I'm actually trying to say.
     
  10. ColinE
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    ColinE New Member

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    It feels so much better to know that I am not alone!
     
  11. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    "Make some point A that is generally considered true, however, point B has some significance that should be considered also".

    You offered the above centre as an example, however, I do not understand it.
     

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