Monday, April 13, 2009

Making a Change in Your Writing

There's nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence:

When Donald discovered that his images were to be scrutinized by his son's fourth-grade class, he made a change to them to eliminate some of the more erotic imagery.

Nothing technically wrong with this sentence, but stuff like this gets me every time. To make a change to means the same thing as to alter. You know what else means to alter? To change.

Sixteen times out of seventeen, the make, a, and to in the phrase make a change to simply serve no purpose other than to fill space. And the text usually flows more smoothly and eloquently without them. Isn't it nicer to change your outlook than to make a change to your outlook? Isn't it more economical to change the budget than to make a change to the budget? Wouldn't you rather change the way you write instead of making a change in the way you write?

I think it's grammatically accurate but unnecessarily verbose phrases like this that led Strunk and White to their controversial codification, "Omit needless words." (The controversy, of course, centers on two ideas: (a) what exactly does needless mean in this context; and (2) is this "rule" to be followed in every case, to the extreme end, wielding the red pen like a Sith lightsaber in the Jedi library?)

I'm sure, with a little thought you can come up with perfect examples of when to make a change to is preferable to to change. I won't argue that. But generally, in your writing and editing, this phrase can be routinely squelched.