Make Sure Your Writing Enhances Your Image

Today is Thursday, so this post is on dynamic communication.

Your writing can make you appear smarter or dumber than you really are.  How you use modifiers can have a big impact on the impression you make with your writing.  The other day, I received the June 2008 Writing eTips Newsletter from Upwrite press (  It had some great common sense advice on the use of modifiers.

“When you use modifiers incorrectly, they actually muddy your message and suggest carelessness on your part. Here are two of the most common errors in using modifiers, along with ways to avoid them.

“A misplaced modifier that modifies the wrong word, can cause confusion for your reader. Here’s an example: Sheila almost worked until midnight.

“To say that “Sheila almost worked” makes her look like a slacker. The writer probably wanted to say that Sheila worked late—until almost midnight. The placement of the modifier “almost” makes a big difference in the meaning of the sentence. To avoid such misunderstandings, be sure your modifiers are close to the words they describe.

“The dangling modifier is a common error in which the modified word is either far from the modifier or missing completely, making the sentence unclear, or even preposterous. Here is an example: Racing recklessly down the street, the houses became a blur.

“In this instance, it appears that the houses were “racing down the street”—an unlikely occurrence. To repair such an error, the writer must clearly indicate who or what was racing: Racing recklessly down the street, I saw only a blur of houses.

“Another repair turns the modifying phrase into a clause by adding a subject: As I raced recklessly down the street, the houses became a blur.

“Always check your modifiers to make sure they are modifying the right words. The result will be clearer communication.”

I agree with this advice.  I find that many people often misplace modifiers causing their written communication to suffer – and making them appear as if they don’t understand the basic rules of grammar.  The examples in the Upwrite Press newsletter drive home this point very well.

I find that the word “only” is often used incorrectly as a modifier.  Take a look at these two sentences.  Sentence 1: You can only eat after you have washed your hands.  Sentence 2: You can eat only after you have washed your hands.

Sentence 1 means that eating is the only thing that you can do after you’ve washed your hands.  Sentence 2 means that you cannot eat until you have washed your hands.  In my experience, many people will use sentence 1 when they mean to convey the message of sentence 2.  Mistakes like this can cast a negative light on your written communication skills.

The common sense point here is simple.  Take the time to read what you write with a critical eye.  Make sure that the words you use as modifiers enhance, not detract from, your communication.  Be especially careful with the word “only.”  It is the modifier most often used incorrectly.  Subscribing to the Upwrite Press monthly eTips newsletter at can help you avoid these types of embarrassing mistakes.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  As always, I welcome and encourage your thoughts and comments.

If you like what you’ve read here, you go to to purchase a copy of “Straight Talk for Success,” the book on which this blog is built. Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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