Dr.J. on Running


Sports Writing

The Right Way

By Dr Kamal Jabbour,

I have written on running for five years. Today I write about writing on running. In the face of an epidemic decline in the quality of writing in all walks of life, I share practical tips for proper communication on running and more.

My academic career shaped my writing style. Lebanese nuns taught me English in elementary school. French monks taught me literature in high school. American engineers taught me technical writing in college. A British professor taught me professional writing in graduate school. Those diverse teachings blended into a precise engineering writing style.

I have maintained my precise writing style over the years by following a set of simple rules. I use simple sentences that consist of a subject, a verb and an object. I favor the direct form of dialog over the indirect form. I avoid the passive voice that evades attribution and accountability.

I use a spell checker to correct typing errors. I apply a grammar checker to detect passive verbs and run-on sentences.

I seek to express my points with the present and past tenses. I use the present tense to describe current events. I rely on the past tense to recall historical moments. I do not mix tenses within a paragraph.

I keep away from the weak verbs "have" and "be", "can" and "do." I enrich my vocabulary with verbs that describe state and action.

The devil lies in punctuation. I use neither colons nor semicolons. I avoid parentheses and footnotes. I use commas sparingly. I separate two parts of a sentence with a comma, as long as each part contains a verb. I leave out exclamation marks to let the reader decide when to exclaim.

I do not start a sentence, let alone a paragraph with "and," "but" or "because". These conjunctions belong in the middle of a two-part sentence, between two verbs. I avoid single-sentence paragraphs, and I start a new thought in a new paragraph.

I express my opinion when it matters, but I leave the reader room to think. I report quantifiable events, and I describe qualitative observations.

I avoid categorical prepositions that leave no room for error. I replace "always" with "usually," "never" with "seldom," "none" with "few," and "all" with "many".

A simple activity such as running dictates a simple style of writing. However, the sense of closure at the end of a column cannot match the feeling of exhilaration at the end of a run.

© 2002 Dr Kamal Jabbour.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Syracuse Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created TrackMeets.com, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at jabbour@i2sports.com.