editing / words / writing

Writer’s Tip #25: It Depends On the Definition of the Word ‘It’

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Use IT judiciously.

It‘ refers to an object or idea, or an animal (if you’re not into anthropomorphizing those wonderful creatures) with an unknown sex. Like any pronoun, it must have an obvious antecedent for it refers back to the closest non-sex noun.

People often use ‘it‘ to remove themselves from the action. For example,

It is common practice to eat breakfast before a Sunday jaunt.

This makes the passage passive and for writers intent upon drawing readers into our stories, might be better written:

We make a habit of eating breakfast before our Sunday jaunt.

Here are several warnings about the use of IT:

  • Writers use IT when they can’t come up with the right word, much as we use the word ‘thing‘. It implies a nonspecific, which is almost always a bad idea for the great writer in us. Avoid it in those cases. Sit back. Think harder, and come up with what exactly it is you want to say. Specifically.
  • IT often appears too many times in a sentence. Careful writers restrict IT to one meaning in a given sentence.


For anyone who watches the program, it is obvious it is not an attack on Catholicism.


Anyone who watches the program will see it is not an attack on Catholicism

(from Garner’s Modern American Usage, Bryan Garner)

Enough about it.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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9 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #25: It Depends On the Definition of the Word ‘It’

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  3. It is a well written article as you have written about it here, and I will consider it as I continue to write. I’ll keep it on my computer in its proper folder and will refer to it as needed. I don’t want it to seem that I have no idea how to write properly as it is something that I’ve worked on for many years. OK, it is now time for me to get on it and get back to doing other stuff. Otherwise, it will become a wasted day and it’s not what I want.
    It has been fun chatting with you.
    Love it, Shari
    (So sorry – I just couldn’t resist – it!)


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