Avoid the former and the latter, respectively

The former and the latter, and respectively, are often used to avoid repetition and save words. But thinking of the reader, it is better to write more clearly so there is no doubt about the intended meaning and what refers to what.

Readers might be reading quickly, skimming and scanning the text, and not familiar with the content. It can be hard to track words in very long and complex sentences. Not all readers know the former refers to the first of two things (remember f and f), and the latter refers to the second or last of two things (remember l and l). Don’t risk a confused reader.

The use of respectively might appear to save words, but it is better to rearrange a sentence and be absolutely clear. The example below shows how the former, the latter and respectively can be avoided without wordiness.

Compare these three options:

  1. Two surveys of employees and employers were undertaken. The former is discussed in Chapter 6 and the latter in Chapter 7.
  2. The surveys of employees and employers are discussed in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 respectively.
  3. The survey of employees is discussed in Chapter 6 and the survey of employers in Chapter 7.

It’s all part of the make it easy for the reader mantra.

Please contact me for editing, writing or communication inquiries at rhdaniels@bigpond.com

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