Technically, it is not grammatically incorrect to use “this” without a noun after it. “This” can be used either as a demonstrative determiner, and therefore modify a noun as an adjective would, or a demonstrative pronoun, and stand alone (yes, I am citing Wikipedia here; don’t try it at home). “This” as a pronoun works fine when you and someone else are standing in front of something, as in, “this is mine!” while pointing at a cupcake your partner is about to grab. But the majority of the time, if you use it as a pronoun in your writing, it will be vague and you will leave the reader with uncertainty about what you mean.
I see this most frequently (see what I did there? Not so clear, is it? I’ll start over).
I see this misuse most frequently at the start of sentences, referring to something in the prior sentence, such as “This demonstrates” or “This provides evidence that” or “This involves” or “This indicates.” Often, a simple addition of a noun will make the sentence much clearer, such as “This finding,” “This study,” or “This association.”
Here’s an example:
“Furthermore, by college graduation, about 90% of students report having penetrative vaginal intercourse (Patrick & Lee, 2010; Fryar, Hirsch, Porter, Kottiri, Brody, & Louis, 2007). This indicates that the college years are pivotal for the development of sexual behaviors.”
As a reader, I can kind of figure out that the author is referring to basically the full point in the prior sentence with the word “this.” But much clearer to state, “This percentage indicates” or “This high rate of sexual behavior indicates,” so the reader doesn’t have to sort it out himself.
Another common use I see is “Because of this.” An example:
In the current study, we used adolescent self-reports during school based data collection to examine associations between attachment to parents and externalizing behaviors. Because of this, our findings may be biased.”
Because of what? The fact that it was self-reports? School-based? The constructs assessed? Be specific.
Here’s another example:
“Students frequently described alcohol use as leading to arousal, often described in terms of an increase in horniness or a decrease in inhibition as a result of drinking alcohol. This is supported by the literature, which describes alcohol as a social lubricant that increases disinhibition (MacDonald et al., 2000).”
What is supported by the literature? If I change it to “this link between alcohol use and arousal” it becomes a bit clearer.
Again, it’s about being intentional in your writing. If you tell the reader exactly what you mean, the reader will know exactly what you mean, and won’t have to guess.
I really could go on and on, because this [issue] is one of the most frequent ones I encounter, particularly in grading. But this [post] needs to end at some point.
When I’m providing my students feedback in track changes, I sometimes catch myself using “this” as a pronoun, as in “this is unclear” or “this is awkward.” This [instance] is not actually vague, because I’ve highlighted a portion of text, the track changes equivalent of pointing. Still, I try my best to model and sometimes change it to “this sentence/phrase” or “this point.”
You know that everything I just wrote replies to “these” too, right? And while you’re at it, check your vague use of “it” as well.
“The post Intentional writing part 4: Dis the this first appeared on Eva Lefkowitz’s blog on November 14, 2013."