The Mysterious “It”

Advisors and reviewers have been known to leave a broad and ironically unhelpful comment for writers: make your writing more clear. 


What does it mean to make your writing more clear? Your reader may mean to remove passive voice. (Here’s an article to help you check for that.) Another thing to check for is the mysterious “it.”

“It” Is a Pronoun

The word “it” is a pronoun. That means it’s a short, functional word that replaces a noun. Writers and speakers use pronouns frequently in order to save time and avoid repetition. For a pronoun to be grammatically and logically correct, it should have a clear antecedent. In the previous sentence, for example, “it” refers to the word “pronoun.” Readers can figure that out because “it” is singular, and “pronoun” is the singular noun that came right before “it.” 

When “It” Is Unclear

A red flag for spotting the mysterious “it” is a sentence that starts with the words “it is.” Sometimes a sentence can start with “it is” and be totally correct! Other times, this is a really vague set-up. Other versions include “it should” and “it needs,” among others. Consider these two sentences: 

“Nearly 3/4 of respondents claimed that they had never received any training from their district regarding vertical alignment. It is interesting to note that the same percentage of respondents stated that their district expected them to vertically align their curricula.”

In this example, “it” does not clearly refer to a noun in the preceding sentence. “It” refers generally to what should be noted.

How to Fix “It”

To fix the mysterious “it” and improve your writing clarity, start by scanning your manuscript for sentences that start with “it is.” You could even use Word’s find feature to help. 

You can remove the issue using one of a few methods:

  1. Change the clause into an adverb: “Interestingly, the same percentage of respondents…”
  2. Take the easy route and drop the phrase entirely: “The same percentage of respondents….” 
  3. Use the word “should.” Here’s another example. The original sentence read, “It is important for districts to implement….” To fix the sentence, use “should” to communicate the same basic idea: “Districts should implement….”

In other instances, the best option may be to leave it. If it doesn’t bother your advisor, there’s no way to fix it without creating an awkward sentence, and you don’t do it very often, the mysterious “it” may be the best option. 

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