Year 2002 Writing/Communication Tips
by Lucy Paine Kezar

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Tip #14
January, 2002

Should we rewrite?

Good writing involves revision, or "rewrite."

Sometimes we create a fine sentence or paragraph the first time, but most writers edit first drafts.  We need never berate ourselves for rewriting, which is a normal part of the process.  It's not unusual, for example, to hear a novelist say, "I spent the entire morning reworking one paragraph."

Experience and skill enable us to increase speed and efficiency in both business and personal writing.  Nearly all writing benefits, however, from some editing and rewrite.

To a degree, good writing IS rewrite.


Tip #15
February, 2002

What's an ellipsis?

An ellipsis (plural: ellipses, pronounced e-lip'-sees) indicates words left out.  An ellipsis consists of three spaced periods or, if text omitted includes the end of of one or more sentences, four spaced
periods.  (The word ellipsis is not to be confused with "ellipse," meaning oval.)

For example, if a journalist were to quote, with omissions, the song "Over the Rainbow," he or she might write:

"Somewhere, over the rainbow. . . there's a land that I heard of . . . . why, then, oh why can't I?"

The first ellipsis consists of three periods because the omitted words are all within one sentence.  The second adds a period to indicate that at least one period occurs within the omitted portion.

A common misuse of the ellipsis is to indicate a pause, with no words omitted, as in, "The audience waited expectantly . . . then the singer appeared."  Such pauses can be created, correctly, in other ways, in writing.


Tip #16
March, 2002

Misplaced modifiers

What's wrong with this sentence?

"Reading on the beach, a duck waddled toward me on the sand."

Unintended humor reveals the error here, unless mallards' reading level has taken a quantum leap.

We may not, however, notice frequently heard but less obvious examples of an error that grammarians call the dangling or misplaced modifier.  Here's one:  "As a coach, it's my responsibility to teach team play."

Descriptive phrases or clauses must generally be next to, usually immediately preceding, the word or words that they modify.  "Reading on the beach" must be adjacent to the reader, not the duck.  "As a coach" must directly precede the person who is coach;  here, "I."  We can correct this by rewording:  "As a coach, I have the responsibility to teach team play."

Can  you correct the following sentence?

"While doing my algebra homework, my three-year-old sister started crying."


Tip #17
April, 2002

"No day without a line,"

of writing. That's a famous quotation attributed to writer, politician, and military leader Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79).  In his own language, Latin: "Nulla dies sine linea."

Athletes exercise, musicians rehearse, and people who write with ease and effectiveness write regularly.  One way of  doing this is to keep a journal.  Anyone can do it, in the following way:

In a computer file or notebook, either for your eyes alone or perhaps for posterity, write something every day.  As little as one sentence each day, on any subject at all, will do.  Since this writing is not for publication there's no obligation to edit or rewrite it.  Over time, you will find that this simple exercise has begun to make your writing easier and more effective.

Try it!


Tip #18
May, 2002

Notes on Quotes

When we combine quotation marks with other punctuation, there are conventions, as follows:

Periods and commas always go INSIDE quotation marks.  The rule applies to both single and double quotes:

"My children," he said, "often use the expression 'wicked good.'"

Colons and semicolons are always placed OUTSIDE quotation marks.

These children are permitted to ride on the roller coaster "Cyclone":  Carlos, Kim, Alyssa, David....

The fifth-grade teacher addressed the expression  "wicked good";  she suggested synonyms.

Question marks and exclamation points are placed inside OR outside the quotes, depending on meaning.

She said, "That's a Kimodo Dragon!"  (Exclamation point inside, since it goes with the entire quotation.)

Did I just hear another "wicked good"?  (Question mark outside, because the quoted portion is just a part of the sentence.)


Tip #19
June, 2002

Others' opinions

Has anyone told you that you don't write well?  Participants in my training programs and classes sometimes report that supervisors or colleagues have told them that, in one way or another.

Obviously writing is a skill that we can all develop, and one in which some people are more accomplished than others.  There's another key factor, though:  style differences.

In writing as in speaking, there is more than one way of saying practically anything.  Thus when Person A finds deficiencies in the writing of Person B,  often what actually may be taking place is a disagreement about style.

If your writing should come under fire, keep that in mind.  Ask the other person what style he or she considers best for the document under discussion.  The problem may be disagreement on style, rather than serious defects in your or anyone else's writing ability.


Tip #20
July, 2002

One word or two?

Small errors in word usage can interrupt the flow of our writing in the reader's mind.  Trivial errors may distract those readers who will pause to wonder, "Is that correct or incorrect?"

This can happen with word pairs that are sometimes compound and sometimes separated, with resultant differences in meaning.  Examples include:

"all together" and "altogether";
"a while" and  "awhile";
"all ready" and "already"?

These homonyms--words or word pairs sounding alike--are not synonyms, though related in meaning.  Do you know how they differ?

Imagine for a moment that you're a journalist doing a piece on a children's summer camp.  In writing, you will quote a counselor who says the following to a group of campers sharing a cabin. 

"Are you all ready? All together now, let's clean up this cabin so that it will be altogether spotless. After a while, there'll be an inspection.  Cleaning that floor may take awhile, and it's already only twenty minutes before swim time."


Tip #21
August, 2002

A style tip:  Varied Beginnings

How do we make a paragraph more interesting to read?  Sometimes we can simply vary the order of elements within a sentence.   Though basic sentence structure is subject-followed-by-verb, we needn't always begin that way.  Instead, we can start some sentences with other elements, such as adjectives or adverbs, descriptive phrases, and subordinate clauses.

An example that we could improve:

We remembered, during our vacation on the Maine coast, that air pollution threatens some of the most beautiful places in the American Northeast.   We visited Acadia National Park, into which pollution from Manhattan is regularly borne by prevailing winds.  We were at Acadia on a beautiful summer day when this hazard wasn't obvious, however.

Improved in this respect:

During our vacation on the Maine coast we remembered that air pollution threatens some of the most beautiful places in the American Northeast.  We visited Acadia National Park, into which pollution from Manhattan is regularly borne by prevailing winds.  On the beautiful day when we happened to be there, however, this hazard wasn't obvious.


Tip #22
September, 2002

Language change

Language changes.  That is, meanings and uses that dictionary-makers and others accept as correct change over time.  We can remind ourselves of this simply by reading a page of a novel published 100 years ago.

That being so, how do we handle the words that are now in flux?  Do we use, or do we avoid, words or expressions only partially accepted?   I suggest a conservative approach to this, and by "conservative" in this sense I refer only to language change and not to politics, religion, or other beliefs.  Our goal is, after all, that

people read our writing continuously, without pausing to wonder, "Is that correct or not?"

Let's look at an example in the word "hopefully."

In its fully accepted use, the adverb "hopefully" describes the mood of a PERSON, as in, "Ed said hopefully, 'The weather may clear up in time for the game.'" Here we see that  "hopefully" describes Ed's mood.

In its newer and not completely accepted use, "hopefully" describes a SITUATION rather than a person's mood, as in,  "Hopefully the weather will clear up."   Here, grammatically, "hopefully" modifies the verb "will change," the subject of which is "weather."  Consider, though, can the weather experience an emotion like hope?

I suggest that in writing we take the linguistically conservative route with words in flux, choosing only their accepted forms and avoiding borderline usages that will distract some readers and make a few of them wince.

"Hopefully" is now where "contact," used as a verb, was several decades ago.  The verb "contact" has gained acceptance.  The newer "hopefully" may go that route, but it hasn't yet arrived.


Tip #23
October, 2002

Who is that?--in "who" versus "that."

Certain refinements improve our writing.

One is the decision as to whether to use "who" or "that," as a pronoun in a subordinate clause.

"The people that had tickets were allowed to enter immediately."

"The people who had tickets were allowed to enter immediately."

Doesn't that sound better?  The principle is:

"who" or "whom" is preferred for people; "that," for things.

Here's an example using "that" correctly:
"The tickets that were sold at the group rate are light green."

Optimal choices in matters such as these make our writing more graceful.


Tip #24
November, 2002

Brevity and style - 1.

Clear and concise writing is appropriately brief.  Without being abrupt, we can add clarity by omitting unnecessary words.

We can do this in many ways.  Here's one:

Substitute a single adjective or adverb for a phrase or clause.

Here are three examples, each with a longer sentence followed by the same message shortened in this way.

a. Holiday greens that we see in store windows are nearly always fake.
      Store-window holiday greens are nearly always fake.

b. I built this device with tools that were available to me.
      I built this device with available tools.

c. He spoke in a hesitant manner.
      He spoke hesitantly.

For stylistic reasons we may occasionally choose longer forms.  In most our writing, however, we communicate best in shorter, clearer, statements.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Tip #25
December, 2002

Writing in holiday letters

It's the time of year when some send holiday newsletters.  If we choose this cheerful form of personal or family greeting, we can avoid distracting readers with unintended mistakes.
Here are samples of grammatical errors that often appear;  these are "made-up" sentences, NOT not quotes from actual holiday letters.

1. Wrong case of pronoun.
"This was wonderful news for Leslie and I."
("...Leslie and me" is correct; "me" being the object of the preposition "for.")

2.  Wrong pronoun in gender/number.
"Each member of the family will pack up their skis and we'll be off to Aspen."
("...his or her skis" is correct,  the singular pronoun being required because its antecedent, "Each member," is singular.)

3.  Incorrect word following "The reason is."
  "The reason why we didn't travel this year is because we're renovating the house."
("The reason is that...." is preferable, as discussed in WritingTip #2, November, 2000.)

Remember, though, that if you do send a holiday letter, recipients will enjoy it and will read for content rather than for mistakes.  Don't worry about it!


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