Year 2005 Writing/Communication Tips
by Lucy Paine Kezar

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Tip #50
January, 2005

Getting Started, Looking Back

At the start of a new year, let’s consider the challenge of getting started in writing. For some this is the most difficult part of the process. Here’s a technique: Take a walk!

Exercise, especially of a type involving rhythmic and repeated motion, can free our minds and help us get a writing project “off the ground.” A theory as to why this works is that exercise gives the more methodical left brain something to do, and thereby frees the more creative right brain. When this happens, ideas, facts, and sources of inspiration that may have been buried in our minds float to the surface. Synthesis can occur; that is, you may suddenly combine previously unrelated observations or concepts.

Try it. Not only do writers find vigorous sports such as walking, running, swimming, golf, and skiing effective; they also gain this benefit from more sedentary rhythmic activities such as knitting or playing a musical instrument.

In the New Year’s season we often also look back. This is 50th WritingTip. Since many of you began receiving these Tips during the years since 2000, here’s a complete list.

Note that several of the Tips also address the challenge of getting started in writing. They all appear on the website.

Tip #1 (October): Go with your body clock.
Tip #2 (November): What's wrong with saying or writing, "The reason is because...."?
Tip #3 (December): Can't get started?

Tip #4 (January): Is e-mail different?
Tip #5 (February): Of what use is the semicolon?
Tip #6 (March): Daunted by the blank page?
Tip #7 (April): Proofreading our own writing
Tip #8 (May): What's wrong with ". . . speak with Dana or I."
Tip #9 (June): It's its own little puzzle.
Tip #10 (July): Breaking the procrastination barrier
Tip #11 (August): Queries in quotes
Tip #12 (September): E-mail etiquette for today
Tip #13 (October): Active or passive?

Tip #14 (January): Should we rewrite?
Tip #15 (February): What's an ellipsis?
Tip #16 (March): Misplaced modifiers
Tip #17 (April): "No day without a line,"
Tip #18 (May): "Notes on Quotes"
Tip #19 (June): Others' opinions
Tip #20 (July): One word or two?
Tip #21 (August): A style tip: Varied Beginnings
Tip #22 (September): Language change
Tip #23 (October) Who is that?--in "who" versus "that"
Tip #24 (November) Brevity and style - 1
Tip #25 (December) Writing in holiday letters

Tip #26 (January) The opening sentence
Tip #27 (February) Writing, sleep, and circadian rhythms
Tip #28 (March) The hyphen and the dash
Tip #29 (April) Parallel construction
Tip #30 (May) Words often confused
Tip #31 (June) Brevity and style - 2.
Tip #32 (July) What to look for in proofreading - 1.
Tip #33 (August) What to look for in proofreading - 2.
Tip #34 (September) What to look for in proofreading - 3.
Tip #35 (October) "I can't write!"
Tip #36 (November) Writing in holiday letters - 2.
Tip #37 (December) Why write?

Tip #38 (January) Opening lines
Tip #39 (February) Responses to last month's WritingTip - Humor - 1.
Tip #40 (March) Capitalization
Tip #41 (April) Humor – 2. Funny personal stories: are they portable?
Tip #42 (May) Brackets [ ]
Tip #43 (June) Humor – 3. Exaggeration
Tip #44 (July) The Perfect-Time Barrier
Tip #45 (August) Humor – 4. “I’m not funny.”
Tip #46 (September) – Style tip: varied sentence lengths
Tip #47 (October) Humor – 5. The setup and punch
Tip #48 (November) Writing in holiday letters – 3
Tip #49 (December) At year’s end, a reason for improving our writing skills.

Happy New Year!


Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #51
February, 2005

The Less-Obvious Misplaced Modifier

When we misplace a modifier—a descriptive word or phrase—within a sentence, that sentence can take on an unintended meaning. Some misplaced or dangling modifiers are more obvious than others. Some create unintended humor, as in:

“Wagging his tail, Ed led his poodle, Maurice, into the room.”

Here it’s easy to see that the modifying (descriptive) phrase “wagging his tail” needs to appear immediately before or after the noun or pronoun that it modifies; here, “poodle.” If we misplace a modifier or let it “dangle” within the sentence, it may end up describing something or somebody else, as it did regarding Ed and Maurice.


Tip #52
March, 2005

Common Punctuation Mistakes

In classes I teach and in texts that I edit, I often see the following two punctuation errors.

1. Misplacement of period and quotation marks:

Periods always fall INSIDE quotation marks. With the period we do it this way regardless of meaning.

Correct examples:
-As she entered the house Sarah announced, “It’s snowing.”
-That product may be labeled, in tiny letters, “Inflammable.”

2. Use of a comma where we need a semicolon or period:

When two parts of a sentence could be two separate sentences; that is, each part has its own subject and predicate and could stand alone, these sentence portions need to be separated by a semicolon (or period) rather than by a comma.

Correct examples:
-Fish swim; birds fly.
-He’s likely to misunderstand your reference to Harry in that context; he’ll think you’re talking about his cousin Harry.

For further discussion of these topics, visit these WritingTips on the website:

Quotation marks and punctuation:
Tip #11 (August, 2001): Queries in quotes
Tip #18 (May, 2002): Notes on Quotes

The semicolon:
Tip #5 (February, 2001): Of what use is the semicolon?

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!



Tip #53
April, 2005

Common Grammatical Mistakes - 1

In response to enthusiastic comments about last month’s Tip, Common Punctuation Mistakes, I offer a short sequence of Tips entitled Common Grammatical Mistakes.

I’ll describe common errors made by native speakers of American English. (Non-native speakers and writers face different challenges. When we learn a foreign language, the errors we make tend to be different from the most frequent errors made by native speakers of that language.)

Here’s the first tip: Correct and incorrect uses of “myself”

Incorrect sentence: “Leslie and myself are planning a trip to Costa Rica.”

“Myself” cannot be the subject of a verb. All of the pronouns ending in “self”--myself, yourself, herself, themselves, etc.--are either intensive or reflexive. I explain that below. They cannot be grammatical subjects of sentences.

Correct version of that sentence: “Leslie and I are planning a trip to Costa Rica.”

Here are correct uses of the pronouns ending in “self”:

1. INTENSIVE, for emphasis: “I’ll do that myself.”
2. REFLEXIVE, referring to action on oneself: “I ask myself whether that’s worth it.” “He cut himself while slicing onions.”

We may sometimes incorrectly use “myself” in place of “I” because we feel slightly awkward or impolite when saying or writing “I.” When “I” is used correctly, however, it’s fine. In normal usage the first-person-singular pronoun is neither stilted nor egotistical.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #54
May, 2005

Common Grammatical Mistakes - 2

What follows “The reason is…”?

What word would you insert into the blank in the following sentence?

The reason why I brought an umbrella is _______rain is predicted.

Did you consider “because”? We often hear this, but the correct word is “that.” Why?

First, the use of “because” is redundant. Causality is implied in the word “reason.”

Second, there’s grammatical reason:

The verb “is” anticipates a noun or adjective, or a noun or adjective phrase or clause. An example of a noun clause is: “that rain is predicted.” That group of words could take the place of a noun.

On the other hand, a clause beginning with “because,” such as “because rain is predicted,” is an adverbial clause. Adverbs, and adverbial clauses and phrases, can modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. An adverbial clause cannot correctly modify a state-of-being verb, such as “is.”

If we use “because” in that sentence about the umbrella, we are following “is” with an adverbial clause. That does not make grammatical sense.

Examples of correct form:

1. The reason why I brought an umbrella is that rain is predicted.

2. The reason for using the correct word is that some readers and listeners know the difference and will be distracted if we use the incorrect word.

For additional discussion of this topic see, on the website, WritingTip #2, of November, 2000, entitled, “What's wrong with saying or writing ‘The reason is because....’?”

Have a terrific weekend, rain or shine.


Tip #55
June, 2005

Common Grammatical Mistakes - 3

Lack of agreement in number, between subject and verb

What is wrong, grammatically, with this sentence?

“There’s a car and a truck parked in the driveway.”

This is a familiar construction. However, the error this kind of sentence is lack of agreement, in NUMBER, between subject and verb.

Corrected sentence:

“There are a car and a truck parked in the driveway.”

The correct verb here is “are,” because the grammatical subject of the sentence is plural: “a car and a truck.” In speaking, especially, we can easily begin a sentence with “There’s” and fail to anticipate the number of items that will follow and become the grammatical subject or subjects of the verb.

“There” is an adverb. Despite its position at the beginning of the sentence it has no influence on the form of the verb.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #56
uly, 2005

Rules that aren’t rules

In language as in other areas of life, some “rules” are in fact not rules. One of these is the notion that it is incorrect to end a sentence with a preposition.

In American English, ending a sentence with a preposition is acceptable. Example: “What’s that for?”

Confusion may arise from the fact that sentences ending with prepositions occur more often in casual speech than in formal language.

Example: “He’s not the one she came with.” The more formal version of that sentence is, obviously, “He’s not the one with whom she came.” Either is grammatically correct, however.
In a possibly apocryphal story about Winston Churchill, he reportedly said or wrote, to an editor who had altered a sentence that Churchill had ended with a preposition, "This is the kind of impertinence up with which I shall not put."

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!

Tip #57
August, 2005

Like an athlete or musician, practice daily. Enjoy results!

Here’s a WritingTip always of interest; from 2002.

After creating 56 of these Tips I’ve decided to repeat a Tip occasionally, usually one from several years ago. This will benefit newcomers to this series, and allow all of us to review the basic advice of the earlier tips

Here’s Tip #17, of April, 2002, useful to all writers. We discuss this topic in all of the writing programs that I teach.

"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!

Wishing you a fine end-of-summer and early fall,

Lucy Paine Kezar


Tip #58
September, 2005

Words in flux: decisions about their use

Language is always changing--shifting in regard to what is considered correct. Many of our accepted words and phrases were considered poor English during a previous period. With this in mind we need to decide when we will use--and not use--words in the midst of this shift. Examples are “criteria” used as a singular word, and “hopefully” in its newer meaning of “I or we hope.”

The traditional singular of the Greek-based plural “criteria” is “criterion.” Many are unaware of this and as a consequence “criteria” as a singular form is gaining acceptance.

Similarly, “hopefully” is traditionally an adverb describing a person’s mood. Example: “‘The weather may clear up,’ Leslie said hopefully.”

A newer meaning of “hopefully” is a synonym for “I/we hope,” as in “Hopefully it won’t rain.” Though some dictionaries now accept this on the basis of usage, it irritates some readers and listeners in 2005.

A word-in-flux used with its newer and not fully accepted meaning will annoy some readers or listeners and even lead them off on mental tangents about correct language. When that happens, the person stops reading or listening! For these reasons we may want to avoid these forms.

The best writing or speaking, after all, is suited to its readers or audience. We write and speak with the audience in mind.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results


Tip #59
October, 2005

Words Easily Confused – 1.

We sometimes confuse pairs of words that sound similar. Usually these words have dissimilar meanings. Here are three such pairs:

--pawn/palm off

In briefly presenting these I lead off each pair with commonest errors in confusion of these words.

1 “Infer” when we mean “imply.”

Infer: to derive as a conclusion, draw inference.
Imply: to express indirectly.

--INFER: The detective inferred from various bits of evidence that several people had been there.
--IMPLY: She implied, without saying so, that the rescue had been frightening.

2. “Pawn off” when we mean “palm off.”

Pawn: to deposit as security (no “off” needed).
Palm off: to get rid of, hand off, by guile or trickery.

--PAWN: He pawned his watch in order to get money for that gift.
--PALM OFF: Ed tried to palm off that malfunctioning car on us, but we
figured it out.

Origin of “palm off ”: It is thought to come from card tricks or card or dice games involving sleight of hand.

3. “Incidences,” where the correct word is “incidents.”

Incidence: rate of occurrence (a word seldom used in the plural.).
Incident: a happening or single occurrence.

--INCIDENCE: What is the incidence of malaria in this country?
--INCIDENT: There have been several stone-throwing incidents on the
school playground this year.

Can you name other pairs of words often confused?

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!

Tip #60
November, 2005

Writing in Holiday Letters – 4.

How does one create a holiday letter--often a greeting-card insert--that recipients will both read and enjoy? A simple answer: apply principles that we use in other kinds of writing. Here are two suggestions.

1. Keep your readers’ interests and attention spans in mind.

How much personal detail will interest them? For example, what percentage of recipients will read in its entirety a two-paged, detailed letter arriving at a time of year when they are already inundated with extra personal mail?

Consider writing TWO letters, a longer one for close friends and family and a shorter one for acquaintances.

2. “Run your draft past” friends or family members.

Before duplicating and mailing your holiday letter, ask several people to read it. Astute readers will catch not only errors--of spelling, grammar, or fact--but also any unintended MOOD in your writing.

A writer can convey attitude without intending to do so. This happens frequently on-line and can also occur in messages sent on paper. Writer points of view to avoid include (a) bragging, and (b) grief.

Regarding the latter, a holiday letter is not the best place for sharing news such as serious illness or a death within the family. That kind of news is best shared in a separate note or phone call. Regarding the appearance of bragging, you can in fact share some of your family members’ accomplishments of the past year without conveying a mindset of “How great we are!” This is a matter of style and balance.

Last year’s holiday-letters tip, number 48, sent in November of ‘04 and appearing on the website, discusses many aspects of holiday-letter writing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!

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