Year 2006 Writing/Communication Tips
by Lucy Paine Kezar

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Tip #61
January, 2006

The rhetorical question

The rhetorical question is an excellent device that we sometimes don’t think of using in our writing and speaking..

A rhetorical question is one that doesn’t expect an answer. It usually, however, makes a point. It is done for effect and often implies the answer that the writer or speaker has in mind.

We can enhance our writing and speaking styles with use of occasional rhetorical questions. This device offers stylistic variety in the midst of a succession of declarative sentences. It also engages the reader’s or listener’s attention.


--“How long shall we stand by and let these abuses occur?”

--“Aren’t I a woman?”
(Sojourner Truth, Abolitionist, writer, lecturer, and former slave, 1797-1883)

--“And what is so rare as a day in June?”
(opening line of a poem by James Russell Lowell, American poet, editor, essayist, and diplomat, 1819-91)

“Are we having fun yet?”

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #62
February, 200

Getting Started: Organizing Material

Each January I offer a writing tip on an aspect of getting started in writing.

How do you organize material before writing an informational piece? Here are two approaches.

You may have learned this in school. It involves creating a column of heads and subheads identified by letters and numbers, with each new set of subtopics usually indented. (Indentations in the example below may not appear on your screen.)

I. First main topic
A. First subtopic
1. A sub-subtopic
2. Another sub-subtopic
B. Second subtopic. . .

II. Second main topic. . . .

This works for many writers and for certain kinds of information. Here’s a second approach:

This technique is sometimes called “three-dimensional” even though it involves simply pen or pencil on a flat page. It is nonlinear and engages both sides of the brain. Some writers find this technique more useful than traditional outlining, and it can be fun! Procedure:

Write your main topic in a “balloon” in the middle of the page. Arrange subtopics around it in other balloons or shapes connected to the first one with lines radiating from it in all directions. You may end up with many topics on the page, radiating in all directions from the center topic and its subtopics.

Here are links to two websites that describe and illustrate mindmapping or clustering. There are many more.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #63
March, 2006

Which/that or who/whom?

Sometimes choosing the best word is a matter of style rather than of grammar. The use of “which” or “that,” versus “who” or “whom,” is an example.

We often hear sentences such as, “The people that arrived at to the stadium just before kickoff couldn’t get in.”

Grammatically, this is acceptable. However, “The people WHO arrived…." is preferable.

Although there is historical precedent for phrases like “the people that,” and we find it in older writings, modern writers tend to prefer:

“Who” or “whom” for people;
“Which” or “that” for things.


“The people who are meeting in this room are members of Toastmasters International.”
“Those booklets that are lying on the table are Toastmasters’ manuals.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #64

Rhetorical devices – 2., Preterition

A rhetorical device is a use of language that creates a certain effect. The writer’s intent may be to persuade, to arouse emotion, or simply to add color and variety. One example is the rhetorical question, the subject of Tip #61, in December.

Awareness of rhetorical devices improves both our listening and our writing. Here’s a device that you might not use but that you will undoubtedly recognize:

Preterition (pret’-uh-RISH-un).

Its name comes from a Latin word meaning “pass by” or “omit.” Here a writer or speaker states that he or she will NOT speak of a certain issue or topic, but in the process of making that assertion actually mentions it.

This can be an underhanded or disingenuous way of introducing negative information. Examples:

[political candidate] “I won’t MENTION the fact that my opponent embezzled funds.”

[person in general conversation] “That organization has for years been a hotbed of gossip, NOT TO MENTION slander.”

The “not to mention” construction is a mild and often-heard example of preterition.

Another name for this device is apophasis (uh-POFF-uh-sis), a term originating in a Greek word meaning “to deny.” The Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary defines apophasis as “a sly debater’s trick, a way of sneaking an issue into the discussion while maintaining plausible deniability” (

Wishing you a happy springtime,

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #65

Rhetorical devices – 3, The Rule of Three

When we write or speak of several items —ideas, events, objects or anything else— we can do this memorably, effectively, and even powerfully in a list of three. People easily remember items in groups of three. This rhetorical device is known as the Rule of Three.


--“Lights, camera, action!”

--“…we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground….”--Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, 1863

--“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is to not stop questioning.”--Albert Einstein

--“Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry, when I take you out in the surrey,”--from “Oklahoma!”

--“Hold my hand and I'll take you there / Somehow, / Some day, / Somewhere!”--from “West Side Story”

--“And now faith, hope, and love abide…and the greatest of these is love.”--1 Corinthians 13:13, New Testament, New Revised Standard Version.

In classical rhetoric this device is called a tricolon.

When we improve our writing styles we at the same time improve our listening, thinking, and speaking.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #66

Overcoming procrastination

Do you procrastinate before writing? Do you dread certain writing tasks?
Here are suggestions for breaking through the procrastination barrier.

1. Be aware of your body clock and write at your most alert time of day.
Anything is easier during that portion of your day.

2. Start in the middle of your document. If you’re “hung up” on the lead sentence or paragraph, begin with middle sections. As you write, ideas for an opening will occur to you.

3. Write the piece in small portions, in short sessions.

4. Consider dictating it into a tape recorder or using voice-recognition software. Simply speaking your message, at first, may be easier than writing it. If the language is too conversational you can easily fix that later.

5. Don’t be a perfectionist. Remember that readers and audiences are not seeking perfection in your message. Rather, they welcome writing or speaking that holds their attention and connects with their needs and interests.

Any or all of these approaches may make the process easy and even enjoyable!

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #67


Language is in flux. In our ever-changing stream of language some words become obsolete, new words appear, and meanings of some words change.  “Hopefully,” in the newer of its two usages, is a word in transition.

Several decades ago, the only accepted use of “hopefully” was as a modifier (description) of a person’s--or possibly an animal’s--mood or behavior. Example:

“The weather may improve,” she said hopefully, looking at the sky.
Here the adverb “hopefully” modifies the verb “said.”

In the 1960s a second usage arose, and language experts still disagree as to its acceptability:
“Hopefully the weather will improve.”

Here, “hopefully” substitutes for “We [or I] hope that.” Here, structurally, this adverb modifies the compound future-tense verb “will improve.”

Those who reject this construction would point out that weather is not a sensate being and thus cannot experience hope!

Dictionaries disagree as to whether this second usage, as a “disjunct” adverb, is standard or nonstandard English.

In our writing or public speaking should we use nonstandard forms such as this one? In formal speaking or writing it’s best to avoid these in-flux words. In any public speaking or writing, their use may distract or annoy some readers or listeners. In conversational speech this is a lesser concern.

If you’re unsure as to whether a word is standard or nonstandard, look it up in SEVERAL on-line dictionaries. If you find disagreement, you’ll know that the word is in flux.

For example: the Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary accepts the second usage of “hopefully,” classifying it as standard. On the other hand, the American Heritage On-Line Dictionary warns that this usage “unacceptable to many critics.” Other dictionaries simply classify it as “nonstandard

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #68

The semicolon revisited - 1.

A common use of the semicolon is to separate two sentence elements each of which could be a sentence by itself; that is, each element has its own subject and predicate.

We link these elements with a semicolon rather then separating them with a period when we want to show a relationship between them. Example:

Penguins live in water and on land; fish live only in water.

A common error is the use of a comma instead of a semicolon in this kind of compound sentence. This error is called a comma splice. Example:

[incorrectly punctuated sentence] Penguins live in water and on land, fish live only in water.

However, the comma here could become correct IF we were to add a third full-sentence element--with subject and predicate and in parallel construction--following the first two. This would turn the sentence into a LIST of elements separated by commas. Example:

Penguins live in water and on land, fish live only in water, and polar bears live on land.

Regarding the semicolon: simply remember that if each sentence element could be a sentence by itself AND you want to show a relationship between these elements, the semicolon is the correct divider.

In next month’s tip we’ll look at another use of the semicolon.

Previous WritingTips on the semicolon:

Tip #5, February, 2000: Of what use is the semicolon?
Tip #18, in May, 200): Notes on Quotes [regarding other punctuation with the semicolon]

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #69

The semicolon revisited - 2.

Last month’s tip presented the semicolon in its commonest use: a connector between two sentence elements each of which could stand alone as a single sentence. Example: Birds fly; seahorses swim.

In its important second use, the semicolon is sometimes called a “supercomma.” Here it separates items—groups of words--that already contain commas.

If we were to use only commas and not the semicolon, we could create confusion in a sentence of this type, as in:

[incorrect example]
“Let’s divide these fruits into groups of three: oranges, grapefruit, lemons, peas, beans, broccoli, pumpkin, squash, turnip.”

This sentence suddenly gains CLARITY when we separate these subgroups with semicolons, as in:

“Let’s divide these fruits into groups of three: oranges, grapefruit, lemons; peas, beans, broccoli; pumpkin, squash, turnip.”

We often use the “supercomma” semicolon in sequences of place names; for example:

“My favorite vacation places include Southwest Harbor, Maine; Châtel-Guyon, France, and Castries, St. Lucia.”

A primary function of all kinds of punctuation is to provide clarity.  Imagine a piece of written text having no punctuation at all!

Previous WritingTips on the semicolon:

Tip #5, February, 2000: Of what use is the semicolon?
Tip #18, May, 2000: Notes on Quotes [correct placement of other punctuation with the semicolon]
Tip #68, July, 2006: The semicolon revisited – 1.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #70

Initial caps

The arrival of fall reminds us that we sometimes incorrectly capitalize certain ordinary words. Seasons of the year are an example; we often see incorrect initial caps on fall winter, spring, and summer.

Complete rules of capitalization in American English would fill several pages; websites appear below.

Following are examples of when NOT to capitalize. These categories of nouns often appear with incorrect initial caps:

--Seasons, as mentioned above.
(However, we do capitalize seasons in official event titles such as The Northeast Kingdom Fall Foliage Festival.)

--Points of the compass when they refer to general direction.
Example: “Do you move south in the winter?” (These words ARE capitalized when they indicate definite regions; e. g., “They have a winter home in the South.”)

--Academic disciplines: sociology, physics, neurology.
(Exception: proper names appearing within names of disciplines: English literature, Russian history.)

---Words capitalized in individuals’ titles but not when used generically; examples: doctor, senator, professor, pastor.
(Example: “In the office across the hall Senator Elena Lopez is talking with a statistics professor”)

A guideline: When in doubt, don’t! The usual error is over- rather than under-capitalization.

Many websites offer complete rules of capitalization in American English. Here are three.

Wishing you an enjoyable fall season,


Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #71


Slang enriches our lives. Without it our language would be impoverished.  These nonstandard words and phrases, some new, some old, add color to our writing and speech.

How do we incorporate slang into formal writing without appearing inconsistent or uninformed?

First, we can put it into quotation marks. Whether or not we do this depends on context. Here are two examples, with and without quotation marks, using the same word in its slang meaning:

1. In a formal article, perhaps written by a sociologist, about teenagers:

Many adolescents assert that their parents are not “cool.”

2. In a magazine written for teenagers:

Some of your friends will take up cigarette smoking because they think it’s cool. It isn’t, however….

In the first example, in a formal article written mainly for adults, quotation marks around “cool” indicate that the writer is aware of this sudden jump into slang. Otherwise this use of “cool” in its slang definition (we’re not talking about temperature here) could appear inconsistent and abrupt.

In the second example, written for adolescents whose everyday vocabulary includes “cool,” the quotation marks may be unnecessary. This depends partly on the style of the rest of the publication.

We can also introduce slang into our writing in a direct quotation, in a real or fictitious person’s spoken words. Examples:

--That’s what my friend Dana calls “over the top.”
--My reaction to that was, “Yuck!”

Shall we use slang? Yes, where it “works”! In formal writing simply indicate awareness that you’re using it.

In public speaking, a speaker’s facial expression and a change of tone of voice can indicate awareness of a sudden shift into slang.

Some words in standard American English originated as slang; example: jazz.

In next month’s Tip we’ll look at the difference between slang and colloquialisms.

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #72

Writing in holiday letters – 5

In last month’s tip, about slang, I stated that the November tip would discuss colloquialisms. In observance of the season, however, I’m interrupting that little sequence with the following.

This is my fifth WritingTip on the writing of holiday letters. The others--they’re all on the website--appeared in the following months::

December, 2002
November, 2003
November, 2004
November, 2005

In those four I covered the main points. Here’s an additional suggestion, followed by its on-line source:

“Before sending your letter, let every family member (preteen and older) read it, and allow them veto power. The last thing you want is an all-out family war over something you wrote in the Christmas letter that your spouse or child would have preferred to remain secret.”

The website is
The author, of “Hints for Holiday Letters,” is Suzanne Perez Tobias, of
Knight Ridder Newspapers, 2004.

This advice applies to more than holiday letters, don’t you think? We should always be sure that in our writing we don’t unintentionally embarrass anyone or violate his or her privacy.

Let’s apply the same principle to photographs!

Speaking as a former professional photographer, and also as one who designs the Kezars’ family-photo-design Christmas card each year, I urge that we not subject even one individual to mass-distribution of a photograph, of him- or herself, that he or she dislikes. Why people detest certain photos of themselves is not always clear to others, but we need to respect these opinions nevertheless.

Happy Thanksgiving to all,

Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!


Tip #73

Quick and easy proofreading

In a season when we often feel rushed and overscheduled, here are three tips for quick and accurate proofreading of our own writing. As we all know, it's more difficult to find mistakes in our work than in someone else's.

To make this task easy:

1. Schedule a time gap.
Allow time to elapse between your writing and your final proofreading.   Allow a day or more, if possible. After this break in time you'll take a fresh look at the document, spot errors, and probably also make improvements in style.

2. Find another reader.
As ask a friend, colleague or family member to proofread the document.  He or she may not catch everything, but may find errors that you wouldn't notice.

3. Proofread it backward!
Read it sentence-by-sentence in reverse order. With this technique you'll catch mistakes that you might otherwise miss, especially errors of grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

The following earlier Tips offer detailed suggestions on proofreading:

In 2001:
#7 (April): Proofreading our own writing
In 2003:
#32 (July) What to look for in proofreading - 1.
#33 (August) What to look for in proofreading - 2.
#34 (September) What to look for in proofreading - 3.

Best wishes for an enjoyable and meaningful holiday season,


Lucy Paine Kezar
Communicate for Results!



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