Tag Archives: proofread

Those doggoned sentences.


Peanut the elephant from Spencer Quinn's "To Fetch a Thief".

I love dogs, and I love a good mystery. So when I came across the Chet and Bernie mystery series, I was ecstatic. The books are narrated from the perspective of Chet, the dog. I really enjoyed this as too many times in books and movies, animals are overly anthropomorphized.

I cuddled up at night with books one and two, Dog on It and Thereby Hangs a Tail. I couldn’t wait to get book three, To Fetch a Thief. In this book, Chet and Bernie, Bernie being a private detective and Chet’s owner, set out to find a missing elephant, Peanut. Peanut was the main attraction in a small, family-owned traveling circus that happened by Chet and Bernie’s town. The more they learned about Peanut and her trainer, the more they found that she just wasn’t missing. She may have been kidnapped.

As I delved into To Fetch a Thief, I was really into the mystery like I was with the previous two books. Then, I got around to the middle of the book, and something strange was happening. At first, I didn’t want to believe what was happening, couldn’t believe it. Sentences were becoming a blur, often times not making any sense at all. I just kept shaking it off thinking these were minor errors that had been overlooked. But it kept happening.

I started noticing misspelled words, run-ons, overly hyphenated statements, and other writing blights. It was true; this book had taken a turn for the worse. I soon felt that I was missing the great story of Chet and Bernie’s adventure in the search for Peanut. Poor Peanut. Poor beloved dog mystery series!  Continue reading

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8 Sentence Patterns for Academic and Technical Writing


(From Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing.)

An expert academic or technical writer needs only a few basic sentence patterns to produce easy-to-understand writing. Each of the sentence patterns below will result in clear academic or technical writing. However, do not use any one pattern more than twice in a row to prevent the writing from sounding repetitive and boring. Also, use the more complex sentence patterns less frequently. They are more challenging for the reader and may make the writing overall more complex than necessary.

All effective sentence patterns start with the Subject-Verb-Object (S-V-O) sentence structure. Optional components are additional S-V-O structures and descriptive words, phrases, and clauses (D), which can be placed in various locations.

In the samples below, the subjects are underlined, and the main verbs are in italics.

1. Simple sentence (S-V-O): A simple sentence has one subject–verb pair. It starts with the subject (or an adjective and the subject). The subject is immediately followed by the verb (or an adverb and the verb). A simple sentence may contain an object.

Example 1: The computer desktop provides access to your files. Continue reading

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Three Strategies for Writing to Your Reader


Here are three tips from 300 Days of Better Writing about how to understand your readers and give them what they need.

Day 110: Be prepared to work hard at your writing.

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

(Nathaniel Hawthorne)

(Please excuse the curse word. It may indicate Hawthorne’s
frustration with the work necessary to produce good writing, or it
may indicate the strength with which Hawthorne believes this.)

The point of this quote is that clear, easy-to-read writing is not easy
to produce. Instead, it is the result of writing, analyzing what you
write, and re-writing—perhaps many times.

When you write, you are attempting to communicate. The more work
you put into writing, the better you will be able to communicate.
Hard work by you leads to easy understanding by your reader.

People have told me, “Writing is so easy for you.” This isn’t true. I
have practiced writing, studied writing, and analyzed what makes
writing clear. The documents they read are the result of much work:
writing, criticizing, and rewriting until they are “easy reading.”
That’s what great writers aim for: not easy writing but easy reading. Continue reading

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Commas with Pairs of Adjectives


You have two adjectives together. Do you or don’t you put a comma between them? If they are coordinate adjectives, you do. This follows Zen Comma Rule P.

Comma Rule P: Put a Comma between Coordinate Adjectives.

Definition of Coordinate Adjectives. Adjectives are coordinate if they meet two criteria: (1) You can place and between the two words, and the sentence means the same thing, and (2) You can reverse their order, and the sentence means the same thing.

Sample 1: We had a hot, dry summer.

Sample 1 has the adjectives hot and dry, both used to describe summer. If we write We had a hot and dry summer, the sentence makes sense. It also makes sense if we write We had a dry, hot summer. The adjectives meet both criteria, so we know they are coordinate and put a comma between them.

To native English speakers, the two revised sentences will sound like natural speech, and the two criteria are likely sufficient to identify coordinate adjectives. For a more technical explanation, we can examine the Royal Order of Adjectives.

(If these criteria and revisions make sense to you, skip the next section and go to Rule Q.)

Definition of Royal Order of Adjectives. This is the order in which native English speakers naturally use adjectives in speech and writing. Although exceptions exist, such as to emphasize specific characteristics, this order is generally true. Continue reading

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3 Strategies to Make Bad Information Sound Good


Sometimes, things are not as good as you expect. Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, you are not perfect. And you have to write about it. These three strategies will help you write about bad, or embarrassing, information in a way that makes the bad information sound better than it is. You need to tell the truth; that’s a given. But you can tell it in a way that produces a positive, or less, bad reaction from your reader. 

Day 146: Put a positive spin on negative information by writing not + [positive term] + [excuse].

When we talk about spin, spinning, or putting a spin on information, we mean writing information in a manner that leads to a particular interpretation. This is used to make good news seem bad or unimportant. This is also used to make potentially unpleasant information seem more acceptable. Spin is very common in the media and political world, but it is also used in everyday writing and speech. You will have to decide for yourself whether or not this is ethical. Continue reading

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Strategies for Writing Concise Descriptions


Concise writing is clear writing. By definition, concise writing communicates in as few words as necessary. Everything in a sentence other than the subject, verb, and object is description. Descriptions cause most of the “fluff” in sentences, but, fortunately, some simple strategies will help you write concise descriptions.

Simplifying ownership

You can show ownership in two ways, with a possessive or a prepositional phrase. Prepositional phrases always make writing less concise. Using possessives, such as the apostrophe-S, will make writing more concise.

Example 1.a, prepositional phrase: The purpose of the CEO is to create an environment for efficiency. (12 words)
Example 1.b, possessive: The CEO’s purpose is to create an environment for efficiency. (10 words)

In example 1, revising the prepositional phrase reduces the sentence’s word count by 2 words. This might not seem significant, but it is. First, if you do this multiple times in a document, the overall effect is more concise writing. You will have removed many unnecessary words. Second, the writing will be stronger overall because you will have removed the weak prepositional phrases.

I only endorse prepositional phrases for ownership when the “owner” is a phrase of 3 or more words. With the possessive, the sentence may be confusing or awkward because the sentence has multiple descriptive words before naming the thing being described. Each case needs to be considered carefully. In example 2, the sentence with the prepositional phrase may be better than sentence with the possessive.

Example 2.a, prepositional phrase: The design of the ergonomic latex foam chair compensates for spine curvature.
Example 2.b, possessive: The ergonomic latex foam chair’s design compensates for spine curvature. Continue reading

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Action Verbs Good. Nominalizations Bad


What are nominalizations?

Nominalizations are the noun forms of action verbs, as seen Table 1.

Table 1: Sample action verbs and corresponding nouns (nominalizations)

Sample action verbs

Corresponding nouns

illustrate
fail
react
announce
increase (v)

illustration
failure
reaction
announcement
increase (n)

Why are they bad, and how do I fix them?

Nominalizations have multiple negative effects.

1. They make sentences less concise.
2. They increase the noun-to-verb ratio.
3. They make sentences difficult to understand.
4. They make reading tedious.

Nominalizations often force writers to add additional words to sentences. Changing nominalizations back to action verbs often decreases the number of words needed to communicate the idea, as seen here:

Example 1a, with nominalization: “The commencement of the ceremony will be at noon.”
Example 1b, with action verb: “The ceremony will commence at noon.” Continue reading

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