Tag Archives: usage errors

Ending Paragraphs at the Right Place


Hmmm. Is that the right paragraph length?

Although paragraph structure challenges writers, it is essential not only to help organize the content logically but also to keep the reader interested to the end of the document. On the other hand, if paragraphs are not structured well, the reader will have difficulty understanding the ideas being presented and will be unlikely to respond as you wish.

You need to know when to break the paragraph. Two of the most common problems I encounter when editing academic papers are paragraphs that are incomplete and paragraphs that are too expansive. While editing a graduate student’s paper recently, I came across a paragraph that was nearly 1.5 pages long. That, alone, is not a problem. A paragraph can be quite long, or quite short, and still accomplish its purpose—but only if it follows two essential principles.

1. A paragraph discusses one, and only one, idea.
2. A paragraph provides a transition to the next idea. Continue reading

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When corpses go swimming


“Swimming happily, the corpse floated by his head.”

Ok-what’s wrong with that statement? It seems to say that the corpse is swimming happily, which is a rather odd thing for corpses to do.

The problem is that the introductory phrase is a dangling modifier. This means that the subject (stated or implied) of the introductory adverbial phrase doesn’t match the subject of the sentence.

In the example above, the subject of the main sentence is “the corpse.” However, the implied subject of the introductory phrase “swimming happily” is he. Because they aren’t the same, we, the readers, are left with a rather strange image.

Without having any additional clues about the subject, the reader will assume that the subject of the introductory phrase is the same as the subject of the main sentence. This is why why the corpse seems to swimming happily.

Here’s another: “As a professor of economics, the plan is likely to succeed.”

This seems to imply that the plan is a professor. That’s odd, too. The subject of the main sentence is “plan,” so without any clues to tell us differently, we assume that the subject of the introductory phrase is also “plan,” making “plan” a professor of economics.

Even if we had the clues, however, the phrase would still dangle because the subjects would be different. That’s what a dangling modifier is: an introductory phrase or clause that doesn’t have the same subject (implied or stated) as the main sentence.

Thus, to fix these dangling modifiers, we need to make the subject (implied or stated) of the introductory phrase the same as the subject of the main sentence. Here are possible revisions for the above examples.

“While swimming happily, he saw a corpse float by his head.”
“As a professor of economics, I believe that the plan is likely to succeed.”

Do you know any dangling modifers that amuse you? Have you heard any dangling modifiers or seen any in print (hint, listen to CNN)? Please share below!

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Number 1 Strategy for Revising Graduate Papers


Writing graduate papers.

For nearly 20 years, I have helped graduate students edit essays, research papers, dissertations, and other graduate-level papers. Some papers only need basic proofreading to correct spelling errors, grammar errors, punctuation errors, and problems with word choice. Other papers need help with APA format, reference lists, and citations. However, most papers need substantial revising.

The most common problem I have found when editing graduate papers is the lack of transitions. Rather than a logical flow of ideas from one sentence to the next, or one paragraph to the next, many papers seem to be a collection of disconnected ideas with little relation to what has just been written. Without good transitions, the reader (i.e., the professor) will ask, “Why am I reading this now?” or “What does this have to do with what I just read?” Continue reading

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Confusing Words Simply Explained


Confusing Words

The English language has many confusing word pairs, those word pairs that make people stop and ask, “Is it this word or that word? Which word do I use?” 

Writing, of any type, is for communication. When you use the correct word, you can accurately communicate your ideas. On the other hand, if you use the wrong word, you risk communicating the wrong idea, and you risk losing credibility with your reader, whether your reader is a potential client, a professor, a publisher, or a visitor to your web site.  Continue reading

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Rhetorically Speaking


Day 9: Use the rhetorical action as the main verb.

A sentence may have several verbs. However, the verb in the “verb’s place” following the subject is generally the main verb upon which the rest of the sentence hangs. Consider this sentence:

“Julie thinks Tom is silly.”

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Hyphens and Compound Adjectives


"Old, oak tree" OR "Old oak tree"?

Take a noun, any noun, and stick two adjectives in front of it. Do you need to connect them with a hyphen? Or can you simply leave them alone?  

The answer is “depends.” More accurately, it depends on what they’re doing to the noun, and what they’re doing to each other.   Continue reading

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10 Words to Avoid When Writing


Writing is a combination of art and craft. The art comes from lots of reading, talking, thinking, dreaming, and writing. The craft is primarily technique. Some techniques are complex, but a few are very simple and will instantly strengthen your writing. In many cases, however, strengthening writing simply means avoiding those things that weaken it.

We have identified 10 words that nearly always weaken writing. In no particular order, they are as follows.

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