Category Archives: OOPS!

Red Ink Beer Video Writing Instruction 9.13.14


What’s in this episode?

In this episode of Red Ink Beer, David Bowman, owner of Precise Edit and author of 9 writing guides,

  • answers a reader’s question about using commas with “too” at the end of a sentence (posted at the Zen Comma blog),
  • shows how to write the body of a paragraph (strategy from  Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing), and
  • corrects a fast food restaurant’s sign with three words and three errors.

Writing skills are demonstrated with examples and instruction. The transcript is provided below.

For more information about David Bowman’s writing guides, please visit http://hostileediting.com. To contact David Bowman at Precise Edit, please email him at info@preciseedit.com.

Video time: 10:16

Red Ink Beer is supported by Precise Edit and Hostile Editing.

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Red Ink Beer-Video Writing Instruction 9.9.14


What’s in this episode?

In this episode of Red Ink Beer, David Bowman, owner of Precise Edit and author of 9 writing guides,

  • answers a tricky question from the Zen Comma blog about using commas between complicated items in a list
  • discusses an essential writing strategy paragraph structure and how to start paragraphs from Concise Guide to Technical and Academic Writing, and
  • points out a major writing failure from Twitter.

Writing skills are demonstrated with examples and instruction. For more information about David Bowman’s writing guides, please visit http://hostileediting.com.

Video: 11 minutes. Transcript provided below. Continue reading

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The Comma Versus the Dash for Emphasis


Comma or Dash?

Here’s the question: You want to add an emphatic statement to the end of a sentence, something that will catch the readers’ attention. To create reader focus, you want to create a brief pause prior to the emphatic statement. But do you use a comma or a dash?

Bad Example and Explanation

Here’s an example of the wrong way to do it:

It’s reality, and the subject of a jury-prize-winning film in the GE Focus Forward Film Competition. (http://news.yahoo.com/chemist-hopes-artificial-leaf-power-civilization-using-photosynthesis-173654018–abc-news-tech.html)

See that comma? The writer is using the comma to set off the final information and to create impact, i.e., emphasis. That comma is a problem.

One of the most common uses for commas is to signal the end of a complete sentence, a.k.a. independent clause, that the writer is linking to another complete sentence with a conjunction (e.g., and, but). The sample sentence begins with the independent clause “It’s reality” and the conjunction “and.” The comma suggests that the information following “and” will be another complete sentence, which is not true.

In fact, the entire descriptive phrase “the subject of a jury-prize-winning film…” is linked to the verb “is” found in the contraction “it’s.” As evidence of this, the writer could have written “It’s reality, and it’s the subject of a . . . .” Unfortunately, the writer didn’t do this. By using the comma to create an emphatic pause, the writer separated “it” from its description.

Still not convinced that the comma is wrong? Try this: Separate the subject from its first description and see if it looks right. “It’s, reality” is incorrect because it separates the subject “it” from its description, “reality.” The subject and the first description need to be together, not separated by a comma. The subject and second description also need to be together, but the comma separates them.

In brief, the comma needs to go.

Solution: Use a Dash

How, then, could the writer have created the pause needed to create emphasis? Answer: use an em dash, which is the long dash.

Em dashes have several uses, but the primary use is to create a pause before a final statement that is joined by a conjunction and would otherwise seems like part of the grammatical structure of the sentence. The long pause will cause the reader to focus on the final statement.

Examples of commas versus dashes for emphasis:

1. He is a veteran, a hero. (This doesn’t need a dash because “a hero” isn’t joined by a conjunction and because leaving out the comma would make an ungrammatical sentence.)

2. He is a veteran–and a great father. (This uses an em dash to separate and emphasize “a great father,” which the conjunction “and” would otherwise join to the first part of the sentence.)

If the writer of the bad example wanted to create emphasis on “the subject of a jury-prize-winning film . . . ,” the writer should have used an em dash.

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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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Coffee Is Wonderful! (in my opinion)


CoffeeIsWonderful!Coffee is a wonderful beverage. It has a pleasant taste, and it can help you wake up, think clearly, recover quickly after a strenuous workout, and lose weight. People who drink coffee feel good about themselves.

Not so fast, buckaroo.

Some of this may be true, but some is certainly an opinion. Here are the opinions:

  • Wonderful beverage,
  • Pleasant taste, and
  • Feel good about themselves.

Opinions creep into our writing easily, and they can damage our relationship with the reader. When you provide opinions, you don’t respect the readers’ rights to form their own opinions from the facts. In contrast, you create the opportunity for the reader to discredit your authority. Continue reading

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It’s like my least favorite word.


My two favorite words are still “axiom” and “myriad.” Say them with me “ax – ee – umm” . . . “mere – ee – aaaad.” Good three-syllable words. Strong words. Words like “Dracula” and “Frankenstein.” Pretty words.like whatever

But this article isn’t about my favorite words. It’s about the word I have recently decided to hate.

Last week I was flying back from a week of grant writing assistance in Alaska. About 10 hours into my travels, I heard the young lady in the plane seat behind me say the following sentence. Read it aloud and try to guess which word is my least favorite: “Like I was like what’s wrong with like that and he was like I like guess it’s like ok.”

If you guessed the word “ok,” you’re wrong. My new least favorite word is “like.” And she used it six times in the same sentence. Ack! Continue reading

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In the Year 2009, and Other Troubling Times for Writers


Writing about time, such as the year 2009, can create difficulties and result in poorly written text. Poor writing about time falls into 6 categories. Each category is matched with an editing concept that we, as editors, apply to improve clients’ documents, regardless of the topic. 

Unnecessary words
People may use more words than necessary to describe time, particularly years.time2

  1. “In the year two thousand and nine”: Writing out the year is no longer the standard convention. This can be written “in the year 2009,” which brings us to the next example.
  2. “In the year 2009”: This can be written simply as “in 2009.” The content should provide sufficient indication that “2009” refers to a year.
  3. “At the time when” can be written “when.” 

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