Tag Archives: e-book

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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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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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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Active Voice and Passive Voice


Active and Passive Voice

When you are active, you do something. When you are passive, things happen to you. This is the same concept as the active and passive voice in sentences.

In the active voice, the subject performs the main action. In the passive voice, the main action is done to the subject.

Example D.1a, active voice: “The service team collected the parts.” (subject: service team; main verb: collected)
Example D.1b, passive voice: “The parts were collected by the service team.” (subject: parts; main verb: collected)

To determine whether your sentence is active or passive, ask, “Is the subject doing the verb?” If the answer is Yes, then the sentence is active. If the answer is No, the sentence is passive. In example D.1a, the subject did the action, so the sentence is active. In example D.1b, the action was done to the subject, so the sentence is passive.

If we describe this concept as a formula, we get this:

S –> V = active (the subject does the verb)
V –> S = passive (the verb is done to the subject)

Grammatically, the active voice looks like this:

Subject – Verb – Object (i.e., Who did what to whom?).

On the other hand, the passive voice uses the object as the grammatical subject of the verb, resulting in

Subject/Object – Verb (i.e., To whom was it done?).

By using the object as the grammatical subject, a passive voice sentence makes the information convoluted and complex, and the reader will be less likely to respond to it. Additionally, the meaningful subject (i.e., who or what does the main action) will never be the grammatical subject in the passive voice. 

Definitions:
Main action: The main action described by the sentence, what the sentence is about.
Meaningful subject: The person or thing doing the main action.
Grammatical subject: The word in the subject position in the sentence.

In nearly every sentence, the active voice results in more direct writing. However, the passive voice has a purpose, too. Next, we’ll look at the reasons for each voice.

Reasons for active voice

The main reason for using the active voice is that it directly answers the readers’ question: Who did what to whom? It provides that information and in that order. As a result, the reader can more easily understand and remember the idea you wish to communicate.

Other reasons include the following:

  1. Sentences in the active voice are more engaging. Something is performing an action.
  2. The active voice is more likely to use the meaningful subject as the grammatical subject and the meaningful action as the main verb.
  3. Active voice sentences are generally more concise.
  4. The active voice emphasizes active verbs.

In brief, active voice follows the principles of direct writing.

Reasons for passive voice

The passive voice may be appropriate for two reasons: (1) to de-emphasize the person or thing doing the action, and (2) to shorten the grammatical subject.

The main reason for using the passive voice is to hide or de-emphasize the meaningful subject, the person or thing that did the meaningful action. Instead, the passive voice emphasizes the person or thing on which the action was performed, as seen in D.2a and D.2b.

Example D.2a, passive, emphasizes the material: “The material was first developed in the laboratory by researchers from Oslo.”
Example D.2.b, active, emphasizes the researchers: “Researchers from Oslo first developed the material in a laboratory.”

In both D.2a and D.2b, the meaningful action is developed, making researchers the meaningful subject. Whereas the active voice sentence in D.2a uses the meaningful subject as the grammatical subject, the passive voice sentence in D.2b does not. If the writer wishes to focus on the material, and if the researchers are not important (or not at this point in the document), the writer might prefer the passive voice.

Scientific writing, regardless of the field, does not require the passive voice. This also applies to dissertation writing. The active voice is perfectly appropriate for describing the research methodology. The purpose of the research methodology is to describe what the researchers did to collect and analyze the data. Thus, the researchers are correct to use the active voice when describing their actions. Instead of writing

“The data were collected from six species of house sparrows,”

The researcher can write

“We collected data from six species of house sparrows.”

In many cases, the writer can revise the sentence to use the active voice without mentioning the researchers, as seen here:

“Six species of house sparrows provided the initial data for analysis.”

The second reason for using the passive voice is to simplify and shorten the subject of the sentence so that the main verb is closer to the beginning of the sentence and easier to find.

Example D.3a, active voice sentence: “The decision whether to solicit for and hire a new personnel manager or to outsource those functions to an external agency consumed valuable work time.” (subject: 21 words)
Example D.3b, passive voice sentence: “Valuable work time was consumed by the decision whether to solicit for and hire a new personnel manager or to outsource those functions to an external agency.” (subject: 3 words)

Example D.3a uses the meaningful subject (The decision whether to . . .) as the grammatical subject. It focuses the readers’ attention on the main idea of the sentence. For these reasons, Example D.3a is more direct than Example D.3b. However, the subject contains 21 words, greatly delaying the reader from reaching the main verb. On the other hand, Example D.3b uses the object (Valuable work time) as the grammatical subject, forcing the meaningful subject to the end of the sentence. However, the grammatical subject contains only 3 words, so the reader can reach the main verb more quickly.

In cases similar to Examples D.3a, the writer may choose to use the passive voice to reduce the length of the grammatical subject.

In a limited number of cases, the passive voice is useful, but examine every passive voice sentence carefully to make sure it is the better choice. Other than in these two cases, the active voice will produce better writing. When we editing clients’ documents at Precise Edit, we rarely need to use the passive voice.

(Adapted from the forthcoming Bowman’s Concise Guide to Technical Writing, available mid-February 2012 at http://HostileEditing.com.)

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Reflections and Advice on eBook Publishing


Since my first article on publishing an e-book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, some things have changed with the Amazon DTP (Digital Text Platform). Instead of uploading a zip file with an HTML document and other digital files to be included, there is now the option to upload a Word document. This was good news to me because I had already been working with Word documents and uploading them to Smashwords.com.

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Using “Had Had” as a Verb


Question: The Bills had had a great season. Is this correct and what type of verb is “had had”?

Answer: Yes 

Yes. “Had had” is acceptable if it means what you are trying to say. Here’s why.  Continue reading

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Comma with TOO


The Golden Comma

Comma before too? Do you or don’t you put a comma before too at the end of a sentence?

Yes, You Do

Put a comma before the final too when too means also or as well. For example, which of these two sentences is correct?

1. I think chocolate is tasty too.
2. I think chocolate is tasty, too.

The second sentence is correct. We use a comma before too when too is at the end of the sentence. We also put commas around too when too is embedded in the sentence, as in this example.

I know, too, that chocolate is tasty.

Lots of people are confused about how to use commas, when to use commas, and when to leave them out. But commas do make sense. We use a comma before too for a reason.

Reason

Zen Comma Rule N tells us to “Separate conjunctive adverbs with commas.” Too, when used to mean also or as well, is a conjunctive adverb, along with therefore, however, additionally, and other such words.

Conjunctive Adverb: An adverb that connects (i.e., joins) two clauses, that shows how the meaning of the second clause relates to the meaning of the first clause.

When we use too as a conjunctive adverb, therefore, we need to separate it from the rest of the sentence. This means when too is the final word in the sentence, we precede it with a comma.

Explanation and Comparison

Let’s look at another sentence that uses a conjunctive adverb:

The senator was ashamed. However, he remained in office.

Here, we have two discrete ideas, one per sentence. The second sentence begins with the conjunctive adverb however, which tells us that the meaning and the importance of the second sentence are somehow connected to the idea in the first sentence. That’s what a conjunctive adverb does. Let’s look at another example.

The principal expelled the student. He fired the teacher, as well.

The phrase as well is a conjunctive adverb. It tells the reader that the meaning being expressed in the second clause (i.e., He fired the teacher) somehow connects to the first clause (i.e., The principal expelled the student).

We see from the last example that the conjunctive adverb as well is separated from the sentence with a comma. When used in this manner, as well is a synonym for too. This tells not only that too is a conjunctive adverb but also that the final too needs to be separated from the sentence with a comma, as follows.

The principal expelled the student. He fired the teacher, too.

This example has the same meaning as the previous example. The only difference is we have swapped synonyms, changing as well for too. The comma remains before the final conjunctive adverb.

Words don’t determine punctuation. The function of those words, i.e., what those words do, determines the punctuation. As we see here, the function remains the same, so the punctuation, too, remains the same.

Too in Other Places

When we move too to other places in the sentence, Rule N still applies. Placing too at the beginning of a sentence is uncommon and, frankly, awkward, so we’ll skip it. However, too is common in other places. The most common place (other than the end of the sentence) is following the subject of the clause.

I, too, will go to the service.
John is a farmer, and Leroy, too, is a farmer.

Notice the commas around too. If we move too to the end of the sentence, the commas remain:

I will go to the service, too.
John is a farmer, and Leroy is a farmer, too.

Even though we moved too, it has the same meaning and same function in the sentence, so the same punctuation applies.

A Note about AP Style

I often hear people say something like “Hey, the AP style guide says don’t use that comma, so it’s wrong!” Ok, if you write for a newspaper, don’t use it—unless it contributes to clarity (which the AP guide supports). The Associated Press (AP) style guide, in general, encourages writers to remove as much punctuation as possible. This may be an effort to save room for journalists’ words in narrow newspaper columns.

If you’re not a journalist, you don’t need to follow AP style. AP style is not for all writers, which is why we also have the APA, MLA, and other style guides.

Final Thought

Here’s one of my general principles for using punctuation, and it applies to the comma before the final too.

Be consistent.

What this means: If we’re going to separate some conjunctive adverbs with commas, we will separate all conjunctive adverbs with commas—including too.

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