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Posts Tagged ‘editing tip’

Make certain your referents are clear. Remember that your reader is not as close to the research or the writing you’ve been doing. When you write “this theory,” “that point” or refer to an “it,” is it clear to which theory, point, or “it” you’re referring? When you use “he,” “she,” or “the critics,” consider whether your reader will have to pause to try to figure out the answer to the question: who are these people?

The infamous “this.” As in: I will elaborate on “this” later. As writers, we often throw the word “this” around when we’re not entirely sure what aspect of our argument we want to draw our readers’ attention to, especially when making a complex argument with multiple elements. Occasionally, vague language can be a symptom of confused thinking. Stop and ask yourself, what does “this” refer to? What words could I replace “this” with that would clarify your intention to the reader? If you can’t answer easily, go back to what you’ve already written and clarify your ideas in that section. Remember, it is impossible for your readers to understand what you mean when you don’t understand yourself.

Never write “that” when referring to a person: As in: “The man that discovered numerous uses for…” or “The author that she referred to first wrote on the subject of bee pollination.” The man and the author referred to are people, not objects, and it’s rather insulting to call them “that,” not to mention completely grammatically wrong. Use who or whom, such as: “The man who discovered numerous uses for…” and “The author to whom she was referring….” Unsure of whether to use who or whom? Read on to the next section.

“Who” is what doing what to “whom?” Ask yourself the previous question when you’re uncertain which word to use. The one that does the action (the subject) is the “who.” The one that receives the action (the object) is the “whom.”

A tip for learning the rules. Although all this grammar stuff may seem challenging and like there’s way too much to learn, learning the rules once and for all will help you write freely and intelligently. To help with this task, try starting a text file in which you list the rules you need help with and refer to it when you write. I have done this numerous times as an editor. The best part is that you can add new information to your file any time you come across it. You can look rules up in numerous style manuals or on various sources available on the Internet. Just be sure your sources are legitimate and actually know what they’re talking about. One way to figure out whether your source is legitimate is to see who published it. Usually anything published by a university or college can be considered pretty reliable. You can also always consult with your friendly neighborhood editor.

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Always identify abbreviations the first time you use them.

You do not need to identify the abbreviation if you feel confident that your reader is able to identify the acronym, such as when the acronym is more commonly used than the words it abbreviates (for example, it would be unnecessary to write out all the words for CEO, NATO, or AIDS). It’s always good to keep your audience in mind, however; although you may feel that readers who are specialists in the discipline for which you are writing may not want or need to have terms spelled out for them, some style guides require that this be done at the first occurrence of the term.

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Commas, semi-colons, and colons.

Remember to use commas after an introductory phrase of a sentence, for example:
At first, I always forgot when to use commas.

It may also help to read your sentences aloud to determine where you would naturally pause or draw a breath, for example:
If it’s a short pause, like this one, you probably need a comma.

However, if it’s a longer pause and especially if the information you’re providing is the beginning of a new thought that expounds on the information already provided, you probably need a semi-colon; remember that whatever follows a semi-colon must be able to stand on its own as a full sentence.

As shown in the previous examples, the colon should be used to present an example or a list, for example:
I made a list of fruit I wanted to purchase at the grocery: apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, and pomegranates.

And here’s where it gets complicated. If you’re list includes information that needs to be set off by commas, you must then use semi-colons to separate each list item, for example:
I made a list of fruit I wanted to purchase at the grocery: apples, which are red; oranges, which are orange; bananas, which are yellow; peaches, which are peach; and pomegranates which are red.

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When writing a scholarly article in APA style and using Latin abbreviations, there is one rule to be sure to follow and a few exceptions to remember. First, the rule:

Use Latin abbreviations in parenthetical text. In nonparenthetical text, use the English translation of the Latin term. 

Second, the exceptions:

Exception 1: In text citations and in references referring to court cases, always use the abbreviation for versus (v.).

Exception 2: In text and in the reference list, use the abbreviation et al., meaning “and others,” in parenthetical and nonparenthetical text.

If you have questions regarding when to shorten references in text and in the reference list to et al., see this earlier post for details.

Some commonly used Latin abbreviations and their English translations are:

cf. = compare
e.g., = for example,
, etc. = , and so forth
i.e., = that is,
viz., = namely,
vs. = versus, against

This information can be found on page 106, section 3.25 of the APA publication manual.

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The importance of good writing skills is evident no matter what your profession, as I noted in an earlier post. So how does one go about improving those skills? I’ve gathered some invaluable tips, which I learned through experience and which other professionals have taught me, with accompanying complementary links from around the Internet.

1. Read often and read everything. The more you read, the more you learn; the larger and stronger your vocabulary; the more you will begin to pick up on the basics of what good writing looks like as well as distinguish the good from the bad.

2. Revision, revision, revision. Whether you’re writing a business report, a work-related memo, a novel, or a poem, revision is your friend. Most great writers are great writers because they spend countless hours revising and continually improving their work.

3. Practice makes perfect. Just like anything else that you want to improve, you must practice writing. Establishing a daily writing routine is a great way to ensure that you will continually improve, especially if you enlist the help of a professional or friend who can critique your work and point out areas where you may need extra practice. In this respect…

4. Join a group or take a class. Online courses are more readily available than ever, so you may not even have to leave your house to learn to write better. You can also always check out the course schedule at your local community college.

5. Proofread. Before you sign off on anything, whether it is a paper for school, a job application, or a blog post, be sure to proofread. Even if you have already revised several times and you think the document is perfect, proofread. By this I mean, do more than just scan for obvious errors; look closely for correct spelling, word usage, and grammar. If possible, have someone who knows writing well proofread for you because even an excellent writer may not catch obvious mistakes because he or she is too close to (i.e., already spent too much time with) the work in question.

Of course, if you feel you already write well but have an all important piece that must be perfect, you can always hire a professional editor/proofreader!

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I found an interesting blog that also happens to be part of The New York Times, like the Grammar News section I mentioned in a previous post. The blog is called After Deadline and examines “questions of grammar, usage and style encountered by writers and editors of The Times.”

This is potentially an informative and useful resource for those in journalism using AP style.

Tuesday’s post tackled varied subjects, from the phrase “openly gay,” describing when it is in/appropriate to use it to the recurring mistake of calling people who have moved from Puerto Rico to the United States “immigrants,” when in fact, they are not immigrants but U.S. citizens.

There is also a section called Bright Passages in which the author, Philip B. Corbett, brings our attention to what he calls “sparkling prose” that has been featured in various articles in The Times. I really enjoyed this section for the deft composition skills that it showed off and for that fact that rather than simply pointing out mistakes, as many grammar blogs do, it offered the reader a chance to admire some of the more resourceful and pithy phrasing in current reporting.

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I frequently see authors make errors when citing references in the text of scholarly papers in APA style.

A few things to remember:

1. When a reference has only two authors, remember to cite both at every occurrence in the text. APA does not shorten when there are only two authors.

2. When a reference has three to five authors, cite all of them the first time it is mentioned in the text. Subsequent citations within the same paragraph, can be shortened to include only the first author followed by et al. (but remember that et al. should be in Roman typeface rather than italics and that there should always be a period after al.). Also, the year should be included when it is the first citation in the paragraph (in following citations within that paragraph, you can omit the year).

For example, the first citation would look like: “Rodney, Stokes, and Barrister (2007) limited the scope of their first study to high school students.”

The second citation within that paragraph would look like: “Rodney et al. did not”

If you were to start a new paragraph, you would need to be sure to include the date again, like so: “Rodney et al. (2007) tried”

3. When two references with the same year and first author shorten the same, to distinguish, you should cite the surnames of as many additional authors to the first as needed to distinguish and then shorten with et al.

4. When an article has six or more authors there is no need to cite all of them the first time; you can immediately shorten to the surname of the first author and the year followed by et al.  

You can find all of these details and more in the APA manual in section 3.95, pp. 208-209.

Cheers!

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