Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘good writing skills’

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.

Read Full Post »

I recently came across an incredibly fun and useful resource for answers to any number of questions regarding language, grammar, etymology, writing, and more. This invaluable resource is provided by none other than the prestigious Oxford University Press and is called, quite appropriately, AskOxford.com.

From this one multipurpose site, the language lover can access the Better Writing section which includes tips for grammar such as commonly confused words, spelling, and CVs and job applications as well as the Ask the Experts section in which one can find help with everything from etymology and proper usage to answers to fun questions like “What is the longest English word?”:

aequeosalinocalcalinoceraceoaluminosocupreovitriolic (52 letters), perhaps?

This monstrous “word” is only one example of a rather enlightening, detailed look into the many possible answers to this question.

I stumbled on the site during a google search for the etymology of the phrase “the bee’s knees,” to which they certainly do have the answer.

The Radcliffe Camera, a reading room annex of the Bodleian Library, Oxford

Read Full Post »

I recently stumbled on an article in the Guardian called Ten rules for writing fiction. The article was inspired by Elmore Leonard, an American novelist who writes westerns, crime fiction, and suspense thrillers, and whose work has been acclaimed for its realism and strong dialogue. You can find his complete guide of the same name here.

The Guardian article begins with Leonard’s rules and includes those of many other notable writers, such as Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, P.D. James, and A.L. Kennedy.

I’ve included Margaret Atwood’s contribution in its entirety in the following to give you a little taste of just how great these are:

1. Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can’t sharpen it on the plane, because you can’t take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2. If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3. Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4. If you’re using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5. Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6. Hold the reader’s attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don’t know who the reader is, so it’s like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7. You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there’s no free lunch. Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine.

8. You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9. Don’t sit down in the middle of the woods. If you’re lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10. Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

I highly recommend reading everyone’s lists; they are useful, accurate, and at times, hilarious. You won’t be disappointed.

Read Full Post »

matthew-arnoldIn the past, I’ve written on the importance of good writing skills, as well as posted some tips to improve writing skills. This post is an extension of those previous entries and might act as an example of good writing in action. Because I mentioned Matthew Arnold and his belief in the English language and its literature as the basis of a good education in my post about the importance of good writing skills, I felt it would be appropriate to use him as the example. Thinking about this while tooling around on the Internet, I came across an opinion essay called “Discourse Integration by Manipulation: Matthew Arnold” by Avon Crismore, written for the Center for the Study of Reading in which Crismore examines Arnold’s writing style. The full text of the article is available through ERIC (or Education Resources Information Center) and a summary of the abstract can be found in the following:

In the writing of Matthew Arnold, integration, one great impression rather than many great individual lines, is the most important goal. In his essay, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” the “blocs” of his thoughts occur in sets of two, three, or even four sentences: in effect, he writes much like a poet, in couplets, triplets, and quatrains. He also uses a variety of devices to combine his blocs into larger discourse units. His high level of redundancy helps readers integrate and process his difficult text. He manipulates structure to attain parallelism and characteristically puts the most important information in subordinate clauses and phrases. On the semantic level, he does not use many synonyms, preferring repetition of key words to achieve cohesion. This repetition slows the presentation of new information and leads to greater ease of processing. Arnold’s discourse blocs, surface form manipulations, foregrounding, and redundancy all serve to help him develop his ideas while keeping his sentences intermeshed and his prose coherent.

Although Arnold wrote the text in question in 1895, I feel that a modern reader can still access it today with ease. Thanks to Google Books, a digitized version of Arnold’s complete work (“The Function of Criticism at the Present Time”) is available for your perusal by clicking on the link provided in the previous paragraph. I strongly recommend reading Crismore’s work or at least skimming it (at 29 pages this should not take very long) and then reading a good bit of Arnold’s piece, looking for those devices and techniques that Crismore mentions in her essay.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

A+I know grammar can be confusing, but it is well worth learning. Knowing how to speak and write properly opens doors in any career and raises the esteem of your colleagues, no matter your profession. Matthew Arnold believed that education, through providing children with a “general liberal culture,” could overcome the divisions of social class. The basis of that education was “the common heritage of the English language and its literature.”

In grade school and in college, good writing skills and a solid vocabulary lead to better grades and therefore to better jobs. In fact, most executives cite writing as one of the most negelected skills in business; they desire better writers in the workplace as it is also one of the most valuable skills for increased productivity.

The National Commission on Writing recently released a press release called “Writing Skills Necessary for Employment, Says Big Business” that calls poorly written job applications a “figurative kiss of death” in the first line. The author of the release also notes that with the advances in technology, one might think that good, clear writing is less necessary in the workplace, but that the opposite is actually true. The advance in technology has instead made it more important for an employee to be able to write quickly and clearly to stay competitive. I highly recommend reading the entire release.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »