Effective Writing

Effective Writing
-1Effective Writing ................................................................................................................ 2
Mechanics of Writing ......................................................................................................... 3
Parts of Speech ................................................................................................................ 3
Sentence Structure .......................................................................................................... 4
Verbs ........................................................................................................................... 4
Regular Verbs ..................................................................................................... 5
Verb "to be" ........................................................................................................ 5
Irregular Verbs .................................................................................................... 5
Table of Irregular Verbs...................................................................................... 7
Voice and Mood .................................................................................................. 8
Transitive/Intransitive Verbs .............................................................................. 8
Perfected Tenses ................................................................................................. 9
Nouns ........................................................................................................................ 10
Pronouns ................................................................................................................... 10
Pronoun Declension .......................................................................................... 11
Who/That Errors ............................................................................................... 12
Gerunds ............................................................................................................. 12
Adjectives ................................................................................................................. 13
Adverbs ..................................................................................................................... 14
Prepositions ............................................................................................................... 15
Conjunctions ............................................................................................................. 15
Punctuation ............................................................................................................... 17
Lists ................................................................................................................... 17
Quotes ............................................................................................................... 17
Clauses and Commas ........................................................................................ 17
Avoiding Errors ................................................................................................................ 18
Grammar & Spelling ..................................................................................................... 18
Rules for Common Errors ................................................................................. 19
Apostrophe Problems ........................................................................................ 19
Spelling Traps ................................................................................................... 20
Idioms ............................................................................................................... 20
Redundancy....................................................................................................... 20
Miscellaneous Problem Words ......................................................................... 21
Where to Look .................................................................................................. 21
Consistency ................................................................................................................... 21
-2-
Effective Writing
Besides the readability levels determined by a strongly empirical method such as
the Fry Graph, a more subjective analysis can be achieved using the Writing Skills
Matrix. A reasonably scrupulous person could perform a readability index on their own
piece of writing, but the CAP-IO Guide is silent on methods to effectively conduct a
quality review. Quality reviews imply that an impartial, non-involved member, or even
an “expert”--(There is an English teacher who is not a member of CAP who reviews my reports. If she can
make sense of it and understand what I am doing, and agrees with the conclusion and doesn’t
stumble ofer my por spaling. . .)
---can review your report for the essence of ideas, organization, voice, and
mechanics and offer valid suggestions to improve the readability beyond what a mere
empirical assessment can do, though that Fry Graph is a great place to start, especially for
the “beginning report writer.”
Writing Skills are critical and essential to effective report writing for the Inspector
General program. Numerous web sites exist that offer significant on-line instruction of
the 6 identified traits of effective writing: Ideas, Organization, Fluency, Voice, Word
Meaning, and Conventions. What is contained in this IG College Text is a
simplification of this concept.
Ideas address directly the focus and purpose of the paper. If an IG is writing a
report of investigation (ROI), then the reader puts down a well written ROI and says, “I
get it. . .I agree.” You must be clear on your purpose in your own mind, or your writing
will produce a jumble of disconnected ideas. Once you are clear on your purpose, your
writing will proceed directly to fulfillment of that purpose. Ideas are the creative part of
writing; all the rest is execution.
Organization places facts, events, and situations in logical and readable
sequence. Events flow from one point to the next. Readers are not forced to go back and
read something again and again to figure out what the writer is trying to explain. The
horse comes first, then the cart. By the time readers get to the final classification of
allegations, the readers know or can predict the outcome because the organization, along
with the powerful focus of ideas, gets them there.
Voice in this model combines, for simplification, the concept of voice, word
meaning, and fluency. Voice means the reader knows it was you who wrote this. You
are apparent in the writing. Word meaning means exact and precise use of vocabulary
appropriate for the report. Lastly, Fluency means you do not use circumlocutory
sentences like this: “Scintillate, scintillate, miniature asteroid body” (Would that be
“twinkle, twinkle, little star?”) Fluency also means that you use effective transitions as
you move from one portion of the report to another. If it feels like there is a discontinuity
between topics, it means that your transition is lacking; you left the reader behind in the
previous section.
Mechanics are the conventions of writing: Grammar, Spelling, Punctuation,
Word Usage, Sentence structure, Subject-verb agreement, etc. And that is where we will
-3begin this section.
Mechanics of Writing
In the next hour, we are going to cover all there is to know about English
grammar. If you believe that, see me later; I have some oceanfront property in Arizona
I’d like to sell you.
So, why be concerned about grammar?
A friend once told me that as a college sophomore, he thought he knew
everything, but by the time he graduated, he felt like a complete idiot. That was because
by then he had learned how much more there was to learn. What follows is for those who
already know English, more or less, but need to have their consciousness raised on some
of the finer points. You are not going to be examined on the details of grammar. There
will be no requirement that you be able to diagram sentences. Your “final exam” in this
area comes when you submit a massive complaint report. If your reader says, “I get it. I
agree,” then you pass with flying colors, but if he says something like, “I don’t
understand,” you fail. That is when you will wish you had paid a bit more attention to
this chapter. Spend an hour or two with it now and it will pay dividends in your reports.
We are concerned about grammar for these reasons:
•
Clarity. If you don’t use Standard English, your writing may be unclear,
ambiguous, or even misleading.
•
You are known by your reports. Bad grammar or use of the wrong word
among commonly confused words signals fuzzy, unclear thinking and
makes the writer appear ignorant. Worse, it can be confusing and even
impair the legal sufficiency of a complaint report.
A visitor knocked at a house and a small boy answered the door. “Is your father
here?” she asked. “He ain’t home,” the boy replied. “Is your mother home, then?” “She
ain’t here neither.”
“'Ain’t…neither,' young man, where’s your grammar?” she asked.
“O, she’s in the kitchen fixin’ supper.”
Parts of Speech
There are eight parts of speech, and you need a working knowledge of all of them:
1. Verb: This is the action word. It expresses action or state of being.
2. Noun: A person, place, or thing.
3. Pronoun: Substitutes for a noun.
4. Adjective: Modifies a noun or pronoun (but never a verb). It is used to
describe the noun – red lettuce, that book.
5. Adverb: Modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb.
-46. Preposition: A word that connects a noun or a pronoun with some other word
in the sentence, thereby making a prepositional phrase.
7. Conjunction: Connects words and groups of words.
8. Interjection: an exclamation (Ouch! Hey! Expletives). It has no grammatical
connection with the rest of the sentence. We don’t need to say anything
further about interjections.
Sentence Structure
Sentences consist of a subject and a predicate. The subject is a noun or a
pronoun, the thing you are talking about. The predicate is a verb that tells what you are
saying about the subject.
Acorns fall from Oak trees.
Jack and Jill ran up the hill.
In some instances, especially the imperative mood, the subject is understood.
(The imperative mood is for commands and requests.)
(You) Tote that barge!
(You) Look out!
Honey, (you) bring me my slippers, please.
The subject and verb must agree in number. If the subject is singular, the singular
form of the verb must be used. If the subject is plural, the plural form of the verb must be
used.
“It don’t matter…” is wrong because the subject (it) is singular, but the verb (do)
is plural. Better would be “It doesn’t matter,” or “They don’t matter.”
The word none does not involve an apostrophe, but it is a contraction since
"none" means "not one." People often forget that when using none as the subject and
then get the verb number wrong. For example:
None of them counts.
None and counts are singular. Saying "None of them count" would be wrong
because count is plural.
None of the three grammar books I bought was organized in a way
that would be useful to us.
Why not were organized (plural because of three books? Because of the …books
is NOT the subject, but rather is merely a prepositional phrase. The subject is None
(=Not one). Hence, a singular verb is needed.
Verbs
Verbs express action or state of being. There are two types of verbs, regular and
irregular. Their various forms are called “conjugation,” a process of expressing all forms
of the verb in relation to subject and tense.
-5Regular Verbs
The vast majority of verbs are regular, and form their past tense and past
participle by adding -ed to the present tense. These are called the "principal parts:"
Present
Past
Past Participle
look
looked
have looked
row
rowed
have rowed
The conjugation of regular verbs is "regular;" all forms are the same except that
the third person singular (he, she, it) generally adds an "s" -- he looks, she rows, etc.
Verb "to be"
Person
I
You
He
We
You
They
Present¹
am
are
is
are
are
are
Past²
was
were
was
were
were
were
Perfect³
have been
have been
has been
have been
have been
have been
Past Perf
had been
had been
had been
had been
had been
had been
Future
will be
will be
will be
will be
will be
will be
Future Perfect
will have been
will have been
will have been
will have been
will have been
will have been
Note: "Perfect" means "complete."
Irregular Verbs
A few verbs do not change anything, but use exactly the same form for all tenses.
Examples include cut, put, set, and beat, although beat has an alternative past participle,
beaten.
cut
cut
have cut
beat
beat
have beat (or have beaten)
These are irregular because they do not follow the normal pattern of adding -ed.
Others are even more irregular and don't follow any rules at all unless maybe some rule
from many centuries ago. These must be memorized. A table is included below as a
reference. As you discover or think of others (and I am sure you will), look up them up
in a collegiate or unabridged dictionary to find the principal parts.
If you don’t master the parts of irregular verbs, you risk being like the little boy
who bragged to his teacher, “This morning I et six eggs.” The teacher told him, “You
mean ate.” Thinking it over, the boy replied, “Maybe it was eight I et.”
The principle parts normally are given in the dictionary as present tense and past
tense only, if there is no difference between past and past participle, or all three forms
(with alternates) are given if there are variations.
Conjugation of the Irregular Verb to do (do, did, done)
Person
I
You
He
We
1
Present
do
do
does
do
2
Past
did
did
did
did
3
Perfect
have done
have done
has done
have done
4
Past Perfect
had done
had done
had done
had done
5
Future
will do
will do
will do
will do
Future Perfect
will have done
will have done
will have done
will have done
-6You
They
do
do
did
did
have done
have done
had done
had done
will do
will do
will have done
will have done
1. Present progressive is regular: I am doing, he is doing.
2. Simple past tense is shown. Past progressive (I was doing) is regular.
3. Perfect tense indicates action completed in the past. ("Perfect" means
"complete.")
4. Past perfect (or pluperfect) indicates completion in the past prior to some other
completed action.
5. The auxiliary shall may be substituted for the less formal will to denote an
emphatic future, indicating that the subject is under obligation or constraint to do as
indicated.
-7-
Table of Irregular Verbs
Past
Past Participle
Present
Past
Past Participle
lie (tell a lie)
lied
lied
Awake*
awoke / awaked*
awoken / awaked /
awaken
light
lit / lighted
lit / lighted
beat
beat
beaten / beat
lose
lost
lost
begin
began
begun
read
read
read
bite
bit
bitten
ride
rode
ridden
blow
blew
blown
rise
rose
risen
bear
bore
borne
run
ran
run
break
broke
broken
ring
rang
rung
said
Present
bring
brought
brought
say
said
burst
burst
burst
sit
sat
sat
catch
caught
caught
see
saw
seen
choose
chose
chosen
set
set
set
come
came
come
shake
shook
shaken
creep
crept
crept
Shine***
Shone***
shone
cut
cut
cut
shoot
shot
shot
dive
dived / dove
dived
show
showed
shown
do
did
done
slay
slew
slain
draw
drew
drawn
slide
slid
slid
dream
dreamed / dreamt
dreamed / dreamt
sell
sold
sold
drive
drove
driven
speak
spoke
spoken
drink
drank
drunk
spring
sprang / sprung
sprung
eat
ate
eaten
steal
stole
stolen
fall
fell
fallen
stand
stood
stood
feed
fed
fed
strive
strove / strived
striven
flee
fled
fled
sting
stung
stung
fly
flew
flown
sing
sang
sung
sunk
fling
flung
flung
sink
sank
forget
forgot
forgotten
swear
swore
sworn
freeze
froze
frozen
swim
swam
swum
give
gave
given
swing
swung
swung
go
went
gone
take
took
taken
get
got
got / gotten
think
thought
thought
grow
grew
grown
throw
threw
thrown
Hang**
hung / hanged**
hung / hanged**
tear
tore
torn
hurt
hurt
hurt
weep
wept
wept
know
knew
known
wear
wore
worn
write
wrote
written
lie (recline)
lay
lain
lead
led
led
lend
lent
lent
* Awake has several acceptable forms for past tense and past participle such that
it is hard to get it wrong. Just please don’t say, “woken up.” That one is just wrong.
** Several irregular verbs have alternative forms of the past tense. Usually that
means that you may use whichever form you prefer, but at least one of them has a
-8specialized usage reserved for one form. Compare this familiar usage in the poem, "The
Night Before Christmas,"
Stockings were hung by the chimney with care
in the hope that St. Nick soon would be there.
with another (fortunately) less frequent use:
In 1903, Tom Horn was hanged for murder in Wyoming.
Objects are hung; people are hanged.
*** These forms are for the intransitive verb, as in “The sun shone brightly.” For
the transitive verb (“He shined shoes.”) the past and past participle are regular.
Voice and Mood
English has two voices, active and passive. In the active voice, the subject is
acting. In the passive voice, the subject is being acted upon.
Active:
I write reports.
Passive:
The reports are written by me.
The passive voice is sometimes awkward. While having its place in scientific
writing, it tends to be wordy and not helpful in news reporting or IG reports.
English has four moods: imperative, infinitive, indicative, and subjunctive. When
needed, you will surely use infinitive and imperative without any need for analysis, but
most of your report writing will be in the indicative mood. (Indicative = indicating,
pointing out.) The subjunctive mood [if it had been ... ; if he were to do that ...] is used
for statements contrary to fact.
Neither passive voice nor subjunctive mood is very useful to report writing. Try
to stick with active voice, indicative mood. Look for verbs and constructions that show
action.
Transitive/Intransitive Verbs
Some verbs require a noun or pronoun object (technically called a
“complement”). These are called "transitive verbs," abbreviated as vt in your dictionary.
Admittedly, this is a confusing subject, but it helps to remember that trans- means
“across.” A transitive verb carries the action across to an object. That object is a noun or
a pronoun. The “acid test” of whether a verb is vt or vi is this: Does the verb beg the
question of what? If so, it is transitive and must have an object.
For example:
John made. The sentence is obviously incomplete. It begs the question, what?
John made what? Made is a transitive verb.
Others:
John is.
He brings.
Is what?
Brings what?
-9Others do not require a direct object, and are called "verb intransitive,"
abbreviated vi in the dictionary.
The experimental aircraft flew.
The cake disappeared.
The car stopped.
In all of these examples, you never wonder what.
To further complicate matters, some verbs have both vt and vi forms and use the
context or a preposition to show which is being used. A common example of that is the
verb to graduate.
vt use:
Middletown College graduated 130 students.
Graduated what? Students.
vi use:
John graduated from Middletown College.
From is emphasized because the preposition shows that it is vi usage. Without
the preposition showing the direction of the activity, it would mean that John was the
institutional officer who conferred a degree on the college, i.e., the college would become
the "graduate" if you were to omit the preposition. In other words, it is wrong to say
"John graduated college," unless, of course, the college received a diploma from John.
Another example:
Wrong:
Correct:
John was requested to come.
John was asked to come.
This is a common error. Request is a transitive verb, i.e., it requires an object.
Request a thing. Ask in this type of usage is intransitive, does not require an object.
Hence, ask can be followed by an infinitive or a prepositional phrase while request
cannot.
Perfected Tenses
Tenses that use "helper verbs" such as have and had are called perfect tense, and
past perfect (also called pluperfect). Pluperfect means “more than perfect.” Perfect
means complete. Past perfect or pluperfect denotes action completed even earlier. Those
and the subjunctive mood are a bit technical and require us to memorize some verb forms
we don't use every day. If you are at all uncomfortable using them, try instead to be
simple and direct. That will avoid quite a bunch of errors. For example:
Wrong:
Right:
If it wouldn't have been ...
If it had not been ...
Wrong: He should have went ...
Right: He should have gone ...
Terrible: If it wouldn't of been ...
If it would of been ...
- 10 Right:
If it had been ...
Hardly a day does by without my hearing someone use “of” instead of “'ve” as a
contraction for "have," and usually even the have is wrong. Worse yet is when they can’t
even spell it and say, “would of” instead of “would have.” Please don't do that.
Nouns
In most languages, including English, nouns have a declension. At a minimum,
nouns have number (singular and plural), usually with a different form depending on
number. Nouns in English, unlike pronouns, seldom have different forms according to
whether they are used as the subject (nominative case), object (objective case), or
possessive. We are not much aware of declensions in English because most of the case
forms appear the same. The problem for writers is those nouns that are not the same.
A table of forms that a noun or pronoun takes in each case is called a declension.
Remember the uses for each case:
•
Nominative – subject only. The ordinary, unadorned form of a noun is the
nominative case and it can function “as is” as the subject.
•
Possessive – shows ownership or possession. Nouns ordinarily form the
possessive through the addition of ’s to the noun for the singular (the
book’s cover, the car’s tires) or s’ or s’s for the plural (the books’ pages,
all the wings’ CI reports…) History lesson: The possessive in English
began as a contraction. For example, John his became John’s.
•
Objective – object of a verb or preposition. I can’t think of any noun that
changes form for the objective case. Instead of a change in form of the
noun, objective case is shown with a preposition, or by its position (after
the verb) in the sentence. The preposition sometimes is understood, i.e.,
not stated. Examples:
Read the book
changed the tire
Read to the child
washed the car
Two or more subjects of the same verb must all be in the nominative (subject)
case. No subject can be in the objective case. That is a trivial consideration with nouns
in English since nominative and objective forms are the same, but if you throw a pronoun
into the mix, case form becomes apparent. (More on that under Pronouns.)
Jack
Cars
Jack
Jack
and
and
and
and
Jill ran up the hill
trucks are registered
I ran up the hill
(I, never “me.”)
they ran down the hill
(They, not them)
Pronouns
You already know all the pronouns – he, she, it, I, me, you, they, who, which,
what, this, that (and the other thing), …
Pronouns stand-in (substitute) for nouns (people, places, things) and must be in
- 11 the same case as the noun to which they refer. If the subject and pronoun are separated
by a verb, the verb is like an equal sign: the two sides of it must be equal. The subject of
a verb is always in the nominative (subject) case, while the object is (you guessed it!) in
the objective case.
Col Jones will be wanting to meet with John and I sometime in the
afternoon…
That is bad on multiple levels. First, will be wanting is awkward. Better: will
want. Second, the pronoun I is in the wrong case. It is nominative when it needs to be in
the objective case – me – to agree with its position as an object of the verb will want. To
test which is better, just simplify the sentence. Instead of a compound object (John and
I), omit John. Then it becomes, “Col. Jones will want to meet me.” You wouldn’t think
of saying, “Col. Jones will want to meet I,” so there you have the solution. Simplify and
your writing becomes easier and more accurate. Here is another one where simplification
would enable the person to see his error: (From an annoying radio commercial.)
Both me and my wife were able to…
This is wrong on multiple levels. First, put the other person first, then yourself.
Second, what is the subject? Omit both and my wife and it becomes “Me (was) able
to…” And just about everyone can recognize the error. Me is the objective case, used
here where the Nominative case is needed for the subject. What were they selling? I
have no idea; they lost me at me. And that is how it is with your writing. Errors can be
so distracting that your message is lost.
Pronoun Declension
The table below shows personal pronouns and the forms they take in each of the
cases (nominative, possessive, objective). A table of the forms that a noun or pronoun
takes in each case is called a declension. Remember the uses for each case:
•
Nominative – subject only
•
Possessive – shows ownership or possession
•
Objective – object of a verb or preposition
Singular
Nominative
Possessive
Objective
Plural
Nominative
Possessive
Objective
First Person
Second Person
Third Person
I
my, mine
me
you
you, yours
you
he, she, it
his, her, hers, its
him, her, it
we
our, ours
us
you
your, yours
you
they
their, theirs
them
Examples of nominative case pronoun use:
Jack and they ran down the hill.
(They, not them)
We run up the hill. You and George run around it.
- 12 -
Examples of Possessive case pronoun use:
I wish you and yours a happy holiday.
That package is theirs.
It is her turn now, and mine next.
This is my car.
Examples of Objective case pronoun use:
He gave (to) me a dollar.
It belongs to them.
Come with us.
Other types of pronouns (nominative case):
Demonstrative pronoun – this, that, these, those
Indefinite pronouns – many, one, few, all, each, neither, both, anybody,
somebody, everybody, everyone, something, another, nobody (you get the idea…)
Interrogative pronouns – who, whom, which, what
Reciprocal Pronouns – each other, one another
Relative pronoun – who, which, that
Case forms for various pronouns:
Nominative – this, that, these, those
Possessive – their, theirs, somebody’s, nobody’s, another’s
Objective – whom, which, those, (following to, with, or any other preposition, or
as the object of any verb.)
Who/That Errors
Wrong:
All CAP members that wish to participate…
Use who for people, that for things. All CAP members who…
Bad: It isn't necessary for state employees who have their own
provisions, or for military members who we can't control…
The first who is correct because it is the subject and substitutes for employees
(“for state employees” is a prepositional phrase), but the second who is wrong because it
is the object of the verb control and thus must be in the objective case – whom.
Bad:
…for those that choose to use
Wrong because those refers to people. Use who for people, that for things.
Gerunds
Gerunds are a major source of pronoun errors. A gerund is a verbal noun, a verb
- 13 form ending in -ing and used as a noun. For example, in the sentence, "Rowing is
exercise," the word rowing is a gerund. That is not usually a problem when the gerund is
the subject, but just let it get into the predicate and get a pronoun involved, and most
people get it wrong. Gerunds in the predicate require possessive nouns and pronouns.
What are the chances of my being discovered?
What was the reason for John's leaving so soon?
What was the reason for their leaving so soon?
While these examples are correct, they are a bit awkward. This would be more
direct:
Why did John leave so soon?
Remember, better writing is simple and direct. Given a choice when writing a
report, use simple phrasing. It will be easier to understand, and you are less likely to get
into grammatical trouble.
Adjectives
Adjectives modify, describe, or specify a noun (never a verb).
•
Modify: quicker processor, faster cars, smallest munchkin
•
Describe: red chair, good book
•
Specify: the van, that unit
We are all familiar with adjectives of description such as color and size, but
articles (a, an, the) are also classed as adjectives.
Two or more adjectives (other than articles) applied to a single noun must be
separated by commas:
A small, red box
the tall, dark, and handsome man
Adjectives come in three degrees: simple, comparative, and superlative.
•
Simple:
red
small
•
Comparative: redder smaller
•
Superlative:
heavy
good
heavier
better more robust
reddest smallest heaviest
best
robust
most robust
Notice that most adjectives are regular and form the comparative by just adding
er, and form the superlative by just adding -est (maybe doubling a final consonant, if
applicable), but some adjectives are irregular and require a helper word, more, or most.
Comparison examples (comparative form of the adjective):
The Technician rating is lower than the Senior rating.
The Senior rating is higher.
The latter is not good because it begs the question, “Higher than what?” When
you start a comparison, you need to finish it.
The Senior rating is higher than the Technician rating.
Note that comparisons use than, never then. Then is a time or sequence reference
- 14 only. Than is for comparisons. For example:
Back then, the war was just getting started.
If this condition is met, then you may do that.
[Later in time of
sequence than whatever was needed to meet the condition. Did you notice than as
a comparison within these brackets?]
Comparisons:
I would rather have vanilla than chocolate.
I would rather be right than hesitant.
The Master rating is higher than the Senior rating.
Examples of the superlative:
The Master rating is highest.
Or better (more complete):
The Master rating is the highest rating.
You can string together any number of simple adjectives, but never double up on
the other forms. Bad examples:
Double comparative:
Double superlative:
more redder
most best
more better
Adverbs
An adverb is a word that is used to modify a verb, an adjective, or another adverb.
Adverbs often (not always) end in -ly. An example of an exception to the -ly ending is
there, an adverb meaning "in that place." Other adverbs of place are here, yonder, over,
up. Adverbs of degree include very, quiet, not, rather. Examples of common errors
include:
Wrong
Drive slow.
Come quick.
Exact same price
Right
Drive slowly.
Come quickly.
exactly the same price
Remember Theodore Roosevelt's admonition to "Speak softly and carry a big
stick." It will help you remember the –ly of adverbs.
Watch this one, too:
I feel bad = I am emotionally distressed.
I feel badly = My ability to feel (with my hands) is diminished.
Just in case you are sick, say sick or ill, not bad. It is clear, to the point, and not
likely to be misunderstood.
Example:
"similarly sounding words."
Why not 'similar sounding words'? Because similar is an adjective, and sounding
is a verb. Adjectives cannot be used to modify verbs. Hence, an adverb was used.
Then as an adverb meaning next in time, or next in sequence, but it also can be an
adjective meaning existing in or belonging to the time period under discussion. It is also
- 15 a noun meaning that time. In all instances, though, then time or sequence reference only,
never part of a comparison. Than is for comparisons. For example:
Then-President Bush prematurely claimed mission accomplishment.
Back then, the war was just getting started.
If this condition is met, then you may do that. [Later in time or
sequence than whatever was needed to meet the condition. Did you notice than as
a comparison within these brackets?]
First the horse, then the cart.
(Next in sequence)
Prepositions
Prepositions are words that connect a noun or a pronoun with some other word in
the sentence, thereby making a prepositional phrase. These are propositional phrases:
…on the table
of mice and men
after dinner
…in the garden
up the hill
between meals
…at the meeting
for a time
off the road
…to the store
with me
under the table
Prepositions require an object. That is, they are always followed by a noun. That
noun is called the object of the proposition. A prepositional phrase always begins with a
preposition and ends with the object of the preposition. The object of a preposition must
be in the objective case, never the nominative.
Try to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. It is usually a bad structure
because prepositions require objects. Prepositions refer to objects, but no object appears
after the end of a sentence. However, strict implementation of this rule produces some
really awkward sentences and risks being pedantic. Stylists have waxed eloquent at times
about when and why you can end a sentence with a preposition, but Sir Winston
Churchill said it in an unforgettable way:
After a speech by Prime Minister Churchill, a young reporter told him that he
should not end sentences with prepositions. Churchill replied, "Young man, impudence
is something up with which I will not put."
Conjunctions
Conjunctions join things together. They are humble words like and, or, when,
that, etc., but play a major role in keeping your writing clear and well coordinated.
For that reason, you need to think intentionally about what these words do to and for your
sentence structure and meaning. I know I do. There are three types of conjunctions:
•
Coordinating Conjunctions connect sentence elements of the same
grammatical class, i.e., nouns with nouns, adverbs with adverbs, and clauses
with clauses.
Nouns: The course includes spelling, grammar, and word use.
Adjectives: Purple and gold are the school’s colors.
Verbs: Stop, look, and listen.
- 16 Clauses:
The search would have failed, but for a sighting.
Coordinating conjunctions are and, but, or, nor, for, yet, and so.
•
Correlative Conjunctions are always used in pairs and relate (correlate) the
things they join. Like coordinating conjunctions, these connect sentence
elements of the same grammatical class, i.e., nouns with nouns, adverbs with
adverbs, and clauses with clauses, and include both…and, either …or,
neither…nor, and not only…but also.
The old method is not only wasteful but (also) slow.
Either lead or get out of the way.
Both Cadets and their parents can file complaints.
•
Subordinating Conjunctions connect subordinate clauses to sentence elements
in the main clause. Subordinate clauses specify a condition applicable to the
main clause. That is, what is stated in the main clause is conditioned or
modified in some way by the subordinate clause, which is introduced by a
subordinating conjunction. Examples of subordinate clauses:1
Clauses of time: when, before, after, until, since, while
It has been many years since we saw him.
Clauses of place: where, wherever
We search where needed.
Clauses of manner: as, as if, as though
The operation went as expected.
Clauses of cause: because, since, as
The game was delayed because of rain.
Clauses of concession: although, though, while
Although limping, he finished the race.
Clauses of condition: if, unless
We will finish soon if the creek doesn’t rise.
Clauses of result: so, so that, so…that
It was so overcast that we did not fly.
Clauses of purpose: so, so that, in order that
We write this so that you can write better.
Clauses of comparison: as…as, so…as. Than
This chapter is longer than anticipated.
The previous book was not so long as this one.
There are other subordinating conjunctions. What you should see here is the
pattern – how clauses introduced by these words affect the meaning in your main clause.
Notice also that these clauses are not ordinarily set off by commas. There is more on
comma use below.
1
Thanks to Phillip Gucker and his very readable book, Essential English Grammar, Dover Publications,
Inc. (New York), 1966, for the list of subordinate clauses. The examples are mine.
- 17 -
Punctuation
The main punctuation marks available in English and their primary uses are:
•
Period – ends a sentence.
•
Semicolon [;] – joins two very closely related thoughts into one sentence
to show strong connection. Each part must be a complete sentence with
subject and verb, able to stand entirely on its own.
•
Colon [:] – signals that a list follows.
•
Question mark – ends a question.
•
Exclamation point – ends an exclamatory sentence or exclamation.
•
Dash – introduces parenthetic remarks (i.e., parentheses could be used
instead.)
•
Comma – used like pepper, it confuses the reader. If you don’t have a
specific reason for putting in a comma, it probably does not belong there
and it would be better to leave it out. See below under Clauses.
Punctuation marks are signals to the reader. Proper punctuation promotes easy
reading and a smooth flow of information. Bad punctuation breaks the reader’s train of
thought and impedes the flow of information (fluency). Let’s assume you know the
basics, and just skip to the things that may cause you trouble, including some less
common uses.
Lists
Use commas to separate items in a list:
Please have the following items with you: flashlight, compass,
map, pen, paper, and ID.
When you need to list items that contain commas such as addresses (street
address, City, ST), use a semicolon to separate the items.
Please reply to the following persons: John Doe, 1465 1st Ave.,
Spokane, WA; Jane Smith, 537 Oak St., St. Louis, MO; George Michaels,
9765 Congress Ave., Cleveland, OH.
Two or more adjectives are separated by commas:
Tall, dark, and handsome
Thick, red book
Quotes
If a quotation is closed at the end of a sentence, the sentence-ending punctuation
goes inside the closing quote marks. That’s the rule. However, this technological age
has produces numerous instances where the rule produces a distortion of the meaning.
Try to follow the rule, but you may have good reason to deviate from it at times.
Clauses and Commas
It seems to me that most punctuation errors occur with clauses, perhaps because
we have never seen a clear rule about when to use the comma. I imagine that Mrs.
- 18 Whatshername covered it when we were in eighth grade, but I must have been staring the
cute girl across the aisle and missed it entirely. However, we did remember that the
comma signals a brief pause (shorter than the pause introduced by the period). So, the
stuff that I proofread ends up with pauses sprinkled inappropriately to match the equally
inappropriate pauses of the writer’s speech pattern. Think of former President George W.
Bush, who speaks in 3-word phrases. I don’t think you want a comma every three words.
A better rule is needed, and this is it:
Set off the clause with commas:
•
If a clause can stand on its own, with its own subject and verb, or
•
If a clause can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Conversely, if the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence, DO NOT put
commas around it. Commas are signals that tell the reader something about what
follows. With clauses, the signal is that what follows is extra and can be omitted without
changing the meaning of the main clause, the main part of the sentence. Examples:
Airplanes, which are important to our mission, require proper
maintenance.
Tires that are underinflated pose a safety hazard.
In the first example, which introduces a subordinate clause that can be omitted
without altering the meaning of the main clause, so it must be set off with commas. Note
the difference: this is which when it is used as a subordinating conjunction, not when it is
used as a pronoun. In the second example, that introduces a clause that cannot be omitted
without altering the meaning. Thus, it is not set off with commas. Such is generally the
case with which and that, so take care in their use.
Avoiding Errors
Grammar & Spelling
Only "Standard English" is acceptable, American style, not British. Colour is out;
only color is right. Avoid every type of grammatical error including the following
examples:
Examples of Common
Errors to Avoid
Double negative
Subject-Verb number
Subject case
Pronoun case agreement
Object of preposition
Plural of Numbers & symbols
Past tense
Wrong
Right
not hardly; can't never.
it don't
That don't matter.
him and me came
It is me.
It's him.
to he and I
to who
7’s; B’s; ELT’s
CI’s; SUI’s
forecasted
He done it.
hardly; can never
it doesn't
That doesn't matter.
he and I came
It is I.
It is he.
to him and me
to whom
7s; Bs; ELTs
CIs; SUIs
forecast
He did it.
See
Rule:
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
- 19 Rules for Common Errors
1. Use only one negative in a sentence. Do not add a negative to a negative.
Logically, this produces an awkward positive though it is generally intended to be a
negative. Two negatives produce an error, not emphasis. The word hardly is a negative.
2. Subject and verb must always agree in number. Plural subjects require a plural
verb. Singular subjects require singular verbs. "Do" is plural and "does" is singular –
they do and he (she, it) does.
3. Two or more subjects of the same verb must all be in the nominative (subject)
case. No subject can be in the objective case.
4. Pronouns must be in the same case as the noun to which they refer. The verb
is like an equal sign: the two sides of it must be equal. The subject of a verb is always in
the nominative (subject) case.
5. The object of a preposition must be in the objective case, never the nominative.
6. The plural of numbers and symbols is formed with just the letter s, just like
ordinary nouns.
7. 'Forecast' is one of those words whose present tense is spelled the same as its
past tense. There is no -ed ending. Others, like the verb to do have totally different
forms for the past tense (do, did, have done). People learning English simply have to
memorize these forms.
Apostrophe Problems
The apostrophe functions in most (but not all) possessives, not to mention
contractions, and thus becomes a source of confusion and errors. Adding to this
confusion is a group of similarly sounding words with markedly different meaning.
Beware of errors involving use of the wrong form of the words shown in these examples:
Possessive
your
their
its
it's John's
Contraction
you're
they're
Contraction for:
=
=
you are
they are
=
=
it is John’s
John's
John is
johns -- plural of john, a noun rather than a proper name.
(bathrooms)
there -- adverb meaning "in that place."
The word ‘none’ does not involve an apostrophe, but it, too, is a contraction since
"none" means "not one." People often forget that when using none as the subject and
then get the verb number wrong. For example:
None of them counts.
None and counts are singular. Saying "None of them count" would be wrong
because "count" is plural.
- 20 Spelling Traps
hanger -- For hanging up clothes.
hangar -- A garage for airplanes.
(This is a flying organization. For heaven’s sake, get hangar right!)
One large body of spelling traps may be words derived from other languages,
especially Latin, that form plurals differently than English. The problem is that we often
handle them incorrectly with resultant number disagreement between subject and verb.
Perhaps you are aware of the problem with data. Data is a plural word (singular, datum).
Data are, never data is.
Here are some others:
Medium – a newspaper, or the radio, singular
Media – all news organizations and publishers collectively, plural
Mediums – people who conduct séances
Formula is singular, and its plural (strictly speaking) is formulae. However,
formulas is acceptable except in scholarly publications. (IGs are all scholars, right?)
A number of word phrases have become compound words, and should NOT be
hyphenated. If your phrase gets a green or red squiggle under it from your word
processor, you probably got it wrong. Examples:
Wrong
Right
What-so-ever
Never-the-less
whatsoever.
nevertheless
Idioms
Certain idioms are not necessarily wrong, but are awkward, like this one:
Awkward:
Why I wanted it is because ...
Better:
I wanted it because ...
Try to keep it simple and direct, which brings us to the next thought.
Redundancy
Redundancy (from the dictionary) is “a stylistic fault involving excessive
wordiness that obscures or unduly complicates expression. ... Repetition.” Here, I am
being redundant and repetitious and saying things over and over again. Using the same
word more than twice in a thought is redundant. Look for a synonym. If all else fails, get
out your Thesaurus and look up similar words.
Often times. Often is a time reference. Times is a time reference. Time is
contained in the concept of often. Would you say, “frequent times”? If not, then “often
times” is wrong since often means frequent. This is speech pattern habit, and hard to
break in verbal communication, but you (or whoever does your quality review) should
catch it in written work.
- 21 Miscellaneous Problem Words
Reprise – There is a verb to reprise, but it is not related to reprisal actions in the
sense of IG complaints. It has to do with recovery of collateral, as to reprise loan
security. One cannot reprise a person. (Recover an escaped slave? I think we outlawed
that.) One can only reprise a financial transaction, i.e., reprise the collateral for a loan.
The term reprisal that we use in connection with IG complaints is a noun, and (for our
purposes) must always be used as a noun in a phrase such as reprisal against. The verb
reprise is a word that illustrates how you can follow all the rules and still get it wrong.
Sometimes it is simply necessary to resort to the dictionary to be sure of one’s meaning.
Where to Look
None of us has memorized every detail of the language. If you cannot remember
whether a word is an adverb or a preposition, look in the dictionary. There you will find
the part of speech, correct spelling, preferred pronunciation, examples of use, and
whether a verb requires a direct object (transitive) or does not (vi. = verb intransitive).
Consistency
While writing, you necessarily make numerous choices related to style and
formatting. These choices may be totally unrelated to grammar or technical readability,
but they always establish a set of signals for the reader. In this document, for example,
you have noticed that the italics style is used for very brief quotation of words under
discussion. When folks wrote with typewriters that could not italicize, such word quotes
had to be enclosed in quotation marks, which would considerably clutter this document.
The advent of word processing programs changed the way we signal such uses.
Similarly, when you saw the Courier font above, you knew that it was a grammatical
example. Those were signals.
In your writing, your use of punctuation, fonts, headings, white space, and other
elements of style signal your reader. You need to be consistent in their use or the reader
will be misdirected by a wrong signal.
You also write with a style and phrasing that is uniquely yours. My style in this
chapter is quite conversational, but I would use a much different style in a scientific paper
or technical manual. Be aware of your style, and do not switch between styles within the
same document. Be consistent.
It is best to work from an outline, but also make use of your word processor’s
ability to generate a Table of Contents (TOC) from your headings. Inspection of the
TOC may reveal structural faults (or strengths) in your report. Note whether you have
“orphan” headings, lacking equal level points. Note whether you have omitted or glossed
over important topics. Note whether you have structural consistency throughout.
The following graph summarizes the condensed 4-traits.
When using the graph, the reviewer first reads the paper from start to finish.
From this impression the reviewer can comment on ideas and voice. After a second
review, organization and mechanics are overhauled. To provide the writer with the
needed feedback, the reviewer circles words or phrases appropriate in each matrix section
- 22 that applies, even if in more than one section! Afterwards, the reviewer will select a
value with “5” representing a finished report in that area, a “3” indicating a good report
that just needs re-write, or a “1” report indicating the report has serious flaws that do not
make it an effective “Stand Alone Document”2
Qualities
of a strong
(5) paper
Ideas
Organization
Voice
Mechanics
Paper is clear,
focused. It holds
the reader's
attention;
references and
details reinforce
the direction taken
with the
allegations in the
report.
The central subject
matter or structural
presentation is
compelling, clear
and sequential
Writer speaks
directly and
without bias.
a good grasp of
standard writing
conventions: grammar,
capitalization,
punctuation, usage,
spelling, paragraphing;
The effective
organization takes
the reader from
beginning to end.
The Standard of
Preponderance of
Evidence is clearly
in the report
Qualities
of a
developing
(3) paper
clear and focused;
findings and
conclusions shows
promise even
though still
limited, sketchy, or
general
With further rewriting, the
preponderance of
Evidence needed
to be clarified
2
Writer is clearly
involved in the
report and is
showing the reader
the direction taken
to reach the
conclusion in a
readable manner
errors are few;
Only light editing
needed for publication.
Generally less than 3
errors per page
The Writer is
known by the
quality of this
report
Strong enough to
move the reader
along without
confusion.
Some re-reading is
needed to clarify
main points to arrive
at the findings and
conclusions.
By re-reading
sections and reordering a few
topics, the reader is
able to follow the
direction taken by
the writer
CAP-IO Guide Chapter 4, “The Report” page 66
Writer seems
without bias, but
not always
Final result is
readable but short
of any strong focus
taking the reader to
the conclusion.
The Writer is
beginning to
emerge as the
author of this
report.
A reasonable control
over a limited range of
conventions; errors
numerous and serious
enough to be
somewhat distracting;
would require
moderate editing for
publication.
Frequency of errors is
intruding into the
meaning and sense of
the report, requiring
re-reading of
sentences or passages.
- 23 -
Qualities
of a weak
(1) paper
no clear sense of
purpose or
direction; reader
must make
inferences based
on sketchy details
No clear
preponderance of
evidence notable
in the report.
Lacks a clear sense
of direction; ideas,
details, or events
strung together at
random.
Report is
directionless and as
it is written can not
support the findings
and conclusions
Unable to
understand the
report.
Writer seems
indifferent,
uninvolved,
distanced from the
topic; flat;
mechanical; overly
technical/jingoistic.
The report is
overly biased by
tone and word
choices.
It appears as if the
report’s conclusion
is suspect
Errors repeatedly
distract and make the
text difficult to read;
extensive editing
required for
publication.
Almost every sentence
requires editing.
Frequent miss-use or
misspellings makes
the report unreadable
or amateurish.
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