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Six Steps to Better Writing. with Claire Kelly Writing Centre. Topics. Beat the Bugbears Clear Your Diction Select Sentence Length Wisely Document Sources Rigorously Signpost Your Work Create Compelling Thesis Statements/Research Questions. - PowerPoint PPT Presentation


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Six Steps to Better Writingwith Claire KellyWriting CentreTopicsBeat the BugbearsClear Your DictionSelect Sentence Length WiselyDocument Sources RigorouslySignpost Your WorkCreate Compelling Thesis Statements/Research Questions

21. Beat the Bugbears(illus. Sir John Tenniel, Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.)

Bug is an old Celtic word for an evil spirit; bear is the animal. The compound form described a monster that frightened children; today it describes a source of baseless anxiety or annoyance. Writing errors do cause legitimate anxiety, but there is a disproportionate fear of tripping over obscure grammatical and usage rules. Recognize how these are interpreted by your audienceand learn to avoid them.3What AreGrammatical Bugbears?Usage & grammar mistakes, frequently merely conventional or formal errorsMany do not impair the effectiveness of the communicationDo we have to avoid them?Consider how status markers overshadow a writers message:

Why is it so easy to make errors in English? There are many rules and few are consistently applied. What should we say about grammatical bugbears and how much time should we spend on them?4Hamlet was suppose to chastise his mother and kill his uncle, but his essentially contemplative nature prevented him from taking effective action until events outpaced him.suppose to[click to enlarge the error suppose to] There is no difference in speaking between supposed to and suppose to. However, the difference in writing is profoundand the error tends to overshadow the rest of the passage. This is not at all fair. The source of the error may have been technicala letter may have dropped away during a cut-and-paste operationbut the effect is to undermine the writer disastrously. 5Where Writing Places YouOn a porch playing the banjo . . . ?

In an office making decisions . . . ?A bit of funbut its true.6Grammatical BugbearsCannot be ignored:use toshould of / would of / had ofits (its) / who (whom) / their (there)with regards toaffect (for effect)accept (for except)alot (for a lot)

Even careful writers occasionally use its for the possessive pronoun its. With regards to is awkward on two counts. First, it is an error that combines legitimate forms (with regard to and as regards). Secondly, the phrase is used as semantic Krazy Glue, binding together ideas haphazardly when a writer cannot manage to create a more deliberate join.7MS Word May Not Help!

As long as the mistaken words are in the dictionary, Word is happy. This is an actual screen shot from MS Word. Have the students work out what the message actually says: There is nothing wrong with her way of handling the car; its engine was defective.8MS Word May Not Help!

Even the most ludicrous sentences pass without comment.9Memory TestOn the next slide you will see three familiar expressionsMemorize themyou have 10 secondsWhen the screen goes black, start writing!

Memory TestA stitch in in time saves nine

A bird in the the hand is worth two in the bushVariety is thethe spice of lifeActually, this is not a test of memory, but of our tendency to edit as we read. Most people will not notice the repeated the in the first expression, or in the second. They may also overlook the repetition of in in the third. Press b to temporarily blacken the screen.11Why We Miss BugbearsWe see what we expect to seeWe interpret as we readWe are probably our own worst editors because we know what we meant to sayThe best help you can give another writer is to point out inefficient, unclear writing honestly!

122. Clear Your Diction!Writers complete an apprenticeship that emphasizes expansiveness and dilation over precision and economyElegant variation can be the enemy of concisenessIt is time to choose . . .The right words and Words you know and can use well.Building ones vocabulary is important, of course. However, the practice of reaching for a thesaurus does encourage one to use words one does not fully understand. Students feel that a higher level of diction is a necessary part of a formal papereven when clear, ordinary words would make the point better.13Cut ClichsAt the end of the dayFairly uniqueI personallyAt this moment in timeWith all due respectIt comes down toAbsolutelyIts a nightmare24/7Its not rocket scienceThe bigger pictureGoing forward

The bigger picture

Jeremy Butterfield, in Damp Squid, Telegraph [London] (07 Nov 08), reported these as the most irritating expressions collected by the Oxford Corpus project. They are all irritating, but shouldnt of is also an important status marker. Saying it aloud may pass unnoticed, but writing it destroys ones credibility instantly. Damp Squid is, of course, a mistake for damp squib (a squib is a firecracker), a British phrase describing an event that falls short of expectations. I added going forward. I omitted shouldnt of because it is covered under Bugbears.14Novelty & Vocabularymake it new is not the always best advice for selecting wordsAccuracy and familiarity (of individual words, not phrases) are crucialThe evil comes from clichs and unnecessarily obscure wordswhich do NOT really impress peopleMake It New was not only the Modernist battle cry, but the title of a 1935 book of essays by Ezra Pound. Students should make it new, provided it is their interpretation of a work and their particular choice of language for this purpose. However, this does not mean using new (unfamiliar, complex, and obscure) words. Oddly, novice writers tend to combine ready-made expressions (the description of hackneyed phrasing is George Orwells, from his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language) with an assortment of recondite words and even neologisms.15Complex DictionWhat do people REALLY think of overly complex diction?

D. Oppenheimer, Stanford U (2003): people who use unnecessarily complicated language are viewed as less intelligent than people who use more familiar languageConsequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity:Problems With Using Long Words Needlessly16True elegance lies in making difficult ideas accessible though simple language; dressing up simple ideas in complicated language is neither difficult nor useful. Help student recognize when they have turned from the true path. David Oppenheimer actually took the trouble to examine why students raised their level of diction (they admitted that they made their writing more complex in order to appear smarter, p. 139) and how this strategy affected audiences: needless complexity leads to negative evaluations (p. 151). Note the joke that Oppenheimer worked into the title of his paper (full reference below):

Oppenheimer, D. M. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20, 139156. doi: 10.1002/acp.1178Effective DictionDiction should be . . .As simple as the subject permits (but no simpler!)As fresh as possibleExact and concreteAppropriate to the audience and the writerThe aforementioned contretemps makes Cordelia feel really bad about things.17Appropriateness shows itself in lapses. One sign of the use of an inappropriate level of diction is inconsistency in sustaining it. This is sometimes a sign of plagiarism as well.Avoid Ready-madesto the extent that plays a leading role in on a daily basis the fact that in the event that 18Ask if any of the audience uses these expressions. Nearly everyone will be guilty of on a daily basisprobably daily.Watch for InflationBased on the fact thatDue to the fact thatExhibit a tendency toFor the purpose ofFor the reason thatIn spite of the fact that

BecauseBecauseTend toForBecauseAlthoughSee chapter 71 of the Canadian Writers Handbook for moreand more extensivelists of jargon and wordy expressions (pp. 360-368 in particular).

19Nominalizationsallocationallocateassessmentassesscompliancecomplydeterminationdetermineexpectations expectexposureexpose[had] hopes [of]hopedNominalizations are the worst sin against clear writing. Try to build sentences around strong verbs; the result will be a shorter, more effective sentence.20Other Types of Repetition Pointless bifurcation: basic and fundamental last and final issues and concernsfull and complete

21Why Wordiness?Most of these choices are the result of length anxietyFrom early grades, length is the measure of achievementStudents learn to padto be honest, they are taught to do itIn several of my own courses, my assignments are weighted more heavily as they increase in length. Just once Id like to reverse that and see what happens: 10% for 2000 words, 20% for 1000 words, and 30% for 500 words! Word length is a poor index of the value of a composition, but it is very challenging to set clear standards for content that will ensure a substantial paper.223. Select Sentence Length WiselyStudents are often urged to vary the form and length of their sentencesLength in the wrong place is dangerousProceed with cautionSelect length with a clear purposeSee Canadian Writers Handbook, chapter 27.23LENGTHQUALITY8 wordsvery easy11 wordseasy14 wordsfairly easy17-19 wordsstandard21-24 wordsfairly difficult25-28 wordsdifficult29+ wordsvery difficultWe are most interested in sentences of between 17 and 28 wordsstandard to difficult. Messengers Canadian Writers Handbook sets the range at 15 to 25 (p. 193). Still, students are expected to deploy sentences of a variety of lengths. 24Complexity/WordinessThe goal of the work was to confirm the nature of electrical breakdown of nitrogen in uniform fields at high pressures and electrode gaps which approach those obtained in engineering practice, prior to the deter-mination of the processes which set the criterion for breakdown in the above-mentioned gas in uniform and non-uniform fields of engineering significance.We studied the electrical breakdown of nitrogen in un