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Archive for March, 2011

Parallel Structure

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson**

We can all find inspiration in Emerson’s declaration.  Just because we thought a thing yesterday doesn’t mean we must continue to think it all our lives.

But,  if we wish to be understood,  consistency in writing is of another kind, and it is crucial.  Indeed, much of what we learned as “grammar” is, if you think about it, nothing more than making sure we express ourselves consistently.

We need, in sentences, to make sure that when the subject is singular so is the verb.  And at the sentence or paragraph level, we need to choose a tense in which to write (usually present or past); and a point of view (typically the objective third person or the personal first person) and stick with it.

Parallel Structure

Consistency applies to series or lists, too.  And this can get a little complicated.  The fundamental necessity is the same, though.

So:

In this list, item 4 is inconsistent with the others-

  1. deciding whom to include and whom to exclude
  2. arranging for travel to and from the airport
  3. choosing menu items for all meals
  4. reimburse employees for out of pocket expense
  5. cleaning the area

All but #4 are “ing” words (nouns, actually-well, gerunds if you want to be technical); #4 is a verb.  Parallel structure (consistency) demands that they all be the same.

Same thing applies when the “list” is not stacked or numbered:

“The successful leader will take pains to evaluate all options, gain buy-in from the team, forceful action, keep the dream alive, and learn from mistakes.”

“Forceful action”, however much we might admire it, is a noun among verbs, and thus doesn’t belong here;  insert “take” in front of it to make all well.

That’s all there is to parallel structure:  whatever the items are (noun, verb, command, question, sentence, whatever), they all need to be the same.  They need to be consistent– though, of course, not foolishly so.

**Atkinson, B. (Ed.). (1968). The selected writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 152). New York, NY: The Modern Library.

Words to Watch For, Part V

Filler Words:

Certain words seem to find their way into our writing, even though they don’t add very much, if anything, to what we are trying to communicate.

In a previous WordWorks, for example, we talked about beginning a final paragraph with the words “in conclusion”, never mind that the reader can clearly see the end of the essay coming right up.

Think of these words as filler.

Another perennial “filler word” is truly.

To be sure, “truly” is a perfectly useful word in some circumstances-when it means the opposite of “falsely”.

So, it’s perfectly fine to write:

“Bob cleared his throat loudly a few times to make sure she was truly asleep.”

But, expressions like “I truly believe . . . “  and “We truly care . . . “, are no different meaningwise from “I believe . . .” and “We care . . . “.

In these cases truly is simply filler.  Leave it out.

Compounds:

Overtime means something different from over time.

If something is said to happen “over time” it will take awhile.

“Overtime”, on the other hand, is almost always used with the idea of work.  You are working “overtime” when you’re putting in more time on the job than you had planned or agreed to.  (This could be a very good thing if your union contract gets you time and a half for it.)

Similarly, anymore and any more have very different meanings.

“Any more” usually refers to quantity.

“You can’t have any more until you finish what’s on your plate.”

“Anymore” is a time word, as in the famous Yogi Berraism:  “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

Sight and Sound: Skills for Successful Studying

Studying for tests and quizzes involves trying to remember many terms and facts, information that is often quickly forgotten.  A skill that will serve you better than rote memorization is to improve your study habits.

Ok– so what’s the difference?  The change for you will be to focus on how you remember things.  The key is to make learning/remembering a sensory experience; that is, combine the use of your senses, primarily sight and sound, in the learning process.

What is the best way to incorporate these ideas in the classroom when new material is presented?  Here are some tips to help in the memory process:

Adapted from “Ten Things You Should Know About Your First Year of College.” Sparknotes, June 2005. Web. 10 March 2011.

~ Mrs. Kathy Snow

The Power of Proofreading; the Essence of Editing

Way back when the earth was cooling, and I was in elementary school, Sister Mary French Fry was adamant that we always “check our work.” In her sweet, quaint way, she was teaching us to proofread and edit. They are strategies that I have continued to use down through the ages.

  Editing involves going through your work looking for mechanical errors such as comma splices, misspelled words, and sentence fragments. This strategy also involves making sure that you have satisfied the requirements of the paper, and that all your ideas contribute to the major idea or thesis.  Editing is important and can best be achieved by reading your paper backwards – yes, you heard me right! Read your paper starting with the last sentence and go from there – reading each sentence on its own. If you attempt to edit from the beginning of the paper, you will get so caught up in the genius of your prose that you will miss the tiny errors that you may make. One of the best ways to find editing mistakes is to read the paper out loud to some poor unsuspecting friend or roommate. If you are trying to break up with someone, this may be just the ticket. Read slowly, and at the end of each paragraph, stop and ask yourself if you have strayed from your major point. Ask your “audience” if he/she can follow you. If you need help remembering your exact thesis, write it down on a separate note card and keep it right in front of you.

Proofreading helps you find those annoying little typos that everyone makes that will drive your teachers crazy and cause them to think that you don’t really care about the quality of your papers. Heaven forbid!!! How many times have you written that you will “defiantly” accomplish an act, instead of hoping to “definitely” accomplish it? I think you know what I am talking about. Anyway, careful proofreading will eliminate that possibility. One way to proofread (in addition to the editing methods I have already suggested) is to read your essay with a ruler under each line.  That will “definitely “and not “defiantly” help you.

So, if you are interested in getting a good grade, proofreading and editing are the primary strategies to use. They also enable you to learn more about your own writing style because in reading your work aloud, you hear not only your actual voice, but your “writing” voice as well.

Help Sister Mary French Fry rest easy in her grave, and always “check your work.”

~Carole K. Lillis

The Apostrophe

A new restaurant recently opened in our area, and we were interested in finding out about it.  So, naturally, straight to Google we went.  We found the website for the place, but quickly decided that we wouldn’t become patrons.  One of the specialties of the house, apparently, is many varieties of burgers.  And right there, prominently displayed on the restaurant’s menu, appeared the heading:

“Burger’s”.

Surely the proprietors meant “Burgers”.

Possession

Nearly all English words indicate possession with an apostrophe.

When they are singular, they also add an “s”– even when they end in “s”:

Toyota’s image problem    The house’s color scheme     James’s guitar

When plural, no added “s”:

His clients’ reputations      Patients’ meals      Her friends’ iPhones

(Note:  in the plural possessive, the things possessed are plural too.  Wouldn’t be much fun if everybody had to share one iPhone.)

Of course, there are exceptions:

Certain ancient proper names that end in ” s” do not need another after the apostrophe.

So:  Moses’ followers, Osiris’ statue, Jesus’ teachings.  (The truth is that we would probably not usually use this form, preferring instead:  ”The followers of Moses”, “the statue of Osiris”, etc.)**

Pesky Pronouns

Hers, its, theirs, yours, and ours-all possessive-do not use the apostrophe.  But other pronouns (called “indefinite pronouns”) do:  “It’s important to make one’s opinion heard.”  or  “I think I took someone else’s raincoat by mistake.”

Quotes in Quotes

The other common use of the apostrophe is to minimize confusion when a quoted passage contains a quote.

The Professor insisted, “The opening sentence of Moby Dick, ‘Call me Ishmael,’ is one of the finest sentences ever written.”

**Strunk, W., & White, E. (2000). The Elements of Style (4th ed., p. 1). New York, NY: Longman.

P.O.V.

You have probably heard by now something like, “Don’t use ‘I’ when you write.” Or “Use the third person.”  What we’re really telling you is to consider the point of view you wish to use in writing.  And there’s more to it than you might think.

In the Friday February 25, 2011 New York Times, columnist David Brooks wrote, “The country also needs a substantive debate about the role of government.”  Notice that he didn’t begin his remark with “I believe” or “I think”, even though what he is clearly up to is expressing his own opinion.

What Brooks is doing is writing “objectively” or writing “in the third person”, and that’s exactly the point of view students should adopt in nearly all of the writing you do for your courses.

One of the things over which you have control when you write is this “point of view”.  You have three from which to choose:  first person,  ”I or we”; second person “you” (as in this paragraph), and third person “he, she, or it”.

Clearly, when you are writing an “Autobiography” or “My Life Journey”-as many of you have-it would be kind of silly to write in the third person.  You are writing about yourself, so the first person is entirely appropriate.  The same goes for certain more informal reaction or reflection essays.

The customary point of view for most academic writing, however, is the third person, because it allows you to take yourself out of the equation, to be more objective.

When you are writing a position paper, for example, using the first person will tend to weaken your argument, sending the message:  “It’s only my opinion, but . . . ”

Instead, follow Mr. Brooks’ lead and state your opinion as an objective fact.  You don’t need to say, “I learned (or I believe, or I think, etc.) that the deficit must be solved.”  State it as a fact, even if it’s an opinion.  “The deficit must be solved.”

The same goes for writing research papers.  Clearly, you did or will do the research.  But do not write, “In my research, I will survey 65 employees.”

Instead, describe the situation:  “Step two of the research will entail surveying 65 employees.”

Another option-less graceful- is to use the passive voice:  “65 employees will be surveyed.”

What you really DON’T want to do is use the “this writer believes” or “the researcher will survey” dodge.  Those are simply first-person point of view written without using “I”.

(And keep alert for examples of the scholarly/academic “objective” point of view.  As you consult journals and other periodicals in your research, you’ll find many.  Check out how the pros do it.)

Top 10 Lessons Learned by Keuka Freshmen

Mrs. Gloria Woods, an Academic Skills Counselor in the ASK Office, conversed with numerous college freshmen on the mistakes they made their first semester.  These are the top ten lessons they learned.

1. Attend class.  Do not give excuses for missing class, i.e. alarm didn’t go off, I over slept etc.  Many professors count attendance towards your final grade.  If you are going to miss a class let your professor know ahead of time so that you can get the necessary information you will miss.

2. Participate in class. We all know that Keuka’s scenery is beautiful, but try and avoid gazing out the windows or daydreaming.  Be prepared for class both physically and mentally.  Bring notebooks and pens to take notes, and be prepared to ask questions.  Remember there is no such thing as a stupid question.  Keep in mind participating could be the difference from receiving a B+ to getting an A-.

3. Read. Contrary to popular belief, your teachers assign readings so that you can obtain a better understanding of class information.  If you are given 20 pages to read just do it; you will thank yourself in the long run.  Remember skimming, or finding a CliffNotes version will not help you when it comes to the tests!

4. Follow instructions. College is a lot different than high school; instructions are more in-depth, professors expect more, etc.  Remember when you receive instructions make sure to follow them thoroughly and you are sure to exceed in class.

5. Proofread.  When you have papers due for a class make sure to use spell check, and proofread your paper numerous times.  Always find a friend to read your papers; two sets of eyes are better than one.

6. 8:00 classes are for early birds.  If you like to sleep in, work with your adviser to try and avoid 8:00 am classes.  Sometimes you may get stuck in one, but your advisors will try their best to help you!

7.Schedule classes around study habits.  If you find it difficult to study that odd hour between classes then try and schedule most of your classes Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so Tuesday and Thursday can be study days.  Remember though, a lot of classes are offered at certain times and days, so work with your advisor to make sure you fit all your classes in.

8. Be receptive to learning.  Know that not all your professors are going to be the same.  One might talk loud, while the other speaks quietly, one may be mean and the other really nice.  Different professors have different teaching styles, but they all share one goal; they want you to succeed!

9. Know when you need to get help.  Get help in the beginning of the semester for a class you find difficult.  Don’t wait until the last minute to search for help, or ask questions.  Remember you can always ask professors, tutors, and classmates for help!

10. Use the ASK Office.  The counselors in the ASK Office will help you proofread your papers, offer suggestions on how to improve your writing, and help make you a better writer.  There are many tutors for “core” courses, so if you are struggling in a class stop by the ASK office to get help.

Keep all these lessons in mind and your years at Keuka should be filled with A’s.

Edited by: Pam Jennings