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Archive for July, 2011

Them Floating Comma Things

You may be interested to know that 2011 is the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Apostrophe Protection Society.  You wouldn’t think that harmless little “floating comma”** would need all that much protecting, would you?

I am convinced that nearly all student writers, if asked in the abstract how they should use an apostrophe, would pretty much know the right answers:

1.  To show possession:

Mike’s falafel, the cat’s meow, my laptop’s performance, one’s own work.

(Except, of course, in the case of its, theirs, yours, and ours.)

2.  To show that letters are missing, that the word is a contraction:

“Can’t” for cannot, “didn’t” for did not, “won’t” for will not (shouldn’t it be “willn’t”?) , etc.

And I am equally certain that those student writers would know that plural words that are not possessive DO NOT get an apostrophe.

BMWs (not “BMW’s”) are great cars.  Cellphones (not “cellphone’s”) can’t be used while driving in New York.   The authors (not “author’s”) collaborated.

But some plural words are also possessive, and the apostrophe goes after the “s”, thus:

Two weeks’ notice, the ballplayers’ union, patients’ rights.

The problem is:  even though we all know the right way to use apostrophes, we use them wrongly all the time.  That’s why they’re (for “they are”) number seven on the Top Ten list.

“The Apostrophe Song” ( doesn’t exactly get the rules right, but the video examples are wonderful.  Enjoy!

(NOTE:  You can find more information on Apostrophes in Wordworks #28, here.)

Looking Good in Print . . . APA Style

One of the challenges of writing in the workplace is making your document pleasing to the eye of the reader.  Indeed, any writing-proposal, report, white paper, or college essay-makes an impression on the reader well before he or she actually reads any of the words.

Imagine that you are looking at two pages of printed text from ten or fifteen feet away.  The page on the left is solid, single-spaced type, with no paragraph breaks.  The page on the right is double-spaced, with headings, and paragraphs.  Without knowing anything else about these pages, you would surely be more kindly disposed to the page on the right.

At work, it’s up to you to make that document friendly and appealing.  In your ASAP coursework, luckily, all you have to do is follow APA style and formatting.   And, so, APA style is number six on the Top Ten List.

It is true that the APA is prescriptive about the minutest details and that rule changes from edition to edition of the manual can be frustrating.  But for nearly all of the writing you will do for your ASAP courses, following the General Format will be mostly what you need to do.  That means:

–Everything is double-spaced

–One-inch margins all around

–10 – 12 pt. Times New Roman or Arial font

–Title Page with Running Head in upper left and page 1 on upper right.

–Following pages have Header on upper left and page number on upper right of every page

Everything else you can (and should) look up, based on your specific needs.

Here’s where to do that:

  1. The Lightner Library and Melodye Campbell,
  2. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition-all Nursing students and Master’s students own this.
  3. Troyka and Hesse, Quick Access-this was your text if you took COM320 in CJ, OM, or SWK.
  4. (Best of all, in my view) The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

NOTE:  The OWL includes two terrific resources:  a Sample APA paper and a set of Powerpoint Slides that cover pretty much everything you’ll need to know.

Mysterious . . .

Pronouns (words like “it”, “they”, “their”, and “which”) by themselves are inherently vague.  We need to work hard to make sure that our reader knows exactly who or what is being discussed.

Dangling participles are confusing precisely because of the mysterious pronoun problem, and they do make it hard for the reader to know what’s what.  So dangling participles (and other mysteries) are number 5 on the Top Ten list.

Here’s one, for example:

“By analyzing the results, it will tell us what the next steps should be.”

What is the “it”?  To what does “it” refer?  In fact, that word refers to nothing at all, and the sentence ought to read:

“Analyzing the results will tell us what the next steps should be.”

(This turns up so often in our writing, I think, because we use it in conversation all the time.  But that doesn’t make it any less confusing when we read it.)

We very often dangle participles in relation to books or articles.

“In the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition, it says that personal communication must be cited, but not included on the References page.”

Once again:  what’s the “it”?  Once again:  nothing at all.

“The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition says that personal communication must be cited, but not included on the References page.”

Another maker of mysterious sentences is the Passive Voice (when the subject of the sentence receives rather than commits the action).

Thus, in a sentence like this:

“It is expected that the program overall will go according to schedule.”


We have no idea what the “it” refers to; we can’t know who is doing the expecting.  It’s a mystery.

“The Project Manager expects the program to go according to schedule.”

Whether he or she likes it or not, that Program Manager is on record, and we know whom to blame (or credit).