Writing Power’s Proper Usage Guide: B

Writing Power is proud to present the following compendium of tips on proper usage.  This is a list of some of the most commonly misused words and phrases in the English language.  In order to compile it, I consulted some of my favorite writing handbooks:  Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, John Trimble’s Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

back up, backup: The former is a verb; the latter isn’t.  You should back up your computer filesIf you get into a fight, I will back you up.  Backup can be a noun or an adjective, as in I made a backup of my filesI used to be a backup singer for Dionne Warwick.

bad, badly:  Confusion over these words is the flipside of the good/well controversy.  In general, bad is an adjective while badly is an adverb.  There are a few twists to this one, though, which I explained in detail in my Good Well Ugly post.

being as, being that:  Both of these phrases are the kind of vague jargon-speak that has infected our culture.  Neither is useful.  Substitute “because,” or restructure the sentence.

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Writing Power’s Writer’s Circle: Goals For March

A couple of weeks ago, I introduced Writing Power’s Writers’ Circle, a way to get motivation, support, and encouragement from other writers. As of today, our merry band has four members. Is it too late to join? Not at all – the more, the merrier.

You can jump into the Writers’ Circle any time. All you need to do is introduce yourself in the comments. What kind of writing do you do? What would you like to improve?

Now that we’ve introduced ourselves to each other, it’s time to get motivated. So, Writers’ Circle members new and old, let’s set some goals.

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Writing Power’s Proper Usage Guide: A (Part 2)

 Writing Power is proud to present the following compendium of tips on proper usage.  This is a list of some of the most commonly misused words and phrases in the English language.  In order to compile it, I consulted some of my favorite writing handbooks:  Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, John Trimble’s Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

allude, elude:  There are two things to note about the usage of allude.  First, a person can only allude to something indirectly.  To allude is to hint at something rather than make a direct reference.  Therefore, it is not correct to use allude as a synonym for refer.  Second, don’t confuse allude with elude.  To allude is to refer to something indirectly.  To elude is to evade detection or capture. 

allusion, illusionAllusion is the noun form of allude (see above.)  As such, an allusion is an indirect reference, especially to a literary work, mythological subject or cultural referent.  An illusion is something that tricks the mind or senses, a misperception, as in an optical illusion

a lot:  two words.  Always.  There is no “alot.”

amount, number:  To decide which to use, apply the “countability” test.  As the sentence is written, is the quantity countable or not?  If it is, use number; otherwise, use amount.  For example:  The zoo has a large number of elephants who consume an enormous amount of food.  You can’t count “food” – you could count bananas, or buckets of food, but that’s not the way the sentence reads.  You can, on the other hand, count elephants.

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Make Your Writing A “Must Read”

I was both delighted and overwhelmed by what stood before me.  This was not unusual.  In fact, the same thoughts go through my mind each time I walk through my local library’s stacks.  So much to read.

I wasn’t until later, as I was staggering to the circulation desk with a pile of books I could barely see over, that I thought to ask myself when I would possibly find time to read all of these.  Hmm.

Many personal development blogs draw on the assumption that time is a scarce resource.  Some give advice on how to manage your time, while others discuss ways to boost your productivity (thus enabling you to get more done in a given amount of time).  Still others encourage you to establish clear values and priorities for your life, reasoning that since there is not enough time to get everything done, you should focus on the things that matter most.

I thought of these competing time management/productivity philosophies as I stood in the library’s lobby looking at the dozen books I had chosen.  Clearly, I would have to put some of them back.  The question that entered my mind next had nothing to do with time.  How do I choose?   Given that I didn’t have time to try them all, which ones would I choose to invest some time in?

I started to think about what makes a reader decide that a writer is worth some of the reader’s time.  What keeps a reader coming back to a writer book after book, or blog entry after blog entry?  What makes a certain writer’s work a “must read,” while another’s is skimmed or skipped?

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Writing Power’s Links to Love: March 9

Enjoy this week’s links!

The Happiness Project: This Wednesday: 20 very easy tips for lowering your daily stress level. Gretchen’s friendly style gives this list a fresh vibe.

Epictetus’ Top 7 Timeless Pearls of Wisdom at The Positivity Blog. Here, Henrik goes back to basics – way back.

Habits that Will Prevent Your Success at Dumb Little Man. Half of success consists of not doing things that we shouldn’t do. What things? Check out this post.

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Writing Power’s Proper Usage Guide: A

Writing Power is proud to present the following compendium of tips on proper usage.  This is a list of some of the most commonly misused words and phrases in the English language.  In order to compile it, I consulted some of my favorite writing handbooks:  Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, John Trimble’s Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, and Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

Why would you want to consult lists like these?  Because by and large, spell check programs won’t catch these errors.  These words are not misspelled; they are misused in context.  Want to punch up your writing’s sophistication and accuracy quickly and easily?  Pull up this list the next time you’re wondering which word you should use.

a, an:    These are both indefinite articles.  When do you use each one?  The rule is actually pretty straightforward: a goes before a consonant sound, while an goes before a vowel sound.  A writer, an essay.  Notice that I said consonant or vowel sound, not consonant or vowel letter.  For example, even though the word honest begins with the consonant h, the h is silent.  Thus, the word begins with a vowel sound: an honest day’s work.  Since words in which an initial h is pronounced begin with a consonant sound, they would use a, as in a hopeful look.

accept, except:   This is the first of many sound-alike word pairs that can play havoc with a writer’s mind.  Accept, which is a verb, means “to get, approve, or receive.”  Except means “exclusive of, excluding, or but.”  I will accept all forms of payment except personal checks.  Caution: in more formal parlance, except can be used as a verb meaning “to exclude.”

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Revision Tips: Cause And Effect

It seems like writing a piece governed by cause and effect should be easy. After all, the logic of causes and effects helps give meaning to our lives. Without cause and effect, we might not stick to our exercise or healthy eating regimens. But we think, if I work out, I’ll be more fit. If I eat right, I’ll be healthier. These if-then statements are examples of the logic of cause and effect in action.

Powerful stuff, right? Cause and effect is as natural to our thinking processes as peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, hummus and tabouli…. But actually, cause and effect’s seeming ease hides a morass of possible problems. It’s a lot harder to construct a powerful cause and effect argument than it appears.

Like the other organizational strategies we’ve examined, comparison/contrast and analysis, cause and effect seems informative but is really persuasive.

As you construct your next cause and effect argument, take care to avoid these pitfalls:

Don’t confuse correlation with causation. Say, for example, that you come to work on time or early every day for a week. Then, imagine that your boss gives you a surprise raise. Did your newfound punctuality cause your raise?

In terms of logic and argumentation: no. The punctuality occurred before the raise; the punctuality did not necessarily cause the raise. Timeline correlation doesn’t equal cause and effect.

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Spice Up Your Writing With A Sprinkle Of Dashes

It’s excitable, it’s dramatic, it’s useful it’s – the dash. The dash is a peculiar punctuation mark. Many of its uses are duplicated by the colon, but the dash’s zippy panache gives it an advantage in some cases.

However, the same flair that makes the occasional dash delightful also makes the overused dash dreadful. Consider these tips next time you’re writing in order to spice up your writing with a judicious sprinkle of dashes.

First, a few formatting details, courtesy of my favorite writer’s handbook, Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference. To form a dash, type two hyphens together without spaces. You can also use an “em dash” function if your computer has one. To be rigorously accurate, I must tell you that Hacker states that dashes should not have spaces before or after them (291). This is a rule that I regularly violate. I just think it looks weird.

Dashes and I have had a checkered relationship. At a certain point in college, I found that my ideas were calling for more complex sentences. However, the specifics of grammar and punctuation were a bit hazy, and I wasn’t in the habit of poring over handbooks in those days. Unfortunately for my professors, I churned out run-on sentences in every variety I could muster. And when I was feeling particularly dramatic, which was often, I used dashes where semicolons and colons should have gone.

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The Reviser’s Toolbox, Part 2

Yesterday, I began a detailed investigation into some writing strategies that deserve a writer’s attention during revision. Today, we’re moving from comparison and contrast to analysis.

Analysis is a broad term, and many people use it in a broad sense. (I use it all the time myself.) Generally speaking, analysis refers to a process of looking closely, and often critically, at some subject. By “critically,” I don’t mean negatively. I mean carefully, deliberately and evaluatively.

This broad understanding of analysis doesn’t articulate the ways in which analysis differs from other critical processes such as definition, critique, or explanation. As a result, many writers do not analyze as well as they could because they do not have a clear sense of what analysis does. By means of this post, I hope to change that.

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The Reviser’s Toolbox, Part 1

A while ago, I discussed revision as re-envisioning. Today, I want to explore a specific area that writers re-envision as they revise: organization.

In the planning stage, writers establish an organizational blueprint. These blueprints vary in complexity from a hasty sketch to a detailed paragraph-by-paragraph plan. However, even the best laid plans can go awry during the drafting stage. And in some cases, it is important to let that wandering take place.

Planning your writing is like planning your life. Should you do it? Definitely. But if your life doesn’t proceed according to the plan, then sometimes it’s best to adjust the plan or throw the plan (or part of it) out the window, right? The same holds true for writing.

Over the next few posts, I will focus on common organizational strategies that can help writers refine their work in revision. These strategies can be used to define the document’s overall organization, but they don’t have to be. They can also be used to organize a particular section or subpoint within the larger work.

First up, an essay question classic that writers too often botch: Comparison and Contrast. Comparison and contrast can be painfully formulaic. One reason for this is that many writers assume that comparison and contrast is conceptually simple and, moreover, that they have mastered the requisite concepts. Let’s take a moment to consider the comparison and contrast mechanism with fresh eyes.

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