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More Punctuation Tips: Use The Apostrophe and Quotation Marks Correctly For Clear Writing.

MORE PUNCTUATION TIPS:  USE THE APOSTROPHE AND QUOTATION MARKS CORRECTLY FOR CLEAR WRITING.

Continuing our punctuation review, today’s blog covers two more important marks, the apostrophe and quotation marks.

Apostrophe. 

a. An apostrophe should be used in a contraction (the shortening of a word, syllable, or word group by omission of a sound or letter; see Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed., p. 271),  where a word is omitted.

don’t do it

we won’t

we’ll do it

he’ll be there

you’ll be sorry

it’s all yours

b. Don’t use an apostrophe where personal pronouns form the possessive.

its, his,  hers, ours, yours,  theirs

c. Where nouns are concerned,

for nouns not ending in s add  ‘s  (men’s shoes)

for nouns ending in s add  ‘ (ladies’ shoes)

d. For proper names ending in s (John Adams’ papers, Jones’ house, Morris’ book).  When there is a possessive plural to write:  we rode in the Adamses’ car to the Joneses’ house.

e. Where joint possession is involved, use an apostrophe only for the last name in the series.  (Smith and Jones’ golf lessons are the best in the club).

f. For plurals of letters of the alphabet or numbers, add ‘s. (His 5’s and E’s are hard to recognize.)

Quotation Marks.

a. Use quotation marks to enclose exact words of a direct quotation but not an indirect quotation.

Direct quotation – As they trudged up the hill Emily remarked, “What a beautiful view.”

Indirect quotation –  It’s a beautiful view she said.

Single quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation within a   quotation.

Joey laughed and said, “You may be right.  But I remember     Ben Franklin’s crack at the Continental Congress, ‘If we don’t hang together we’ll surely all hang separately.'”

Note that punctuation marks such as a period or comma go inside the closing quotation marks; colon and semi-colon are placed outside.  Other marks such as an exclamation point, dash, or question mark are placed inside the quotation marks if they apply to the quotation alone; otherwise they are placed outside.  Here are some examples:

Bruce yelled out as loud as he could, “Fore!”

The trouble with Dickson is that he thinks he’s General Patton  when he shouts “Let’s go now!”

Donna inquired anxiously, “Do you think we’ll ever get out of here?”

The list was posted conspicuously, listing the “household grievances” as follows:  dirty floor, clothes strewn around, unwashed windows, and unmade beds.

Whoever wrote that the U.S. Government should be run “like a business,” including a president with “business experience,” and an “experienced board of directors,” was absolutely right.

Jack hit the nail on the head when he said, “What made this  country great is one thing and one thing only: free enterprise!”

Note:  The next blog will be posted on Friday, May 25, and will commemorate Memorial Day.  The subject will be Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history.

Copyright© 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

Published 5/18/12.  485 words.

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Clear Writing Requires The Use Of Correct Punctuation Marks.

Punctuation is an extensive subject which will be discussed in several blogs.  Today’s blog covers end marks and the comma.

To some extent, punctuation has the same use in writing that the use of gestures, pauses, and vocal inflections have in speaking, i.e., for emphasis or to reveal the precise relationship of thoughts.  But the use of punctuation goes beyond what is necessary for emphatic writing.

The use of correct punctuation makes writing more understandable, and aids in the smooth flow and clear presentation of information.  Without punctuation all writing would be a jumble of words.  The correct use of punctuation will mark you as a superior writer.

End Marks.

The most common use of punctuation is to use a period at the end of a sentence.  If the sentence is for emphasis, use an exclamation mark.  If it is a question, use a question mark.

Comma.

Several punctuation issues revolve around the correct use of the comma. Without the proper use of a comma sentence parts would collide, making the sentence difficult to read.  Use of a comma is required in a wide range of writing situations.

Use a comma in the following instances:

–  to set off (enclose or punctuate on both sides) a parenthetic statement (aka an interrupter);

–  between items in a series, unless and or or is used throughout;

–  between main clauses joined by a conjunction (and, but, or);

– to separate parts of a sentence which might confusingly be read together.  Rewrite the sentence if necessary.

Confusing and unclear – Despite replanting America’s forests are not limitless.

Made clear by punctuation – Despite replanting, America’s forests are not limitless.

–  to set off non-restrictive (non-essential) modifiers;  do not set off restrictive modifiers.

Restrictive – Students who work the hardest get the best results. [The who clause points out what particular students get best results.  If the clause were set off by commas, the sentence would mean that all students work the hardest.]

Non-restrictive – Shale oil, which used to be prohibitively expensive to recover, is now being recovered in greater quantities due to technological advances.  [The term shale oil specifies what kind of oil is being discussed.  The which clause adds extra information.  This information is not essential to the main thought that increased amounts of shale oil are being recovered.  If the clause was deleted the main thought would still remain.]

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence is usually set off.

Non-restrictive – After sleeping all morning, Thomas was too embarrassed to go to work.;  Pressing the accelerator to the floor, Paul overcame the other racers.

Restrictive – Books dealing with automobile racing are in great demand.

Sometimes the wording of a sentence permits a clause to be either restrictive or non-restrictive.  When that happens, the writer may decide which of two meanings should be used.

Correct:  The speaker who spoke last week is also speaking again this week.

[The who clause is restrictive because it identifies the man who spoke].

Also correct:

The speaker, who spoke last week, is the same one speaking this week.  [The who clause is non-restrictive because the reader is supposed to know who the speaker is].

Certain clauses where adverbs such as while, after, though, since, if, as, and because are used, will also require a comma when used in a non-restrictive sense.

Non-restrictive while clause:

My brother-in-law has the best of all possible worlds, while I have to scrape out a living.  Restrictive:  Even so, he lets me use his house while he is away.

Non-restrictive after clause:

The meeting reached a vote at midnight, after all members had declared there was was an emergency.  Restrictive:  One member tried to reopen the meeting after it was adjourned.

Non-restrictive though clause:

The city has tried to fill all potholes, though there is no money for repairs.  (Though and although clauses are always non-restrictive).

Non-restrictive since clause:

He may be away, since his house has been dark for two weeks.  Restrictive:  His house looks better since it was painted.

Non-restrictive if clause:

Mr. Reynolds was there first, if you don’t mind.  Restrictive:  He will be upset if you get out of line.

Non-restrictive as clause:

The Raptors are now the best team in this league, as you said they would be.  Restrictive:  Bob watched the team eagerly as the season drew to a close.

Non-restrictive because clause:

Your back porch should be stained, because you need to preserve the redwood.  Restrictive:  I did not stain the porch because I wanted to improve its looks.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Absolutely Eliminate All Spelling Errors In Your Writing.

The question os spelling is important enough to justify a separate post.

 This point must be made perfectly clear: misspelled words will cause all of your hard work to sink – fast.  So, be forewarned!

It is absolutely imperative to make sure your spelling is correct. Misspelled words in particular are the bane of good writing; nothing will undermine your hard work and turn a reader off faster than a misspelled word, particularly if it’s a common one.  You must take the time to check the spelling of any word that looks suspicious to you. Resorting to a dictionary for new or difficult words should be the first and ongoing choice.

Many writers shortcut the correct spelling of words either because they don’t know the correct spelling or are too lazy to find out.  Spelling “nite” instead of “night,” and “thru” instead of “through” is the result of careless, sloppy, or lazy writing and is disfavored in good writing.  Don’t take any shortcuts with your spelling; they will stamp you as an amateur.

Another solution is to record all misspelled words on a separate sheet of paper; the act of writing down the correct spelling should in itself help you remember it.  Keep this paper handy for continued reference and add to it on a regular basis.  Try to understand why each word was misspelled.

You can also master the intricacies of good spelling through visualization. Good golfers are said to visualize each shot before hitting it.  If it works in golf, it can work in spelling.  Teach yourself to picture the correct spelling of all misspelled words in your mind.  Concentrate on the correct spelling of these words to be sure you see every letter. Then look away, spell the word, and look back for verification.  Repeat this procedure on a regular basis until you can instantly recognize the correct spelling of each word previously misspelled.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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For Clearer Writing, Use Personal Pronouns.

 Use personal pronouns.

Meet the personal pronouns.  They are your friends and will help you to write more clearly.

If you use personal pronouns, the quality of your writing will substantially improve, no matter what level of sophistication your reading audience has. Pronouns help your readers relate better to your writing by visualizing themselves in the text.

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Ed. p. 995), defines a pronoun as “any of a small set of words in a language that are used as substitutes for nouns or noun phrases and whose references are named or understood in the context.”   The noun it replaces is called the antecedent.  Thus, in the sentence, “Gold is not only a rare metal, but it has become a symbol of wealth,” “Gold” is the antecedent of “it”.

As a reminder, the most common types of personal pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, and they.  Pronouns can vary in person (first, second, or third) and in number (singular or plural). Why use them? Even with a knowledgeable reader, use of personal pronouns will dramatically improve the clarity of your writing.  They will,

–    help keep sentences short and concise.

–   provide the information your reader wants to know in a logical order,

–   assign responsibilities and requirements clearly.

Pronouns also aid in reader understanding of your writing because they eliminate ambiguity and minimize abstract language by encouraging the use of more concrete, everyday words.    They also help to lock in reader interest by allowing you to “speak” directly to your reader and specify exactly who is being addressed. Remember that you are speaking to the one person who is reading your document, even though it may affect the public at large.  For example,

You should carefully review your ballot before voting,

is clearer and more definite than,

The ballot should be carefully reviewed before voting.

Use of personal pronouns may also avoid the awkwardness of the he/she dilemma.  Thus,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today and bought them each a hotdog,

is better than,

I saw Ken and Linda at the ballpark today and bought him and her a hotdog.

You must provide the requisite information, including name, address, and telephone number, when replying,

is better than,

The addressee must provide his or her name, address, and telephone number when replying.

Good teachers should not lose their tempers,

is better than

A good teacher should not lose his or her temper.

Use of the pronoun in the foregoing examples eliminates confusion and allows the sentences to flow more smoothly.

A Pronoun Must Agree With Its Antecedent.

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in gender, number, and person.  The following words when used as antecedents are deemed to be singular:  each, every, any, no one, thing, body either and neither (except when they refer to plural sets) are singular.  Here are some examples:

Everybody did his best [Not their].

Every one raised his hand.  [Not their].

Each person must have  his ticket. [Not their].

Neither [Albert nor Louis] speak with an accent. [Not speaks].

Kind and sort are also singular:

I like that kind of pants.  [Not those].

That kind of scissors is very sharp.  [Not those].

But where the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must still agree:

Both know their trade.

Other antecedents may be singular or plural:

Most of this is mine.  Most of these are useless.

A collective noun usually takes a singular pronoun:

The assembly has given its report.

The team has played its last game.

The jury has reached its decision.

Sometimes, however, a collective noun may be thought of as separate individuals.  In that case a plural pronoun is appropriate, as in the following:

The jury disagree.

     

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All Rights Reserved.

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Tips On Sound Sentence Structure.

 Clear Sentences Require Sound Structure.

As pointed out in the last post, short, simple sentences and short, common words, enhance the effectiveness of a paragraph.  Your writing will be streamlined even further and your writing will be even clearer if you follow the natural word sequence of English speakers, “subject-verb-object,” as closely as possible.   Keep subjects and objects close to their verbs.  Putting modifiers, clauses, or phrases between any of these essential parts of a sentence will make it harder for the reader to understand you and weakens your sentence structure.

Before

Holders of common stock will be entitled to receive, to the extent money is available, a cash payment, as set forth in the accompanying schedules.

After

Cash distributions will be made to holders of common stock on the payment dates indicated in the accompanying schedules, if cash is available.

However, sloppy word placement even in a short sentence can cause ambiguity.   The following sentence makes it appear as if the writer has decided to be disabled:

Ambiguous – If you are determined to have a disability, the company will pay you according to the schedule set forth below.

Clearer – If the company determines that you have a disability, it will pay you according to the schedule set forth below.

 Strive For Consistent Sentence Construction. 

Uneven sentence construction will lead to unclear writing.  A common form of mixed sentence construction is the use of two negatives in a sentence.  Use of the so-called double negative destroys the orderly structure of the sentence and marks you as an uninformed writer.

For example, a company manual might provide as follows on the subject of extra vacation pay:  No approval of extra vacation pay may be implied in the absence of express approval from the company.

It is clearer to say:  You must obtain express company approval for extra vacation pay.

Other examples:

Wrong:  I haven’t got nothing to say about it.

Right:   I don’t have anything to say about it.

Wrong: He can’t write no better now than he could then.

Right:   He can’t write any better now than he could then.

Wrong: He couldn’t hardly run a step.

Right:   He could hardly run a step.

Wrong: Your invitation cannot at no time be accepted.

Right:   Your invitation cannot be accepted at any time.

Follow Parallel Sentence Structure For Parallel Thoughts.

A reader is attentive to both the form of the sentence as well as the thought.  The idea behind parallel sentence structure, or parallelism, is that the sentence should contain likeness of form.  That is, you should use parts of speech that are consistent in form.  Parallelism thus assures the smooth rhythm of a sentence by use of a consistent grammatical form.  Unparallel sentences can slip into your writing easily. Read the finished writing through at least once to look solely for these mistakes; reading it aloud can also help to spot them.  Here are some examples of unparallel structure with corrections:

Not parallel: Walking can sometimes be better exercise than to jog.

Parallel:    Walking can sometimes be better exercise than jogging.

Not parallel:  Your competitor sells lawnmowers of better quality and having a lower selling price.

Parallel:   Your competitor sells lawnmowers of better quality and at a lower price.

Not parallel:  If you want to buy ABC vitamins, simply fill out the coupon  below, making your check payable to the X Company, and mailing it to the address shown.

Parallel:  If you want to buy ABC vitamins, simply fill out the coupon below, make your check payable to the ABC Company, and mail it to the address shown.

Copyright © 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Hidden Verbs Can Derail Clear Writing.

To avoid  the problem of so-called hidden verbs,  it helps to know exactly what a verb is.  Let’s go back to basics for a moment.  A verb is a word or word group which makes an assertion.  Although a verb  usually expresses action (Rain falls), it may also express being or mental state (The statement is true.  He dreams).

As explained in the  Federal Plain Language Guidelines, March 2011, Rev. 1, May 2011, p. 23 (Guidelines),  “verbs are the fuel of writing.”  By giving sentences power and direction, they make your writing lively and more interesting.  A hidden verb is a verb converted into a noun.  It often needs an extra verb to make sense.   Hidden verbs  can be a problem  by making a verb less effective and requiring more words than otherwise needed to complete the sentence.

The easiest way around this problem is to avoid using longer words when shorter ones will suffice.  Instead of getting mired in a grammarian’s technical jargon as to whether a sentence contains a buried or hidden verb or not or whether you have turned a verb into a noun, you can train yourself to look for certain words or phrases and try to eliminate or rewrite them as the context permits.

So, for example, words ending in “tion” and “ment” can often be used in a different form without concern as to what grammatical label applies.

Write,

“You are required to apply for a fishing license,” rather than,

“You are required to make an application for a fishing license.”

In the same vein, write,

“The cutback is not to be made unless authorized,” rather than,

“You must seek authorization for the cutback before making it.”

The latter sentence in each of the two examples is less effective and uses more words than necessary to convey the same thought as in the former sentence.  The following suggestions are also illustrative:

      Avoid                                                      Use

Authorization                                           Authorize

Negotiation                                              Negotiate

Settlement                                                Settle

Litigation                                                  Litigate

Achievement                                            Achieve

In summary, a hidden verb can come in two forms.  It may have a tell-tale ending such as -ment, –tion, -sion, and -ance;  or, it may link with verbs such as achieve, effect, give, make, reach, and take.  Here are more examples:

Before:

We will make an application…

We have made a determination…

The company has reached a decision…

After:

We applied…

We determined…

The company decided…

Find the noun and try to make it the main verb of your sentence.  As you change nouns to verbs, your writing will become more vigorous and less abstract.  It will be clearer if you say who does what.  As pointed out by attorney Bryan Garner in his able work, The Winning Brief, at p. 161, “Whenever the true verb will work in context, the better choice is to use it instead of the buried verb.”  In other words, “Use the strongest, most direct form of the verb possible.”  Guidelines, p. 23.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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Shorten Your Sentences To Minimize Ambiguity.

Here is an important clear writing pitfall to avoid: long and  complex  sentences. They are simply harder for the reader to understand.  No one likes to read a sentence that’s unwieldy.    Resist the temptation to put everything in one sentence.  A good rule of thumb is to express only one idea in a sentence. This will reduce many sources of ambiguity.

Writing a company report that describes the company’s product and its pricing does not have to result in a reader’s nightmare.  Information packed sentences leave most readers scratching their heads; they will get lost in the trees without seeing the forest. The key is to strive for better organization. Use shorter sentences in conjunction with shorter paragraphs.

The following one-sentence paragraph contains many shortcomings:

Before

The ABC Natural Medicine Group founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a  medical doctor with many years of experience in the natural medicine field,  who was introduced to the formula used in this product while on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai and was motivated  to pursue the benefits of the mind- body unity of natural healing instead of following the path of conventional medicine after seeing his father, once robust but who became sluggish, apathetic, and listless, which he attributed to the damaging effects of a typical western diet, will be introducing its premier high potency, super energy health supplements later  this year, composed of the highest quality, health- enhancing phyto-nutrients which allow for instant nutrient absorption, as well as other medicinal components including dried seahorses, ginseng, turtle plastron, aloe vera, and other plant and animal parts.

 The difficulty with this paragraph is that it provides a lot of information without allowing the reader to take a breath or see any context.  The use of short sentences  broken up from the one long single sentence, together with some logical reorganizing of the sentence and the paragraph, provides context and makes this paragraph much easier to read as shown by the rewrite.

After

The ABC Natural Medicine Group will introduce its premier, high potency super energy health supplements later this year.  They are composed of the highest quality, health-enhancing phyto-nutrients, which allow for instant nutrient absorption.

The Group was founded by Dr. Chang Zhou, a medical doctor with many years of experience in the natural medicine field.  He was introduced to the formula used in this product while on sabbatical in a small town south of Shanghai.

Instead of following the path of conventional medicine, Dr. Zhou was motivated to pursue the benefits of the mind-body unity of natural healing after seeing his father, once robust, become sluggish, apathetic, and listless.  He attributed this condition to the damaging effects of a typical western diet.

As is evident, breaking up the one long sentence into six shorter ones and three paragraphs has made the general, rambling paragraph into three concise, specific ones.  The information only has to be read once to understand it. Also, the components of the medicine, dried seahorses, etc., have been deleted from the paragraph to facilitate the flow of information; these items are best left for a separate paragraph or even an appendix or supplement.

Often you can shorten your sentences to make them easier to understand by replacing a negative phrase with one word that conveys the same thought.  Thus,

Negative Phrase                                           Replacement Word

not able                                                               unable

not certain                                                           uncertain

not often                                                              infrequent

not many                                                             few

not the same                                                        different

not acceptable                                                      unacceptable

does not include                                                   excludes, omits

does not have                                                       lacks

An unduly long sentence has no place in clear writing.  Follow the techniques summarized above to help avoid “choking” your writing with lengthy, information packed sentences.  Work on developing shorter, pithy sentences;  the construction of great sentences requires no less.

Copyright 2012.  Arnold G. Regardie.  All rights reserved.

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