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Graduate writing clearly & concisely
 

Graduate writing clearly & concisely

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This presentation explains some revision tips that will help students write clearly and concisely. It emphasizes minimizing wordiness and writing clear, yet complex sentences. It also covers a few ...

This presentation explains some revision tips that will help students write clearly and concisely. It emphasizes minimizing wordiness and writing clear, yet complex sentences. It also covers a few basics of grammar and punctuation, reviewing the most common mistakes. During the workshop, students will be encouraged to check their understanding of topics discussed. They will also receive handouts for further reference.

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  • Howdy. My name is __________, and I work at the University Writing Center. We are available to all TAMU students to help with any writing project. You can find out more about us by asking me, or by visiting our Web site at writingcenter.tamu.edu. [If you have time, talk about the hours and locations of the UWC]-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------The above is the general opening spiel for any classroom workshop. What follows is a general template for making your own workshop. It has the requisite opening/closing slides, and each page contains the standard fonts.IMPORTANT: When you’re using this template to make a classroom workshop, use the Save As option from the file menu. If you use the regular Save option, you’ll save all of your stuff into this file itself.
  • The goal of any piece of writing is effective communication to an audience. The purpose may be to persuade, to provide information, to express an idea, or any number of other things. Achieving this goal requires that we revise. If you write a paper at the last minute and fill it with fluff to get to your word count, or if you write it to sound impressive but don’t go back and examine your style, you’ll probably end up with something most of us don’t want to read. Your professor HAS to read it—but if it is written clearly, persuasively, and with a little dash of style, well, wouldn’t you rather that he or she is smiling rather than groaning through the experience?Now your style will change with your purpose, audience, and type of writing. But whether you are writing something to persuade or to inform, something formal or informal, most readers appreciate straightforward, clear style. For example, if any of you have ever had to learn your course material from a poorly written textbook, you know how confusing it can be when you’re forced to dissect the authors’ sentences and then make a guess at what they were trying to say. In a way, good writing style adds credibility and a tone of confidence to your presentation.Today, I’m going to walk you through three important phases of the revision process: making your writing (1) clear, (2) correct, and (3) concise.
  • “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” –George OrwellThe best way to clearly show that you know what you’re talking about…is to actually know what you’re talking about. Once you are familiar with the subject-matter and you thoroughly understand your essay’s purpose, you can work on fine tuning the language itself to make it clearer.
  • [Note: Many students will have heard that passive voice is not an acceptable way to express ideas in a formal written medium. It is important to instead talk about focusing on consistency rather than any kinds of set rules on this subject. If the journal style they are writing in is usually in passive voice, this will probably be the best choice for them. Science and technical writing tends to use the passive voice frequently. Alternatively, encourage the students to talk to their professors or review their target publication to determine which voice they should use.]Sometimes the passive voice is more wordy than the active. But before you eliminate all passive voice, think about what you want to emphasize. Active voice puts more emphasis on the actor while passive voice puts more emphasis on the object.
  • To make your writing as clear—and professional-sounding—as possible, avoid ambiguous and informal words. Don’t leave anything up to your reader’s interpretation. Here is a list of words you might consider eliminating from your academic writing projects. For instance, “this,” “these,” “that,” and “those” by themselves as subjects can be vague. Example:--Smith (2010) examined the effect of music on learning. This was novel. (This effect? This learning? This music? “This” could be referring to several nouns in the previous sentence.) --Smith (2010) examined the effect of music on learning. This study was novel. Usage of words in this list, however, may vary by context and field.
  • A good strategy for finding repeated words is to skim your paper, look for words that you tend to use often, and then circle or highlight them. If you use one or several words frequently, you need to decide whether the word(s) become redundant or if they create unity, like a key word.
  • Here, the repetition of key wordscreates a chain. In this case, if you vary the words just to avoid repetition, you make the passage harder to read:Most difficult are questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. Tube sustenance can prolong existence to an indefinite extent, but it cannot always preserve its quality. Without that, many would argue, living is worthless. You need to decide whether the repetition of certain words in your writing creates unity or inhibits clarity. Also, you can use given (or old) information to introduce new information to create coherence. Notice how the term “intravenous feeding” is introduced at the end of the first sentence in the first example. Then, the next sentence starts with the given information (“intravenous feeding”) and then introduces the main argument of the paragraph (new information). This technique (given—new; given—new) could help create coherence in your writing.
  • Another way to enhance clarity in your writing is to use the proper verb tense. The verb tense you use will depend on whether you are discussing methods, results, general conclusions, or another paper’s argument. Think logically. If you did a procedure in the past, use the past tense. If you obtained certain findings in the past, use the past tense. If an author has drawn a general conclusion or makes an argument, that conclusion or argument is usually described in the present tense. Claims are ongoing (unless a researcher disproves his/her own past research or takes a new stance in another paper).If you are proposing research, keep in mind that your methods will be in the future tense. If you write a proposal and plan to use the same methods write-up in your final article/report, remember to change the methods from the future to the past tense.
  • After your message is clear, work on making sure the mechanics of your writing are correct. Using correct grammar and punctuation in your writing is a way of establishing credibility. Your reader will be more likely to trust your research if your writing is free of error. In this section, I’ll go over a few strategies for editing your writing.
  • There are two MAIN clause types—independent and dependent. [Explain the difference.]
  • These are a few examples of words that typically begin a dependent clause (but there are others). The dependent clause is in purple. Note that it would not be able to stand on its own and adds extra information. **Explain prepositions.Prepositions are anything an Aggie can do at Kyle field.The Aggie can goover, under, around, through, beside, between, above, across, against, at, among, after, before, behind, beyond, by, down, into, from, in, near, off, past, to, through, toward, on, or up to Kyle field. About, during, for, except, throughout, untilare also prepositions.
  • Even in graduate writing, some of the most common errors tend to deal with agreement, whether it’s subject-verb, noun-pronoun, or items in a list, as we discussed in the last slide. [You may ask them to define these as well. Stress the importance of agreement, that it is not just grammatically correct, but because without it the reader is lost. ]When proofing your paper, one of the easiest errors to overlook is incorrect subject-verb agreement. The best way to catch these mistakes is to read your paper out loud or have someone else read your paper. Some rules are complicated and difficult to remember (i.e. what verb form agrees with “each”). If your are not sure, call the UWC or check out our website. 1st example: two single subjects (primary investigator, student worker), connected by or USE singular verb2nd example: “Each” is a single subject, even though the word “participants” is plural3rd example: USE a plural verb because the final subject is plural. 4th example: With sums of money or periods of time use singular verb5th example: “data” is most often treated as a plural noun **Research and literature are almost always singular (“researches” and “literatures” not used).
  • Noun-pronoun agreement can frequently cause problems in writing. Think about whether certain key words in thesentence are singular or plural. 1st example: single subject (each), gets the singular his, his or her, his/her, or her. (A good alternative is to change “everyone” to a plural.2nd and 3rd examples: For group words like group, class, set, band, or corps (as in cadets), use either singular or plural pronouns—if you want to emphasize individuals, use singular (his, her), and if you want to emphasize the whole, use plural (they).
  • Check the lists in your paper. Each item in a list should be parallel—or have the same grammatical structure. In the first example, the first two list items begin with verbs, but the last item is a noun. To make the list parallel, a verb needs to be added to the last item. Also, make sure your lists are punctuated appropriately. If at least one item in a list has a comma within it, separate the list items with semicolons. [Read example.]
  • Another very common source of error, not to mention lack of clarity, comes from where we put modifiers. Modifiers describe a word in the sentence, and correct placement of the modifier is key. If you aren’t careful, you could end up with a dangling or misplaced modifier. They can be difficult to catch—the best way is to read aloud and listen closely. Also look for modifying phrases, especially those beginning with –ing words that open sentences.A misplaced modifier describes a word that is too far away from the word it’s describing. [Read example.] “Teachers” is too far away from the modifying clause. A dangling modifier describes a word that isn’t in the sentence. [Read example.] Whatever is stored in a controlled temperature does not appear in the sentence. In fact, it seems like the research was stored in a controlled temperature.
  • Knowing whether to make a clause restrictive or nonrestrictive can be tricky. Many people believe that “which” is more formal than “that” and tend to use the two words inappropriately. Nonrestrictive clauses can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence. They typically add extra information. These clauses begin with “which” and are set off with commas. If you remove a restrictive clause, the meaning of the sentence will be altered. These clauses take “that” and are not set off with commas. [Read example.] In the first example, it’s not necessary to know that the study was done in 2011. The clause can be removed and the meaning of the sentence wouldn’t be altered. In the second example, we assume that the author has multiple studies but only one models risk communication. If you took out the clause, we wouldn’t know which of her studies was done in 2011. Whether a clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive can depend on the context.
  • The simplest way to determine correct punctuation is notto “put a comma where it sounds right” or “when I take a breath” but to learn some simplerules. While I can’t teach you every possible punctuation error you could make in only one lecture, I can show you the most common mistakes and how to fix them. Keep in mind that some punctuation rules vary by style. For instance, the Oxford comma is not used in AP style. We have a ton of resources on our website (handouts, podcasts, presentations) for you to use when you’re proofreading if you can’t remember what we talk about today.
  • When incorporating quotations into your essay, make sure that if you use a comma, it is placed correctly. The placement will vary by style and publication. In most American styles and publications, periods and commas fall inside of quotation marks. In British styles and publications, periods and commas will fall outside of quotation marks (unless they are part of the quote). [Read examples; explain. You can point out a way to memorize coordinating conjunctions is FANBOYS.]This is probably the simplest rule, but I still see this mistake in almost every consultation. Commas separate two complete sentences. Look for the compound sentences in your essay (explain a compound sentence). Cover up the second half of the sentence and the first half of the sentence. Can each half function on its own without the first half? [Do this with the example.]Also, when revising, be sure to eliminate comma splices—when a comma (by itself) separates two complete sentences. [Read example without “but.”]
  • Use a comma to separate introductory words and clauses.An easy way to spot an introductory clause is if a sentence starts with a preposition [explain prepositions if they don’t know what they are]. For example: To analyze the movie, I looked at five peer reviewed articles. In 2007, I graduated from high school. Also, commas should be placed on both sides of interrupting words and phrases. [Read examples.]
  • Know how to use semicolons and colons properly. Semicolons separate two COMPLETE sentences that relate to the same idea. The first word of the second sentence isn’t capitalized. Also, it is used in lists where there are commas within the items of the list (e.g.,list of cities, states). Colons set apart a complete sentence from an example prompted by the sentence. Colons typically follow complete sentences (or independent clauses). Never follow a preposition with a colon. [Read example.]
  • Know how to use apostrophes correctly. Apostrophes are used with certain possessives and contractions. *It’s = the contraction “it is”A word ending in “s” (Thomas) can take either simply an apostrophe OR an apostrophe plus “s” You do not need an apostrophe when talking about a time era “the 1970s,” plural last names (the Smiths), or possessive pronouns (*its, his, hers, etc).
  • [Option—read quote.] The goal when writing an academic paper is to cut out wordiness and to increase clarity while still keeping the style interesting. This is the idea of minimalism.A common misconception is that the more words you use in an academic your paper, and the more convoluted your sentence, the more intellectual it will sound. While this strategy may work on the writing portion of the SAT, it won’t fly in the real world for real readers. Fluff and padding can’t hide poor research or content, and it will only look like bloat.
  • Now we’re going to discuss some simple tricks for identifying wordy passages in your writing. [It may be good to ask if they know the meaning of these, before you go into detail about them. ]
  • Now let’s talk about the Paramedic Method. This method (created and described by Richard Lanham in his book Revising Prose) is a process you can use to make your writing concise. We’ll concentrate on the first 5 steps, but here are all of them. Steps 6, 7, and 8 should be done within the context of an entire paragraph or passage.
  • This a sentence that Lanham calls “the official style.” It’s from a real web site, [we changed the first sentence for illustration. We changed the verb from “will organize” to “is in the process of organizing’] and it shows an example of how some people pad their writing to make it sound impressive. But it’s really hard to figure out exactly what it means. Notice how it sprawls. There are just too many phrases one after another, thus making the idea difficult to divine from the jumble present here. This is 46 words long. (The real version was 42.)[A good way to show this is to read the sentence really, really fast.]So let’s apply the Paramedic Method to this monstrosity.
  • First, find all of the prepositions in the sentence. [You might have already gone over what a preposition is earlier, but go ahead and remind them.]Next, find all of the “to be” verbs. In this sentence, there is only one. Next, find the action—what verbs are in the sentence? Can they be simplified? In this case, all three verbs can be simplified. [Go over examples.] Identify any “slow wind-ups” in the sentence. In this sentence, it takes a while to get to the action. The phrase “in cooperation with” can be reduced to “and,” so your reader can reach the action of the sentence sooner. Other slow wind-ups include phrases like The fact that “there is/was” and “it is/was.” For example, “it is important that you revise” could be reduced to “revising is important.”
  • Original:The National Research Council Space Studies Board, in cooperation with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board are in the process of organizing a decadal survey to establish priorities and provide recommendations for life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity for the 2010-2020 decade.Revised: The National Research Council Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board are organizinga 2010-2020 survey to prioritize concerns and recommend life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity.Notice how the revision is much more straightforward and clear. [Here is where we could insert practice with worksheets to get a better handle on the Paramedic Method. Look to your packet for good example sentences. Split the class into small groups to work on the PM together and get them to read aloud from their results. If it is a large class, just see if a few will volunteer to share their results. Talk about the Lard Factor to help measure some of the effectiveness of their results.]
  • OK, so now we have what Lanham calls the Lard Factor. You can see, graphically, how much fat we have cut from the original with our revision.
  • For additional help, make an appointment with us at writingcenter.tamu.edu.
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Graduate writing clearly & concisely Graduate writing clearly & concisely Presentation Transcript

  • At a loss for words? 214 Evans Library | 205 West Campus Library writingcenter.tamu.edu | 979-458-1455
  • Writing Clearly, Correctly, and Concisely 2
  • Writing Clearly 3 The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. —George Orwell
  • Active vs. Passive Voice Active: We have determined the target market to be adults between the ages of 30 and 45. Passive: The target market was determined to be adults between the ages of 30 and 45. Who’s doing what to whom? •Active voice identifies the actor. •Passive puts the object being acted on first. Check which style your professor prefers. 4
  • Clarity and Complexity Complex: Lincoln’s claim that the Civil War was God’s punishment of both the North and South for slavery appears in the last part of the speech. Revised: In the last part of his speech, Lincoln claims that God gave the Civil War to both the North and South as a punishment for slavery. Complex phrases and clauses, new information, and technical terms are easier to process when placed at the end of a sentence. 5
  • Complex: Questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding are the most difficult. Revised: The most difficult questions are about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. 6 Clarity and Complexity Here is another example. The more complex phrase is easier for the reader to process when it comes at the end of the sentence.
  • Word Choice Avoid informal language if you are trying to maintain a professional/academic tone. Avoid ambiguous language to enhance clarity. Informal Thing Really Deal with Just Contractions (e.g., can’t) Even Ambiguous Numerous A lot/a little This (by itself as a subject) Very Considerable Good/bad
  • Check for Unnecessary Repetition Circle or highlight any repeated words. Replace repeated words with synonyms. *Repetition of key words can also create unity.
  • Key Words: Most difficult are questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. Intravenous feeding can prolong life to an indefinite extent, but it cannot always preserve its quality. Without quality, many would argue, life is worthless. Varied Word Choice: Most difficult are questions about the ethics of withdrawing intravenous feeding. Tube sustenance can prolong existence to an indefinite extent, but it cannot always preserve its quality. Without that, many would argue, living is worthless. Creating Coherence
  • Verb Tense Methods: Smith (2010) enrolled 200 participants in her study on cognitive learning. Results: Smith (2010) found that 20% of participants learned more when listening to music while studying. General Conclusions: Smith (2010) concludes that students should listen to music while studying to improve the learning process. Arguments: Smith (2010) argues that federal policy should allow public school students to listen to music while they study. *These are general guidelines. Verb tense standards might vary by field and journal.
  • 11 Writing Correctly It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly. —C. J. Cherryh
  • { } Understanding Clauses Independent clause -Can stand on its own as a sentence -Receives the most emphasis Dependent clause -Is a sentence fragment -Adds extra information Because Aggies believe in honesty and loyalty, they do not lie, cheat or steal.
  • { } Dependent Clause Indicators A clause is probably dependent if it starts with words like because, if, when, while, since, that, which, who, as, or a preposition. 13 Because I go to Texas A&M, I follow the Aggie Honor Code.
  • Subject & Verb Agreement Verb Subject Example Singular Two, singular The primary investigator or student subjects worker is going to weigh the sample. Singular Each Each of the participants knows how to score the advertisement. Plural Either/or Neither the surveys nor the Neither/nor interviews show increased understanding. Singular Sums of Three hundred dollars is the cost of the money project. Plural “Data” The data suggest an improvement.
  • Noun & Pronoun Agreement Noun Pronoun Example Singular Singular Each of the participants knows his or her role in the study. Singular Singular As the control group, the class has its own pre-test. Plural Plural As the control group, the class has their own pre-test.
  • Listing Each item in a list should have the same grammatical structure. In other words, the items should be parallel. List items should be punctuated appropriately. Semicolons separate list items that have commas in them. Also, consider whether the list should be numbered or bulleted. Nonparallel: The researcher filtered the compound, weighed the sample, and remaining material. Parallel: The researcher filtered the compound, weighed the sample, and stored the remaining material. The data for Smith’s (2010) study were collected in Bryan, TX; San Diego, CA; and Boston, MA.
  • Misplaced & Dangling Modifiers A misplaced modifier is too far away from the word it’s trying to describe. Ex: As survey distributors, it was vital that the teachers remained impartial.  As survey distributors, the teachers needed to remain impartial. A dangling modifier describes a word that isn’t in the sentence. Ex: Once stored in a controlled temperature, the researcher waited three days.  Once stored in a controlled temperature, the sample remained there for three days.
  • Restrictive & Nonrestrictive Clauses Nonrestrictive clauses • Can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence • Take “which” or “who” • Are set off with commas Restrictive clauses • Cannot be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence • Take “that” or “who” • Are not set off with commas Nonrestrictive: The study, which was done in 2011, modeled risk communication. Restrictive: Her study that modeled risk communication was done in 2011.
  • Punctuation Check for . . . Commas Semi-colons Colons Apostrophes 19
  • Commas The participants were given ten minutes to fill out the survey, but the interviews were not under the same time constraint. Commas separate two complete sentences (or independent clauses) joined by a coordinating conjunction: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So 20
  • Commas separate introductory material Commas on both sides of interrupting words or phrases According to Smith’s (2010) typology, the data should fit into five categories. The null hypothesis, however, was rejected. The data, in fact, support that a significant improvement occurred after the treatment. 21 Commas
  • Semicolons & Colons Semicolons Set apart a complete sentence from an example or list Ex. The researcher conducted two studies: a content analysis and a case study. Separate two complete sentences (second sentence NOT capitalized) Used in lists where there are commas within the items of the list Colons {;} {:}
  • It’s (it is) Thomas’ (2003) book Thomas’s (2003) book Each participant’s score (singular) The participants’ scores (plural) Apostrophes _’_ Do not use apostrophes with time eras (the 1970s), plural last names (the Smiths), or possessive pronouns (its, his, hers, etc). 23
  • Writing Concisely This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read. —Winston Churchill
  • Wordiness Check for . . . Excess Words Repeated Words Ambiguous Words Negatives Active/Passive Voice 25
  • Delete doubles Delete redundancies full and complete tried and true each and every true facts free gift in a wise manner red in color seven in number come to an agreement long in duration Remove Excess Words
  • not different  similar not the same  different not allow  prevent not notice  overlook not many  few not often  rarely not stop  continue not include  omit Change Negatives to Affirmatives From Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace by Joseph Williams
  • A sentence sprawls when there are many clauses after the verb. Reduce sprawl by cutting or revising who/that/which clauses. Ex: Teachers should remember that students are vulnerable and uncertain about those everyday, ego- bruising moments that adults ignore, and that they do not understand that one day… Ex: Teachers should remember students are vulnerable and uncertain about those everyday, ego-bruising moments adults ignore, and they do not understand that one day… Remove Sentence Sprawl
  • Paramedic Method 1. Circle the prepositions. 2. Circle the “is” forms. 3. Find the action. 4. Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb. 5. Start fast—no slow windups. 6. Read the passage aloud with emphasis and feeling. 7. Mark off sentence’s basic rhythmic units. 8. Mark sentence lengths. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/images/032 1441699/ref=dp_image_text_0?ie=UTF8&n=2831 55&s=books
  • The Official Style 30 The National Research Council Space Studies Board, in cooperation with the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, is in the process of organizing a decadal survey to establish priorities and provide recommendations for life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity for the 2010- 2020 decade. Source: Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board of the National Academies (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DEPS/ASEB/index.htm)
  • Find the prepositions and “to be” verbs. The National Research Council Space Studies Board, cooperation the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, the process a decadal survey and co life and physical sciences research microgravity and partial gravity the 2010-2020 decade. Paramedic Method Find the action and simplify: Start fast—no slow wind-ups. in in with of to for in for is organizing establish priorities provide recommendations • is in the process of organizing  is organizing • establish priorities  prioritize • provide recommendations  recommend in cooperation with  and
  • The National Research Council Space Studies Board and the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board are organizing a 2010-2020 survey to prioritize concerns and recommend life and physical sciences research in microgravity and partial gravity. Revision
  • The Lard Factor Divide the difference between the number of words in the original and the number in the revised version by the number in the original. Original (46) minus Revision (34) = 12 12÷ 46 = .26 or 26%
  • For More Help… Visit our website or call us to schedule an appointment. We can help you write clearly, correctly, and concisely.
  • 214 Evans Library | 205 West Campus Library writingcenter.tamu.edu | 979-458-1455 We’ll help you find the write words. U N I V E R S I T Y J X I G Z P O E N H B W D E T L Q I L R D R C K K K P P T R T I V R M X S T X J P T B C Z P B Y O U C I S K E W V J D A E N S I N N Q O G P E G I C J C T O B Y P X E G K G V E F G B S R M C E V Q R M Check us out on…