Improve prose style

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  • In the 20th century, the official gate keepers of English (those who produce the Oxford English dictionary), and who should never be sneered at, made it official that splitting infinitives was a okay. Some die-hard members of the grammar police, however, still hold onto this rule and find pleasure in trying to enforce it. When you meet one of these people, and they have power over you, make a decision about whether you will fight grammatical injustice or cave to power ).
  • Invented rules are those rules that think we should observe. As Joseph Williams points out, most of these rules date from the last half of the 18th century, and most of them are not worth stressing about.
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  • Improve prose style

    1. 1. 1 How to Improve Your Prose Style This lecture covers the following topics: • Being concise. • Being correct. • Writing a topic sentence. © Karen Thompson, University of Idaho – Adapted by Ariadne Rooney
    2. 2. 2 No one wants to read lard-laden prose. If you have developed this habit, you need to lose it.
    3. 3. About page length requirements. 3  Almost all professors will give you handouts that mention page lengths.  We do this to help you understand how to think about the writing assignment.  Some assignments require a sustained piece of writing. For others, something shorter is needed.  You don’t want to turn in 3 pages when the assignment asks for ten and vice versa, but if you focus on page length only, then you are missing the point.
    4. 4. 4 Most teachers do not insist that you meet a specific number of pages or else. Okay, well maybe my 8th grade English teacher did, but she was a bit strange. Ari’s 8th Grade English Teacher Who are you calling strange?
    5. 5. Being concise 5 The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. Thomas Jefferson
    6. 6. Being concise is a function of clarity. 6  When we clutter our prose with unnecessary words, we create two problems.  First, readers have to slog through sentences weighed down by lard-laden prose and lose interest in reading.  Second, we may run out of room and leave out those specifics necessary for meaning to be clearly understood.
    7. 7. To be concise, learn to cut the lard in your writing. 7 Redundancies Writing zeroes Needless adjectives and adverbs Needless passive voice
    8. 8. Needless words weigh down your prose. 8 absolute guarantee my personal opinion blended together bright green in color guarantee my opinion blended bright green
    9. 9. Eliminate redundant words. 9 already existing alternative choices at the present time presently basic fundamentals completely eliminate continue to remain currently being empty space first began had done previously introduced a new mix together never before none at all now at this time period of time private industry separate entities start out still persists whether or not
    10. 10. Zeroes are empty phrases that add lard to your sentences. They contribute nothing to meaning. 10 it is my intent to show that = 0 as a matter of fact = 0 as is well known = 0 it is noteworthy = 0 the presence of = 0
    11. 11. Some zeroes can be replaced with words that mean something. 11 at this point in time replace with now at that point in time replace with then has the ability to replace with can has the potential to replace with will in the event that replace with if in the vicinity of replace with near owing to the fact that replace with because the question as to whether replace with whether there is no doubt but that replace with no doubt
    12. 12. Many adverbs are unnecessary 12 rather unique slows down well demonstrated unique slows demonstrated
    13. 13. When you find lard, use the delete key. 13
    14. 14. Strategy for identifying and eliminating lard-laden prose. 14  Consider this sentence:  Wordiness is a word that is often used by many people to express the idea that something that was written by someone in a larger number of words could have been expressed in a smaller number of words (38 words).  It’s not difficult to make this sentence more concise, but I’m using an easy lard-laden sentence in order to demonstrate a strategy for revising prose to be more concise.  Use the following strategy when you have a more complicated sentence that is filled with lard.
    15. 15. Step 1: Identify Repeats (all forms) 15 Wordiness is a word that is often used by many people to express the idea that something that was written by someone in a larger number of words could have been expressed in a smaller number of words. Eliminate what seems easiest. Wordiness is a word often used by many people to express the idea that something written by someone in a larger number of words could have been expressed in a smaller number of words. We now have eliminated 4 words – it’s a start.
    16. 16. Step 2: Substitute Phrases with Words 16 Wordiness is a word often used by many people to express the idea {means} that something written by someone in a larger number of {more} words could have been expressed in a smaller number of {fewer} words. Wordiness means that something written in more words could have been expressed in fewer. That move cut 20 words, so we now have 14 total.
    17. 17. Step 3: Eliminate Expendable Phrases and Be Specific. 17 If the sentences refers to both writing and speech, then no need to specify writing. Wordiness means that something written in more words could have been expressed in fewer. (14 words) Wordiness means using more words than necessary. (7 words). Note: be certain the phrase is expendable.
    18. 18. Why Stop Now? 18 Wordiness means using too many words. From 38 to 6 words.  When you first start editing for conciseness, it may be unsettling because a document you thought was finished may be reduced to little more than a few paragraphs.  When that happens, consider what you have not included such as specific details, examples, analogies, etc. and develop your writing to fulfill the intended purpose.
    19. 19. Being Correct Real Rules, Social Rules, and Invented Rules 19
    20. 20. Grammatical Correctness – Three Kinds of Rules 20  Real rules – we don’t think about these  Social rules – same as above  Invented rules – rules of the grammar police How to think about rules
    21. 21. Real Rules 21  These are the rules that define English as English.  Speakers born into English do not think about these rules and violate them only when they are not paying attention (i.e. tired or distracted).
    22. 22. Real Rules: Examples 22  Mary and John sat by the lake. Not – in the lake or on the lake.  She enjoyed the book. Not: She enjoyed book the.
    23. 23. Social Rules 23  Social rules distinguish standard English from nonstandard.  None of us speak standard English (okay, maybe my 8th grade English teacher did, but she was a bit strange).  Educated people, however, write standard English and observe social rules.
    24. 24. Social Rules: Example 24  We saw the accident. Not: We seen the accident.  He has no money. Not: He ain’t got no money.
    25. 25. Invented Rules 25  Invented rules are those rules that think we should observe.  As Joseph Williams points out, most of these rules date from the last half of the 18th century, and most of them are not worth stressing about.
    26. 26. Invented Rules: Example 26  To boldly go where no man has gone before.  Breaks the never split infinitives rule. Grammar police insist it should be: To go boldly where no man has gone before. To understand why the Star Trek writers broke the rule, see the next slide.
    27. 27. Why the Star Trek writers broke the rule. 27  According to this rule, they SHOULD have said “to go boldly,” but, honestly, who on earth would prefer that syntax? It just doesn’t have the same ring to it right?  In the 20th century, the official gate keepers of English (those who produce the Oxford English dictionary and who should never be sneered at) made it official that splitting infinitives was a okay.  Some die-hard members of the grammar police, however, still hold onto this rule and find pleasure in trying to enforce it. When you meet one of these people, and they have power over you, make a decision about whether you will fight grammatical injustice or cave to power ).
    28. 28. Understanding Punctuation Punctuation marks are the traffic signs and signals placed along the reader’s road. They readers when to slow down and when to stop, and sometimes they warn them of the nature of the road ahead. Traffic engineers do not always agree on what signs should be used and where they should be placed, and neither do writers or editors. Theodore M. Bernstein The Careful Writer , 28
    29. 29. Sentences, Fragments, and Run-ons. 29 Sentence: A sentence is group of words with a subject and a verb that expresses a complete thought (like this sentence does). Fragment: Fragment does not express a complete thought (like this group of words). Run-on: A run-on is two or more sentences joined with a comma, run-ons can create a clarity problem because readers are not able to identify the most important information (like this run-on).
    30. 30. Not all mechanical errors are equal. 30 Errors that create a negative impression of writer. run-on sentence spelling errors (its/it’s) typos Errors that distract readers. missing intro comma faulty parallelism Errors that few may notice. different from/than beginning sentences with “and,” “but,” or “however.”
    31. 31. Writing Topic Sentences and Why They are Important 31  Read the paragraph in the next slide (and don’t peek at the slide after it until you are done).  It doesn’t make sense right? Well, it will if we add a topic sentence (see the slide after it).
    32. 32. No Topic Sentence 32  Sally first tried setting loose a team of gophers. The plan backfired when a dog chased them away. She then entertained a group of teenagers and was delighted when they brought their motorcycles. Unfortunately, she failed to find a Peeping Tom listed in the Yellow Pages. Furthermore, her stereo system was not loud enough. The crab grass might have worked, but she didn’t have a fan that was sufficiently powerful. The obscene phone calls gave her hope until the number was changed. She thought about calling a door to door salesman but decided to hang up a clothesline instead. It was the installation of blinking neon lights across the street that did the trick. She eventually framed the ad from the classified section.
    33. 33. With Topic Sentence 33  Sally disliked her neighbors and wanted them to leave the area. Sally first tried setting loose a team of gophers. The plan backfired when a dog chased them away. She then entertained a group of teenagers and was delighted when they brought their motorcycles. Unfortunately, she failed to find a Peeping Tom listed in the Yellow Pages. Furthermore, her stereo system was not loud enough. The crab grass might have worked, but she didn’t have a fan that was sufficiently powerful. The obscene phone calls gave her hope until the number was changed. She thought about calling a door to door salesman but decided to hang up a clothesline instead. It was the installation of blinking neon lights across the street that did the trick. She eventually framed the ad from the classified section.
    34. 34. Topic sentences and governing detail. 34  Think of a topic sentence as governing the detail that follows it. All of the details in the prior paragraph hold together in terms of what they mean as long as we know what Sally was trying to do.  A good rule of thumb concerning topic sentences is this: keep your paragraphs to one topic and be certain to include a topic sentence.  Think about where it’s best placed. Most of the time, putting a topic sentence upfront works best, but other possibilities exist, so use the rule thoughtfully.
    35. 35. How to Think About Rules Recognize they exist If writers whom we judge competent regularly violate some alleged rule and most careful readers never notice, then the rule has no force. Joseph Williams: Style pg. 21 I recommend this book. 35
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