SENTENCE STYLE FORTECHNICAL REPORTERSThe following guidelines are easier for some to followthan for others, but they can, with a little work, be learnedby almost anyone. Once learned, theyll become part ofyour permanent knowledge base like the multiplicationtables! You wont have to learn them twice.Take time then, even if youre fairly confident about yourgrammar, to see if you need to work on any of theseareas. Try to understand the logic of the rule, what itspurpose is. Study the examples until you see how therule is violated and how it can be set right.
Subject/Verb AgreementThis rule comes first because understanding it can help youunderstand some of the others. In most sentences youfollow it naturally, but it can cause trouble. The rule is asfollows:• The subject and verb of each clause must agree in number.If you have a singular subject, you need a singular verb. Ifyou have a plural subject, you need a plural verb. Singularand plural tell how many. Singular means one. Pluralmeans more than one. Both your subject and verb mustgive the same signal as to how many you are talking about.
Subject / Verb AgreementRead the following sentences and see if you can find anyproblems with subject/verb agreement.1. The cat come home tired.2. The cat comes home tired.3. The cats come home tired.4. The cats comes home tired.Can you explain the problem in sentences one and four? Ifnot, consider that with most nouns, our language forms theplural by adding an s, but with verbs, an s is added only inthe third person singular.
Subject / Verb AgreementPerson/Number Chart Singular Plural1st person I come We come2nd person You come You come3rd person He, she, it or that thing They, these, or those comes things comeAll nouns, such as cat, pasta, or titanium, should be considered 3rd person.
Mastering Subject / Verb Agreement1. Force yourself to listen for s sounds as you write. • In speaking, we sometimes drop these sounds as we fade one word into another. Because of this, we may forget the sounds are even there.2. Don’t be misled by false sentence subjects. • Change “Those tomatoes from my brother looks juicy” to “Those tomatoes from my brother look juicy.”3. Treat “collective” nouns as singular subjects and verbs. • Change “My family like to go to church together” to “My family likes to go to church together.” This is a tricky one!4. Watch out for sentences with 2 or more subjects! • Change “Donald and Jermichael gets their fair share of penalties” to “Donald and Jermichael get their fair share of penalties.”
Shifts in Verb TenseThe tense of your verb tells when events are taking place—whether in the past, the present, or the future. Early in yourwriting process, establish a "base tense" for your report,and shift away from it only for good reason. If youre writingabout past events, use the past tense as your base tense.If youre writing about the present or the future, buildaround one of those tenses in all sentences. • Wrong: “We went to Glass Nickel and ordered a pizza. The waitress comes over and brings us our drinks. I can see shes going to spill one.” [Verbs are in bold.] • Correct: “We went to Glass Nickel and ordered a pizza. As the waitress came back with our drinks, I could see she was going to spill one.”
Shift in PersonHere again, the goal is to be clear and consistent. Thistime, however, your aim is to establish a steady, reliablepoint of view. Doing so helps the reader understand wherethe two of you stand in relation to the subject, and generallyhelps build a strong writer/reader relationship.For our purposes, the main points of view from which tochoose correspond to the persons on the Person/NumberChart. Thus, writing based on the first person singular pointof view uses "I" and "me" as its foundation, while writingbased on the third person plural would use "they" and"them."
Shift in Person • Wrong: “Lady Gaga is my best friend. She wont let a person down. You can always count on her to be there when you need help.” • Correct: “Lady Gaga is my best friend. She wont let me down. I can always count on her to be there when I need help.”This writer is probably talking about her own relationshipwith Lady Gaga, not the readers. Keeping point of viewconsistent in all three sentences makes that clear.
Shift in PersonFirst person singular (I or We): This point of view is ofteneffective for informal writing, especially for writing aboutyour personal interests and experiences. It draws attentionto the writer, which may or may not be a good thing. Example: “I have always enjoyed crocheting for the relaxation it provides me.”First person plural: Slightly more formal than first personsingular, this point of view can convey a sense that you andthe reader are partners. It takes emphasis away from thewriter as an individual and places emphasis on whatevergroup is designated by "we." Example: “When we look closely at last months sales figures, we can see what the future holds for our company.”
Shifts in PersonSecond person singular or plural (You or You): Usedcarefully, this point of view can make readers feel you arespeaking directly to them, are in a sense looking directly atthem.Sometimes, however, the second person is blurred intoslang or substitutes for a more appropriate point of view.Like first person singular, it is generally most effective inpersonal or informal writing.• strong: You cant imagine how much Helen enjoyed talking with you the other day.• weak: You had to be willing to give a hundred percent whenever you went out on the floor or Coach Bavasi would bench you.
Shifts in PersonThird person singular and plural (he, she, they,them): These points of view distance you from your subjectand your reader. They make your writing less personal andmore formal. They are used for much academic, technical,and scientific writing where tradition or the subjectdemands an air of distance and objectivity.• Example: A person who violates any of the following laws can expect to receive prompt and immediate punishment. (third person singular)• Example: Students who wish to graduate in June should have their transcripts reviewed by their advisors. (third person plural)Note: Choosing a dominant point of view doesnt meanyouve limited yourself to a single set of pronouns for yourwhole paper, only that departures from the dominant pointof view should be logical and effective.• Example: I hope you told them we would be late.