Today I ran across another post that can help me improve my writing. Mistakes That Make You Look Bad was on the WritingThoughts site and I think it is going to be a valuable addition to what I do here. You, too, might want to consider using the tips in your writing.
This is what I do on Sundays–spend time looking at what other writers are doing or have done. This is the first time I’ve seen WritingThoughts and I was impressed. Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 19 years of professional business writing experience. I think we can all learn from her solid experience.
Mistakes That Make You Look Bad discusses twenty common grammar errors that are easily fixable. I won’t mention all 20 (some are spelling errors, including misspelling your own name!), but I will include these:
Misplacing a decibel (which project would you rather take–the job paying $10.00 or the one paying $1000?)
Using a double negative. Not only unnecessary, they actually make your writing unclear.
Run-on sentences. She says that connecting a bunch of independent sentences with the word “and” stringing them into one long sentence is wrong. It is.
Using text messaging abbreviations. Unless you’re absolutely certain that the recipient knows that TTYL means Talk To You Later, it’s best not to use the abbreviation.
Using too many big words. She says that filling your messages with all of the four- and five-syllable words that you know isn’t the best way to show them what you know.
I agree with her that using these and the other mistakes really do make you look bad. Go take a look at all 20 of them on her site. You will, I think, become more aware of what you are writing and how the recipients will respond to you.
Among some of the yellowed clippings in my files, I have one by Michael Gartner, who at one time wrote a syndicated column, “Words,” that appeared in my local newspaper. I clipped this column, I think, because of his explanation of the difference between using “eager” and “anxious” in one’s writing. Here’s part of what he said:
Eager means intensely desirous or impatiently expectant.
Anxious means worried and distracted, uneasy.
‘Anxious has a long history of use in America as a synonym for eager,’ the American Heritage Dictionary says, ‘but many insist that the distinction between the two words should be maintained only when its subject is apprehensive or concerned about the event anticipated.
‘I was anxious to get home before it rained, but I was eager (not anxious) to get home and have a nice dinner.’
I’m among the many who want to maintain the distinction. You should, too.”
I”ve always been impressed with his command of the language. I’m also impressed with him in his role as a journalist with the Des Moines Register, the Wall Street Journal, the Gannett Company and USA Today and the Louisville Courier Journal. When he wrote the “Words” column, Gartner was president of NBC News.
According to Wikipedia, he resigned from NBC in 1993 as a result of controversy over the “Dateline NBC” show, which had reported on dangers of GM pickup trucks but which did not state in the broadcast that it had staged the explosion of a truck. Later, in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Gartner said, “It happened on my watch. I took responsibility for it. I did what I thought you ought to do when you make a mistake. You say ‘we made a mistake’ and apologize to the viewers.”
That sort of honesty is in short supply among today’s journalists. Many of them will not even interview those whose views differ from their own. And when they do include opposing sources in a story, they often present only a negative aspect of the views of the opposition.
If you’d like to learn more about Michael Gartner, USA Today in June 2006 ran a delightful article that he wrote, “A Life Without Left Turns.” Read it. I think you’ll like it.
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Lake Superior State University has released its list of banished words for 2010 and I’m glad to say that I agree that most of them should be banished, and quickly. This was the university’s 35th annual list of words “banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.” I was especially pleased to see “teachable moment” appear on the list. That phrase seems to show up with too much regularity everywhere.
A former public relations director with the university created the first list in 1975 at a New Year’s Eve party and released it the next day. The Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan school (it’s located near the U.S./Canada international border, which probably accounts for use of the phrase “Queen’s English”) has published a list of the troublesome words ever since. And readers are already sending in nominations for next year’s list.
In addition to “teachable moment,” the 2010 list includes these:
app (which I contend is not even a word but a made-up sound for people too lazy to use the proper term, application)
sexting (sending sexually explicit pictures and text messages through the cell phone)
friend (as a verb–you add someone to your social networking site by friending them and remove them by unfriending them)
in these economic times (“overused and redundant,” commented Barb Stutesman of Three Rivers, Michigan on the university website. “Aren’t ALL times ‘these economic times?'”)
stimulus (not only our money that is handed out freely to others but also a term much over-used by politicians and reporters, and by companies advertising their wares and services)
toxic assets (I agree with many others that it’s a wretched term)
too big to fail (“Does such a thing exist?” asks Holli from Raleigh,NC. “We’ll never know if a company is too big to fail unless somehow it does fail, and then it will no longer be too big to fail. Make it stop!”)
bromance (I still haven’t figured this one out. Is it anything like that earlier monstrosity “frenemies” for people who used to be friends but now are enemies? Does it mean parties to a broken romance? Something else? I give up.)
chillaxin (“A made-up word used by annoying Gen-yers,” according to a Fond du Lac, Wisconsin visitor to the university website.)
Obama-prefix or roots? (Obamanomics, Obamanation, Obamafication, Obamacare, Obamamalicious, Obamaland–where will it end? Do we have to suffer these so-called words until the next election?)
The 2010 list made my spell checker go crazy!
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Today I happened again upon some yellowed clippings from Lydel Sim’s old “Watch Your Language” columns. You may recall I wrote about him and his writing advice in my earlier post, Remembering My Mentor, Lydel Sims.
It has been more than 30 years since I first took one of Lydel’s writing classes at then Memphis State University (now it’s the University of Memphis), but I still am grateful for the help he gave during those long-ago classes, and for starting me on my writing career. Lydel’s advice was always tinged with his brand of humor — maybe that’s why I’ve recalled it so many times since then.
Here are two questions from the column along with his responses:
Sir: Plagued as I am by early English teachers, I’m still bothered by the use of “none” as a plural. But I’ve seen the use in many publications. Care to comment? — Bill C.
Gladly. The idea that “none” always takes a singular verb is one of the most potent, and mistaken, ideas of the uninformed. “None” may be either singular or plural and its use in the plural is actually more common. If your teacher taught you otherwise, ask for your money back.
Sir: A story in my newspaper said “she is one of those who was willing to speak out.” Is “was” correct? Shouldn’t it be “were”? “Of those who were. . . ” sounds better. Grammar can be so nitpicky. —J.S..
It can indeed, but I agree with you completely. It should be “she is one of those who were…” But I must regretfully confess that some authorities insist it’s all right to use the singular verb if you prefer. That leaves me feeling just as frustrated as the reader who thinks “none” should always take a singular verb. ‘Taint fair!
Since Lydel left this world, I’ve had to get my grammar help elsewhere. That’s okay, but I still greatly miss his advice and his unique humor.
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What kind of writer are you? What kind of writer would you like to be? These deep thoughts came about, I think, because I’ve been without a computer for some weeks. (I bought a new computer but it had to go in for service the first week I had it. Now that it’s back in my office, I find it will have to go back in for more service this week!).
As a computer-less writer, I’ve had to content myself with reading about writers and writing. I finally reached this conclusion: although I would aspire to be influenced by other writers, I think I’m addicted to the Pearl S. Buck method of writing she talked about here:
I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to work.
So I’m a workhorse kind of writer — that’s what I do. That has been my modus operandi for more than 25 years and is responsible, I think, for my being able to produce so many articles and other writing projects. But writers like Mark Twain have also had an influence on me. Based on his advice, I’ve worked hard to make my writing lean, to take out every useless word. I am not always successful at that, even though
I always plan to write that way. I also plan to be the kind of writer that Twain spoke about here (although I’m not always successful at this either):
I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.
I think I’ve been a bit more successful in the choice of the words I use in my articles, but I still have a long way to go before reaching the level that Twain wrote about here:
To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single
sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself…Anybody can have ideas–the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire
of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph.
Nevertheless, as a down-to-earth writer, I’ve long had lofty aspirations. I’ve never succeeded and I doubt if I ever could, but I’d really like to do the kind of
writing that Lord Byron speaks of here:
But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
Now I ask you: What kind of writer are you? What kind of writer would you like to be? And who has influenced your writing?
Much has been written on the subject of how to begin an article (the lead). I have long been a fan of the following short piece about nonfiction leads, and I’ve turned to it many times when I had trouble beginning a writing project. I first found this bit years ago in a small publication called “The Writer’s Survival Guide,” published by the Writer Magazine.
These words were written by Arthur Plotnik, who has also written scores of magazines articles, columns and books. One of his latest books is Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style (Random House Reference).
Here’s his take on the subject of writing nonfiction leads:
“….Inventive writers have devised dozens of approaches, but much of their work falls within six of (editor Robert L.) Baker’s ways to open a story: someone’s remark, an intriguing question, a striking or startling statement, descriptive stage-setting, storytelling narrative, and a one-line attention-getter called a ‘capsule’ (as in crime writer Edna Buchanan’s lead: “Gary Robinson died hungry.”).
If you ever have trouble getting started writing a nonfiction article, you might zero in on one of these six approaches. Your problem just may be solved.
© 2009 by Laverne Daley
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Do you know that definitely is the most misspelled word in the English language?
Until I ran across an article in the Daily Record, a U.K. publication, about the ten most common spelling blunders, I never knew that definitely is the most misspelled word. And that word surprised me. Unlike many others, definitely seems a rather simple word and it’s hard to understand why so many people have trouble with it. It seems that a lot of them misspell it definately.
I was not surprised by the second place word, sacrilegious. That’s a more difficult word and is often misspelled as sacreligious.
The Daily Record reported on the ten most misspelled words recently, based on findings by OnePoll, a UK market research firm. The story also received widespread coverage in the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, all U.K. publications, and has since been picked up and reported around the world.
The research also found that 57 percent of people judge others on their spelling.
Here are the other eight most misspelled words, as reported by the Daily Record:
3. Indict, which is often written indite.
4. Manoeuvre (that’s the British spelling; in the U.S., it is usually written as Maneuver).
6. The much-maligned vegetable, Broccoli.
I’ve always been lucky that I’m a fairly good speller, but I still have to check the dictionary every time I need to use words like consensus and sacrilegious. Do any of these words trip you up?
© 2009 by Laverne Daley
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