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Dont Make Read That Sentence Again! Make your writing clear … so your readers get it the first time! by Ann Gordon
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Writing That Stops Me Whoa! Thats what my mind says when I read something that just doesnt compute What was that? Thats what my mind says when I read a sentence that contains glaring errors Groan! Thats what I say to myself when I realize I have to go back and re-read that sentence 2
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Writing That Will Stop Your Readers When your customers, employees, or potential clients are reading something from your company, They do not want to be reading along, scanning the paragraphs, and suddenly then have their mind come to a Stop because something just didnt make sense! People want to read it, get it, and then move on to something else. People do NOT want to re-read because something was poorly written or edited 3
© 2007 by Ann Gordon The Bells of Incomprehension When the Bells of Incomprehension ring, 1. Readers with patience will go back and re- read that sentence – but they arent happy about it 2. Readers without patience will ignore the bells and skip the sentence – or skip the paragraph – or just quit reading altogether The second choice isnt a good one for the writer, trainer, or manager -- for anyone who trying to sell or teach with their text 4
© 2007 by Ann Gordon What Causes these Bells to Ring? Some grammatical culprits are more common than others, so in this presentation, well concentrate on four of them Youll learn how to look for sentences, phrases and lists that: 1. Leave the reader dangling 2. Make the reader look for something that has been misplaced 3. Cause confusion about Who did What? 4. Create a sense of imbalance 5
© 2007 by Ann Gordon 1. Dangling Modifiers Perhaps nothing stops a reader faster than a dangling modifier Readers dont have to know what a dangling modifier IS in order to be stopped by one This is a classic example of a dangling modifier: Rushing to finish the paper, Bobs printer broke. 6
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Leaves the Reader Dangling Rushing to finish the paper, Bobs printer broke. Rushing to finish the paper is the modifier What/Who is this modifier supposed to modify? Who was rushing to finish the paper? Who was trying to print when Bobs printer broke? We dont know the answers to these questions Dangling means the modifier doesnt have a proper subject to modify 7
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Sentences Left to Dangle Like a loose rope, these modifiers are left dangling : 1. Passing the building, the advertisement was clearly visible. 2. Driving north, the vegetation became increasingly sparse. 3. Walking along the beach, the sun rose majestically over the ocean. In these sentences, the modifier has nothing suitable to modify All of these sentences leave the reader dangling 8
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Dont Leave the Reader Dangling Lets fix those sentences: 1. Passing the building, the advertisement was clearly visible. As she passed the building, the advertisement was clearly visible. 2. Driving north, the vegetation became increasingly sparse. Driving north, we noticed that the vegetation became increasingly sparse. 3. Walking along the beach, the sun rose majestically over the ocean. As John walked along the beach, the sun rose majestically over the ocean. 9
© 2007 by Ann Gordon What to Look For Dangling modifiers often occur: With participial phrases With infinitive phrases With prepositional phrases containing a gerund Active Counts! Dangling modifiers occur most often when the main clause verb is passive (instead of active) 10
© 2007 by Ann Gordon How to Fix the Danglers Revise the sentences to recast the verbs and subjects as active If the modifier lacks a subject of its own, identify what it describes Change the subject of the main clause Rewrite the dangling modifier as a complete clause with its own stated (not implied) subject and verb 11
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Fix these Sentences Exercise 1. After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing. 2. Relieved of your responsibilities at work, your home should be a place to relax. 3. They failed the experiment, not having studied the lab manual carefully. 4. To improve his results, the experiment was performed again. 12
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Moving on to Another Modifier … 13 Okay, enough info about dangling modifiers Now, lets look at their close cousin, another sentence problem that will Stop your readers: Misplaced Modifiers
© 2007 by Ann Gordon 2. Misplaced Modifiers A misplaced modifier DOES have a subject to which it can attach Thus, misplaced modifiers arent exactly dangling However, these modifiers have attached themselves to the wrong word Thats why theyre considered misplaced 14
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Misplacing a Modifier The sales rep placed the promotional merchandise in the van that he had just received from the company. 15 We say a modifier is misplaced if It appears to modify the wrong part of the sentence Or, We are not certain WHAT it is supposed to modify For example, in the following sentence, did the sales rep receive the merchandise or the van?
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Some Obvious Misplaced Modifiers Check out the modifiers in these sentences: 1. Here are some suggestions for handling obscene complaint calls from corporate headquarters. (ouch …) 2. The district managers discussed the high cost of living with two women sales reps. (uh oh …) 3. Singing for all she was worth, Johnny hoped desperately that Margaret would win the competition. (huh ??) 16 Well fix these on page 19
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Keep an Eye on All Your Modifiers As a writer, remember to keep a watchful eye on all of the modifiers in all of your sentences Misplaced modifiers can be Confusing Illogical Laughable Costly 17
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Putting Modifiers In Their Place Our minds want to link a modifier to the nearest word that it could possibly modify Often, this isnt the right word Confusing: She served hamburgers to the men on paper plates. Much better: She served the men hamburgers on paper plates. 18
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Fixing Misplaced Modifiers 1. Here are some suggestions for handling obscene complaint calls from corporate headquarters. Corporate headquarters offers the following suggestions for handling obscene phone calls. 2. The district managers discussed the high cost of living with two women sales reps. With two women sales reps, the district manager discussed the high cost of living. 3. Singing for all she was worth, Johnny hoped desperately that Margaret would win the competition. Johnny hoped desperately that Margaret, singing for all she was worth, would win the competition. 19
© 2007 by Ann Gordon A Modifier Motto Heres a useful rule: Place your modifiers where they will clearly modify the intended words 20
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Fix these Sentences Exercise 1. The mayor was able to cut the ribbon and then the band played when someone found scissors. 2. According to police records, many dogs are killed by automobiles and trucks roaming unleashed. 3. The dealer sold the Cadillac to the buyer with leather seats. 4. They saw a fence behind the house made of barbed wire. 21
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Moving on to a Similar Problem … 22 Okay, enough info about modifiers – whether dangling or misplaced Now, lets look at a related problem that will make your readers Stop -- Unclear Pronoun References
© 2007 by Ann Gordon 3. Unclear References An Unclear pronoun reference involves a pronoun whose reference (antecedent) is unclear A pronoun references someone or something A pronoun is a substitute for a noun The noun is the pronouns antecedent In the sentence: Jane thinks she is an artist. she is the pronoun she refers to Jane Jane is the antecedent for she 23
© 2007 by Ann Gordon The Pronoun Revisited Personal pronouns: He-him, she-her, we-they-them, it Relative pronouns: Who, which, that A pronoun can refer to a noun that was used in a previous sentence Pronoun references can even span paragraphs 24
© 2007 by Ann Gordon An Unclear Reference A typical Unclear pronoun reference: 1. Do not park your delivery truck at the taxi stand or it will be towed away. To what does it refer? What will be towed away? The taxi stand? Move words around to make the meaning clear: If you park at the taxi stand, your truck will be towed. 25
© 2007 by Ann Gordon An Unclear Reference 2. The supervisor informed the customer that they will match the competitors price if he can provide a quote. Such an unclear pronoun reference will nearly always make a reader Stop. One way to make the meaning clear: 26 The supervisor informed the customer that if the customer can provide a quote, the company will match the competitors price. The meaning is more clear now, although this still isnt a great sentence.
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Make Pronoun References Clear Ensure that your pronoun clearly refers to a single, close, specific antecedent Close is the operative word here Sloppy use of pronouns is unfair to the reader Dont cause your reader to guess which noun is the pronouns antecedent Dont make your reader work to figure out what you mean 27
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Multiple Antecedent Possibilities 1. To keep birds from eating seeds, soak them in blue food coloring. (soak the seeds or the birds?) To keep birds from eating seeds, soak the seeds in blue food coloring. 2. The supervisors told the workers that they would receive a bonus. (who would receive the bonus?) The supervisors complimented the workers on receiving a bonus. OR The supervisors told the workers that all supervisors were expecting a bonus. 28
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Antecedent too far from the Noun Jody found a dress in the attic that her aunt had worn. (did the aunt wear the attic?) In the attic Jody found a dress that her aunt had worn. Remember the misplaced modifiers? Just like modifiers need to be close to the word/phrase they modify, Pronouns need to be close to their antecedents. 29
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Clarifying Unclear Pronoun References First, you need to recognize them. 1. Every time you see a pronoun in your writing (especially it), examine that pronoun – Where is its antecedent? How far away is it? 2. If necessary, move the pronoun closer to its noun, Or 3. Reword the sentence without the pronoun 30
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Fix These Sentences Exercise 1. Joe sent the report to Tom just before he left for vacation. 2. When Kathy gave Susan the hot mug, she gasped with surprise. 3. Jim told Ray that he was mistaken. 4. Right after my boss hired the new engineer, he was thrown into jail. 5. The dog wouldnt eat the food, so we smothered it in mushroom sauce. 31
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Moving on to a Something New … 32 Okay, enough info about modifiers and pronouns and keeping things close … Now we take a look at geometry in writing – once again examining something that will make your readers Stop -- Unparallel Construction
© 2007 by Ann Gordon 4. Parallel Comparisons Parallel: having the same direction, course, nature or tendency 33 Items in any kind of a list need to be parallel 1. They need to be described the same way 2. They need to have the same nature or tendency
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallelism Parallel structure is necessary wherever coordination exists: When items are connected by conjunctions When items are compared or contrasted When items are arranged in a list or an outline Remember, not all parts are created equal! 34
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parts is Parts! As we know, not all parts are created equal - not in chicken, not in auto parts, and not in parts of speech Scrutinize the parts of speech used in every: Conjunction Comparison Series List These parts need to have parallel construction in order to keep your audience with you! 35
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallel Parts with Conjunctions Compare both sides of and or but: 1. Use parallel structure when you write and in speaking. 2. The description was both accurate and it was easy to read. 3. Larry admires people with integrity and who have character. 4. His plans include not only touring the city and visiting orphanages, but also to meet with Asian businessmen. 36
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallel Parts with Conjunctions Unparallel construction is caused by making a list or comparison using different parts of speech 2. The description was both accurate and it was easy to read. The description was both accurate and easy to read. 4. His plans include not only touring the city and visiting orphanages, but also to meet with Asian businessmen. His plans include not only touring the city and visiting orphanages, but meeting with Asian businessmen. 37
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallel Parts in a Series At the meeting we will (1) approve the minutes, (2) discuss the proposed ordinance, (3) listen to citizen comments, and (4) the sewer issue will be debated. Doesnt that sentence give you pause? When you read it, didnt your mind say Stop!? Didnt you feel a strong urge to re-read it? The first three items in this series are VERB + OBJECT construction The fourth item is a complete sentence 38
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallel Parts in Bulleted Lists Guess where youll find the greatest reservoir of faulty parallel constructions? ** In Resumes ** This is an example of unparallel bullets in a resume: Experience -- Responsible for stamping outgoing mail Supervised mail room Three years experience distributing company mail 39
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallel Parts in Bulleted Lists How would we fix this? Experience: Responsible for stamping outgoing mail Supervised mail room Three years experience distributing company mail Maybe something like this: Three years mail room experience: Stamped outgoing mail Supervised mail room Distributed all company mail 40
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Clauses need to be Parallel too Different genre, same problem This sentence was taken from a student paper about Homers Odyssey: Penelope uses trickery to fight off the suitors, while Athena is also a trickster when helping Telemachos. While these clauses both use forms of the word trick, they are not parallel – this sentence is a little difficult to follow 41
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallel Clauses Original sentence: Penelope uses trickery to fight off the suitors, while Athena is also a trickster when helping Telemachos. Parallel sentence: Penelope uses trickery to fight off the suitors, while Athena uses it to help Telemachos. Now both of the clauses avail the use of the word trickery – now the sentence flows 42
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallelism Makes for Good Quotes Aging paints every action gray, lies heavy on every movement, imprisons every thought. by Sharon Curtin The pioneer women rolled out dough on the wagon seats, cooked with fires made out of buffalo chips, tended the sick, and marked the graves of their children, husbands, and each other. by Ellen Goodman 43
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Parallel Construction Reminders To keep your writing parallel, examine the parts of speech in these instances: Sentences containing a series Bulleted or numbered lists Compound sentences Parallelism is important because it: Provides clarity Maintains balance 44
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Fix These Sentences Exercise 1. Susan knocked over her husband's computer, damaging the outer casing, ruining the screen, and the forthcoming reggae songs that were stored on it were almost destroyed. 2. Over the weekend, Kevin bought a new MacBook Pro, two software programs, and arranged for free shipping. 3. The green features include: Materials should be sustainable Rainwater collection tanks and recycled water Installing solar panels Replant trees in the construction area 45
© 2007 by Ann Gordon In Summary 46 Weve examined some of the grammatical culprits that cause our readers to Stop. Weve learned how to spot and fix grammatical problems that: 1. Leave the reader dangling 2. Make the reader look for something that has been misplaced 3. Cause confusion about Who did What? 4. Create a sense of imbalance
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Recommended Writing Resources These are books I either own or have used They are NOT your high school grammar book. ReWrite Right! by Jan Venolia How Not to Write by William Saffire When Bad Grammar Happens to Good People by Ann Batko Woe Is I by Patricia T. OConner 47
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Writing Yourself Out of a Corner Business Writing: What Works, What Wont by Wilma Davidson The Dimwits Dictionary: More Than 5,000 Overused Words and Phrases and Alternatives to Them, 2 nd Edition by Robert Hartwell Fiske 48
© 2007 by Ann Gordon Thank you! Thank you for watching my presentation. Happy editing … Ann Gordon Gordon Computer, LLC http://www.gordoncomputer.com
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