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Eliminating Obscurity NEC FACET Center. What is Obscurity? 4 Just as clouds obscure the sun, poor word choices and sentence structures obscure a writers.

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Presentation on theme: "Eliminating Obscurity NEC FACET Center. What is Obscurity? 4 Just as clouds obscure the sun, poor word choices and sentence structures obscure a writers."— Presentation transcript:

1 Eliminating Obscurity NEC FACET Center

2 What is Obscurity? 4 Just as clouds obscure the sun, poor word choices and sentence structures obscure a writers meaning. Careful revision can clear up the cloudy sentences.

3 Words from a Writer 4 Ernest Hemingway considered clarity the indispensable characteristic of a good writer.

4 Difficulty of Avoiding Obscurity 4 A philosopher once remarked, It is as hard to be clear as to be good. 4 Nevertheless, writers must strive to attain this goal.

5 Three Main Hindrances to Clear Writing The desire to impress readers rather than serve them

6 Three Main Hindrances to Clear Writing The desire to impress readers rather than serve them The attempt to communicate an idea before understanding it fully

7 Three Main Hindrances to Clear Writing The desire to impress readers rather than serve them The attempt to communicate an idea before understanding it fully The failure to work hard enough to select the precise word for the job

8 Types of Obscurity, Part I 4 Generalization 4 Euphemism 4 Cliché 4 Inadequate transition

9 Obscurity Type # 1: Generalization 4 The term generalization refers to vague, imprecise word choice. 4 When a writer uses vague words, readers cant be sure of the meaning.

10 Causes of Generalizations 4 A writers vagueness about a subject because of his or her own incomplete understanding of that subject 4 A discourteous failure to take a readers needs into account.

11 How to Avoid Generalizations 4 Specific details nail down meanings and spark a readers imagination and comprehension.

12 ÊZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig is a terrific book. ËZen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance by Robert Pirsig is an exciting, philosophical ghost story. Which sentence is more specific?

13 ÊShe had a bright garden full of red tulips, yellow jonquils, and white lilies. Her garden was full of beautiful, bright flowers.

14 Which sentence is more specific? ÊEarly American writer Henry David advocated social change. ËEarly American writer Henry David Thoreau advocated a social security system, a six- hour work day, and a volunteer army.

15 Can you identify the vague word or phrase? 4 In King Lear, Shakespeare presents a frighten- ing view of life.

16 Can you identify the vague word or phrase? 4 In King Lear, Shakespeare presents a frighten- ing view of life.

17 Can you identify the vague word or phrase? 4 Melville devoted a good deal of Moby Dick to a description of whales and whaling.

18 Can you identify the vague word or phrase? 4 Melville devoted a good deal of Moby Dick to a description of whales and whaling.

19 Another Way to Avoid Generalization 4 In addition to choosing your words with care, you can also eliminate generalizations by providing your readers with specific examples. 4 The following passage illustrates this point.

20 Using Examples for Clarity 4 As for society and confederation that animals form among themselves to league together and assist one another,it may be seen in oxen, hogs, and other animals that at the call of one you injure, all the herd rushes up to its aid and rallies at its defense. When the parrot fish has swallowed the fisher- mans hook, its comrades gather in a

21 4 swarm around it and gnaw through the line; and if by chance there is one that has got into their net, the others offer it their tails from outside, and it grips one as tight as it can with its teeth, thus, they can drag it out and take it away. 4 Notice how the example clarifies the point about animals joining together.

22 Are examples needed? 4 As it turned out, the new D.J. lacked the necessary experience. 4 Yes, examples would help readers understand the problems.

23 Are examples needed? 4 The shapes of corals often give them their popular names. Among the hard corals, the brain coral with its grooved surfaces is easy to identify. So are the giant mushroom coral, the elkhorn, and the pack of cards.

24 Are examples needed? 4 The shapes of corals often give them their popular names. Among the hard corals, the brain coral with its grooved surfaces is easy to identify. So are the giant mushroom coral, the elkhorn, and the pack of cards. 4 No, the passage already has examples.

25 Obscurity Type # 2: Euphemisms 4 Euphemisms offer a way to disguise an idea that one considers offensive, disagreeable, or demeaning. 4 They provide a less direct way of expressing an idea but are considered less distasteful or less offensive than the straightforward way.

26 Examples of Euphemisms 4 The word death can be dressed up with such euphemisms as passing away, expiring, orgoing to ones reward.

27 Additional Examples 4 Dog catchers become animal control officers. 4 Used cars become pre-owned vehicles.

28 Problem with Euphemisms 4 Like generalizations, euphemisms can also cloud the meaning.

29 Example of Confusing Euphemism 4 Johnnys teacher told his parents, He needs help learning to respect the truth. 4 His parents may not realize the teacher is calling Johnny a liar.

30 Find the least and most elegant word in each grouping 4 wealthy, rich, loaded 4 used car, old car, pre-owned car

31 Find the least and most elegant word in each grouping 4 wealthy, rich, loaded –least elegant = loaded –most elegant = wealthy 4 used car, old car, pre-owned car –least elegant = old car –most elegant = pre-owned car

32 Identify the Euphemism. 4 Students were shot during the American presence in Vietnam.

33 Identify the Euphemism. 4 Students were shot during the American presence in Vietnam. 4 This serves as a euphemism for war.

34 Find the Euphemism. 4 The Newton School provides classes for exceptional children.

35 Find the Euphemism. 4 The Newton School provides classes for exceptional children. 4 Although this term can apply to very bright children, it also frequently refers to disabled children--to any children who are different from others.

36 Find the Euphemisms. 4 The senior citizen passed away and was laid to rest in a memorial park. 4 Senior citizen = old person 4 passed away = died 4 laid to rest = buried 4 memorial park = cemetery

37 Types of Obscurity 4 Clichés 4 Inadequate transitions 4 Unclear pronoun reference 4 Misplaced, dangling modifiers

38 Obscurity Type # 3: Cliché 4 Clichés are outdated, overused expressions such asLove makes the world go around.

39 Reason to Avoid Clichés 4 Fresh writing uses lively, original words and avoids worn out, trite expressions that readers have heard repeatedly. 4 Although they may have been original years ago, cliches have lost their power today.

40 Examples of Clichés 4 Work like a dog 4 free as a bird 4 red as a rose 4 stubborn as a mule 4 slow as a tortoise 4 like theres no tomorrow 4 last but not least 4 in this day and age 4 better late than never

41 A Few More Clichés... 4 tighter than a drum 4 make tracks 4 ugly as sin 4 more fun than a barrel of monkeys 4 pull a fast one 4 the blind leading the blind 4 flat as a pancake 4 The early bird catches the worm. 4 Keep your eye on the ball. 4 The shoes on the other foot. 4 If you cant beat em, join em. 4 My heart sank.

42 How to Avoid Clichés 4 As a general rule, if you have heard an idea expressed in the same way many times before, avoid saying it that way yourself. Cliches

43 Obscurity Type # 4: Inadequate Transition 4 The word transition means change. 4 Transitions guide a reader from one idea to the next, showing change of ideas. 4 Transitions resemble street signs guiding a reader from place to place. First Next Finally

44 Where to Use Transitions 4 As you move from paragraph to paragraph-- 4 As you move from point to point within a paragraph--

45 Functions of Transitions 4 Showing the order in which actions, steps, or thoughts take place 4 Showing the relationship that one thought or action has to another 4 Helping to introduce each item in a series of details or thoughts on the same subject

46 The First Type of Transition 4 If you want to sell your used car, first get it in the best shape possible. Wash and clean the interior, shampoo the carpet, and have the engine tuned up. Then, place a classified ad in the paper and put For Sale signs with your phone number on the inside of the window. 4 These transitions show time sequence.

47 Examples of Transitions Showing Time Sequence 4 first, second, third, etc. 4 next 4 now, then 4 before, after, afterwards 4 last, finally

48 The Second Type of Transition 4 It is cold and windy. Nevertheless, Im going to run ten miles this afternoon. 4 This transition shows the contrasting relationship between two ideas.

49 Examples of Transitions Showing Relationships 4 for example, for instance 4 consequently, therefore 4 however, nevertheless 4 on the contrary, on the other hand 4 in fact, in spite of

50 The Third Type of Transition 4 Housing options abound at Clark College. Students can live in dormitories on campus and in off-campus housing run by the college. Also, many apartment complexes have sprouted up near the campus in addition to the new duplexes being built across from the library.

51 Type Three Continued 4 Finally, a number of families rent bedrooms along with bath and kitchen privileges. 4 These transitions--also, in addition to, and finally--introduce a series of thoughts about the same point.

52 Transitions Indicating Series Supporting One Point Main Point also, furthermore in addition, additionally first, second, next, etc.

53 Obscurity Type # 5: Unclear Pronoun Reference 4 Pronouns substitute for nouns as in After Josh intercepted the ball, he passed it to his teammate positioned near the basket. 4 The pronoun he takes the place of Josh, and it takes the place of ball. 4 Misused pronouns can result in obscure writing.

54 One Pronoun Clarity Problem 4 Sometimes a pronoun can refer to two previous words and the reader cannot tell which meaning the writer intends. 4 We call this an ambiguous pronoun-- one with 2 meanings. 4 The words referred to are called the antecedents of the pronouns--the words the pronoun is renaming.

55 Example of an Ambiguous Pronoun 4 When Marcie set the vase on the glass table, it broke. 4 What broke--the vase or the table? 4 When Marcie set the vase on the glass table, the vase broke. 4 When Marcie set the vase on the glass table, the table top broke.

56 Example of Unclear Pronoun Reference 4 Monica told Celeste that her gift was best. 4 Whose gift was best--Monicas or Celestes?

57 A Second Pronoun Clarity Problem 4 Sometimes the writer uses the pronoun without providing any antecedent. 4 Rather than having two possible antecedents, the pronoun now has no antecedent.

58 Example of Pronoun without Antecedent 4 After braiding Jessicas hair, Sarah decorated them with flowers. 4 Notice that the pronoun them has no antecedent. 4 Revised: After braiding Jessicas hair, Sarah decorated the braids with flowers.

59 Another Example 4 Sometimes energy- saving tips are provided with the gas bill. For example, they suggest a moderate hot water heater setting. 4 Who are they? (Notice the writer has not provided an antecedent.)

60 The Example Revised 4 Sometimes money-saving tips are provided with the gas bill. For example, the gas company suggests a moderate hot water heater setting.

61 Cause 6: Misplaced or Dangling Modifiers 4 Modifiers are words or phrases which describe other words. 4 Modifiers should come directly after or directly before the words they modify.

62 Modifiers can identify. 4 The man taking pictures 4 The children playing ball 4 Notice that these modifiers tell whats happening and come directly after the words they modify--man and children.

63 Modifiers can locate. 4 the man seated at the desk 4 the pyramids at Giza 4 Notice that the modifiers tell where and, again, come after the words being modified--man and pyramids.

64 Modifiers can show time. 4 The river freezes in the winter. 4 At dawn, the rooster crows. 4 Notice that both modifiers indicate time. One comes after the modified word (freezes) and one comes before the modified word (crows).

65 Modifiers can tell how something happened. 4 The clown juggled with great skill. 4 The champagne bottle cork launched like a rocket. 4 Notice that one modifier comes after and one before the modified words--juggled and launched.

66 Two Types of Modifier Problems misplaced modifiers dangling modifiers

67 Misplaced Modifiers 4 Placing a modifier too far from the word it modifies can result in a confusing or misleading sentence. 4 We call this a misplaced modifier.

68 Example of Misplaced Modifier 4 Racing around the corner, I saw a school bus. 4 According to the placement of the modifier, the person (not the car) was racing around the corner.

69 Example of Misplaced Modifier 4 I saw the school bus racing around the corner. 4 Notice how changing the position of the modifier can totally change the sentences meaning.

70 Dangling Modifiers 4 Dangling modifiers have no word in the sentence to modify. 4 The writer needs to revise, adding the word.

71 Example of a Dangling Modifier 4 Enjoying sports, a tennis game filled the afternoon. 4 Notice that enjoying sports appears to modify game, but a game cant enjoy sports. 4 The writer has not told who enjoys sports.

72 The Dangling Modifier Revised 4 Enjoying sports, Joe and Ted filled the afternoon with a tennis game. 4 Notice that the words being modified now appear directly after the modifier. 4 The modifier is no longer dangling without a word to modify.

73 Another Dangling Modifier 4 Listening to the sad news, my eyes filled with tears. 4 Notice that the eyes seem to be listening to the news. 4 Again, the sentence has no word for the modifier to describe.

74 The Dangling Modifier Revised 4 Listening to the sad news, I felt my eyes fill with tears. 4 As I listened to the sad news, my eyes filled with tears. 4 Notice that both revisions insert the word I; now the modifier has a word to modify.

75 Types of Obscurity 4 Misused Passive Voice 4 Misplaced Emphasis

76 Obscurity Type # 7: Misused Passive Voice 4 Voice refers to the relation of the subject to the action: –whether the subject is the doer or the receiver of the action.

77 We commonly use two types of voice. 4 Active voice 4 Passive voice

78 Active Versus Passive Voice 4 To distinguish between active voice and passive voice, think of the difference between active and passive people.

79 Illustrating the Difference 4 A passive person does very little; he or she lets others do the work, make the decisions, etc. 4 The passive person may be acted upon by others.

80 Illustrating the Difference 4 An active person keeps busy; he or she does the work, has the fun, makes the decisions.

81 Passive Voice Sentences 4 In passive voice sentences, the subject performs no action. It is acted upon. 4 Example: Five buildings were toppled by an earth- quake. 4 The subject (buildings) does nothing. The earthquake acts upon the subject.

82 Active Voice Sentence 4 In active voice, the subject performs the action. 4 Example: The earthquake toppled five buildings. 4 The subject is now earthquake, and the earthquake now does something--topples the buildings.

83 Using Active Voice to Strengthen Style 4 Active voice strengthens your writing style: It adds action to your sentences. It helps reduce wordiness by expressing ideas in a shorter, more direct manner.

84 Wordiness Reduction 4 Notice the decreased wordiness: 4 Passive voice: Traffic was directed by the police. (6 words) 4 Active voice: The police directed traffic. (4 words).

85 Another Example 4 Passive voice: It was recommended by our mother that the tree be placed upright in the stand by us before any ornaments were hung on the branches by us. (28 words) 4 Active voice: Mother recommended that we place the tree upright in the stand before hanging any ornaments on the branches. (19 words)

86 When to Use Passive Voice 4 Use passive voice in the following two circumstances: When the performer of the action is unknown. When you want to keep the focus on someone or something important that is acted upon--when the receiver of the action is more important that the doer.

87 Example of Unknown or Unimportant Performers 4 His new car was stolen during the night. (unknown performer of action) 4 According to legend, King Arthur was betrayed by his nephew Mordred. Determined to avenge the wrong, Arthur led a band of loyal knights against the traitor and his followers. (The passage uses passive voice in 1st sentence to keep the emphasis on Arthur.)

88 Rules to Follow 4 Do not use passive voice when active voice would be stronger. 4 Do not switch from active voice to passive in mid-sentence without a good reason.

89 Identify and Revise the Passive Voice. 4 As soon as the flames were seen by Derrick, the alarm was sounded. 4 Revised active voice version: As soon as Derrick saw the flames, he sounded the alarm.

90 Identify and Revise the Passive Voice. 4 The living room is being painted by Sam.

91 Identify and Revise the Passive Voice. 4 The living room is being painted by Sam. 4 Revised active voice version: Sam is painting the living room.

92 Identify and Revise the Passive Voice 4 The hotdogs were grilled for dinner. 4 Caution: Notice that the doer isnt identified. You will need to create a performer for the action.

93 Identify and Revise the Passive Voice 4 The hotdogs were grilled for dinner. 4 Revised active voice version: Ted grilled the hotdogs for dinner.

94 Obscurity Type # 8: Misplaced Emphasis 4 Misplaced emphasis results from a conflict between the idea the writer wants to communicate and the sentence structure he or she uses.

95 Sentence Arrangement 4 Generally, you should place the most important idea in the main clause and less important idea in a subordinate clause.

96 What is a main clause? 4 A group of words containing both subject and verb and expressing a complete idea. 4 Also known as an independent clause because it can stand alone as a sentence.

97 Example of a Main Clause 4 Dramatist George Bernard Shaw felt that in heaven an angel is nobody in particular.

98 The Main Clause Examined 4 Dramatist George Bernard Shaw felt that in heaven an angel is nobody in particular. 4 Notice that the clause has a subject and a verb and that it can stand as an independent sentence.

99 What is a subordinate clause? 4 A subordinate clause also contains a subject and a verb, but it cannot stand alone as a separate sentence. 4 It is dependent on--and must be attached to --a main clause

100 Example of a Subordinate Clause 4 Although dramatist George Bernard Shaw felt that in heaven an angel is nobody in particular. 4 The clause can no longer stand alone. Its dependent on some completion of the idea.

101 A Cause of Obscurity 4 Although dramatist George Bernard Shaw felt that in heaven an angel is nobody in particular,... 4 Notice how a subordinate clause leaves you hanging in mid-air waiting for the main idea.

102 Interpreting the Main Idea 4 Although the Beautiful and the Damned is credited to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald claimed much of it was plagiarized from her. 4 Here the main clause talks of the plagiarism, suggesting that the charge is plausible.

103 Shifting the Main Idea 4 Although Zelda Fitzgerald claimed that much of the Beautiful and the Damned was plagiarized from her, the novel is credited to F. Scott Fitzgerald. 4 Notice that the main clause now talks about credit going to F. Scott, thus making Zeldas claim seem doubtful.

104 Which is the Main Clause? 1 2 4 Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay loved humanity although she hated people.

105 Which is the Main Clause? 1 2 4 Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay loved humanity although she hated people. The first clause is the main (independent) clause.

106 Which is the main clause? After becoming a famous Indian fighter, Andrew Jackson became the seventh President of the United States. 1 2 The main clause is clause # 2.

107 Which is the main clause? Andrew Jackson was a famous Indian fighter who became the seventh President of the United States. 1 2 The main clause is clause # 1.

108 Summary 4 To make your writing clearer, take the following steps:

109 Avoid generalizations. 4 Use specific words and phrases that convey the precise meaning you want. said muttered, shouted, whispered walk lurch, saunter, stagger, tiptoe store supermarket gas station,pharmacy Quick Trip, The Gap

110 Watch out for euphemisms 4 Unless in a particularly delicate situation, say what you mean, using straightforward vocabulary with unmistakable meaning. police action war

111 Stay clear of clichés. 4 Avoid using worn-out language to convey your meaning. Clichés are the old, worn out phrases you have heard so many times. Its raining cats and dogs.

112 Try transitions. Carefully chosen transitions can make your ideas flow smoothly and convey the relationship between points. 4 Use words such as however, consequently, first, next, finally, most important, beside, behind, after, in fact.

113 Perfect your pronouns. Make sure each pronoun has a clear, unmistakable antecedent. Dad ordered my brother to paint the garage because he didnt want to do it. Who didnt want to do it--the dad or the brother?

114 Move your misplaced modifiers. 4 Locate your modifiers near the word they describe. 4 Wrong: Roger visited the old house still weak with the flu. 4 Right: Still weak with the flu, Roger visited the old house.

115 Do away with danglers. 4 Add a word for them to describe. Using binoculars, the hawk was clearly seen following its prey. Using binoculars, I could clearly see the hawk following its prey.

116 Activate your writing voice. 4 Dont use passive voice when you can use active. 4 Wrong: The marathon was finished by John. 4 Right: John finished the marathon.

117 Determine your emphasis. 4 Place your main idea in the main clause of your sentence. 4 Place less important ideas in a dependent (subordinate) clause. 4 Although she only studied an hour, Meg made a high grade on the exam.

118 Remember... Following these important guidelines will help you strengthen your writing skills!


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