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Six Steps to Better Writing with Claire Kelly Writing Centre.

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Presentation on theme: "Six Steps to Better Writing with Claire Kelly Writing Centre."— Presentation transcript:

1 Six Steps to Better Writing with Claire Kelly Writing Centre

2 Topics 1. Beat the Bugbears 2. Clear Your Diction 3. Select Sentence Length Wisely 4. Document Sources Rigorously 5. Signpost Your Work 6. Create Compelling Thesis Statements/Research Questions

3 1. Beat the Bugbears (illus. Sir John Tenniel, Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.)

4 What Are Grammatical Bugbears? O Usage & grammar mistakes, frequently merely conventional or formal errors O Many do not impair the effectiveness of the communication O Do we have to avoid them? O Consider how “status markers” overshadow a writer’s message:

5 Hamlet was suppose to chastise his mother and kill his uncle, but his essentially contemplative nature prevented him from taking effective action until events outpaced him. suppose to

6 Where Writing Places You On a porch playing the banjo... ? In an office making decisions... ?

7 Grammatical Bugbears Cannot be ignored: O use to O should of / would of / had of O it’s (“its”) / who (“whom”) / their (“there”) O with regards to O affect (for “effect”) O accept (for “except”) O alot (for “a lot”)

8 MS Word May Not Help!

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10 Memory Test O On the next slide you will see three familiar expressions O Memorize them—you have 10 seconds O When the screen goes black, start writing!

11 Memory Test A stitch in in time saves nine A bird in the the hand is worth two in the bush Variety is the the spice of life

12 Why We Miss Bugbears O We see what we expect to see O We interpret as we read O We are probably our own worst editors because we know what we meant to say O The best help you can give another writer is to point out inefficient, unclear writing honestly!

13 2. Clear Your Diction! O Writers complete an apprenticeship that emphasizes expansiveness and dilation over precision and economy O Elegant variation can be the enemy of conciseness O It is time to choose... O The right words and O Words you know and can use well.

14 Cut Clichés At the end of the day Fairly unique I personally At this moment in time With all due respect It comes down to Absolutely It’s a nightmare 24/7 It’s not rocket science The bigger picture Going forward “The bigger picture”

15 Novelty & Vocabulary O “make it new” is not the always best advice for selecting words O Accuracy and familiarity (of individual words, not phrases) are crucial O The evil comes from clichés and unnecessarily obscure words—which do NOT really impress people

16 Complex Diction O What do people REALLY think of overly complex diction? O D. Oppenheimer, Stanford U (2003): O people who use unnecessarily complicated language are viewed as less intelligent than people who use more familiar language Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems With Using Long Words Needlessly

17 Effective Diction Diction should be... O As simple as the subject permits (but no simpler!) O As fresh as possible O Exact and concrete O Appropriate to the audience and the writer The aforementioned contretemps makes Cordelia feel really bad about things.

18 Avoid “Ready-mades” O to the extent that O plays a leading role in O on a daily basis O the fact that O in the event that

19 Watch for Inflation Based on the fact that Due to the fact that Exhibit a tendency to For the purpose of For the reason that In spite of the fact that Because Tend to For Because Although

20 Nominalizations allocationallocate assessmentassess compliancecomply determinationdetermine expectationsexpect exposureexpose [had] hopes [of]hoped

21 Other Types of Repetition Pointless bifurcation: O basic and fundamental O last and final O issues and concerns O full and complete

22 Why Wordiness? O Most of these choices are the result of “length anxiety” O From early grades, length is the measure of achievement O Students learn to pad—to be honest, they are taught to do it

23 3. Select Sentence Length Wisely O Students are often urged to vary the form and length of their sentences O Length in the wrong place is dangerous O Proceed with caution O Select length with a clear purpose

24 LENGTHQUALITY 8 wordsvery easy 11 wordseasy 14 wordsfairly easy wordsstandard wordsfairly difficult wordsdifficult 29+ wordsvery difficult

25 Complexity/Wordiness The goal of the work was to confirm the nature of electrical breakdown of nitrogen in uniform fields at high pressures and electrode gaps which approach those obtained in engineering practice, prior to the deter- mination of the processes which set the criterion for breakdown in the above-mentioned gas in uniform and non-uniform fields of engineering significance. We studied the electrical breakdown of nitrogen in uniform fields at high pressures (760 torr), using typical electrode gap distances (1 mm).

26 Why Variety? O There should be a relationship between the length of a sentence and its purpose O Variety for its own sake is not enough O A long sentence should be long for a reason.

27 Accumulatio—and Contrast Falstaff is not evil because of his ambition, but because of his gluttony, his sloth, his skill at concealing the truth, his reluctance to recognize his vice, his inability to reform himself, and his ability to make all of this seem humorous and attractive. He makes a bad companion for Hal.

28 Variety in Length O More gradual variations in length are possible O A number of short sentences in succession can create a feeling of urgency in a narrative—or boredom in a report. O Increasing length of successive sentences can build to the climax of an argument O Variations in length should always reflect the rhetorical goal and should never impede clarity.

29 Long, Graceful Sentences O A long sentence should still be readable O Key tactic: Move from subject to verb quickly O Avoid delaying the subject-verb progression with long intervening elements O A sentence which moves from subject to verb rapidly will still be readable even when it is quite long

30 Long Subject Explaining why Shakespeare decided to have Lady Macbeth die offstage rather than letting the audience see her die Explaining why Shakespeare decided to have Lady Macbeth die offstage rather than letting the audience see her die has to do with understanding the audience’s reactions to Macbeth’s death. 18-word subject—in a 29-word sentence !

31 To the Subject and Beyond Because Shakespeare wanted the audience to focus on Macbeth’s death, Because Shakespeare wanted the audience to focus on Macbeth’s death, he decided to have Lady Macbeth die offstage. 1.Turn a long subject into an introductory clause 2.You do not have to state “explaining why” Just because you ARE explaining why! 3.Don’t waste time telling the reader that you WILL say something— later.

32 Not Long But Bad The initial cooling tower circulating water performance flow test was conducted by the research team. The research team tested the circulating water flow of the cooling tower. A strong verb—in the active voice—appears early in the sentence.

33 4. Document Sources Rigorously Close work with sources is crucial—record every source as you use it (hard to find later!) Three basic techniques: 1. Block quotations 2. Embedded quotations 3. Paraphrase with citation In scientific and technical fields, #3 is the overwhelming choice.

34 Block Quotations As this passage reveals, the description of the setting of "The Lottery" is deceptively pleasant: The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square, between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June 26th, but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon dinner. (782) There is no indication of the dark meaning of this gathering. 144 words— my goodness!

35 Bulk Quotation O Not only is this overkill, but it fails to emphasize the key details O All we know is that something is missing from the passage: an explanation of what is going on O Need we read the whole passage for this?

36 Embedded Quotation/Paraphrase The setting of "The Lottery," evocative of flowers, green grass, and "the fresh warmth of a full-summer day," is deceptively pleasant. A small crowd forms in the square, amiably confident that their business will soon be finished, allowing them "to get home for noon dinner" (782); there is no indication of the dark purpose of this gathering. 57 words— And more analysis!

37 Less Is More O The specific details are highlighted by being separated from the original passage O The passage is shorter and contains more editorial comment O There is no interruption in the flow of the argument

38 Plagiarism O Probably widespread O CBC ‘s “Ideas” program suggested that nearly all students plagiarize (2009) O Unnecessary: Simply QUOTE

39 Bradley vs. Wegman O2O2006: Edward Wegman (George Mason University) wrote a report critical of current climate science (attacking Thomas Bradley among others) O2O2010: Thomas Bradley (University of Massachusetts) alleged that Wegman reproduced sections of a textbook he wrote without quoting—and he was right! OHOHowever, as Steven McIntyre pointed out, Bradley’s textbook contains plagiarism....

40 Bradley & Fritts Once the regression coefficients have been calculated, the eigenvectors incorporated in the regression equation are mathematically transformed into a new set of n coefficients corresponding to the original (intercorrelated) set of n variables. These new coefficients are termed weights or elements of the response function and are analogous to the stepwise regression coefficients discussed earlier.... (Bradley, 1985, p. 346) Once the regression coefficients for the selected set of orthogonal variables have been calculated, they may be mathematically transformed into a new set of coefficients which correspond to the original correlated set of variables. These new coefficients (sometimes referred to as weights or elements of the response function) are analogous to the stepwise regression coefficients described in the previous section.... (Fritts, 1976, p. 353)

41 Bradley & Fritts Once the regression coefficients have been calculated, the eigenvectors incorporated in the regression equation are mathematically transformed into a new set of n coefficients corresponding to the original (intercorrelated) set of n variables. These new coefficients are termed weights or elements of the response function and are analogous to the stepwise regression coefficients discussed earlier.... (Bradley, 1985, p. 346) Once the regression coefficients for the selected set of orthogonal variables have been calculated, they may be mathematically transformed into a new set of coefficients which correspond to the original correlated set of variables. These new coefficients (sometimes referred to as weights or elements of the response function) are analogous to the stepwise regression coefficients described in the previous section.... (Fritts, 1976, p. 353) Quibbles: “are termed” vs. “referred to” “discussed earlier” vs. “described in the previous section” SAME order of ideas EXACTLY 42/55 words (76% PLAGIARISED!

42 Do Cheaters Prosper? O Moral of the story: document your sources RIGOROUSLY, or the debate will be about plagiarism and nothing more O Plagiarism Roll of (Dis)Honour: Stephen E. Ambrose, Civil War historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, biographer of the Kennedy clan David Rotor & Douglas Tipple, Public Works Dept. consultants 30 Carleton University engineering students (2002)

43 5. Signpost Your Work O Introductions and conclusions do most of the signposting work in short papers O Long reports require structural guideposts to keep the reader on track O Transitions and headings can aid reader navigation O Internal previews and summaries make the shape of a document clearer—even to the writer!

44 Preview Deciding whether to expand the company’s activities to include equipment rental depends on a number of local factors as well as on the national supply situation. This analysis will focus on local competition, availability of skilled installers, and the total market size.

45 Internal Summary Thus, although there is no significant local competition, few qualified installers operate in this region, which represents only a moderate-sized market. These conditions suggest that a gradual, low-capital approach might be most suitable. Such a strategy has been successfully employed in the Fredericton area.

46 Previews and Summaries O Generally, previews and internal summaries mirror primary-level headings O Use summaries before and previews after headings O Tell readers what is coming and what they should now know

47 A Note on Repetition O Parts of reports will convey the same information O Necessary structural repetition, not wordiness O Keep each section independent O Make each clear and easy to read even if readers skip opening material (many will!) O Make structural repetition meaningful

48 6. Create Compelling Thesis Statements/Research Questions O A clear, succinctly-presented judgment or question O Must be worth pursuing (e.g., not merely factual or opinion) O Evidence must be attainable O Statement/question must reflect what you have actually done—so it is both the first and last part of a paper that you work on

49 Defining Your Thesis Know your subject Know your general topic Restrict or narrow your topic Know your purpose Know your audience

50 Too Broad “What effects do tests have on learning?” O Narrow the field (learning what?) O Specify the “effects” you will target

51 Revised Question “Does attempting (but failing) to retrieve target vocabulary items enable better acquisition of these items during subsequent encoding?” Field: retrieval of vocabulary items Effects: better subsequent retrieval

52 Qualifying Thesis Statements Indirect Hedging: O Possibly, O It seems that, O Perhaps.... Intensifying: O Obviously, O Clearly, O This passage proves that... [you will never see this in a research report!]

53 Common Thesis Errors Blanket statements O “Poverty hurts everyone.” Pretentious language O “In terms of its impact on society, poverty has many negative aspects.” Vague promises O “This essay will be about poverty.” Subjectivity O In my opinion …, I think …, I believe …, I feel …

54 Final Notes O Every change affects clarity and conciseness O Reducing waste makes room for more real content—without wearying the reader O Bugbears can seriously weaken a paper—but real value comes from skilful use of evidence and carefully observed logic O Following a rubric can never guarantee excellence—but it can curtail vices


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