Tag Archives: editing

Let’s agree to agreement

by Mackenzie Batten

One of my most traumatic writing experiences in high school was when my literature teacher senior year told me that for each incorrect subject-verb agreement, he would take off ten percent of my final paper grade. When I graduated, I thought the harsh grading was over—but here at Principia, I have had professors with similar rules and grading patterns as my high school teacher.

Subject-verb agreement is when the subject and the verb of a sentence match—that is, a singular subject must have a singular verb and a plural subject must have a plural verb. I believe that subject-verb agreement is crucial because it helps the clarity and the flow of your writing. If you write using a singular subject and then use a plural verb, it might confuse the reader as to how many people you are writing about. So to avoid confusion and impress your teachers—here are some of the rules I have learned while trying to master this skill.

Here are the four main scenarios where confusion arises. To help demonstrate these concepts, the subjects will be bolded and the verbs will be italicized.

  1. In a sentence where the subject includes more than one noun and there is an “and” between them, use a plural verb.

Nancy is selling her house this summer.

Nancy and Bruce are selling their house this summer.

In the first sentence, “Nancy,” singular, agrees with “is,” because “is” is also singular. But in the second sentence, there is an “and” between the two singular nouns, making them a plural subject, so the plural “are” is used. That wasn’t so hard, was it? But it gets trickier, so stick with me.

  1. In a sentence where the subject uses more than one singular noun and there is an “or” between them, use a singular verb.

Emily or Ava is in the room with Barrett’s guinea pig.

In this example, the use of “or” makes the singular nouns of “Ava” and “Emily” a singular subject, so “is,” a singular verb, is correct. I know that that idea can be confusing, but just remember that the use of “or” between two singular subject means a singular verb!

  1. In a sentence where “or” is used in between a singular noun and a plural noun, the verb should agree with the closest noun.

Either Charlie or his friends work at the pub every day.

In the first sentence, the verb agrees with the plural “his friends” because it is closer to the verb. Just remember—whichever subject is closer is the one that needs to be in agreement.

  1. In a sentence where there is a quantifier—a single subject that refers to multiple people—have the verb agree with the quantifier, rather than the noun it is referring to.

Everybody knows about Principia’s rugby team.

“Everybody” is a quantifier, since it is a singular subject, it is correct to use a singular verb. I know that seems backwards because “everybody” refers to multiple people, but it is actually singular!

I hope this helped! Please come to visit any of the writing tutors if you have any more questions!

Mackenzie is a political science and economics double major. She enjoys competing in Principia’s Moot Court and on the Mediation Team.

Revision: Run the whole race

by Anna-Zoë Herr

At this point in the semester, you might feel overloaded with the amount papers you have to write and hand-in on time. If this is the case, you might feel tempted to turn in a paper without any revising or editing (as I have done a few times, but have learned to never do again). It has been proven, though, that revised papers receive higher grades and better feedback from professors. 

I like to think of each paper as a thought marathon, and in order to finish strong and improve our performance, we need to run the whole race and not drop out 50 feet before the finish line. To overcome the last 50 feet, you have to go through one of the most underestimated but powerful parts of writing a paper: the revising and editing process.

Let’s differentiate these two processes: Revising relates to the inner structure of your paper. It is looking at how the ideas flow, how paragraphs are structured, and how the paper sounds from beginning to end. This process requires time and attention. Editing is the mechanical process of finding punctuation errors, spelling mistakes, and sentence fragments. This can typically be a quick process.

Here are three tips on how to make these processes a little bit easier:

1) Value your writing

I realized that sometimes I have turned in unrevised writings because I didn’t value what I had written enough to give it a little bit more time and love. At first, it really didn’t seem to matter to me. But the truth is that it does matter to me, and I feel much better when I hand in something that is coherent, revised and strong. Valuing yourself and your writing shows that you respect yourself and the amount of time you have invested in a paper. Giving your all to these last feet in the “race” is absolutely worth it.

2) Eat one piece of the pie at a time

It is a crazy undertaking to want to revise a whole paper in one pass. To make sure that you really do every part of your revision, create a strategy that is broken up into chunks. Your strategy could look something like this:

  • Check the flow of writing, especially how one paragraph flows into the next. Don’t be afraid to move paragraphs and sentences, add new material, or delete material that doesn’t quite fit.
  • Read the introduction and conclusion and make sure that the ideas relate to each other and connect to the rest of the paper.
  • Go over the paper to correct grammar, spelling, and sentence structure errors.

3) Give yourself time

This is a crucial part, because writing a good paper requires time. Ideally, you have a week to revise, in which you can commit to one part of the strategy a day. That way, you spend very little time on it each day and avoid getting overwhelmed with stress or boredom with your paper.

 

Anna-Zoë is in her last semester and the final week of her capstone, which she will present during the last week of classes. Afterwards, she will stay on as a PGTI for the sustainability center for one semester and then hopefully go to grad school in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The other side of tutoring

by Ariana Dale

When I was a student I never took the time to go to a tutor, or any academic workshop offered on campus. Now that I am no longer a student and am working in an office that hosts workshops and works with writing tutors, I am beginning to realize how much I actually missed out on.

Like many college students, I found tons of reasons why not to go to the workshops or writing tutors. These excuses ranged anywhere from “My paper isn’t due for another two weeks” to “I have way too much going on” or “I don’t need the help and work better on my own.” These all boiled down to my lack of awareness and inefficient use of time, or simply a lack of willingness to ask for help when I really could have used it.

I think this idea of thinking we don’t need help is one of the biggest pitfalls in the writing community. Everyone can use a little help with their writing. (Professors too!) Revision is a process that requires multiple read-throughs, and having an extra pair of eyes makes each additional read-through that much more beneficial. I always did OK when I turned in papers: I never got an “A++, you’re great! 100%,” but I never completely tanked (a.k.a. F–) on an assignment either, so I didn’t think getting help with my work would matter much in the end. I was blind to the fact that everyone asks for help, especially good writers. I found that many of the students getting the A’s in class were the students who were asking their peers or writing tutors to look over their paper with them.

This year it dawned on me:

If you want a better grade, be willing to ask for help.

Now that I’m on the other side of tutoring, where people are asking for me for help, I see just how valuable this collaborative resource is. Not only are tutors helpful in finding and addressing different issues or patterns within your work, they’re also great to bounce ideas off of so that you can further develop your ideas and master the concepts in your paper. An added perk to this is that you’ll get better and better at writing and editing your papers the more you ask for help. If a tutor helps you better understand commas this week, maybe next week you can dive deeper into more complex sentence structure and word choice to make your paper stronger and clearer.

So, when in doubt, ask a tutor!

Ariana is the Post-Graduate Teaching Intern (PGTI) for the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). She graduated in the spring of 2016 with a B.S. in biology and a creative writing minor.

Commonly confused words

by Shannon Naylor

Its/It’s || Your/You’re || Their/They’re

The trick to getting these words right is to remember when to use the apostrophe. Where most people get confused is that, in English, apostrophes are used to indicate both possession and contractions (when a letter is “missing”). But what happens when you aren’t sure which takes the apostrophe?

Just remember that the rule for contractions is stronger than the rule for possession. This means that “it’s,” “you’re,” and “they’re” mean “it is,” “you are,” and “they are” because the apostrophe indicates the dropped “i,” and “a.” And the possessives “its,” “your,” and “their” don’t take apostrophes because they have no missing letters.

Anytime I wonder if I’m using the right word, I ask myself if there are missing letters, and this helps me remember whether I should use the apostrophe version or not.

Pronoun Possessive Contraction
It Its It’s
You Your You’re
They Their They’re
There “There” is another commonly confused word, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the pronoun “they.” Use “there” when indicating a place or location.

To/Too/Two

To indicates direction or place. It’s also part of infinitives in English: to see, to go, to run.*

Too indicates a greater degree of something or an addition. You can remember this because it has an additional O.

Two is the spelling-out of the numeral 2.

Word Part of Speech Example
To Preposition I went to the grocery store.
Too Adverb I bought too many groceries.
Two Number I made two trips between the car and fridge.

 

* Unlike some languages, English infinitives appear as two words, but they function as one. This is why grammar sticklers will scold you for “splitting infinitives,” or putting words in between the two parts of the infinitive.

Split Infinitive: I want to definitely see that movie.

Intact Infinitive: I definitely want to see that movie.

Shannon Naylor is the post-graduate teaching intern for the CTL. 

The last shall be first

by Anna-Zoe Herr

Want to know a simple way to make your wording pop? Pay attention to where you put your words in each sentence! A simple rule is to put the words that carry the most meaning at the end of your sentences.

Roy Peter Clark explains why this works in Writing Tools,* where he advises us that “for any sentence, the period acts as a stop sign. That slight pause in reading magnifies the final word.” That means the last word in every sentence stands out because there is a mental pause right after it. When chosen carefully, the last word in a sentence can provide a bridge to the next sentence, emphasize meaning, and even create a liveliness of tone. Clark calls this “emphatic word order,” which is a small edit for a writer, but a huge improvement for the written piece.

There are two things necessary in order to use emphatic word order when you write:

  1. Be clear what exactly you are writing about in the whole text.
  2. Be clear exactly what each sentence is saying and doing as part of the whole.

If we are very clear about our subject or argument, we often do emphatic word order intuitively; but in many cases we need to go back, play with each sentence, see how it fits into the whole paragraph, and determine what the important words are. With that understanding, when we rewrite the sentence, it can do miracles!

Here is an example:

“Today, some areas of science seem to have claimed to declare truth and error, a status only religion used to have. Therefore, science is as controversial a topic as it gets, for in our age it started knocking on the doors of individuals on a quest for a more accurate truth and has fallen onto the slippery slope of political power-play.”

Using the principles of emphatic word order, I could revise like this:

“Today, some areas of science seem to have claimed a status that only religion used to have: the right to declare truth and error. Therefore, science is as controversial a topic as it gets, for in our age it has fallen onto the slippery slope of political power-play, as well as knocking on the doors of individuals in a quest for a more accurate truth.”

When you look at the last words in these sentences, you can see that they carry the most weight.

The words we choose to put at the end of a sentence can change how readers interpret our intent, but if we understand our intentions, then we can use rhetorical strategies like emphatic word order  to express them in each sentence.

Anna-Zoë is a double major in global perspectives and studio art. She has studied in a university in Germany prior to coming to Principia, where she also studied to be a writing tutor. Next semester, she will be going on the Prague abroad to continue with more writing.

*Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark (2008)

Using “you” less

by Bailey Bischoff

We use the word “you” a lot in our everyday speech. However, when writing a paper for class, it is often inappropriate to use “you” as the subject of your sentence. Engaging with your reader by using “you” (e.g., You should wear a rain jacket when traveling in the rainforest.) is called using a second person narrative voice. Whether you are writing in first person, second person, or third person is determined by which pronouns you use in your writing.

First Person:

Pronouns – I, me, we, mine, us
Example – Last week, I wrote a research paper about which type of music Principia students like to listen to at the pub.

Second Person:

Pronouns – you, your, yours
Example – It is probably surprising to you to learn that George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood, but were made instead of bone, ivory, and human teeth.

Third Person:

Pronouns – he, she, his, it, they, theirs
Example – In Professor Shimkus’s article, she argues that the globalization of markets contributes to increases in the amount of cross-continental human trafficking.

For formal academic writing, it is best to stick with a third person narrative, although some fields and assignments may be excepted. Third person narrative is more formal and professional, which is why we use it for academic writing. Of course, formal and professional isn’t the point. Being clear and specific is. Avoiding “you” helps you be precise for your readers.

How can you transition your writing to third person when you’re so used to speaking in first and second person?

Sometimes, cutting out “you” from your sentences happen naturally as you write more clearly and concisely.

Ex. When flying across the country, you should always pack a book for the plane ride.
Ex. Packing a book for an upcoming plane ride often makes long flights more enjoyable.

You can also substitute “one” for “you”, to give your writing a more formal tone.

Ex. When flying across the country, one should always pack a book for the plane ride.

Even better, you can use the real subject of the sentence.

Ex. When flying across the country, travelers should always pack a book for the ride.

When it comes to writing academic papers, you should remember to use “you” less!
No, wait! Writers should remember to use “you” less.

Bailey Bischoff is a junior majoring in political science and is serving as student body president.

Take your language game from vague to powerful

by Maddi Demaree

In my time as a tutor, I’ve discovered that sometimes a few quick fixes can drastically change the tone of someone’s writing. To change the tone from chatty or informal to more scholarly and professional, it helps to eliminate words or phrases such as “really,” “very,” and “a lot,” which are usually symptoms of a lack of clarity. More than that, they show a lack of specificity, which is prized in scholarly writing.

Here’s one example:

1a) While there were a lot of factors involved in each side’s participation in escalating the conflict, one that is not often discussed is the actual living conditions and livelihood of the Irish people.

While “a lot” is rather innocuous, it doesn’t really have a place in academic writing. Somewhat better alternatives might be these: “many,” “a number of,” or “countless.” But if you know the number, state it!

1b) While there were countless factors involved in each side’s participation in escalating the conflict, one that is not often discussed is the actual living conditions and livelihood of the Irish people.

Let’s look at another passage:

2a) Great Britain really wanted to quickly gain control of the situation, so they suspended self-government in Northern Ireland. This took the power away from the elected Irish officials who possessed a knowledge of the varying sources of the conflict. This was their attempt to paste a very hastily constructed “peace” over the whole ordeal.

In this passage, “really” and “very” are unnecessary because the words “hastily” and “wanted” can stand on their own without emphasis. The only time the words “really” or “very” are appropriate in writing is to give emphasis to a word that does not have a stronger replacement. For example, instead of using “really hungry,” you can say “famished” or instead of “very tired,” you might say “fatigued.”

Other times you can just remove the troublesome words. Here, the passage has the same impact without “really” or “very”.

2b) Great Britain wanted to quickly gain control of the situation, so they suspended self-government in Northern Ireland. This took the power away from the elected Irish officials who possessed a knowledge of the varying sources of the conflict. This was their attempt to paste a hastily constructed “peace” over the whole ordeal.

Eliminating these colloquial words and phrases will immediately help take your writing from vague and general to specific and powerful.

Maddi Demaree is a passionate education major who loves helping others to realize, refine, and regain their innate writing abilities.

Creating and controlling

by Anna-Zoë Herr

“Writing calls on the ability to create words and ideas out of yourself, but it also calls on the ability to criticize them in order to decide which ones to use.” (Peter Elbow, p. 7)

There is no doubt: the quality of the papers and essays we write depends on the depth of thought that lies behind them.

Have you ever had a moment where you confidently bashed out a large paper the night before it was due because you had a sudden flash of insight? Those moments are great when they happen, but you can’t rely on a sudden flash of insight to produce high-quality writing.

Nobody is born being a perfect writer; rather, everyone learns how to write with time and practice. That’s actually the fascinating thing about writing, you aren’t a writer simply because you are talented. Everyone has to practice to become a good writer.

You are secretly a writing machine, but you may not realize that yet. Peter Elbow has discovered that at least two distinct stages are necessary for a written piece to be excellent: creating and controlling.

He noticed that we often neglect our creating process because we are already self-censoring, which in return curbs our creativity.

While the process of controlling our ideas in order to shape them into a coherent paper needs the critical eye of the detached artist, the process of generating ideas needs a faithful listener.

If you are sitting in front of your computer, staring at an empty word document, start like this:

1) Create, create, create. That means brainstorm, entertain impossible ideas, believe in your text and yourself as never before, make notes, write drafts, make mistakes, and even jot down ideas that don’t make any sense. Don’t judge yourself. Believe in your ideas.

2) Control. Now sort through what you have. Be critical with the ideas you find. If you find an idea that’s interesting, think through it and enlarge it. Look at your ideas through the lens of your end-goal. In this stage, you also do the editing and proofreading. You are your own critic.

These stages can be mixed and mingled while you write your paper—and they should. The important thing is that they represent different states of mind when it comes to writing. We need to give time to each.

We spend time as the biggest fan of our ideas in order to develop them fearlessly, then switch to being a critic to identify the best ideas and look for ways to improve them. By separating these two mental processes we save ourselves from disappointment with our own writing and also avoid writer’s block.

 Anna-Zoë is a double major in global perspectives and studio art. She has studied in a university in Germany prior to coming to Principia, where she also studied to be a writing tutor.


 

Elbow, Peter. An Approach to Writing in “Writing with Power”. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

 

Outrun those run-on sentences

By Katya Rivers

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined without appropriate punctuation or a coordinating conjunction. Dividing a run-on sentence into concise, meaningful units can help to clarify your message.

First, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence. You can tell because it has both a subject and a verb and forms a complete thought. Second, a coordinating conjunction is a word that joins two independent clauses. You can remember these as FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

How do I find it?

  • Locate the independent clauses; it may help to underline the subject-verb pairs.
  • Make the separation clear by drawing vertical lines between independent clauses.

How do I fix it?

  • Use a period and proper capitalization to separate the independent clauses into two (or more) complete sentences,
  • OR use a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction to connect separate but related independent clauses,
  • OR use a semicolon (;), colon (:), or em-dash (–) as appropriate to separate related independent clauses,
  • OR change one independent clause into a dependent clause and join the two clauses, using appropriate punctuation,
  • OR rewrite two fused independent clauses as one cohesive independent clause.

Let’s see it in action:

Incorrect: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction A: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice; it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction B: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice. Frequently, guidance can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction C: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice from someone with more life experience.

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

Drawing conclusions about tense (Part II)

by Anna Tarnow

This is a continuation of the previous post, which you can find here. Let’s learn about a few more tenses.

Present perfect continuous
This tense describes an event that began in the past and continues to the present moment. For example, “He has been painting for six hours.”

Anna Tense Present Perfect Continuous

Past perfect
This tense can appear in two forms.

First, the past perfect can describe a past even that both began and ended before a second event in the past occurred. For example, “I had eaten dinner before I went to the movies.”

Second, the past perfect can describe a past event that began before and continued to a more recent past event. For example, “The car had run until the oil line was cut.”

Anna Tense Past Perfect

Past perfect continuous
This tense is similar to the second form of the past perfect: it describes a past event that continued to a more recent past. However, this tense is used when a specific amount of time is referenced, and it uses a present participle instead of a past participle. For example, “The car had been running for ten minutes until the oil line was cut.”

Anna Tense Past Perfect Continuous

Future
This tense indicates events that will happen but haven’t yet. For example, “He will brush his teeth.”

Anna Tense Future

Future perfect
This tense describes an action in the future that will be completed before another future action happens. For example, “You will have gone to the salon before you go to the party.”

Anna Tense Future Perfect

Future perfect continuous
This tense indicates that an event will be happening (starting in the past or present) up until a point in the future. For example, “You will have had a five-hour wait to get the pizza.”

Anna Tense Future Perfect Continuous

The tables you’ve seen here are simple breakdowns of many English verb forms, but for a more specific overview with visuals, check out englishpage.com, which is a very nice site. It’s designed for ESL students, but I (as a native English speaker) also find it very helpful!

 

Anna Tarnow is a senior majoring in English and enjoys working on the Pilot newspaper, where she is editor-in-chief.


“Verb Tense Tutorial.” Table. English Page. N.p., n.d., Web. 4 Oct. 2015. <http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/verbtenseintro.html>.