Tag Archives: editing

Drawing conclusions about tense (Part I)

by Anna Tarnow

Tenses can get pretty confusing in writing, even when you think you know what you’re doing. It can also be challenging to explain tenses because time is a confusing concept to talk about. That’s why I love thinking about tenses in terms of visuals. It can sometimes help to map out your tenses to get a better grip on grammar. This great chart (from englishpage.com) gives a really nice sense of tense through simple visuals.

Simple present
This tense is used in two kinds of ways.

First, simple present can be used to describe a series of repeated actions. For example, “She runs every day.” This action is happening repeatedly along a timeline, so it is described by simple present.

Second, simple present can be used to indicate generalizations, which describe something that is happening throughout all of time. For example, “Bob likes to drink coffee.” Bob’s enjoyment of coffee isn’t limited to any one moment, but to all, so this statement is a generalization.

Simple Present


Present continuous
This tense is used to describe an action that is going on in the present. It can be used either exactly or approximately. Examples: “He is eating” or “They are finding out that the food is gone.

Anna Tense Present Continuous

Simple past
This tense can also be used in two ways.

First, the simple past can describe a short completed action, such as “I called my lawyer.”

Second, it is used to describe an extended period of time that both began and ended in the past. For example: “I lived in Mexico for six years.”

Anna Tense Simple Past

Past continuous
This tense describes an action that happened and was interrupted in the past. For example, “I was cooking when the doorbell rang.”

Anna Tense Past Continuous

Present perfect
This tense can be used in two ways.

First, present perfect describes an event that happened at an unspecified time in the past. It always uses the present form of “to have” (has/have) and a verb in the simple past. Example: “I have seen Jeremy before.”

Second, present perfect may describe a change over a period of time. For example, “This flower has grown much taller.”

Anna Tense Present Perfect

Thinking of tenses in a different way can help make sense of confusing conjugations. Click here for Part II!

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>.

Revising or Editing?

by Shannon Naylor

Many students hear “revising and editing” and think of them as synonymous terms. This isn’t the case. While both are practices that improve pieces of writing, revising and editing are actually two different ways of approaching that goal.

  • Revising is intended to help you address the big picture: content, organization, the form and structure of a narrative or argument.
  • Editing, on the other hand, focuses on details like sentence structure, proper grammar, punctuation usage, and other mechanical aspects of writing.

These two activities have a shared purpose and often occur at the same time, but they are separate processes with their own merits.

To illustrate, let’s imagine that a student takes time to revise her paper, but spends no time editing it. She looks over her piece and notices that her introduction and conclusion contain completely different ideas. She re-reads her paper and discovers that her main ideas are better stated in her conclusion, so she rewrites her introduction so that her paper has a unified direction. She also repositions some paragraphs, changing their sequence, in order to strengthen her argument. However, misplaced or missing commas riddle her paper, and several of her citations are formatted incorrectly. She revised, but didn’t edit.

Another student, feeling rushed to finish before a deadline, only edits his paper. He notices and corrects several typos, and adds a citation for a quote he’d overlooked. He realizes that many of his sentences have a repeated structure (it “sounds” a bit monotone). These sentences are improved once he edits them. However, he fails to notice that some of his paragraphs have too many ideas in them. And while his thesis is a clearly written sentence, it doesn’t capture the essence of what he argues in the body of his paper. He has edited, but not revised.

Each paper needs BOTH processes.

I hope that the example of these imaginary students clarifies what revising and editing look like and how they can each improve a paper. Just remember that revising and editing work best when you make time to do them both.


Shannon Naylor is a former Principia writing tutor and the current post-graduate teaching intern in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Is that the word I wanted? Part 2: effect vs. affect

by Katya Rivers

I don’t know about you, but I still mix up the words effect and affect. Which one is which? And when do I use one over the other? Here are a couple simple points to help you understand the usage of and the difference between these two words that sound so much alike but are, in fact, quite different.

Affect is usually used as a verb. It means to produce a change in or influence something. Use it when describing someone or something thing influencing another someone or something. For example:

  • The grade on this exam will affect my entire GPA.
  • How does the crime rate affect hiring levels by local police forces?
  • Your opinions do not affect my decision to move.

Effect is most often used as a noun. It means a change that has occurred or indicates a consequence. For example:

  • What effect did his speech have on the audience?
  • Creepy music in a movie gives the effect that something is about to happen.
  • The special effects in movies today are aided by computers.

Another way to think about it is this: It is appropriate to use the word “effect” if one of these words is used immediately before the words into, on, take, the, an, as well as, or. For example:

  • In analyzing a situation, it is important to take the concepts of cause and effect into consideration.
  • The dramatic play had an effect on the audience.

And if these examples aren’t enough, just remember that when in doubt, look it up!

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.


How to wrangle semicolons

by Anna Tarnow

I love semicolons. They’re versatile little helpers that can go where either periods or commas might otherwise be placed. But you also need to be careful with them. You can’t just stick them into any sentence for no reason at all. Below is a list of the right times and places to use semicolons.

  1. In between two grammatically complete sentences that deal with the same idea (i.e., The dragon hoarded treasures in his cave; his acquisitions included a giant ruby, a magic sword, and a submarine.)
  2. In lists that have commas in the items (i.e., The dragon muttered his inventory in his sleep.  “One giant ruby, stolen from Narnia; one magic sword, stolen from Finn and Jake; and one submarine, stolen from the US Navy.”)
  3. Before “however” (and the “however” must be followed by a comma) (i.e. The dragon was very happy with his hoard; however, he sometimes felt like his obsessive treasure-counting was getting in the way of his love life.) Note: This applies to “therefore” as well.
  4. Before a coordinating conjunction (i.e., The dragon had met someone from GoldenMatchDragon.com last week; but they hadn’t hit it off and he decided to take a break from online dating.)

Some semicolon warnings:

  1. Use semicolons judiciously. One every couple of paragraphs is fine.
  2. Don’t end an introductory clause or phrase with a semicolon. This is because semicolons say “this idea is complete” when placed after a clause or phrase, and introductory clauses and phrases are not complete—they’re setting up for the real idea that comes after them.

Info drawn from Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace (11th edition) by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup. It’s a pretty handy book—I highly recommend getting a copy!

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

Is that the word I wanted?

by Samantha Bronkar

Many words in the English language seem to be nearly identical. How can you know which word you actually meant to say (or write)? Below are some commonly confused words, their definitions, and different usages.


Amount is used when the object cannot be counted or measured.

  • Example:           He had an unwarranted amount of trust in those criminals.
  • Explanation:    The concept of “trust” cannot be given a numerical value; it can’t be counted.

Number is used when the object can be counted or given a number.

  • Example:         The teacher helped a number of students today in class.
  • Explanation:  One can count the number of students that were helped.


Less is used when something cannot be counted or cannot be used in the plural form.

  • Example:         I have less time than I thought!
  • Explanation:  Time cannot be written as “times” in this case; one cannot “have less times.” The concept of “time” cannot be counted.

Fewer is used when something can be counted or given a number value.

  • Example:          She scored fewer goals this season than last.
  • Explanation:   One can count the number of goals she scored.


Then is related to time and helps describe the passage of time. It can also be used to show the relationship between actions and consequences.

  • Example:          You will see the railroad tracks, then you will cross the bridge.
  • Explanation:   One thing logically follows another.
  • Example:          If you had started your paper sooner, then you would have had more time to work on it.
  • Explanation:    Because the student waited to start his paper, he has less time to work on it.

 Than is used to make comparisons between two things.

  • Example:          The beach is much windier today than it was yesterday.
  • Explanation:   One day’s weather is compared to another.


A compliment is a phrase of praise about something or someone.

  • Example:         After the dance, he complimented her on her grace and rhythm.
  • Explanation:  He praises her ability to dance; he gives her a compliment.

Complement is used to describe when something goes well with something else; one thing enhances another.

  • Example:         That music was a perfect complement to her mood.
  • Explanation:  The music matched, enhanced, or sharpened her mood; they went together.

When in doubt, look it up! These aren’t the only words that cause confusion, but you can sort out the tricky ones with a quick web search or glance through a writing handbook for “homophones” or “commonly confused words.”

Samantha Bronkar is a sophomore majoring in English, and she plays for the women’s soccer and softball teams at Principia College.

The proper way to use “Because”

by Bailey Bischoff

“NEVER use ‘because’ to start a sentence!” is an oft-spoken refrain of middle school English teachers. These well-meaning teachers drill this phrase into children’s heads because they don’t want children to write sentence fragments like this: “I was sad. Because the dog ran away.” The second “sentence” is actually a fragment as the initial “because” makes the phrase a dependent clause, and a dependent clause depends (you can think of it as leaning) on an independent clause for support.

An independent clause is a sentence with both a subject and a verb that can stand on its own. However, dependent clauses cannot stand on their own and need an independent clause to accompany them. In essence, if you start a sentence with a dependent clause (as I have here), make sure a comma and an independent clause follow it. This rule helps explain why it can actually be okay to start a sentence with “because.”

It is grammatically incorrect to write, “I was sad. Because the dog ran away.” However, one can write, “Because the dog ran away, I was sad.”

Because* – Dependent clause – Comma – Independent Clause.

Your sentences can grow from there to include more complex ideas, such as those required in your academic papers: Because the conquistadors colonized Latin America through the use of institutionalized slavery and encomiendas, a hierarchical societal system was put into place, the remains of which can still be seen today.

Because you are no longer in middle school, feel free to use “because” at the beginning of sentences (just as long as you follow it up with a comma and an independent clause).

*If you want to know more about other words like “because,” words that frequently start dependent clauses, do a search for “subordinating conjunctions” and you will find such words as “although, if, when, even though, in order to,” and more. Here’s a link to more information on subordinating conjunctions:


Bailey Bischoff is a sophomore majoring in political science and has just been elected student body president.

Passive acceptance

by Genevieve Bergeson

Many of us have heard it before; many of us will hear it again: the infamous term “passive voice.”

Some instructors say in bold, capitalized, and not-at-all passive voices, “DO NOT USE PASSIVE VOICE,” as if it stands alongside splint infinitives and end-of-sentence prepositions as the cardinal (albeit mythical in some circles) sins of writing.

I have a confession. Let me whisper it to you.

It is okay to use passive voice. Sometimes it’s even preferable.

While it is true that passivization can impede clarity and concision (especially when used excessively), it is not a grammatical error; it is a stylistic tool for emphasis. Specifically, the subject of the sentence receives the action instead of doing the action.


The mouse ate the cheese. (Active)

The cheese was eaten by the mouse. (Passive)

In the first case, the subject, the mouse, performs the action of eating; in the second, the subject, the cheese, experiences the action of being eaten. A nifty trick: To switch between passive and active voices, move the main words (e.g., cheese, eat, mouse) of the sentence.

Use passive voice…

  1. To emphasize the object or recipient of an action, not the doer of the action. [Note, this can also divert or hide blame.]

The mice in the science lab were accidentally let loose by the teacher’s assistant.

  1. When the doer is unknown or you wish to make the doer anonymous.

Class is canceled! (Which, I must say, is much more exciting than “The science teacher canceled class.”)

Be alert! While forms of “to be” (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been) are good clues, they do not guarantee passive writing.

  • As a linking verb, “to be” simply describes something’s state of existence: the cheese is holy, er,
  • In progressive tenses, “to be” is a helping verb that indicates continuous activity: The mouse was nibbling the block of Swiss when the cat entered.

I invite you, therefore, to counter resistance—passive and aggressive—to this misunderstood element of style. Intentionally employing the passive voice can bespeak a mouseterful command of the written word.

Genevieve Bergeson, a former Principia College writing tutor and post-graduate teaching intern, delights in all things creative—art, words, and music. She has authored and illustrated the children’s book Racing Pajamas (read more at drawstheeventide.com) and has several other stories in the works.

Out loud and backwards

by Laura Tibbetts

Sometimes, by the time you have written a paper, revised it thoroughly, and gotten to the final stages of editing, you’ve read through it so many times that you practically have it memorized. Even if you haven’t quite reached that point, you might at least have a basic idea in your mind of how the sentences look and sound. If that is the case, it can sometimes make be difficult to notice small grammatical mistakes as you’re reading.

When this has happened to me in the past, I have found it helpful to follow some advice I received from my dad, who was an English major at Principia. His suggestion was to read papers out loud and backwards. Just to clarify, that does not mean reading the entire paper backwards word-for-word. Instead, you read each sentence forwards, starting at the final sentence and working your way backwards until you reach the beginning of the paper.

This is helpful for two reasons. First, reading the paper out loud causes you to look at individual words more carefully than you might if you were reading in your head. It changes the pacing of how you are reading, which also helps you to notice mistakes that you might not otherwise see. Second, reading the paper backwards prevents you from getting caught up in the flow of the paper and allows you to focus on each sentence individually, which helps you edit more carefully.

The out-loud-and-backwards technique has helped me on multiple occasions, and I hope it helps you, too!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Seven Bible style tips

by Katie Hynd

Learning about Bible grammar threw me for a loop. Even though I am a trained writing tutor, I had no idea how many tricks of the trade there were for religion classes until I served as a writing tutor for an Old Testament class. The more questions students asked, the deeper I delved into the SBL* Handbook of Style.

Here are a few key tips that will help you toward a good grade in your Bible class.

  1. The word “Bible” is always capitalized.
  2. The word “biblical” is not capitalized (except when it begins a sentence…).
  3. Capitalization is a bit more complicated when it comes to eras and events. Ask your professor if you are unsure whether something you will reference frequently needs to be capitalized, such as Babylonian Exile. (Note: you may find each professor has a different preference.)
  4. Abbreviations are important!
    1. Books of the Bible should be abbreviated, but don’t guess how to abbreviate the book title! On the last page of the Biblical Studies Citation Guide, Barry Huff, one of the Principia religion professors, has listed how each book should be abbreviated.
    2. WARNING: Exceptions to the rule! If the book of the Bible is the first word in the sentence, or if you don’t include a chapter number, write out the whole book title.
  5. The words “chapter” and “verse” should not appear in your paper unless one of these rules applies.
    1. If you are referencing a chapter, first write the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter number (use the Arabic numeral system). Examples: Exod 4:5, Luke 3.
    2. If you are referencing a verse, include the abbreviated book of the Bible and then the chapter you are referencing. Examples: Gen 1:1, Matt 4:2.
  6. The word “God” is capitalized if you are discussing the Hebrew deity. If you want to use the Hebrew word for God, it is also capitalized and can be spelled as either Yahweh or YHWH.
  7. Use quotation marks to emphasize words you are researching, such as “angel” or “temple.” Quotation marks will bring attention to the word and explain to your reader why you are repeating one word in your paper. Conversely, use italics when you are analyzing a word in a foreign language, such as mal’ak (Hebrew for angel) or heykal (Hebrew for temple). This helps the flow of your paper and your reader.

And if you have further questions, please ask a writing tutor (or your professor) for help!

*SBL stands for Society of Biblical Literature

Katie Hynd is the post-graduate intern in writing for the Principia College Center for Teaching and Learning. Last year she interned for the Religion Department.

Ever-so-helpful hyphens

by Haley Morton

A curious thing has happened in the recent weeks. It has come to my knowledge that as a spring semester senior, I have a serious grammatical problem. Punctuation problem, really. Hyphens. They’ll be the death of my capstone.

The good news is that the History Department allows its ever-so-diligent capstone students to turn in two drafts before the final. Thank heavens for drafts because this is where learning happens. For me, this “learning” meant acknowledging my inappropriate lack of hyphens throughout my 92-page capstone.

By doing a little research, I learned that the rules behind hyphens are rather straightforward. There are two rules you should note.

  1. Hyphens are used to mark compound adjectives. Compound adjectives are two are more adjectives that are all used to modify the same noun. If the adjectives come after the noun, a hyphen is unnecessary. For example:
  • Necessary hyphen: He had a bullet-proof vest.
  • Unnecessary hyphen: The vest was bullet proof.
  • Necessary: …ever-so-diligent capstone students…
  • Unnecessary: Capstone students are ever so diligent in their drafts.
  1. The use of hyphens can also change meaning. In other words, without hyphens in the needed place, your reader can confuse how you intend to modify the noun. For example:
  • “Small-state senator” is not the same as “small state senator.”

It’s entirely possible that you never find the need to use hyphens. Or, if you’re anything like me, maybe your lack of hyphens is an indicator of a serious punctuation problem only to be manifested in one’s capstone.

Happy editing, and make sure you use those fool-proof hyphens!


Haley is a senior at Principia College and a political science and history double major. She has spent the last four years writing, studying, and running cross country and track. She is almost finished working on her capstone about Title IX and women in athletics.