Tag Archives: style

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.

Where to find citation help

by Kristin Kayser

Like many of you, I’m taking a wide array of classes this semester, which means that I’m running into unfamiliar citation styles. When one paper required APA citation and another had to be written in Chicago style, I was a little stumped. I hadn’t used either style in a long time.

As a writing tutor, I have come across many students who were having the exact sameproblem. So I decided to look for different helpful resources available to Principia students. The options range from programs like NoodleTools to the actual books on citation styles at the tutor station in the library.

One great option is the Purdue OWL website which includes all styles of citations, in-text examples, bibliographies, and works cited help. The website is easy to navigate and has a ton of examples. This is definitely a website to check out for anyone with questions on citations and style guides.

Principia’s library website also provides students with citation guides and other aids as well. To find these, go directly to the Marshall Brooks Library home page. Use the link to Citation Guides to go to the library’s page on all the citation style guides. On this page, there are links to helpful resources like NoodleTools and the Purdue OWL website, and there are tabs across the top for nine—yes, nine—citation styles. Double check your assignment or ask your professor which style is appropriate since you can lose points for using the wrong citation style. One last suggestion for citation help is the tutor station in the library. There, students can find the manuals as well as brief handouts on the MLA, APA, and Chicago citation styles. These sheets will give a student the “elevator version” of the citation style she is working with. Even better, if you have further questions, you can ask a tutor. Chances are they’ve helped another student with a similar question and are ready to help you too!

Kristin Kayser is a senior majoring in Education Studies with a minor in English. After graduation, she plans to head back to work at Walt Disney World.

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.

The bibliographic research journal

by Shamus Jarvis

As any scholar who has composed an extensive paper can attest, the research process plays an essential role in developing a thought-provoking and original piece of scholarship. Effective research methods include not only identifying appropriate sources, but also properly documenting those sources so that one can utilize the information gleaned from various books, journals, etc. when it comes time to write the paper.

A bibliographic research journal is one such method of documentation that is less formal than a complete annotated bibliography, but is nonetheless an exceptionally helpful tool to use when engaging in a project that will necessitate extensive research. Comprised of three essential elements—1) a proper citation, 2) a summary of the source, and 3) notable quotations—a bibliographic research journal allows one to record an author’s main thesis and identify other key ideas in an organized manner.

While you should format your own bibliographic research journal in a way that best suits your research needs, I will offer my personal format preferences as a guideline for what the journal might look like.

  1. The first piece of information included for each journal entry should be a properly formatted citation. Be sure to consult your professor as to which citation style he or she expects you to use (MLA, Chicago, APA, etc.).
  2. Next, create a summary of the source. What is the author’s principal thesis? Does he or she articulate any especially innovative ideas within the source? Be sure to include only summary information; do not comment on whether or not you agree with the author. This section should be roughly one paragraph long and only contain the author’s ideas.
  3. Thirdly, include quotations from the source. This is an appropriate section in which to jot down your initial reactions to a particular idea or the source as a whole. Do you mainly agree or disagree with the author? Does the source seem credible? Does the author reference any sources that you have already investigated? All of these are reasonable questions to ask yourself when examining a source.

If you anticipate analyzing a significant number of sources (e.g., fifty or more), it might be wise to include a slightly abbreviated summary section in order to save yourself some time. Again, a bibliographic research journal is entirely for your own benefit, and as you become a more proficient researcher, you will undoubtedly develop your own note-taking style that suits you well.

Shamus Jarvis is a senior theatre and English double major. He will direct a one-act play and present his postcolonial reading of Lord of the Flies later in the semester.

Cracking the Chicago code

by Bailey Bishoff

For the first paper I wrote my freshman year of college, I was asked to use Chicago style. Having never been introduced to this style before, I wrote my paper in MLA format using parenthetical citations instead of footnotes, exactly as I had in high school. That was a mistake! MLA and Chicago are two very different citation styles. For instance, while MLA uses parenthetical citations to cite sources within the paper, Chicago uses footnotes or endnotes. These two citation styles cite different information and in a different order, so make sure you use the citation style guides found under the Principia College library Citation Guides tab to make sure you are formatting your information correctly. Click the Chicago tab.

When writing in Chicago style format, there are three types of footnotes that you will use throughout your paper: full footnotes, short footnotes, and Ibid.

Full footnote: When you are citing a source for the FIRST time and only the FIRST time, you will use the long footnote. This usually includes information like the author, title of the book, edition, publishing company, where it was published, and the page number you are citing.

For example:

  1. Karen A. Mingst and Ivan M. Arreguín-Toft, Essentials of International Relations, 5th ed. (New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 2011), 35.

 

Short footnote: This footnote includes less information than the long footnote and is used when you are citing a source again in your paper, after citing other sources in between. The reader no longer needs all of the information you have about the source, and you can shorten your footnote, stating only the author, title of the book, and page number you are citing.

For example:

  1. Mingst and Arreguín-Toft, Essentials of International Relations, 35.

Ibid.: You use Ibid. when you are citing a source two or more times consecutively. If you have just cited a source and use the same source in the next paragraph and need to cite it again, you no longer need to put the author and title into your footnote. Instead you can write “Ibid., (whatever page number you used).” If you are citing the same source and the same page number, then all you have to write in your footnote is “Ibid.”

For example:

  1. Karen A. Mingst and Ivan M. Arreguín-Toft, Essentials of International Relations, 5th ed. (New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 2011), 63.
  1. Ibid., 75.
  1. Ibid.

Tricky Tabbing and Flip Flopping: Remember that for footnotes, only the first line is indented, whereas in your bibliography everything BUT the first line is indented. And notice that the whereas the author is presented last name first in the bibliography, it’s first, then last in the footnote! Always check the style guide for details.

Footnote:

  1. Karen A. Mingst and Ivan M. Arreguín-Toft, Essentials of International Relations, 5th ed. (New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 2011), 63.

Bibliography entry:

Mingst, Karen A., and Ivan M. Arreguín-Toft. Essentials of International Relations. 5th ed.
New York: W.W.Norton & Company, 2011.

Happy citing!

Bailey Bischoff is a sophomore majoring in political science and global perspectives.

Comma drama

by Carlie Sanderude

I’m sure I’m not the only one to know how easy it is to get tripped up over commas when writing. Sometimes I get “comma happy” and throw in commas after nearly every word. Other times I get “comma lazy” and don’t include enough commas at all. Commas really are not as complicated as we make them out to be if we follow a few simple guidelines. With a little help from my brother (who used to be a writing tutor before he graduated), let me offer the top five most common situations where you would need to use a comma in a sentence:

  1. Between items in a series. Note: the final comma is the somewhat famous Oxford comma that may be considered optional. Use it for clarity in most writing; do not use it in news writing and other mass communication courses.

Ex: Will you please give me a book, a pen, and a piece of paper?

  1. Between coordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are those that could be connected with “and,” but instead you choose to use a comma.

Ex: The loud, angry man went storming out of the store.

  1. Before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses. The coordinating conjunctions spell FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

Ex: I guess I didn’t need to buy the shoes, but I wanted to anyway.

  1. After an introductory phrase or clause. An introductory phrase or clause is a group of words that sets up a sentence, but is not the main subject of a sentence. It just provides added information.

Ex: When I went to France, I ate bread and cheese everyday.

  1. After introducing a quote. Place a comma after words such as “said” or “stated.” The quote must be a direct quote. If you use the word “that,” then the quote just becomes part of the sentence structure and no comma is needed.

Ex: Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”

Follow these rules when using commas, and life will become so much easier. If you want to know more situations where commas should be used, visit the tutors in the writing café in the library and ask for a comma handout! Commas can be daunting, but once you get the hang of it, they’re not difficult at all. But remember: just because you make a pause in a sentence doesn’t mean that you need to add a comma! That’s the big myth in this comma drama.

Carlie Sanderude is a senior at Principia College studying business administration and philosophy. She plays on the college’s soccer and tennis teams and has been a writing tutor for two years.

A quote sandwich to remember

by Shamus Jarvis

When writing any research paper, there is a common temptation to incorporate numerous quotations into the paper with the expectation that a lot of external quotes, lacking interpretation, will lend authority to your argument. Unfortunately, an overabundance of quotes actually detracts from a writer’s thesis because the writer’s own voice becomes overshadowed by the various scholars that he or she is quoting in the paper. Although there is no specific rule regarding a maximum or minimum number of quotations a writer should include in each paragraph of a research paper, writers should endeavor to include original thought as much as possible and use quotations sparingly and judiciously.

In order to use quotations effectively to support your thesis, ensure that the following three elements accompany every source that you cite in your paper:

  1. a signal phrase to introduce the quote,
  2. the actual quotation, and
  3. explication that describes the significance of the quote.

Signal phrases allow you to transition smoothly from your own words to those of the person being quoted. These phrases set up the reader for the quotation by indicating who is being quoted and including any needed context for the quote. For example, if a writer wanted to include a quote from a particular speech, he or she might use the following signal phrase: In his 2014 State of the Union Address, United States President Barack Obama stated, “Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

Immediately following the quotation, the writer must include careful explication that illustrates the significance of the quote. Explication goes beyond mere summary and instead helps the reader understand how the quote relates to the writer’s thesis. Depending upon how important a quote is in the context of a paper, writers should devote at least one sentence to explication so that the reader understands how the quotation relates to the writer’s argument.

It might be helpful to think of integrated quotations as a sandwich, with the quotation nestled between a signal phrase and explication. The following is an example of an effective integrated quotation “sandwich”:  As Caryl Phillips acknowledges in his introduction to Heart of Darkness[Signal Phrase] “One of the great paradoxes of the novel is that while Marlow dislikes Kurtz for having abandoned all decent standards, he also admires this ivory trader for having had the courage to fearlessly explore his ‘dark’ side” (xiii). [Quote] Through the paradoxical nature of Marlow’s feelings toward Kurtz, Joseph Conrad effectively establishes Kurtz as an enigmatic figure whose ultimate submission to the forces of darkness accentuates the moral conflict between barbarism and civilization throughout the novella. [Explication]

Remember, all quotations should relate to the writer’s central claim and must be followed with explication so as not to distract from a writer’s own words. Signal phrase + Quotation + Explication = an effective integrated quotation.

 

Shamus is in his third year studying Theatre and English at Principia and looks forward to studying abroad in England for the fall semester. He will appear in the production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale upon returning to campus in October.

Writing for the Christian Science periodicals

by Jeff Ward-Bailey

Writing a testimony or an article for the Christian Science Sentinel or Journal can be a lot of fun — because you’re sharing a healing that really made a difference in your life, or a spiritual concept that has spoken to you deeply. But it can also be challenging to feel like you’re describing your inspiration accurately, and in a way that will be easily understood by other readers.

I’ve been working as a staff editor at the Sentinel for a little over four years, working with authors — everyone from long-time Christian Science teachers to new Christian Scientists writing their first articles — to publish in print and on the web. I do a lot of work with teen authors, as well, and as you might imagine I sometimes get submissions from Principians sharing their experiences! I’ve found there are a few elements that really make articles and testimonies sing. So if you’re struggling to write about a healing, you might find these points helpful:

  • It’s okay to sound like you! It’s easy to assume that “writing spiritually” means “writing in the style of Mary Baker Eddy” — using flowery language, liberally sprinkling phrases like “malicious animal magnetism,” and employing words like “illume” and “infinitude.” There’s nothing wrong with these conventions per se, but a testimony or article is often much clearer if it’s written in a more straightforward style. Think of the way you’d describe a healing to a friend who isn’t familiar with Christian Science. You probably wouldn’t drop a buzzword like “chemicalization” without explaining what it means, right? Simplifying your writing — and not feeling the need to conform to 1880s-era literary conventions — often makes for a stronger piece.
  • There’s no quota on quotes. Sometimes people assume that there need to be a certain number of quotes from the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in their piece. By all means, if a certain passage jumped off the page at you, you should talk about it in your article! But you should never feel pressured to shoehorn a quote in to your piece if it really doesn’t apply.
  • Try to strike a balance. Many successful articles and testimonies include both a narrative (a healing or experience) and solid metaphysics. If your piece has both these elements, think about using the narrative as a framework and weaving the spiritual details in — in other words, maybe you could talk a little bit about a healing or experience you had, then use the spiritual lesson you learned from that experience as a jumping-off point to make a broader metaphysical argument. Feel free to include whatever details you want to communicate with the audience!
  • Don’t sweat it! All the editors at the magazines are happy to hear from contributors. You shouldn’t feel nervous about sending in a piece, even if you don’t feel that it’s perfectly written. The editors are happy to work with authors one-on-one to get a piece sounding just right. And you wouldn’t believe how many strong pieces I’ve received from people who really didn’t think of themselves as writers!

The wonderful thing about Sentinel and Journal articles is that they’re all written because the author had an amazing experience or insight and wanted to communicate it with others. If you let that desire to share be your guide as you’re writing, you can’t go wrong.

This guest post is from Jeff Ward-Bailey, who was a Principia College writing tutor before he became a staff editor at the Christian Science Sentinel about four years ago.

An Awk-topodous Approach to Clunky Composition

by Genevieve Bergeson

Instead of imperiling my career in comedy (i.e., making a bad joke), I’ll cut to the chase: today we will explore how cephalopods and sentences are similar, that is, octopi and the syllable “awk.” “Awk”  is what professors and colleagues write in the margins of our writing next to confusing—awkward—sentences. Ah, but you probably want to hear the joke anyway.

Why didn’t the cephalopod share his writing?

Because it was too oct-word.

AwktopusSo, “awkward.” What constitutes an “awkward sentence”? Essentially, the individual parts of the sentence (phrases, clauses, etc.) don’t quite fit together; this in turn makes the meaning unclear or confusing. Instead of following the main idea (head) of the sentence (octopus), the reader gets tangled in the tentacles (phrases & clauses). On the other hand (or tentacle), the parts of an effective sentence work together smoothly to propel your denizen of deep thinking forward.

Awkward sentences (awk-topi) appear for several reasons, grammatical and otherwise. Perhaps you’re simply squirting ink and ideas everywhere because you haven’t figured out how to articulate them yet. Perhaps you’re unaware there are principles and strategies to help you eliminate awk-topi. Either way, my punny scientist friends Seth and Steph Allopod recommend this octet for eliminating awkwardness and making writing clearer.

Ready? Let’s get kraken!

  1. Make sushi. (I’d say “calamari,”  but that’s literally another animal.) Don’t cram too much into one sentence; separate the ideas into more manageable bites.
  2. Be direct. Say your idea in as few words as possible.
  3. Delete unnecessary words and information.
  4. Parse the sentence. Mark subjects, verbs, objects, phrases, clauses, etc., differently so you see the parts of the sentence and how they interact. (Sometimes words get caught between related parts and interfere with the relationships of those parts—subject/verb, pronoun/antecedent, independent/dependent clauses. Be clear about who’s doing what.)
  5. Start fresh. Turn your paper over (or scroll to a blank page) and rewrite the entire sentence.
  6. Switch things around. Putting key words and ideas in different positions may reveal a more fluid grammatical structure, which makes it easier for your reader to understand your point.
  7. Check verb forms. Eliminate unnecessary and confusing tense shifts. Use active verbs (unless passive voice is more appropriate for the situation).
  8. Word choice. Does the word mean what you think it means? Are there more accurate terms you could use? When in doubt, consult a good dictionary.

Happy thinking!

Genevieve Bergeson, in her second year as a Principia post-graduate teaching intern in writing, 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.