by Barbara McNichol
How can you optimize your reading speed to achieve success? What kind of freedom and confidence can speed reading deliver?
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by Barbara McNichol
Grammatically speaking, disagreements show up in writing constantly. Some sources including Associated Press (AP) style guide give the green light to using one disagreement: the plural pronoun “they” with a singular noun. A recent AP statement noted:
They, them, their … In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person …:
Grammarians ask why would this be necessary? Doesn’t correctness matter above all else—especially when easy fixes are available?
Consider these noun/pronoun disagreements and the ways to correct them:
Noun/pronoun use that doesn’t agree:
“We want the school board to do their job.”
Revised to create agreement:
“We want the school board to do its job.”
“We want school board members to do their jobs.”
Noun/pronoun use that doesn’t agree:
“Your reader can peruse your book at their leisure.”
Revised to make them agree:
“Your readers can peruse your book at their leisure.”
“Your reader can peruse your book at his or her leisure.”
To keep agreements in place, apply these suggestions:
- State the person’s name or write “This person ….” instead of a pronoun.
- If the gender is unknown, using “his or her” or “he or she” or “s/he” works fine.
- Change singular to plural in a sentence. However, if plural doesn’t cut it, alternate the use of “he” and “she” in a section when the subject changes. In a book I recently edited about raising a baby, the author applied this technique beautifully.
Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions? Please weigh in. Given our changing language, would you side with AP’s suggestion or my advice to put accuracy first in your writing? Share your opinion below.
Bonus: Request an explanatory Pronoun Use Chart so you can see at a glance which pronouns to use where in a sentence.
By Kathleen Watson (used with permission)
Spring brings graduations, along with confusion about use and misuse of related terms. Let’s clear up a few.
Do you say: “Seth graduated Harvard University last week.”
What about: “Becca will graduate Clemmons High School in May.”
Neither is correct. Why?
Because Seth is not graduating Harvard; he is not causing Harvard to graduate.
Nor is Becca graduating the school named Clemmons.
Harvard University and Clemmons High School are conferring graduation status by awarding a degree to Seth and a diploma to Becca.
The correct way to express these accomplishments is:
Seth is graduating from Harvard University.
Beth is graduating from Clemmons High School.
Graduating with honor
There are three levels of graduating with honor (cum pronounced koom; laude pronounced loudy):
Cum laude: Graduating with honor (grade point average of 3.5–3.7)
Magna cum laude: Graduating with great honor (grade point average 3.8–3.9)
Summa cum laude: Graduating with highest praise (grade point average of 4.0+)
Moving on, once Seth graduates, he will become a Harvard alumnus.
When Becca graduates, she will become a Clemmons alumna.
Alumnus refers to one male graduate.
Alumna refers to one female graduate.
Alumni is the plural of alumnus, but it also can refer to a group of mixed-gender graduates.
Alumnae is the plural of alumna, referring to a group of female graduates.
A shortcut and easy way to avoid errors when using these Latin terms is to use alum for a graduate of any gender and alums for any group of graduates. However, I recommend using these generic terms only in informal contexts.
A retired university professor is referred to as a professor emeritus.
A retired female university professor often is referred to as a professor emerita.
However, not every retired professor is granted this honorific; the educational institution from which a professor retires decides to whom it grants this honor.
Nor does everyone agree that it is necessary to distinguish a male from a female when it comes to retirees from academia. Professor is a gender-neutral term, so some claim that emeritus is appropriate for any gender.
If you’re graduating this spring, sincere congratulations! If you’re attending a graduation, best wishes to you and yours. I’m sure your support has been vital to the success of your friend or family member.
And please don’t say or write that a graduate “received” a degree. Honor the accomplishment with the appropriate verb: Graduates “earn” a degree.
Kathleen calls herself the Ruthless Editor. She has created Grammar for People Who Hate Rules to help people write and speak with authority and confidence. Kathleen can be reached at email@example.com.
by Barbara McNichol
Our society loves “3”; we remember things in “3s”; we’ve learned it from kindergarten when we were told to hop, skip, jump and stop, look, and listen.
Businesses gravitate toward “3” when they create marketing taglines. Look at these examples:
- Reduce, reuse, recycle (recycle guide)
- Buy it. Sell it. Love it. (eBay)
- Grace, space, pace. (Jaguar)
How can you improve your writing by tapping into the power of “3”? Consider this example from a newsletter. The rewrite flows better because of the three-part rhythm brought into play.
You are free to choose, create and live the life you want if you are willing to investigate, make changes, update your protective strategies, be honest with yourself, and invest in what it takes to continue growing. (37 words)
You are free to choose, create, and live the life you want. (12 words)
That works if you are willing to investigate, update your strategies with honesty, and invest in continuing to grow. (20 words)
Also notice how the long-winded sentence was broken into two shorter sentences with breathing space between. Ah, much easier for readers to follow.
How can you tap into the power of “3” in your writing? Share your examples.
by Dee Dukehart (used with permission)
Spring’s the time for planting, nourishing and growing, and not just plants and vegetables.
When you present your ideas, knowledge, directions, or how to’s, plant your points into the readers’ minds with word pictures, and continue to nourish the points along the way. When you want to grow their learning, their future, and their well-being, use action verbs and descriptive information.
Describe your points with action verbs: verbs you can “see”: e.g., produce, generate, write, sell, achieve, deliver, etc. When possible, rid your spoken and written words of auxiliary verbs: e.g., is, was, has, had, have, etc. Use a strong, action verb in their place if you can.
- We had an increase in sales last quarter. OR Our sales increased by 14 percent last quarter.
- It was a great day for our team. OR We signed three new contracts today!
Which one gets you to “see” the action? Of course the second sentence.
How to Plant Word Pictures
Meetings get bogged down in minutia: a “quick” meeting can sometimes lag into hours. Make your meetings and presentations memorable with points that are worthy of everyone’s time. What seeds of information are you cultivating for them to reap personal and professional benefits?
What do you remember from last week’s meetings? What do you remember from a sales call? What do you remember from any training? When you want listeners to remember your points, plant word pictures in their minds.
How? Rid your writing of vague expressions such as these:
What pictures do you conjure up in your mind when you read those words? Can you “see” the concept of better? Understand? Soon? No. Information needs to show “color” like your garden, so nourish and feed it so you can “see” the knowledge blossom.
Consider These Variations
1) Instead of “better” use a statistic. “Your production escalates by x percent within a year when you use these tools.”
2) Your sales numbers were “satisfactory.” Instead: “Your sales numbers exceeded our goal by 65 widgets; let’s get to 100 by fourth quarter.”
3) “Understand?” Everyone understands differently. Instead: “You will recognize/identify your new time management skills by the extra hour in your day.”
4) “Improves.” By how much? By how many? By when? Instead: “Accomplish your goals in six fewer steps with this process.”
5) “Soon.” What date? What time? What quarter? Instead: “Get your initial draft to me by the end of the week. We expect to see our new product on the shelves in 45 days.”
Strive to plant a picture in your readers’ minds, then nourish your points with review and repetition. Your ideas, knowledge, products or services, and how-to’s will grow more fruit.
Here’s to your great harvest seasons of information.
Dee Dukehart is a marketing communications trainer who can be reached at 303-549-0045 or Dee@DeeDukehart.com
by Barbara McNichol
Have you heard that gestures, tone of voice, and facial expressions carry significantly more weight in communication than words? Being a wordsmith, I never bought into this belief, and I’m grateful and relieved it’s been busted. Words matter!
This video demonstrates why the oft-referenced Mehrabian study needs to be examined more accurately. A fun production to watch!
Conclusion: Of course, words matter–a lot. Learning how to use them effectively should never stop!
Share your thoughts about what makes communication successful below.
by Barbara McNichol
Ever wonder how to make your sentences less verbose and more direct?
Here’s a trick that works like magic: Change long nouns to short verbs.
Consider the differences in these three examples from a nonfiction manuscript I edited:
- “They remain in contradiction with themselves” vs. “They contradict themselves.”
- “He made an acknowledgment of her success” vs. “He acknowledged her success.”
- “We get closer to the implementation of leadership practices” vs. “We get closer to implementing leadership practices.”
Study these examples. They show how you can increase readability by turning a long-winded “heavy” phrase into an active “lively” verb. What clues do you look for? Nouns ending in “ion” and “ment.”
Whatever I’m editing, I’m using this “magic” trick dozens of times a day. What a difference this one technique can make! Try it for yourself.
Action: Identify “ion” and “ment” words in your writing, then rewrite them using a lively verb.
What techniques do you use to whack wordiness? Share them here.
by Harvey Stanbrough (used with permission)
This is gonna sound WAY oversimplified, especially given the nineteen PAGES of comma rules in the HarBrace College Handbook.
But it’s true. If you use these five rules, you can’t go wrong:
1. Never put a comma between a subject and its verb or between a verb and its object.
Also you must realize that a subject may be compound, as in “John and Ray went to the store and bought a television and a radio.”
In the example, “John and Ray” is the subject. “Went and bought” is the verb. “A television and a radio” is the object.
Of course, you can also add to the size of the subject, verb or object and you can detract from the size of the subject verb or object.
2. When a subordinate clause introduces an independent clause, separate the two with a comma.
If you aren’t sure about clauses, Rule #2 is an example of itself, as is this explanation.
A clause has a subject and a verb but doesn’t stand alone, meaning it doesn’t make sense by itself. (A “phrase” is missing either a subject or a verb.)
In Rule 2, “clause” is the subject and “introduces” is the verb, but “when” keeps the clause from making sense by itself. Therefore it is “subordinate.”
3. Do NOT use a comma to separate the clauses when a subordinate clause follows an independent clause.
In Rule #3, “Do not use a comma” is an independent clause and the remainder is a dependent clause. This rule, again, is an example of itself.
As an interesting side note, the subject in Rule 3 is the implied “you.” The verb is “use.”
4. Use a comma before the appropriate coordinating conjunction to join two related sentences.
The coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Remember the acronym FANBOYS. My female students used to love that acronym. By the way, you very seldom need a comma AFTER a coordinating conjunction, although that is a bad habit that some folks have developed.
5. Trite as it sounds, when you are in doubt about whether to use a comma, leave it out.
Believe it or not, most comma problems arise from the insertion of misused commas, not from their omission.
That’s it! The five rules of comma use. And really, there are only three. The first one is necessary, numbers 2 and 3 are the same thing in reverse, and Rule 4 is necessary depending on how you want the sentence to flow.
And of course, the last one isn’t so much a rule as a warning.
Harvey Stanbrough adheres to Heinlein’s Rules and writes across all genres. He has written and published 20+ novels and novellas, 160+ short stories, and hundreds of poems. He has compiled 5 critically acclaimed poetry collections and 25 collections of short fiction. Sign up for his Daily Journal or his ProWriters Blog at HarveyStanbrough.com.
by Kathleen Watson
Having just celebrated National Grammar Day, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on a widely reported court case about how a missing comma will cost a company millions.
Here are three examples of coverage:
The essence: Delivery drivers who work for Oakhurst Dairy, a Portland, Maine-based company, will be entitled to an estimated $13 million in overtime pay after winning a three-year legal dispute with their employer. An appeals judge ruled that lack of a comma made interpretation of the phrasing of an agreement vague.
From one of the stories:
The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, is a comma placed immediately before a conjunction such as “and” or “or” in a series of three or more terms, as in: “First, second, and third” versus “First, second and third.”
While generally not used by journalists, the Oxford comma is often used in academic publications. Debate has raged for years about its use — opponents feel the extra comma is unnecessary, but supporters claim it helps resolve ambiguity.
The Chicago Manual of Style, for example, cites the following example: “She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.” Without the second comma, she is taking a picture of her parents, who are the president and vice president.
Here’s how the contract was worded:
The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.
The judge ruled that “packing for shipment or distribution of” needed a comma after shipment to separate those elements, as they are two distinct actions: “packing for shipment of, or distribution of:”
This case provides an excellent example of why we have to use care with what we perceive as “grammar rules.” Applying common sense when using punctuation that helps avoid confusion or misinterpretation should determine whether we use a comma or not, a question mark or not, a colon or not.
Have you been in a situation where punctuation — either present or missing — wreaked havoc for a company or individual? Share your story here.