Posts tagged: style

Jan 09 2017

Writing Tips for January 9, 2017

From Facebook on January 3, 2017:

One way to make sure what you’ve written makes sense is to read it out loud. Sometimes our physical ears can pick up on something our “silent reading ears” miss.

Big words won’t make you sound smart if your audience doesn’t understand what they mean — you’ll just sound pretentious. Make sure you know who your audience is so that you don’t overestimate them — or underestimate them!

Singular “they” can be grammatically correct, but it may not be acceptable depending on where you’re writing for. Always check to see if there’s a style guide, and if need be you can ask your editor!

Do you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share? Let me know via the comments here! You’ll get credit when I share it with the world!

Aug 14 2012

Writing Tips: Citing Sources

When you are writing anything – non-fiction or fiction – you may end up doing some research. It’s important to cite your sources in the finished product, though how you do so is dependent upon a few different criteria. The reason you need to do this is so that other people can check that what you wrote is true, and so that you don’t have to worry about charges of plagiarism (copying someone else’s work and saying that it’s yours).

Fiction vs Non-Fiction

When you’re writing fiction, the best way to cite your sources is to list the different resources you accessed during your research at the end of your story. If you primarily did your research through interviews or other interpersonal communication, you may wish to acknowledge those people who participated. Lists of references are not often found at the end of short stories, but they can sometimes be found at the end of novels that focus on a particular issue or disability, in which case the resources are often listed under a heading such as “For More Information on [Topic].”

It is far more important to cite your sources when you are writing non-fiction than when you are writing fiction. In addition, you need to make sure you do so in the correct format, or style.

Citation Styles

There are three different types of citations that you may need to use. All of them require the same information (i.e., author, book or article title, publication if an article, date of publication, publisher, page numbers), but the information is presented in different ways.

In-text citations typically consist of the last name of the author, the year of the publication, and the page number on which the information is found, and the article or book concludes with a bibliography that lists all of the resources referenced in the text of the work, as well as any references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

Footnotes use a superscript (i.e., smaller font and raised above the line of the rest of the text) reference number and give the publication information and page number at the bottom of the page. Again, the article or book concludes with a bibliography that lists all of the resources referenced in the footnotes, as well as any references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

End notes are similar to footnotes, but the publication information and page numbers are listed at the end of the article or book chapter instead of at the bottom of the page. There may or may not be a bibliography in this case; if there is, it may only include references that were consulted but not directly quoted or referenced in the text.

Which One to Use?

The best way to approach the question of which citation style to use is to find out which style guide is being used by the publication you wish to submit the finished piece to, or which style guide is most commonly used in the industry for which you are writing.

For example, most scientific papers use end notes; news articles follow the Associated Press Style Guide; many branches of the humanities (e.g., English) use the Chicago Style or the Modern Language Association (MLA) Style; and psychology, social work, and related industries typically use American Psychological Association (APA) Style. Each of these style guides is partial to a different type of citation, so it is important to ensure that you find out which one you should follow. There are web sites that explain the basics, and most libraries will have at least one copy of the most current guide in their collections, so you should not have to spend a lot of money to educate yourself on how to follow the correct style.

Remember: Keep track of your sources. When you’re taking notes, be sure to write down what you are reading and which page the information came from. When you write, keep track of where you use what information.

Mar 13 2012

Writing Tips: Appropriate language

Different types of writing require different approaches. This includes using appropriate language for the type of writing we are doing.

I’m going to talk about three different types of language that you need to be careful of.

Colloquialisms do not belong in formal reports unless they are being used as direct quotes from people who were interviewed as part of the research process. In fact, if it’s at all possible to eliminate the direct quotations, do so. What is a colloquialism, you may ask? It’s a casual, often regional, saying, that is shorthand for something else. So, for example, we might say “‘most all” when we mean “almost all,” but the correct choice for a formal report would be “most” – since that’s what “almost all” is!

Person-First Language is not an evil thing, and you should try to use it when you can. However, try to do some research before you use a person-first phrase. For example, did you know that many autistic people dislike being called “people with autism”? If you are a proponent of person-first language and do not want to use a phrase like “autistic people,” remember that the word “autistic” is merely an adjective, like “tall,” “thin,” and “strong.” In addition, it is more respectful to use the preferred term than it is to insist on using a phrase that many people object to. In the specific case mentioned here, of course, a lot of parents prefer the person-first version, and so it is acceptable to alternate between the two terms, as long as the sentence still works grammatically.

Passive Voice is a given in formal reports and most business writing, because we are generally writing in the third person and not always about people. While passive voice is generally best avoided whenever possible, it is a necessary evil in these two forms. However, this doesn’t mean that you can ignore good sentence structure, verb tense, and other grammatical niceties! What is passive voice? It’s a style of writing that turns the object of the sentence into the subject. For example, a good active sentence might be “He drew a circle on the paper.” Written in passive voice, this sentence becomes “The circle on the paper was drawn by him.” I’m sure you can see how passive voice is often awkward and difficult to understand!

Remember: Formal documents require formal language, so writing the way you speak is probably a poor choice. Person-first language is a great idea, as long as you research and make sure that the people you are writing about prefer person-first language. If there is debate within the community on the subject (e.g., between parents and individuals), it is fine to interchange person-first language with more descriptive language. Try to avoid the passive voice whenever possible, but keep in mind the fact that it is often a necessity in formal documents like reports and other business writing. We may not like it, but we have to do it anyway!

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