Synonyms Writers May (or Might) Use

English is a language of synonyms. We inherited words from the Germanic tribes, the Vikings, the French, and the Romans and assimilated words from other cultures as far apart as India and Italy. So it should come as no surprise that subtle variations and nuances between near synonyms cause trouble for even native speakers of […]

Which Which Is That?

As a writing trainer and editor, I am often asked about the distinction between the words “which” and “that.” Briefly, it is a stylistic preference, not a grammatical rule. Customarily, the word “which” introduces non-restrictive or non-essential information. The word “that” introduces restrictive or essential information. Given this, the word “which” always takes a comma; […]

Moody Verbs: The Disappearing Subjunctive

Verbs in English have many different classifications including person, tense, voice, and mood, person. The classes are not mutually exclusive. So a verb can be in the third person, past tense, passive voice, like so: The book was given to me. This article is about mood, a distinction that is fast disappearing. English has three […]

Cut and Paste, Responsibly

In recent posts, I have emphasized the need for citation in formal technical, scientific, and academic writing. An expectation of the discourse is that both ideas and language not originating with the author are credited. One notable exception to this rule is the use of internal templates. Sometimes referred to as “boilerplate” or “cut and […]

Citation Styles Explained

  In formal, academic, and technical writing, writers are required to give credit for all thoughts and language that are not their own. They do so through a process called citation. The citation style that a writer uses is based either upon the discipline in which a writer works or the venue for which the […]

Citing: The Basics

Writers who are new to academic writing, or those who write independently or creatively, can have some trouble knowing when and how to cite in a formal, academic, or research document. Customs differ depending on lots of factors including the venue in which you are writing, the type of writing you do, the type and […]

The Three Rules for Semicolon Use

I love the semicolon. If a mark of punctuation could represent my personality, it would be the semicolon. The semicolon is stately and refined. It means business. Like fine china, the semicolon is reserved for special occasions. Unlike the workaday period, showing up reliably at the end of every single sentence, or the whorish comma, […]

Working with Text Copied from the Internet

I frequently copy text from the internet or a PDF to use as an instructional example, either on my blog or, more frequently, in the training materials I create. Because I am a writing trainer working with environmental scientists, the passages that I copy are often long-ish and intricate. Sometimes, the source material proves incompatible […]

When to Use the Colon

  The colon is the most formal and least understood mark of punctuation. Yes, the semicolon is stuffy and pretentious, but in a snarky, Downton-Abbey-Ish way that we rather admire and wish to emulate. The colon is more like the queen; she means business. Yet rather like the queen, we wonder exactly what business she […]

Working with Hidden Characters in Microsoft Word

NOTE: Clicking on the images will open them at full size in a new screen.  Last fall, I was teaching Argument for Scientists and Keys to Effective Editing in field offices throughout California when I discovered a strange error in my training materials. Several of my sample paragraphs were lacking spaces between sentences. The error was ironic […]