Thursday, September 7, 2017

Rules of Writing

The quality of scientific writing would be enhanced enormously if only scientists would learn to adhere more carefully to seven easy rules. These rules can be illustrated by applying them to a simple declarative sentence such as:    Modern Minnesota barns have roofs.
  1. Every sentence should begin with a passive verb:
    There are modern Minnesota barns which have roofs.

  2. The verb "to have" should always be replaced by the verb "to be characterized by":
    There are modern Minnesota barns which are characterized by roofs.

  3. Every sentence should begin with a conjunction; "and", "but", and "yet" are quite acceptable, but "however" is preferred:
    However, there are modern Minnesota barns which are characterized by roofs.

  4. Terms such as "occur in", "are located", and "presence of" should be used as often as possible:
    However, there are modern barns located in the state of Minnesota which are characterized by the presence of roofs.

  5. The noun "time" should never be used without the prefix, "period of":
    However, there are barns located in the state of Minnesota in the modern period of time which are characterized by the presence of roofs.

  6. Important points should always be emphasized:
    However, the attention of the reader is called to the fact that it is important to note that there are barns located in the state of Minnesota in the modern period of time which are characterized by the presence of roofs.

  7. Every scientist should use such terms as "spatial", "factors", and "environment" as often as possible, to demonstrate that he really is a scientist, and he should also use such terms as "socioeconomic" and "perception" to show quite clearly that he is a behavioral and social scientist, but such old-fashioned terms as "parameter" should be avoided like the plague:
    However, the attention of the reader is called to the fact that it is important to note that there are barns spatially located in the socioeconomic environment of the state of Minnesota in the modern period of time which are perceived to be characterized by the spatial presence of roofs.

The improvement is obvious. A serious scientist, of course, would replace such ridiculously simple and patently unscientific terms as "barn" and "roof" by a vastly more impressive and scientific terminology.


Back to Owl Editing

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Avoid Sexist Language

To avoid sexist language that favors one gender, use words that are gender-neutral.

According to Linda Elizabeth Alexander, biased language can alienate any potential reader. If you alienate your readers, you lose credibility. Without their faith in your words, you have lost your audience and cannot make your argument. Therefore, avoiding sexism in your writing benefits everyone. Here are some tips for avoiding common mistakes regarding sexist language.

The use of a masculine pronoun (he, him) to refer to both genders is offensive to many people. Also, using terms such as "man" to define people can often be confusing - are you referring only to "men" or to "all people"? The easiest and best way to get around this is to rewrite the sentence in the plural, or avoid using a pronoun altogether.

Example:
Poor: A teacher must communicate clearly with her students.
Better: Teachers must communicate clearly with their students.


Avoid the use of "s/he" as a substitute for a proper pronoun. Although some have proposed the use of "s/he" as a substitute for "he or she," "s/he" is not a word and is awkward to pronounce.

Example:
Poor: The successful lawyer will shepardize all cases cited in a memo. S/he also will avoid quoting from headnotes.
Better: Successful lawyers will shepardize all cases cited in a memo. They also will avoid quoting from headnotes.


Don't assume that a particular job is filled by a particular gender. Female construction workers or female engineers are plentiful, and male nurses and office assistants are common.

Example:
Poor: The executive cannot do his job properly until he understands how.
Better: Executives cannot do their jobs properly until they understand how.


Usually, it's best to talk about "mail carriers" instead of mailmen, "flight attendants" instead of stewardesses, and "police officers" instead of policemen. Nevertheless, certain job titles refer to both men and women ("lineman" for example).

Do not go overboard; however, or become confusing by using awkward terms. Common sense will inform you that "sales associates" will work for sales women and salesmen, and "chair" can be used for forms of "chairman/woman/person."



Exercise. Make the following sentences gender-neutral:
1. The average employee is concerned about the quality of his work.
2. Anyone who wants to sign up for the seminar should bring his ID.
3. See your floor supervisor, and he will explain the new procedure.
4. The chairman started the meeting at 9:00 a.m.


See answers below...





Answers:
1. Average employees are concerned about the quality of their work. [use plural]
2. If you are interested in signing up for the seminar, please bring your ID. [address reader directly]
3. See your floor supervisor, and the supervisor will explain the procedure. [repeat title]
4. The chairperson started the meeting at 9:00 a.m. [use alternative word]



References:
http://www.enursescribe.com/avoidsexist.htm
http://ualr.edu/owl/avoidsexistlanguage.htm
http://www.basic-learning.com
http://www.kentlaw.edu/academics/lrw/grinker/LwtaGender_Neutral_Language.htm



Copyright on the Net

Here are some questions you have to ask before re-using materials that have been sent to you by e-mail:
  1. Is the message being sent to you as a personal message? If so, you will in any case have to ask the sender's permission to use it elsewhere, since it is as protected by copyright as a personal letter.
  2. If it is a personal message, you need to consider the issue of privacy - you might be violating the sender's right to privacy. Another reason to ask permission.
  3. If you are receiving the information on a list, your position may be safer, since the work has already been "broadcast" or "communicated to the public" (most list archives are searchable on the Internet), but I would still make the effort formally to clear the rights before republishing the work in a commercial publication of any kind.
  4. Has the sender asserted that the contents of the message (joke, article, etc.) are his/her own work? If not, just because someone else has done the original "borrowing" of copyright material does not save you from the charge of abetting the offence by disseminating it further.
  5. If the sender is simply re-sending material picked up elsewhere, you should be very careful. The materials may have been sent to you as a part of a personal communication, but it is quite a different thing if you, in turn, send it further to a list, or onto a website or re-publish it elsewhere. You have no certainty that the sender has cleared the rights for such use, and you should therefore either try to clear them yourself, or ask the sender to secure the clearance.
There is actually quite a body of law that applies to the Internet. Don't believe that you are immune out there or that "it is still vague".


Thanks to Christopher Zielinski of the UK for these comments.

Email Writing

Tip: Make it easy for your email reader to respond with a "yes/no" answer or short response.

For example:
Original: "Let me know what your thoughts are on Harry's proposal."
Better: "Should we adopt Harry's proposal?"


Tip: Save time brainstorming via e-mail.

When an important project needs brainstorming, but the key employees are at different locations, do this:
1. The project leader e-mails an outline of the project .
2. The e-mail should have a routing list.
3. The first employee on the list provides input and e-mails it to the next person.
4. The project leader takes the appropriate action.


(Adapted from "Simple Things You Must Do to Keep Your Job Today.")

Kurt Vonnegut's Tips for Writing Fiction

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things -- reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them -- in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut qualifies the list by adding that Flannery O'Connor broke all these rules except the first, and that great writers tend to do that.

From his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction