Making Things Read Easily, Correctly, and Without Distractions Ed Beasley

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Making Things Read Easily, Correctly, and Without Distractions Ed Beasley

1. A sentence must have a verb and its subject. If the sentence does not have both, it is a fragment (sent. frag.) and in error. Fragment (no verb): “Bell, book, and candle.” Another kind of fragment is when an otherwise complete sent­ence has a subordinating word like “because” or “but” put in front of it. Frag­ment (because of subordination): “Since we live nearby.” This error can be fixed by getting rid of the subordinator; in this case, get rid of “Since.” P. 7, Sect. 6
2. A clause is a complete statement with a subject and a verb; an independent clause is a clause that can stand on its own as a sentence. Join two independ­ent clauses by using either a semicolon by itself, or by using a comma and a conjunction. Do not join them with only a comma; that error is called a comma-splice. Of course you can also punctuate independent clauses as separate sentences. PP. 5-7, Sects. 4-5
3. If a sentence has a substantial introductory phrase, put a comma after that phrase (as in this sentence). But do not use a comma to separate the subject of the sentence from its verb; subject and verb can only be separated by a comma if there are two commas – on either side of a phrase in between (see Rule 4). Top of P. 5

4. When you add some information to an otherwise complete sentence, and you are adding that information in the form of a substantial phrase or clause, put a comma before and after the extra material, so that the extra words do not bump into and restrict the meaning of the words in the main sentence.

However, if the new material must restrict the meaning of the words in the original sentence, it should not be separated from them by commas.

The first case is called “nonrestrictive usage.” The second is called “restrictive usage.” Nonrestrictive (and correct): “The plant, which needs more water than you might think, is about to die.” Restrictive (and correct): “The plant that’s on the table needs to be watered. PP. 2-5, Sect. 3

5. The relative pronoun “that” is used to define things, which means it is used in restrictive (no comma) situations. (See Rule 4 for what “restrictive” and “non-restrictive” mean.) The relative pronoun “which” is used to relate things but not to define them, so it is used in nonrestrictive (comma-taking) situations. See the examples at the end of Rule 4. P. 59
6. Because a pronoun has to agree with the number of its antecedent, do not write such things as “Everyone went to their desks.” Make both the pronoun and the antecedent either plural or singular. Correct plural usage: “The stud­ents went to their desks. Another correct plural: “All the students went to their desks.” Correct singular usage: “Everyone went to his or her desk.” PP. 60-61
7. Italicize (or underline) the titles of books. Do not italicise or underline the titles of articles, movies, or the chapters of books; put these in quotation marks. A special rule: Neither italicize nor underline nor put in quotation marks the word Bible or any of its books, such as Genesis or Exodus. P. 38
8. When an introductory phrase contains an “-ing” verb, the subject of that verb is the first noun or pronoun to come along afterward. So avoid dangling the verb in phrases like this: “Having many children, my washing machine is always busy”—unless washing machines have kids. Either give “Having” a proper subject or just get rid of it. Correct
(with “Having”): “Having so many children, I am always washing clothes.” Correct (w/o “Having”):“Because I have six children, my washing machine is always busy.” PP. 13-14, Sect. 11

9. The items in a list need to be grammatically similar. This is one aspect of parallelism. Not parallel (because two of the three items are nouns and the third is an action): “I like tacos, pizza, and eating ham­burgers.” Parallel: “I like tacos, pizza, and hamburgers.” Another correct parallel: “I like eating tacos, pizza, and hamburgers.” PP. 26-28, Sect. 19

10. Form the possessive by adding ’s to the end of any word that is sing­ular (“Lincoln’s,” “Arkansas’s”) or that forms its plural without adding an “s” (“children’s stories”). Form the possessive of a plural that ends in “s” by adding an apostrophe after the “s.” One emperor: “the emperor’s decrees.” More than one emperor: “the emperors’ decrees.” P. 1, Sect. 1, Para. 1

Form the possessive of a singular word that ends in “s,” if it is from the Bible or from ancient Greece, by adding an apostrophe with no “s” afterward: “Jesus’ name”; “Pericles’ Funeral Oration.” P.1, Sect. 1, Para. 2

11. “It’s” is a contraction that means “it is.” “Its” is the possessive of “it”; no apostrophe is permitted. (Neither is there an apostrophe in the other possessive pronouns, “his,” “hers,” “theirs,” “yours,” or “ours.” ) P.1, Sect. 1, Para. 3-4
12. Do not write “In the book, it says that...” or “In the book How to Write, by Joe Blow, it says....” Instead of introducing some artificial “it” as the subject of the sentence, cross out the extra words and just say “The book says that...,” or “In How to Write, Joe Blow says that....” And look for any other oppor-tunity to cross out extra words. PP. 23-24, Sect. 17

13. A “novel” is a book-length fictional story, written in prose, such as Animal Farm, War and Peace, or any volume in the Harlequin Romances. If a written work is not a book-length fictional story written in prose, it is not a novel. None of the following can be described as a novel without confusing and distracting your reader, and most likely provoking laughter on his or her part: The Bible; The Koran; The Communist Manifesto; Webster’s Dictionary.

14. Books say things in the present tense. Historical events happened in the past tense. Don’t get these situations confused. Also, try to arrange things so you don’t have to go back and forth between the present and past tenses too quickly. That is, maintain tense consistency. P. 31, Sect. 21
15. Get to know Strunk and White, The Elements of Style. You can buy it everywhere, it is short and pleasant, and it has a good index. Read Chaps. 1-3. Then find the parts you most need; read them again and again.
16. Try to keep to this pattern: subject-verb-object-period, and keep each part simple. Yes, one or two of these elements (subject, verb, and object) can be a complicated phrase. But avoid writing sentences where all three are long and complex.

And try not to interrupt your sentences with extra thoughts. Say what you mean without adding simultaneous metacommentary on what you are saying. If you have a new thought that complicates things, add it as a new simple sentence later on, not as a gnarled phrase forced into the middle of the sentence you started with.

You should try to avoid overloading your work with side-comments on the various philo­soph­ical principles that may be running through your mind, and that you think might be running through the mind of your reader. One complicated mind talks to another not through typing out every passing nuance – but through simple sentences. Stream-of-consciousness, super-complicated, catch-all-my-nuances-in-sentences-the-size-of-paragraphs writing is hard to pull off, and impossible to pull off when combined with the main task before you: Clear, analytical, evidence-based writing.


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