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Friday, May 22, 2009

Who is “HE”? What is “IT”?

Just a Few of the Common Pronouns
anybody; anyone; each; everybody; everything; he; him; his; she; her; hers; it; mine; one; somebody; something; they; them; theirs; we; you; yours

Pronouns are the words that represent a noun. Note that when you use a pronoun, the noun it represents should already be known. Other wise, you will confuse your reader (and quite possibly, even yourself!) Look at this example:

He was the nicest man I’d ever met.
Who is he?
Well, let’s go on: Jack had soft blue eyes and the warmest smile. He was the nicest man I’d ever met.

OK, so “he” is “Jack”. Now we know that so the first sentence is acceptable. But if you only refer to Jack as “he” or “him” or “his” throughout the entire piece of writing, you will certainly loose your reader. On the other hand, if you never use the pronouns and only use Jack’s name, your writing will be so redundant that again, you will loose your reader.

Keep this general in mind: use the actual noun for clarity and use the pronoun for diversity. Or put it another way: use the actual noun for clarity and use the pronoun for simplicity.

Look at these examples:
No Pronouns: Janice took Janice’s dog for the dog’s walk.
Use of Pronouns: Janice took her dog for its walk.

No Pronouns: Maggie planted Maggie’s flowers along the edge of Maggie’s garden.
Use of Pronouns: Maggie planted her flowers along the edge of her garden.

I hope this helps!

Nitty Gritty of Writing: Run-ons and on, and on, and on, and ...

Run-ons and on, and on, and on, and ...

A run-on sentence is one that has too many subjects, too many verbs, too many adjectives and adverbs, too much punctuation, or, to put it simply, too much stuff and way too many points so that your reader ends up getting totally lost and overwhelmed even though you think that what you are doing is providing your reader will all kinds of really good information, so good in fact, that you have to get it all out as fast as you can which is what results in the really long, obnoxious sentence that in grammatical terms, is called a “run-on”.

Phew! Take a breath! Now try to read that sentence out loud. YUCK!

Let’s rewrite it so that is becomes a paragraph with good, complete, yet simple sentences:

A run-on sentence is one that has too many subjects, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, as well as too much punctuation. To put it simply, a run-on sentence has too much stuff and way too many points. The result of a run-on sentence is that your reader ends up getting totally lost and overwhelmed. While you may think that you are providing your reader will all kinds of valuable information, in reality, only end up with long, obnoxious sentence that in grammatical terms, is called a “run-on”.

The old acronym comes in very handy as your basic rule to avoid run-ons: Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS)!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Scanning and Skimming

Scanning and skimming are 2 reading skills that you definitely want to practice and perfect. These 2 skills are the basic essentials to research, assessment of information, organization, and reading comprehension. They also save you lots of time and energy. Being good at scanning and skimming will also save you from becoming overwhelmed and frustrated with too much material or material that is too difficult.

Before I talk about the specifics of scanning and skimming, let me say that you have to accept and appreciate the complexities of the mind in order to get the full benefit from these skills. You see, while you are consciously scanning and skimming pages and pages of written material, your mind is actively working very hard on the next level down, just below your conscious awareness. You have to know that your mind is automatically doing this and trust it; give your mind the freedom to do this work without suffocating it with conscious thought. In other words, focus your mental energies on scanning and skimming and just trust the rest of your mind to do its work behind the scenes and you will be greatly rewarded.

Approach the information you need to read as if you are standing in a wide open field. Outdoors in wide open spaces, your eyes naturally look to the horizon. They sweep over the space and you become aware of the totality of your environment. You notice the colors of the sky and the texture of the earth; you take in all the elements with all of your senses, but you don’t linger on any one thing long enough to fully study it. You notice, for example, that there are many trees in the distance, but you don’t focus your eyes there to actually count them.

This is how you scan when you read. You read the title and notice how many pages or paragraphs there are in the whole piece; you read the sub headings and look for words that are bold, underlined or italicized. You notice any pictures or graphs and you look at them as you would watch a bird that flies across your path in the open field.

This is scanning: you simply get an awareness of your surroundings. In the case of reading, your surroundings are the entirety of the content in the material.

Back to the field – once you are attuned to your surroundings, you will naturally be more interested in certain aspects than others. This is what makes your experience in the field unlike anyone else’s. So you turn your attention to a cluster of trees, for example, and let your thoughts linger there longer than anywhere else. You study the trees, not in isolation, but in terms of their environment. You notice how they are clustered; you notice how they bridge the earth and the sky; you notice how they shelter the ground and house the bird you noticed earlier.

This is how you skim: you simply pick up certain specific bits of information from the reading and put it in your mental collection of take-aways form the material.

Notice that when scanning and skimming, you never sit down and read something word for word. The purpose of scanning and skimming is to first get an overview of understanding, and second, to gleam bits of information to take away, interpret, and use.

Colons and Semi-Colons

Colons and Semi-colons

Colons and semi-colons often confuse people when they are writing. Interestingly however, people usually don’t’ experience any confusion over colons and semi-colons when reading. That’s because we know how to interpret the meaning when we see it (implicit knowledge), but don’t necessarily know the rules that govern their use (explicit knowledge).

Personally, I never try to recall any specific rules I may have learned at some point in some boring English class when I’m writing. I just think the words in my head and listen to how they sound to direct my choice of punctuation. There are a couple of rules that are like old faithful standbys that come to the forefront of my mind when it comes to the difference between colons and semi-colons though, so I’ll share them with you here.

A colon is 2 dots on top of each other and it looks like this (:). That’s just what it is – a colon. A semi-colon is kind of like a colon, but not complete – it’s a “semi” version of the real thing. It looks like this (;).

So here’s the deal: you use a semi-colon between 2 complete sentences that are similar in meaning so that you read it like a gentle pause, not a stop. (A colon would indicate a full stop; a semi-colon however, indicates a “semi” version of the real thing). Sure, you could use a period instead and create 2 separate sentences, but that would read a little more choppy and stunted than if you used the semi-colon. The use of the semi-colon allows you to emphasize the fact that the 2 sentences are so closely related that you really don’t want to separate them by placing a period at the end of each one. Think of them as twins – individual in many ways, but inseparable.

(By the way, using a semi-colon makes me feel confident and authoritative because I’m using long, sophisticated sentences!)

Check out this example:
Complete sentence #1: My children’s father is Japanese.
Complete sentence #2: They speak Japanese at home but not in front of their friends.
Use of a semi-colon: My children’s father is Japanese; they speak Japanese at home but not in front of their friends.

Can you see how using a semi-colon emphasizes the relationship between the 2 sentences more than if you left them separate and simple?

As for colons – the general rule of thumb I follow is that a colon announces that I am about to present an example or more information about something. It says to your reader: “Here’s what I’m talking about.” It also says I am about to present a list to you.

Check out these examples:
The vitamins that promote healthy hair growth include: Vitamin B5, B6, B12, and Biotin.
The following vitamins promote healthy hair growth: Vitamin B5, B6, B12 and Biotin.
These are the vitamins that promote healthy hair growth: B5, B6, B12 and Biotin.

Notice how the colon comes after these phrases:
The following
These are…

Other phrases that are usually followed by a colon include:
These (things)…
Such as…
As follows
There are …

There are other times you use a colon such as in the use of time (12:15) or after the salutation in a formal letter (to whom it may concern:), but I’m not talking about that stuff right now. Right now my focus is on basic writing.

Just for the fun of it, why don’t you go back through this article and find all the colons and semi-colons and see if they match up to what I’ve said about them. Have fun!