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Communicating Effectively

     Effective writing must demonstrate an awareness of audience. Most academic writing presumes an informed, knowledgeable reader. Given that audience, the writer's basic considerations should be: what does the audience know about the topic, how is the audience likely to respond, what response does the writer want, and what level of vocabulary should the writer use.

     As the purpose of academic writing is to communicate, a careful writer must apply standard English in order to avoid distractions and misunderstandings. Effective communication is not merely correct, as the Humanities and Fine Arts Division grading standards reflect (see page 12), but involves adherence to certain stylistic principles.

Grammar

     In the judgment of the Humanities and Fine Arts faculty, the following crucial errors must be avoided in grammar or mechanics:

1. Sentence boundary faults including:

A. sentence fragments

Fragment: Moving through the crowd quickly because he was late for the train.

Correct: Moving through the crowd quickly because he was late for the train, James Johnson pushed several people out of his way.

B. run-on or fused sentences

Run-on: Anderson made many mistakes in the game most of them were in strategy and defense.

Correct: Anderson made many mistakes in the game. Most of them were in strategy and defense.

Correct: Anderson made many mistakes in the game; most of them were in strategy and defense.

Correct: Anderson made many mistakes in the game, but most of them were in strategy and defense.

C. comma splices

Comma splice: Anderson made many mistakes in the game, most of them were in strategy and defense.

Comma splice: Anderson made many mistakes in the game, however, most of them were in strategy and defense.

Correct: Anderson made many mistakes in the game; however, most of them were in strategy and defense.

Correct: (See above under run-on or fused)

2. Spelling errors including non-words or run-together words

Errors: can not, thru, lite, nite, alot, eventhough

Correct: cannot, through, light, night, a lot, even though

3. Misuse of pronouns including:

A. confused pronoun references

Confused or vague: Williams is a better manager than Weston, although he is more creative.

Correct: Although Weston is more creative, Williams is the better manager.

B. vague use of "it" and "they"

Confused or vague: It is clear that it will be difficult to accomplish.

Correct: Meeting the goal will be difficult.

Confused or vague: At the Records Office they said the deadline was March 1.

Correct: The Records Office Director said the deadline was March 1.

C. lack of pronoun antecedent agreement

Incorrect: A student learns that there is a limit to what they can do.

Correct: Students learn that there are limits to what they can do.

Incorrect: Everyone who attended the game stood and clapped their hands.

Correct: The spectators stood and clapped their hands. (See #6A about nondiscriminatory pronouns.)

D. shifts in person

Incorrect: When a student leaves home for the first time, you learn to manage your money.

Correct: Students learn to manage their money when they leave home for the first time.

E. improper use of reflexive pronouns

Incorrect: Joe and myself are going to the store.

Correct: Joe and I are going to the store.

4. Misuse of verbs including:

A. lack of subject verb agreement

Incorrect: One of the books were more than $30.

Correct: One of the books was more than $30.

Incorrect: Either the editors or the photographer are in charge.

Correct: Either the editors or the photographer is in charge.

Incorrect: Each of the students are late.

Correct: Each of the students is late.

B. shifts in tense

Incorrect: Clark worked at three jobs because he has been in debt and has needed the money.

Correct: Clark worked at three jobs because he was in debt and needed the money.

Incorrect: He had been in college for three years when he started his internship, gave up his job and moves to the city.

Correct: He had been in college for three years when he started his internship, gave up his job and moved to the city.

C. use of non-standard forms

Non-standard: The boys seen her at the mall.

Correct: The boys saw her at the mall.

Non-standard: The carpenter layed her tools on the cabinet.

Correct: The carpenter laid her tools on the cabinet.

Non-standard: He nearly freezed to death last night.

Correct: He nearly froze to death last night.

Non-standard: She could of forgotten her keys.

Correct: She could have forgotten her keys.

Non-standard: If I was Joe, I would already be finished with English.

Correct: If I were Joe, I would already be finished with English.

5. Basic usage errors including confusion of homonyms:

A. there/their/they're

Correct: Put the book there. (adverb of place)

Correct: It was their car. (possessive pronoun)

Correct: They're planning to attend. (contraction of they are)

B. your/you're

Correct: Your car is new. (possessive pronoun)

Correct: You're the winner. (contraction for you are)

C. to/two/too

Correct: He wants to go. (infinitive)

Correct: He will go to town. (preposition)

Correct: The book is too expensive. (adverb meaning excessively or also)

D. its/it's

Correct: The dog lost its bone. (possessive pronoun)

Correct: It's a beautiful day. (contraction for it is)

E. accept/except

Correct: Charles will accept the prize. (verb meaning receive)

Correct: Everyone attended except Charles. (preposition of exclusion)

6. Discriminating language

     Scholarly writing today requires the use of nondiscriminatory language. The Modern Language Association and the American Psychological Association, among others; many journals; government agencies; businesses; and industries have adopted policies prohibiting the use of prejudicial language, focusing special attention on sexist words and expressions. The following guidelines suggest techniques for avoiding prejudicial and particularly sexist language:

A. Avoid discrimination in the use of pronouns.

1. Use "he or she" instead of "he" or "his or her" instead of "his" when the reference could be to a man or a woman. This structure is acceptable, although it is sometimes a bit awkward.

Discriminating: Would the student that parked in the faculty lot please move his car?

Better: Would the student who parked in the faculty lot please move his or her car?

2. Change the noun to a plural and use the plural, non-gender marking pronoun "they" or "their."

Discriminating: A charge nurse must check her patients' charts often.

Better: Charge nurses must check their patients' charts often.

Discriminating: A serious student attends all of his classes.

Better: Serious students attend all of their classes.

3. Change "he" or "his" to a non-gender marking pronoun.

Discriminating: A serious student attends all of his classes.

Better: Serious students will attend all of their classes.

4. Change the wording so that the pronoun can be omitted.

Discriminating: A charge nurse must check her patients' charts often.

Better: The charge nurse must check the charts.

Discriminating: A serious student attends all of his classes.

Better: A serious student attends all classes.

B. Avoid discriminatory references, titles, or identifications applied to women, racial or ethnic groups.

1. Do not use words that identify a person's race, gender, or ethnic group unless it is necessary.

Discriminating:   Better:
"woman" doctor   the doctor
"male" nurse   the nurse
"black" lawyer   the lawyer

2. Avoid references to a woman that identify her by her husband or her children unless the context demands it.

Discriminating: Jane Wilson, wife of banker John Wilson, has been nominated for Business Woman of the Year.

Better: Jane Wilson, Manager of Printing Unlimited, has been nominated for Business Woman of the Year.

Discriminating: Jane Wilson, mother of four, has been named Executive of the Year.

Better: Jane Wilson, mother of four, has been named Mother of the Year.

3. If a form of address is needed, "Ms." should be used to avoid bias—unless the woman indicates that she prefers "Miss" or Mrs."

4. Avoid words that include "man" when reasonable substitutes are available.

Discriminating:   Better:
man   person
policeman   police officer
best man for the job   best person for the job
manpower   work force or personnel

 

Discriminating:   Better:
chairman   chair
salesman   sales representative

Note: Do not create awkward constructions like "Congressperson" and "gentlefolk" to avoid sexist language. Instead restructure the sentence.

Discriminating: Every Congressman will be at the meeting.

Awkward: Every Congressperson will be at the meeting.

Better: Every representative will be at the meeting.

Also avoid such strange creations as "personhole cover" and "snowperson."

 

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