Writing Center Consultant Haili Vinson has more common writing issues t be on the look out for as you improve your writing.
As you continue drafting and revising this spring (and visiting the Writing Center!), here are a few more common issues to look out for in your papers.
- Pesky words: to combine or not to combine?
The words “everyday” and “altogether” cause trouble for many writers because we can get them confused with their counterparts, “every day” and “all together.” Use the adjective “everyday” as one word when referring to something ordinary or routine, such as “everyday clothes” or “everyday wear and tear.” Use “every day” when referring to each day that something occurs; for instance, “I exercised every day last week.”
Similarly, the meaning of “altogether” changes when it’s split up. The adverb “altogether” means completely or totally, as in, “Altogether, she has five cats.” By contrast, “all together” refers to something done as a group or collection. For instance, “The students sang all together.”
- Weaving quotes in
You’ve probably heard this more than once from your teachers: quotes shouldn’t be simply “dropped in” your papers, but stringed along with your own syntax. The easiest way to accomplish this is to introduce the author, add a strong verb, a comma (when necessary), and begin the quote. For example: Plato attests, “Love is a serious mental disease.” Another easy beginning: According to Plato, “Love is a serious mental disease.”
You could also write: Plato describes love as “a serious mental disease.” I didn’t use the entire quote here because I rephrased part of it, then used the rest to finish off my sentence. In this way, the quote fits neatly with my own syntax. Whatever you do, don’t force the quote into your own language; make sure your grammar stays accurate when weaving them in.
- Fun with semicolons
Semicolons are one of the most frequently misused marks of punctuation. I didn’t use them correctly until my first semester of graduate school (hey, no one explained them to me!). Use a semicolon only when what appears on either side of it could stand alone as a full separate sentence (with a subject and predicate), and when those sides directly relate to one another, as in you would like them combined in the same sentence.
For instance: “The media anticipates high voter turnout this election season; polls suggest an increase of 11% compared to the last cycle.” Be careful with words such as “which” and “while” that create dependence and turn complete thoughts into dependent clauses. For instance, the following semicolon is inaccurate, and should be replaced with a comma: “The media anticipates high voter turnout this election season; which has been predicted through early polling.” You can also use semicolons to separate lengthy clauses in a list, or when a list involves items with commas; for instance, “Jordan has been to the mountains in Denver, Colorado; to Central Park in New York, New York; and to the shores of Miami Beach, Florida.”
- References to individuals
This rule is simple, but one that writers easily forget. When you refer to a person for the first time, use his or her first and last name. Each time afterwards, use only the last name. Never refer to a well-known individual by only his or her first name. For instance, we would never write, “Barack became the first African-American U.S. president in 2009.” An exception applies when writing about certain fictional characters, such as Harry Potter. Most would agree that it’s acceptable (and even preferred) to refer to him as “Harry” while writing about the novel, partially because the reference “Potter” may result in confusion of characters. However, “Snape” could refer only to one character, and is appropriate for use. Always ask your instructors which rule they prefer in regards to writing about fictional characters.
- Talks about
Students frequently use “talks about” when signifying what an author, well, talks about. This quickly became a pet peeve of mine as an instructor because there are so many stronger (and more specific) synonyms available, such as discusses, explores, analyzes, explains, demonstrates, asserts, shows, evinces, provides, illustrates, delineates, indicates, details, notes, denotes, maintains, develops, affirms, holds, evaluates, addresses, reasons, examines, finds, suggests, posits, offers, observes, etc. Try to avoid “talks about” by practicing with more vivid and clear verbs. Your writing will be more varied and accurate for it!