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Writing Tips: 281- 290

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Tip #281: Do not use an adverb to express a meaning already contained in the verb. Do not say "assemble together" or "first begin"; use " assemble" or "first."

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Please correct the following adverb usage: 1. Please return back the books you do not need. 2. Our department must learn to cooperate together. 3. You may follow after the last group. 4. Finish off the work you have on your desk.

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Last week's exercise: insert the correct apostrophe in the following sentences:

1. This years product is better than last years. 2. We have been invited to the Smiths party. 3. The earths atmosphere is cloudy, 4. The wild animal was kept at arms length. *******

Answers: 1. This year's product is better than last year's. 2. We have been invited to the Smith's party. 3. The earth's atmosphere is cloudy, 4. The wild animal was kept at arm's length.

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"Words are often seen hunting for an idea, but ideas are never seen hunting for words." (Josh Billings)





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Tip # 282: Accentuate the positive. Research shows that it takes the mind longer to understand a negative statement than the same ideas stated positively.

For example: A reader can grasp: "The plan succeeded more quickly." rather than: "The plan did not fail."

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Correct the double negatives in the following: 1. We cannot sit by and do nothing. 2. Jake is not unaware of the facts. 3. I see nothing wrong with neither proposal.

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Last week's exercise: Please correct the following adverb usage: 1. Please return back the books you do not need. 2. Our department must learn to cooperate together. 3. You may follow after the last group. 4. Finish off the work you have on your desk. *******

Answers: 1. Please return the books you do not need. 2. Our department must learn to cooperate. 3. You may follow the last group. 4. Finish the work you have on your desk.

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Correction: In Tip # 280, see sentence # 2: We have been invited to the Smiths party.

The correct answer is, "We have been invited to the Smiths' party." If the sentence were, "We have been invited to Sarah and James Smith's party," the answer would have been correct to use "Smith's party."

Thank you to those who pointed out the error.

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"Humble people don't think less of themselves-they just think about themselves less." (Anonymous)





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Tip # 283: Some words require certain prepositions.

For example:

Account for: I find it hard to account for his behavior

Account to: You will need to account to Ms. Jones for the loss of the key.

Apply for: You ought to apply for Mary's job.

Apply to: You should apply yourself to the job in order to master it.

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Select the version you consider the best:

a. Past history proves the basic principle that we must produce them at top capacity.

b. History proves we must produce them at capacity.

c. History proves the principle that we must produce them at capacity.

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Last week's exercise: Correct the double negatives in the following:

1. We cannot sit by and do nothing. 2. Jake is not unaware of the facts. 3. I see nothing wrong with neither proposal. *****

Suggested Answers: 1. We ought to do something. 2. Jake is unaware of the facts. 3. I see nothing wrong with either proposal. ******

Interesting comments:

Kent Butler comments: I actually heard a local TV weather-guesser say it was going to be "more cool" - what's happened to comparative suffixes? Anyway? ******

Rita McFarland comments on my example for Tip #282: Correction to: For example: A reader can grasp: "The plan succeeded more quickly." rather than "The plan did not fail."

Should be: A reader can grasp more quickly: "The plan succeeded" rather than "The plan did not fail."

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"Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go." ( William Feather)





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Tip # 284: The expression "cannot help but" is confusing and should not be used.

For example:

Poor: I can but try. Better: I can only try.

Poor: I cannot help but feel sorry for her. Better: I cannot help feeling sorry for her.

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Correct the punctuation: 1. We are getting report's from retailers about the orders. 2. If there are displays left by Thursday trash them. 3. The two company's continue to get requests from our larger retailers. 4. In the 90's, we were losing profits. 5. We are seeing a tremendous movement, of White Star, at our distributors.

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Last week's exercise: I chose B. In sentence A the word "past" is not needed because all history is past. In C, the phrase "the principle that" is unnecessary. **********

Corrections to the double negative exercise in tip # 282 exercise: I agree with the following comments based on:

Jack is not unaware of the facts. *****

Stan Stanley commented about last week's exercise: Sorry guys, but if "Jack is not unaware of the facts", then "Jack is aware of the facts." *****

Paula Polachek commented: The suggested revision for one of last week's exercises is incorrect. The second sentence, "Jake is not unaware of the facts," means that Jake is aware of the facts. A double negative, of course, renders a positive. Therefore, the revision should read: Jake is aware of the facts. Definitely, the sentence you included in your revisions ("Jake is unaware of the facts.") gives the wrong meaning. *****

Pamela Flores comments: 1. "We cannot sit by and do nothing" is roughly synonymous to "We ought to do something". 2. "Jake is not unaware of the facts" is NOT synonymous to "Jake is unaware of the facts". 3. "I see nothing wrong with neither proposal" is so poorly constructed that I assume it means "I see nothing wrong with either proposal". Therefore, I think the correct answer for item #2 is: 2. Jake is aware of the facts.

I think double negatives, such as the items #1 and #2, have a different emotional tone the grammatically corrected version. Sometimes a person might want to say, "Jake is not unaware of the facts". If the writer's intention is to contradict another's assertion that Jake is unaware of the facts, to reply with "Jake is NOT unaware of the facts" seems okay to me.

The same argument holds true for sentence #1. "We cannot sit by and do nothing" carries an implicit message that the players have been doing just that. The sentence carries a critical tone, whereas "We ought to do something" is less judgmental. What do you think? *****

Jackie Willers comments: The original version was "Jake is not unaware of the facts." (Meaning that Jake knows the facts.) The suggested answer was "Jake is unaware of the facts." (This statement reverses the meaning completely, informing us that Jake does NOT know the facts. Both statements are correct. It simply depends on what you mean to convey.

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"One way to avoid hard falls is to avoid jumping to conclusions."





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Tip # 285: These are some tips on how to edit your own copy:

1. Cut every word that does not add to the meaning. For example: use "few" instead of "few in number."

2. Be specific. For example: use "75 copies" instead of "numerous copies."

3. Use a "conversational tone." For example: use "I'll keep you informed" instead of "further information will follow."

4. Vary your sentence size as well as beginnings. Try not to start each sentence with the same noun or pronoun.

5. Start with your purpose.

6. Use only one topic for each paragraph.

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Include or delete the hyphen in the following sentences:

1. Use a self addressed envelope.

2. Harry is the co-author of the book.

3. She has a pre-existing disease.

4. This book is a self help type workbook.

5. The dictator set up a quasi judicial court.

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Last week's exercise: Correct the punctuation: 1. We are getting report's from retailers about the orders. 2. If there are displays left by Thursday trash them. 3. The two company's continue to get requests from our larger retailers. 4. In the 90's, we were losing profits. 5. We are seeing a tremendous movement, of White Star, at our distributors.

Suggested answers: 1. We are getting reports from retailers about the orders. 2. If there are displays left by Thursday, trash them. 3. The two companies continue to get requests from our larger retailers. 4. In the '90s, we were losing profits. (I prefer this use of the apostrophe, but please see the comments below.) 5. We are seeing a tremendous movement of White Star at our distributors. *******

The WriteWatchman comments on double negatives in Tip #284: Jack is not unaware of the facts. This sentence could easily be intended to mean that Jack is aware of the facts, but chooses not to address them for whatever reason.

Such a meaning is quite different from the sentence reading, "Jack is unaware of the facts." Here Jack simply has no knowledge of the facts. The first sentence could be used for an implication of negative behavior where the writer does not want to be either rude or directly accusatory.

These are two different sentences which have two distinctly different connotative meanings. The two sentences are also correct grammatically.

One must never forget that the amazing facility of the English language allows writing to communicate subtleties of meaning as well as straightforward facts. The choice regarding intent is of course always the writer's.

In tip # 284: The expression "cannot help but" is confusing and should not be used.

For example: Poor: I can but try. Better: I can only try.

Commentary: Both of these sentences are correct and whether to use one or the other is again a matter of writer's choice and the writer's desire for either directness or subtlety. The purpose of the writing is also important here; obviously a more complicated structure might not be appropriate in a business memo. Yet it can be very appropriate in an academic essay or a creative piece or used as dialogue from a character who wouldhave the background to speak that way.

The word "but" as it is used in this construction means "other than" or "merely" as in the sentence below:

I have no goal but to end war.

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Yossi David commented about the exercise in Tip #280:

I also prefer leaving the apostrophe out, and I think that The Chicago Manual of Style recommends that as well. The Government Printing Office Style Guide concurs, but NASA's Grammar, Punctuation, and Capitalization handbook likes the apostrophe (even though it says that it follows the GPO recommendation). I'm sure there are more references that "like" the apostrophe so I have a feeling you may have opened a can of worms with this one (was that your intention?)

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"The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than served by criticism." (Norman Vincent Peale, clergyman and writer)


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Tip # 286: Be consistent when taking minutes at a meeting. The new recording secretary needs to examine the published proceedings of similar meetings, so as to conform to the customs of the organization's style of minutes.

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Correct any words that do or do not need capitalization.

1. The Advertising Department of Black & White will meet next week. 2. The democratic and liberal parties have joined forces. 3. Please send these documents to the Federal Government. 4. Greenwich village is a popular place in New York.

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Last week's exercise: Include or delete the hyphen in the following sentences:

1. Use a self addressed envelope. 2. Harry is the co-author of the book. 3. She has a pre-existing disease. 4. This book is a self help type workbook. 5. The dictator set up a quasi judicial court. ******

Suggested answers: 1. Use a self-addressed envelope. 2. Harry is the coauthor of the book. 3. She has a preexisting disease. 4. This book is a self-help type workbook. 5. The dictator set up a quasi-judicial court.

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"A ship in a safe harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for." (William Shedd)


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Tip # 287: When a quoted sentence stands alone, put the appropriate mark of terminal punctuation-a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point-inside the closing quotation mark.

"I think we should switch suppliers at once." "Can you send us your comments today?" "I won't accept that response!"

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Please place the correct punctuation in the following sentences:

1. Jose would say only this I'll send you my new address when I am settled 2. All she said was No 3. Did you say I'll help you out 4. I wanted to read Who Pays the Bill

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Last week's exercise: Correct any words that do or do not need capitalization.

1. The Advertising Department of Black & White will meet next week. 2. The democratic and liberal parties have joined forces. 3. Please send these documents to the Federal Government. 4. Greenwich village is a popular place in New York. ******

Suggested answers:

1. The advertising department of Black & White will meet next week. 2. The Democratic and Liberal Parties have joined forces. 3. Please send these documents to the federal government. 4. Greenwich Village is a popular place in New York.

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"Flexible people never get bent out of shape."





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Tip # 288: When proofreading, be watchful for the following mistakes:

1. Repeating words or parts of words. 2. Substitutions and omissions, especially those that change the meaning. For example: "now" instead of "not." 3. Errors in copying key data. 4. Transitions in letters, numbers, and words. 5. Errors in spacing and inconsistencies in format (for example, indenting some paragraphs but not others).

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Proofread the following and correct any errors:

Thank you for your letter of October third in which you requested information about courses. I know how difficult it can be to find a good comprehensive writing course. Especially when you live a few 1,000 miles away. Since you will not be arriving in the Boston area until the Spring let me answer your major questions now.

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Last week's exercise: Please place the correct punctuation in the following sentences:

1. Jose would say only this I'll send you my new address when I am settled 2. All she said was No 3. Did you say I'll help you out 4. I wanted to read Who Pays the Bill ******

Suggested answers:

1. Jose would say only this: "I'll send you my new address when I am settled." 2. All she said was, "No." 3. Did you say, "I'll help you out"? 4. I wanted to read "Who Pays the Bill?"

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"A short pen is better than a long memory." (Confucious, 551-479 B.C.)





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Tip # 289: Do not use percentages alone to get a point across. For example:

Difficult to understand: Your pension will be 4% less for each year you retire early."

Easier to understand: If your pension is $1,000 a month, which means you will get only $800 a month if you retire five years early. (Adapted from Anne Black, "New Era of Benefits Communication").

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Which of the following is correct:

"Hold on to the past"

or

"Hold onto the past"?

Please explain.

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Last week's exercise: Proofread the following and correct any errors:

Thank you for your letter of October third in which you requested information about courses. I know how difficult it can be to find a good comprehensive writing course. Especially when you live a few 1,000 miles away. Since you will not be arriving in the Boston area until the Spring let me answer your major questions now. *****

Suggested answer:

Thank you for your letter of October 3rd in which you requested information about courses. I know how difficult it can be to find a good, comprehensive writing course, especially when you live a few thousand miles away. Since you will not be arriving in the Boston area until the spring, let me answer your major questions now.

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"The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: 'I did not have time.'" (Franklin Field)





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