Formal Writing Most Frequent Temptations



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Formal Writing


Most Frequent Temptations

  • Proper case and person of pronouns

  • Verb number

  • Demonstrative “This”

  • Use of first and second persons

  • Confusion of APA and Turabian Styles



Proper case and person of pronouns

  • The student submitted their paper.

  • The student submitted his paper.

      • student is singular; therefore, the modifying pronoun should be singular.


Proper case and person of pronouns

  • Everyone submitted their own paper.

  • Everyone submitted his or her own paper.

      • everyone is singular; therefore, the modifying pronoun should be singular.
      • other words that are singular include: each, someone, nobody, anybody.


Proper case and person of pronouns

  • There is in general conversation and in conversational writing today an attempt to avoid “his/her” constructions by simply using “their,” whether or not the modified word is plural. Such usage is not acceptable in formal writing.



Proper case and person of pronouns

  • The use of “he” to embrace both genders used to be a conventional tool to avoid the awkwardness of using both “he and she,” “his or her.”

  • Sensitivity to sexist language today precludes the use of such conventions.

  • One way to avoid the awkwardness is to use the plural:

    • The writer must address his or her readers’ concerns.
    • Writers must address their readers’ concerns.
  • See the APA and Turabian style guides for other possibilities



Verb number

  • The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

  • Her list of Piaget’s stages of development, including the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages, were incomplete.

  • Her list of Piaget’s stages of development, including the sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational stages, was incomplete.



The demonstrative pronoun “This” typically requires a noun.

  • This is incorrect.

  • These were incorrect.

  • This what? These what?

    • This statement is incorrect.
    • These items were incorrect.


That and which

  • The book that I want is on the table.

  • The book, which I want, is on the table.

  • The use of “ which” typically requires a comma. The use of “that” does not typically require a comma.



Academic writing typically uses the third person, except in direct quotations.

  • Use of the first person “I” is traditionally seen as a violation of the quest for objectivity. There are, however, exceptions, e.g., qualitative research reports. In any event, the first person should not be overused.

  • Use of the second person (“you”) is invariably awkward in academic writing.



Word Splurge

  • Why use ten words when three words will do?

  • Treat words like money. Do not spend more than is absolutely necessary.

  • Succinct.

  • Barzun, Jacques. Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers. Rev. ed. New York: Harper, 1984.



Thesis Statement

  • Guess what I am thinking.

  • In order not to play this game, include a direct statement of purpose:

    • The purpose of this paper is….
    • This paper seeks to….
    • To that end, this paper will….
  • Write the purpose sentence first. Garbage in, garbage out.

  • The thesis or purpose statement generally comes somewhere on the first page.



Conclusion

  • Help the reader by demonstrating to her or him that you have done what you said you would do in your purpose statement.

  • Make it memorable.

  • Offer some response to the “So what?” question.



To assist the reader:

  • Hey! Grab his or her attention in the first paragraph.

  • Include a direct purpose statement somewhere on the first page. As a rule of thumb, aim to put the purpose statement at the end of the first paragraph or somewhere in the second paragraph.

  • Summarize and/or conclude your paper in a way that helps the reader evaluate whether or not you did what you said you would do.



Paragraph Length

  • A paragraph must have at least two sentences.

  • A paragraph must have at least two sentences. The above example did not constitute a paragraph. This example does illustrate a paragraph.

  • When a paragraph exceeds five or six sentences, think about subdividing it.



Verb tenses within a paragraph

  • Generally, verb tenses within a paragraph are consistent. Because the writer did not keep verb tenses consistent, the reader was confused. Switching verb tenses often signals communication of a new idea. Such communication will often be facilitated by beginning a new paragraph.



Revision

  • Good writing entails several drafts and numerous revisions.

  • “Three before me.” When you are satisfied with your paper, have run spell and grammar checks, have checked formatting and MLA style, give it to at least three other persons to read and edit.

  • My grandmother should understand your paper. On the one hand, do not insult her intelligence. On the other hand, do not lead her to doubt your intelligence.





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