Monthly Archives: December 2013


Language/Writing Tip 13

Here are some mistakes that make you look very bad.

1) forgetting commas around appositional phrases:

“The book, as we have seen is long.”
“The last time I, dressed in green in red attended a party…”
“Stanko and Janko, the well-known gangsters both forget where they had parked.”

“The book, as we have seen, is long.”
“The last time I, dressed in green in red, attended a party…”
“Stanko and Janko, the well-known gangsters, both forgot where they had parked.”

2) Know the difference between “first” as a dubious synonym for the adverb “firstly” and “__ first”

“First person to set foot on the moon…” is embarrassing.

Less embarrassing but still wrong:

“There are three ways to eat a chocolate eclair. First…”

No. It has to be “THE first” because you mean “The first way…”

3) Not “a bit snotty way” but:

a) “a bit of a snotty way”
b) [more elegant-sounding and formal: “a somewhat snotty way”



Language/Writing Tip 12

A rule of thumb for using the phrase “let alone”: it generally follows a negative. Three examples from a online book-search for “let alone consider”

a) “NOBODY can be conscious of, let alone consider, all aspects…”
b) “But it is already an advantage with respect to interpretive economy NOT TO HAVE TO CONSIDER the possibility of having here case of type 3 of CS, let alone consider the adjectival meaning…”
c) “There is such a chaos of contentious, INCONSISTENT, UNRELATED elements in the field that it is impossible to make sense of it, let alone consider it to be scientific.”

Compare these distortions of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham”:

“I would not, could not, in the rain.
Not in the dark. [LET ALONE] on a train…”

BIZARRE (after Sam tries the eggs and ham):

“And I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. [LET ALONE] on a train…”

Of course, you can also use “let alone” to signal a contrast or intensification of (negative) possibilities, as in these two examples:

a) “In a postmodern era of exponential change, how can we take stability seriously, LET ALONE consider it a virtue?”
b) “The embodiment of ugliness belonging to one person was too overwhelming to separate, LET ALONE consider that it was coming from a father who would do anything for his family.”

Synonyms for “let alone” include “much less” and “still less” and “gee, golly, I don’t even want to…”


Language/Writing Tip 11

1) Here’s a nifty construction that, for whatever reason, is underused:

“She was among the first to research…”

Students almost always opt for:

“She was among the first WHO RESEARCHED…”

2) Watch out for this type of methodological circularity:

“By comparing the two novels, I will establish what the differences are.”

“By comparing implies a process,” but how else can one find “differences”?

Less grandiose-sounding but more understandable:

“I compared the two novels and found many differences.”

More here:

Tips Various

Language/Writing Tip 10

When mentioning time, note the difference between “only at” and “not until”:

“I can meet you only at four” does not mean “I can’t meet you until four.”

If you want to emphasize tardiness, use “not until”:

1) “He only got there at noon.” (neutral)
2) “He did not get there until noon.” (lazy!)


Language/Writing Tip 9

A few things to avoid in academic writing:

1) Do not italicize the comma after a list of titles – that is, italicize only the novel title, not the comma that follows. This is a minor point, but it takes forever for the lowly proofreader to correct.

2) Try not to advertise private companies: if you can avoid Amazon (and refer perhaps to Worldcat), Google (and say “an internet search”), etc., do so.

Such avoidance is, of course, often unavoidable, but keep it in mind.

3) The Oxford comma. If you use it, use it consistently: “ham, eggs, and coffee” on page 4 should not be “ham, eggs and coffee” on page 10 (especially if the same terms are repeated verbatim).

4) Discursive and substantive footnotes and endnotes. Keep ’em short.

(I will add some examples over the next few days.)