Tips

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”:

CORRECT:
“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…”

Tips

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: http://www2.arnes.si/~bjason/index.html#guides

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!)

Tips

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.)

Tips

Language/Writing Tip 8

This is less of a tip than food for thought.

Read this sentence aloud (slightly changed from a real, published example):

“And universities have similarly raised intellectual property concerns over ownership of the online courses their professors are now asked to assemble, indicating that ‘the future of their profession’ is at stake.”

The sentence is not gorgeous, which is excusable. It is needlessly difficult to understand, which is not excusable.

In class, I asked students to restore semantic order. The short but simple solution provided? “Add ‘that.'”

“And universities have similarly raised intellectual property concerns over ownership of the online courses THAT their professors are now asked to assemble, indicating that ‘the future of their profession’ is at stake.”

Much clearer and there’s no need to puzzle out the meaning.

NOTE:

This will be the last tip for a few weeks.

All tips for this year, as well as diploma thesis advice, are available at:

http://www2.arnes.si/~bjason/LW%20tips.pdf

You might also want to ponder:

http://www2.arnes.si/~bjason/LNW.pdf

Tips

Language/Writing Tip 7

This will not be a stellar explanation, but here goes…

Often there is a comma missing before “with” – that is, in qualifying clauses or whatever they’re called.

Example:

“He went to sea with an oar as his sole companion.”

Clearer to my ear/eye:

“He went to sea, with an oar as his sole companion.”

Another, real example:

“It is also unregulated and mostly part of the grey economy with known breaches of worker’s rights.”

No.

“It is also unregulated and mostly part of the grey economy [COMMA] with known breaches of worker’s rights.”

Sometimes the comma-less “with” seems to aim at emphasis, as in:

“This is the total population of the Mediterranean with the Island of Sicily.”

How about?

“This is the total population of the Mediterranean, INCLUDING the Island of Sicily”?

Ask your grammar professors for a better explanation.
In the meantime, be vigilant!

Tips

Language/Writing Tip 6

Language/Writing Tip 6

This funny-sounding combination pops up occasionally:
“As a future author, young Hemingway was an avid reader.”
or
“In her efforts to improve her writing, elderly Munro turned to the spellcheck.”
“young Hemingway” and “elderly Munro” sound dismissive.
More neutral: “the young Hemingway” and “the elderly Munro.”

Note:

All tips for this year, as well as diploma thesis advice, are available at:

http://www2.arnes.si/~bjason/LW%20tips.pdf

You might also want to ponder:

http://www2.arnes.si/~bjason/LNW.pdf

Tips

Language/Writing Tip 5

I have lately had the un-pleasure of proofreading a number of academic articles.
I have come to hate the phrase “to shed some light on…”

A few examples:

a) “This paper aims to shed some light on immigration.”
b) “This paper strives to shed light on the movie industry.”
c) “This paper has as its purpose the shedding of light on academia.”

Dull, dull, dull. And we have to read on to figure out what the paper is actually about.

Using the replacement-test, we arrive at: “By turning on the lamp, I aim to shed light on the room…” Silly-sounding, but no less circular than the above examples.

There may be arguments for using “shed light on.” Keep in mind, however, that:
1) the phrase is overused to the point of cliché.
2) if the noun after “shed light on” is vague, the sentence is hardly illuminating. a, b, and c, do not provide a thesis.
3) the combination “aims to” or “tries to” or “strives to” with “shed light on” is almost always laughable.
4) What is “some light”?

…if you are specific, the phrase “to shed light on” is tolerable:

“This paper aims to shed light on the use of Form T-29a in regulating immigration.”
“This paper strives to shed light on the use of professional Slovenian soccer players in the movie industry.”

Tips

Language/Writing Tip 4

“Rather” is rather annoying because it looks like it should be a verb:

“I would rather eat snake soup,” she said after he asked her out.

“Rather” is an adverb. It is not a verbal synonym for “to prefer,” which means that this sentence is wrong and torture to the eye or ear:

“I rather run away than fight you.”

“I would rather run away than fight you.”

In lieu of a lengthy explanation, use this rule of thumb:

When qualifying verbs, only use “rather” with “would.”

Tips Various

Language/Writing Tip 3

“Express your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence” is pretty solid advice.

The above quotation is taken from:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/07/the-short-sentence-as-gospel-truth/?src=me&ref=general

Check it out. You will learn something. Or you might find the advice glib. But do consider it.

The advantage of short sentences for your main idea: no one will lose your thesis is a forest of other ideas.

The disadvantages: it can sound like brow-beating, a harangue or politicking. In other words, expressing complicated ideas in short, short sentences is often over-simplifying. Nobody can express nuance in a five-word sentence. As I hope to have shown in the “Check it out” series of sentences, a series of short sentences is death to rhythm.

On a side-note: keep your e-mails brief. If you want to ask me something, don’t hide the request within 150 words of fluff. Just ask. Be direct but not accusatory (stay tuned for more on this).

Also, check out last year’s series of language notes at:

http://www2.arnes.si/~bjason/LNW.pdf

101 English Tips: A Quick Guide to Avoiding “Slovenglish” is available at:

http://www2.arnes.si/~bjason/101%20Tips%20-%20BLAKE.pdf

and (in a groovy page-turning form) at:

http://issuu.com/znanstvenazalozbaff/docs/101_english_tips_final

NOTE THAT 70% OF STUDENT MISTAKES ARE EXPLICITLY COVERED IN THESE GUIDES.