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10 Directional-Sign Disasters

Here’s a photo gallery of directional signs that should give visitors pause. Enclosing one or more words in quotation marks when the marks are not used in the context of quoting another person is widely believed to represent emphasis, but among careful writers, this technique represents skepticism or distancing oneself from the term, as if…

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Does Good Writing Matter?

The question in the headline for this post is the heading of an online survey I came across recently. I’ve reproduced the survey questions below and answered them based on my own opinions. Complete the survey yourself, and then compare your responses with mine. 1. Do you judge other people based on their writing? Yes,…

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5 Cases of “Which”/“That” Confusion

Perhaps you are confused by grammatical discussions of restrictive and nonrestrictive — or essential or nonessential — clauses. (I know I can never keep those terms straight.) Never mind the nomenclature; when you’re editing your own writing, or someone else’s, simply read the phrase that follows a which (or who) or a that and determine…

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Which Writers Inspire You?

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s likely to fall flat when extended to emulating a favorite author’s writing style. That said, studying one’s favorite writers for inspiration can be productive. I would never attempt to copy the writing style of Patrick O’Brian, whose gifts I discussed in this post. In his…

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5 Cases of Faulty Parallelism

Sentence construction is often compromised by simple errors involving a gratuitous comma or a missing conjunction, and often both. Here are five faultily constructed sentences shored up by correcting minor problems such as these. 1. “As a consequence, he said, he lost his job, his family, and has scraped by from one low-wage job to…

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Take Nothing for Granted

Just when you think you know everything, you’re reminded that subtlety and nuance are part of even the most mundane information. It’s been said that facts are inconvenient things, but they’re especially vexing for writers, because there are facts, and then there’s what really happened. I just read today that a fellow named Gustave Whitehead…

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3 Appositive Errors

Confusion often arises as to how or whether to punctuate appositive phrases, which are descriptions that identify someone or something named in the same sentence. Here are three statements with punctuation problems that illustrate the peril of improper punctuation, with explanations and suggested revisions. 1. “The fog arrived unannounced — ‘on little cat feet,’ as…

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50 Synonyms and Idioms for “Give”

It’s better to give than to receive, and it’s easier to precisely describe giving than receiving, thanks to numerous synonyms for give. Here are dozens of them, with connotative definitions. 1. Accord: to give what is due 2. Administer: to give medication, to perform a religious ritual, or to carry out a punishment 3. Afford:…

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