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Saturday, April 14, 2012

How can I proofread and edit my writing?

First, I encourage you to use this three-step proofreading method:
  1. SPELL CHECK for careless mistakes: First, please use the free spell and grammar check programs offered by MS Word and/or Google Docs.
  2. READ ALOUD to check your grammar and style: Next, read your essay draft aloud at full volume to catch awkward phrasings and words that you are using too frequently.
  3. READ BACKWARDS to check your logic: After taking a short break (get away from your computer!), read your essay "backwards". Start with your final sentence and work back to your first. Are you making any logical leaps? How are your transitions?


More Proofreading Strategies to Try
  • Skim your paper, pausing at the words "and" and "or." Check on each side of these words to see whether the items joined are parallel. If not, make them parallel.
  • If you have several items in a list, put them in a column to see if they are parallel.
  • Listen to the sound of the items in a list or the items being compared. Do you hear the same kinds of sounds? For example, is there a series of "-ing" words beginning each item? Or do your hear a rhythm being repeated? If something is breaking that rhythm or repetition of sound, check to see if it needs to be made parallel.
 

How To Edit Your Own Writing (Self-Editing)
from http://home.earthlink.net/~jdc24/selfEdit.htm

Editing takes considerable patience. I list below some reasonable ideas for each edit cycle. The sequence that you execute these steps may impact the style you produce; experiment a bit to see what order works best for your writing. You will know you are done editing when you are positively sick and tired of reading your work again.

A. Dictionary Check


Go through your document and look up in a dictionary any words where you aren't 101 percent sure of their meaning. I've surprised myself a couple of times when I have used a word repeatedly only to look it up and find it has another meaning entirely.

 
B. Action and Active Voice

Your writing will be clearer if you structure your sentences as subject-verb-object; tell action rather than describing situations. Use your word processor to search for words ending in "-ed" -- if you preceded this word by "is" or "was" (or similar verbs) the phrase would be better rewritten. Also check for the word "there" followed by "is" or "are" (or similar verbs).


D. Be Positive


Occasionally the word "not" is useful for emphasis. Most of the time though a sentence is stronger when positive; use your word processor to search for the word "not" and recast the sentence using other descriptives.


E. Drown Your Darlings


If something sticks in your mind as being "ever so clever" you probably should remove it.


F. Re-order Your Words and Sentences


Keep related words together -- adjectives next to their nouns.





MY ESSAY IS STILL TOO LONG! HOW DO I CUT WORDS?
  • Read your essay aloud at full volume (doing so forces you to go slow).
  • After each word or phrase, ask yourself, "If I cut this, will my meaning change?"
  • If the answer is "no", then cut it!
More tips here, including this activity from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL), which is a fantastic resource for writers.  


Conciseness

Summary: This resource will help you write clearly by eliminating unnecessary words and rearranging your phrases.
Contributors: Ryan Weber, Nick Hurm
Last Edited: 2010-04-17 05:34:19

The goal of concise writing is to use the most effective words. Concise writing does not always have the fewest words, but it always uses the strongest ones. Writers often fill sentences with weak or unnecessary words that can be deleted or replaced. Words and phrases should be deliberately chosen for the work they are doing. Like bad employees, words that don't accomplish enough should be fired. When only the most effective words remain, writing will be far more concise and readable.

This resource contains general conciseness tips followed by very specific strategies for pruning sentences.

1. Replace several vague words with more powerful and specific words.

Often, writers use several small and ambiguous words to express a concept, wasting energy expressing ideas better relayed through fewer specific words. As a general rule, more specific words lead to more concise writing. Because of the variety of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, most things have a closely corresponding description. Brainstorming or searching a thesaurus can lead to the word best suited for a specific instance. Notice that the examples below actually convey more as they drop in word count.



Wordy: The politician talked about several of the merits of after-school programs in his speech (14 words)
Concise: The politician touted after-school programs in his speech. (8 words)




Wordy: Suzie believed but could not confirm that Billy had feelings of affection for her. (14 words)
Concise: Suzie assumed that Billy adored her. (6 words)




Wordy: Our website has made available many of the things you can use for making a decision on the best dentist. (20 words)
Concise: Our website presents criteria for determining the best dentist. (9 words)


Wordy: Working as a pupil under a someone who develops photos was an experience that really helped me learn a lot. (20 words)
Concise: Working as a photo technician's apprentice was an educational experience. (10 words)

 

2. Interrogate every word in a sentence

Check every word to make sure that it is providing something important and unique to a sentence. If words are dead weight, they can be deleted or replaced. Other sections in this handout cover this concept more specifically, but there are some general examples below containing sentences with words that could be cut.


Wordy: The teacher demonstrated some of the various ways and methods for cutting words from my essay that I had written for class. (22 words)
Concise: The teacher demonstrated methods for cutting words from my essay. (10 words)


Wordy: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band of musicians together in 1969, giving it the ironic name of Blind Faith because early speculation that was spreading everywhere about the band suggested that the new musical group would be good enough to rival the earlier bands that both men had been in, Cream and Traffic, which people had really liked and had been very popular. (66 words)
Concise: Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood formed a new band in 1969, ironically naming it Blind Faith because speculation suggested that the group would rival the musicians’ previous popular bands, Cream and Traffic. (32 words)


Wordy: Many have made the wise observation that when a stone is in motion rolling down a hill or incline that that moving stone is not as likely to be covered all over with the kind of thick green moss that grows on stationary unmoving things and becomes a nuisance and suggests that those things haven’t moved in a long time and probably won’t move any time soon. (67 words)
Concise: A rolling stone gathers no moss. (6 words)

 

3. Combine Sentences.

Some information does not require a full sentence, and can easily be inserted into another sentence without losing any of its value. To get more strategies for sentence combining, see the handout on Sentence Variety.


Wordy: Ludwig's castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. By his death, he had commissioned three castles. (18 words)
Concise: Ludwig's three castles are an astounding marriage of beauty and madness. (11 words)


Wordy: The supposed crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. This crash is rumored to have occurred in 1947. (24 words)
Concise: The supposed 1947 crash of a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico aroused interest in extraterrestrial life. (16 words)


(found at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/572/01/; accessed 11/2010)

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- Updated by Vince on Fri 12 Aug 2016
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Markup - What are the colors and symbols Vince uses when editing?

Q: What do these colors mean?
A: I often use the following highlight colors to indicate certain writing issues
  • ORANGE = wdy = wordy, verbose: Too many words express a desired thought or concept; try to shorten or condense the phrasing or simply omit unnecessary words; also repetitive and/or run-on sentences
  • YELLOW = grammar, misplaced modifiers, usage, spelling, articles, agreement, capitalization mistakes
  • GREEN = vague, illogical, imprecise or misleading; add prepositional phrases and details to fix the context and define the issues; show, don't tell
  • BLUE = not believable, not credible (esp. in recommendation letters) and trans = transition problem: A transition between paragraphs, arguments, or sections of the writing is nonexistent, abrupt, weak, lame or misleading.  Think about the logical relationship between the parts that need connecting and try to write a smooth and helpful transition.  Good transitions are based upon ideas and their logical relationship, not just clever or stock phrases. 
  • PINK = awk = awkward phrasing, although not grammatically incorrect. Most common: words with slightly inapposite meaning, too many words to express a particular concept, or awkward (but not technically incorrect) grammatical construction


    Q: What are some common symbols you insert when reviewing essays?
    A: I often use these:
    • agr = agreement, either subject/verb or pronoun/antecedent
    • awk = awkward phrasing, although not grammatically incorrect.  Most common: words with slightly inapposite meaning, too many words to express a particular concept, or awkward (but not technically incorrect) grammatical construction.
    • cs = comma splice
    • dm = dangling modifier
    • frag = [sentence] fragment, incomplete sentence: There is part of a sentence, but not enough to make a complete one.
    • cap = capitalize, use uppercase letters
    • lc = use lowercase letter
    • no = number: A number is used incorrectly in text. A common error is beginning a sentence with a number in numerical form. Although sentences may begin with numbers in spelled-out form, numbers in numerical form are not used to begin sentences. The second most common error is failing to spell out numbers less than ten.
    • pv = passive voice: Passive constructions ("the case was decided" or "it was determined that . . .") are grammatically correct but weak and often confusing. They are useful only when the subject of the verb is unknown or indefinite or the writer wishes to conceal the subject. Otherwise, passive voice—particularly if used repeatedly—is a sign of wooden and heavy writing, not a good style for advocacy! Better: "the court decided the case" or "the judge determined that . . ."
    • sp = spelling error or "spell out": This signal indicates a spelling mistake, a typographical error, the improper use of an abbreviation instead of the complete word or words, or the failure to spell out numbers less than ten.
    • spchk = use spellcheck
    • trans = transition problem: A transition between paragraphs, arguments, or sections of the writing is nonexistent, abrupt, weak, lame or misleading.  Think about the logical relationship between the parts that need connecting and try to write a smooth and helpful transition.  Good transitions are based upon ideas and their logical relationship, not just clever or stock phrases. 
    • v = verb form or forms are incorrect. The most common error of this type is disagreement between the number of the subject of the sentence and the number of the verb ("she see" or "they talks"). Another common problem occurs in series of nouns with "and" or "or;" in "or" series the number of the verb should agree with the noun that is closest to the verb in the sentence. Correct: "A lapse, an error, or omissions in text make it difficult to read." (In this sentence, the plural verb form "make" is correct because the plural noun "omissions" is closest to the verb.) 
    • va = vague: A paragraph, sentence, clause, phrase, or word is vague, nonspecific, imprecise, or misleading.  The most common error is failure to include short prepositional phrases that tie things down. Vague (depending on context): "The court refused to decide the issue." Precise: "The court refused to decide the issue of proximate cause."
    • wdy = wordy, verbose: Too many words express a desired thought or concept; try to shorten or condense the phrasing or simply omit unnecessary words.
    • ww = wrong word
    • tr = transpose letters or words
    • # = add space

    Other General Abbreviations



    (examples from legal writing, but can apply to other forms of technical writing)
    viewed by Vince Ricci 7/7/10 12:00 PM
    A/D Analogy or distinction.  A portion of the writing begs for analogizing or distinguishing other cases, whether precedents or hypotheticals.  Try to compare the facts at issue explicitly with the facts of other cases and show, step by step, why the rationales of those cases, as applied to the factual similarities or differences, would require the same or a different result.  
    AUD Audience.  The approach is inappropriate for your audience.  Who your audience is should affect a number of characteristics of your writing, including the level of detail (see DET), the level of abstraction, as distinguished from a practical approach (see PRAC), and the tone of your writing (see TONE).  
    CL"Clearly," "clear," or "obvious."  These words, as well as words to the same effect, are a dead giveaway for writer's insecurity.  If something is really clear, you can show it with specific reasoning or argument.  If it is not, no amount of bare insistence will make it so.  Good lawyers look for words like this in their opponents' papers because these words indicate where arguments are weak, incomplete, or undeveloped.
    COLLColloquialism.  Contractions (such as "they'll," "don't," "won't," "isn't") and colloquial expressions ("plaintiff was screwed", "the nitty gritty", etc.) are not used in formal writing and are usually not used in writing to clients.  More formal or conventional phrasing should be substituted.  Colloquialisms can be used in writing to a client whom you know personally and well. (See AUD)
    COMPComplex sentence structure.  A sentence or clause is too long, complicated in form, or convoluted in meaning.  You should break it up into shorter, clearer parts.  If necessary, the order and priority of thoughts should be reconsidered.
    COMPARComparative.  A comparative form of an adjective is grammatically incorrect (e.g., "more better," "lastest"), the comparative form used does not exist ("legitimatest"), or the sentence does not make clear what is being compared with what.
    CONC?Conclusion?  A conclusion to a paragraph, section, or line of reasoning is missing, unclear, or incomplete.  (See also MS)
    CONJConjunction.  A conjunction appears to be missing or inappropriate.  Common errors are substituting "but" for "and" or "since" for "although."  This is often a problem of logic and meaning, not just grammar.
    CONS?Consequences?  The consequences of an argument, holding, result, conclusion or action should be explored.  The consequences may be practical, social, business, or economic.  
    DETDetail is excessive.  This comment occurs most often when a description of the facts of a case is excessively detailed and lengthy, or when irrelevant details obscure legally relevant facts.  Summarize, condense, and select legally relevant facts for discussion.  Focus, focus, focus!
    DPDangling participle: a participial form of a verb has no matching subject, or what appears to be the subject does not match or make sense. Incorrect: "Turning to the second element of the tort, causation was inadequately proved."  It is not "causation" that turns, but "we" or the writer; therefore the participle "turning" has no real subject in the sentence and is dangling.  Dangling participles can be corrected by adding a subject or rewriting the sentence.  Correct: "Turning to the second element of the tort, we see [or "I note," or "the court ruled"] that causation was inadequately proved."  OR "With regard to the second element of the tort, causation was lacking."
    EEllipsis has (or appears to have) incorrect form.  An ellipsis should: (1) have spaces between the three or four periods; (2) use four periods (with intervening spaces) when the material omitted includes the end of a sentence; and (3) put the first of four periods immediately adjacent to the preceding text (without a space) when—and only when—a sentence in the quoted material ended there.
    ECONEconomics.  Does the statement noted make economic sense?  Does it cohere with currently accepted economic theory or not?  What economic consequences does it implicate (see also CONS, PRAC)?
    FACTSThe facts needed to understand or appreciate a case, judicial decision, argument or hypothetical are missing, incomplete, inaccurate, or misleadingly stated.  The most common errors are failing to state any facts at all, failing to select the most important and relevant facts, and failing to indicate, by context or verbal signals, how the key facts relate to a result, holding, or rationale.  (This problem occurs most often in argumentative writing.)
    GARBGarbled sentence, phrase, or clause.  Something is missing, misplaced, or distorted, but what and how is not clear.  Rethink and/or rewrite.
    GRAMGrammatical error (nonspecific).  Common errors include: (1) disagreement in number between noun and pronoun (using "they" for singular nouns), and (2) confusing "like" and "as" ("like" is a preposition, "as" is an adverb).
    ICInconsistent.  This signal may refer to ideas, words, or grammatical form.  A common error is inconsistency in style, for example, using singular and plural words indiscriminately for the same thing.  A more important error is using inconsistent words for the same thing, such as "employee" and "plaintiff" alternately for the same party.  Unlike creative writing (in which you may have been taught to use the Thesaurus and vary your use of words), legal writing requires consistency.  The goal is not variety and versatility, but straightforward and unmistakable communication.  This objective requires picking the best term for a single concept and sticking with it throughout a document.
    INNInnuendo.  Business writing should, insofar as possible, avoid innuendo or implication.  Instead, it should state all assumptions, facts, steps in reasoning, and conclusions explicitly.  It should leave little or nothing to chance or to the reader's intelligence or imagination.  Try to state directly and explicitly what you are implying.
    ISIncomplete sentence.  Sentence does not have both subject and verb or appears broken in the middle.
    LOLogical order.  The sentences, phrases, clauses or thoughts appear to be out of logical order.  Inserted numbers or letters (if present) designate parts or concepts that need re-ordering.
    LRLogical relationship.  The logical relationship between/among concepts, ideas, sentences, or clauses is unclear, because it is not stated, not stated explicitly enough, or not stated correctly.  This is a more general signal than LO (logical order) or NS (non-sequitur), and it may indicate more subtle problems.
    MANMore analysis needed.  The portion of text marked raises a question, begins an assessment or analysis, or suggests a line of reasoning or argument that begs for further development and analysis.  The same text also may invite or require further study and research. 
    MSMissing step or steps.  One or more steps in the logical reasoning or progression of the argument appear to have been omitted.
    MWMissing word or words.  A word or words appear to have been omitted, leaving the sentence, clause or phrase incomplete, ungrammatical, or nonsensical.  This signal is usually inserted at the place where words appear to be missing.
    NARROWA statement seems too narrow or timid.  Review the relevant facts or source of legal authority and consider broadening the statement by eliminating or changing conditions, qualifications, or limitations.  (Compare BROAD, QUAL)
    NEC?Necessary?  Asks whether particular words, phrases, clauses, or sentences are necessary to the writing or the argument, or are surplus or redundant.  Consider deleting or condensing the material marked.
    NSNon-sequitur (Latin: "it does not follow").  The marked sentence, clause or phrase does not logically follow from what comes before.  This may indicate a missing step in reasoning (see MS) or a more serious problem of substance.
    OOPOut of place—a general organizational error.  A paragraph, sentence, clause, or phrase appears out of place in terms of logic, chronology, or the flow of explanation or argument.  (See also LO, LR, POP, and TS)
    PLWPlacement of words.  The placement of words in a sentence is confusing or misleading.  The most common error is misplacing prepositional phrases, thereby creating ambiguities or unintended meanings.  This signal is similar to OOP (out of place) but refers to placement in a single sentence.
    POPThe point of a paragraph is unclear.  Generally speaking, every paragraph should have (and develop!) a single idea or theme, expressed in a short sentence or phrase.  Common problems are: unclear topic sentences or multiple themes (see TS), rambling, vagueness, and failure to come to a conclusion.  Unlike TS (topic sentence), this signal requires reassessing both the internal structure of the paragraph and its place in the larger organizational scheme of the document.
    POSPossessive.  A possessive form was omitted or incorrectly used.  The most common error is in ordering the apostrophe and the "s."  For example, "plaintiff's complaint" refers to a single plaintiff and "plaintiffs' complaint" to more than one.  The second most common error is forgetting that "it's" and "who's" are contractions (of "it is" and "who is," respectively).  They are not possessives and are not used in legal writing (see COLL).  The correct possessives are "its" and "whose," respectively, without apostrophes.
    QUOTQuotation error.  Most common errors: (1) omitting a quotation mark at the beginning or end of the quotation; (2) using duplicate double quotation marks ("), rather than single quotation marks (') for embedded quotations; and (3) failing to modify quoted language to fit into the grammatical structure of your writing and to indicate your modifications with square brackets ([]).
    QEQuoting excessively.  Too many quotes appear in succession, or quotations are too long.  Try to express all concepts and reasoning in your own words, keeping quotation to the minimum necessary to reflect absolutely essential nuances of what is quoted or words and phrases that may be or become terms of art.  (See also UOW).
    REDRedundant.  The same thing was already said somewhere else, or is said later in the writing.  This often indicates organizational error.
    TThe tense of a verb is incorrect, confusing, or not consistent with the tense of other verbs in the same paragraph or section of the document.  Normally, descriptions of the facts of cases and courts' reasoning should be in the past tense and statements of current law in the present.
    TONEThe tone of the writing is inappropriate for the audience (see AUD) or the situation.  Common problematic tones are: (1) condescension (e.g., in letter to client, "You may not know this, but . . ."), (2) insults, whether express or implied ("Only an idiot would conclude . . ."), (3) disrepect (to client: "You must do an IP audit." OR "You have made a bad mistake!"), and (4) insubordination (to client: "Make sure this brief is filed by next Wednesday."). Generally speaking, it is better to say the same thing more softly and diplomatically, in a way more likely to be received favorably, no matter who your audience may be.
    TSTopic sentence.  The topic sentence (of a paragraph) is missing or unclear or states more than one theme, or there is more than one candidate for the role of topic sentence.  The solution is: (1) to identify the main theme of the paragraph and any sentence or sentence fragment that states it; (2) to rewrite that sentence or fragment (or to write one if none exists) so as to state the theme clearly and concisely; (3) to rewrite the paragraph around that theme; and (4) to remove all extraneous material, including other candidates for topic sentences, to other paragraphs.  (See also POP)
    UCUnclear.  The meaning of a paragraph, sentence, clause, phrase or word (as marked) is unclear as stated.  Sometimes clarifying requires just rewriting; sometimes it requires rethinking what you are trying to say.
    UOWUse [your] own words.  Try to restate a quoted passage in your own words.  If you can point precisely and confidently to a term of art that must be used, or to a nuance that requires expression in the original words, use that term or the minimum number of original words needed, but try to rewrite everything else.  Using your own words makes the concepts your own, increases your understanding and appreciation, improves the flow of the paper, and avoids any tendency toward plagiarism.  (See also QE)
    VRVague reference, usually a pronoun.  Either the antecedent is indefinite because there is no specific noun within reasonable reach, or the antecedent is ambiguous because two or more specific nouns are near enough to serve grammatically, and the reader has to think to determine which is the right one.  The solution is simple: when in doubt, use a specific noun, not a pronoun or other general word.  

    This error also can occur with nouns.  The most common error is shifting from one noun to another in describing a particular person or thing, in such a way as to leave the reader in doubt regarding the antecedent.  Incorrect: "The plaintiff worked hard all year.  Then the defendant fired the employee without warning."  (Are the "plaintiff" and "employee" the same person?)  The solution is simply to use the same noun that was used in the antecedent or to add an explanatory or identifying phrase if that noun occurred too far back.
    W/CWord choice is incorrect.  Common errors of this type include confusing "effect" and "affect" and using "finds," "holds," "rules" and "opines" interchangeably.  A judge "finds" facts, "holds" as to law, "rules" on the result in a case or a principle of law, and "opines" if he/she is not in the majority.
    W/TWhich/that/who error.  Most common errors are: (1) failing to use a comma before a "which" or "who" clause that is explaining, rather than defining; (2) using a comma before such a clause that is defining; (3) using "who" (nominative case, used for subject of sentence) instead of "whom" (objective case, used for object of verb or preposition), or vice versa; (4) using "who" for an inanimate thing or "which" for an individual; or (5) using "that" when "which" would be better.

    "That" is permissible (and usually preferable) in defining clauses, that is, those clauses in which the pronoun should not be preceded by a comma.  Ordinarily "that" should not be used in explaining clauses, i.e., those that need a comma.  Correct: "Lawyers who are careless are unlikely to be successful."  [No comma is used because the "who" clause defines the type of lawyers meant by the speaker; without that clause the sentence does not make sense.  Here "that" could replace "who."] Also correct: "Distracted lawyers, who are often careless, may do their clients damage."  [Commas are required here because the "who" clause is explaining, not defining, and the sentence could stand without it.]
    WPWrong preposition.  For example, a person may have rights "in" or "to" property, so one may speak of copyright in a book, but not copyright "of" a book.   Most unabridged dictionaries point out the correct prepositions to use with particular words, either directly or by example.
    WS"Who is speaking?"  The writing fails to indicate the source of the thought or expression at issue, whether by context or explicit verbal signals (e.g., "the court said," "in the court's view," "in my view," "it seems").  You should rewrite to make clear whether the statement is yours, a court's, or another cited source's.
    1SPOne-sentence paragraph.  Although permissible in business letters and occasionally used for emphasis in briefs, one-sentence paragraphs are disfavored and rare in formal writing.  A one-sentence paragraph usually indicates one or more of the following organizational problems: (1) a missing or lame conclusion in the previous paragraph, (2) a missing or weak topic sentence in the following paragraph, (3) a poor, weak or nonexistent transition between paragraphs, or (4) failure to develop, expand, or support the idea underlying a topic sentence.
    //[Two parallel lines] Parallel structure is absent or incomplete.  This usually refers to a series that is not in grammatically parallel form.  Incorrect: "Suing requires filing a complaint, that the lawyer take lots of depositions, and zealous advocacy."  Correct: "Suing requires filing a complaint, taking lots of depositions, and advocating zealously."  OR "Suing requires commencement of the action, work on depositions, and zealous advocacy."
    // ORDParallel order of concepts is absent or incomplete.  Incorrect: "Judges and lawyers must be zealous and impartial."  Since judges are impartial and lawyers are zealous, correct writing requires reversing the order of one pair of words or the other.  This is true whether or not the word "respectively" is added to highlight the correspondence.









    -Updated by Vince on 20 April 2012


      Thursday, April 12, 2012

      Technical writing FAQ

      Here are some frequently asked questions (with Vince's answers).

      Reading
      Q: What should I read in order to become a good technical writer? How about newspapers written in English?
      A: Yes, I suggest newspapers or anything you enjoy reading. I also suggest you find and read online journals in your field. Here are some good links http://bit.ly/SEjrnls to get your started (Please note: http://bit.ly/SEjrnls opens a "feed" of links in "Twitter". You can "follow" one or more of these journals if you are a Twitter user. Otherwise, just go to the journal's website and subscribe via RSS or however you like to read online content.)

      Q: Do you have any tips for taking what I have read into my writings efficiently?
      A: Keep a journal handy at all times. Then, use the phrases you have collected in your daily writing. I use the following tools to collect useful bits of language:
      • Free dictation software (Dragon) on iPhone (the voice recognition software often makes mistakes, but you can edit them before emailing to yourself)
      • Voicemail on Skype (When away from a notebook, I call myself to leave a quick message. Later, I listen to it to remind myself of the idea or phrase.)
      • IC recorder (Olympus Voice Trek V-72)
      • Notepad (digital or paper-based)
      • Note cards

      Feedback
      Q: When I use incorrect English, how can I get correction from others?
      Q: How can I review what I have written?
      A: Vince's admissions consulting clients use a variety of tools, including:

      EMAIL
      Subject Line
      Q: I noticed that the subject line of e-mails from Japanese always begin with the word "about," for example, an e-mail from a colleagues in my lab, "about meeting and cleaning." I think it's because Japanese used to write "について" when writing an e-mail in Japanese. However, the Kaplan tells us the best rule of thumb of writing a subject line is to be specific. My question is: is the word "about" in the example redundant, making the subject line not specific? Would it become better if he wrote "meeting and cleaning?"
      A: I am not qualified to advise you on writing Japanese emails. As for English, I like the following answer:
      A: Use a detailed subject line. Business executives often complain that email with subject lines that are vague or empty land in their junk mail folder. Avoid getting ignored by including a straightforward but thorough subject.

      A: You can make it even easier for your recipient to immediately understand why you’ve sent them an email and to quickly determine what kind of response or action it requires. Compose a great “Subject:” line that hits the high points or summarizes the thrust of the message. Avoid “Hi,” “One more thing…,” or “FYI,” in favor of typing a short summary of the most important points in the message:
      Lunch resched to Friday @ 1pm
      Reminder: Monday is "St. Bono’s Day"–no classes
      REQ: Resend Larry Tate zip file?
      HELP: Can you set up my printer?

      In fact, if you’re relating just a single fact or asking one question in your email, consider using just the subject line to relate your message. As I’ve mentioned before, in some organizations, such emails are identified by adding (EOM)—for end of message—at the end of the Subject line. This lets recipients see that the whole message is right there in the subject without clicking to the view the (non-existent) body. This is highly appreciated by people who receive a large volume of mail, since it lets them do a quick triage on your message without needing to conduct a full examination.
      Sadly, good email subjects have become something of a lost art, especially among more recent additions to the Interweb. It’s a pity, because you’re far more likely to get a favorable response from a busy person when they can quickly understand your message.

      The Start
      Q: While addressing the recipient, is it better to use Sir/Madam instead of Mr./Ms./Dr. followed by the name of the recipient?
      Q: How should I write the title (Mr., Ms.) of recipients if I do not know his or her sex? Many non-English names are difficult to distinguish their gender just by their names.
      Q: How can I write to a foreign company without knowing who is in charge of a certain section? In the Kaplan chapter 3, there is a part saying we should follow their customs of reading while writing for international audiences. But in general, which style should we follow when we are not sure whether the person we are writing to is a foreigner?
      A:
      • Dear Sir or Madam: (use if you don't know who you are writing to)
      • Dear Personnel Director: (use if you only know someone's title but not his or her name)
      • Dear Dr, Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms Smith: (use if you know who you are writing to, and have a formal relationship with - VERY IMPORTANT use Ms for women unless asked to use Mrs or Miss)
      • Dear Frank: (use if the person is a close business contact or friend)

      A: Say hello. Business email has become so informal that some people do not even begin with a salutation. Avoid this habit. Properly address the person you are writing and use a colon, rather than a comma. For example, "Dear Mr. Smith:" is a correct business opening. You can switch to a comma once back-and-forth correspondence is established.

      The Reference
      Q: How should I do my self introduction in emails or letters?
      A:
      • With reference to your advertisement in the Times...
      • With reference to your letter of 23rd March...
      • With reference to your phone call today...
      • Thank you for your letter of March 5th.

      Q: What form is the proper way to self introduce myself to you in this email for making questions concerning the contents of the class last week?
      A: I am listing various ways students contacted me in order of preference (best first; try to avoid the last two)
      • Dear Professor Ricci
      • Dear Mr. Ricci
      • Dear Mr. Vince Ricci
      • Dear Ricci sensei
      • Dear Mr. Vince
      • Dear Sir

      The Reason for Writing
      Q: How should I state the purpose of my contact?
      A:
      • I am writing to inquire about
      • I am writing to apologize for
      • I am writing to confirm

      Understand why you’re writing
      Before you type anything into a new message, have explicit answers for two questions:
      • Why am I writing this?
      • What exactly do I want the result of this message to be?
      If you can’t succinctly state these answers, you might want to hold off on sending your message until you can. People get dozens, hundreds, even thousands of emails each day, so it’s only natural for them to gravitate toward the messages that are well thought-out and that clearly respect their time and attention. Careless emails do not invite careful responses.
      Think through your email from the recipient’s point of view, and make sure you’ve done everything you can to try and help yourself before contacting someone else. If it’s a valuable message, treat it that way, and put in the time to making your words count.(found at http://www.43folders.com/2005/09/19/writing-sensible-email-messages; accessed 11/2010)

      Requesting
      Q: How do I ask for what I need in a polite way?
      A:
      • Could you possibly...?
      • I would be grateful if you could...

      Get what you need
      Although the possible topics and content of messages are theoretically endless, I’d propose that there are really just three basic types of business email.
      1. Providing information - “Larry Tate will be in the office Monday at 10.”
      2. Requesting information - “Where did you put the ‘Larry Tate’ file?”
      3. Requesting action - “Will you call Larry Tate’s admin to confirm our meeting on Monday?”
      It should be clear to your recipient which type of email yours is; don’t bury the lede. Get the details and context packed into that first sentence or two whenever you can. Don’t be afraid to write an actual “topic sentence” that clarifies a) what this is about, and b) what response or action you require of the recipient.
      Since the Larry Tate meeting on Monday has been moved from the Whale Room, could you please make sure the Fishbowl has been reserved and that the caterer has been notified of the location change? Please IM me today by 5pm Pacific Time to verify.
      Assume that no one will ever read more than the first sentence of anything you write. Making that first sentence strong and clear is easily the best way to interest your recipient in the second sentence and beyond.(found at http://www.43folders.com/2005/09/19/writing-sensible-email-messages; accessed 11/2010)

      What’s the action here?
      If your message includes any kind of request—whether for a meeting, a progress update, or what have you—put that request near the top of the message and clearly state when you will need it. Do not, under any circumstances, assume that your overwhelmed recipient will take the time to sift through your purple prose for clues about what they’re supposed to be doing for you.
      Depending on the style of your team and the volume of mail they create, you might even consider adding functional text headers to the top of the body outlining the exact nature of the message.
      This email is:
      [ ] actionable
      [ ] fyi
      [ ] social


      Response needed:
      [ ] yes
      [ ] up to you
      [ ] no


      Time-sensitive:
      [ ] immediate
      [ ] soon
      [ ] none

      Remove the guesswork from your messages by thinking of them like friendly work orders; you must not be afraid to ask for what you want, especially if you have any desire to actually have the recipient give it to you.(found at http://www.43folders.com/2005/09/19/writing-sensible-email-messages; accessed 11/2010)

      Giving Bad News
      Q: How should I manage expectations of readers to understand that something bad has happened?
      A:
      • Unfortunately...
      • I am afraid that...

      Enclosing Documents
      Q: How do I reference attachments?
      A: Most people prefer that documents be sent as attachments, rather than copied and pasted into the body of the email.
      • I am attaching...
      • Please find attached...
      • Attached you will find...

      Closing Remarks
      Q: How do I close my letter in a direct but polite way?
      A:
      • Thank you for your help. Please contact us again if we can help in any way.
      • Thank you for your help. Please contact us again if there are any problems.
      • Thank you for your help. Please contact us again if you have any questions.




      - Updated by Vince on Fri 12 Aug 2016
      • I have been a full-time international graduate admissions consultant since 2002
      • Based in Tokyo, Japan, I help clients around the world
      • In 2007, I launched VincePrep because I wanted to help the best candidates aiming for the top schools
      • To share my insights with a talented team, I rejoined Agos as Consulting Director in 2014
      • Now, I lead 10 professionals who deliver Japan’s best graduate admissions results
      • I also serve as Board President of The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC)
      • Given my ongoing professional and personal commitments, I accept very few clients
      • Usually, I refer prospects to one of my highly-experienced and successful colleagues
      • If interested, please complete this intake form
      • Meanwhile, please explore my YouTube channel, and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates
      • Thank you for your interest, and best wishes for your success!

      Monday, April 2, 2012

      Typical structure of a journal article

      Typical structure of a journal article


      Title

      first idea of what it's about

      Abstract

      brief summary: purpose, method, findings, conclusions. Emphasize the original contributions.

      Introduction

      purpose of study, a statement of your hypothesis or specific question to be explored, how it fits with previous research

      Method/Procedures

      how the study was carried out

      Findings/Results

      what was found

      Discussion/Conclusion

      what was learned and how it can be applied to future research


      Suggested Order For Writing:

      The easiest way to determine your main idea and contribution is by writing your discussion section first. After confirming your terminology and methods, write your conclusion. Write the introduction next. Finally, use the topic sentence from each paragraph and create an abstract. If your abstract does not capture your purpose, method, findings, conclusions, and original contributions, rewrite your topic sentences.





      - Updated by Vince on Fri 12 Aug 2016
      • I have been a full-time international graduate admissions consultant since 2002
      • Based in Tokyo, Japan, I help clients around the world
      • In 2007, I launched VincePrep because I wanted to help the best candidates aiming for the top schools
      • To share my insights with a talented team, I rejoined Agos as Consulting Director in 2014
      • Now, I lead 10 professionals who deliver Japan’s best graduate admissions results
      • I also serve as Board President of The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC)
      • Given my ongoing professional and personal commitments, I accept very few clients
      • Usually, I refer prospects to one of my highly-experienced and successful colleagues
      • If interested, please complete this intake form
      • Meanwhile, please explore my YouTube channel, and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates
      • Thank you for your interest, and best wishes for your success!

      Sunday, April 1, 2012

      Use a cautious or tentative style in academic writing


      Cautious or tentative style


      It is wise to use a cautious tone in your writing, because very often you are discussing issues in which there is no absolutely right answer, or absolutely correct definition, or absolutely perfect solution. If you present something as being the best way, it might easily be shown not to be the best way. Therefore, it is usually better to 'suggest', rather than 'state. 

      Here are some phrases that convey a cautious tone.


                                         
      1.
      Introductory verbs:
      e.g. seem, tend, look like, appear to be, think, believe, doubt, be sure, indicate, suggest
      2.
      Certain lexical verbs
      e.g. believe, assume, suggest
      3.
      Certain modal verbs:
      e.g. will, must, would, may, might, could
      4.
      Adverbs of frequency
      e.g. often, sometimes, usually
      5.
      Modal adverbs
      e.g. probably, possibly, perhaps, conceivably (compare with less tentative adverbs like certainly, definitely, clearly)
      6.
      Modal adjectives
      e.g. probable, possible (compare with less tentative adjectives like certain, definite, clear)
      7.
      Modal nouns
      e.g. assumption, possibility, probability
      8.
      That clauses
      e.g. It could be the case that .
      e.g. It might be suggested that .
      e.g. It appears that .    
      e.g. It may be that .
      e.g. It is likely that .
      e.g. This suggests that .
      9.
      To-clause + adjective
      e.g. It may be possible to obtain .
      e.g. It is important to develop .
      e.g. It is useful to study .