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MAR30

"Better writing": a helpful website from the Oxford dictionaries

Filed on: March 30, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Each week, this series of blog posts chooses a topic in the hope that readers of the blog would find the topic useful. Sometimes, instead of dealing with a particular topic related to writing and publishing, the post describes a useful source - usually a book but sometimes a website - that deals with many similar topics. Better Writing [1] is one such website, which offers simple, brief, and clear guidance on a range of topics grouped as follows: grammar, spelling, punctuation, practical writing, improve your English, and abbreviations.

The section on grammar deals with such topics as less/fewer and that/which and offers useful tips. What is more, the section also explains dozens of grammatical terms in simple language. "Improve your English" offers advice on avoiding common errors and covers such topics as may/might, shall/will, and can/may. Guidance on abbreviations tells you whether to write abbreviations with capital letters, whether to use full stops, and when to use apostrophes.

The advice is given simply, clearly, and concisely, which makes the website a pleasure to browse--and has all the authority of Oxford dictionaries behind it.

[1] www.oxforddictionaries.com/page/betterwriting/better-writing

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

MAR 4

The Economist Style Guide, 10th edition

Filed on: March 4, 2011 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

Although The Economist, a British weekly, is not a research journal, its writing is often praised for its clarity and precision. How does the The Economist manage this week after week?  Part of the credit must go to its style guide [1], the 10th edition of which was published a few months ago. Large parts of the guide are also available on the newspaper's website [2].

The Economist Style Guide devotes more space to the craft of writing - the choice and arrangement of words - than most other style guides do. See the opening lines of the book: "Only on two scores can The Economist hope to outdo its rivals consistently. One is the quality of its analysis; the other is the quality of its writing. . . . The first requirement of The Economist is that it should be readily understandable. Clarity of writing usually follows clarity of thought." The first section of the book is devoted to advice on writing clearly, concisely, and accurately. The second section highlights important differences between American and British conventions relevant to writing (spelling, punctuation, usage, and syntax), whereas the last section is a compilation of miscellaneous information, useful as a ready reference.

The guide's insistence on clear writing is seen throughout the book and often takes the form of warnings and terse advice against using fashionable terms, which are often vague. Here are some representative entries. "Venues  Avoid them. Try places." "Viable  means capable of living. Do not apply it to things like railway lines. Economically viable means profitable." "Factoid  A factoid is something that sounds like a fact, is thought by many to be a fact (perhaps because it is repeated so often), but is not in fact a fact."

If you are writing a grant application, an article, or a report - anything for a broader readership in fact - you will certainly find The Economist Style Guide a helpful companion.

[1] The Economist Newspaper. 2010. The Economist Style Guide: the bestselling guide to English usage. 10th edn. London: Profile Books. 264 pp.

[2] http://www.economist.com/research/styleguide/

 

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

AUG11

Avoid the suffix “-wise” while presenting data

Filed on: August 11, 2009 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | 1 comment

Although a handy device to indicate how data are arranged, the suffix -wise in the following expressions is considered colloquial: Yearwise production of wheat, rice, and maize in Asia from 1991 to 2000 or Countrywise emissions of greenhouse gases. Where a period (1991 to 2000, in the first example) is specified, you can safely skip the word altogether; in the second example, use by country instead, as in Emissions of greenhouse gases, by county.

The New Penguin English Dictionary, for instance, admits that the suffix -wise is a neat way of conveying the idea as far as something is concerned but goes on to add that It is not, however, recommended in formal writing. Mind the gaffe: the Penguin guide to common errors in English, by R L Trask, goes one step further, condemning the use of formations like population-resource-wise as representing nothing more than a failure to construct an English sentence.

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

Using such expressions as “for example,” “for instance,” and “including” correctly is important. What the expressions have in common is that they talk about some members of a class but not all of them. “Namely,” on the other hand, precedes an exhaustive list.

Consider a hypothetical experiment to test pesticides. You tested three pesticides, A, B, and C, all of them of the type known as contact poisons (effective when they are in direct contact with bodies of the target pests—as against stomach poisons, which have to be ingested). And those were the only pesticides you tested. To mention them, you could rightly say “three pesticides were tested, namely A, B, and C.” However, if you say “the pesticides tested included contact poisons such as A, B, and C,” you  give the impression that you tested more than three because the verb “include” is never used when all members of the class are listed. And the impression is reinforced by the phrase “such as,” which signals that the list that follows is illustrative, not exhaustive.In discussing your results, you are likely to mention a few other pesticides, and you may write “Contact poisons such as A, B, and E are more effective than stomach poisons such as X, Y and Z are in controlling caterpillars.” Note that if you use “such as,” do not end the list with “etc.”   Incidentally, most publishers now recommend using “namely” instead of the Latin abbreviation “viz.”, (for videlicet, the z being the old symbol denoting the contraction et).

["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]