Thursday, March 25, 2010

Texting vs. Writing

Texting has become so prevalent that a teenage girl has been diagnosed with carpal tunnel due to the amount of texts she sends daily. I think it’s safe to assume that not all 2,000 of her monthly texts were grammatically correct. In fact, I read an article recently that referenced a website to help you “create text messages” in case you aren’t familiar with the new language. An increasing number of teachers are expressing concern about the impact that texting has on students’ grammar.




As a grammar fanatic, it has always bothered me to see sentences and words broken up to save time via email, text messages, and instant messaging software. I understand that the world now relies heavily on these programs for communication, and not everyone feels as strongly as I do about proper grammar. However, it is quite common that students confuse texting and writing to be the same thing. The truth is that they are incredibly different. Syntax (sentence structure) is affected by this new language of instant chatting, and I hope to clear up some of the confusion.

It isn’t easy to always write out a complete sentence when you’re sending a text message. Most of the time, it’s best to keep it as short and to-the-point as possible, but it is also important to understand the difference between texting and correct grammar.

Text Example 1: u comin 2nite?!

Text Example 2: lol yea b/c u r drivin me - thx ttyl

I realize that my examples are the most extreme types of texts and the furthest away from proper grammar that I could possibly get, but I know that you understand what the texts are implying. I didn’t have to spell the words out and use proper punctuation, because I knew that the message would get across with less effort on my part. The problem is, if a student is writing like this 100+ times on a daily basis, then he or she is likely to struggle with writing a formal essay.



1. The first thing to be aware of is capitalizing the first letter of each sentence in your essay. It can become a habit to text without capitalizing anything. Most of the time, the automatic spellchecker in your word processing software will correct these mistakes. However, pay attention to the following types of words that also must always be capitalized.

Days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
Months: January, February, March, etc.
Holidays: St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc.
Cities, States, Countries: Dover, Delaware, United States of America

Never use ALL CAPS in an essay unless you are referring to an acronym. As stated in previous blog entries, italics should be used for emphasis, but not excessively. For commonly used words that are accepted as either capitalized or lowercase, the most important thing is to remain consistent.

Incorrect: The World Wide Web has helpful resources that can broaden your array of knowledge on any particular issue. Use a search engine to locate which websites are available to you on the web.

Since I capitalized World Wide Web, then I should have been consistent and capitalized the other words relating to the internet. I could have chosen to use lowercase letters, as long as I remained consistent throughout the paper.

For further information on capitalization, visit this site.



2. I’m not sure when the trend of leaving the g off of –ing words started, but it is common today in the texting world. If one were to do this in an essay (using it as a reference to southern dialect of a particular character, for instance), then there would be an apostrophe in place of the g. In fact, anytime a letter is omitted from a word, it still needs to be represented by an apostrophe.

Example: “I’m thinkin’ ‘bout gettin’ some goats,” said the farmer.

As you can see, the omission of letters only took place in quotation marks because I wanted the true accent of the farmer to come out strongly in the dialect. However, it should never happen in a formal essay without character dialogue (unless you have a specific quote from someone or a scholarly source that uses this dialect).



3. It is acceptable to use abbreviations in text messages, but remember to always spell out words in essays. It may seem ridiculous to you that I even have to put this in here, but teenagers that are getting into the habit of writing poorly due to texting is a growing problem in America. The more you see texts and emails come to your phone or laptop with abbreviations instead of real words, the more comfortable you will be with writing this way, and you may forget to correct your errors in your essays.

Example: The president said the new health care bill will benefit many Americans b/c it will mandate health insurance for everyone by 2014.

Obviously, b/c cannot be used in a formal essay in place of because. You might not catch it if you are used to typing this way. Be aware that these mistakes can happen.



4. Whenever possible, write all of your emails and text messages using full words instead of abbreviations. Try to make complete sentences when you have time to do so. The more you write correctly, the easier it will be when you have to sit down to write a paper, and the less effort you will have to make when you proofread to look for these mistakes.



5. See Punctuation Marks regarding the use of punctuation in your essays. Remember, never use an exclamation point together with another punctuation mark, and don’t repeat them. In addition, I want to clarify the use of an ellipsis (…).

I see ellipses used on Facebook and Twitter status updates all the time. They are usually used in modern texting language to represent a pause or often just to show the end of a statement.

Example: went shopping today…… didn’t find nething on sale..

Again, notice anything is spelled incorrectly, which is quite common in the texting language. However, the ellipses are also used incorrectly. First, whenever you use an ellipsis, make sure it has only three periods. It shouldn’t be any more or any less than three. Next, only use it to show omission of words in a quote.

Full Quotation: It is very important to generate a good attitude, and a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come.

Shorter Quotation: It is very important to generate a good attitude … as much as possible. From this, happiness … will come.

Using ellipses in the above example allowed me to still get the point across without using the entire quotation. This would be very useful if you were writing an argumentative essay and you wanted to leave out irrelevant parts of a quote so that they wouldn’t take attention away from your argument.

If an ellipsis is used at the end of a quotation to show omitted words at the end of the phrase, then no other punctuation is needed after it.

Example: “It is very important to generate a good attitude…” said the Dalai Lama.

Be sure to check the rules about using an ellipsis in the handbook of your assigned format for research papers. MLA requires the use of brackets [ ] around the ellipsis in certain instances, while APA and Chicago Manual have different requirements.



6. Sometimes when writing an email or a text message, it is easier to write and over and over instead of ending a sentence and beginning a new one. Don’t let this cause you to write a lot of run-on sentences in your essays. One coordinating conjunction should suffice in each sentence. If you find more than one, you may need to revise the phrase to be two or more separate sentences.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Proofreading

A student that proofreads his or her paper is determined to make it the best paper it can be. What is the excuse for the rest of the students? Small grammatical errors are easy to catch if you read back over your paper, but if you don’t, it could be the difference between an A and a B. One of the best things you can do for yourself to improve your writing is to proofread before you hand in an essay. Set aside some time to make it happen!


Many people complain that proofreading takes too long, and when they’re finished writing their papers, then they’re finished working. That shouldn’t be how you feel when you think you’ve finished your paper. Only about 75% of the work is finished at this point. I have given you some tips on how to start proofreading.



1. Just like with any other skill, the more you proofread, the better you’ll be. No matter what the assignment is, make it a habit to read back over your work before you hand it in. This includes short answers on exams, small homework assignments, and even questions on job applications. The more you read back over your writing, the more you’ll know about your strengths and weaknesses, and the more improvement you’ll make the next time you have to write an essay. That way, when you might not have a lot of time to go back and proofread, you’ll be able to pick out common mistakes that you know you usually make.



2. Read word by word, not phrase by phrase. Since you were the one that wrote it, you will already know what you meant to say. However, what you meant to say may not actually be what you wrote. I’ve proofread for classmates who swore that they had caught all the simple mistakes in their essays, but I found spelling errors and missing words because they only skimmed over their work. Here’s an example of something that you could easily miss while skimming.

Example: The September 11th attacks on the the World Trade Center were devastating to all Americans at that time.

You might have noticed that there was an extra word in the sentence. The appears twice before World Trade Center. If you didn’t catch it, then you were probably skimming too fast. Now, imagine having 2 pages of text before this error. It is less likely that it would have been caught if you had already read a lot before skimming over that sentence. The point is, you will remember writing the paper (because you were the one that wrote it), but you need to make sure you aren’t biased, assuming that you typed everything correctly. Proofread your paper slowly as if you’re determined to find something wrong (as many professors will, too).



3. Take breaks. I recommend taking breaks in the process of proofreading for papers that are over three pages long. For shorter papers, it is still good to take a break between the actual writing of the paper and the proofreading of it. Let’s face it, sometimes procrastination gets the best of us, and we wait until the last minute to write our papers. Take a 10-15 minute break after you think you’re done with it, and go back to read it over again. It may not be the best time to come up with a second draft, but it would be wise to check for spelling errors or sentences that could be rephrased to make them stronger.



4. Don’t completely trust spell check to correct all of your mistakes. Most programs are good at catching words that are misspelled, but they don’t excel in catching appropriate meanings of the words. Of course, our style and grammar checker is excellent at giving tips on how to improve your paper. You can easily find suggestions on grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. It will definitely catch most of the spelling mistakes that you didn’t see, but sometimes only the author of the paper can know the true meaning behind each sentence.

Example 1: The single bachelor seemed to be enjoying himself over a few beets with his date at the bar.

Example 2: They started to get tire, so they ended up leaving earlier than expected.

Now, it is perfectly possible that the particular bar where the bachelor and his date were having a good time was serving beets that night. However, it is more likely that they were having beers, instead. No spellchecker is going to catch these mistakes because everything is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, without proofreading carefully, this mistake might change the meaning of the entire sentence.



5. Rearrange sentences or phrases, if necessary. Omit words if they seem redundant.

Example: This mistake might entirely change the whole meaning of the entire sentence.

This sentence is much better stated with only one of the underlined words; the other two can be omitted. Also, move sentences if they are in the wrong part of your paper. Sometimes (especially near the end of a paper) it becomes obvious that the author did not want to come up with nice transition words or to put new ideas in the appropriate part of the paper. If you start to think of something to add to the paragraph that you were writing 4 pages ago, then move your cursor up 4 pages and put it in the right spot. Don’t just add all your finishing points to the conclusion and expect your paper to flow smoothly. These errors are most likely to be caught after you take a break and go back to proofread. Copying and pasting can be very helpful.



6. Use the highlighting tool that is found in many word processing programs as you are writing. If you know that you won’t have much time to go back and proofread, then highlight as you go, so you’ll be sure to go back and read those sections again. I use the highlighting tool for sentences that I think will need to be moved later, when I don’t want to be bothered with it at the moment. When I have a lot of ideas on my mind, I try to type them out as quickly as possible, and then go back to make them flow. Highlight words that you want to use in the thesaurus later, or sentences that you think are weak and need to be improved.



7. Visit PaperRater before submitting your assignment, and navigate through the various tips that our program gives you to improve your paper. It is excellent at catching fragments and run-ons, as well. Use the vocabulary builder to spice up the tone of your paper. You may notice a difference when you are graded on your next essay!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Know Your Audience

For most of us, the only people that will literally be reading our papers are our professors and possibly fellow classmates. However, you shouldn’t always treat your audience as these individuals. Consider, for instance, that I have been given an assignment to write a letter to one of my state representatives to advocate for health care reform. My paper would be directed at the state representative, and my professor would be grading based on my understanding of this audience. Letters are usually the easiest type of assignment to understand the audience. To whomever the letter should be written is your audience. I wouldn’t want to write to my professor explaining how the letter would demonstrate advocacy for health care reform. I’d simply write the actual letter and let my instructor be the judge.



Figuring out audiences of other types of essays can sometimes be tricky. Children’s books are obviously targeted at the younger generation, but not all written work makes it that simple. The first and easiest way to find your audience is to understand the assignment instructions. It is clear who the audience of a letter should be. Argumentative essays have a similar guide. Usually, your professor will give you instructions to construct an argument defending one side of a particular debate. The audience is usually the opposing side.

Example:

Assignment: defend health care reform

Audience: legislators against health care reform

Argument: One in six Americans doesn’t have health insurance. Financial difficulty due to medical expenses for the uninsured is the primary reason for bankruptcy in the United States. Therefore, there is a need for health care reform.

If the assignment instructions are to write an essay illustrating both sides of a particular debate, your audience will change. Usually, this will depend on what the debated topic is.

Example 1:

Assignment: illustrate the debate of health care reform

Audience: citizens voting for legislators, students learning about reform, legislators who are undecided

Example 2:

Assignment: explain the pros and cons of homeschooling

Audience: parents deciding whether or not to teach their children at home

As you can see by the above examples, some papers will have many different groups within the audience, while others will have only one group or one person. It will definitely help you know which styles of essays are formal and which are informal if you first understand who your audience is. Imagine reading your paper in front of a classroom of fourth graders. Your paper better not have profound diction and unrecognizable vocabulary words, or the students will be confused and bored. On the other hand, if you were standing in front of a group of Harvard-educated lawyers discussing a specific trial, you would want your paper to read fluently and be well-written. Knowing your audience is crucial to writing a strong essay.



That brings me to the often feared research papers. Yes, they are probably the most difficult to write, but they don’t have to scare you. The audience of a research paper will almost never be young students. Mostly, you will be targeting a population of people that are interested in the topic about which you're writing. Where do most research scholars get their information? They get it from fellow researchers who have written essays about their findings. Sometimes you’ll be writing to an audience that is looking for evidence of a hot topic that might not have much literature about it.

Remember: Think of your instructor as an observer. He or she will only be observing the information passed from you to your audience.



For more help, see this Audience Analysis to guide you through the process of determining the appropriate audience.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Punctuation Marks

It is important to know which type of paper you are writing and which type of punctuation marks are appropriate to use. Having the wrong punctuation marks could take away from an important point that you are trying to make, but having the right ones might add emphasis to the point. I want to help make it clear when and how you should use certain punctuation marks.



Exclamation Point (!)

The exclamation point has one purpose, and that is to show exclamation. It allows the reader to feel excitement or alarm based on what it follows.

Example: Everyone must evacuate the building immediately! There is a fire!

These sentences would not have the same effect on the reader if they ended with periods. The exclamation point emphasizes that there is an emergency situation.

Example 1: Hi, Rob! It is so good to see you again, finally!

Example 2: Hi, Rob. It is so good to see you again, finally.

The first example shows that the author is excited to see Rob and that he or she is relieved that the wait is finally over. The second example has a sense of sarcasm or calmness, as if there wasn’t much urgency for the author to ever see Rob again.

Do not use exclamation points in research papers or other formal writing unless they are used in a quote. However, be cautious if you find exclamation points in reliable sources. Most scholarly journal articles and references will not have exclamation points included in them. This type of punctuation is most appropriate for informal writing styles (personal narratives and newspaper articles).

Lastly, never use an exclamation point more than once after a sentence, and never combine them with question marks or other forms of punctuation. Now that the use of instant messaging software, email, and text messages has taken precedence over other forms of writing, many people get confused about what is proper and what isn’t.

Incorrect: Karen told you what?!

It is only necessary to have one punctuation mark after a sentence. This example is obviously from a dialogue. It is unclear whether or not the sentence is a statement or a question. Another way to write this expression correctly is below.

Example: I can’t believe this! What did Karen tell you, exactly?

Incorrect: You make me so happy!!!

Using the exclamation point once is enough to show emphasis. It doesn’t need to be repeated in order to emphasize the expression.



Question Mark (?)

It should be clear that a question mark is used, well, after a question. If you need further explanation, refer to these tips provided by WhiteSmoke.



Comma (,)

Commas are probably the most widely used punctuation mark. However, they are not always used correctly. The easiest tip to figure out when the best time to place a comma is whenever the reader should pause or take a breath in the middle of a sentence. Anytime a coordinating conjunction is used (and, but, yet, etc.), then a comma should also be used. Transition words should be followed by commas. When dialogue is expressed to a particular person or group of people, a comma should separate that object from the rest of the sentence. A common example is shown below.

Example 1: Let’s eat, Grandma!

Example 2: Let’s eat Grandma!

As you can see, the first example shows someone that is expressing interest in eating with his or her grandma. However, the second example is quite disturbing. Without the comma, it looks like the person is interested in actually eating grandma. One little mark can change the entire meaning of the sentence.
There are many appropriate uses for commas, but they are often used too frequently. For a quick guide to some proper uses of the comma, visit PurdueOWL.



An ellipsis (...) should generally only be used in quotations. For more information on this type of punctuation, see Texting vs. Writing.

See General Grammar Tips for help on proper use of semicolons and quotation marks, and another earlier post has help on the use of parentheses.

Friday, March 5, 2010

We're Blushing

With sites like MakeUseOf, DownloadSquad, and FeedMyApp featuring our service, we are thankful for the publicity and want to let you know that we have been reading your comments and suggestions.  With pen and paper in hand, we are taking notes and already planning many new features and improvements.

Originality Detection

Our plagiarism detection currently does a pretty good job, but we recognize that users would like to see what page(s) on the Internet matched their document.  This has been added to our "To Do" list.


More Features

Some of our critics have stated that our automated proofreading service is useful, but doesn't wow them enough to keep coming back.  Please consider that what you see right now is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of where we plan on taking this service.  If grammar checking, spelling correction, word choice analysis, and plagiarism detection does not do it for you, then we feel confident that the features on the horizon will.  Check back soon...