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Style

Circumvent information silos—the tendency of some people to limit their access to information to a handful of websites or media sources—by publishing your message in multiple media and genres.  Plus, remediating (or remixing) texts can turbocharge your creative potential. To learn more about remediation as an invention strategy, see "Text-to-Text Remediation" and "Text-to-Visual Remediation."

Voicesentence structurepoint of viewdescriptiongrammar—knowledge of these stylistic issues can enable you to craft your messages so they are artful, creative, and persuasive.  Understand the effects of different syntactical patterns on readability and persuasiveness.

Why should abstract terms be replaced with concrete, sensory terms?

The goal of a writer is to communicate ideas clearly. Since language that refers to intangible or immeasurable qualities can obscure meaning, abstract terms should be replaced with concrete terms. Language that connects with tangible and sensory (taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound) is easier for readers to understand and relate to.

Why is it important to use language that is sensitive to the target audience?

When writers use language that implies a biased or judgmental attitude, the audience may take offense and be less apt to listen to the writer’s argument. Language that is insensitive to gender, ethnicity, or disability should be avoided. Just as writers hope their audience will be willing to respect their point of view, they need to respect the diversity of a broad base of readers.

Why is it important to choose appropriate words?

The words writers choose are shaped (and sometimes limited) by the rhetorical situation—the audience, purpose, context, genre, and media of a piece of writing.

Skillful writers choose words that create a pleasing sense of harmony between the boundaries set by the rhetorical situation and their own style of writing.

Write sentence-long, paragraph-long, or extended definitions.

We routinely define new concepts, terms, activities, research methods, and research findings. Our definitions may be limited to a sentence or they may extend to whole paragraphs, passages, essays, or books.

Enable readers to visualize your message by appealing to the five senses and using specific details.

Description is an important feature of all writing genres. Writers use description to support arguments and illustrate concepts and theories. They try to invoke mental pictures of a place so readers can imagine it in their minds.

Use metalanguage to help your readers understand your organization and reasoning. Clarify logical relationships, temporal relationships, and spatial relationships by using metalanguage.

The term "metalanguage" refers to language that helps writers explain relationships between ideas or words that explain how texts are presented. Phrases like "for example," "as a result," and "therefore" are examples of metalanguage.

Be concise. Once you have written a solid draft, a document that has been well researched, take a step back and question whether or not you can delete half of the words. In a world where billions of instant messages and emails are sent daily, brevity is a virtue. People love conciseness. They respect writers and leaders who can explain difficult matters simply.

Parentheses (also called brackets in British English) are a punctuation mark used to contain text that is not part of the main sentence, but that is too important to either leave out entirely or to put in a footnote or an endnote. Since there are many reasons to use parentheses, be sure that the function of parentheses is always made clear to your readers.

What is end punctuation?

End punctuation appears at the end of a complete sentence (independent clause) or follows an interjection. The appropriate placement of a period, question mark, or exclamation point separates one statement from another and signals a pause in the word flow. Correct use of end punctuation contributes to the order and readability of the text.

What is an ellipsis?

An ellipsis is a punctuation mark that consists of three dots with a space before, after, and between them. Writers use this mark to represent a word, phrase, sentence (or more) that is omitted from a direct quotation.

How should ellipses be used?

 What is a dash?

A dash is a punctuation mark used to set off an idea within a sentence and may be used alone or in pairs. Dashes interrupt a thought in a more dramatic way than a phrase enclosed in commas, but less theatrically than parentheses. To form a dash, type two hyphens—without a space before, after, or between them—and your word processor will convert them to a dash.

How should dashes be used?

  • To provide further explanation, clarification, or a summary of the material that comes before the dash

What is a hyphen?

A hyphen is a punctuation mark used to bring visual clarity to joined words and word parts in written text. Correct use of hyphens will strengthen the visual appeal of your work and contribute to the readability and clarity of the text as well. To verify hyphen use, refer to a dictionary.

How should hyphens be used?

  • To join some compound words into one word when the word reflects a single concept
    • The well-known doctor gained additional recognition when the results of her top-notch research were published.

What are quotation marks?

One of the primary jobs of quotation marks is to set off exact spoken or written language. When writers use quotation marks correctly, they give credit to the original author and avoid plagiarism. Quotation marks are also used to enclose titles of short works and always appear in pairs.

When and how should quotation marks be used?

What is an apostrophe?

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark used to show possession, to indicate the plural form of letters of the alphabet, and to form a contraction.

How should apostrophes be used?

  • Use an apostrophe and -s (-’s) to show possession of singular nouns.
    • the author’s main point

What is a semicolon?

A semicolon is a punctuation mark used to separate closely-related independent clauses. Stronger than a comma, a semicolon does not require the use of a coordinating conjunction.

How should semicolons be used?

  • Use a semicolon to link two closely-related independent clauses.
    • Homelessness is a problem that has evaded resolution; despite the heroic efforts of many concerned citizens, there are still thousands left on the streets.

What is a colon?

A colon is a punctuation mark used to separate significant parts of a sentence, particularly when the first part offers a sense of anticipation for the second. This form of punctuation is also used in other conventional applications as noted below.

How should colons be used?

How should commas be used?

  • Use commas to separate a series of three or more items, actions, words, or phrases.

    • I will need my backpack, computer, paper, and textbook for my next class.
    • Sharon walked across campus, entered the building, and went to class.
  • Use a comma between coordinating adjectives(closely placed adjectives that are of equal importance and describe the same thing).

At the end of your sentence, you need to be especially careful about where you place your commas. In particular, you need to question whether the modifying words are restrictive or nonrestrictive. For instance, suppose you received a memo from your writing instructor that said,

  • You should revise the essay, as I suggested.

You could assume that you were directed to revise the essay in any way you deem appropriate. However, if the instructor omitted the comma, then you would be receiving an entirely different message: revise the essay exactly as prescribed by the instructor.

You should limit the number of times that you interrupt the flow of a sentence by placing modifying words between the subject and its verb. When you do introduce such appositives, participial phrases, or adjective phrases or clauses, you must determine whether the modifiers are restrictive or nonrestrictive. Essentially, restrictive modifiers add information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas nonrestrictive modifiers add information that is not essential. The best way to determine whether a modifier is restrictive or nonrestrictive is to see if taking it out changes the meaning of the sentence.

Restrictive: Lawyers who work for McGullity, Anderson, and Swenson need to take a course in copyediting.

Although our modern style calls for using as few commas as possible, you should generally place a comma after conjunctive adverbs and transitional words because they modify the entire sentence:

  • Nevertheless, we must push forward with our plans.
  • In other words, you're fired. Hey, I'm just kidding.

Because commas cause readers to pause in their reading, you want to use them sparingly.

In most instances, place a comma between two sentences that are joined with a coordinating conjunction--and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet:

  • She was not sure if she had the necessary mathematical abilities to be an engineer, so she pursued a graduate degree in history.
  • He was surrounded by fifty people, yet he felt all alone.

You do not need to place a comma between two independent clauses if they are short and similar in meaning, provided that no misunderstanding will take place, as illustrated in the following example: