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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.

When is third-person point of view used?

Third person is used when a degree of objectivity is intended, and it is often used in academic documents, such as research and argument papers. This perspective directs the reader’s attention to the subject being presented and discussed. Third person personal pronouns include he, she, it, they, him, her, them, his, her, hers, its, their, and theirs.

The first person—“I,” “me,” “my,” etc.—can be a useful and stylish choice in academic writing, but inexperienced writers need to take care when using it.

There are some genres and assignments for which the first person is natural. For example, personal narratives require frequent use of the first person (see, for example, "Employing Narrative in an Essay). Profiles, or brief and entertaining looks at prominent people and events, frequently employ the first person. Reviews, such as for movies or restaurants, often utilize the first person as well. Any writing genre that involves the writer’s taste, recollections, or feelings can potentially utilize the first person.

How might you address the pronoun reference problems that occur throughout your essay?

Thomas was always unprepared for class. It made his teacher increasingly mad.

Thomas was always unprepared for class. This made his teacher increasingly mad.

The highlighted words represent vague pronouns because a reader cannot tell to which noun the pronoun in each example is referring. By definition, pronouns, which take the place of a noun, cannot refer to an idea expressed in an entire sentence or statement; instead, a pronoun must refer back to a specific noun.

How might you engage your reader by incorporating more figurative language (anecdote, narrative, simile, metaphor, dialogue, personification and such)? How might you offer more valid comparisons using these techniques?

“All the world’s a stage”—have you ever wondered why people remember and quote lines from Shakespeare so much? One of the reasons is because he used figurative language very effectively in his writings. You may have heard the term “figurative language” before, and perhaps when you heard it you were in a class analyzing novels or poetry. But figurative language is not just used in literature: you can employ it in your essay writing to great effect. Figurative language adds color to your writing by taking your words and applying them to other, often unexpected, objects or concepts.

You tend to use less explicit descriptions (such as clichés, qualifiers, wordy constructions, overuse of prepositional phrases, vague constructions). How might your discussion be more precise and engaging? How might your revise this sentence to make it clearer, more active, more convincing, and more connected to other sentences or ideas?

These questions touch on one of the foundations of effective writing—clarity. Excessive wordiness (often caused by passive constructions) can confuse readers and require them to spend more time trying to understand your sentences rather than your ideas.

The Terror of Voice

I like order. I love the comfort of a beautiful and functional Excel spreadsheet. I organize my CDs by genre and then alphabetically by artist. I eat three meals a day.

But my love of order sometimes butts heads with my love of writing. That’s because no matter how much attention I pay to following the rules of writing, I know that to produce writing that astounds readers—moving them, making them gasp, enticing them—I’ll have to include more than just correct writing.

As a student embarking on your academic career, most papers that you will be asked to write will be academic papers. These academic papers include clear and direct language with a purpose to communicate to your readers your intended message. Clear and direct language should be used to avoid any confusion.

Readers do not want to have to play guessing games with your paper to figure out your main points and arguments, and readers should not have to work hard to figure out what you mean. While much of the success of a well-written essay has to do with having an insightful thesis that is well supported with a cogent synthesis of evidence or sources with appropriate transitions and a logical progression, style and grammar should not be overlooked.

When is second person point of view used?

Second person point of view is often used for giving directions, offering advice, or providing an explanation. This perspective allows the writer to make a connection with his or her audience by focusing on the reader. Second person personal pronouns include youyour, and yours.

Examples of sentences written from the second person point of view:

  • You should put your cell phone in the trunk if you want to resist the temptation to use it while you are driving.
  • When you write an academic paper, keep in mind that the appearance of your paper can make a positive or negative impression on your reader.

A single relationship lies at the heart of every sentence in the English language. Like an indivisible nucleus at the center of an atom, the subject-verb pair unifies the sentence. It can be surrounded by any number of modifying words, taking on new shades of meaning, but no matter how many adjectives, adverbs, and independent clauses become attached, the basic unit remains. The subject-verb pair guarantees that the sentence means something. Without this core, a sentence fragments and loses its power to speak. Indeed, a sentence only becomes complete when it contains at least a subject and a verb.

A verb denotes action, existence, or occurrence. A subject denotes the person or thing that performs the action, the person or thing that exists, or the incident that occurs. For example:

Why eliminate unnecessary “to be” verbs?

When a writer consistently uses unnecessary “to be” verbs, the writing can sound dull and lifeless. Flat, wordy writing may cause the reader to lose interest. As a writer learns to substitute stronger, more expressive verbs for “to be” verbs, the enlivened writing is likely to hold the reader’s interest more effectively.

How can you revise your sentences to eliminate unnecessary “to be” verbs?

  • Circle or highlight forms of “to be” verbs in your sentences and paragraphs: is, am, was, were, being, been
  • Look for the “doer” in your sentences: Who is performing the action?

The Beginning of Your Journey

You are writing for a class.  You realize that you have no idea what point-of-view is appropriate for this piece of writing.  You quickly text a friend but discover that she does not know.  Your teacher is currently teaching subject/verb agreement to a nest of talking dragons and is not available.  Desperate for help, you head into the forest to the fabled Point-of-View Castle. Dodging past giant spiders, enormous werewolves, and cute little pixies (who are surely up to no good), you arrive at the castle to discover that you can choose from one of three bridges across a moat filled with ravenous alligators. On each bridge stands a wizard who wants to talk to you.  All three wear long, flowing robes and have the required gray beards and mystical staffs of power. Each robe has a word written on it. What do you do?

Explore the effects of different sentence patterns on reading comprehension.

When assessing whether your sentences are too long or complex, consider your audience: Educated readers have a greater tolerance for longer sentences. Younger and less experienced writers prefer shorter sentences. When writing for an international audience or addressing a very complex topic, sentences may need to be shorter.

Make your sentences pack a punch. Eliminate unnecessary "to be" verbs.

In our daily speech and in rough drafts, we tend to rely heavily on the various forms of the verb to be.

The verb to be is unlike any other verb because it is inert--that is, it doesn't show any action. For example, in the sentence "The researcher is a professor at Duke" the verb is merely connects the subject with what grammarians call the subject complement. We could just as easily say "The professor at Duke is a researcher" without changing the meaning of the sentence.

What is a vague pronoun reference?

A pronoun is a part of speech that can replace a noun; its antecedent is the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers. A vague pronoun reference might include words such as it, that, this, and which, and can leave the reader wondering what or to whom the pronoun refers. Writers who strive for clarity in their work should be certain that each pronoun has a specific antecedent.

Understand when the first person is preferable to second or third person.

"Do not use the first person" is perhaps the most unfortunate writing myth that handicaps inexperienced writers. After all, how can we think without using our experience? Why must we drive a stake through our cerebral cortex before writing? Can we logically assume that we are more objective thinkers when we avoid the first person?

Experiment with these strategies to use your editing time more productively.

Once you believe a draft conveys the basic information you want your readers to understand, you can begin attacking it at the sentence level. After working hard to develop the substance of a message, you may be weary of it and eager to turn it over to your instructor. If possible, set the draft aside and work on another assignment before trying to edit it.

Why is it important to use the active voice?*

When writers use the active voice, their words are direct; they use concrete verbs and clearly state the action being performed by the subject. In contrast, the passive voice is indirect; writers may use weak “to be” verbs (is, am, was, were, being, been) or present progressives (e. g., is working, is laughing), and the actor in the sentence is absent or disguised.

Create a persuasive, dynamic voice by packing your sentences with verbs rather than nominalizations.

You can imbue your language with a sense of vigor by eliminating unnecessary nouns and choosing powerful verbs. When editing, consider changing Latinated nouns--that is, nouns that end with -ance, -ing, -ion, -tion, or -ment into verbs.

What is parallel structure?

Parallel structure is established when words within a sentence are united by consistent use of grammatical forms. This stylistic element is also referred to as parallelism or parallel construction.

Why is it important to use parallel structure?

Lack of parallel structure can disrupt the rhythm of a sentence, leaving it grammatically unbalanced. Proper parallel structure helps to establish balance and flow in a well-constructed sentence; the alignment of related ideas supports readability and clarity.

Why is it important to vary sentence structure?

Too many simple and compound sentences can make writing sound choppy, but too many complex and compound-complex sentences can make writing difficult to follow. Strive for a balance by combining sentences of various structures and lengths throughout your paper.

Provide the details readers need to follow your message.

Teachers and readers abhor vagueness. If you say, "Research suggests that drinking grape juice lowers cholesterol," they'll ask, "What research? How was the research conducted? Who conducted the research? Did the results appear in a credible source?"

When writing, you may use words or phrases that convey rich meaning to you. A word like "stuff" or "thing" can encapsulate other words, stories, and events in your mind, but in your readers' mind the words can mean something altogether different.