Friday, April 29, 2005

Parallel Structure, Part 1

Beware of the words and, which always wants a pair or group or like items, and or, which wants a pair or group of unlike items. Look at two funny examples:
  1. I like coconuts, mangoes, and you.
  2. Love me or marry me.
In the first sentence, the word you might have come as a complete surprise because the word and had you expecting a third fruit. In the second sentence, you probably expected to hear after the word or the phrase "leave me" since most people marry because of love, not in spite of it. These are errors in parallel structure.
How do errors in parallel structure show up in business writing? Here are real examples I’ve collected from managers’ writing over the years:
  1. She had done a good job for us, and we gave her a raise. This is a cause-effect situation, not an additional thought. Revise it to "She had done a good job for us, so we gave her a raise."
  2. I read your proposal and liked your suggestions. I did not complete two actions, but rather completed one while feeling a certain way in the process. Revise it to "I liked reading the suggestions in your proposal," or "I read you proposal, which had helpful suggestions."
  3. The application information should come from your education or experience. In this context, an education is an experience, not the opposite of one. Revise it to read "The application information should come from your education or employment."
You may think that I am nitpicking because these nonparallel sentences would still be understandable. But they would not be clear to everyone. The next time you emerge from attending a meeting or reading a document thinking that three key points were discussed when there were really two or four, don’t be too quick to blame yourself. Perhaps the writer did not treat the issues equally, that is, in parallel form.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Respect Your Readers: Write a Courteous Cover Note

Here's a quick tip for sending attachments to emails: Write a cover note that at least describes the attachment and provides your full name. Not doing so is careless at best and rude at worst.

I often receive e-mails from people I hardly know whose entire message looks like this:
Re: (no subject)
Date: 1 April 2005, 10:23 a.m. EST
Attachment: FY05-06EPS-MWR2.doc

That's it. I suppose this unknown person thinks I can read his mind. The least the sender could have done was write:


Attached is the Midwest Region 2 estimated production schedule for Fiscal Year 2005-06.

Sam Moore

Remember that this common courtesy is a sign of respect, so respect your readers!

Monday, April 18, 2005

Proofreading Fun

Test your proofreader’s eye! Can you find the 15 proofreading errors in the Proofreading Tip Sheet below?

1. Be sure too chose the rite words.
2. Always check the spacing .

3. Punctuate, properly to perfect your message?

5. Number consecutively.

6. Do not confuse dashes—not hyphens—with parentheses (ever).

7. Place periods at the end of a sentence. and insert commas to separate two complete thoughts joined, by a conjunction.

8. Keep fonts consistent.

9. Check for mispelled words.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Pluses and Minuses of Distance Learning

As an in-person as well as an online instructor, I enthusiastically endorse either mode of education.

One of the best ways to decide on whether to enroll in an online (distance learning) course is to ask someone who has already taken one. Here is a vote for distance learning from Anna Dalli, Administration Coordinator at Public Broadcasting Services Limited, Malta, who received a Master of Training and Human Resource Management degree through the distance learning program from the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the University of Leicester, Great Britain. This is what she wrote about the experience:

Like anything else distance learning has its advantages and disadvantages. Students do not have to be physically present at a specific place at a particular time. This is a great advantage for non-traditional students especially adult learners who are working and cannot attend University at regular times. Although not everyone is suited for this type of learning, adults are the more likely to achieve success with this method of learning. … The student has to have a number of characteristics such as tolerance of ambiguity, a need for autonomy and an ability to be flexible. Compared to face-to-face learning environments, distance learning requires students to be more focused, better time managers, and to be able to work independently. … Distance learners are different from traditional undergraduates in that they are already in professions. They have well defined goals and are more motivated. One might say that since there is no face-to-face contact with the lecturer, the students may have problems in self-evaluation. … Separation of student and tutor imposed by distance removes a vital link of communication between these two parties. However, from my own experience I can vouch that this was not the case, primarily because I was motivated, had all the support from Centre for Labour Market Studies and the agent in Malta, the Foundation for Human Resource Development.

I agree with Dalli's fair assessment of the situation, and I would add one more plus: Distance-learning environments often compel students to write much more than they would in a traditional classroom. For this reason alone, I support it as a good means of cultivating writing skills.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Some Excellent ESL Resources

Wherever I conduct writing seminars, I usually find the most captive audience members those who are relatively new to the English language—people who are nonnative speakers. Whether they are from China, Egypt, India, Japan, Latin America, Nigeria, Russia, or any one of the hundred or so nations that have been represented in my programs, they enjoy the seminar experience and find the teaching points useful.

I am impressed with their world knowledge, technical skills, and intellectual curiosity. In fact, getting to know them makes me uncomfortable about using the inaccurate term “ESL” (English as a Second Language) because so many of them speak English as a third, fourth, or fifth language.

Many of them approach me for ideas on improving their writing and speaking skills as a follow-up to the course. I usually send them to one or more of the many outstanding online resources available. Below are just a few. Of course, more instructive websites are available just by searching for “ESL Resources” at any search engine. (Is there one better than Google?) If you have a friend or family member who would benefit from this information, please pass it along.


Using the Internet to Teach English for Special Purposes

Wayne Magnuson English Idioms Sayings and Slang

English Language Practice in Listening, Grammar, Conversation

ESL Resources for Students

LinguaCenter Grammar Safari

Activities for ESL Students

Tongue Twisters for the ESL/EFL Classroom