Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Line Up Those Ducks

Understanding parallel structure of sentences, lists, or headings helps create clear, concise, reader-focused messages. An excellent post on this topic appears in Daily Writing Tips, a useful website for writers whether they are composing short stories, essays, business proposals, technical reports, or scientific papers. There the seven examples of problematic parallels reveal how many ways we can lose focus of our ideas.

Here is an eighth example:

Non-parallel: Our organization provides help for the homeless, housing, meals, and innovative career counseling services.

Problem: Of the four provisions, only housing and meals are parallel, or conceptually consistent. The first, help for the homeless, is actually an umbrella term for the other three, so it does not belong in the list. As for the last provision, the modifiers suggest that the housing and meals fall short in quality of the career counseling, which is innovative. Solution:

Parallel: Our organization provides innovative services to the homeless through housing, meals, and career counseling.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

"The Glamour of Grammar" a Helpful Book

In this occasionally humorous, more often racy, and frequently insightful book, Roy Peter Clark settles many debates about age-old grammatical arguments on issues such as composing fragments, using serial commas, splitting infinitives, beginning sentences with conjunctions like "and" or "but," and ending sentences with prepositions. Also, his sensible tips on style, including a review of left-, mid-, and right-branching cumulative sentences, are helpful for developing writers. If you can forgive Clark's alternately self-absorbed anecdotes and pedantic narrative, you will get a lot from The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English, especially since he favors more a descriptive than a prescriptive approach to grammar.

Clark shares some of my thoughts on the grammar snobs who hold to ludicrous, arbitrary rules of style, so I will write about some in the coming posts.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Spying on New Words

New words are constantly popping up in our lexicon, so it's nice to know that a website devotes itself to tracking them: Wordspy. Billed by its producer Paul McFedries as "the word lover's guide to new words," Wordspy lists some fresh words by combing newspapers, magazines, books, and websites for any coinage it can findand the results are sometimes funny (googleganger, shelter porn, mom cave), often practical (blizzaster, landscaper), and invariably helpful. What do those words mean? Look them up in Wordspy!

Books by Philip Vassallo