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Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)


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An editor’s tip for effectively editing your own work

We all want to present our best work whenever we present that work to an audience, not matter what that work is. If it is the written word, we want it to be free from errors, e.g., grammatical errors, misspellings, and typographical errors. Quite honestly, no one is a good editor of their own writing. When we read our own writing, everyone has a tendency to read over the small errors that are present in the writing. According to “What’s Up with That: Why it’s so Hard to Catch Your own Errors” by Nick Stockton in Science from 8/12/14, it is easier for us to miss the information errors since we already know the meaning that we expect to be present in the text; i.e., the two versions (i.e., the version in your head versus the one on the paper) are competing. Therefore, the best editor of your work is another person. They will be able to look at your work with a fresh and more critical eye.

However, if you cannot have another person edit your work for some reason, the next best plan is to read your own work aloud. This forces you to slow down and process the text differently than you do when you read the work silently. You will catch typos and misspellings more easily. You will also have a tendency to trip over sentences that are not written smoothly. This activity will help you identify areas that need attention.

Of course, our editors at EditMyEnglish are always waiting to help you edit your text so that you can present a prefected, polished document. Visit our site to start a new project today!

The Dreaded Comma Splice!

Ah, the comma splice… This grammar blunder struck fear in the deepest recesses of my heart in my high school English days and continues to make me shudder just a bit when I see one to this day. I can attribute this somewhat irrational fear of comma splices to my sophomore AP English teacher, Shirley Lyster. Miss Lyster threatened to give a failing grade to any paper that included even just one comma splice, hence my fear and trepidation. It worked, Miss Lyster! I now hate comma splices and spot them everywhere!
So, what is a comma splice? It is the use of a comma to “splice” two independent clauses together without a coordinating conjunction. Let’s look at the following example borrowed from the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by The Charlie Daniels Band released on their 1979 album Million Mile Reflections: “The devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal.” This is a comma splice. We have two independent clauses (i.e., two sentences that can stand alone) that were erroneously joined together by a comma and nothing else.
We can fix this a number of ways. We can simply change the comma to a semicolon: “The devil went down to Georgia; he was looking for a soul to steal.” We can add a subordinating conjunction: “The devil went down to Georgia because he was looking for a soul to steal.” We can add a coordinating conjunction and a comma: “The devil went down to Georgia, and he was looking for a soul to steal.” We can add a conjunctive adverb and a semicolon: “The devil went down to Georgia; moreover, he was looking for a soul to steal.” Lastly, we can simply separate the two sentences into the two separate independent clauses by changing the comma to a period: “The devil went down to Georgia. He was looking for a soul to steal.”
While comma splices may not be the bane of modern life, they are a grammatical mistake that you should avoid. Thankfully, you have many tools at your disposal to fix these errors, so they are relatively easy to avoid.

The Seductive Semicolon ;)

Okay, that may be a bit of a misleading title – there’s nothing all that sexy about semicolons (except perhaps for those folks who are really into English grammar). The most suggestive thing you can do with this particular piece of punctuation is make a winking emoticon, which, of course, is not an appropriate course of action when you’re writing something for your professor or submitting for publication. Nonetheless, the semicolon has a number of uses which can be very handy. One of those uses is relatively common; the other two described in this article are not as well known. All of them, however, may prove helpful to you in your writing.

Use #1: Combining Sentences. The most commonly known use of the semicolon is to combine two closely related independent clauses. The above paragraph actually contains an example of this:

One of those uses is relatively common; the other two described in this article are not as well known.

The first part of the sentence (i.e., everything before the semicolon) is an independent clause, as is the second part of the sentence (i.e., everything after the semicolon). In other words, there are two complete sentences that, from a grammatical perspective, could just as well be divided by a period. The semicolon, however, links them together more closely than a period would. This function is especially useful when illustrating a contrast or a cause-and-effect relationship, as in the following examples:

The forecast predicts snow for tonight; however, the game is still scheduled to be played.

The city’s unemployment rate hit nearly 12% in March; therefore, the mayor decided to seek additional state funding.

Use #2: Dividing Complicated Items of a List. In most lists, commas are the go-to punctuation for separating the items. However, if each item is relatively complicated or contains punctuation marks, then a semicolon is a clearer way to separate the list. For instance:

Next semester I am enrolled in History 302: The Western World since 1800; History 343: Art, War, and Religion in the Middle Ages; and English 201: Rhetorical Criticism.

In the above example, a semicolon is appropriate because each item is fairly complicated and contains at least one punctuation mark. If the writer of the above sentence chose to simplify the course titles, then commas would be more appropriate:

Next semester I am enrolled in History 302, History 343, and English 201.

This function of the semicolon is also useful when listing complicated numerical items such as dates, as illustrated in the sentence below:

As a result, protesters gathered in front of the Capitol on January 2, 1962; February 11, 1963; and June 24, 1964.

The above sentence would be difficult to read if it used commas instead of semicolons, since there would be a cluster of commas and numbers all scrunched together without clear separation. (“As a result, protesters gathered in front of the Capitol on January 2, 1962, February 11, 1963, and June 24, 1964.”)

Use #3: Creating Parallel Structure. This isn’t just any kind of parallel structure. In fact, the majority of sentences with parallel structure do not require a semicolon. There is, however, one particular kind of parallel structure where the semicolon is needed. Consider the following example:

The buildings were silent; the streets, deserted.

In this case, the comma effectively stands in for the verb “were.” Another way to phrase the sentence would be to say, “The buildings were silent, and the streets were deserted.” Notice how employing the semicolon makes for a more efficient use of words. While the above example may seem purely poetic, this function can actually prove very useful when reporting data. For instance, if you conducted a study involving three groups of participants, you could report data in a sentence like this:

Group A showed 33% improvement; group B, 21%; and group C, 9%.

This construction saves a lot of space and repetition compared to the alternative: “Group A showed 33% improvement. Group B showed 21% improvement. Group C showed 9% improvement.”

To summarize, keep these three applications of the semicolon in mind:

  1. Combining Sentences
  2. Dividing Complicated Lists
  3. Creating Parallel Structure

And I suppose if you’re interested in sending flirty text messages, there’s the fourth and most ambiguous use:

4. Making a winky face ; )

But perhaps it’s best I save my emoticon advice for another post.