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Writing and Grammar Tips (beta)


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Category : Writing Tips

Is it One Word or Two?

S Nicholas

The English language is difficult. So much of how we use words is intuitive. But what about non-native speakers who haven’t been taught English grammar since first grade? It must be terribly difficult! I’ve made a list of words I commonly see misused in papers I edit. Read on to see if these are mistakes you’ve made before.

A Lot versus Alot
What is the difference between a lot and alot? Alot is not a word. Ever. Under any circumstances. It is always, always, always separated into two words: a lot. You will probably frequently see the word written as alot, but it’s wrong. Don’t do it.

All right versus Alright
When is it all right to spell it alright? Simple: always use it in its two-word form: all right. Alright is found in dictionaries, but it is a rarely used form, and not a form you would use in formal writing anyway, so don’t use it. Always spell it in two words: all right.

Everyday versus Every Day
How about everyday versus every day? Everyday used as one word is an adjective. It describes a noun.
For example: My everyday dishes are not as pretty as my formal dishes.
Or: My everyday shoes wear out quickly, but my special occasion shoes do not, because I wear them infrequently.

When you use the phrase every day as two words, it is usually used as an adverb. An adverb is a word that describes a verb (an action word)…sort of like an adjective, but used on a verb, not a noun. An adjective describes a noun: look at that red dress. An adverb describes a verb: she walked slowly. How did she walk? Slowly. So, when using every day as two words, as an adverb, it would look like this: I walk around the block every day. When do I walk around the block? Every day.

A trick I like to use is to put the word “single” in between every and day, and if it works, I know I should use the two-word version. I walk around the block every single day. That works. Using the two-word option is correct.

But using a previous example, could I say: My every single day dishes are not as pretty as my formal dishes? No. That doesn’t work. So I need to use the one-word option, everyday. In this case, everyday is an adjective, describing the noun dishes.

Cannot versus Can Not
This is easy. It’s always cannot. It cannot be spelled can not. Ever. So don’t do it.

When in doubt, use a trusted dictionary to look up the word. Most dictionaries give examples, and you should be able to discern which version of the word to use.

Remember, a lot of people make grammar mistakes every day, but we cannot say that is all right. We must always strive to do our best!

PLAGIARISM

By S Nicholas

The Little, Brown Handbook (1986) defines plagiarism as “the presentation of some else’s ideas or words as your own; from the Latin word for kidnapper.” See what I did there? I let you know that I did not make up that definition. I gave credit to my source.

Many of the papers we edit at EditMyEnglish are related to Ph.D. programs. And in the Ph.D. world, plagiarism is a HUGE deal! Those caught plagiarizing will be kicked out of their programs of study. In extreme cases, legal action might ensue!

So how do you avoid plagiarism? As one of my high school teachers taught me, when writing a paper, almost every sentence should be cited. That’s right! Almost every sentence! The sentences not containing citation are your very own. They are your thoughts that link one source to another source.

Your own thoughts do not need to be cited. For example, “I do not like cold weather.” That doesn’t need to be cited because it is your opinion. Common information also does not need to be cited. For example, if you say, “Florida is hot in the summer,” that doesn’t need to be cited. Most people generally acknowledge that Florida is hot in the summer.

Additionally, if you state common information, such as that the French Revolution took place from 1789-1799, it does not need to be cited. That is historic information, generally accepted to be true.

However, if you write any thoughts another author has shared on a topic, you do need to cite it. Someone else’s independent material, material attributed to them, would be ideas not generally known (unlike the dates of a war, or temperatures of a specific region, which ARE generally known).

You cannot take an author’s idea and re-word it a little and call it your own. Any idea you get from someone else needs to be cited. It is perfectly acceptable to use other works within your paper. Just cite the sources! In fact, the more outside sources you have in your paper, the stronger your thesis will be! But…you HAVE to cite all your sources.

The best way to avoid plagiarism is to cite your sources OR paraphrase the author’s material. To paraphrase correctly, without plagiarizing, use your own words to rephrase what another person said. Wait. Doesn’t that seem to conflict the preceding paragraph? Let’s look at an example:

Original: John F. Kennedy said, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That quote could be used in a paper, citing Kennedy as the original author of that quote, and using quotation marks. It would be perfectly acceptable to do it this way.

Plagiarism: I think that as citizens of this country, we should not ask what our country can do for us but rather, we should think about what we can do for our country. In this case, only a few words were changed, but the original intent of the original quote remained intact without citing a source. Therefore, it is plagiarism.

Paraphrasing: A famous man once suggested that we should consider how we might be of service to others, rather than waiting on others to serve us. In this case, an attribution was made to a source, the main idea of the original thought was left intact, but the way it was stated was changed.

The main concept to grasp when writing a paper is that you have to acknowledge where you got your ideas. It is illegal to take someone’s property for your own use; it is also illegal to take someone else’s words (intellectual property) and use them as your own.

I can usually spot plagiarism easily. If I’m working on a paper, heavily editing each paragraph, and then suddenly come across a perfect paragraph, my suspicions are raised. There are now computer programs for teachers to use to help spot plagiarism. When in doubt, either find a source to cite, or word your sentence in such a way that the reader has no doubt who had that thought.

Good students are typically conscientious, citing heavily, and using their own words to link between other authors’ words.

Writing an Excellent Thank-You Letter

S Nicholas

Thank-you letters are always a good idea when following-up after an interview, to thank a professor or colleague for a letter of recommendation, or simply thanking a friend or family member for a gift.

A hand-written note on simple stationary is preferable. Begin by writing the date in the upper right corner. Skip down a line and on the left side of the page, write your salutation (Dear Mr. Smith). Skip down a line and indent roughly five spaces.

For a thank-you note for an interview, begin by telling the person exactly why you are thankful. “Thank you for taking time to meet with me yesterday for an interview.”

Continue by writing two or three sentences expanding on that for which you are thankful. “I appreciate the amount of time you spent with me. Your company is impressive and I was excited to learn more about what you do. I valued the questions you had for me.”

Begin a new paragraph and write two or three sentences explaining your expectations. For an interview, consider this: “I look forward to hearing from you soon about the position for which I interviewed. I am available by phone or email at any point if you have further questions.”

Close by reiterating that for which you are thankful. “Thank you again for taking time to interview me.” Close by using a word that expresses both thanks and formality. The word “regards” is perfect for an interview thank-you.

If you are sending a thank-you note for a letter of recommendation, begin by thanking the person for their action. “Thank you for writing a letter of recommendation for me.” After the opening sentence, write two or three sentences expanding on why you are thankful. You might want to say: “I appreciate the amount of time you spent writing a letter for me. I value your time, and am thankful you were able to help me in this way.”

Begin a new paragraph, and expand on how you feel that letter of recommendation will help you. Those who are willing to write a good letter of recommendation would be pleased to hear how their efforts may help you. “Because I studied under you for three years, your knowledge of my work-ethic is the most valuable asset in my job search. I felt this prospective employer would greatly appreciate your insight into my work.”

End by reiterating your thanks, and offering to help them, if possible. “Mr. Smith, thank you again for taking time to write a letter of recommendation for me. If I can ever be of service to you, please contact me. I will always be available to help my college mentor.”

For the closing, “regards” might be a bit too formal for someone you know well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation. “Sincerely,” “fondly,” or even “best regards” would be an appropriate closing phrase.

For a thank-you note for a gift, after the salutation, get to the point, thanking them for the specific gift. “Grandmother, thank you for the beautiful tea set.” Then spend two or three sentences explaining why you are thankful for that gift. “I appreciate the amount of time you spent in picking out such a perfect gift for me. I can tell you put a lot of thought into the tea set. I am grateful for your attention.”

For a family member or friend who gave you a thoughtful gift, they would love to know why you like the gift and how you will use it. “I plan to use this tea set at my very next party. I host a monthly brunch for my friends, and this will be sure to get a lot of comments and compliments.”

Close by reiterating your thanks. “Thank you, again, for taking time to pick a gift that suits me so perfectly.” For someone you know well, an intimate word of closure is preferred. “With love,” “your friend,” or even “wishing you well” would be appropriate.

For any type of thank-you letter, it is important to be sincere, to thank the person for their time, and to let them know you appreciate them. A thank-you letter doesn’t have to be long, but each sentence must be carefully thought-out so that even a short note will be packed with your gratitude.