This short article is a summary of my dissertation editing and revising, where several common questions facing the non-native English speaker were addressed, e.g. past vs present tense, the formal unit, and avoiding run-on. As to the writing style, one needs to consider the fields within which the article/paper/thesis will be.
Elements of Style
Basic rules on writing and style can be found in the Elements of Style. A gist of my opinions is so listed.
- place a comma before and or but introducing an independent clause; this way the sentence is loose, and it is better rewriting to define a clear relation between those clauses.
- use semicolon between to independent clauses, even the second one is preceded by an adverb, such as accordingly, so, then, therefore, or thus.
- I had never been here before; so I had difficult in finding the way
- In general, however, it is better to avoid using so in this manner
- Rewrite: as I had never been here before, I had difficulty in ……
- enclose parenthetic expressions between commas,
- for instance, the best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot.
- restrictive relative clauses are not set off by commas.
- for instance, the candidate who best meets these requirements will obtain the place
- a participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.
- Not ‘on arriving in Chicago, his friends met him at the station’
- But ‘on his arrival or when he arrived, his friends met him’
- Not ‘young and inexperienced, the task seemed easy to me’
- But ‘young and inexperienced, I thought the task easy’
- begin each paragraph with a topic sentence; end it in conformity with the beginning
- ending with a digression, or with an trivial detail, is particularly to be avoided.
- if more than one sentence is required preceding the topic sentence, better to set apart the transitional sentences as a paragraph
several ways to develop the paragraph with regarding to the topic sentence:
- restating in other forms, defining its terms, denying the converse
- giving illustrations or specific instances
- establish by proofs
- showing the implications and consequences
avoid make one passive depend directly upon another; for instance, do not use ‘Gold was not allowed to be exported’, use ‘It is forbidden to export gold’ instead.
another common fault is to use as the subject of a passive construction a noun which expression the entire action: such as ‘confirmation of these reports cannot be obtained'; instead, ‘these reports cannot be confirmed’ suffices.
make definite assertions, since the read is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; one wished to be told what is. Hence, express a negative in positive form.
- not much use -> useless
- not admirable -> unattractive
- not import -> insignificant
- not much confidence in -> distrusted
- owing to the fact that -> since (because)
- in spite of the fact that -> though
- call your attention to the fact that -> notify/remind you
avoid loose sentences; use parallel construction; keep related words together, the subject and the principal verb should not be separated by a phrase or clause that can be transferred to the beginning.
Compare ‘there was a look in his eye that boded mischief’ to ‘in his eye was a look that boded mischief’.
If the summary is in the present tense, antecedent action should be expressed by the perfect; if in the past, by the past perfect.
APA publication guide
grammar and usage
Typical problems are presented as following:
- period for inch (in.), but not other metric measurement abbreviations
- use comma
- between elements in a series of three or more items
- to set off the year in exact dates: April 23, 1984
- do not use a comma between the two parts of a compound predicate.
- subject did A and did B; not subject did A, and did B.
- use colon
Past versus Present
According to the 5th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), the following suggestions
- for literature review: use past tense (author showed) or present perfect (author has shown)
- for describing results, use past tense (band gap decreased monotonically)
- for discussing results and preseting conclusion, use present tense (results of this study suggest)
- backshifting in subordinate clause
The NIST checklist is a good start. Some common mistakes or improper usage are listed as following:
- plurals: unit symbols are unaltered, e.g. 200 cm, not 200 cms;
- space : one space should be present between the value and unit symbols; exception: the superscript angle unit symbol should stay closely;
- object and quantity: a resistor of resistance 10 kOhm, not a resistance of 10 kOhm.
- abbreviations: s or second, not sec; m/s not mps; 10 nm to 100 nm, not 10 to 100 nm/ 10-100 nm
List of phrases
- prior to (before)
- due to. Incorrectly used for because of, owing to in adverbial phrases: ‘he lost the game, due to carelessness.’ Correct use: ‘this invention is due to Edison;’ ‘losses due to preventable fires.’
- effect. As noun, means result; as verb, means to bring about, accomplish (affect, ‘to influence’).
- etc. not to be used of persons. at the end of list introduced by such as, for example, or similar expression, etc. is incorrect.
- However. in the meaning nevertheless, not to come first in its sentence or clause:
- NOT ‘The roads were almost impassable. However, we at last arrived.’
- Should be ‘The roads were almost impassable. At last, however, we arrived.’
when however comes first, it means in whatever way or to whatever extent.
- However you advise him, he will probably do as he thinks best
- However discouraging the prospect, he never lost heart.
- less. not be misused for fewer. less refers to quantity, fewer to number.
- ‘his troubles are less than mine’ means ‘his troubles are not so great as mine’
- ‘his troulbe are fewer then mine’ means ‘his troubles are not so numerous as mine’
- Exception: ‘less than a number’ is thought of as meaning a less amount.
- while. avoid the indiscriminate use of this word for and, but, and although. better replaced by a semicolon. fine in the sense of during the time that
- sentence a, while sentence b -> sentence a; sentence b
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