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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Writing Effective Sentences

Copyright 2019 by Gary L. Pullman

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

To write an effective sentence—a sentence that communicates exactly what you mean—you should practice the follow these principles:

  • Use active voice. (Active voice results from using an active subject and an action verb. Often, the verb is transitive: in other words, it has a direct object.)
  • Use the third person. (All nouns, all indefinite pronouns, and all third-person personal pronouns are in the third person.)
  • Be concise. (Use only the words that are necessary to communicate your precise meaning.)
  • Write with purpose and deliberation, with a specific intention, or aim.
  • Start with a kernel sentence. (A kernel sentence is the shortest possible sentence that you can construct about a topic. Often, a kernel sentence consists of only an active subject and an action verb.)
  • After writing a kernel sentence about your topic, consider what information you need to add to communicate the exact meaning you have in mind. Also consider what additional information, if any, your reader is likely to need to know about the topic as you are writing about it in this particular sentence.) According to philosopher and rhetorician Kenneth Burke, all communication addresses only one or more of these questions: Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? How many or how much? Knowing this about communication can help you to decide what information is necessary to include in any sentence concerning any topic.

Let's practice this approach.

Suppose you are writing about the topic of sharks' attacks.

Start your sentence with these words. “Sharks” is your subject; “attack” is your action verb:

Sharks attack.

Ask yourself, WHAT about shark attacks? (What point do you intend to communicate about a shark attack?)

Sharks attack rarely.

What else do you intend to say about shark attacks?

Sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.

What is your purpose in communicating these facts? What do you intend to communicate? Perhaps you intend to correct a misconception, such as:

Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently.

If this is the case, relate your goal (correcting a misconception about shark attacks) to the sentence you have already written (about the rarity and relative non-lethal number of shark attacks):

Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.

To emphasize your point, you can add a phrase such as “in reality”:

Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but, in reality, sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.

Let's review what intentions motivated you to construct each new, expanded version of this kernel sentence.

You started with a kernel sentence about a specific topic: “Sharks attack.”

You identified the first point you wanted to communicate about the topic of your sentence: “rarely.”

You decided to add a pertinent fact to the sentence: “and these attacks are seldom fatal.”

You identified your purpose in writing these facts, which was to correct a misconception: “Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently.”

You related your purpose to the facts that you had already communicated: “Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.”

Finally, you used a phrase to emphasize your point: “in reality.”

As a result of this process, using your intent to determine the content of your sentence, you went from the kernel sentence “Sharks attack” to its final, expanded, complete version: “Media reports suggest that sharks attack people frequently, but, in reality, sharks attack rarely, and these attacks are seldom fatal.”

This approach can work for any sentence concerning any topic.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Five Ideas for Research Reports

Copyright 2018 by Gary L. Pullman

1. Fonts

I use Open office, a free word processor that works as well as the Microsoft Office word processor. Open office provides hundreds of fonts, including a few fancy or exotic ones, such as Ar Decode, Ar Delaney, Blackladder ITC, Chiller, Comic Sans MS, Curlz MT, Edwardian Script ITC, Goudy Stout, Matura MT Script Capitals, Jokerman, Kristen ITC, MS Outlook, Ravie, and Wingdings (Wingdings).

One day, while searching for a topic for a Listverse article, I thought there might be one at my fingertips. Literally, there was one: what is the origin of ten unusual fonts? (Listverse requires a list of 10 related items.) The result was that, with a bit of research, I earned $100 for my article, “Top 10 Origins of Famous Fonts” (http://listverse.com/2017/05/23/top-10-origins-of-famous-fonts/). (See? Research can pay!)

2. U. S. State Boundaries

We've all seen political maps of the United States. We've noticed how bizarre state boundaries are. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why the states have the shapes and sizes they do. Texas is HUGE, Rhode Island is tiny. Michigan resembles a mitten; Virginia, a lopsided triangle; Oklahoma, a cooking pot; and Colorado, a giant rectangle.

The boundaries of the states look as though they were determined by a madman or madwoman.

I thought, somebody should write a book about this!

Somebody (Mark Unger) did: How the States Got Their Shapes: https://amzn.to/2nR0fjp

He even turned it into a television show broadcast on the History channel.

3. Mythological Creatures

Centaurs. Cyclopes. Gorgons. Lamia. Mermaids. Minotaurs. Satyrs. How did they come to be? What made someone imagine such combinations as humans and horses, one-eye giants, women with snakes for hair, snake women, fish women, men and bulls, and goat men?

Scientists and historians claim to know—about some of the origins of these fantastic mythological creatures, at least. Centaurs were created by people who'd never seen mounted horsemen; cyclopes were invented to account for a mastodon skull; and mermaids were inspired by manatees. Or so they say. But what about the other fantastic creatures of Greek and Roman, Teutonic, and other mythologies?

4. Maps That Show Monsters

I have also long been intrigued by the monsters that appear on ancient and medieval maps. Why this creature and not another? Why is the wind (personified as a man blowing air) blowing on this area of the world and not another? How did the cartographers, or mapmakers, know the coordinates of this mysterious island or this particular sea monster?

Once again, someone else (Edward Brooke-Hitching) wondered the same thing, did some research, and wrote The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders of Maps: https://amzn.to/2w01zEX

5. Sketchy Dinosaurs

Originally, paleontologists believed that dinosaurs were dim-witted, cold-blooded, slow-moving creatures. A few decades later, these same dinosaur doctors reconsidered. Now, the same dinosaurs were thought to be intelligent, warm-blooded, fast-moving creatures. Oh! And, the new school opinion was that dinosaurs descended from birds; previously, paleontologists had supposed them to have evolved from reptiles.

These weren't just changes of thought; they were completely opposite views. If dinosaur doctors could change their minds completely about such “facts” as these, how sound were their theories, overall? How sketchy were dinosaurs, anyway?

As it turns out, very. One only has to take note of the multitude of qualifications in The Scientific American's Book of Dinosaurs: The Best Minds in Paleontology Create a Portrait of the Prehistoric Era, edited by Gregory S. Paul (https://amzn.to/2nOSMRM), to get an idea just how shaky the whole “scientific” construct of dinosaurs' appearances, behaviors, and, well, reality truly is. As Mark Twain observed, “There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”

What worked for me (and Mark Unger and Edward Brooke-Hitching and “the best minds in paleontology”) can work for you, too, if you're writing a report based on research:
  1. Think about a topic of interest to you that contains a mystery.
  2. Using a variety of reliable sources, investigate the mystery.
  3. Report your findings in a clear, well-organized, grammatically correct, and readable fashion, citing your sources, and providing plenty of substantiating details.