Useful information

On this page you will find information that many students ask about.

 

Following, are a number of articles that should help you to write in English.

Punctuation

The standard format of the scientific article (IMRaD) is not holy

Eliminate Wordiness—it dilutes your message

 

 

Punctuation

Correct punctuation helps the reader and makes your message clear, as illustrated in the following examples.

 

How would you punctuate the following sentence?

a woman without her man is nothing

 

Here are three possibilities.

A woman without her man is nothing.

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

A woman without: her man is nothing.

 

How would you punctuate the following letter from Gloria to John?

Dear John I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I  yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours Gloria

 

Here are two possibilities.

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy—will you let me be yours?
Gloria

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?
Yours,

Gloria

 

The following guidelines should help you to punctuate your sentences correctly.


Semicolons (;)

Semicolons link two independent clauses

An independent clause contains a subject and a verb, and could stand alone as a sentence. A semicolon is most commonly used to link, in a single sentence, two independent clauses that are closely related in thought. When a semicolon is used to join two or more ideas (parts) in a sentence, those ideas are then given equal position or rank. Example:

Some people write with a word processor; some people write with a pen or pencil.

 

Semicolons do not link clauses with a coordinating conjunction. 

If the two independent clauses are connected by a coordinating conjunction ("and," "but," "or," "for," "nor," "yet," "so"), place a comma in front of the coordinating conjunction instead of a semicolon. Example:

Some people write with a word processor, but some people write with a pen or pencil.

 

Semicolons link lengthy clauses or clauses with commas

Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if the clauses are already punctuated with commas or if the clauses are lengthy. Example:

Some people write with a word processor, typewriter, or a computer; but others, for different reasons, choose to write with a pen or pencil.

 

Semicolons link clauses connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases

Use a semicolon between two independent clauses that are connected by conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases (a few of the most commonly used are listed below).

     Conjunctive Adverbs

Transitional Phrases

       However

on the other hand

       Therefore

in fact

       Consequently

as a result

       Nevertheless

on the contrary

 

Example:

People make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their methods.

 

Semicolons link lists where the items contain commas

Use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas. Example:

There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

 

Semicolons create links in places where you could put a period

Semicolons commonly link independent clauses, so in general don't use a semicolon where you couldn't put a period and start a new sentence. Example:

People feel strongly about their method of writing; they sometimes disregard the advantages of another method.

 

Incorrect Example:

Because people feel strongly about their method of writing; they sometimes disregard the advantages of another method.

Revised:

Because people feel strongly about their method of writing, they sometimes disregard the advantages of another method.

Commas

Use commas to set off non-restrictive modifiers; use no commas to set off restrictive modifiers.

 

Non-restrictive (commas):

The statue of his mother by Joseph Smith, dated 1894, sold for over a million dollars.

Restrictive (no commas):

The painting dated 1894 is a forgery; the one dated 1892 is genuine.

 

A non-restrictive modifier adds information that is not essential to our understanding of the sentence (the date of Joseph Smith's statue); if we remove it from the sentence, the basic meaning of the sentence does not change. For example, "The statue of his mother by Joseph Smith sold for over a million dollars."

 

A restrictive modifier identifies, or limits the reference of the noun it modifies (in the second example, the phrases "dated 1894" and "dated 1892" cannot be detached from the sentence without making the meaning unclear ("The painting [which one?] is a forgery; the other one [which one?] is genuine.")

 

You can see the distinction and the different punctuation in the following pairs of sentences:

William Carlos Williams, the poet, was also a farmer.

The poet William Carlos Williams was also a farmer.

 

John, who has been drinking, should not drive.

People who have been drinking should not drive.

 

Many Americans travel to Mexico, where Laetrile is legal and readily available.

Many Americans travel to countries where Laetrile is legal and readily available.

 

In spring, when the water is high, the lake surges over the rocks. 

At times when the water is high the lake surges over the rocks.

 

The waiters, dressed in their white jackets, are arranging the chairs on the sidewalk.

The waiters dressed in white jackets serve in the main dining room; those in red serve in the coffee shop.

Dashes highlight

Use a dash or a pair of dashes to indicate sudden changes in tone or thought within a sentence or to set off some sentence elements. Dashes create emphasis. Below are some effective uses of dashes. While reading these examples, notice other punctuation as well.

 

The exuberant—I should say lunatic—quality of Hitler’s ravings electrified the crowd.

 

To feed, clothe, and find shelter for the needy—these are real achievements.

 

There is an illness in many hospitals—the people in them can only follow instructions.

 

I am under the impression that she has had no training at all—and doesn't need any.

 

The dash is most effectively used in cases where a text has some kind of surprise to offer. This may consist of extra information, as in:

 

The film with the doubtful distinction of overusing the most overused four-letter word is Brian De Palma’s Scarface, in which it is spoken 206 times—an average of once every twenty-nine seconds.

 

Dashes can sometimes be used instead of parentheses or even commas, especially when the text carries extra information that is somehow surprising. Compare:

Unclear:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

Clearer:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it—even if I have said it—unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” (Buddha)

Quotation marks

Use quotation marks for special words.

We often put quotation marks around words which are used in special ways—for example when we talk about the words themselves, when we use them as titles, or when we give them special meanings. Quotation marks are also called ‘inverted commas’. Single quotation marks (‘…’) are more common in UK English, and double quotation marks (“…”) in US English. Also note that commas and periods are outside of the ending quotation marks in U.K. English and inside in U.S. English. Examples:

People disagree about how to use the word ‘disinterested’. (U.K.)

People disagree about how to use the word “disinterested.” (U.S.)

 

His next book was ‘Heart of Darkness’. (U.K.)

His next book was “Heart of Darkness.” (U.S.)

 

A textbook can be a ‘wall’ between teacher and class. (U.K.)

A textbook can be a “wall” between teacher and class. (U.S.)

 

Quotation marks for direct speech.

We use quotation marks when we quote direct speech. Single quotation marks (‘…’) are more common in U.K. English, and double quotation marks (“…”) in U.S. English. For quotations inside quotations, we use double quotation marks inside single (or single inside double).

‘John’s last words,’ said Albert, ‘were “Close that bloody window”.’ (U.K.)

“John’s last words,” said Albert, “were ‘Close that bloody window.’” (U.S.)

 

Whether you use single or double quotation marks, be consistent!

Parentheses (…) and brackets […]

In English we use parentheses when we want to whisper—when we have to say something we would rather not say. Note that this is different from Dutch writing where we often put important information “tussen haakjes.” In general avoid parenthesis except to indicate references etc.

 

We use brackets, sometimes called “square brackets,” in adapting quotations: when an editor adds an extra word in order to make the quotation flow properly. The added word is then placed in square brackets.

Mr. Adams said “In the matter of food and eating [however] one can hardly remain completely indifferent to what one is doing for long.”

Colons focus attention

The colon focuses the reader’s attention on something important that immediately follows the colon. This may be: a list of items on the same line, a bulleted list, an explanation or a direct quotation. Some examples are:

The President said: “Read my lips.” (Quotation)

 

I don’t think he’s telling the truth: he seems nervous. (explanation)

 

The hyphen - (koppelteken)

(Do mot confuse this with a dash = gedachtestreepje)

We use the hyphen to:

to unite the elements of certain kinds of compound and derived words, for example: thirty-three, two-hundred-fifty-five, a hit-and-run accident

to serve as a word-breaking device at the end of lines.

 

Apostrophe

The apostrophe, or inverted comma, is used to indicate:

missing letters as in contractions (can’t = cannot)

possessives (the girl’s father).

Do not use an apostrophe to form plurals as in: 1960’s, MP’s. This indicates possession! Note that this is different than Dutch usage. In English we simply add an “s” to the end of words and abbreviations to form the plurals. For example: 1960s and MPs.

 

The IMRaD format is not holy

 

Students often say that their research article does not seem to fit the classical format of Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion (IMRaD). The IMRaD format works very well for experimental studies, retrospective studies, studies of an existing situation, literature reviews, and modeling complex situations. However, it does not work well for articles that report on the development of new hardware, software and techniques. Neither does the IMRaD format work well for papers that present mathematical reasoning and “thought” experiments.

Development articles

When reporting on a new development, the authors’ purpose is not to give the world new knowledge, but rather to say, for example:

“Look at us! We are the first to develop a practical time machine.”

Of course the time machine has not yet been patented, so the authors do not want to give away its secrets and, therefore, they do not report any details of their methods. If this is your case, modify the IMRaD format by replacing Methods and Results with sections having other topic headings and different content. An example:

·       Introduction: big picture, who needs a time machine and why, historical problems in developing it, development question / purpose of the article

·       Theory: contains logically ordered basic theory

·       Application of the theory: tells how you applied the theory—in general and without giving the secrets away

·       Practical performance: how far back in time the machine will go and other new capabilities that the machine offers

·       Physical design: what it looks like and how the operator uses it

·       Discussion: closes the circles and, especially, clearly describes the added value of the time machine and its consequences—the new big picture.

Articles that report on reasoning and “thought” experiments

Authors in the field of computer science often replace the Methods and Results sections with sections that describe their mathematical reasoning that led to the new development.

Each step in a proof, derivation or thought experiment consists of three components:

1.      the reasoning,

2.      the mathematical manipulation you actually did and

3.      the results of that manipulation.

 

These components belong together and should be reported in one section. In that section, repeat this pattern for each step until you get to your final overall/end result. In most cases, you can describe your end result in one or two sentences, or in one mathematical expression at the end of the section. Give the section an appropriate heading.

A word of warning. Unfortunately for the reader, authors of papers based on mathematical reasoning often use simple present tense for everything. This results in a kind of “schoolbook” style. Although mathematics text books use simple-present tense because they present “generally accepted truths,” most scientific articles do not present truths, but present results that are still open to criticism. For that reason, you need clear past-tense statements such as:

“We applied the theory to...,”

 “We added A and B; this resulted in C,”

“By combining terms we obtained the expression...” etc. 

Let’s look at tenses in more detail.

A word about tenses

Whatever your format, the reader must clearly see the difference between your theory, what you did, what you found, your explanations and your conclusions. Whether you separate the methods from results, or give the main body of your article completely different headings, consistent use of the different tenses will help the reader.

1.      To express the “general truths” that you use in your reasoning, use present simple tense.

2.      To tell what you did, use simple past tense. Many beginning authors tend to use simple present for this, which is confusing because the reader interprets this as either something you always do, or as a general truth.

3.      To report the outcome of your reasoning use simple past tense. Here again, if you use simple present tense, the reader will interpret it as something that is “true in general.”

4.      To report your conclusions, use simple present tense. Here, you are reporting what you believe to be the new state-of-affairs.

If you follow the above tense guidelines, the reader will more easily follow your story whatever format you use. Once again, do not pay homage to the format, but do pay homage to clear communication.

Eliminate Wordiness
it dilutes your message

 

A wordy text is like a flabby race horse—it just doesn’t make it! An effective text, like a fast race horse, is all muscle—it does what it is supposed to do smoothly and efficiently. The following tips, adapted from the Purdue University Online Writing Lab at http://owl.english.purdue.edu, will help you to rid your text of ugly flab and replace it with muscle. 

1. Eliminate unnecessary determiners and modifiers

 

Wordy

Any particular type of dessert is fine with me.

Balancing the budget by Friday is an impossibility without some kind of extra help.

More Concise

Any dessert is fine with me.

Balancing the budget by Friday is impossible without extra help.

 

The following words are usually only extra flab:

 

kind of
sort of
type of
specific

really
basically
for all intents and purposes
particular

definitely
actually
generally
individual

Wordy

For all intents and purposes, American industrial productivity generally depends on certain factors that are really more psychological in kind than of any given technological aspect.

More Concise

American industrial productivity depends more on psychological than on technological factors.

 

2. Change phrases into single words

 

Wordy

The employee with ambition...

The department showing the best performance...

Jeff Converse, our chief of consulting, suggested at our last board meeting the installation of microfilm equipment in the department of data processing.

More Concise

The ambitious employee...

The best-performing department...

At our last board meeting, Chief Consultant Jeff Converse suggested that we install microfilm equipment in the data processing department.

 

3. Change unnecessary that, who, and which clauses into phrases

Wordy

The report, which was released recently...

All applicants who are interested in the job must...

The system that is most efficient and accurate...

More Concise

The recently released report...

All job applicants must...

The most efficient and accurate system...

 

4. Avoid overusing “it + be-verb” or “there + be-verb” at the beginning of sentences

Take the following example:

"It is imperative that we find a solution."

The same meaning could be expressed with this more succinct wording:

"We must find a solution."

 

Wordy

It is the governor who signs or vetoes bills.

There are four rules that should be observed: ...

There was a big explosion, which shook the windows, and people ran into the street.

More Concise

The governor signs or vetoes bills.

Four rules should be observed...

A big explosion shook the windows, and people ran into the street.

 

5. Use active rather than passive verbs

Wordy

An account was opened by Mrs. Simms.

Your figures were checked by the research department.

More Concise

Mrs. Simms opened an account.

The research department checked your figures.

(See handout The A is B style for more examples of this.)

6. Avoid overusing noun forms of verbs

Use verbs when possible rather than noun forms known as nominalizations.

Wordy

The function of this department is the collection of accounts.

The current focus of the medical profession is disease prevention.

More Concise

This department collects accounts.

The medical profession currently focuses on disease prevention.

 

7. Reword unnecessary infinitive phrases

Some infinitive phrases can be converted into finite verbs or brief noun phrases. Such a change also often replaces a be-verb with an action verb.

Wordy

The duty of a clerk is to check all incoming mail and to record it.

A shortage of tellers at our branch office on Friday and Saturday during rush hours has caused customers to become dissatisfied with service.

More Concise

A clerk checks and records all incoming mail.

A teller shortage at our branch office on Friday and Saturday during rush hours has caused customer dissatisfaction.

 

8. Replace flabby expressions with direct expressions

Flabby expressions take several words to say what could be said more succinctly.

Wordy

At this/that point in time...

In accordance with your request...

More Concise

Now/then...

As you requested...

 

Here are some other common roundabout expressions that can be compressed into just one word:

the reason for
for the reason that
owing/due to the fact that
in light of the fact that
considering the fact that
on the grounds that
this is why

}= because, since, why


on the occasion of
in a situation in which
under circumstances in which

}= when


as regards
in reference to
with regard to
concerning the matter of
where ________ is concerned

}= about


it is crucial that
it is necessary that
there is a need/necessity for
it is important that
cannot be avoided

 

}=must, should

is able to
has the opportunity to
has the capacity for
has the ability to

 

}=can

it is possible that
there is a chance that
it could happen that
the possibility exists for

}=may, might, could

 

Wordy

It is possible that nothing will come of these preparations.

She has the ability to influence the outcome.

It is necessary that we take a stand on this pressing issue.

More Concise

Nothing may come of these preparations.

She can influence the outcome

We must take a stand on this pressing issue.

 

9. Omit words that explain the obvious or provide excessive detail

 

Wordy

I received your inquiry yesterday. Yes, we do have...

It goes without saying that we are acquainted with your policy on filing tax returns, and we have every intention of complying with the regulations that you have mentioned.

Imagine a mental picture of someone engaged in the intellectual activity of trying to learn what the rules are for how to play the game of chess.

Baseball, one of our oldest and most popular outdoor summer sports in terms of total attendance at ball parks and viewing on television, has the kind of rhythm of play on the field that alternates between times when players passively wait with no action taking place between the pitches to the batter and then times when they explode into action as the batter hits a pitched ball to one of the players and the player fields it.

 

More Concise

Yes, we do have...

We intend to comply with the tax-return regulations that you have mentioned.

Imagine someone trying to learn the rules of chess.

Baseball has a rhythm that alternates between waiting and explosive action.

 

Wordy

I would appreciate it if you would bring to the attention of your drafting officers the administrator's dislike of long sentences and paragraphs in messages to the field and in other items drafted for her signature or approval, as well as in all correspondence, reports, and studies. Please encourage your section to keep their sentences short.

 

Our branch office currently employs five tellersThese tellers do an excellent job Monday through Thursday but cannot keep up with the rush on Friday and Saturday.

 

More Concise

Please encourage your drafting officers to keep sentences and paragraphs in letters, reports, and studies short. Dr. Lomas, the administrator, has mentioned that reports and memos drafted for her approval recently have been wordy and thus time-consuming.

 

Our branch office currently employs five tellers, who do an excellent job Monday through Thursday but cannot keep up with Friday and Saturday rush periods.

 

10. Eliminate Redundant Pairs

Many pairs of words imply each other. Finish implies complete, so the phrase completely finish is redundant. So are many other pairs of words:

past memories
various differences
each individual 
basic fundamentals
true facts
important essentials
future plans

terrible tragedy
end result
final outcome
free gift
past history
unexpected surprise
sudden crisis

 

A related expression that's not redundant as much as it is illogical is very unique. Since unique means "one of a kind," adding modifiers of degree such as verysoespeciallysomewhatextremely, and so on is illogical. One-of-a-kind-ness has no gradations; something is either unique or it is not.

Wordy

Before the travel agent was completely able to finish explaining the various differences among all of the many very unique vacation packages his travel agency was offering, the customer changed her future plans.

More Concise

Before the travel agent finished explaining the differences among the unique vacation packages his travel agency was offering, the customer changed her plans.

 

Redundant Categories

Specific words imply their general categories, so we usually don't have to state both. We know that a period is a segment of time, that pink is a color, that shiny is an appearance. In each of the following phrases, the general category term can be dropped, leaving just the specific descriptive word:

large in size
often times
of a bright color
heavy in weight
period in time
round in shape
at an early time
economics field

of cheap quality
honest in character
of an uncertain condition
in a confused state
unusual in nature
extreme in degree
of a strange type

 

Wordy

During that time period, many car buyers preferred cars that were pink in color and shiny in appearance.

The microscope revealed a group of organisms that were round in shape and peculiar in nature.

More Concise

During that period, many car buyers preferred pink, shiny cars.

The microscope revealed a group of peculiar, round organisms.

 

 

For more tips on punctuation and concise writing visit:

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/print/general/gl_concise.html.

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