You be the judge: good writing or bad writing?

Read the following and decide:  good writing or bad writing?

The magnetic shapes come in vibrant colors like red, orange, yellow, Kelly green and magenta.  They can be connected to form two- or three-dimensional forms.

 Kids can construct cubes, tetrahedrons, hexagonal prisms, hour glasses and hearts.

 This toy is made with 360-degree rotating magnets inside, so each side connects with a perfect fit to the side of another piece.

 With these geometric shapes of squares, triangles and hexagons, kids can develop mathematical and geometric understanding while playing.  Even three-year-olds can do it!

Here’s my take.  See if you agree.

  • The passage talks around a topic (a magnetic toy), but the passage doesn’t state a main, controlling idea. Is the toy new? Is it unlike any other toy?  Does it develop math skills in toddlers better than other toys?  What is the point of the passage?
  • The passage contains details, but they are presented in random order. Is the color more important than the forms the shapes can be made into? Is the magnets’ fit more vital than the toy’s educational value?
  • Without an overall controlling idea, a conclusion can’t emphasize it. The ending is fun, but does it state the point of the passage? What is the point of the passage?

So my take is that this is bad writing.

Show political leanings through dialog

From many studies* of how politicians speak, writers like you and me can glean insights into how to write dialog for fictional conservative or liberal characters we create.adult couple in discussion

Studies show that conservative and liberal politicians speak differently.  In general, conservative politicians

  • use simpler language than liberal politicians, and
  • prefer short statements—simple sentences—expressing one thought.

Liberal politicians, in general,

  • use more complex language than conservative politicians, and
  • prefer longer, more complex thought structures—compound and complex sentences—expressing qualified thoughts.

How can we use this information?

Suppose you have created a character—let’s call him Mr. Conti—whom you want to portray as a conservative.  Maybe he hails from Texas, votes Republican, accepts the teachings of a church which he regularly attends, wonders about global warming, and supports a pro-life organization—all qualities associated with conservative thinking in the US.

Suppose you have also created a character—let’s call her Miss Libby—whom you want to portray as liberal.  A native of Boston, perhaps she votes Democrat, has stopped attending church, teaches physics in a high school, and wears a mask everywhere during the covid 10 pandemic—all qualities  associated with liberal thinking in the US.

To further differentiate Mr. Conti and Miss Libby, you can use dialog.  For example,

Miss Libby:  Oh, this heat!  I heard on NPR that it might rain later today, but the showers will likely be scattered.

Mr. Conti:  Rubbish!  My arthritis is aching.  It’s gonna rain.

Miss Libby:  According to the meteorologists on the Weather Channel, satellite imagery shows a clear though humid atmosphere this morning.  Any rain later will be haphazard.

Mr. Conti:  Satellite battelite.  When my grandma’s bones ached, it rained.  When my momma’s bones ached, it rained.  My bones ache.  It’s gonna rain.

Miss Libby:  You demonstrate such confidence, such surety, about the weather, Mr. Conti.   Is it innate?

Mr. Conti:  Nothin’ innate about it. It’s in bones.

As a writing exercise, try writing dialog between a conservative thinker and a liberal one.  Choose a nonpolitical topic and see how you can show political thinking thought vocabulary and sentence structure.

*For more information on the studies, go to a recent article in The New York Times using this hyperlink: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/22/opinion/liberals-conservatives-trump-america.html

 

 

 

black or Black?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the correct word was “Negro.”

In the 1970s, the terminology changed to “black” and then to “African American.”

Now in the 21st century, “black” has again predominated.

But with so much attention lately focused on racism and particularly unconscious racism, the question this summer is “black” or “Black”?

On June 19, the AP Stylebook, the longstanding rulebook for print journalists, changed its policy about referring to Black Americans.  Now using a capital B in “Black” is preferred in a “racial, ethnic or cultural context.”

In the two weeks since, several prominent news outlets have made the change.  They include The Los Angeles Times, NBC News, The New York Times, and the USA Today Network.

Why does it matter?  Media reflect culture.  Most large media outlets are owned and run by white males.  Whether consciously or unconsciously, they have used a lower case b which Black Americans have interpreted as condescending.  (In contrast, media focused on a Black audience such as Ebony Magazine have long used a capital B.)

Our culture is changing.  This subtle change in a single letter reflects this change by the most powerful media in our country.  They have looked at how racism can be shown in something as simple as a single letter.  And to their credit, they changed.

As Aretha Franklin sang a generation ago, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”—now with a capital B.

How to increase clarity in your writing

Below are three sentences from the June 22, 2020, issue of The New York Times.  All three sentences have writing problems.  Can you figure out what they are?  (Hint:  All three sentences are grammatically correct.)

Detective with a magnifying glass inspecting a newspaper.Sentence 1:  In a survey conducted this month by the Partnership for New York City, a business group, respondents from 60 companies with Manhattan offices predicted that only 10 percent of their employees would return by Aug. 15.

Sentence 2:  More riders have already returned to public transportation during the first phase of reopening than officials at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city’s subway systems and buses, had anticipated.

Sentence 3:  A team of scientists including Sarah H. Olson, an epidemiologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society who directed the research, posted a report of their research, which has not yet been peer reviewed but has been submitted to a scientific journal, on a website for unpublished research, bioRxiv.

First problem:  length.  The number of words in the sentences is 36, 31, and 46, respectively.  The more words in a sentence, usually the harder that sentence is to understand.

Second problem:  clauses.  Sentence 1 has two clauses; sentence 2 has three clauses; and sentence 3 has three clauses.  Sometimes two or three clauses do not make a sentence hard to read.  (For example, “My son, who is three, likes to look for bugs which are dead.”)  But if those clauses are long, or are in long sentences, they can be hard to understand.

Third problem:  subject-verb separation.  In sentence 1, six words separate the subject [respondents] and verb [predicted] in the independent clause.  In sentence 2, thirteen words separate the subject in the dependent clause [officials] from its verb [had anticipated].  In sentence 3, sixteen words separate the subject of the independent clause [team] from its verb [posted].  When subjects and verbs are separated, readers find meaning harder to understand.

Fourth problem:  long words.  Sentence 1 has seven words of three or more syllables.  Sentence 2 has eight.  Sentence 3 has seven.  Long words can be good if they are specific.  But when you place long words in long sentences with multiple clauses whose subjects and verbs are separated by many words, confusion increases and understanding decreases.

Luckily, The New York Times attracts well educated readers.  They understand long words and can hold many thoughts in their minds as they read multiple clauses in long sentences.

How about your readers?  Can they understand your writing without having to stop and start over?  If not, try shortening your sentences, separating clauses into separate sentences, keeping subjects and verbs next to each other, and eliminating words of many syllables when a simpler synonym exists.

7 grammar checker apps analyzed

If you are considering using a grammar checking app but are not sure which one would work well for you or your student, you are in luck.  The blog, Daily Writing Tips, has done the analyzing for you.

To test the various apps, Daily Writing Tips submitted a sentence written with four errors:  a missing comma, a misspelled word, a verb problem and a capitalization error.

The apps reviewed, and the number of errors found by each one, include:

  • Google Docs (2)
  • Microsoft Word (4)
  • Grammarly (4)
  • ProWritingAid (4)
  • Hemingway Editor (1)
  • After the Deadline (2)
  • Ginger (3)

The review of the apps recommends certain apps for certain kinds of writing.  If you are a teacher or are looking for an app for a student, Grammarly has the added benefit of explaining in detail why errors are wrong.

For detailed information, go to www.dailywritingtips.com.