How to write “for example” properly

Many students don’t know how to incorporate the phrases “for example,” “for instance,” and “such as” into their writing.

“For example” and “for instance” are prepositional phrases, so they cannot start a “sentence” unless what follows is truly a sentence with a subject and a predicate.

Good:  I love to eat in August.  For example, corn-on-the-cob is sweet and berries are juicy.

Bad:  I love to eat fresh produce in August.  For instance, corn-on-the-cob and juicy berries.

Good:  In August, I love to eat fresh produce, for example, corn-on-the-cob and juicy berries.

“For example” and “for instance” are synonyms.  They are always followed by a comma (unless they come at the end of a sentence), and if they appear within a sentence, they are always preceded by a comma, much like appositives.

“Such as” has a similar meaning, but is not followed by a comma.

Good:  In August, I love to eat fruit such as juicy berries.

Bad:  In August, I love to eat fruit, such as juicy berries.

Many students are surprised to see “e.g.,” used to replace the words “for example.”  They think the correct abbreviation is “ex.”  But “e.g.,” is the proper way to write “for example.”  The comma is needed after the abbreviation just as it is needed after the words.  Unlike “for example” and “for instance,” “e.g., cannot start a sentence.

Good:  The restaurant offers many seafood meals, e.g., scallops, crab and lobster.

Bad:  E.g., scallops, crab and lobsters are seafood offered by the restaurant.

Want to try your hand?  From the following ten sentences, find the mistakes and fix them.  Not every sentence has a mistake.

  1. Mike prefers mystery writers from the mid-20th century, for example, Raymond Chandler.
  2. Winnie has visited many European countries such as Italy, France, and the UK.
  3. Grandpa collects old silver coins for example, Kennedy half dollars.
  4. We have two school holidays this semester e.g., Labor Day and Thanksgiving week.
  5. The next time I visit Boston, I want to see some historical sites, for instance the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s home.
  6. She writes two blogs. For example, comicphonics.com and EnglishWritingTeacher.com.
  7. Mom uses colored paper clips such as pink, purple and blue, for example.
  8. I love portrait stamps. For instance, the JFK stamp, the Sinatra stamp, and of course, the Elvis stamp.
  9. Evelyn wants a small, stylish car, such as a Mini-Cooper.
  10. Malia can’t decide which necklace to bring, for instance, her pearls or her turquoise choker.

 

 

How to encourage students to write more details

Among the most common writing mistakes students make is the failure to use enough details.  Here is one way to coax more details from students.

First, make sure students know what we mean by details.  Details include

  • Proper nouns
  • Numbers
  • Dates, days, months, years, seasons
  • Direct quotes
  • The thoughts of a person or character
  • Figures of speech
  • Sensory information—sights, sounds, and tastes
  • Facts
  • Examples—maybe the most important detail

Next, rewrite a sentence the student has already written, such as, “I was late for the bus.”  You can use any sentence, but if you use one of the student’s own sentences, the changes you make have more impact.

Now, you add a detail to the sentence, such as, “Yesterday, I was late for the bus.”

Now it is the student’s turn to add a detail to the same sentence.  She writes, “Yesterday, I was late for the school bus.”

Now it is your turn again.  “Yesterday, the first day of school, I was late for the school bus.”

Student’s turn.  “Yesterday, the first day of school, I was five minutes late tardy for the school bus.”

At this point, you might like to choose another sentence and repeat the exercise.

This kind of work can increase vocabulary too.  “My docile cat became aggressive when a stealthy bat flew out from the lofty peak of the municipal building.”

Using current events to provoke writing assignments and learning new vocabulary

Too bad school’s not in session.  Retorts by Congressmen to President Trump’s remarks about President Putin would make a great vocabulary lesson, tying current events (of interest to students) to vocabulary (of lesser interest).

Using direct quotes could happen any time a current event brings forth a slew of comments.  Even events from history and the responses of the people of the time could be used.  What could the writing lessons be?

  • Define ten of the words as used in the sentences and then use them in your own unrelated sentences.
  • Select ten of the words and write a narrative / editorial / news story /poem using those words properly.
  • Create a multiple choice test. Use the quoted sentence as the prompt and then underline one word per sentence and offer four choices identifying the correct meaning.
  • Write a persuasive essay saying which remark is the most persuasive or the most polarizing or the most noncommittal.

Here are some of the comments from a week ago.  (The underlines are my own.)

Senator Susan Collins of Maine:  [The president’s] position is untenable.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska:  When the president plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.

Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas:  The problem is. . .Russia’s duplicitous behavior.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington:  The president must hold Russia accountable for their adversarial actions and their continued efforts to undermine our democratic institutions.

Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina:  the United States will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri:  [Putin] is a calculating adversary who is trying to exert all the influence he can anywhere he can.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas:  I think [Trump is] conflating different things — the meddling and the collusion allegations for which there does not appear to be any evidence.

Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma:  We must unequivocally denounce Russia’s election interference attempts.

Senator John McCain of Arizona:  No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.

To hand write notes or to use technology?

As you or your kids prepare to return to school (here in Georgia some schools open the first week of August) , you might be considering the purchase of technology for note taking.  Should you?

Years ago when I was a newspaper reporter, there were two kinds of technology to choose from:  a pen and reporter’s notebook or a tape recorder.  No laptops, tablets and smart phones then.  I opted for the old fashioned pen and paper for several reasons.

  • It was more reliable.  No machinery to malfunction, no tapes that could run out, no batteries that could die.  And my newspaper provided pens and reporters’ notebooks.
  • I thought more during interviews. With no tape recorder, I couldn’t tune out and let the machine do the work.  I needed to pay attention, to understand what the speaker was saying and to prepare follow-up questions.
  • Since I couldn’t write down everything, I needed to prioritize what was important either by summarizing or by quoting well-said ideas—of which there usually weren’t many. I became more of a paraphraser than a direct-quoter.
  • I could locate an idea from an interview quickly by paging through my notes. No need to hunt through long sections of tape for just one idea.
  • I wrote my final copy quickly. I could turn in a story and move on to the next one, while someone else was still transcribing from a machine, making me a valuable employee.

What has this to do with note taking in school today?  Research shows that college students who take notes by hand, paraphrasing and summarizing, do better understanding a lecture than do students who key in every word.  They do so for the same reason I wrote good interviews.  They listen.  They attempt to put ideas into a useful order and into their own words.  They question concepts as they listen even if they don’t raise their hands.  They focus.

On the other hand, technology has improved since my reporting days.  Today it’s possible to word search faster than I could page through my reporter notes.  If you remember to back up, your notes don’t get lost.  In fact, they exist in a cloud somewhere indefinitely, ready for you to access long after you’ve thrown out your composition notebook.

So should you buy note taking devices?  They rang from $200 to $600.  Many are in their infancy.

Here’s a compromise.  What if you hand write legibly, and when class is done or at the end of the day, take photos of your notes using your cell phone?  You always have your phone with you—right?—and so you’ll always have your notes as nearby as a clock on your phone.  If you have a reliable classmate, you can offer to photograph each other’s notes, and compare what you each thought important.

But can you hand write fast enough to keep up with your teacher?  For students no longer learning cursive, this can be a problem.  Maybe instead of investing hundreds in technology, invest $5 in a cursive handwriting notebook, and practice. Usually some combination of printing and cursive suffices for fast and readable handwriting.

For information about  note taking technology available, see an article by David Pierce in the July 16, 2018, edition of The Wall Street Journal, “Handwriting Finds Ways To Fit Into Digital Life.”

Is artificial intelligence–AI–learning how to write?

Yes, according to Ali Hale of Daily Writing Tips*.  Hale lists six ways AI is learning to write.

1.  Google Translate can not only translate words but phrases and sentences from one language to another.

2.  Microsoft Word is able to edit spelling errors, subject-verb agreement errors, singular-plural errors and capitalization errors. Grammerly can detect wordiness, ideas stated too vaguely and passive voice verbs.

3.  Plagiarism can be detected by using Turnitin.

4.  Online search engines can search for textual information, and they are in the process of searching for audio or visual information.  Computers are beginning to learn how to search by decoding sound.

5.  Computers can “write” breaking news stories. Heliograf, a web robot, reported on election results last November for the Washington Post.

6.  Using algorithms, computers can suggest future purchases—such as books—based on your past purchases or searches. Amazon uses this capability as do many retailers.

But can AI write, really write?  Is Gone with the Wind about to be replaced as the great American novel by an AI-authored novel?  Not anytime soon.  But since so much has happened in developing AI since the turn of the 21st century, can we even imagine who will author what Miss Scarlett will be reading by GWTW’s 100th anniversary in twenty years?

*For more information, go to Hale’s posting at (https://www.dailywritingtips.com/how-artificial-intelligence-is-changing-writing/).

Why writers should read, read, read

I have been writing and rewriting parts of a novel for  years in hopes of improving my writing and story telling.  One story line within my novel has had me stumped.  In newspaper articles, TV shows and radio stories I have sought solutions, but none have seemed spot on.

Last night I was reading a suspense thriller in bed—not the genre I usually read, and not the genre I am writing.  But  my sister suggested it, and I trust her judgment.  The thriller started slowly, so slowly that I almost stopped reading.  But then I read a particular scene, and from that point on I was hooked, turning page after page long past midnight.

I was enjoying the novel, of course, but as a writer I was also aware of how the author was constructing her book.  In particular, the protagonist’s interior dialog fascinated me, how her thoughts sounded so real—or what I assumed was real since I have never been in a situation like that character’s.  I need to try writing like this, I thought.

And then all of a sudden, while I was reading about a secondary character, I had one of those light bulb moments.  In one  incident I saw the germ of how I could develop my own story line.

Chills rippled through me.  I had a plan!

Two aspects of this reading experience are important.  One, in the back of my mind I was thinking about a particular writing problem. I was seeking ideas, so when I read the scene in the thriller, I could readily see a connection to my writing problem.  To make an analogy, the seed fell into fertile ground.

Two, I wasn’t thinking specifically about my novel as I was reading the thriller.  I was focused on the thriller.  But my subconscious, always aware of my novel, made a connection.  To make another analogy, I was like a mother focused on making dinner, but through my peripheral vision and hearing, aware of my child in the background.

So many good writing ideas have come to me while I am reading.  I don’t read to learn how to write, but that’s what happens.  I see the way another writer handles a writing problem and try that technique.  Or subconsciously I make a connection between what I am reading and what I am writing and snatch the germ of an idea.

I find that I do more writing and better writing when I am reading.  I am on vacation now, so in the past two weeks I have read three books—two novels and one memoir.  The ideas keep coming!

 

What parents want writing teachers / tutors to teach

When parents ask for writing help for their children, what kind of help do they want?Child writing

  • Grammar?
  • Vocabulary?
  • Sentence structures?
  • Organizing?
  • Transitions?
  • Introductions and hooks?
  • Conclusions?
  • Spelling?
  • Cursive handwriting?
  • Details?
  • Revising?
  • Particular types of writing (paragraphs? essays? book reports? short answer responses? long answer responses? summaries?)
  • Narrative elements (character development? plot? setting? foreshadowing?  point of view? conflict? dialog? voice? suspense?)
  • Verb tenses?
  • Paraphrasing?
  • Clarity?
  • Dialog?
  • Figures of speech?

Most parents have no idea so many elements combine to create good writing.  When they see a list like this, they are taken aback.

That is why it is important for parents and teachers to agree on what students should learn at various ages.  If a parent thinks the student should be perfecting grammar, but the teacher instead focuses on organization of information, the parent will not be happy.  Or if a parent thinks a student should be using a great piece of rhetoric as a model, but the teacher wants the student to develop his own way of expression, again the parent will be dissatisfied.

Only when a parent is aware of all that a student is expected to learn can the parent and teacher have a meaningful conversation about how to improve a student’s writing.