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David Bowman's Blog (56)

YOU MUST HAVE TO

I received an interesting question from an English teacher in Iran who wanted to know the differences, if any, between “must” and “have to/has to.” This is an interesting question because the expressions are nearly identical. To answer, I had to think not only about their strict definitions but also about how they are used. 

The terms “must” and “have to/has to” are modal auxiliaries that communicate (1) an obligation to perform some action or (2) that some state of being or action is…

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Added by David Bowman on September 17, 2014 at 6:39pm — No Comments

Education Leaders Struggle with Writing

Teaching elementary and secondary students how to write well is challenging. Many students don’t understand the core principles behind writing, including the basics of sentence and paragraph structure, a logical progression of ideas, and reader awareness. Others don’t have the technical skills of writing, including grammar and punctuation. However, with consistent, year-by-year, engaging instruction by committed teachers who understand not only the value but also the principles and skills of…

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Added by David Bowman on March 25, 2014 at 11:22pm — No Comments

From Bad to Good-Technical and Academic Writing

Academic and technical writing are far different than literary writing, such as novels and poetry. The primary purpose of academic and technical writing is to provide information about a defined topic to a specific audience. Whether you write graduate papers, professional journal articles, dissertations, white papers, manuals, websites, reviews, or similar documents, you are writing academic or technical documents.

 

Academic and technical writing can be bad writing. They can…

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Added by David Bowman on February 8, 2014 at 1:06am — 1 Comment

Correct Use of "Rather Than"

This is a great question, and it is one I don't often see. On the other hand, it reflects a concept that confuses many people: parallelism. 

Correct use of “rather than” 

“Rather than” indicates a parallel structure in which two things are compared. To be grammatically correct, the two things being compared need to be equal, meaning they have the same grammatical structure or form. 

Here are two simple examples to demonstrate the parallel structure created…

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Added by David Bowman on January 21, 2014 at 11:36pm — No Comments

The Most Common Grammar Mistake

The most common grammar mistake involves the ability to count. Fortunately, you only have to be able to count higher than 1.

If I write, “A man buys a house,” you can count the number of men: 1.

If I write, “Men buy houses,” you need to count higher than 1 because this sentence describes more than 1 man.

Now, let’s look at these two samples more carefully.

In the first sentence, “A man buys a house,” the subject is 1 man, described as “a man.” The verb “buys” ends…

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Added by David Bowman on January 7, 2014 at 12:09am — No Comments

The Boring Passive Voice

“Your writing bores me.” “I am bored by your writing.”

Not only do these two sentences demonstrate the difference between the active and passive voice but also they communicate a central reason for avoiding the passive voice.

In the active voice, the subject of the sentence does the action described by the main verb. Thus, the subject is active. In the passive voice, the action is done to the subject. Thus, the subject is passive. Passive voice is a problem for direct writing…

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Added by David Bowman on October 8, 2013 at 11:52pm — No Comments

Be More Active with Your Writing

Active and Passive Voice: When you are active, you do something. When you are passive, things happen to you. This is the same concept as the active and passive voice in sentences.

In the active voice, the subject performs the action described by the main verb. In the passive voice, the action described by the main verb is done to the subject.

Example D.1a, active voice: “The service…

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Added by David Bowman on October 8, 2013 at 1:11am — No Comments

Comma with “Including” Changes the Meaning

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Where you add or leave out a comma can change the meaning of a sentence.

Let’s look at a news story I read this morning to learn how a comma before “including” changes the meaning of the sentence. In this example, I think the writer left out a comma, thus communicating something that probably isn’t true.

“The Chicago Teachers Union has [sic] announced that it will send a bus to the 50th Anniversary March on Washington, a…

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Added by David Bowman on August 23, 2013 at 11:55pm — No Comments

The Confusion of And vs. To

The Confusion of And vs. To

English can be a difficult language to learn, not because English grammar is tricky (though it can be) but because the language can be vague. Word choice, in particular, can be very confusing, particularly when more than one word is possible.

Here’s a question I received recently about the nuances of the English language.

Question: Which of the following is correct:

a. I would like to send Peter an email AND give him my regards.

b. I…

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Added by David Bowman on April 3, 2013 at 11:47pm — No Comments

Diet and Exercise Plan for Your Writing

Does your writing have that bloated, overstuffed feeling? Do you have the habit of packing in more words than needed for clear communication? Are your readers easily fatigued by your writing? Do you send out your documents without first subjecting them to rigorous and strenuous editing? Do you run out of breath when reading aloud?

 

If you answered “Yes” to any…

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Added by David Bowman on October 12, 2012 at 12:16am — No Comments

Good Subjects for Writing

Choosing the Right Type of Subject

When deciding what the subject of your sentence will be, you have three types of nouns from which to choose: creatures, things, and ideas.…

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Added by David Bowman on October 3, 2012 at 11:40pm — No Comments

Irony and Poetic Justice

Is It Ironic?

 

Case 1. You’re walking down the street with a friend. Ahead of you, you see a man stumble on a crack in the sidewalk. Your friend laughs at the man. A moment later, your friend trips on the same crack. “Oh,” you say, “that’s so ironic!” No, it isn’t. That’s not ironic.

 

Case 2. Later, you go home and turn on the television. You see a news story about a politician getting hauled into court for lying under oath. That same…

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Added by David Bowman on September 11, 2012 at 1:02am — No Comments

Commas with That and Which

I’ll answer two questions at the same time. Do you use that or which? Do you need commas with that and which

To answer both questions, you need to understand restrictive and non-restrictive phrases and clauses. Here are the answers in brief.

1. Use which and commas with non-restrictive phrases and clauses.

2. Use that and no commas with restrictive phrases and clauses. 

Now, let find…

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Added by David Bowman on July 24, 2012 at 10:51pm — No Comments

Subject–Verb Agreement

The basics of subject–verb agreement. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb. In other words, if the subject is plural, the verb, too, must be appropriate for plural subjects. The following samples demonstrate singular and subject verbs.

Singular Noun Samples: cat, I John, flower

Plural Noun Samples: cats, we, John and Bob, flowers…

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Added by David Bowman on June 19, 2012 at 11:49pm — No Comments

12 Major Comma Uses Explained

Commas are confusing because they are used in many ways. However, the basic principle to using commas is simple: Use commas to separate clauses and phrases within sentences that have their own meaning.

The “rules” for commas below are broadly, but not universally, accepted. However, a careful writer considers two central issues:

  • Reader understanding and
  • Consistency.…
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Added by David Bowman on May 8, 2012 at 10:47pm — No Comments

Making Long Paragraphs Work

Paragraph quality is not determined by its length, long or short. Rather, quality is determined by how well the paragraph communicates a single idea. Long paragraphs, however, can be difficult simply because they are long.

The following 2 strategies will help you write long paragraphs that work.

Day 137: Use topic chains to create cohesive…

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Added by David Bowman on April 19, 2012 at 10:44pm — No Comments

Those Doggoned Sentences

I love dogs, and I love a good mystery. So when I came across the Chet and Bernie mystery series, I was ecstatic. The books are narrated from the perspective of Chet, the dog. I really enjoyed this as too many times in books and movies, animals are overly anthropomorphized.

 

I cuddled up at night with books one and two, Dog on It and Thereby Hangs a…

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Added by David Bowman on April 11, 2012 at 12:57am — No Comments

The 3 Cs of Effective Paragraphs

Every well-written paragraph needs three parts: context, content, and conclusion. These three parts are known collectively as the 3 Cs. When you use the 3 Cs, you present information logically, you help the reader understand your message, and you demonstrate the relevance of your idea.

Context. The first sentence…

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Added by David Bowman on April 3, 2012 at 11:26pm — 1 Comment

8 Sentence Patterns for Academic and Technical Writing

An expert academic or technical writer needs only a few basic sentence patterns to produce easy-to-understand writing. Each of the sentence patterns below will result in clear academic or technical writing. However, do not use any one pattern more than twice in a row to prevent the writing from sounding repetitive and boring. Also,…

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Added by David Bowman on March 28, 2012 at 10:01pm — No Comments

Three Strategies for Writing to Your Reader

Here are three tips from 300 Days of Better Writingabout how to understand your readers and give them what they need.

Day 110: Be prepared to work hard at your writing.

Easy reading is damned hard writing.

(Nathaniel Hawthorne)

(Please excuse the curse word. It may indicate Hawthorne’s frustration with the work necessary to produce…

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Added by David Bowman on March 8, 2012 at 9:23pm — No Comments

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