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The Cooper Hill Stylebook: a guide to writing and revision

The Cooper Hill Stylebook: a guide to writing and revision

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The Cooper Hill Stylebook: a guide to writing and revision

995 pages
7 hours
Jan 6, 2016


Now in its 3rd edition, The Cooper Hill Stylebook is the classic high school and college revision manual. It’s a 599-page, practical, step-by-step how-to for every writer. Based on 70 years of experience in high school and university classrooms, The Stylebook helps teachers cut correcting time in half and turns students into independent learners with all the revision expertise they need immediately at their fingertips.
• FAQ at the beginning of each chapter anticipates questions and defines terms.
• Explanations to grammar/writing problems use short sentences in classroom-tested language.
• 1500+ humorous and topical examples illustrate and correct errors.
• Up to 50 practice exercises follow each part of every chapter.
• 1000+ exercises represent actual student mistakes.
• Click SEE ANSWER after each question for immediate answers and explanations.
• Ready-made unit on rhetorical fallacies for journalism and media studies.
• Every chapter a complete user-friendly lesson

What users are saying
“I love the book and am using it every day. As soon as I can, I will order more because more department members want to start using it.”
— June Davison, English Department Chair ret., Valley Regional High School, CT

“I wanted to write and tell you how valuable and magnificent your Stylebook has been to my work. […] It’s an invaluable resource to have.”
— Karen Dugan, North Attleboro, MA

“Thanks to this fantastic book I’ve been placed in a sophomore English class with only two other freshmen.”
—Nancy Marie Spagnolo, Marymount College of Fordham University

“This is one of the best books on writing and revision I’ve ever seen. I’m brushing up to return to school. Writing essays is a weak spot for me, and I know this book is going to help me.”
—Tina K. Fusco (Online Review)

“I wish I had had this book years ago when I first started teaching freshman writing. It will be the standard handbook for my students from now on.”
—Yael Halevi-Wise, McGill University

“The Stylebook strikes a very practical balance between teacher instruction and student self-help. The explanations are clear and accessible, and the exercises eliminate the need for constant reinforcement by teachers.”
—Harold Freedman, English Department Chair ret., Amity Regional High School, CT

“An educational rarity […] a good read! Here is something of value for writers of every stripe: high school, university, and beyond.”
—Dorothea Braginsky, Fairfield University

“A great tool for any college writer. The book covers everything from improving writing efficiency to spotting and correcting rhetorical fallacies. The index makes the book accessible for research. A really handy guide and reference.”
— Del, Online Review

“The Stylebook is the only book I will go by from the end of high school, to college, to graduate school, to life. The Stylebook is the only grammar/writing book I’m able to read and not fall asleep.”
—Zhang, Online Review

“The Stylebook is the only writing reference book you will need to own. It covers completely mechanics, punctuation, tricky spellings, confusing word pairs, and the fine art of logical thinking. It is easy to use. Exercises are amusing, answers are explained clearly. I feel comfortable grabbing this book for a quick reference.”
— Aunt D, Online Review

“I am studying English at Cornell University, and was looking for a book to help me hone my writing skills. This book answers even the most nitpicky questions about grammar and sentence structure.”
— jackmike1, Online Review
Jan 6, 2016

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Table of Contents

Key to Common Core English Language Standards

How to Use this Book

Shortcuts to correcting

Correction Key at a Glance

Quick Key to Marginal Comments

Unit I Grammar

1 Subject-verb agreement

a. Verb agreement with pronouns ending in-one, -body, -thing

b. Collective nouns as singular or plural subjects

c. Compound subjects joined by and

d. Compound subjects joined by either...or, neither...nor

e. Distinguish subject of sentence from object of prepositional phrase


2 Pronoun-antecedent agreement

a. Agreement with pronouns ending in -one,-body,-thing

b. Agreement with person, individual etc.

c. Agreement with relative pronouns who, which, that etc.


3 Ambiguous or doubtful pronoun references

a. Errors with he and she

b. Errors with they

c. Errors with this, and it

d. Errors with adjectives as antecedents


4 Pronoun errors in subjects and complements

a. Nominative pronouns as subjects

b. Compound subjects joined by and, both, either, neither

c. Nominative pronouns as complements with the verb to be

d. Objective pronouns as direct and indirect objects

e. Objective pronouns as objects of prepositions

f. Compound objects joined by and, or, either, neither

g. Meaning as a guide to choosing the correct pronoun case

h. Subjects and objects in apposition


5 Reflexive pronouns

a. Errors in case with reflexive pronouns


6 Who/whoever versus whom/whomever

a. Who and whoever as subjects

b. Who and whoever as predicate nominatives

c. Whom and whomever as objects

d. Who in the same person and number as the word it replaces

e. Who and whom used for people instead of which and that

f. One of the...who/that/which used with a plural verb


7 Which and that

a. Using that for essential and which for incidental information

b. Using that and which sequentially in a sentence

c. Use which to show location

d. Which and that in the same number as the words they replace


8 Gerunds and participles

a. Possessive nouns and pronouns in front of gerunds

b. Confusing gerundial with participial phrases

c. Simplify language by avoiding gerunds and participles


9 Placement of modifiers

a. Misplaced modifiers

b. Misplaced limiting words: only, merely, either, just etc.

c. Dangling adjectives

d. Dangling adverbs: hopefully, unfortunately, happily etc.

e. Two-way modifiers


10 Splitting infinitives and verb phrases

a. Split infinitives

b. Split verb phrases


11 Simple verbs instead of progressive and conditional

a. Choosing between continuous, or habitual and completed actions

b. Using the present tense to express a future action

c. Placing emphasis in the simple future and the conditional

d. Selecting conditional and simple tenses


12 Perfect tenses and the sequence of events

a. Forming the perfect and perfect progressive tenses

b. Using the present perfect instead of the simple present or past

c. Using the past and future perfect for sequences of events

d. Using perfect progressive tenses for continual and continuous actions

e. Using time words as shortcuts to the perfect tenses

f. If ... then constructions


13 Past tense and past participles

a. Use correct past tense and past participle forms

b. Irregular and problematic past tenses and past participles


14 Did and had as helping verbs

a. Use did and had correctly

b. Resolving the did and had confusion


15 Subjunctive mood

a. Forming the subjunctive

b. Wishes and strong suggestions (the jussive subjunctive)

c. Uncertainty or conjecture

d. Importance or urgency

e. Divine appeals (the vocative subjunctive)

f. Concessions (the concessive subjunctive)


16 Shifts in subjects, verbs, and direction

a. Shifts in the subject

b. Shifts from one to other pronouns

c. Shifts in verb tense

d. Active to passive shifts

e. Indicative to imperative shifts

f. Change of direction in thought


17 Referring to literary or historical time

a. Using literary or historical time words

b. Use the present and present perfect to refer to authors’ and critics’ work


Answers and explanations

Unit II Usage

18 Addressing the reader and choosing a voice

a. Using I

b. Using we

c. Using you

d. Objective and impersonal voices

e. Using non-sexist controlling pronouns


19 Word choice

a. Words that refer to people not to objects

b. Specific instead of general terms

c. Simple verbs instead of phrasal verbs


20 Definitions and examples

a. Using dictionary definitions

b. Avoid circular reasoning in definitions

c. Give definitions before examples

d. Avoid when and where in definitions and examples

e. Use examples accurately


21 Expressing similarity and difference

a. Using like and as

b. Using different from

c. Using various


22 Non-standard speech

a. Slang and colloquialisms

b. Clichés

c. Jargon


23 Ending in prepositions

a. Ending sentences and clauses in a preposition unnecessarily

b. Necessary ending in a preposition


24 Showing cause

a. Eliminate being that, seeing that

b. Use due to, owing to for debts not causes

c. Avoiding for

d. Using since to indicate time not cause


25 Frequently misused words


Answers and explanations

Unit III Structure and Sense

26 Parallel construction

a. Parallel parts of speech and numbering

b. Parallel verb tenses

c. Parallel correlative constructions


27 Correct and complete comparisons

a. Person-to-object comparisons

b. Possessive comparisons

c. Comparisons with place and time

d. Ambiguous or missing comparisons


28 Incomplete and self-evident thoughts

a. Defend thoughts against incompletion

b. Eliminate self-evident statements


29 Fragments

a. Fragments without subjects

b. Fragments without verbs

c. Fragments with neither subjects nor verbs

d. Fragments with both subjects and verbs

e. Using fragments for effect

f. Words that signal fragments


30 Transitions

a. Expressions that signal agreement (comparison, consequence, emphasis)

b. Expressions that signal disagreement (contrast, conflict, contradiction)

c. Expressions that generalize, summarize, sequence, detail


31 Passive construction

a. Make passive constructions active

b. Use passive constructions when appropriate


32 Sentence length, order, and type

a. Alternate long sentences with short ones

b. Alter the order of sentence elements

c. Avoid stringy sentences

d. Vary sentences among the four types


33 Wordiness and word order

a. Rewrite descriptive phrases and clauses as single words

b. Eliminate the indirect constructions there are, it is, one of the...etc.

c. Do not separate subjects, verbs, and complements needlessly


34 Rewriting heavy language

a. Eliminate the construction the (noun) of...

b. Change nouns to verbals

c. Avoid words ending in –istic and -ness

d. Re-order cause and effect

e. Simplify connective phrases

f. Divide some long sentences into shorter ones


35 Assertions and illustrations

a. Illustrate characters and events

b. Avoid attributing intent

c. Avoid overstating opinions as absolutes


36 Forms of repetition

a. Redundancy within a sentence

b. Redundancy over consecutive sentences

c. Words with built-in limits

d. Causal overkill

e. Comparative overkill

f. Additive overkill

g. Conditional overkill


37 Contradictions in terms

a. Literal contradictions

b. Implied contradictions


38 Gilding the lily

a. Eliminate irrelevant adjectives

b. Eliminate unnecessary adverbs

c. Avoid overpraising


39 Mixed metaphors

a. Mixed metaphors that confuse meaning

b. Intentional mixed metaphors for effect


Answers and explanations

Unit IV Rhetorical Fallacies

40 Emotional fallacies

a. Argument against the person (ad hominem)

b. Argument by force (ad baculum)

c. Argument to shame (ad verecundiam)

d. Argument to the wallet (ad crumenam)


41 Invalid standards of proof

a. Argument by authority

b. Argument by definition

c. Argument by popularity

d. Hypothetical argument

e. Implied argument

f. Proof by absence


42 Sequence and consequence

a. If...then

b. Non sequitur

c. Post hoc fallacy

d. Slippery slope


43 Diversionary tactics

a. Begging the question

b. Circular reasoning

c. Irrelevancy

d. Red herring


44 Semantic slithers

a. Equivocation

b. Loaded terminology


45 Misconstruing the argument

a. Attributing intent

b. Decontextualizing

c. Either...or

d. False analogy

e. Generalization

f. Oversimplification

g. Overstatement

h. Statistics

i. Straw man


Answers and explanations

Unit V Rhetorical Figures

46 Analogies

a. Figurative speech

b. Analogy by translation

c. Extended simile

d. Extended metaphor


47 Irony

a. Hyperbole

b. Situational irony

c. Understatement


48 Figures of contradiction

a. Oxymoron

b. Paradox


49 Figures of attention

a. Anaphora

b. Rhetorical question


Answers and explanations

Unit VI Spelling, Capitalization, Abbreviations

50 Spelling rules and homophones

a. Choosing ie or ei

b. Words ending in -cede

c. Prefixes

d. Suffix that never changes the spelling of the basic word

e. Suffixes that change the spelling of the basic word

f. Plurals

g. List of commonly misspelled words

h. Homophones


51 Capitalization

a. Always capitalize

b. Do not capitalize

52 Abbreviations

a. Words that may be abbreviated in the main text

b. Words that may not be abbreviated in the main text

c. Abbreviations in citation and documentation

Answers and explanations

Unit VII Punctuation

53 Commas

a. Avoid run-on sentences and comma splices

b. Set apart introductory material

c. Set apart incidental material

d. Identify a speaker by commas

e. Commas in dialogue and with quotations inside quoted speech

f. Using commas in a list

g. Use commas to avoid confusion with repeated or ambiguous words

h. When commas are not used


54 Semicolon

a. Semicolons between complete thoughts and in lists


55 Colon

a. Colons preceding supplementary information

b. Colons preceding lists

c. Introducing quotations and salutations formally

d. Referring to time and citing texts

e. Using colons incorrectly


56 Apostrophe

a. Possessives of common nouns

b. Possessives of proper nouns

c. Possessives of compound nouns

d. Possessives of jointly owned property

e. Indicating contractions

f. Pluralizing words used as words

g. Pluralizing abbreviations

h. Pluralizing letters

i. Pluralizing numbers

j. Pluralizing signs


57 Parentheses

a. Parentheses for marginal or lengthy incidental information

b. Parentheses for citing source materials

c. Parentheses for numbering

d. Parentheses for foreign words or phrases and English definitions

e. Punctuating sentences that contain parentheses

f. Punctuating material inside parentheses


58 Brackets

a. Pointing out errors in quoted text

b. Referring readers to parenthetical source materials

c. Providing additional information

d. Indicating changes in quotations


59 Dashes

a. The en dash

b. The em dash

c. Using other punctuation with a dash


60 Hyphens

a. Dividing a word at the end of a line

b. Altering the meaning of a root word

c. Use a hyphen with most prefixes ending in vowels

d. Using a hyphen with the prefix re-

e. Use hyphens with prefixes to capitalized words

f. Merging existing words into new words

g. Writing out numbers


61 Italics

a. Italics for emphasis

b. Italics for numbers/letters/words as themselves

c. Italics for foreign words

d. Italics for literary titles

e. Italics for names


62 Quotation marks

a. Uses of quotation marks


63 Punctuating and capitalizing with quotations

a. Capitalizing quotations

b. Punctuation placed inside quotation marks

c. Punctuation placed outside quotation marks

d. No punctuation before quotation marks

e. Eliminating adjacent quotation marks

64 Punctuating a quotation-within-a-quotation

a. Punctuation of quotation-within-a-quotation

b. Punctuation of main quotation

c. Final punctuation when the ends of quotations coincide


Answers and explanations

Unit VIII Quotations, Citations, Documentation

65 Plagiarizing and documenting

66 Using quotations effectively

a. Introduce and explain longer quotations

b. Make quotations relevant

c. Integrate quotations into text

d. Quote to add factual details

e. Quotations as completed ideas

67 Guidelines for changes in quoted material

68 Quoting prose: citations, placement, deletions, insertions

a. Citing and placing prose quotations of four lines or fewer

b. Citing and placing prose quotations longer than four lines

c. Prose quotations longer than one paragraph

d. Indicating deletions in fragmentary quotations

e. Indicating deletions at the end of a quotation

f. Indicating deletion of a sentence or more

g. Punctuating an elided quotation

h. Indicating insertions in quotations

69 Quoting poetry and song lyrics: citations, placement, deletions, insertions

a. Quoting three lines of verse or fewer

b. Quoting more than three lines of verse

c. Indicating deletions and insertions in quoted verse

70 Quoting drama: citations, placement, deletions, insertions

a. Quoting an excerpt from one character’s speech

b. Quoting two or more characters

c. Indicating deletions and insertions in quoted drama

71 Citing titles in text

a. Capitalizing words in titles

b. Titles that are italicized

c. Titles enclosed in quotation marks

d. Titles in standard print

e. Citing titles within titles

72 Models of parenthetical references

73 Models of footnotes and endnotes

a. Placing and formatting footnotes using the computer

b. Placing and formatting endnotes using the computer

c. Formatting footnotes and endnotes manually

d. Location and format of the Notes page

e. Two types of footnotes or endnotes

f. Information listed in a first bibliographic footnote or endnote

g. Indicating missing information

h. Information listed in subsequent bibliographic footnotes or endnotes

i. Books and pamphlets: model footnote or endnote

j. Portions of books: model first footnote or endnote

k. Articles in periodicals: general notation guidelines

l. Magazine articles: model first footnote or endnote

m. Newspaper article: model first footnote or endnote

n. Letters in collections and to the author: model first footnote or endnote

o. Interviews: model first footnote or endnote

p. Lectures, speeches/addresses: model footnote or endnote

q. Electronic references

r. Electronic references: model footnote or endnote

s. Broadcasts and live performances: model footnote or endnote

74 Works Cited / bibliography

a. Formatting the Works Cited section

b. Listing the entries

c. Indicating missing information

d. Supplying missing information from an alternate source

e. Differences between Works Cited notes and bibliographic footnotes/endnotes

f. Books and pamphlets: models of Works Cited references

g. Magazine references: Works Cited models

h. Newspaper references: Works Cited models

i. Interviews, lectures, speeches/addresses: Works Cited models

j. Electronic Works Cited references

k. CD-ROM, diskette, magnetic tape — non-periodical publication/single issue

l. CD-ROM, diskette, magnetic tape — periodically updated

m. Online data bases

n. Sources accessed through Internet — (www), (ftp), gopher, telnet, e-mail etc.

o. Electronic interviews

p. Film and videotape

q. Television and radio programs



About the Authors


Publishing information

Key to Common Core English Language Standards

Correction Key at a Glance

Quick Key to Marginal Comments

arg. (argument)

awk. (awkward)

cit. (citation)


colloq. (colloquialism)

cont. (contradiction)

dang. mod. (dangling modifier)

def. (define)


exag. (exaggeration)

exp.? (explain)


false conc. (false conclusion)

frag. (fragment)

gen. (generalization)

good, √, !


hyp. (hyperbole)

inc. (incomplete)

jarg. (jargon)

meaning, ?

misp. mod.(misplaced modifier)

mod. (modifier problem)



obv. (obvious)



pron. ref. (pronoun reference)


punct. (punctuation)

quot. (quotation)

ref. (reference)

rel.? (relevance)

r-o (run-on)

self-evid. (self-evident)

sp. (spelling)

supp. (support)

synt. (syntax)



und. (understatement)


vary sents.

   (vary sentence length/construction)

wc (word choice)



ww (wrong word)

Cover design: Gregory Heyworth, Christine Narain

Technical supervision: Michael Muzzie, Princeton University

Typesetting: Ivor Humphreys, Good Imprint, East Grinstead, Sussex, UK

eBook conversion: Supremus Group www.epubconversion.com

Manufactured in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2001091157

First edition, 2000

Published under the title The Writing and Revision Stylebook

Second edition,

2005 Published under the title The Cooper Hill Stylebook, a guide to writing and revision

Third edition 2015

Copyright © 2000, 2005, 2015 by Gregory Heyworth and Rosette Liberman

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without permission in writing from the authors.

ISBN 13 978-0-9701113-3-3

Internet address


Address inquiries to



To our students and colleagues we owe a debt of gratitude for their expertise and advice on various matters of language. Special thanks to David Owens for his insights on dangling adverbs.

How to use this book

To the writer

Revision is essential to good writing. Use the Stylebook as a guide to accurate and concise expression, clear reasoning, faultless grammar, and correctly documented research papers.

Before submitting an essay, leave ample time to go over your essay in hard copy. First, proofread for errors. Next, edit for structure and content. Rewrite as necessary.

As a guide to rewriting a corrected essay

Upon receiving a corrected essay from your instructor, you will find two types of comments: marginal comments dealing with the details or mechanics of your writing and final comments at the end of the essay dealing with the content, structure, and cogency of your argument.

If the instructor is using the Stylebook as a correction instrument, you will find alpha-numeric notes (e.g., 22b) in your margins next to the problem sentence. Locate the appropriate section in the Stylebook and use the explanations, examples and exercises to correct the sentence next to which you find the alpha-numeric note. Compare your answers to those at the end of each chapter. Remember, each answer in the book has a reasonable explanation.

If the instructor is not using the Stylebook’s alpha-numeric notes, he or she will make marginal notes — often abbreviations — that describe a type of error. First, go to the Quick Key to Marginal Comments to locate the appropriate marginal comment or abbreviation. Next, the Quick Key menu will direct you to a general explanation in the Marginal Comments section. Each of these explanations has a hyperlinked cross-reference to more specific, in-depth information.

Often marginal notes or final comments will mention specific types of problems. You can easily find these problems by using the Correction Key at a Glance at the front of the book, the Table of Contents, or the Index at the back. All these entries and all textual cross-references are hyperlinked.

As a reference guide or writing tutorial

While writing a first or second draft, you may have a question of grammar, punctuation, spelling, or documentation. Consult the Index for the specific problem, or the Grammar; Punctuation; Spelling, Capitalization and Abbreviation; or Quotations and Documentation sections as appropriate and use the exercises and explained answers.

Frequently, writers find themselves in a rut in the argument. Either it is too complex and confusing, or the ideas seem unclear or awkward on paper. For problems of clarity, complexity, and heaviness of language, consult the Structure and Sense section of the Stylebook. For problems with the effectiveness of the argument, look at Rhetorical Fallacies or Rhetorical Figures.

To the instructor

The Stylebook is a time-saving tool for experienced teachers, and an effective professional guide for new teachers and for teaching assistants. In addition to being a textbook in its own right, it serves as an effective supplement to any English course.

To reduce correcting time

Most correction time is taken up in the repetitive task of writing the same comments for the same types of mistakes over and over. Instead, indicate the problem by using the alpha-numeric number corresponding to the problem found in the Table of Contents or in the Correction Key at a Glance. This shorthand cuts correction time in half. To that end, the Correction Key is conveniently placed at the front of the book for easy reference. Those who like to use abbreviations as their comments can refer to the Quick Key to Marginal Comments.

To direct students’ attention to specific errors

The benefit of using the Quick Key, the Table of Contents, and the Correction Key to refer to errors is that the topics listed target the most frequent errors made by students in specific terms, not as general categories. By jotting down a number or an abbreviation, teachers can direct their students to the exact problem that needs revision, not to a vague approximation. Students directed to the Marginal Comments section will find cross-references to in-depth entries in the numbered body of the text.

To use The Stylebook as a programmed tutor

A teacher can confidently assign an independent rewrite of an essay knowing that each error and its remedies are explained in clear, succinct, classroom-tested language that avoids technical terms as far as possible. Extensive exercises for practice are available at the end of each section. Every question is followed by a hyperlinked See Answer button for immediate feedback to the student. In addition, answers and explanations to entire sets of exercises are located at the end of each unit. The detailed Index is another aid to students offering them a menu of the specific aspects of each entry instead of just a general page reference. These resources eliminate the need for conferences to explain the written comments, and turn students into self-teachers.

To structure group and peer correcting in class

The Stylebook is a useful instrument for independent group work in class where students who need practice on the same types of errors can work together on the relevant explanations and exercises, then check the answers and study the reasons behind them. Students tend to find this exercise enjoyable and profitable.

To service various student levels

The Stylebook is a flexible tool. Teachers at the university and secondary school levels can use as much or as little of it as they wish in their classroom teaching. They can address simple problems in agreement or sophisticated problems in the uses of the subjunctive. The extensive chapter on Rhetorical fallacies can serve as a course book in itself on persuasion, propaganda, and misleading reasoning by public personalities and by the media.

To provide understanding and mastery of documentation

Teachers can assign research papers confident that the documentation section is self-explanatory. Preceding the specific examples is a basic model and an explanation of the reasonable variations. The presentation de-mythologizes documentation and provides students with the confidence to adapt citation forms to their needs. This chapter also includes the latest documentation styles for electronic sources that show the print model and its electronic variation.

To provide excellence in expository writing

English is a vibrant, diverse, and evolving language, rich with dialectical and colloquial variation. The way we speak to one another on a daily basis and how that speech appears in novels, poems, and other examples of creative writing often diverge from strict standards of formal grammar, punctuation, and usage. Often this flexibility adds color and social intimacy. If someone doesn’t understand precisely what we mean, he or she can always ask and can rely on clues in our body language. Speech, in other words, is an open form of communication: it can clarify meaning, correct inaccuracies in the course of conversation, and draw out subtle distinctions collaboratively. Not so written English.

The Stylebook does not dictate how we should speak. Rather, it teaches standard, formal, American grammar and usage for expository writing. Thinking in print differs fundamentally from speaking informally, just as the expectations of the poetry reader differ from those of the essay reader.

Clarity of expression is the cornerstone of excellent formal writing. So too is an awareness of educated diction without which expository and analytical authors lack authority.

Marginal Comments

What are marginal comments?

Marginal comments are the corrections that instructors write on essays. The list below explains and illustrates the typical, generic comments that appear on most papers. Each comment is cross-referenced to other relevant sections of the Stylebook that treat individual problems in greater depth.

arg. (argument), false conc. (false conclusion)

Arguments cannot persuade if they don’t make sense. Their conclusions must be based on reason and deduction rather than on mere opinion. Arguments must proceed step-by-step toward a conclusion, without unspoken assumptions or logical jumps. In general, see §40–45 Rhetorical fallacies.

Consider the example below in which the writer argues that embarrassing the United States is grounds for impeaching a president.

(See specifically §40c Argument to shame, §42b Non sequitur.)

awk. (awkward)

Awkward is a common editorial comment on the way an idea is expressed. When writers attempt to use elevated vocabulary or complicated diction, they may lack the necessary knowledge to apply it correctly. Awkwardness is a frequent result of heavy language. In general, see §34 Rewriting heavy language and §33 Wordiness and word order.

In the example below, the writer uses too many words, and needless repetition to express a relatively simple thought.

(See specifically §36a Redundancy.)


Strive for original ideas expressed in an original way. Clichés do the opposite. They are timeworn expressions that have lost their meaning from overuse. In general see §22 Non-standard speech.

(See specifically §22b Clichés.)

colloq. (colloquialism)

Colloquial speech is informal. It uses language in non-standard ways. Unlike clichés, colloquialisms may be lively and colorful. They are unreliable vehicles for serious ideas, however, because their meanings are imprecise and inconsistent. In general see §22 Non-standard speech.

(See specifically §22a Slang and colloquialisms.)

cont. (contradiction)

An internal contradiction is a rhetorical problem. Here, the claims of two statements or paragraphs clash with each other. The contradictions may also occur between a claim and its explanation, or between a claim and its supporting facts or quotations. Always reread your essay critically to be sure that you are not contradicting yourself. The contradiction in the example below occurs because there is no definition of a good president. See in general §37 Contradictions in terms.

(See specifically §19b Specific instead of general terms, §35 Assertions and illustrations.)

def. (define)

Abstract concepts and terms must be defined to avoid miscommunication between writers and their readers. These cannot be definitions simply copied from a dictionary. Definitions must make words and ideas clear and meaningful within the sense of the essay. They must be specifically relevant to the writer’s topic and viewpoint. See in general §20 Definitions and examples.

(See specifically §41b Argument by definition.)

exag. (exaggeration), hyp. (hyperbole), overstatement

Overstatement or exaggeration is a logical fallacy. It makes an assertion that lacks adequate evidence. An overstatement is incorrect not because its premise is false, but because it goes too far in its claims. In general, see §45g Overstatement and §47a Hyperbole.

(See specifically §42a If...then, §44b Loaded terminology, §45e Generalization, §35 Assertions and illustrations, §40a Ad hominem.)

exp? (explain), inc. (incomplete thought), why?

To be comprehensible, terms must be defined, and ideas must be clearly explained and supported with reasoning, evidence, examples. Editorial comments such as explain, define, incomplete thought, why are asking for elaboration and for a more complete definition of terms. See in general §28 Incomplete and self-evident thoughts.

A useful technique for elaborating is to ask yourself three important questions about your idea:

1. How does my idea work?

2. Why does it work in this way?

3. So what if it works in this way? What are its implications and ramifications?

In the example below, excuse must defined or clarified by completing the thought: otherwise the reader is left wondering, What kind of excuse? Excuse for what?

(See specifically §20 Definitions and examples, §27 Correct and complete comparisons.)

fact? (factual error), wrong, no!

Factual errors are mistakes in information: names, dates, places, titles, plot or character details, quotations, and the like. Factual errors rob your work of credibility and authority. In the example below, the writer incorrectly states that the courts, rather than the House of Representatives, impeach the President. For using supporting material effectively see in general §65 Plagiarizing and documenting)

(See specifically §66 Using quotations effectively.)

frag. (fragment)

A fragment is an incomplete thought masquerading as a sentence. Sometimes it is a phrase, at other times a subordinate clause. A fragment is caused by an error in punctuation. Correct fragments by absorbing them into adjacent sentences. In general, see §29 Fragments.

gen. (generalization)

A generalization is a way to give your opinion the appearance of fact. Think of a generalization as a type of exaggeration. Whether it insults or praises, it is often inaccurate. Statistics, for example, are common generalizations.

The danger in a generalization is that what is true in most cases may not hold true in all cases. Often generalizations use a single example to prove a universal rule, but fail to account for conflicting examples. In order to be valid, generalizations need, at the very least, to be defended or substantiated by evidence cited in the text. See in general §35 Assertions and illustrations, §45e Generalization, and §45f Oversimplification.

(See specifically §44b Loaded terminology.)

good, nice, ok, √, !

These comments show approval of a strong point, vivid image, apt observation etc. Often good ideas that also show rhetorical balance earn the most enthusiastic of these comments.

He magnified a personal dilemma into a national catastrophe.

jarg. (jargon)

Jargon is the technical vocabulary of particular professions or disciplines. Even when it filters into the general vocabulary, it is often not comprehensible. Frequently jargon turns a noun into an adjective by adding to it the suffix -wise. Clear writing avoids jargon because, like colloquialisms, its definitions are inconsistent. The example below contains jargon in addition to colloquialisms. See §22c Jargon.

(See specifically §39a Mixed metaphors that confuse meaning.)

mod. (modifier problem), misp. mod. (misplaced modifier), dang. mod. (dangling modifier)

A misplaced modifier is too far from the word or words it describes, and seems to describe the wrong expression. A dangling modifier describes something that is not actually in the sentence. Other modifier problems can occur as well. The example below contains a dangling modifier. The phrase neglecting his presidential duties in combination with his commission of perjury describes a person who is missing from the sentence.

(See §9 Placement of modifiers.)

pron. ref. (pronoun reference)

A pronoun that refers to a preceding word (antecedent) must be in the same number (singular, or plural) and the same person as the antecedent. A pronoun like this, or it is too general to refer to a preceding idea. Use it as an adjective instead — e.g., this concept, this procedure etc. See in general §3 Ambiguous or doubtful references.

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