A Checklist for Editing

N. Sivin rev. 2004.12.14 This checklist is a guide not only for revising drafts, but also for teaching yourself or reviewing the most basic elements that you need to think critically about your own writing. This is often necessary, since most schools no longer teach grammar. That may be unavoidable because of inadequate budgets, but it drastically shortchanges their students. [Go directly to the Checklist] If you do not fully understand the concepts and general idea of any item below, click on the link at the end of it (underlined and in color) and you will be taken to a detailed explanation. Examples accompany each explanation. Many of the bad examples come from scholarly publications, since academic writing can be as prolix and sloppy as any other kind of writing. When you are ready to return to the original item, click on the return link. If any explanation is not clear, or if further detail is needed, see me or use the link at the end of this page to send me a message about the problem. It may be that you need—or want—more help than this concentrated guide provides. Of the many detailed manuals and reference guides I have examined, A Writer’s Reference, by Diana Hacker (4th ed., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1999), is the best. It is available from Pennsylvania Book Center on 34th Street. Good prose aims to be clear and concise, because its purpose is communication, to persuade other people to agree with something you think or believe. Great prose may take more winding paths to communication, but if you haven't learned to write well you will not learn to write superbly. Keep in mind that most education takes place outside of schools, and that a good deal of it tends to make writing not clearer and more concise, but vaguer and wordier. Most of what you read and watch on the tube exists for one of two purposes. Adspeak aims to convince you that something just like its competitors is unique, so you will buy it. Bureaucratese aims to drown you in verbiage so that the functionary who writes it will not be held responsible when the document turns out to be wrong or misleading. You will find some remarks on the special characteristics of bureaucratese below. 1. Title and Lead Sentence: Titles are not generally required for course papers, but they are a good idea, since they let the reader know at the outset what you mean to say. A good lead sentence whets the reader's appetite with a taste of how you mean to say it. Comment_1 2. Concision: Unless you are able to write baroque prose with true art, ask of every word and every sentence whether it is essential. If it isn't, get rid of it. Comment 2 3. Clear Structure: As you go over each sentence, strip it down to its basic structure—usually subject-verb-object—and see whether problems emerge. **For instance, if you aren't sure what's wrong with "A broader spectrum of opinion should be given consideration," when you strip it

This vague example may mean "[Who?] should ask more [of whose?] opinions. a technical term about to be defined. and the sidelining of the key word "broader. "He is not an active duty officer" may mean he is lazy when on duty. the corresponding English phrase is "serve customers." Comment 3 4." "the members' table. Quotation Marks: Are they employed for a direct quotation. A simple test: which one can you use to join closely related sentences? If you are tempted to run sentences together with "and. The bureaucratese "perform customer servicing" combines a flabby verb with misuse of a word that means to maintain inanimate objects such as automobiles. in speech. Comment 5 6. Comment 8a (b) If you aren't sure about the colon and semicolon. where the climate suits it"? Keep in mind too that unless a clause begins or ends a sentence one comma is not enough to set it off. Passive: Is it essential? If not. If your aim is not to confuse." its lack of impact. "it has"). Comment 6 7. to patients caring more. rewrite. The bureaucratese "improving patient care" may refer to being more patient when caring. learn them or else don’t use them. if you are writing an "ordinary" colloquial phrase—don't use them. Comment 4 5. Comment 8b (c) Hyphenate compound adjectives. If it isn't. no matter how closely related they may be. Apostrophe: Essential--never optional--to signal the possessive: "women's income. the normal connecting link. Noun Used as Adjective: Bureaucrats string nouns together to hide the relation that a preposition would clarify. if necessary. when clauses need to be set off by commas and when they don't. Avoid using the clumsy "however" to make run-on sentences. Comment 7 8. They signal to readers that you don't mean what you say but aren't willing to reveal what you mean (what did I mean in the last sentence?)." Keep in mind too that whoever carries out the main action should ordinarily be the subject of the sentence. connect the nouns with a preposition. "It's" means not "belonging to it" but "it is" (and. make it active. Punctuation." There is one important exception. or for a word knowingly misused? If none of these—for instance. Bureaucrats love passive constructions. or to taking care of patients. A simple test: Are you sure of the difference of meaning between "This beetle has spread through the Eastern states where the climate suits it" and "This beetle has spread through the Eastern states.down to "spectrum should be given consideration." make sure they are intimately related. "Its" is the possessive ("in its place"). You can't use a comma to run two sentences together. make sure that the relation will be unambiguous to someone who knows nothing about the subject matter. because by concealing the actor they hide responsibility. Comment 8c 9. The functionary's "it was asserted that all . Action in Verb: What word in the sentence describes the main action? If not the verb." become obvious. "active-duty officer" is not ambiguous. There are three common problems to keep in mind: (a) Review.

. tuberculosis bacillus. Put a running header or footer with at least the page number on every page after the first.information exchanged within the organization should be via paper documents" (verb "be") might become in plain English "[someone] proposed that we exchange all information on paper" (verb "exchange). Coy or mysterious wording will fascinate a few readers and drive away the rest. assuming that she has something she wants to communicate and to persuade them to think about. If you don't make your argument accessible and attractive. Comment 11 12. or the other way around? When you strip down "the creative ideas that originate in this office is not always fruitful" to "ideas is fruitful" the error becomes obvious. are they consistent in number and form? There is no mystery about how to repair "the main causes of death are viruses. it has to be earned. Proofreading: An essential step in writing is to read your final copy carefully and make lastminute corrections in black ink. decide whether it looks interesting or useful. even those forced to read it will give it a minimum of attention and thought. they expect that she will tell them what that topic is. and put it down unless something about it has convinced them that it is worth the trouble. readers will doubt that you cared enough to give it your best try. and forget it right away. if it has many typos. In other words. Consistency in Lists: If you list a series of items. attention can never be taken for granted. finding a funny or witty way to encapsulate the topic is likely to be attractive. In return. In the so-called real world outside the university. Cure it by getting and using a good dictionary-and by proofreading. The first step in satisfying this expectation is the title. look it up. look at it. Readers want to know what a piece of non-fiction writing is about. Number of Noun and Verb or Pronoun: Is a singular noun followed by a plural verb. Printing: Make sure everything is double-spaced. Even if your paper is beautifully written and printed. Spelling: Spelling is not an adult problem. including footnotes. Comment 12 13. They normally give the author the benefit of the doubt. Title and Lead Sentence One of the best ways to make writing dull is to assume that the reader doesn't mind being bored. A title states the subject clearly and concisely enough so that the reader begins with a general idea. Comment 14 Return to the top of the Checklist Commentaries 1. readers pick up something." If you don't know whether "bacillus" is singular or plural. Comment 13 14. Comment 10 11. and to eat too much. Comment 9 10. On the other hand.

if it says it in a convoluted way. science was at least as important in Chinese education as it was anywhere else in the world. they can become very elaborate. If it offers nothing that will make an undecided person read on. What action is going on in this all-too-stately sentence? Who can say? The main verb (item 5) is "link. reference to the Dutch or the British connection is usually in order. "Can be linked" is also passive (item 9)." Meta-statements are not about the topic. Concision Readers generally. Why are both "learning" and "education" necessary? The author gives no clue. or doesn't care if she doesn't—one more turnoff. Try this one yourself: "When we discuss the all-important aspect of technology in the modernization of Japan. since the author did not provide enough clear and concrete information. or meanders.The second step is the lead sentence. It may reveal the basic elements of the paper—what it will argue. you can only guess. disagree. usually have more to read than they have time to read it. in what way. "The researchers' emphases" says it all. In academese. When an author takes a lot of words to say something that she could have said in a few. so this sentence prepares the reader for lots of clichés. or relies on academic windiness to sound authoritative. Deal boldly with a blah lead sentence. the author assumes that the reader knows what Ch'ing China is. The actual beginning of an important article entitled "Learning Mathematical Sciences during the Early and Mid-Ch'ing": "The study of the role of scientific knowledge in learning and education in Ch'ing China can be linked to the concerns of comparative history. no matter how clever or sound an argument is hidden under the verbal flab. Ho hum! Turning the main point of this sentence into an uncomplicated and interesting statement is not easy. Readers sooner or later sense it. that signals a lack of regard for the reader's time. it will turn readers off. The lead sentence doesn't need to go on about "the concerns of comparative history. and "areas" doesn't add to the meaning. Throw it out. Even if it says something worth while. My guess (after reading the essay) is that it means something like "From 1700 on. so that it manages to hide who can potentially do this mysterious linking. ask yourself what would tempt your roommate into reading on. and lose patience. ." (Return to item One) 2. like you. as a way of evading clear statement. Finally. using what evidence—or it may say something fascinating. but about talking about the topic. inevitably. you will lose your readers." but linking to concerns is hardly likely to be a major theme of the paper. In "the areas of emphasis on which the researchers concentrated." "emphasis" and "concentrate" are saying the same thing." since it has made the comparison concretely." Academics write quite a lot about the role of this and that in something else. Since you can't force it out of the author. and write that instead. "Can be linked" is what critics of writing call a "meta-statement." This is a bold claim—the point of the article is to prove it—and it certainly engages the reader's attention. for instance "it can be said without undue fear of contradiction that …" Such ruminations suggest that the author is more interested in writing about potentialities than in stating a concrete proposition with which some people will agree but others.

so you can strip it off mentally. an idea that seemed clear turns out not to be clear at all. but blindness is the worst obstacle of all. and object. Homo erectus pekinensis. verb. Keep in mind that many sentences have complex modifiers. The first question to ask is "what is the main part of the sentence.000 B.. if you want a lie to sound innocuous. Thinking about the main idea. A new problem often arises when.. though. There is only one way to avoid this subversion of your own argument: banish the flab." the nucleus of the sentence is nothing more than "I'm going." At the moment. You therefore need to make sure that the point you intended to make is the focus of the sentence. who find it a professional asset not to be understood. Let's review the essential characteristics of each." That's all the book needs. This is the beginning of a book on the history of eye diseases: "No organ is comparable to the eye in its importance as a link between man and his environment. "Create a definite obstacle to the perception of the world we live in" is a wordy way to say that they are handicaps. Clear Structure To strip a sentence down to its elements. It is an interesting game to spot the prolixity in the writing of any second-rate academic author." Everything else just qualifies that. which the rest qualifies or elaborates?" In "regardless of whether you approve. mainly because the author has taken the actions and put them into nouns (obstacle. Combining the two sentences makes the main point more clearly: "Deafness and numbness cut us off from the world we live in. The essential elements are subject. perception." (Return to item two) 3. If you can recognize them. . It is tempting. you can avoid most structural problems. once you have peeled off the verbiage." The idea is an interesting one." when either "time" or "period" will do the job. see item 5). or to have lost dermal sensitivity—such handicaps are severe and create a definite obstacle to the perception of the world we live in. how simply can we make this point? Although "numbness" is a bit less specific than "lost dermal sensitivity.). with no intention of coming back. look for complicated ways to say simple things. a point promptly repeated. hunted large animals. when Peking man. equals blindness. To be deaf. you have to recognize the elements. I'm going. but the author is trying too hard to sound medically sophisticated and professorial. and cooked them over open fires. and trying to move it into the focus." it is a more concise and therefore more effective way to make the point of this non-technical sentence.Bureaucrats. butchered them with stone tools. is trendy but just going out of fashion (that's the trouble with fashions).. Try this one: "China has been continuously inhabited by the Chinese since the Paleolithic period (500. yet as much as three-quarters of his diet may have been of vegetable origin. The sentence is also wordy.C. talking about a "time period. No such impairment. You don't need a whole high-school course in English to do that. to say "at this point in time" instead of "now.

and I am the recipient. It can be a phrase. but often seek the appearance of efficiency by clumping nouns together. since either word can imply both). you may not be able to tell how the three nouns are related. look." But "laid" is a transitive verb. monograph is thus the simple subject. of course." "Egg" in that sentence is called a direct object. Verbs can express a state or an action. becomes "Who will go with you?" "Going with you is always boring" can become "Why is going with you always boring?" "You will go with me. as you edit your drafts. A sentence may have more than one subject. . It clearly isn't saying that lies are tedious." you can recognize that it is about certain kinds of monographs that are tedious." can express a state: "John looks tired. you may be able to guess that this means "a free offer to users in return for their patronage. If you get so used to the patterns of adspeak that you confuse them with English. without the prepositions "to" and "in return for" that provide clarity in normal English. connected with "and" or "or" ("and/or" is bureaucratic verbiage. a second object. but if you remember that the direct object does not imply "to". so he must have laid something on the bed. Object. since with some verbs you can also have. Normal past tense." But most verbs say what the subject did: "John ate dinner. This indirect object tells to whom or for whom the action was done. In addition to "be" verbs. and the indirect object does. "that contain no lies" simply specifies a subset of all monographs."—which is the same as "he gave the cat to me"—the cat is what he gave. you may find. can become the question "Will you go with me?" Verb. "for." you would have to say something like "he laid an egg on the bed. If you see "user patronage free offer. When you encounter something like "Historical monographs that contain no lies are tedious. A common way of transforming a sentence into a question is by changing the subject or order." without an object (unlike "he painted the bed"). "Somebody will go with you." and you have been initiated into adspeak." by changing the subject into a question word. The way to overcome this habit is to be alert for them. even in the same sentence. Some verbs (transitive ones) have to specify the object ("dinner" in the last example) and others (intransitive ones) don't. The object says what or who received the action. "John is tired" is about John's state. that you are piling up sequences of nouns. (Return to item three) 4. Resourceful writers can. starting with "The head that wears the crown is heavy. For instance. so turning it inside out doesn't change the subject. The subject names what the sentence is about." if the subject goes inside the complex verb. Since dealing with the passive voice (item 9) needs a clear understanding of these basic elements. others such as "feel.Subject. for instance. Noun Used as Adjective Advertising copywriters despise candor." you can put the emphasis on the burden by transforming it into "Heavy is the head that wears the crown." etc." and of course will realize that you will actually pay in one way or another for what you get. it's easy to keep them separated. invert sentences. A hallmark of Philadelphia dialect is "he laid on the bed. if you used "laid. If you are not used to it. In "he gave me the cat. This sounds complicated. of course." Some verbs do it better than others (item 5). it is a good idea when editing to pay particular attention to that item. is "he lay on the bed." The sentence is still about a head. Outside of Philly.

Look thoughtfully at every instance of either word in your drafts. If you do it well. but just as a habit. it is one that some scientists and engineers cultivate. Note that bureaucrats." Once you realize that. and above all to avoid responsibility when you are wrong. The simplest way to improve it is "a surge of power destroyed the cooling pumps. this one has penetrated deeply into everyday writing. There are two supreme techniques: hiding the action.and to ask yourself whether you will do better to connect them with prepositions. "clinical patient's understanding" is clear. because their teachers tell them it is professional to hide the fact that a mere human being is doing the research and forming conclusions. to blur meaning. Getting rid of this problem is easier than getting rid of the habit. for each sentence just ask yourself "what is the main action of the sentence?" If it isn’t in the verb. are not ashamed to admit it. It is not at all unusual to use a blah verb and hide the action somewhere else--not for any purpose. Apostrophe Confusing "its" and "it’s" is nothing more elaborate than either poor English skills or carelessness. and to acknowledge that objectivity is hypocrisy." the action is destroying. and the verb is "was. Action in Verb The art of bureaucratese is to mislead: to do what you have to do without admitting it. Humanists. It can guarantee that a professional school's admissions committee will reject your application as substandard in command of English. use nouns as adjectives instead of the possessive (item 4). without leaving out a single idea (responsibility is not what the sentence is about). to make sure if they complain that you can deny that they are complaining about the right thing. (Return to item four) 5. The latter is a very dangerous habit. move it there. Like other bureaucratic tools. If you were to say honestly "I have made sure that you will no longer get A." once the storm was over you might be unemployed." You have made your point in 8 words instead of 13. and hiding who is acting (item 9). Like the passive (item 9). to make people think you are doing something they want done. readers won’t guess that "it was determined that a recision of A should be enacted" means that you have arranged (without public legislation. it becomes clear how wordy this sentence is. of course) that they are no longer entitled to what their elected representatives decided you are supposed to provide them. discussed here. "Clinical patient understanding" has three possible meanings. (Return to item six) . As you edit. to the contrary. In "a surge of power was responsible for the destruction of the cooling pumps. (Return to item five) 6.

What follows them can be ." That sentence makes sense. If you want to learn them. overburdened as they are. punctuating clauses: there are two kinds of clauses that describe nouns or pronouns (clauses are groups of words that hang together). once armies get involved. you do not set it off by commas. the meaning of the sentence changes." your idea will be lost. Readers may admire your ingenuity. if you begin with "short people can’t see far in a crowd" and make it more specific. but that doesn't mean they will understand you. most high-school teachers. you may feel that states of peace. A restrictive clause affects the meaning of the word it modifies by specifying a subset. "Members of the sophomore class who are not over five feet tall. never get round to teaching people how to use colons and semicolons. are likely no longer to be peaceful. If you don’t spell out what you mean by "peace. Setting a clause off by commas makes it a nonrestrictive clause. Quotation Marks The three normal uses of quotation marks. it's not hard: Colon. But the sentence could still be true even if the clause were false. Colons introduce or call attention to what follows them. you may come up with something like "members of the sophomore class who are not over five feet tall can’t see far in a crowd. If you find an unmatched comma as you edit. If you leave it out. and you will leave the reader frustrated. make sure you know why. who are not over five feet tall. Punctuation First. and most readers whose minds are on different wavelengths from yours won’t get it. and therefore does not affect the meaning in any necessary way. and specifies which subset you have in mind. Your skepticism may motivate you to write "to keep the ‘peace. are unproblematic. That's why I recommend avoiding them or learning them. and haven't thought out why that is. Most students brave enough to use them improvise.’" But that is a subtle thought. When you say something like "the purpose of an army is to win a war or to keep the peace. The commas signal that it applies to the whole set. Second.7. They want to warn the reader to look at it thoughtfully. That's all they do. asserting here that no sophomore is more than five feet tall. "Members of the sophomore class. Because it is essential. namely forgetting one of the two commas." for instance. There is a common error in using nonrestrictive clauses. since the reader can’t tell which of the two kinds of clauses you have in mind. It doesn't work. since the restrictive clause "who are not over five feet tall" makes it clear you don’t mean the whole class. can’t see far in a crowd" has quite a different meaning." All the clause does is give additional but not essential information about the same set of people. enumerated above. can’t see far in a crowd" is just plain confusing. Many writers misuse quotation marks because they feel uneasy about a word they are using. For instance. as you learn by reading it without the clause: "members of the sophomore class can’t see far in a crowd. (Return to item seven) 8.

because it could be about a poet in the news." This booboo is fairly common on course papers. or (d) the body of a letter when the colon is used in the salutation. Keep in mind two details: using "however" instead of "but" in a sentence like that doesn't work. For instance." etc.) The semicolon works only when the relation is clear enough that you don't need a conjunction or any other word to clarify it.. One is to use a conjunction. or someone who writes poems about high profiles. If it ain't a compound adjective. and dessert. in fact rationed." "consist of. Semicolon. In order to understand the semicolon. a main course. "there are thirty-six tactics applicable to our predicament. If you have a complex phrase a b c. e. "It's eleven o'clock. see the sentence in (a) above. You will also want to keep your eyes open while editing for a related problem. don't hyphenate it. or one who writes poems about profiles while smoking something illegal." "such as. (b) a clarification of some word or phrase that comes before the colon. When you are editing and you see two nouns in a row.(a) a list. Semicolons connect items of equal grammatical rank. with meat or vegetarian. Keep in mind that sentences should stay separate unless there is an intimate connection.. the bigger the better. cooked or uncooked. and splicing two sentences together with "and" looks childish if you do it often. the superior one is to bug out." if you are writing while half asleep. you may have a compound adjective that needs a hyphen. Third. you will want to make sure the reader can tell how the three words group. (Return to item eight) 9. as in the next paragraph.g. hyphenating compound adjectives." That makes the relation between the two sentences crystal clear. see item 10. "There are two kinds of people: those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don't.g. On lists. "High-profile poet" resolves the ambiguity by signalling the reader that "high-profile" is a single adjective. Once you have learned to write "twentieth-century mentality. e. you may find yourself saying "all this happened in the twentieth-century. Finally. Passive . Obviously semicolons need to be used with restraint. "A meal should include at least three elements: appetizer. but I don't feel like going home." (c) a quotation. Most of the time these items are sentences." If you are introducing the list with "are. if you have a list of items with commas in them. you don't need a colon. you will need a semicolon to show the separations between them. "High profile poet" is confusing. or if the two are not really part of the flow of one idea (think about why I used "and" to assemble the last sentence." Using "and" between the two sentences would make the connection flabby. For instance. you need to be aware of your options for joining two closely related sentences.

ask whether the items match in number (singular. (b) change the verb to the passive voice. Number of Noun and Verb or Pronoun The errors of this kind that confuse readers usually happen when authors lose track of what the subject of the sentence is. where it will get the emphasis." Who thought that? Who understood that? Not a clue! Were the classes actually not discussed enough? Were they really more prevalent or not? That is precisely what the passive hides. because the main verb is tied to a noun that is not even essential to the meaning of the sentence (it is in a nonrestrictive clause)." The point is that equivalent items need to be in equivalent form. and try turning this fragment of a long sentence into normal English. one step further. nouns. This transformation technique lets you move the object to the front of the sentence. Speakers often make complex sentences (usually without thinking about it) by changing simple ones. and (c) dispose of the subject or identify it with "by. watching 'The Young and the Restless. . It doesn't make sense. not the main one of the sentence. In "the main reason. a nickel." "John ate dinner" becomes "The dinner [object that receives the action] was eaten [passive form of "eat"] by [used to mark the subject if any] John" and. but understood to be more prevalent in frontier regions.)." As you edit your lists.' and 300 pages of Tolstoy. finishing a paper for HSS 152. Is the last clause part of what the concealed person understood. (Return to item ten) 11.The most important application of the basic subject-verb-object categories is in understanding the passive voice. probably the main cause of verbosity and sloppiness in academic writing. plural) and form (verb phrases. where the underlying active sentence might be something like "thoughtless writers use the passive more often than they think about it. to watch 'The Young and the Restless." The first version politely avoids pointing the finger. or an added thought? Think about that. The passive voice is a trick that everyone knows but seldom knows they know. Here is part of an actual sentence from a draft that misuses the passive twice: " … disease monographs on classes of disorders that were thought to be discussed insufficiently. which has many components. There are excellent reasons to use the passive: when the subject is irrelevant or needs to be hidden. more common in the present than in the past. or when the object needs to be in the most prominent place. The verbs with "ing" take care of that. are complex" the verb agrees with the nearest noun. Passive is the opposite of active. (Return to item nine) 10.' and reading 300 pages of Tolstoy. Consistency in Lists Editors use "lists" to mean any series of equivalent elements: "I have three coins: a dime. "The dinner was eaten" [effectively hiding John's responsibility]. and a quarter" or "I have three jobs to do today: finishing a paper for HSS 152. and inadequately understood in the available medical literature. and either tuck the subject out of the way after the verb or even get rid of it. etc. Otherwise the sentence becomes incoherent: "I have three jobs to finish today. What you do is (a) move the object before the verb. "The passive is used more often than it is thought about" makes its point.

and shows how to choose between words with similar meanings. If . That is why most paperback dictionaries are bad investments. Well. Slashes are bureaucratese. The purpose of higher education is to prepare you to learn anything you want to learn for the rest of your life without taking courses. and I have a copy on my bookshelf to use when my computer is off." you can't say "He gave it to Bill and I. on paper. There is no point in having a 15-pound dictionary if you will hesitate to use it. learn to spell now. You have a great many to choose from. "I would like some milk or juice" does not rule out having both. It reflects current usage. what is the moral of this? If your high school left you hopeless at spelling. It wasn't because people don't care whether you can spell. Instead of lamenting your bad fortune. Spelling If you didn't learn to spell in high school. There are a several excellent dictionaries. Some related issues: If you don't want to write "he or she. It also wasn't because all you will ever need is a spelling checker." not "he/she. Unless you say "he slash she." In formal logic the two may be mutually exclusive. I have it installed on my hard disk. Your spelling checker is an unintelligent list of words. This prodigy of scholarship is the equivalent of at least 25 normal volumes. and not enough of those you don't. They care whether they can understand you. and to use it. with the earliest known sentence that uses each sense." (Return to item eleven) 12. and tend to have inadequate ones. and wrong spelling often makes that impossible." make the whole shebang plural." which is the largest portable version of a given title. but in the English written language either word is flexible enough to leave open the possibility of the other. save money. in "when you give something to someone you expect them to be grateful." a plural pronoun that has to stand for a plural noun. Writers who care about clarity choose "and" or "or.As for nouns and pronouns. the most comprehensive dictionary in English." write "he or she. but you don't have to buy it (although you can). and online. it was because your school had to. If you are a college or graduate student." note the shift from "someone. to "them. It lists every sense of every word from early medieval English to the present day. It won't catch problems as simple as "that's to bad. You will also want to know about the Oxford English Dictionary. I use the Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language. on disk." There is also a larger problem: people who never learned to spell generally don't have a large enough active vocabulary to write with force and precision. since you don't say "he gave it to I. are you doomed to semi-literacy? Hardly. you will want one labeled "college edition." "And/or" is meant to dump the choice of "and" or "or" into the reader's lap. Finally." a singular noun. It is even worse to have a small one that has all the words you already know. Most people buy one without much thought. The secret is to have a good dictionary. College Edition. or wanted to.

If you are coping with a catastrophe. It ought also to be easily readable. You can prevent disastrous losses by backing up your work. and can handle them in almost any PC format. The file is still there. your paper ought to be your best say on your topic. so that you can look at it with a fresh eye." which can be used for any paper. You can set your word processor to back up your file every 5 minutes. get a style sheet for your major or discipline from your department. or if your printer breaks down half an hour before the deadline for a paper. Printing By the time you print out the final version. A final suggestion about computer catastrophes: An almost universal experience is to have a file disappear into the void. (Return to item thirteen) 14. when you are under so much stress that it is difficult to concentrate. and in Macintosh Word format. you will also want to save copies on a removable medium. People who can't get their heads together to back up daily do have one recourse if a file disappears. but either will do. The techies' rule of thumb is that not keeping a given file on two separate media is the same as praying to lose it. The simplest way is. carefully edited and proofread. or check the main journal in your field to see which style it prescribes. But since every computer breaks down sooner or later. don't wait until the last moment. Try to set your draft aside for a day or so before doing the final editing and proofreading. you may find it possible to save the file to the Windows clipboard as plain text and paste it into the body of an email message. you can access it via the Penn Library's web site. even if you have erased it! Stop working on that computer right away . to accidentally erase it. printing may be an unnecessary step. interesting and informative. I do. Find a place where nothing will distract you. but it is wonderful for increasing your grasp of language. If you need guidelines to help with the layout. You won't need it to check spelling. By the way. and theft is not rare. or to destroy a whole folder or even hard disk without meaning to. If you don't have ready access to a printer that will produce clear copy from your file. just before you close down for the night. That takes less than a minute. with pages numbered so the reader can reassemble it if it comes apart. On the other hand. It will happen to you sooner or later. to copy to a floppy disk the files you created or changed that day. If there is none. Proofreading Proofreading can be an extremely inefficient process unless you are doing it attentively and reflectively. It is generally easier to deal with files sent as attachments to email messages than with those submitted on floppy disks. (Return to item twelve) 13.you are a student or faculty member. somewhere. thoughtful. ask me for a copy of my simple and minimal "Guide to Style. it will be worth your while to know whether the instructor accepts papers in electronic form.

.and contact someone who knows how to recover erased files and directories. If not.. . the Norton Utilities) you need. get in touch with the Computer Resources Center or your local guru.g.g. of the Recycle Bin) and software (e. Only if you continue working will you destroy it. You may have the knowledge (e.

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