All posts by Marco

You Said That Already: Avoiding Repetition


Putting together a good piece of writing is, in some ways, like cooking or baking. Here’s what I mean. In order to prepare a dish, you have to do the following:

  1. Decide what you would like to cook or bake.
  2. Locate or create a recipe.
  3. Gather the necesary ingredients and utensils.
  4. Follow the directions according to the recipe.
  5. Taste the finished product before serving, if possible, or else take your chances when you present it.

Similarly, when you are faced with the task of writing an article, essay, research report, or any other type of prose writing, you should do the following:

  1. Decide on your topic and your approach.
  2. Put together a plan or an outline.
  3. Gather research materials, if needed, and make sure that you have pens, pencils, paper, or your computer or whatever you will need in order to write your paper.
  4. Follow your plan or outline.
  5. Proofread and, if necessary, edit your document, or else take your chances when you submit it.

The key to preparing food and to writing is to know which ingredients and how much of each to use. In cooking and baking, using too much or too little of even a minor ingredient, such as salt, can spoil the entire enterprise. The same is true in writing: the wrong word, or even the right word in the wrong place, can ruin a sentence, a paragraph, or, at times, an entire document.

Sometimes, a word or a phrase may be the correct one to use, and it may be in the right place, but it may be overused or it may not be needed because the idea that you are attempting to convey is already evident. Here are some examples of sentences in which words or phrases are overused; each one is followed by a sentence in which the problem has been corrected, along with an explanation of the correction:

  1. One of the problems in terms of global warming is that we do not know whether it is even possible to curtail the consequences of global warming.
    • One of the problems in terms of global warming is that we do not know whether it is even possible to curtail its consequences. (Use pronouns to avoid the repetition of words.)
  2. Too many old people in their late eighties live alone, and cannot take care of themselves.
    • Too many people in their late eighties live alone, and cannot take care of themselves. (Avoid the use of unnecessary explanatory words or phrases.)
  3. I tried to think in my mind about how I would solve the puzzle.
    • I tried to think about how I would solve the puzzle. (Avoid the use of clichés.)
  4. Hundreds of happy people were happily celebrating the happy occasion.
    • Hundreds of happy people were ecstatically celebrating the joyful occasion. (Use synonyms whenever possible; use the Microsoft Word Thesaurus.)
  5. I wanted to invite all of my friends to my apartment, but I didn’t know whether I could find room for all of them in my apartment.
    • I wanted to invite all of my friends to my apartment, but I didn’t know whether I could find room for all of them. (Avoid explaining what is already understood.)

The above examples of repetition apply to conversation, as well as to writing. It is always a good idea to use as few words as possible to communicate ideas. Additional words or phrases are unnecessary and may sound repetitious.

Writing Titles Correctly


There are strict rules that must be followed when writing the titles of full-length books, articles from periodicals and newspapers, and shorter works, such as essays, poems, plays, films, short stories, television and radio programs, etc.

The titles of full-length books should be written in italics, as in the following: The Kite Runner. The author’s name should not be italicized. In fact, the writer’s name should never be given any special treatment in terms of font, underlining, etc. It should always be presented in regular font. Although italicizing the title of a book is the preferred method, it is also acceptable to underline the name, as in the following: Moby Dick. You should not both underline and italicize a title. Neither should you use quotation marks for the titles of full-length books. The names of periodicals and newspapers should, like the titles of books, be italicized or underlined, as in The Wall Street Journal.

The titles of lengthy reports and other long documents, whether or not they have been published, should also be italicized or underlined, as in Effects of Global Warming on the Antarctic Ice Shelf.

Shorter documents may be enclosed in quotation marks, as in “Shakespeare’s Use of Humor In His Historical Plays,” or they may be written without any special notation or punctuation.

Newspaper and periodical articles should always be enclosed in quotation marks, as in “Big Money Still Learning to Lobby” by Jenny Anderson (The New York Times, March 13, 2007, page C1).

The title of a short story, play, poem, musical piece, movie, television or radio program, work of art, or other short literary composition should be enclosed in quotation marks, as in the following example: “The New Colossus.”

Even though there are situations in which these guidelines may be altered, in general, they should be followed, as explained above.

Keeping Your Distance

Keeping Your Distance

What is wrong with the following sentence?

To solve the problem of global warming, you have to develop a strategy to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels by the industrialized nations of the world.

The problem with that sentence involves the use of the personal pronoun you. The word is not being used in its true sense—as a word that is being used to refer to…you, the reader. The intent of the writer of that sentence is to suggest that the industrialized nations of the world, or, more specifically, political leaders and others in positions of prominence, should develop strategies to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. The writer is not expecting that you, the reader, (or, for that matter, huge numbers of readers, if you is being used as a plural possessive pronoun) will be the one to develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The sentence would be more correctly written as follows:

To solve the problem of global warming, political leaders and others in positions of prominence have to develop a strategy to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels by the industrialized nations of the world.

Or, the writer could have written:

To solve the problem of global warming, you, as citizen of the world, have to develop a strategy to limit the amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels by the industrialized nations of the world.

That would solve the problem of the use of the personal pronoun you, although the logic of an individual being able to solve a complex problem such as that involving greenhouse gases is weak.

The point of this discussion is the use of personal pronouns in academic papers. In general, in academic writing, it is not appropriate to refer to the reader or to the writer directly. The writer should, as much as possible, maintain distance between him or herself and the reader, and, for that matter, to the subject under discussion. The essay, report, or research paper should appear to have been written by an impersonal writer who is not directly addressing the reader. Therefore, the following pronouns should not be used, except in particular instances: you, we, I, me, and our.

This, of course, does not apply to journals, sections in research reports in which the writer discusses his or her involvement in the subject, portions of a document in which it is necessary and appropriate to directly address the reader, or in more informal types of writing.

In general, it is customary for the writer of an academic document to distance himself or herself from both the subject and the audience. That brings us to the problem of the passive voice, which college instructors warn against. The passive voice refers to sentences in which something is done to the subject, rather than the subject doing the something. The following is an example of the use of the passive voice:

Global warming needs to be immediately addressed because, not to do so, will result in climactic and other consequences which will be impossible to correct.

In a piece of informal writing, such as the blog that you are reading or a memo or an email or a letter, the sentence could be written as follows:

You and I should immediately address the problem of global warming because, not to do so, will result in climactic and other consequences which will be impossible to correct.

In a piece of academic writing, however, the way to avoid the passive voice, and still refrain from using personal pronouns, is to name a third party subject, as in the following:

The leaders of all of the nations of the world need to immediately address the problem of global warming because, not to do so, will result in climactic and other consequences which will be impossible to correct.

Remember, as the writer of a piece of academic writing, you (as I said, this blog is a type of informal writing, so I am allowed to use personal pronouns such as you) must distance yourself from both the subject and the audience.



Contractions are, of course, shortened versions of two word phrases. The meaning of “contract” is to shorten, lessen, or shrink. Contractions are used more often in conversation than in written work, and, in fact, they are considered inappropriate in most academic and business writing. Nevertheless, it is important to know how to spell and how to use them.

Contractions are generally created by dropping a letter or two from the second word of a two-word phrase, inserting an apostrophe in place of the deleted letter or letters, and then combining the two words into one. Here are some common examples:

  • Do not becomes don’t
  • Is not becomes isn’t
  • You will becomes you’ll
  • It is becomes it’s

Before I continue, let’s (a contraction of let us) consider it’s. That contraction is often incorrectly used when the possessive pronoun its should be used. Here are examples of the correct uses of it’s and its:

  • We decided not to go to the beach because it’s about to rain. (contraction)
  • The dog found its way home. (possessive pronoun)

The confusion involving the use of its and it’s lies in the fact that apostrophes are used for possession, as in That is my friend’s house. Therefore, it might seem logical that apostrophes should be used in possessive pronouns too. But…they are not. The following are possessive pronouns: its, his, hers, yours, theirs, and ours.

Now, to return to the use of contractions, it is important to use the correct contraction in terms of number, meaning singular or plural. For instance:

  • It is incorrect to write: He don’t want to eat his dinner. It should be He doesn’t want to eat his dinner.
  • They isn’t going to be ready is wrong. It should be They aren’t going to be ready.

Some contractions seem to be different from the typical ones. For instance, can’t is not derived from the contraction of two words, as in the case of other contractions. It is the contraction of one word, cannot. By the way, that is how that word should be spelled—as one word. It is incorrect to write can not. In fact, there is no such word combination as can not. Another odd one is won’t. It is a contraction of will not. Most people in the U.S. do not use shan’t, but it the correct contraction of shall not.

And, remember, while contractions are normally used in conversation, they are generally considered to be inappropriate in academic writing. In other words, during a chat, it is fine to say, Sometimes, it isn’t possible to communicate an idea to other people. However, in a college paper, you would write, Sometimes, it is not possible to communicate an idea to other people.

Good, Better, Best

Good, Better, Best

The homelessness situation in Chicago is the worst.

Well, you may ask, what does that mean? It does not mean anything because of two serious, fairly common mistakes. They both have to do with the use of the word worst. Worst is the superlative form of bad or troublesome or some other adjective that refers to a negative situation or condition. In order to understand what is wrong with the use of worst in that sentence, and before it can be corrected, you must first understand how and when to use comparatives and superlatives.

Adjectives and adverbs can be used to convey three levels of influence. Let’s discuss adjectives first. When you are describing a person, place, thing, or idea, you should use the regular form of an adjective, such as happy, angry, or hungry. Look at the following examples:

The boy is smart.

Florence seems to be angry.

If you want to move the expression up a notch in terms of intensity, you would use the comparative form of the adjective, as in the following:

The boy is smarter than his brother.

Florence seems to be angrier than she was before.

In both cases, the comparative form has to be weighed against someone or something. It would not be correct or meaningful to write The boy is smarter or Florence seems to be angrier.

Now, if you wanted to express the fact that the boy’s intelligence or that Florence’s anger is beyond comparison to that of everyone else’s, you would use the superlative form:

The boy is the smartest in his class.

Florence seems to be the angriest that I have ever known her to be.

When you are using a superlative, it must be compared to others—not to one other, but to at least two others or to more than one situation. Since the boy’s intelligence is being compared to that of the other children in his class, it is assumed that there are at least two other children. That is why smartest is used. Florence’s anger is being compared to more than one other instance of anger. That is why angriest is used.

The father of two children, for instance, should not say or write, She’s my oldest daughter. That implies that he has at least three children. He should say, instead, She’s my older daughter. In that case, the comparative form of the adjective old is being used in reference to his two daughters.

Comparatives and superlatives are used with adverbs also, as in the following examples:

The little boy ran quickly. (Positive form)

The little boy ran more quickly than his friend. (Comparative form)

The little boy ran the most quickly out of all of his friends. (Superlative form)

Again, the comparative form must be used in relation to one other person or instance of something, and the superlative form must be used against two or more persons or instances.

Now, let us return to the original sentence:

The homelessness situation in Chicago is the worst. It would be correctly written in either of the following ways:

The homelessness situation in Chicago is worse than it was last year. That is a correct use of the comparative form.


The homelessness situation in Chicago is the worst that it has ever been. That is a correct use of the superlative form.

To sum up, something can be good; one thing can be better than another; one thing can be the best out of three or more things.

How Do You Spell That?

How Do You Spell That?

The spelling of words in English is difficult because they do not always adhere to established rules. Part of the reason for that is that English is an amalgam of Latin, Greek, French, Germanic, and other languages, all of which have their own idiosyncratic spelling conventions.

While most words in English are spelled phonetically, a great many are not. Their spellings simply must be memorized. There are, for instance, words with silent letters, such as lamb, climb, rhythm, thought, and many, many others. There are also words which seem to defy their own rules. For instance, why don’t cord and word rhyme?

Then there are homophones, words which sound alike, but have different spellings and different meanings, such as principal and principle, there and their, and sail and sale. Of course, there are words which sound different when pronounced, depending on what part of speech they manifesting, but which are spelled the same. Think about record, as in I like this record and We should record that song. There are words which have two correct spellings, such as theater and theatre, although, in American English theater is preferred.

How about the fact that an initial g followed by an e, i, or y usually sounds like j, as in gentle, ginger, and gymnasium, but it has a hard g sound in get? Why is that the case? In order to spell words such as those correctly, you have to understand that the spelling and pronunciation rule has to be ignored sometimes.

Then we have the problem involving irregular verbs. They totally defy spelling (and pronunciation) rules. Take, for example, eat. When that word is in the past tense form, it is not eated. It is ate. Why? The past tense of jump is jumped, so why is the past tense of eat not eated? For that matter, why is the past tense of read not readed? Why is it read? Why does it not change spelling from present to past tense?

Ok. As if that were not confusing enough, how about plural irregular nouns? The plural of boy is boys. That’s simple enough. Boy is a regular noun. But, what about woman? Why is its plural women? Why is more than one wolf spelled wolves? Why is parties the plural of party, but the plural of donkey is donkeys? Why is it that we simply add an s to donkey, but we have to change the y ending of party to ies? Why is it, for that matter, that some nouns are not differentiated at all when they are pluralized? Examples of that strange spelling rule are sheep, shrimp, and deer. The spelling does not change whether you are referring to one or more than one of those. It is not correct to refer to a flock of sheeps.

Why don’t invisible and advisable have the same suffix? Both ible and able sound the same, but different words require different suffixes. How about rambunctious and conscious? The suffixes of those two words sound the same. Why are they spelled differently?

Is there a rule for these spelling (and pronunciation) exceptions? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The only way in which to know the correct words to use in spoken and written English and to pronounce and spell them correctly is to memorize all of the unusual pronunciations and spellings and meanings. Careful reading is very helpful. Once you have seen a word used and spelled correctly in print, it is generally easier to remember how to use it and spell it correctly. A good comprehensive dictionary (not a pocket version, although a few are very good—I like The American Heritage Dictionary) is invaluable. It will include all of the information that you need in order to know how to use words correctly and pronounce and spell them properly. The spell check function on your computer will generally catch misspellings and lead you to corrections, but not always. It may not, for example, distinguish between their and there.

If you are concerned about your use of language and spelling, as I suggested, you should read and observe what you are reading. Another alternative is to submit your document to for professional proofreading and editing.

Beefing Up Your Written Vocabulary

Beefing Up Your Written Vocabulary

In all of your important writing, you should try to use better words. Or, if I were to rewrite that sentence with “better words,” it would look like this: In all of your serious writing, you should attempt to employ enhanced vocabulary. Of course, it is not necessary to do that when you are composing emails and memos and other less formal types of writing, but, on the other hand, it would not hurt.

You need not be an English major to improve your written vocabulary. There are three easy ways in which to do this:

  1. After you are finished writing, reread your work. You should always do this anyway in order to spot and eliminate writing errors. But, now, when you reread your writing, think about substitutes for some of the words that you used. You do not need to, and, in fact, you should not replace all of the everyday words with higher level ones. It is not necessary to do so. Using complex words throughout your document may obscure your meaning, and it may cause your writing to appear pompous. In any case, examine your writing, and ask yourself, “Do I know a better word to use instead of …?” For example, instead of get, use obtain or acquire. Instead of do, try implement or perform. Of course, in some cases, do is more suitable than one of its substitutes.
  2. Use Microsoft Word’s Thesaurus. Simply highlight the word that you would like to replace. Then click the Tools function on Microsoft Word. Click on Language. From Language, click Thesaurus. Then choose a substitute.
  3. Use a hard copy of a thesaurus or a dictionary.

Besides bringing your writing to a higher level, using improved vocabulary will also provide a sense of freshness to your work. This is especially true in terms of helping you to avoid one of the pitfalls of so much academic and business writing—the use of repetitious vocabulary. Look at this example, in which the italicized words in the second sentence are repetitions of words that are used in the first:

One of the reasons why the Southern states seceded from the United States in 1861 is that many people in the south thought that Abraham Lincoln was going to try to abolish slavery. They thought that was a good reason to secede from the United States because they thought that people in the north had no right to tell them what to do about the issue of slavery.

In this version of the same paragraph, the italicized words in the second sentence are variations of words used in the first sentence:

One of the reasons why the Southern states seceded from the union in 1861 is that many people in the south thought that Abraham Lincoln was going to try to abolish slavery. They believed that was a good basis for withdrawing from the union because they felt that inhabitants of the north had no right to tell them what to do about the issue of involuntary servitude.

In conclusion, beefing up your vocabulary can improve your written work by making it interesting and of a higher-than-average quality.

Using Proper Punctuation

Using Proper Punctuation

Punctuation marks are like highway signs. Instead of directing vehicular traffic, however, they control how text is to be read. For the most part, knowing where to place periods, commas, etc. is fairly simple, although there are a few tricky aspects to this skill. The following is a brief outline of the uses of the main English punctuation marks.

Periods belong at the ends of sentences and after abbreviations. They are also used in acronyms.

A full sentence expresses a complete thought. Each of the sentences in this document is a full sentence, expressing a full thought.

The following are examples of the use of periods at the end of abbreviations: Mr., Mrs., and corp.

Acronyms, such as U.S.A. and P.E.T.A. are written with periods after each of their letters.

Commas are used to separate phrases and clauses, when listing things, and to separate dialogue from the speaker of the dialogue.

The following is an example of the use of commas to separate independent clauses in a sentence: After the lions devoured their prey, they rested in the shade.

Here is an example of the use of commas to separate items in a list: I bought apples, oranges, cherries, grapes, and lemons.

The part of a sentence with dialogue that indicates who is speaking is called the tag; commas are used to separate dialogue from the tag, as follows: “Traffic was very bad this morning,” said Bob.

Question marks are placed only at the ends of interrogatory sentences and phrases, as in the following: Is there a solution to the problem of global warming?

Exclamation points are used to express heightened emotion: When I realized that the fire was spreading, I yelled, “Everybody out now!”

Colons are used to indicate that more information is to follow, as in: My favorite foods are as follows: pizza, spaghetti, and ice cream.

Semi colons are used to separate independent clauses. Here is an example of their use: This has been a strange winter; most days and nights have been warmer than average.

One way of learning how to punctuate properly is to read widely. Most books, newspaper and magazine articles, and other published material, in general, contain properly punctuated sentences. By observing the punctuation in those sentences, you will be able to learn their use.

If you are uncertain about your use of punctuation, use your spell check function. You might also choose to submit your document to Papercheck to have it professionally edited.

How To Proofread a Document

How To Proofread a Document

You have done the long, laborious research, including reading hundreds of pages and taking copious notes, and book marking websites from the Internet. You have written an outline of your paper. The actual writing of the research paper has taken several days and nights. The writing is good. The sources are accurate. You have followed the directions that were given to you, including using the correct formatting. This paper will count as a large part of your grade. It is ready to print and be brought to class or sent in electronically.

But…wait. Is it really ready for submission? Is it possible that you have some clunky sentences? What about those spelling demons? Those are the words that you never remember how to spell or that you confuse with other words. Then there’s punctuation! Apostrophes, commas, quotation marks, etc., etc.

What should you do? The first step in terms of proofreading a document is to read the paper to yourself, out loud, if that helps. Don’t read what you think you wrote, what you meant to write. Go through the paper line by line, word by word, as if you are a neutral reader, and not the one who put so much blood, sweat, and tears into it.

Then, use the spell check function. It will not catch every error, but it will point out most spelling and usage mistakes.

Even after carefully proofreading my work by reading it on my computer screen, I find additional errors when I read a hard copy of my work. Somehow, seeing the writing on paper allows me to notice missing commas and other errors that I just did not see when I was reading my document on my monitor. So, I print the document, and carefully proofread it again.

Following those steps should help you to produce a well-written document. However, when all is said and done, if you are not sure that your document is completely correct and ready to be handed in or published, you can always refer it to a document editing and proofreading service, such as Papercheck.

Ten Writing Tips

Ten Writing Tips

Whether you are composing a letter, an essay, a deeply researched academic paper, or any other type of writing (other than emails, notes, IMs, and text messages, all of which tend to be informal and, generally, do not follow the common rules of writing), there are a number of common mistakes that writers make. The following tips may help you to avoid some of them.

  1. Do not write paragraphs that are too long: While there is no rule in terms of the correct length of a paragraph, there are some guidelines. A paragraph should be two sentences or more, all of which are about the same topic topic. It should not, if at all possible, exceed twelve full sentences or 200 words or take up more than half of a page.
  2. Try not to fall victim to common spelling errors: It is easy to make spelling mistakes. English is a difficult language because so many words have irregular spellings. Consider enough. The only way to know how to spell that word, and many others like it, is to memorize it. How about words that have silent letters, such as comb? Then there are words which seem to run in the opposite direction from spelling rules, such as done. Typically, a group of letters which are in a vowel-consonant-e combination, such as that word, should have a long vowel sound. This word, however, is pronounced dun. It has a short vowel sound. On the other hand, bone is pronounced with a long vowel sound. And, how about homophones, words that sound the same, but are spelled differently? English abounds with them. Here are a few examples: there and their, one and won, our and hour, find and fined…In any case, what can you do in terms of spelling correctly? There are three solutions: use a spell check program, rely on a dictionary, or submit your papers to an editing service, such as Papercheck.
  3. Use correct punctuation and usage: This is difficult. Even professional writers find punctuation, especially the placement of commas and quotation marks, a difficult skill to master. There are a few simple rules that you can follow. These should help you to avoid a number of common errors:
    1. Use capital letters only for the beginnings of sentences, for titles, and at the beginnings of quotes.
    2. End all sentences with periods.
    3. Use semicolons (;) only rarely. They are generally used in place of periods, between two complete sentences that are very close to each other in terms of their topics. When you use a semi colon, do not begin the second sentence with a capital letter; it is a related phrase. The previous sentence is an example of the proper use of a semi colon.
    4. Write full sentences. A full sentence has a subject and a predicate.
    5. Do not overuse apostrophes. Apostrophes are not used to pluralize words. The plural of doctor is doctors. No apostrophe should be there. Apostrophes are used only for possession and for contractions. Here are examples: That is the doctor’s car…and…I can’t help you.
  4. Remain true to your topic: Attempt to stay on your topic. You can, and should, write about varying aspects of your topic, but do not go too far afield, especially within a sentence. When you change topics, even slightly, attempt to use words and phrases which allow for smooth transitions between them.
  5. Follow the proper format for citing references and for creating bibliographies: Rather than discussing that topic in this paper, you would be better served by going to the Papercheck home page. Once you are there, go to Additional Resources, and then to Writer’s Resources.
  6. Be consistent: Use the same spelling for words throughout your paper. Check your written work to ensure that you do not spell, for example, the name of a cited author as Connor in one place, and Connors, in another.
  7. Do not rely on spell check: You should use your software to check your spelling and usage, but you absolutely must also re-read your work to find the errors that only your perusal can uncover.
  8. Copy quotations carefully: Unless you are copying and pasting text, there is always the possibility that you will transcribe a direct quote incorrectly. This is an error that must be avoided.
  9. Make sure your sentences agree: Words in your sentences must agree in terms of gender, number, and tense. This is also true of sentences within a paragraph or in a longer section of text. For instance, if you are citing a female, then you must use pronouns that refer to females, such as she and her. If you are referring to several cities, do not use the pronoun it. When discussing events that occurred in the past or people who are no longer alive, do not use verbs in the present tense, such as builds or speaks.
  10. Do not assume the reader knows what you are talking about: Do not refer to ideas or books or events or people unless you have mentioned them in previous sentences. Do not forget that the reader may not know the information in a piece of writing as well as you do. New ideas need to be introduced and, sometimes, explained.

Obviously, these ten writing tips only scratch the surface in terms of addressing the problems that you may run into when you sit down to write. If you feel that you need professional help to proofread or to edit your piece of writing, you might want to use the services of Papercheck.