Answers to Questions About Semicolons

 

Here are three questions readers posed about use of prepositions and our responses.

  1. This sentence showcases my burning semicolon question: “That’s a great trick; best I’ve seen in ages.” I know the second clause in it contains no subject (or noun), at least explicitly. I’m therefore wondering whether this sentence can take a semicolon — perhaps because the subject in the second clause is implied — or instead deserves an em dash because there’s no second subject at all.

The sentence, as you wrote it, is correct — as you mention, the subject is implicit — but the formality of the semicolon is at odds with the informality of the omission of the subject, so I’d opt for a breezy em dash instead.

  1. In the following sentence, should semicolons separate the three business segments?: “Its businesses are divided into three segments: Domestic Retail, Bakeries and Foodservice, and International.”

No, that’s a simple list with three simple elements. Even the addition of brief detail would not require semicolons, because the segments and their descriptions can be clearly delineated: “Domestic Retail, which includes merchandising through stores, Bakeries and Foodservice, which involves direct sales, and International, which deals with nondomestic buyers.” But when it would be obtrusive to repeat a structure such as “which (verb)” that clearly organizes the elements, use semicolons: “We invited our friends Jan and Dean; Fred and Wilma, the couple next door; and my brothers Greg, Peter, and Bobby and their wives.”

  1. So, a comma in place of a semicolon is wrong? I once read a book on crafting sentences that mentioned that a semicolon is never accepted in American fiction and that a comma can always do the work. I’ve been going by this standard, and I like the economy and simplicity of the comma compared to the clumsy, Britishy semicolon. Do you think I’m wrong?

A semicolon does seem intrusively formal for transcribing speech — whether within dialogue in fiction or when quoting a speaker — but replacing it with a period is erroneous, and the book’s advice is unfortunate. I recommend using an em dash or starting a new sentence instead.

from DailyWritingTips.com

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Five Steps to Completing Your First Draft

Follow these stages of preparation and production to assemble a first draft of written (or spoken) content.

  1. Identify Your Purpose
    What is the reason for writing the content? Are you objectively presenting information? If so, is it for educational purposes, or for entertainment — or both? Are you writing to help someone make a decision, or encouraging someone to take action? Identifying your goal for the content will help you shape the piece.
  2. Identify Your Readership
    Who are your intended readers (and your unintended ones)? What is their level of literacy, and what is their degree of prior knowledge of the topic?

Imagining who your readers are will help you decide what voice and tone to adopt, how formal or informal your language will be — though that factor also depends on your approach (see below) — and how much detail or background information you provide.

  1. Identify Your Approach

Should your content be authoritative, or is it the work of someone informally communicating with peers? Are you offering friendly advice, or is your tone cautionary? Are you selling something, or are you skeptical? Should the content be serious, or is some levity appropriate? Determining your strategy, in combination with identifying your readership, will help you decide how the piece will feel to the reader.

  1. Identify Your Ideas
    Brainstorm before and during the drafting process, and again when you revise. If appropriate, talk or write to intended readers about what they hope to learn from the content. Imagine that you are an expert on the topic, and pretend that you are being interviewed about it. Write down the questions and your answers to help you structure the content. Alternatively, present a mock speech or lecture on the topic and transcribe your talk.

Draft an executive summary or an abstract of the content, or think about how you would describe it to someone in a few sentences. Or draw a diagram or a map of the content.

Using one or more of these strategies will help you populate your content with the information your readers want or need.

  1. Identify Your Structure
    Craft a title that clearly summarizes the topic in a few words. Explain the main idea in the first paragraph. Organize the content by one of several schemes: chronology or sequence, relative importance, or differing viewpoints. Use section headings or transitional language to signal new subtopics. Integrate sidebars, graphics, and/or links as appropriate.

Incorporating these building blocks will help you produce a coherent, well-organized piece.

From: Daily Writing Tips

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Five Types of Specialized Dictionaries

by Mark Nichol From Daily Writing Tips

Dictionaries aren’t just for looking up spellings and meanings of a broad selection of terms; you’ll find biographical, geographical, and medical dictionaries, among other specialized volumes. Here are five other categories of repositories of words, with a link to one online example of each.

  1. Reverse Dictionaries
    A reverse dictionary enables you to type in a phrase that describes a word or phrase you’re trying to think of. The matching technology is imperfect, of course, but a reverse dictionary is your best chance for coming up with that elusive term. Try this reverse dictionary at the dictionary portal OneLook.com, or, if you prefer a print resource, check out the Illustrated Reverse Dictionary, by John Ellison Kahn.
  2. Visual Dictionaries
    Visual dictionaries like this one provide visitors with illustrations of animate and inanimate things labeled with parts and components. Merriam-Webster’s publishes a print visual dictionary, but many others are available, including multilingual ones and those produced especially for children.
  3. Beginners’/Learners’ Dictionaries
    The Cambridge University Press has, among its family of online dictionaries, one with simplified definitions; for American English specifically, Merriam-Webster offers Word Central, an online children’s dictionary that is helpful for learners of all ages without being juvenile in presentation. For a print version, use a dictionary for young students (like the Scholastic Children’s Dictionary) — though the child-oriented design of these books may put off older learners — or one for English-language learners.
  4. Translation Dictionaries
    Online dictionaries that enable visitors to type in a word and receive its equivalent in another language (or obtain an English word by entering a foreign one) abound; many websites, such as Dictionary.com’s Translator site, include search engines for multiple languages. Of course, print translation dictionaries are also easy to find on the Internet and in bookstores. (Recently published ones available at used-book stores are a good bargain.)
  5. Unusual-Words Dictionaries
    Numerous Web-savvy language aficionados have created online repositories of seldom-used and/or offbeat words; go, for example, to the Phrontistery. You’ll also find many similar print compendiums, such as The Word Lovers’ Dictionary: Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words, by Josefa Heifetz.
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General Rules About Abbreviations

This post outlines basic rules about abbreviations. There is a bewildering variety of standards, which will be explained in more detail in subsequent posts about specific categories of abbreviation, but the following guidelines cover an array of general types.

Use of abbreviation varies widely depending on the formality of writing employed for a given publication or a piece of content. Generally, the more formal the content, the less likely it is that abbreviation will be used, except in multiple references to terms commonly abbreviated or in tabular matter and other graphic elements.

In formal writing, journalistic contexts, and some informal content as well, terms are spelled out on first reference, followed by abbreviation in parentheses, as in “The Global Positioning System (GPS) uses satellite signals to fix the location of a radio receiver on or above the earth’s surface.” Thereafter, the abbreviation is used exclusively.

However, this tradition applies to single pieces of content, so that—unless, for example, an entire publication is devoted to articles about GPS technology—two articles in a publication that mention it will independently introduce the full spelled-out version of an abbreviation on first reference. Note, too, that specialized publications will likely abbreviate all references to widely used terms in that specialty.

Abbreviations consisting entirely of uppercase letters (including NY, US, FBI, and NASA) or that end with an uppercase letter (as in PhD) are not followed by a period; some publications retain periods in these types of abbreviations (at least two-letter ones), but that style is in decline. Abbreviations that end with a lowercase letter (a.m., Dr., i.e., etc.) are generally followed by a period.

Acronyms (abbreviations of phrases using initial letters of each word to form new word, such as AIDS) are almost invariably styled in all capital letters, though some, such as laser and scuba, have lost their uppercase form, and Nasdaq is treated as a proper noun. Initialisms (abbreviations of phrases using initial letters of each word, each of which is pronounced, such as FBI) are also generally capitalized. When using an article before an abbreviation, choose a or an depending on the first sound, not the first letter, of the abbreviation: “an NBA [en-bee-ay] team” but “a NASA [nasa] program.”

Avoid ampersands except in proper names (“Johnson & Johnson”) and in widely known abbreviations (“R&D,” for “research and development”).

Daily Writing Tips 28 Nov 2016

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Eight rules for writing fiction

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them, so the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

From: Kurt Vonnegut: How to Write with Style

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Did you ever hear of a portmanteau?

A portmanteau (pɔːrtˈmænt/, /ˌpɔːrtmænˈt/; plural portmanteaus or portmanteaux /ˈtz/) or portmanteau word is a linguistic blend of words, in which parts of multiple words, or their phones (sounds), and their meanings are combined into a new word. A portmanteau word fuses both the sounds and the meanings of its components, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog, or motel, from motor and hotel. In linguistics, a portmanteau is defined as a single morph that represents two or more morphemes.

The definition overlaps with the grammatical term contraction, but contractions are formed from words that would otherwise appear together in sequence, such as do and not to make don’t, whereas a portmanteau word is formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a singular concept which the portmanteau describes. A portmanteau also differs from a compound, which does not involve the truncation of parts of the stems of the blended words. For instance, starfish is a compound, not a portmanteau, of star and fish; whereas a hypothetical portmanteau of star and fish might be stish.

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Quick Tips for Short Story Success

(From the Web Editor)

1. The main character should FACE a problem/challenge and not BE the problem. Having a main character who is deeply flawed and whom you will “fix” though the story plot does not work for young people. It feels lecture-some (at worst) and fails to connect with the reader (at best). Like adults, young people like main characters they can relate to and admire. And just like adults, most young people do not consider themselves selfish, mean spirited, or spoiled. Sure, some actually ARE…but they still think of themselves in positive ways. It’s just human nature. So if we create main characters who are selfish, mean spirited or spoiled – we create characters that the reader cannot connect with. And that makes a story fail.

2. The main character should face a problem/challenge that cannot be ignored. Your main character needs to have pressure to act. And since you’re creating an admirable character, the character will act in a way he believes/hopes will solve the problem in a positive way. For instance, if your main character faces the problem of having something in his room in the dark, that’s not something he could ignore. He couldn’t just roll over and think…well, whatever it is, I’ll just ignore it. Kids aren’t wired that way. So he’d have to try to find out what’s in his room and do something about it. So create a problem that forces positive action. And create a character you like enough that you’re first choice for what he/she will do won’t be a spoiled child action.

3. The plot will follow the actions of the main character on the problem. Overcoming must not be easy. The main character needs to pull upon something positive in him/herself in order to solve the problem. He/she may need to be unusually brave, or unusually compassionate, or unusually clever (or some combination thereof). It is by pulling upon that reserve inside him/herself that the main character will grow and change.

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