50 Types of Propaganda

Are you a propagandist? If you write nonfiction intended to persuade, yes, by a broad definition, you almost certainly are. Here are fifty terms for, and definitions of, forms of propaganda, at least one of which such writers will likely employ in a given piece of content. Propaganda (the word is from a New Latin … Read more

9 Types of Functional Variation

Usually, we easily identify a word’s part of speech, but a given word’s grammatical category can shift, or one form of the word can differ in meaning from another, in a process called functional variation. For example, note the change in meaning of fly in the following sentences: “He caught a fly” (noun), “He caught … Read more

How to Identify People by Name

How does one introduce a person in narrative nonfiction? What is the style for subsequent references to that person? It all depends on the circumstances of the person and of the content. In biographical content, it is common to name someone on first reference by birth name, including middle name(s) and independent suffixes such as … Read more

Answers to Questions About Subject-Verb Agreement

The agreement in number between subjects and verbs is often straightforward, but exceptions abound. Here are some readers’ questions about subject-verb agreement, and my responses and explanations. 1. Which verb form is correct — singular or plural — when using an optional plural: “The attached form(s) is provided for you to list the accounts you … Read more

What Is a Subordinate Clause?

A subordinate clause, also called a dependent clause, consists of information to be combined with a main clause to form a single sentence. It resembles a main clause except for the presence of a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun, either of which renders it subordinate. Here are some guidelines about its use. To convey … Read more

12 Terms for Tests and Related Expressions

What’s the difference between an acid test and a litmus test? Can you test-drive something that can’t be driven, or test-fire something that can’t be fired? Here are literal and figurative definitions of some phrases that include the word test. 1. Acid test: a chemical test used to distinguish gold from other metals; by analogy, … Read more

A Parenthetical Puzzle

Writers sometimes trip themselves up when they try to introduce a parenthetical element in a sentence without ensuring that the main clause of the sentence remains grammatically coherent. Here’s a troublesome example of this type of error, with a discussion of possible revisions. In the sentence “Smith was one of, if not the first, female … Read more

10 Points About Possessives

Writers are often challenged by the details of producing singular and possessive forms, but dealing with less common possessive variations can be downright vexing. Here are guidelines about additional possessive constructions. 1. Absolute Possessives His, hers, its, theirs, ours, mine, and yours, which are termed absolute possessives because, unlike their simple possessive versions (for example, … Read more

Shift Syntax to Strengthen Sentences

English syntax is flexible, enabling writers to shape a given sentence in various ways, and we should take advantage of this lack of rigidity to enhance the impact of our statements. Here are several sentences that benefit from rearrangement. 1. “Complex adaptive systems can respond more quickly the more complex they are.” This sentence is … Read more

The Rationale for the Serial Comma

Do you employ a serial comma — the final comma in a sentence such as “I bought one apple, two bananas, and three oranges”? If your work for or with a business or organization involves publishing content in print or online, that decision has been made (or should have been made) for you in a … Read more

What Is a Clause?

A clause is a statement or a question that generally consists of a subject and a verb phrase and constitutes a complete thought. Sentences can consist of a single clause, but they often include two: a main, or independent, clause and a subordinate, or dependent, clause. A main clause can form a complete sentence. (The … Read more

The Reality of Freelance Writing

A recent Craigslist job posting invites readers to apply to write twenty or more 1,000-word online-marketing articles per week. The pay rate? Twenty dollars per article to start, thirty dollars each after the first ten articles, and forty or fifty dollars apiece after a couple of weeks. The compensation for this work, after the initial … Read more