3 Types of Headings

Headings are second-generation headlines, words or phrases that introduce sections of a piece of content and thus help a writer organize the content into smaller components. This post describes three categories of headings and their functions. 1. Question Headings A question heading, as you might have guessed, is a heading in the interrogative case. A … Read more

Compound Terms That Start with “Half”

By now, you have observed that compounds of two words can be closed, like paperback, hyphenated, like light-year, or open, like “ice cream.” This inconsistency (sometimes persisting, sometimes differing as the prevailing style changes) is one of the maddening vagaries of the English language, but the puzzlement intensifies when the style differs even among compounds … Read more

More Answers to Questions About Punctuation

Here are my responses to three recent queries from readers about various punctuation matters. 1. In the sentence “I went to school, although I was feeling ill,” is the comma correct, or is it optional where the meaning is clear? Most subordinating conjunctions require no preceding comma (for example, consider sentences in which before, if, … Read more

5 Uses of Infinitives

An infinitive is a phrase, consisting of the word to and the basic form of a verb, that functions as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Here’s a discussion of the five types of infinitives. 1. Subject An infinitive can constitute the subject of a sentence. For example, in “To go, even after all … Read more

3 More Misplaced Modifiers

Additional information must be placed carefully in a sentence to ensure that it is associated with the correct part of the sentence. Here are three sentences with misplaced modifiers, plus discussions and revisions. 1. “John Smith was the school’s first Lombardi Award winner in 1979, given to college football’s best lineman.” This sentence implies that … Read more

Proper Punctuation for Appositive Phrases

When two terms that mean the same thing are introduced in succession in a sentence, careless writers, by omitting a crucial comma, often imply that the definition of the terms is in fact distinct. Here are some examples of misleading statements, plus discussions and revisions. 1. “Sunlight is a mixture of different colors or wavelengths, … Read more

5 Tips on How to Run a Writing Group

You’ve got your writing group up and running. All the hard work’s over, right? Wrong. Just like any smooth-running machine, a writing group requires maintenance. Here are some tips for tender, loving care: 1. Construct Criticism Model proactive and up-front critiquing etiquette. Advise everyone to start positive with a compliment, then offer honest but objective, … Read more

Book Review: “The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation”

No one writing handbook or grammar guide should suffice for careful writers, and though Jane Straus’s The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is less comprehensive than some other resources, its large-format workbook approach provides a reader-friendly introduction to the intricacies of proper prose. Straus was still a college student when she began her career … Read more

7 Tips for Brainstorming

Whether you’re trying to develop the topic of an essay or the plot of a short story, or you and some of your colleagues have been assigned to propose an idea for a product or a project, a brainstorming session is a means to a successful outcome. Here are some tips for the brainstorming session’s … Read more

3 Problems of Parallel Structure

Faulty combination of elements in sentences is a common syntactical flaw. Here are three examples of this type of organizational error. 1. “She is bright, creative, and has much to share.” This sentence, in which the predicate includes two adjectives following a verb, then a conjunction and a verb phrase, is out of balance. The … Read more

More Answers to Questions About Capitalization

Here are several questions that have come up recently from readers about capitalization, followed by my responses. 1. Are seasons proper nouns? Although people often capitalize the names of seasons — especially in academic contexts, such as in “Fall Semester” and the like, or in reference to quarterly publications, such as in “the Summer 2013 … Read more

Writing for the Web

People read online for the same reasons that they read print documents: to obtain information or knowledge, to complete forms and applications, or to be entertained. The key difference, however, between habits of print readers and online readers is that online readers are more likely than print readers to be researching, not reading. Here are … Read more