Answers to Questions About Articles

1. I found the follow information about the indefinite article a in The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary: “used before uncountable nouns when these have an adjective in front of them, or phrase following them. For example, “a good knowledge of French”; “a sadness that won’t go away.” I don’t understand the information. The dictionary says … Read more

Punctuation with Conjunctions

The rules for punctuating in proximity to simple coordinating conjunctions (and, but, and or) are straightforward, but writers can become confused about when and where to put a comma or other punctuation. Sentences that illustrate the basics, and a discussion of each, follow. When a conjunction links an independent clause (one that could stand on … Read more

10 Techniques for More Precise Writing

Here are ten ways to produce more vivid, direct, concise prose by replacing wordy phrases with fewer words and reorganizing sentences. It is not advisable to employ these strategies indiscriminately, but prose will usually be improved by following the recommendations below. 1. Use Active Voice When a sentence includes be or any other copulative verb, … Read more

Amendment and Silent Correction of Quoted Content

What do you do when you wish to incorporate a quotation from another source into your own content, but the quotation includes a flaw in spelling, grammar, or the like, or you want to use the quotation selectively? How and whether you amend quoted material depends on the content and the context. In a formal … Read more

Use Truncated Words with Caution

When is it acceptable to use abbreviated versions of words? The type of publication and the context of the content determine the suitability of truncated words. Some words used in even the most formal writing are shortened versions of words that now seem stiffly pedantic: auto is the first part of automobile, zoo derives from … Read more

Repast and Repaste

The old-fashioned word repast, meaning a meal, is still used by modern speakers, but rarely and self-consciously. Its rarity may explain the fact that many writers who do use it don’t know how to spell it. Here are some examples the misspelling of repast found in print and online: • And don’t the Bedouin fry … Read more

Alleviate vs. Relieve: When a Synonym Isn’t

I recently came across the inappropriate use of alleviate in a mystery novel: the arrest of George Shulan alleviated me from any further duty towards Mrs. Trevelyan; I was free to leave… –Lack of Temperance, Anna Loan-Wilsey, Kensington Books (2012), p. 138. The writer’s meaning is that the speaker has been freed from an obligation. … Read more

7 Types of Headline Headaches

Throughout the history of journalism, headlines have evolved as a method for distilling the content of an article into a handful of words that will draw readers into the piece, and they serve that function for other types of informative content such as newsletters and reports. However, in publications that are not carefully edited, especially … Read more

Answers to Questions About Formatting

Three questions from DailyWritingTips.com readers about various aspects of formatting content, and my responses, follow. 1. Is it bad form to indent the first sentence of an email paragraph? Email programs may not preserve indentations, and using a line space instead makes the format more visually appealing (and the line space and the indentation are … Read more

Avoid Gratuitous Capitalization

As an editor, I devote much of my time and energy to helping a writer bring out the best in his or her prose, but a lot of effort also goes into minor but nagging errors — unnecessary capitalization among them. Long after the Roman alphabet was developed, only one form existed: the capital form. … Read more

30 Idioms About Common Shapes

Figurative references to circles, squares, and triangles turn up in a variety of familiar expressions. Here’s a list of many of those idioms and their meanings. 1. To be a square peg in a round hole is to be someone who doesn’t fit in a particular environment, or in certain circumstances. 2. To go back … Read more

What’s the Difference Between Writing and Editing?

Editing has always been a fundamental component of writing as well as a separate function, but as self-publishing, online and in print, has become ubiquitous, it’s important for writers to realize the distinction. A discussion of the differences may also help you confirm where your strength lies. It is common for people to double up … Read more