The Everyday Blues

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When I was a reporter for a small daily newspaper back in the late 90s, I had an editor whose biggest pet peeve was the misuse of the word “everyday.” His peeve has followed me into my professional life, and I cringe a little every time I see it being used improperly.

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Careful with Technical Terms

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One of the most important things to keep in mind is that your writing must be appropriate for your audience. You have to use terminology that makes sense to your readers.

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Big Words Make You Sound Smart, Don’t They?

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Many people think that they sound smarter when they use big words. The truth of the matter is that smart communicators use words that (a) they understand and (b) their readers are likely to understand.

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Using “a” and “an” Before Words

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Raphael asks: When should I use “a” and when should I use “an” before the different words? For example, should I say “a hour” or “an hour?” I stumble over this everytime and dont’t know if I’m getting it right, as I’m not speaking and writing English natively.

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Multiple Points of Exclamation!!!

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If you want to strongly emphasize a sentence, either because it’s emphatic or humorous, you may sparingly use a exclamation point. But use it sparingly! It’s supposed to express strong emotion. Don’t use more than one at the end of a sentence, unless you’re a strongly-emotional fourteen-year-old girl writing on MySpace.

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I Hate “Kids”

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No, I don’t hate children, young people, babies, infants, toddlers, adolescents, teenagers, or youth. I hate the universal use of the word “kid” or its plural to denote any and all of the categories of juvenile human beings.

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The Right Climate

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With some words, a single letter can completely change the meaning. Take the letter ‘c’ and the words climactic and climatic. There’s not much difference in spelling and the words even sound the same, but there’s a world of difference in meaning.

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Passive Writing

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Some English teachers actively encourage their students to depend on active voice, while others allow their students to depend on passive voice. What’s the difference, and why is the difference important?

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The Elusive Ellipsis

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The ellipsis seems to be one of the most alluring punctuation symbols, and I see it misused everywhere. From student papers to billboards to everyday e-mails and chat logs, the ellipsis is tossed in willy-nilly and often extends to four, five, or even six dots.

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Eliminating Superfluous Phrases

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In classes I have taught, students lean towards using phrases that they think make them “sound smarter” but end up making their work wordy and clunky. By streamlining your sentences and cutting out a few phrases, you can communicate your point much more effectively.

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