This paper is originally from University of Minnesota.
It presents a series of common mistakes that we often make. So have you made any mistakes of them as follows? Whatever it takes, I do. I figure it’s a very good guidance for young researchers who want to publish top papers. I would like to share it with you and have a further discussion with you guy. In the near future, I will also share some articles about writing skills.
This chapter deals briefly with a number of language problems that we as editors seem to encounter again and again. Our suggestions are based on one rule: what we write and edit should be clear and concise.
Misused Words and Expressions
Use words carefully and precisely. The following words and expressions are frequently misused.
Affect, effect.In common usageaffectis always a verb. It is used as a noun only in fields like psychology and psychotherapy.Affectmeansto influence(Enrollment affects tuition) orto make a show of or pretend(She affected cheerfulness to hide her concern).Effectis most often used as a noun. It meansresult(His warning had no effect). As a verb,effectmeansto bring about oraccomplish(We can effect change only through compromise).
A lot, a lot of.These expressions are overused and are too informal in most contexts. Try usingoftenorfrequentlyfora lotand usingmany, a great deal, ormuchfora lotof.There is no such word asalot.
Alright.Many critic say it is wrong. Careful writers spell the expression as two words:all right.Although used less frequently than all right, it is found in journalistic and business publications and is common in fictional dialogue.
Although, though.In most uses these words are interchangeable, but it may be best to begin clauses withalthough,since it is more emphatic, and to usethoughto connect elements within a clause. (Although intelligent, he could not apply himself. She was born of poor though well-educated parents.)
An.Use the articleabefore an initialhpronounced even slightly (a historian, a hypothesis, a horse). Use ofanin such cases is considered affected or archaic in this country.
And.Andorbutmay be used as the first word of a sentence. Both are useful as transitional words between related sentences.
And/or.Don’t use this device; it is appropriate only in legal writing.Andcan sometimes suggestor, and generallyorincludesand. For the rare sentence that requires such a construction, write insteaditem 1, item 2, or both(nottranscripts and/or entrance scores,buttranscripts, entrance scores, or both). As.SeeLike, asandBecause, since, as.
Assure, ensure, insure.All three of these verbs meanto make secure or certain.Ensureandinsureare interchangeable, except thatinsureis generally used in the sense of guaranteeing life or property against risk.Assureis the only one of the three that has the sense of setting a person’s mind at rest. Awhile.Awhileis an adverb.Whileis a noun that often appears in the prepositional phrasefor a while(three words). (I considered awhile,butI considered the matter for a while.)
Because, since, as.Becauseis the most specific of the conjunctions used to express reason or cause. It always indicates an unequivocal causal relationship.Sinceis often a weak form ofbecause. It also contains a notion of duration over time thatbecausedoes not. Usesincewhen the meaning of what follows it is implied by what precedes it. Usingasto meansinceorbecauseis always feeble. It makes whatever follows sound trivial. Avoid this misuse. Substitutefor, since, orbecause, except in those rare cases in which you want to tone down the reason assigned. Between, among.Betweenis the only choice when two persons or objects are involved. It is also proper to usebetweenwhen more than two are involved if you want to express relations taken one pair at a time (Exchanges between the five colleges were not uncommon). Useamongwhen three or more entities are considered collectively and no close relationship is implied (Funds are divided among the eight divisions).
Borrow, lend.Borrowmeansto obtain or receive something on loan.Lendmeansto give out or allow the use of something temporarily.You borrow from but lend to. (In formal writing, always uselendrather thanloanas a verb.)
Bring, take.In the sense of conveying, usebringto indicate movement toward the speaker. It impliescome (here) with.Usetaketo indicate movement away from the speaker. It impliesgo (there) with.You take food to a picnic and bring home leftovers. But.SeeAnd.
Can, may.Usecanto indicate ability to do something andmayto indicate permission to do it. Don’t usecanformay.
Cannot. Usecannotrather thancan not. Compose, comprise.Compriseexpresses the relation of the larger to the smaller, not the other way around (think ofcompriseas meaningto embrace or take in). The whole comprises the parts; the whole is composed of its parts. The parts compose the whole and are comprised in it. Do not usecomprised of;use insteadcompose,constitute, ormake up. (Includeis not a synonym forcomprise, butcomprisehas the sense of inclusion.)
Continual, continuous.Although these words have the same primary meaning, their precise meanings are different. Usecontinualwhen you mean action that is intermittent or repeated at intervals (the continual reminder of gunfire in the distance). Usecontinuouswhen you mean uninterrupted action in time or unbroken extent in space (a continuous stream of marchers). Convince, persuade.Useconvincewiththatorof;usepersuadewithto. (You may be convincedthatorofsomething; you must be persuadedtodo something.) Different from, different than.One thing differs from another.Different thanis incorrect.
Dilemma.Adilemmais a situation that requires one to choose between two equally balanced alternatives. If no suggestion of alternatives is involved, usepredicamentorproblem,
Discover.Do not usediscoverwhen you meandeveloporinvent.Something that was discovered already existed but was unknown.
E.g., i.e.The abbreviatione.g. meansfor example(exempli gratia) and introduces an illustrative instance or a short list of names or other items. The abbreviationi.e. meansthat is(id est)and introduces a repetition in different words of the ideas just discussed, or an amplification that would be appropriate after an ordinarythat is. The two expressions are always set off by commas.
Ensure.SeeAssure, ensure, insure.
Enthused, enthusiastic.Enthuse, a back-formation from enthusiasm, is not considered acceptable in formal writing. Useenthusiasticinstead. (A back-formation is a word invented in the erroneous belief that an existing word is derived from it.)
Etc., et al.In strict usage,et cetera(and the rest)is neuter and so can refer only to things, andet alia (and others)can refer only to persons. Do not end a list of persons withetc.;instead, useand others.Usingetc. at the end of a list introduced byfor example,such as, or a similar expression is also incorrect. (Note: A comma is required afteretc.unless it ends the sentence. Also note thatetdoes not require a period butal.does;etis a word,al.is an abbreviation.)
Fact.Use this word only for matter that can be directly verified, not for matters of judgment. Farther, further.Fartheris best used to indicate distance,furtherto indicate degree. (He ran farther than she did. We discussed the issue further.)
Flammable, inflammable.Both words mean easily ignitable and are interchangeable in their literal sense. Usenonflammableornoncombustibleto describe something that does not burn.
Historic, historical.Usehistoricto describe what is important in or contributes to history (historic walk on the moon; historic meeting of the Allied powers). Usehistoricalto refer more broadly to what is concerned with history (historical play; historical artifacts). Usea, notan,with these words.
Hopefully.It is best used to meanin a hopeful waynotit is to be hopedorlet us hope.Even though it is common in popular usage and conversation, it is unacceptable to many critics and can be ambiguous. Careful writers avoid this usage.
However.Whenhowevermeansnevertheless, avoid using it as the first word of a sentence. For this sense, the word serves better within the sentence. (His condition continued to weaken. At last, however, we saw some improvement.)
Imply, infer.The distinction is as clear as that between give and take.Implyis a word for the transmitting end andinfera word for the receiving end. When you imply, you deliver; when you infer, you draw from. (He implied that he didn’t want to go. From her manner, we inferred that she didn’t want to go.)
Innovation.The root of the wordinnovateis the Latinnovus,meaningnew.Sayingnew innovationis like sayingnew new introduction.
Insure.SeeAssure, ensure, insure. lrregardless.Should beregardless. The negative is expressed by-less;adding the prefixir-makes a double negative.
Its, it’s.Itsis a possessive pronoun parallel tohis, hers, yours, theirs.It’sis a contraction ofit isorit has,not a possessive.
Latter.Latterrefers to the second of two things, not to the last of a series of things. Repeat the necessary information or rewrite the sentence to avoid using this expression; don’t expect your reader to look back to a previous passage.
Lay.SeeLie, lay. Lend. SeeBorrow, lend.
Less, fewer.Lessrefers to quantity (less course work);fewerrefers to number (fewer courses).
Lie, lay.Laymeansto put, place, or prepare. Liemeansto recline or be situated.In senses involving what people do with their bodies, use the formslie(present),lay(past),lain(past participle),lying(present participle). For what people do with objects, uselay(present),laid(past),laid(past participle),laying(present participle).
Like, as.Useasto express in what capacity or role a deed is done; useliketo introduce a comparison. (She acts as a supervisorimplies that she is a supervisor;she acts like a supervisorcompares her to one.) Another clue:likegoverns nouns and pronouns;asintroduces phrases and clauses. Comparisons involving a verb should be introduced withasoras if(I don’t sing as I once did,notI don’t sing like I once did. He carried on as if he were crazy,notHe carried on like he was crazy.) See alsoSuch as.
Orient, orientate.Orientatehas crept into the language, probably as a back-formation from orientation, but it is a superfluous word. Save a syllable and useorient. Persons, people.Usepersonswhen you mean individuals with identities; usepeoplewhen you mean a large and anonymous mass. (People can be pushed only so far. She was one of those persons who can cope with pressure.)
Persuade. SeeConvince, persuade. Presently.In modern usage,presentlyis best used to meanin a short time. Useat present,now, orcurrentlyto meanat this time.
Relatively.Userelativelyonly when there is a clearly implied or expressed comparison.
Respective, respectively.These words are meaningless unless they clarify a direct correspondence between one series and another. Use them only when necessary. (The departments are listed under their colleges,notThe departments are listed under their respective colleges.)
Since.SeeBecause, since, as.
Such as.Such asandlikeare close in meaning, but there is a distinction worth noting.Such assuggests an indefinite group of objects;likesuggests a closer resemblance among the things compared (significant events in history, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the Norman Conquest, . . . , but tangible benefits like good pay and sick leave).
That, which.Thatis a restrictive, or defining, pronoun; it introduces a phrase or clausethat is essential to the meaning of the sentence.Whichis a nonrestrictive, or descriptive, pronoun; the phrase or clause it introduces,which is usually set off by commas,could be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Till.Not an abbreviation ofuntil, so never write ’til.Tillis a word in its own right. Toward, towards.Towardis preferred. Type.Avoid combiningtypewith a noun to create a compound adjective (hippie-type students). Use such a compound only when the reference is technical or at least highly specific. (Note: In nontechnical writing, usetypeto refer to specific categories andkindorsortto refer to more general groupings: that type of therapy; that kind of problem.)
Underway, under way.Always two words as an adverb (meaningin motion or operation; started).Spelled as one word as an adjective, but its use as an adjective (underway refueling) is extremely limited.
Unique.Don’t use qualifiers (more, most, less) withunique.It meanswithout equalorthe only one of its kind. Utilize.In most cases,useis preferable toutilize,Utilizesuggests putting an object or material to a new or expanded use.
Very.Use this word sparingly. Instead, use words that are strong in themselves.
Whether or not.Usually you can omit theor notto advantage (or substituteiffor the whole phrase). If, however, your intention is to give equal stress to the alternative, theor notis necessary. (I will finish the project whether he gives his approval or not.)
While.Don’t use this word to meanalthough,whereas,and, orbut, and don’t use it where only a semicolon is necessary.Whilemeansduring the time thatand should be used to link simultaneous occurrences in instances in which simultaneity is part of the point. Be especially careful not to usewhilewhen times mentioned in the sentence are expressly stated to be different. (Although [notwhile] days were warm, evenings were often chilly. Several of the female graduate students were from other countries, whereas [notwhile] all the males were Americans.) Who, whom.Usewhowhen it functions as the subject or as a predicate after some form of the verbto be. Usewhomas an object of a verb or preposition or as the subject of a complementary infinitive (the woman whom I took to be your sister). When you are unsure about which to use, try substituting a personal pronoun (he/sheorher/him) in the sentence. Ifhe or sheis correct, usewho;ifhimorheris correct, usewhom.Usewhoandwhomwhen referring to persons. Usethatandwhichwhen referring to animals and inanimate objects. -wise.Adding the suffix-wiseto a word is almost never appropriate (Contentwise the class was interesting). Avoid it.
Use singular verbs and pronouns with collective nouns (class, committee, crowd, faculty, family, group, jury, staff, team, etc.). (The class of ’38 is holding its reunion in the Campus Club. The team of 12 regulars was honored Saturday.)
Plurals regarded as a unit become collectives and take singular verbs.
A thousand gallons were produced. (individual gallons)
A thousand gallons is a good supply. (a unit)
Cheese and crackers are popular snack foods. (individual items)
Cheese and crackers makes a nutritious snack. (a unit)
Made-up Words and Words in Vogue
Do not create your own words, and try to avoid using words that are currently in vogue. The following are considered inappropriate in formal writing; their use invites criticism.
Expressing Coordinate Ideas in Parallel Form
Express coordinate ideas in parallel form. The principle of parallel construction requires that expressions that are similar in content and function be expressed similarly. In a series, then, follow the pattern 1, 2, and 3, not 1, 2, and A.
She enjoys golf, tennis, and finding the time to play volleyball.
She enjoys golf, tennis, and volleyball.
She enjoys having the time to play golf, tennis, and volleyball.
The same principle applies to phrases or sentences in a series.
Students who apply should:
take the entrance exam-
ination before August 15
take the entrance exam-
ination before August 15
complete an application form
complete an application form
three letters of recommendation are required
submit three letters of recommendation
Express similar ideas within a sentence in the same form.
IncorrectEric was thinking about the date of his orals and that he must work harder on his dissertation.
CorrectEric was thinking about the date of his orals and the need to work harder on his dissertation.
Correlative expressions should be followed by parallel phrases or clauses. Rearrange the sentence if necessary.
both . . . and
not . . . but
not only . . . but also
first, second, third
Either you must reapply
immediately or wait another year.
You must either reapply immediately or wait another year.
She objected not only to the screening procedures but also because no interviews were given.
She objected not only to the screening procedures but also to the lack of interviews.