Tài liệu Guide to good writing

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The task of writing, that is, of producing a written document of some description – is like many other tasks: what we tend to think of as the whole is in fact only a part. If the talk of tasks and burdens suggests that writing is all labor and no reward, then let it be said that there is as much satisfaction and pleasure to be gained THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING The task of writing, that is, of producing a written document of some description – is like many other tasks: what we tend to think of as the whole is in fact only a part. If the talk of tasks and burdens suggests that writing is all labor and no reward, then let it be said that there is as much satisfaction and pleasure to be gained from writing as from the exercise of any other skill. The task of writing, that is, of producing a THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING MARTIN H. MANSER DAVID H. PICKERING and STEPHEN CURTIS Associate Editors THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING Copyright © 2006 by Martin H. Manser All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher. For information contact: Facts On File, Inc. An imprint of Infobase Publishing 132 West 31st Street New York NY 10001 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Manser, Martin H. The Facts On File guide to good writing / Martin H. Manser. p. cm. Includes index. ISBN 0-8160-5526-2 (acid-free paper) 1. English language—Composition and exercises—Study and teaching (Elementary) 2. English language—Grammar—Study and teaching (Elementary) I. Title: Guide to good writing. II. Title. LB1576.M3775 2005 372.62'3—dc22 2004026990 Facts On File Books are available at special discounts when purchased in bulk quantities for businesses, associations, institutions or sales promotions. Please call our Special Sales Department in New York at (212) 967-8800 or (800) 322-8755. You can find Facts On File on the World Wide Web at http://www.factsonfile.com Text design by Erika K. Arroyo Cover design by Cathy Rincon Printed in the United States of America VB FOF 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 This book is printed on acid-free paper. CONTENTS Introduction ix PART I THE WRITING PROCESS ✒ ✒ Introduction The Four Stages of the Writing Process 1 Preparing to Write ✒ Thinking and Researching ✒ Paraphrasing and Summarizing ✒ Quotations ✒ Thinking and Researching: An Overview ✒ Planning ✒ Planning: An Overview 2 Writing Your Document ✒ Getting Started ✒ Your Authorial Voice ✒ Composition: Paragraphs ✒ Writing: An Overview 3 Revising Your Document ✒ How to Revise ✒ Revision Checklist ✒ An Example of Revising a Text ✒ Checking for Consistency ✒ Proofreading ✒ References ✒ Revision: An Overview 3 4 7 7 22 29 36 36 47 48 48 54 63 71 72 72 74 75 86 88 89 92 PART II WRITING FUNDAMENTALS ✒ Introduction 4 Grammar ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ Introduction Nouns Adjectives Determiners Verbs Adverbs Pronouns Prepositions Conjunctions Phrases, Clauses, and Sentences Reporting Speech 5 Words in Use ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ Introduction Vocabulary Spelling Prefixes and Suffixes Foreign Words and Phrases Abbreviations and Symbols Numbers Sensitive Terms Slang 95 97 97 98 109 114 115 132 135 141 144 148 167 171 171 171 176 185 193 202 217 219 227 6 Words Often Confused 229 7 Punctuation 337 ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ Introduction Punctuation Marks Apostrophe Capital Letters Colon Comma Dash Ellipsis Exclamation Point Hyphen Italics Paragraph 337 338 338 340 340 342 347 348 349 350 352 353 ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ Parentheses and Brackets Period Question Mark Quotation Marks Semicolon Slash 8 Reference Resources ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ ✒ Introduction Dictionaries Thesauri Other Reference Books Electronic Reference Sources 9 Glossary of Grammatical Terms Index 353 354 355 356 358 359 360 360 360 361 362 363 365 383 INTRODUCTION E verywhere in the modern world the emphasis is on speed, and nowhere have things moved faster than in communications. Messages travel at the speed of light, and we humans seem to feel that we have to imitate the wonderful machines that flash our words around the globe in fractions of a second. We have become a race of scribblers, jotting memos, punching in text messages, rushing off e-mails, and dashing off quick “Happy Birthday” or “Thank You” cards, often not worrying much whether what we write gets our message across or even makes sense. Fewer and fewer of us, it seems, take the time to write properly. Fewer and fewer of us perhaps know how to write properly. Fashions in the teaching of English have changed over the years, and we can easily find that we have finished our education but have never grasped the principles of correct English. Then the day comes when we have to write an important letter, prepare a speech or presentation, or hand in an essay or assignment, and suddenly we are at a loss. Are you unsure about how to write good, clear English? If you are, this book has been specifically designed to help you. It comes in two major sections: Chapters 1 to 3, of Part I, deal with the writing process itself; chapters 4 to 9, which make up Part II, deal with grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation. Some writing manuals begin with grammar and then move on to discuss writing. The authors of this book believe, however, that it is better to get something down on paper in draft form first and to polish up the grammar afterward, hence the placement of the “Preparing to Write,” “Writing Your Document,” and “Revising Your Document” chapters at the beginning. These chapters treat writing as a task that can be divided into manageable parts: thinking, researching, and planning; writing; and revising. Each of these activities is explained in detail with the help of examples. In order to write good English, however, we also need to be aware of the rules that govern the use of words and the construction of sentences. The later chapters therefore contain a review of grammar, a discussion of how words are formed and used in practice, advice on sensitive language issues, a list of words that are often confused (“Is it continual or continuous?”), and ix x THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING a guide to punctuation (“Where do I put a comma?”). The book concludes with information about additional reference tools to help with problems of grammar and vocabulary and a glossary of grammatical terms. There are two ways of finding what you need within the pages of this book. If you want help with a general topic (for example, planning, summarizing, verbs, spelling, or commas), you can find your way to the relevant section either through the Table of Contents or the Index. If you are unsure about how to use a particular word, for example, whether you should use affect or effect, then you can look up either of these words in the Index, where you will be directed to the page where the usage of the word or words in question is discussed. So, if you are faced with a particular task, such as writing a formal letter, a report, or an assignment, then you will find help here. If you need to develop your understanding of the basic rules of English grammar, punctuation, spelling, or usage, all the information and guidance you need is provided. The authors hope that you will find this book a useful, practical—and at times perhaps even inspiring—guide to writing good English. Martin H. Manser David H. Pickering Stephen Curtis Part I THE WRITING PROCESS INTRODUCTION The purpose of this section is to guide you through the process of producing a written document that will say what you want it to say and achieve the purpose that you want it to achieve. This book starts from the assumption that writing belongs in the category of basic tasks—that it is on a similar level to, say, cooking or driving. Just as most people ought to be able to drive a car or cook an egg, because ordinary living is a lot more complicated if they cannot perform these simple tasks for themselves, so most people ought to take the time to acquire the rudiments of writing. There are, of course, people who are born with a natural talent for writing and people who write for a living. When we call someone “a writer,” we usually mean that he or she is a journalist or an author. But there are a great many people, too, who are natural-born cooks or who earn their daily bread baking bread for others, and there are just as many who support their families by driving trucks, limousines, or even racing cars. The existence of experts and professionals does not exempt the rest of us from learning the basic skills that they have developed to a particularly high degree. This is as true of writing as it is of any similar activity. Writing skills can be learned. There are well-established procedures that can be followed when you are preparing or composing a document. This part of the book will familiarize you with those skills and procedures and help you to undertake this basic process with more than merely basic equipment. When we analyze any process from beginning to end, breaking it down into its different stages and discussing each of those stages in some detail, the analysis is likely to make the process seem more extended and elaborate than it generally is in real life. That does not mean that the process is in itself especially complicated, mysterious, or intimidating. Explaining even the most basic task usually takes longer than actually performing it. Furthermore, not all the procedures outlined in the following pages will be relevant to every writing task you face. Common sense will tell you—if the clock and your schedule do not—how much time and effort you should expend on a particular writing task. Common sense will likewise tell you which procedures are relevant to even the most minor compositional duties and which will be most useful to you personally. Your own habits, strengths, and weaknesses will probably make you want to concentrate on some aspects of the writing process more than others. Everything dealt with in this section of the book, however, is worth looking into for the day when you are suddenly confronted with the job of composing that vital letter, report, or assignment that presents far more of a challenge to your authorial know-how than an everyday memo or set of notes. It is worth considering the writing process as a whole, in case you can pick up any tips that will lighten your particular 3 4 THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING burden, or in case something stated here points out a bad writing habit that could be replaced by a better one. If the talk of tasks and burdens suggests that writing is all labor and no reward, then let it be said that there is as much satisfaction and pleasure to be gained from writing as from the exercise of any other skill. Cooks who produce perfect omelets or drivers who take hairpin turns smoothly and without unnerving their passengers have a right to feel pleased with themselves. So do people who write well. And their efforts are just as likely to be appreciated. THE FOUR STAGES OF THE WRITING PROCESS The task of writing is like many other tasks: What we tend to think of as the whole is in fact only a part. Just as building a wall involves more than laying bricks in rows and cementing them together with mortar, so writing involves more than filling a screen or a sheet of paper with words. That is the main part, the crucial part, perhaps, but we neglect the other parts at our peril. As with so many other jobs, the before and the after in writing are as important as the central act. An old saying states that composition is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. This is distressingly true, but there are more useful and relevant ways of working out the percentages. The average writing task can be broken down roughly as follows: 50 percent preparation, 25 percent creation, and 25 percent revision. On that basis, we may even have to change our view of what constitutes the main part of the task. However small the job, time spent thinking, planning, and researching before you sit down at your desk to begin your text is anything but wasted time. The better prepared you are, the easier it will be to find the right words to put across your point. This is an obvious fact, but so often disregarded. Likewise, when you write “The end” for the first time or come to the point where you would normally add your signature, the task is still not finished. Since Greek and Roman times, experienced creative writers have urged their disciples to “polish”—that is, to revise and perfect—everything they write. “Polissez-le sans cesse, et le repolissez,” said the French classical poet Nicolas Boileau. We might freely translate his advice as “Polish your work nonstop, and then sit right down and polish it again.” Even if you are not aiming at classical perfection, you will need to look over your work carefully and revise it. Word-processing spell-check programs only check your spelling; they do not edit your work. They cannot tell you that your work would benefit from a little shortening here and a little filling out there. If you can persuade a candid (and literate) friend to look over what you have written, so much the better, because fresh eyes often spot what familiarized eyes slide over. But even if you have such a friend, and he or she has time available, the final responsibility is yours. It would be a pity if the 75 percent (of preparation and creation) were spoiled because you omitted to pay sufficient attention to the final 25 percent (revision). In a nutshell, then, the four stages of the writing process are • • Thinking and researching Planning INTRODUCTION • • 5 Writing Revising These four stages do not always separate so neatly in practice. While you are thinking, researching, or planning, a way of formulating a point may occur to you, and instead of writing a note, you may find yourself writing a paragraph that you will incorporate, unchanged, into your final version. Many people revise as they go along or find that they have to get a particular section just right before they can continue confidently with the rest of a piece of work. Some people are terrified by a blank screen or a blank piece of paper and have to be fully prepared before they can make the first stroke. Other people are deterred not by the blankness of a screen or paper but by a mental blankness that afflicts them if they try to think about a task in the abstract. Such people may need to start writing before they can start thinking. Common sense and experience will soon show you what works best for you. There is no substitute, in the end, for learning by doing. This book calls itself a Guide to Good Writing, and you should use this section as a guide rather than as an inflexible set of rules. The order presented above, however, is the logical order—the order in which an organized person would set about the task. And the more organized you are, the better, especially if you are facing a deadline. Allow yourself as much time as you can, and divide the time you have appropriately, remembering especially to leave yourself sufficient time to revise and correct your work at the end. In the next three chapters, we will look at these four stages in more detail. 1 term paper, or written project depends not only on the Preparing to Write THINKING AND RESEARCHING The writing process starts in your head. It may seem a little pedantic to elevate thinking into a separate stage of the process, but how can you start writing until you know what you want to write? Besides, the great advantage of writing as a means of communication is that you have time to consider carefully what you are going to communicate. When you communicate in conversation, generally speaking, you have to make things up as you go along. There are several disadvantages to writing something as opposed to saying it, and we shall consider these later, but one distinct advantage is you do not have to put down on paper the first thing that comes to mind. Use that advantage. Remember also that the first virtue in writing of any kind is clarity. Clear writing comes first and foremost from clear thinking. Thinking There are three questions that you have to think about. You must answer these for yourself before you go any further. • • • What kind of document am I writing? What am I writing about? Whom am I writing to or for? The nature of the piece of work you have in hand—school assignment, letter, report—will affect the way you style what you write. The status of the reader you have in mind—instructor, friend, child, boss—will also partly determine the style you choose. The nature of the text and the identity of the reader also have a bearing on the type of information that you put into your writing and may have to be assembled beforehand. Statistics may be useful for some purposes, for example. Detailed descriptions of objects, scenes, or processes may be required. You may be expected to quote from literary or scientific works, and if you use quotations, then you will also be expected to provide some kind of referencing system. The clearer you are about the kind of task you are engaged in, the easier it will be to prepare for it and accomplish it. In many instances somebody else will have set you a particular writing task. If so, this person will probably have defined the task for you. In many cases, however, you will be writing on your own initiative, so you must define 7 8 THE FACTS ON FILE GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING the task for yourself. Consider carefully the three questions listed above. When you have found answers to them, you should be in a position to produce a concise statement of what you intend to do, what we might call, adopting business terminology, a “mission statement.” THE TASK DEFINED: THE MISSION STATEMENT Your “mission statement” should be no more than a brief note that sums up your purpose in writing. Whether you write it down or keep it in your head will depend on your personal preferences and your power of memory, but it is generally safer to jot down thoughts and ideas and have them as a visual aid. For example, Talk to be given to members of Ultraville Rotary Club on chairman and treasurer’s visit to Rotary Club of Infraham, VA, and arrangements for return visit of Infraham R.C. officers or, Short story for Ladyfriend magazine based on incident at bowling alley last Saturday night: main character, Lucia, 40s, 3 kids, meets younger man or, Brief explanatory statement for department colleagues about reasons for opposing proposed relocation from downtown premises to new greenfield site Your mission statement is for your eyes only. So long as it is clear to you what kind of piece you intend to produce, what it is about, and what kind of readership you are targeting, it does not matter at this stage if an outsider would understand it or not. For example, you know what happened at the bowling alley and what kind of person Lucia is; the rest of the world will find out in due course. The purpose of the mission statement, whether mental or written down, is twofold. First, it provides you with your initial impetus: You have defined your task, so now you can set about doing it. Second, as you proceed, or when you reach the end, it enables you to check that you are doing, or have done, what you set out to do. Once you have established the basic nature of your undertaking, it is time to begin assembling your material. MORE THINKING Everything you write—whatever it is, whatever it is about, whomever it is intended for—should contain something that comes uniquely and individually from you. If you are intending to write something fairly brief, there is a good chance that your own knowledge, experiences, and ideas will provide you all the material that you need. You simply have to set your memory to work and PREPARING TO WRITE 9 use your reason and your imagination to put the material into a proper order. The document will, as a consequence, bear your personal stamp. Even if your task is to write something more extensive, and even if you realize from the outset that your existing personal resources will not be sufficient to provide everything you require, your personal input in the form of your individual approach to the topic is still going to be the freshest and most valuable element in the piece. If you are starting from scratch and have undertaken to write on a subject you know little or nothing about, you will need to establish a connection with that subject or else your work will be very heavy going, both for you and for your reader. Whatever the situation, therefore, in order to supply the vital personal touch you will need to do some creative thinking before you begin any research. The process of creative thinking is not easy to describe and cannot really be done to order. At this point you will have to use up some of your allotted 10 percent of inspiration. A certain amount of free association is called for. What does the topic mean to you? What sort of ideas or images does it call up for you? What do you immediately and naturally connect with it? If someone said X to you, what would your first thought or your first reaction be? Remember, too, that ideas do not have to come in the form of statements. If they come in the form of questions, they can be equally, if not more, useful. List the basic question words—who, why, how, what, when, where, and which—and apply them to your topic. If you know little or nothing about a subject, ask yourself what you would like to know. If you are already familiar with it, ask yourself what it is that particularly interests you. Consider why something happened, or if the time and place at which it happened were significant. Think whether you know precisely how something happened or how something is done, and whether it is worth finding out. Do not be afraid to ask yourself apparently obvious or stupid questions. The answers may be less obvious, self-evident, or irrelevant than you think. In posing these questions you may come across an entirely new angle on the subject that nobody else has thought of because the answer was assumed to be a foregone conclusion. Why did the dog not bark in the night? wondered Sherlock Holmes, and the answer provided the key to the mystery. Why are there subtle differences between the finches on the various islands in the Galapagos? asked Charles Darwin; working out the answer was a milestone in the development of his theory of evolution. How many children had Lady Macbeth? queried the literary critic F. R. Leavis, not intending to throw new light on the play so much as to deride a previous school of critics whose method was to treat Shakespeare’s characters as if they were real people. Any student of Macbeth might nevertheless find it interesting to consider Leavis’s “stupid” question, for Lady Macbeth says, “I have given suck and know / How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me,” yet in the play there is no sign that children feature in the home life of the Macbeths. Does this tell us something about the characters and situation of the Macbeth couple, or is it an inconsistency on Shakespeare’s part that tells us more about his priorities when devising a play? Wrestling with—or simply letting your mind play with—questions such as these can often arouse your interest and set your creativity to work. In order to illustrate this stage of proceedings, let us now turn to a concrete example. Let us assume that you have been asked, or have decided, to
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