Tag Archives: Writers Resources

The Best Infographic Ever on 15 Common Grammar Mistakes

I know, grammar is nobody’s favourite topic. Most people probably never studied it at school (not their fault, ok), and often we don’t really care what’s right and what’s wrong as long as our message gets across. Fine.

The point is, however, that the way we write says a lot about the type of person we are. In my view, this is particularly true in academia, and for anyone who writes in a (semi-)professional way.

Say, for example, you are writing a thesis. If you cannot be bothered to check that your grammar is right, what does it say about the quality of everything else you have put down there? Can people trust that your results are correct? Or should they wonder whether you have applied the same level of carelessness in your numbers too?

Interestingly, I have found that most common grammar mistakes are very easy to spot and to correct. I have been mulling for a while about creating a list of the 10 most common mistakes and give it away as a freebie (yes, one of those free gifts you get in exchange of your email). Well, I haven’t. Instead, I have come across this fantastic Infographic from one of my favourite blogs of all time: Copyblogger. And I thought this was just too good not to share!

So here it is. Make sure you come back here often and revisit it every time you are in doubt whether you should write its or it’s, their or they’re. Better even, print the infographic and post it where you can see it well and often enough. Oh, and by the way, if you like it, please  share it further. You know how. The buttons are below.

Happy writing! 🙂

15 Grammar Goofs That Make You Look Silly
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PS Do you have other juicy mistakes you often come across? Let us know about them and share them with us!

City Maps and Theses Layouts

If you have been travelling to some new place this summer, chances are you will have planned your route before setting off and will have studied the map carefully to find out how to get there. If your destination was a city you had never visited before, you will have explored the city’s map to get a feeling of its layout. How do you get to the city centre? Where are its most important monuments located? How to find that famous restaurant? Most of this information will be in your map and you’ll need it if you want to avoid feeling lost.

The same holds true for any piece of writing. When you hold a thesis or a report in your hands, what you want to get at first is a sense of orientation, a bigger picture. What is the report about? Why should I read it? What can I expect to find in it? You need a map to show you how to get to its core, how to figure out what its most important conclusions are, and how to retrieve any key references cited throughout.  Without a proper map to indicate you where to go, you will soon feel lost and unsure about what you are doing in there (metaphorically speaking, of course).

So, now, imagine you are a writer. What do you think your readers will expect? That’s right! They’ll want a map. So, how do you provide one? There are various things you can do. Here are just some ideas:

  • Include a Table of Content. Whether your script is a 6-page document or a 150-page PhD thesis, a ToC will be extremely useful to see at once where to find what.
  • Use sections and sub-sections. These do not have to be pages and pages long. It is enough to make sure they have a core message that justifies a dedicated section or sub-section to it.
  • Choose titles wisely. Ideally, short is better, but there is no point in having something like “Introduction”, “Methods”, “Data Analysis”, or similar even if this is precisely what the sections/chapters are about. Use titles that are more specific to the content they refer to and make them more interesting and engaging to your reader.
  • Highlight key concepts, as appropriate. Here you are spoilt for choice: underline, use bold typeface, frame in boxes,

centre,

     basically anything that makes the concept stand out.

  • Spell out the conclusions of what you have been presenting thus far. Again, this can be achieved visually by using a stand-alone paragraph, maybe in italics and possibly preceded by its obvious signpost conclusions:
  • Does your investigation still leave open questions? Group them all in an outstanding issues paragraph.
  • Use pictures, plots, graphs, and tables wherever possible and make sure they are clear and informative and can stand alone (without your reader having to go through the entire text to find out what they are about).

By now, the bottom line of this post should be clear:

Do everything you can to make sure your reader does not have to think too much or look too hard to find out the information he is after.

Ultimately, if he likes the place and knows how to get there, chances are (s)he’ll come back for more.

What elements do you use to map out your writing? Leave a reply and share with us.

My Number One Secret to Become a Better Writer

Become a better reader! As simple as that.

We often take it for granted. When reading an article, a paper, a blog post, we focus on content. Is the information relevant to us? Do we get the answers we were looking for? Do we agree with the opinions expressed? This is all very important indeed.

Occasionally, we may even go as far as thinking, almost subconsciously, that we like what we are reading or, perhaps, that we don’t. But even then, I doubt we ever pause for a moment to find out exactly what we like about the piece, or why we seem to find it so hard to read and understand.

We also forget that what we are reading may have taken the author a considerable amount of time to write. So, for example, a paper in a refereed journal may have undergone a large number of iterations before appearing in its beautiful final form. No wonder then that we feel frustrated if we fail to produce the perfect piece straight away.

Yet, as I teach in my Hands on Writing Workshops, there are several things that we can do to improve our own writing. Becoming a better reader is most definitely one of them.

If you too are struggling to become a better writer, here is what you can do as a reader:

Focus on the structure. Sometimes, the structure is clearly sign-posted by sections and sub-sections and is easy to recognise. However, even when sections are not there (for example, in the Letter format of a paper), there will nevertheless be a structure. The structure forms the underlying skeleton of your writing, without which the whole piece would fall apart.

Work out the function of each sentence in a paragraph. This can be trickier to see at first, but with some practice you may start recognising a common pattern in the same sections (for example, the introduction, or the methodology, or the discussion) of different articles. This is because scientific writing ultimately follows a well-prescribed set of “rules”.

Pay attention to the ways in which sentences are connected to one another. Connectors such as “however”, “although”, “therefore” and the like are very powerful ways of alerting the reader to a change of direction (or indeed the reinforcement of one). However (!), more subtle links can be created by overlap (repeating something said in previous sentences), pronouns or relative clauses, or even the wise use of punctuation.

Notice the use of verb tenses. Reporting on research carried out is normally done in past tenses. At times, however, the present tense might be used instead. Ask yourself why that is the case. Is the author trying to imply something without saying so explicitely? Try and pick up the nuances of the language by reading between the lines.

Read the captions. Figures and Tables are meant to stand alone so that the reader can get the gist without having to read the whole paper. So, pay attention to the way in which captions are written. What type of information is given? How well is the figure or table described?

And finally, remember, writing well takes time and it does not come easily to most of us.  But we are all readers before being writers, and learning to read well can can do wonders in teaching us to write well.

PS. What is your number one secret to become a better writer? Leave a comment to share.