Laurie Endicott Thomas, MA, ELS
Author of Not Trivial: How Studying the Traditional Liberal Arts Can Set You Free
My AMWA Journal column In the Service of Good Writing teaches you how to use some basic principles from grammar and linguistics to improve your writing. The first step in improving your writing is to learn how to choose the right words. To do that, you need to learn how to make full use out of your dictionary. In my article Definitions: How to Say What You Mean (Vol 30, No. 2), I explain the different kinds of definitions, such as dictionary definitions, stipulative definitions, and Socratic definitions. I explain that you should make sure that you understand the meanings of the words that you use, and that you should make your intended meanings clear to your readers.
In the very first installment of In the Service of Good Writing (Vol. 25, No. 3), I explained the problem of misplaced prepositional phrases. Some prepositional phrases can be either adjectival or adverbial. If you put a potentially adjectival prepositional phrase after a noun, that phrase will sound as if it is modifying that noun, whether you want it to or not. Likewise, if you put an adjectival phrase at the beginning of a sentence, it will sound as if it is modifying the subject, whether you want it to or not. In the article, I give some simple pointers for where to put prepositional phrases, so that your sentences will say what you want them to say.
And here’s a final secret every writer should know. In Watch Out for -ing! (Vol 30, No. 1), I explain how to use your word processor’s find and replace feature to highlight all of the instances of the character string ing. This will highlight every single present participle in English. I then explain how to tell if the participle is dangling, and how to fix it if it is.