User:OrenBochman/Improve prose

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Improving Prose[edit]

This article is primarily aimed at nominators of featured article candidates, but may be useful for editors of other Wikipedia articles.

Wikipedia's featured article criteria are demanding requirements to ensure that featured articles (FAs) are of the highest quality. The criteria have a powerful effect on Wikipedia, because FAs set the standards for all articles. Criterion 1a states that FAs are "well written"—that the prose is "engaging, even brilliant, and of a professional standard".

For many contributors, this is the most challenging part of preparing an article. Identifying and fixing suboptimal prose requires skill and experience typically acquired only after years of writing and editing. Wikipedia flourishes from the input of your expertise, yet the review process to determine whether nominated articles are promoted to featured status shows that the prose of many articles does no justice to that expertise. You can follow three strategies to satisfy 1a.

  • Respond to the reviewers at the featured article candidate (FAC) page. Improving your article in direct response to the comments of FAC reviewers sometimes works, but it's hard to achieve significant improvements in the short time allowed for the review process. Reviewers are under no obligation to specify every problem in the prose of a FAC, or to edit a FAC themselves.
  • Network with other editors. Locating editors who are interested in the topic and skilled at editing prose will be the foundation for future collaborations. Wikipedia comprises numerous communities of like-minded users. List yourself in one or more categories relevant to your own fields, and research the talk pages and contribution lists of other users in those categories. Aim to build a circle of friends through discussion and mutual assistance. Becoming active in one of Wikipedia's many subject-based projects may help you find contributors who can assist you by copy-editing your article during peer review and before FAC nomination. Alternatively, research the FAC archives and the history pages of worthy articles in the field; scan through the edit summaries and use the "Compare selected versions" to identify the key writers and copy-editors. Posting a polite message requesting help on those users' talk pages can work wonders. In your message, show that you're familiar with their work; but remember, there will always be a shortage of good copy-editors on Wikipedia. More detailed advice on locating copy-editors is here.
  • Improve your own writing and editing skills. This is the concern of the current article, which offers general advice on how to improve your writing and editing skills, lists the common problems that reviewers identify in the prose of FACs, and discusses strategies for avoiding those problems. The tutorial pages listed in the box at the top are one of the most important ways of improving your writing skills.

This article is aimed at both native and non-native speakers of English. Although each group faces different challenges in writing and editing English, most issues we cover are relevant to many languages. At the end of the article, we provide useful external links for writing and editing, aimed at both natives and non-natives.

Although most criteria for good writing in English are widely accepted, advocates may differ on particular technical and stylistic matters. Please take this into account here: some of our advice and suggested solutions may be debatable. Feedback on how to improve this article is welcome at the talk page. We acknowledge the assistance of Hoary in the copy-editing of this article.

Computers have transformed the writing process by facilitating continual editing; this frees writers from the need to produce a succession of entire versions on a typewriter or by hand.


Eliminating redundancy[edit]

Redundant wording is common in Wikipedia's articles: removing redundancy will not damage the meaning, and in most cases will strengthen it. Crisp, elegant writing demands the elimination of redundancy.

It takes concentrated practice to identify redundancy, but after a while you'll learn to test every word subconsciously against its context. Ask yourself: "Will the text lose meaning if I remove this?" and "Is there already a word in this sentence that provides the meaning?" Take this sentence:

While the journal had relatively low circulation numbers for its day, it still influenced popular opinion and was feared by the conservative administration.

Did alarm bells ring as you read it? Here, the redundancies are struck through:

While the journal had relatively low circulation numbers for its day, it still influenced popular opinion and was feared by the conservative administration.

"Low" is already relative to some norm, which here is explicitly clarified as being "for its day"; thus, "relatively" adds no useful meaning. "Still" has the sense of "all the same" or "nevertheless"; coming after "while" (= "although"), it is totally redundant.

As you strengthen your ability to tighten prose, you'll find many types of redundancy. Here are six:

  • Additive terms—"also", "in addition", "moreover" and "furthermore". Every sentence is additional to its predecessors, but most of us, including otherwise good writers, have got into the habit of sprinkling these terms through our writing, because they give us a vague feeling of adding to the cohesion of the text (the strength with which it all hangs together). However, only occasionally are these additive words required for textual cohesion; the flow is usually stronger without them.
  • Temporal terms—"over the years", "currently", "now", "from time to time", "to this day". Although these are more likely to be required than the additive terms, they usually add nothing to the sense, or are too vague to be useful. "They planned their future response". (Try the converse: "They planned their past response".) Often, the tense of the verb is sufficient to convey the temporal sense; e.g., "Mumbai is currently India's leading financial centre". Here, the present tense of "is" says it all. Similarly, in "After The Kroonland's fitting out was completed, the ship sailed on its maiden voyage", the first word conveys the temporal fact, so "was completed" can be removed.
  • Vague terms of size, number and proportion—"some", "a variety of", "a number of", "several", "a few", "many", "any", "all". These items are often too vague to add useful meaning, or their meaning is already conveyed in the rest of the text; e.g., "All seawater is salty", "The highway expands to four lanes as it passes some built-up areas of strip development", and "The scheme does not remove any government-funded programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid". Sometimes whether these terms are redundant depends on the larger context.
  • Words for which the meaning is already conveyed in another word. For example, "Born the youngest child of a Mexican immigrant couple, she was singing on television while still a junior high school student." Here, "Born" is assumed in the word "child"; therefore the sentence works better without the first word. "Each weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages." Here, "its own" repeats the meaning of "each", and thus clutters the sentence. The first three words in the next example can be removed, because they're already covered by the word "when": "In those instances when requests for assistance fall outside Tahirih's scope, staff members attempt to locate other consultants." Another temporal item—an elaborate one—obstructs the middle of this sentence: "Iridion was released in North America on 29 May 2001, and subsequently in Europe on 21 September 2001." Similarly, tweaking the grammar allows us to dispense with two words in "The Centre has worked to protect women who come from abroad." Women from abroad have clearly "come" from there, unless there might be confusion with the Centre's operation from abroad to protect women in a country.
  • Words for which the meaning is easily recoverable from the context or from general knowledge. For example, "The cigar smoker burns the dried leaves of the tobacco plant but does not inhale the resulting smoke". We already know that smoke results from the burning of dried tobacco leaves.
  • Words that should be removed in favour of ellipsis. For example, "Although not the first scheme of its kind, it was the largest when it was introduced to South Africa, and it remains one of the largest in the world." Its ... it was ... it was ... it. "It" and "was" are annoying repetitions and are easily understood through the process of ellipsis; both words hover over the subsequent clauses and are simply slotted into the gaps by the reader. Ironically, not stating a word is one of the key methods of textual cohesion, because it makes the reader assume this continuing presence of a previously stated item.

You may wish to undertake the series of graded exercises we have prepared to sharpen your ability to identify redundancy. These exercises use sentences taken from FACs.

Achieving flow[edit]

Main article: User:Tony1/How to satisfy Criterion 1a: exercises in textual flow

When you explain something in writing rather than orally, many aspects of language are removed, such as your intonation, pitch, speed, rhythm and bodily gestures. In writing, you need to make up for the absence of those speech signals, so that your readers will be just as engaged with your message as they are when they listen to you: optimising the flow of your writing is an important way of doing this. Flow comprises a number of aspects, from the smallest punctuation mark to the cohesion of the text on a large scale. Flow can make your writing smooth, clear and easy to read; a lack of flow can make it bumpy and disjointed.

Ironically, flow is achieved by manipulating the breaks in the continuity of the text, controlling the structure of your language—the mortar between the bricks large and small. While some aspects of the flow of a particular text will be the subject of widespread agreement by language experts, flow can often be achieved in more than one way; thus, there's a strong element of personal style in this aspect of writing. Inevitably, the advice that we offer here on flow will be less definitive than our advice for other characteristics of good writing.

Eight centuries ago, writing was such a rare and elaborate skill that it was displayed with great artistry. This Apocalypse manuscript shows St John writing to the seven churches of Asia.

Paragraphing[edit]

Apart from writing your Wikipedia article in sections, paragraphing is the largest scale on which you'll need to structure your text. A paragraph break allows your readers to tie up the idea that they've just read about—to "download" it more deeply into their memory—and to start afresh on a new idea or a new aspect of the same idea. Aim for paragraphs of roughly equal size, although some variation in size is often appropriate.

Over-long paragraphs make it harder for your readers to stay interested; a mass of grey text will force them to work hard to keep an ever-increasing amount of information active in their working memory as they wade through. Where it's starting to be too much of a mental juggling act for the readers, try to identify a sentence around the middle of the paragraph that appears to be a departure—to step out into new territory, so to speak: make it the first sentence in a new paragraph.

Similarly, short, "stubby" paragraphs tend to break up the prose, interrupting the flow: give your readers the chance to link a number of sentences into a cohesive whole; that will usually be the easiest way for them to absorb your message. Stubby paragraphs are all too common in Wikipedia articles, and reviewers in the FAC room are apt to object to them. Apart from the psychological effect on the readers, one-sentence paragraphs can result in a fragmented visual appearance. A stubby paragraph should typically be either expanded into full ideas or merged smoothly with another paragraph (most often the previous one). Very occasionally, a single-sentence paragraph might be appropriate to emphasise or summarise an idea.

You may wish to try your hand at our exercise in manipulating paragraph length.

Sentences[edit]

Chopping up snakes

Your readers will also want to "tie up" the information on a more frequent, smaller scale: the sentence. Sentences that are too long are too demanding on readers' working memory: give them opportunities to download what you've just told them in convenient chunks. Here's an example:

The need for a stronger central government with a unified currency and the ability to conduct the affairs of state, such as foreign policy (and that could bind all of the states under negotiated treaties and agreements rather than be undermined by a single state's refusal to agree to an international treaty) led to the stronger federal government that was negotiated at the Convention.

It is too long and complex; while there are too many ideas to be expressed in one masterful sentence, this sentence has at least three problems:

  • The comma before "such as" looks like the first of a pair surrounding an example; readers scan what follows in vain for the second comma and its announcement of the end of the example.
  • The parenthetical remark is so long that when it finishes readers have forgotten where they were when it started.
  • It's not obvious what's modified by the relative clause between the parentheses.

The sentence bends disconcertingly, and readers trying to follow it lose their bearings. It's what some people call a "snake", and it needs to be chopped up into manageable portions.

How do we fix this sentence? The first step is to isolate the ideas. There are usually a number of places where we may erect boundaries between these ideas; here's one attempt.

The need for a stronger central government with a unified currency and the ability to conduct the affairs of state, such as foreign policy (and that could bind all of the states under negotiated treaties and agreements rather than be undermined by a single state's refusal to agree to an international treaty) led to the stronger federal government that was negotiated at the Convention.

Each of these ideas could stand alone as a sentence. (Since the middle two ideas are particularly close, we could separate them by a semicolon rather than a full-stop.) Let's try doing this. In our chopped-up snake, the four ideas are coloured as above. We've added extra bits in black—either through simple deduction to fill in the context (e.g., "the delegates identified") or to make the sentences cohere (e.g., connectors such as "In particular" and "This" that link back to previous clauses).

The delegates identified the need for a stronger central government with a unified currency and the ability to conduct the affairs of state. In particular, they saw federal control of foreign policy as a way of binding all of the states under negotiated treaties and agreements; until then, foreign policy had frequently been undermined by a single state's refusal to agree to an international treaty. This led to the negotiation of a stronger federal government at the Convention.

We started with one sentence of 64 words. We've transformed this into three sentences that are slightly longer in total: 77 words. The reader has places to pause and consider the ideas, and the text is much easier to read even if it's a little longer.

We've prepared exercises along the same lines, in case you want to practise chopping up long sentences.


The power of writing has changed the world. Here, Mahatma Gandhi writes at Birla House, Mumbai in August 1942, five years before India gained independence from Britain.

Smoothly integrating ideas into a sentence

Just as snakes require too much working memory to read, stubby sentences limit readers to far less than the full capacity of their working memory; they usually interrupt the flow of the text, resulting in a stop-start effect. Sentences of comfortable length are typically constructed from more than the simplest idea. These ideas need to be integrated smoothly and logically into the sentence. One of the commonest problems in FACs is sentences in which the ideas are poorly connected.

To integrate ideas into a sentence, we need to ask ourselves whether their relationship is additive, contrastive or causal. Causal relationships are usually obvious, so we'll deal with these first.


Causal links

There are two types of causal links: forward and backward.

In a forward link, the first statement causes or leads to the second. Typical forward connectors are therefore and thus. They're largely interchangeable, although thus is more at home in technical contexts. Here are examples:

Wikipedia needs to raise the standards of its prose; therefore, we should create infrastructure that encourages contributors to improve their writing skills.
Researchers have identified the three genes responsible for this disease, thus paving the way for the development of gene therapy.

Other forward links are accordingly and for this/these reason(s). Being longer, they're usually better avoided.

In a backward link, the first statement is caused by or led to by the second. The standard backward connector is because. Two others—since and as—are often used instead of because, but they need extra care. Since can refer to time down to the present, and as can mean "at the same time as". Take the following sentence:

Dr Gupta was unaware of the underlying complexities, as she moved with her extended family to Mumbai in 1999.

It's unclear whether she was unaware because she moved to Mumbai, or whether she was unaware during the move. It's safer to use because as your causal connector unless the context disambiguates.

The typical placement of the comma is in the direction of causality: after for forward causality; before for backward causality. Although punctuation is usual here in more formal registers such as that used in an encyclopedia, this can vary. For example, the following sentence is short and punchy, and thus needs no comma:

The President lost the election because he's a fool.

But lengthen the sentence and a comma may make it easier to read:

The President won the election, because many African-Americans were not permitted to vote and the Supreme Court endorsed the injustice.

A comma is usually unnecessary if the causal link is in the middle of a clause. For example:

Thus, the surveys failed to reveal the problem.

could be changed into:

The surveys thus failed to reveal the problem.

Sometimes the causality is obvious; you may be able to dispense with an explicit connector altogether, using a semicolon instead:

This FAC suffers from faulty prose throughout; therefore, the nominator should first have called in good copy-editors.


If you don't need a word, don't use it!


Contrastive links

Typical contrastive links are:

  • but (avoid at the start of a sentence in formal registers)
  • however,
  • although (usually better than though in formal registers)
  • nevertheless/nonetheless, (less common)
  • in/by contrast, (very pointed)


Additive links

The typical additive link is:

  • and

Usually avoid the following additive links:

  • while (ambiguous)
  • as well/as well as, (usually too strong—an amplified version of "and")
  • not only ... but also (usually too strong—an amplified version of "and"; if you must use it, drop the "also" if possible)
  • moreover, (tired and usually redundant)
  • furthermore, (tired and usually redundant)
  • additionally, (ungainly and usually redundant)
  • in addition, (tired and usually redundant)

Academics and technical writers seem to love the last four items in this list; they should know better.


Two poorly used additives on WP

While is a particular problem on Wikipedia. For example:

"Planning" expenditure is allocated to development schemes outlined in the federal government's plans, while "central" expenditure is allocated to the state governments.

Does the writer want to emphasise that both spending categories occur at the same time? Surely not—here, while is a poor substitute for and; it's better just to use a semicolon:

"Planning" expenditure is allocated to development schemes outlined in the federal government's plans; "central" expenditure is allocated to the state governments.

Consider that few readers are likely to suppose that the former schemes will be outlined in the federal government's cemeteries, canals or chimneys: there's no need to state the obvious. English grammar allows much duplication to be cut, as well. The result:

"Planning" expenditure is allocated to development schemes outlined by the federal government, "central" expenditure to the state governments.

With as an additive link is another common problem on WP; it's usually awkward. For example:

There are 10 chapters in the protocol, with the third chapter ("International money laundering") discussing the financing of terrorism.

Far too much ing (and unnecessary repetition). Rewrite as:

There are 10 chapters in the protocol; the third ("International money laundering") discusses the financing of terrorism.

Here's another example:

Coronation Street is known for its light humour and comic characters, in the vein of the traditions of northern variety shows, with many of the show's actors having previously worked in repertory theatre, notably the Oldham Rep.

Uncomfortable to read? It should appear so to you: the sentence is rather too long, and the "with" clause is, strictly speaking, ungrammatical (an apostrophe is required in actors', which is itself a little clumsy nowadays). Let's get rid of the troublesome "with" connector and give our poor readers a rest in the middle, using a semicolon:

Coronation Street is known for its light humour and comic characters, in the vein of the traditions of northern variety shows; many of the show's actors had worked in repertory theatre, notably the Oldham Rep.

Had you noticed the redundant "previously", which is covered by the past tense? And yes, a semicolon is better than a period, since the two halves are so closely linked.


Confusion between additive and contrastive links

This is surprisingly common in FACs. Take the following sentence, which connects two ideas with the commonest contrastive link, but.

She was raised in London and Manchester, but went on to live in Hong Kong.

The second idea doesn't contradict the first; it just provides additional information. While Hong Kong may be a very different location from London and Manchester, it's perfectly possible to live in Hong Kong having been raised in the UK. But is wrong here, because it introduces a statement that contradicts the previous statement or that is surprising or unexpected coming after the previous statement. Here, replacing the contrastive link with the most common additive link—and—will fix the problem:

She was raised in London and Manchester, and went on to live in Hong Kong.
Spelling at its worst


Additive relationships: how close are the ideas?

When you're adding ideas together—rather than contrasting them or showing that one leads to the other—the way you integrate them will depend on how close and long they are. There are three basic ways of linking them.

  • A link with and—very close ideas; when combined, the resulting sentence should not be too long.
  • A link with a semicolon—reasonably close ideas; length is not as important.
  • A link with a full-stop—less close ideas, neither of which should be stubby.

The use of these methods is partly a matter of personal style, although there are cases where most readers would prefer one method over the others. Here's an example of two relatively short ideas:

(1) Most emu species have a grey-brown plumage of shaggy appearance. On close inspection, the shafts and tips of the feathers are black.

Both ideas concern the visual appearance of the birds, specifically that of their feathers. By integrating them into a single sentence, we're making this closeness obvious to the readers, and avoiding the stop–start effect of two short, successive sentences:

(2) Most emu species have a grey-brown plumage of shaggy appearance; on close inspection, the shafts and tips of the feathers are black.

In (2), the semicolon keeps the readers' minds focused on the same issue: the feathers. In (1), The full-stop suggested that the next sentence would take a different direction, but in (1), it didn't. The next example shows a good use of the full-stop—the second sentence addresses a different issue, food:

(3) Most emu species have a grey-brown plumage of shaggy appearance. They eat a variety of native and introduced plant species, depending on seasonal availability.

The sentences are still close enough to juxtapose, but the common theme is much broader than feathers or food: it's "most emu species" ("they"). The full-stop warns readers to prepare for something different, although they'll still expect it to flow smoothly from what they've just read.

This next example is satisfactory:

In 1996 and 2000, he was the nominee of the Green Party; Winona LaDuke was his vice-presidential running mate.

However, the ideas are so closely connected that we might consider joining them with a comma plus and:

In 1996 and 2000, he was the nominee of the Green Party, and Winona LaDuke was his vice-presidential running mate.

You may wish to try our exercises in correcting sentences with poorly integrated ideas.

Misplaced formality[edit]

Wikipedia needs to appeal to a wide range of native and non-native speakers, many of whom are time-poor. Writing plain English is a good way to achieve this. Many writers want to write text with an air of authority, and use longer-than-necessary and/or old-fashioned forms in the hope of appearing more formal. In most cases, you'll get your point across more effectively by avoiding the following words and phrases (suggested replacements appear after the arrows):

  • whilst —> while
  • amongst —> among
  • upon —> on
  • within —> in (unless you really need to stress "insideness")
  • in order to and in order for —> just to and for (very occasionally, the "in order" is required to avoid ambiguity, and of course the negative requires all words: "in order not to", and "so as not to" )
  • hitherto —> until now
  • thereupon —> then
  • notwithstanding (yuck) —> despite or another construction
  • utilise —> use (scientists should get this ugly duckling out of their system)
  • prior to —> before
  • the majority of —> most (unless "more than 50%" is intended)
  • multiple —> many (unless you mean "having or involving several parts, elements or members", especially when it's not always the case, e.g., multiple occupancy, multiple birth; but not "cited in multiple articles")
  • due to the fact that —> because

THE REMAINDER OF THIS ARTICLE IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION.


Commas[edit]

"In 1989, the SkyBridge, along with Scott Road Station was built."

"Early Dutch missionaries faced strong opposition especially among elite Torajans as the abolishment of their profitable slave trade angered them."

"The family was arrested and imprisoned first in their home at Tsarskoye Selo and later at residences in Tobolsk and Yekaterinburg in Siberia."

"All members of the program are Scouts, youth are referred to as Boy Scouts and adults as Scouters." The comma is grammatically wrong; use a colon, semicolon or em dash.

Redundant commas: "Between December 1960, and March 1961"


Notwithstanding marketing hype and commercial success, critics expressed mixed responses to the launch of Moi... Lolita, Alizée's first single.

Each colossus is located in a unique lair, and it is often necessary for the environments in which they are fought to be fully utilized in order to reach or reveal a colossus' weak spots.

Simba's move to Leyton Orient came about as a result of training with the club in order to keep fit whilst on holiday in London.

Using repetition strategically[edit]

Sometimes required for cohesion; sometimes undesirable.

"and before it grew too late he would burst into the back room and loudly order George home. The courtship lasted almost seven years, but George grew tired of waiting"—Ungainly repetition of "grew".

The game received critical praise,[3][4] later being hailed as a major innovator in its genre,[5] and placing on multiple hall of fame lists.[5][6][7] Despite its technological feats and critical praise, System Shock was outsold by its contemporaries.[5]

it uses the world's longest mass transit-only bridge, the SkyBridge. It uses the

"and before it grew too late he would burst into the back room and loudly order George home. The courtship lasted almost seven years, but George grew tired of waiting"—Ungainly repetition of "grew".

"Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is an American public corporation, and is currently the world's largest retailer as well as the world's largest corporation." "is ... is" is clumsy. "the world's" x 2. "as well as" is a marked version of "and"; why is everything emphasised? Try: "Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., an American public corporation, is currently the world's largest retailer and largest corporation

By 1967, critics were suggesting that the programme no longer reflected life in 1960s Britain, but reflected how life was in the 1950s


Avoiding unnecessary intensification[edit]

English has a number of devices for "marking" meanings, that is, by choosing wording that is emphatic rather than the default "unmarked" choice.

Most of these devices are grammatical. Here are common examples:

I blame you for this mess. (Unmarked)
You I blame for this mess. (Marked, by the less usual word order)
Improve your grammar! (Unmarked)
You improve your grammar! (Marked)
Do improve your grammar! (Marked)
I need breakfast. (Unmarked)
What I need is breakfast. (Marked, with the added meaning that breakfast is all I need)


Then there are the more lexical methods of marking, such as marked additives:

The event was covered by radio and television. (Unmarked)
The event was covered by both radio and television. (Marked, as though this was an unexpected duality)
She ordered eggs and bacon. (Unmarked)
She ordered eggs as well as bacon. (Marked—the rest of us ordered only eggs; she was greedy)
She ordered not only eggs, but bacon. (Yet more strongly marked—we were surprised at her greed)


Marked "insideness":

A wider view of the community is presented in the novel. (Unmarked)
A wider view of the community is presented within the novel. (Marked, stressing "insideness"; but why?)
Within this molecule are dozens of particles (Marked, stressing "insideness", and probably necessary)
We find personal solace and inspiration from our own and others' individual interpretations within those dimensions. (Marked and typical for expressions of abstract positioning)


The insertion of intensifiers:

The slopes drop steeply, but not precipitously" (Unmarked)
The slopes drop very steeply, but not precipitously (Marked, and weakens the contrast between steeply and precipitously—remove "very")
The climate and, as a result, the flora and fauna of Pinkham Notch vary with elevation. (Unmarked)
The climate and, as a result, the flora and fauna of Pinkham Notch vary greatly with elevation. (Marked—probably unnecessary.)


The imagination and adventure that these spaces inspire result from environmental conditions that are both familiar and orderly

(in addition to)


Wikipedia is littered with unnecessary lexical emphasis. This has two disadvantages: (1) it "bleaches" the text so that readers get used to, and unconsciously discount, the continual emphases; paradoxically, this weakens rather than strengthens the text, and when it is appropriate to emphasis a meaning, the marked version has little effect; and (2) most marked wordings are longer than the unmarked equivalent, sacrificing brevity and plainness."

Unmarked (marked)

  • in (within)
  • both
  • very


a wider view of the community is presented within the TV series

  • She was born in 1909 (It was in 1909 that she was born)


Here are examples of how text can be strengthened by removing the emphasis.

Marked: "Not only did the video become a cultural sensation in Hong Kong, it inspired vigourous debate and discussion on lifestyle, etiquette and media ethics." Unmarked: "The video become a cultural sensation in Hong Kong, and inspired vigourous debate and discussion on lifestyle, etiquette and media ethics."

While it is very uncommon for storms with large eyes to become very intense

"was marked both by cultural explosion, as well as military and natural disasters."—Talking of "marked", this is marked grammatically twice, in "as well as" (= strong "and") and "both" (= unexpected duality); is either required?

The joint sitting of all 187 parliamentarians was held over two days on 6 and 7 August. The event was covered by both radio and television.

Avoiding common grammatical weaknesses[edit]

Unclear referents[edit]

As elevations increase on the walls of the notch, climate and ecosystems change to those of increasingly northern occurrence.

Becoming Prime Minister of the Federation in 1957, Welensky opposed British moves towards African majority rule, and used force to suppress politically-motivated violence in the territories. With the advent of African rule in two of the Federation's three territories, it collapsed in 1963.

Noun plus gerund[edit]

During the 20th century, this grew to be one of the most problematic aspects of English grammar.

He would not agree to the nuclear power station being built there.


He would not agree to the nuclear power station's being built there.


He would not agree to the building of the nuclear power station there.

His observations led to him proposing the boundary known as "the Wallace line".

The gunfire prevented him leaving the airport.

The gunfire prevented his leaving the airport.

"due to Black being cast in Peter Jackson's big budget remake"

along with Chinese farmers producing abundant yields of food beyond self-sufficiency, hence their ability to sell greater amount of food for the market."—"farmers producing" is ungrammatical; why not use "through" by ellipsis and nominalise ("production")? And who else but Chinese farmers would be at issue? "This came about through expanded rice cultivation in central and southern China, and farmers' production of abundant yields of food beyond self-sufficiency

he attempted to re-enter politics and prevent Rhodesia (formerly Southern Rhodesia) declaring itself unilaterally independent.

Any[edit]

"it did not win any awards"—no, "it won no awards".

"This article or section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. (help, get involved!) Any material not supported by sources may be challenged and removed at any time." (WP's "Unreferenced" template)

they did not enjoy any significant commercial success until 1996's Electriclarryland, their only gold record to date.

but were not based on any actual knowledge of the continent

but were based on no actual knowledge of the continent

But sometimes "any" is required:

A NAC meeting was held outside Blantyre on January 25, with detailed planning for the overthrow of the territorial government and the massacre of the territory's whites and any blacks who collaborated with them.

Welensky was opposed to any talk of succession, and the Monckton Report suggested it in writing when it stated that the territories should have the option after five years under a new federal constitution.

False equivalents[edit]

"his championing of the common man's causes, like railroad regulation, won him just as many friends"

he wishes of Welensky, he travelled to the United Kingdom, where he took part in the Nyasaland constitutional talks. The outcome was a constitution which, through a voting system that was equally as complex as that of the federation itself, amounted to black majority rule for the territory.

Such practices provide opportunities for experiences that educate, as much by the method of delivery as in the content of the text

Two Wikipedian diseases: startitis and woulditis[edit]

While not breaching technical rules for writing English, there's a marked tendency by some contributors to express a large proportion of actions and processes as starting rather than just as happening or occurring, particularly in historical and narrative accounts:


This is what some Wikipedians have dubbed "startitis".

In Britain, Labour grew more critical, and African nationalists in the federation itself began to become more vocal

Another so-called disease also occurs in historical and narrative registers: the use of the conditional mood where a plain indicative mood is preferable, such as:

"It may have been the first time that the men would play active roles."

Better as:

"It may have been the first time that the men played active roles."

"As a result, the Mint began to test alternate metals,"—why not "As a result, the Mint tested alternate metals,"

Woulditis, a Wikipedian disease: "which would in turn often influence"—why not just plain past tense? "which in turn often influenced"?

Politically, only three years after its founding, the federation was to begin to decline.

Same for "were to":

Barlow entered the storyline as a young radical, reflecting the youth of 1960s Britain, where figures like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the model Twiggy were to re-shape the concept of youthful rebellion.


Rationalising short lists[edit]

"the first employee of the Government of Australia and the first Solicitor-General of Australia"—rationalise and pipe as "the first employee of the Government of Australia and its first Solicitor-General"

"on the west as well as the east side of"—no, this is ungrammatical (s) and verbose: "on the west and east sides of".

an urban Advanced Rapid Transit system operating on two lines, the Expo Line and the Millennium Line

Exist(s)[edit]

A Dutch colonial presence existed"—awkward; try "There was a Dutch colonial presence"

Other technical points[edit]

The word order for "only" Megatokyo is only available in English

    • "and only played 25 games over two seasons"—Place "only" as late as possible in a clause. "and played only 25 games over two seasons".

Ambiguity[edit]

"it moves over 220,000 people a day "—Do you count the people it moves over? ("More than", please.)

"As a marketing strategy, SEO considers how search algorithms work and what people search for in order to increase a site's relevancy." Do you mean "As a marketing strategy for increasing a site's relevancy, SEO considers how search algorithms work and what people search for."

"The" for second-language editors[edit]

Many languages have very different systems of deixis from that in English. Deictic elements have a "pointing out" function; they indicate whether a specific subset of a thing is intended, and if so, which subset. They are either specific or non-specific. "The" is a specific deictic that means "the subset in question is identifiable; but this (i.e., "the") won't tell you how to identify the subset—the information is somewhere around, where you can recover it". So whereas "this train" means "you know which train: the one near me", and "my train" means "you know which train: the one I own", "the train" means simply "you know which train" (from the immediate context or perhaps even from general knowledge). So "the" is usually accompanied by another element that supplies this information. "The long train" means "you know which train: you can tell it by its length".[1]

English is one official working language of the United Nations.

English is the one official working language of the United Nations.

References[edit]

  1. Halliday MAK (1994) Introduction to functional grammar, Arnold, London, pp. 181–82"

Discussion[edit]

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