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September 09, 2009

The Most Common Writing Issues in Your Essays

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9 September 2009

ENG 121 students,

I was a little taken aback today at the apparent disregard/misunderstanding of logic in today’s class meeting. For those of you who were absent from the peer-review, take . . .

. . . heed: this will be one of the issues I will be focusing on for the classification essay final draft.

If any of you feel that you need a “refresher” on the basic precepts of logic in writing, I invite you to examine the following articles as you revise your papers:

From LEO, the Literacy Education Online writing lab from Saint Cloud University, see the link on “Logical Fallacies” here:

OWL, the Online Writing Lab of Purdue University, has a series of articles on “Using Logic in Writing” here:

The English Writing Center of Montana State University has a checklist for “Common Errors in Logic” by Helen Hadley Porter here:

If you still need clarification, please look at the two PowerPoint lectures I sent you by e-mail earlier several class meetings ago on writing the classification essay.

Happy Revising,

Dr. Hobbs


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The Greengrocers' Apostrophe (or) Plural

According to contributor "Tdol" on UsingEnglish.com, "The so-called grocer's apostrophe, where it is used incorrectly in plurals, is one of the most common mistakes made by native speakers in English" (full discussion can be found HERE). Lynne Truss, author of the very popular guide Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, found the issue so important, she discussed it in her introduction on page 1!

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The Greengrocers' Apostrophe (or) Plural (continued)

The popular website "WordSpy" defines the "greengrocer's apostrophe" as a noun with "An apostrophe erroneously inserted before the final 's' " in its plural form. (full citation HERE).

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The Greengrocers' Apostrophe (or) Plural (continued)

To make matters worse, the apparent use of this common type of error is on the rise according to the article "Where to stick grocer's apostrophe" by John Ezard, arts correspondent for The Guardian (full article HERE). To see many, many examples of how this error is being propagated (I discussed many of these in class, e.g. "Tattoo's and Piercing's," please have a look at all the photos of signage photographed by people contributing to the site The Apostrophe Protection Society, HERE. Perhaps one of the worst ones I've ever seen, next to a sign that advertised "Cherrie (sic) Jam," was an advert for baskets of "Tart Cherrie's." Yes, not only was the word misspelled, it also had that apostrophe. Remember, just because you see /read it on a sign doesn't mean that it is correct!


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*FROM*: 23 October 2008


Regarding the "some rules for writers" activity we did in class today, go online and look for an academic or otherwise reliable website about writing in English (try .edu sites) that states the real rule for the funny "rule" you were asked to work with in class today. In the comment box below, re-type your question, skip two spaces, and explain why the rule is "funny" or "sarcastic" or just "ironic." Skip two more spaces and, in quotation marks, quote the rule you found online. Skip two more spaces and type the URL of your source, like this: "SOURCE: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/top-ten-grammar-myths.aspx"

Here's an example:

17. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.

This sentence is funny because, in advising us to "not" use "dangling participles," it, in fact uses one in this sentence. The participle phrase "Writing carefully" is confusing and disconnected from the rest of the sentence because it seems that the noun "participle," in the sentence, is something somehow capable of writing! That's silly, isn't it? Perhaps a better way to say it would be: "Writing carefully, students avoided the use of dangling participles." Now, it seems that the participle phrase "writing carefully" modifies the noun "students." Isn't that much clearer? It would seem that the first version of the sentence didn't express what the writer really meant to say (or, if the writer was deranged, maybe it did!)

According to Tina Blue's article "It's My Participle, and I'll Dangle It if I Want To!," on her Grammartips website, "a dangling participle is one that either has no proper element in the sentence to modify [...] or else is not close enough to the word it is supposed to modify to prevent it from attaching to another element [...]. In either case, the sentence is both ambiguous and nonsensical. Even if a sentence is not rendered nonsense by a dangling participle, it will still be ambiguous, and that is almost as bad."

SOURCE: http://grammartips.homestead.com/participle.html

Good luck!

Dr. Hobbs


*FROM* 29 September 2008


I started this entry at an earlier date to bring to your attention the most common/shared writing issues (content, organization, sentence/paragraph-level, language/tone, and grammar/mechanics) that I am finding in your papers as a whole. Since many of you have been discovered to be making the same missteps, I urge you to review the following:

Many of you are still not using enough examples in your essays to demonstrate your thesis!
*See the entry HERE that addresses why examples are important.

There should be smooth TRANSITIONS between the paragraphs in your essay
*See advice from Harvard University's Writing Center on transitions HERE.

In a typed and printed paper copy of an academic manuscript, two spaces should follow a full-stop that ends a sentence!
*See the entry HERE that addresses the confusion/controversy over the old "two spaces after a period" rule and what Internet users and professional typesetters do instead.

"Effective" paper titles should be cogent and concise "fragments" that interest AND explain!
*See the entry HERE that addresses why your titles always need a little TLC!

In our class, we are using the MLA style of formatting. It ISN'T an option. Some of your are making up your own formats!
*See the entry HERE on how to format a MS-Word document correctly in the MLA format from start to finish.

"Scholarly Articles" are generally found in scholarly journals--some of you still seem confused!
*See the entry HERE that deals specifically with what scholarly articles are and how to find them.

"Synthesis" papers are research-informed essays should BRING TOGETHER the information about ONE topic from several different sources
*See the entry HERE that explains what a synthesis paper is and how to approach writing one.

See also the advice I gave regarding your earlier papers:


22 September 2008


A few more style, grammar, and formatting issues here, this time with an issue called "The Greengrocer's Apostrophe (or) Plural" and cross-referencing sources when using the MLA style of formatting in your papers. "Cross-Referencing" is one that seems to have a few of you confused. To properly cross-reference in your MLA works cited page please see the following two bits of advice:

Cross-Referencing in MLA Format

If you cite more than one part from the same collected volume, create a full citation for the collected volume and briefer citations for the individual parts with cross-references to the collected volume. Each abbreviated citation must include the author of the part and the title of the part in quotes. The cross-reference must include the author of the compilation and page numbers of the part. (Beech and Ware wrote two of the chapters in the book edited by Powell.)

Beech, George. "Prosopography."  Powell 151-184.

Powell, James M., ed. Medieval Studies: an Introduction. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1976.

Ware, R. Dean. "Medieval Chronology: Theory and Practice."  Powell 213-237.


*Adapted from [http://www.spsu.edu/library/StyleGuide/MLA.html].


Cross-referencing: If you cite more than one essay from the same edited collection, the MLA indicates that it is optional to cross-reference within your works cited list in order to avoid writing out the publishing information for each separate essay. You should should consider this option if you have many references from one text. To do so, include a separate entry for the entire collection listed by the editor's name. For individual essays from that collection, simply list the author's name, the title of the essay, the editor's last name, and the page numbers. For example:

L'Eplattenier, Barbara. "Finding Ourselves in the Past: An Argument for Historical Work on WPAs."  Rose and Weiser 131-40.

Peeples, Tim. "'Seeing' the WPA With/Through Postmodern Mapping."  Rose and Weiser 153-167.

Rose, Shirley K, and Irwin Weiser, eds.  The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999.

*Adapted from [http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/printable/557/].



Posted by lhobbs at September 9, 2009 07:39 AM

Readers' Comments:

1. No sentence fragments.

This sentence is funny, because it tells us not to use sentence fragments, when it is a sentence fragment.

According to the website Guide to Grammar & Writing, "is a sentence in the sense that it cannot stand by itself."

Source: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/fragments.htm

Posted by: Sonia P. at October 23, 2008 04:09 PM

1. No sentence fragments.

This sentence is ironic because it is advising against the usage of sentence fragments even though it in fact is a sentence fragment. For a sentence to be a complete sentence it requires a subject and verb and this fragment sentence lacks a verb.

According to this website, "Some fragments are not clearly pieces of sentences that have been left unattached to the main clause; they are written as main clauses but lack a subject or main verb."


Aaron O.
English 121, Section 14

Posted by: Aaron O'Neill at October 23, 2008 05:13 PM

14. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

I find this funny because it has a colloquialism in it. Around the barn at high noon is the colloquialism in this sentence. A better way to phrase this would be: Go around the barn at 12 o clock to avoid colloquialisms.

Do not be afraid to use a "split verb phrase." Some writers who do not split infinitives refuse to split verb phrases as well, but there is no such rule. If there were such a rule, we should all be saying, "I saw her not" instead of "I didn't see her." We should also say, "You are going?" instead of "Are you going?" but "You are going?" is a Nonstandard question. This rule is not consistent with the evolution of the English language. In fact, split verb phrases have the advantages (in terms of emphasis) of split infinitives.

Source: http://www.wikihow.com/Learn-Perfect-English-As-a-Native-English-Speaker

Posted by: Cyndell S. at October 25, 2008 09:04 PM

11. "The passive voice is to be ignored."

This statement contradicts itself because when speaking in passive voice the subject neither a do-er or be-er. So when it says the passive voice is "to be" ignored it puts itself into active voice.

"In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something" unnamed.

SOURCE: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/passive.htm

Posted by: Ron Carlson at October 26, 2008 07:22 PM

6. Be more or less specific.

This sentence is ironic because it's saying if we should be specific, but the sentence itself is generalizing.

"Generalization is the ability to apply a concept to a situation different from the one it was initially learned in. Humans do this quite easily and quite naturally. For example, when you learned to write, you didn’t have to relearn the process when you went from school to home, changed from notebook paper to poster board, or switched from pencils to ballpoint pens. Generalization is “big picture"."


Posted by: christian tejada at October 26, 2008 10:38 PM

8. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

This sentence is funny because also and too both mean the same thing. Also, using redundancies is to use the same word or phrase over again which is what being repetitive means.

Posted by: katherine lamb at October 27, 2008 11:41 AM

10. one-word sentences? Eliminate.

This sentence is funny because it is using a one-word sentence while it is telling us to eliminate one-word sentences. In the rule, eliminate is also an incomplete sentence and a sentence fragment. A better way to write this rule could be “eliminate one-word sentences.”

According to cliffnotes on an article called “What is a one-word sentence called?” she states that “An imperative sentence can be as short as one word, such as: "Go." Technically, a sentence must contain at least a subject and a verb, but in this case, the subject (you) is assumed and understood.” But then she also puts forth saying “Just remember that not every one-word phrase is really a sentence. Let's look at an example: "She was unable to sleep. Again."
Here, "Again" is technically not a sentence since it's missing a subject (or a presumed subject like the imperative) and a verb. You can certainly write like this as you have the poetic and literary license, but the simple act of putting a period after a word does not a sentence make.”

Source: http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/Section/What-is-a-one-word-sentence-called-.id-305408,articleId-7645.html

West, Zachary
Academic Writing 121 Sec 14
October 27, 2008

Posted by: Zachary West at October 27, 2008 12:57 PM

7. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.

This sentence is funny and sarcastic because the sentence is telling you not to be redundant, but at the same time the sentence itself is redundant.

According to http://www.siskiyous.edu/writinglab/REDUNDANCY%20IN%20WRITING_files/v3_document.htm..

"Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should
contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no
unnecessary sentences, for the same reason
that a drawing should have no unnecessary
lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
This requires not that the writer make all his
sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and
treat his subjects only in outline, but that every
word tell."

Posted by: Ashlea Z at October 27, 2008 07:18 PM

Folarinle Fasida
Eng-121 Academic Writing 16
Professor Hobbs

Rule: One should NEVER generalize.

The rule that I was given stated that one should never generalize. The irony in this statement was that it is generalizing when telling one should never generalize. The websites that I was searching through kept showing me common grammatical mistakes that are made and the rules that I should follow just in case I find myself making a grammatical error. http://www.asp.wlv.ac.uk/Level5.asp?UserType=11&level5=5559 this website was the one website that actually explained how to help prevent grammatical errors without making it seem like it was a joke, but a serious matter. With help through its own website it gave me other websites to look at, so that I may further my knowledge on grammatical errors.

Posted by: Folarinle F. at October 27, 2008 08:37 PM

#5 Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat.)

This statement is whitty because, obviously the plague should be more seriously avoided than cliches. Cliches will not kill you, but they should not be used when possible.

Rule: In order to avoid cliches, write them in and re-word to change the meaning, or keep it the same.

Posted by: Mai, Kelcee M. at October 27, 2008 11:19 PM

16. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.

This sentence is ironic, because the sentence is saying that people do not need to use big, fancy word to make them sound smarter or to show off where a simpler word can get the job done. Though at the same time, the sentence itself is use big unnecessary words that can be put into simpler words. The sentence can be said like “Never us a big word when a smaller one would work.” This makes the sentence sound more simple and easy to understand.

Accord to LousyWriter.com, “LousyWriter.com obeys the rules of Plain English. We favor smaller and familiar words instead of big or foreign words. Great scholars and writers and exceptional speakers use simple words. Today's dictionaries are bloated with over 500,000 words, but good writers need to harness only a small fraction of this number.“

SOURCE: http://lousywriter.com/

Posted by: Robert T. Eng-121-CA16 at October 28, 2008 12:03 AM

Michael Hewlett
English 121 Academic Writing

4. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

A conjunction can open a sentence asa long as an independent clause follows.


Yes, you can start a sentence with a conjunction. However, in college classes teachers do not want their students to open a sentence with a conjunction. Conjunctions are used to hold together elements within a sentence. Teachers do not want students to open a sentece because they are trying to explain conjunctions and help their students to learn to avoid sentence fragments.

Posted by: Michael Hewlett at October 28, 2008 11:06 AM

6. Be more or less specific.

This is ironic because there is nothing it says to be specific about. It is not direct either; more or less is a very broad specification. More or less are two opposites that are not able to be close together. A more appropriate sentence would say something like “be more specific about… how cold it is outside.” There are many other things that can be specified that should be added to the sentence.

Jackie C.
Academic Writing 121
TTH 12:30-1:50

Posted by: Jackie C. at October 28, 2008 10:14 PM


*NOTE* The deadline for this particular assignment has now passed. Any comments listed below are *ONLY* for the reposting of comments that I specifically asked to be revised or are ones from non-student posters. Any 'student' posts below that missed the assignment deadline will not get credit for the assignment.

Posted by: Dr. Hobbs at October 28, 2008 10:26 PM

Rule: Use the apostrophe in it's proper place and omit it when its not needed.
This rule is funny because it's not using the apostrophe in the right place. The its' should be switched.

The research that I found states that there are three ways when to add an apostrophe. First way is for ownership, second way is for contractions and other omissions,and the third way is for pluralizing letters, numbers, symbols, and words.

When using an apostrophe for ownership is to form the possessive of a singular or plural noun that does not end in an "s" sound, add an apostrophe plus an "s." Example: A baby's play pin.
To form the possessive of a plural noun ending in "s" just add an apostrophe. Example: Girls' dolls.
To form the possessive of a singular noun that ends in an "s" sound, is guided by the word is pronounced.If a new syllable is formed in the pronunciation of the possessive, add an apostrophe plus "s." Example:The boss's daughter.
When the extra syllable makes it hard pronounce, only add the "'." Example: Jesus' apostles.
The possessive of a compound noun is formed on the last work of the compound. Example: My sister-in-law's wedding.
Joint ownership is shown by placing the apostrophe with the last work of the combination. Separate ownership is shown by placing the apostrophe with each member of the combination. Example: Sally and Bob's house burnt down.

For Contractions and Other Omissions
Examples: he'll, she'll, won't, can't

For Pluralizing Letters, Numbers, Symbols, and Words Used as Terms
Example: He always forgets to cross his t's. Your S's look like 5's. Try not say to many um's and uh's when public speaking.

Brianna Bilbao
Academic Writing 121 Section 14
October 28, 2008

Posted by: Brianna B. at October 29, 2008 09:13 AM

According to the Oxford Dictionary, to generalize is a notion or proposition obtained by interference from particular cases. Simply put in the academic writing guide, generalizing means coming to a conclusion with too few examples or with examples that are not representative. The statement "One should NEVER generalize" is instructive and ironic. It is instructive because it is saying that generalizing is not always the best thing to do when writing an essay. The reason why this statement is ironic is because it is saying that we should never generalize by yet the statement is generalizing using the word "NEVER". There is no specific rule for generalizing. The Academic Writing guide tells us that general terms are appropriate in some contexts, but specific words are often better choices as they are more precise.

Posted by: Sasha-ann Jarrett at October 29, 2008 09:14 AM

3. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

This sentence is funny because it is explaining that prepositions cannot be used at the end of sentences, while at the same time is contradicts that rule and ends the sentence with "with", which is a preposition.


Posted by: Susan McMillan at October 30, 2008 11:18 AM

Michael Hewlett

English 121 Academic Writing

4. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

A conjunction can open a sentence asa long as an independent clause follows.


Yes, you can start a sentence with a conjunction. However, in college classes teachers do not want their students to open a sentence with a conjunction. Conjunctions are used to hold together elements within a sentence. Teachers do not want students to open a sentence because they are trying to explain conjunctions and help their students to learn to avoid sentence fragments.

Posted by: Michael Hewlett at November 2, 2008 10:12 PM

I believe what makes this sentence funny is the fact that it’s has a double negative in the sentence. The sentence says “Don’t use no double negatives”. By saying don’t and no it makes the sentence become a double negative. If someone were to correct this sentence they would simply say don’t use double negatives, and just leave out the “no”. It makes sense and it gets rid of the double negative.

Posted by: Raymond Ferrara at November 3, 2008 05:47 PM

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