Writing tools!

We all do it: we'll need to write something out, and very often use poor grammar. In fact, there are some forms of usage, and some terms, that are routinely abused. Here are some internet links that will provide guidance to proper English usage in specific instances. Just go straight down the list; if you don't see what you are looking for let me know; if you find a good internet item or article, or want to write up something that I can include, please - I'd be very happy to post it for us all.

I'll just keep a simple list. I don't intend to alphabetize it unless the list becomes very long. I'll keep updating this information over time. In fact, I'll deal with one of my pet peeves right up front!



It's is used so consistently INCORRECTLY that I've come to the conclusion that most people don't know how to use it.. AT ALL. The confusion arises beause the term 'its' is a POSSESSIVE PRONOUN. It takes the place of a noun or proper noun. When used correctly, it refers to the ownership of something, back to an original noun. Thus: The poodle loved her gingersnap cookies.    Its desire to eat them was so overwhelming that it tore through the bag. Its and it refers to the poodle. In contrast:

It's well-known that Maisie the poodle likes gingersnaps.

"It's leaving at noon. We had better run", said Ilsa as they walked toward the train station, stepping on Maisie as she did so....     :).

In each case, it's is merely a contraction: (it is well known that Maisie the little poodle likes gingersnaps; "It is leaving at noon. . . "). If you can substitute 'is', 'has', 'was', then use it's. You wouldn't be confused by 'it'll' (it will).

What confuses the situation is that POSSESSIVE NOUNS (compare with above) DO show possession with 'apostophe-s'. For instance: 'Tony's car is really small'. However, 'Not all of the Tonys (simple plural) of the world have small cars'. And, you'd never replace 'Tony is/has/was Maisie' (?!) with 'Tony's (ditto)' neither 'All the Tonys were out walking their Maisie dogs on the beach that summer, in the same direction, at the same time'. Creepy. 

University of Wisconsin Writer's Handbook. A fantastic and very highly useful collection of guidance items about writing. A MUST SEE for students, faculty, secretaries, automobile drivers, golfers....well, in short, whoever needs to write! Practically a one-stop location for many aspects of writing. We will surely have our own, soon, with the development of our own writing center.

'Who' versus 'whom'  Yes...... This is a tricky pair of words. Don't let 'em get you down!

A few words on plagiarism: methodology. I've found that students really do understand what plagiarism is, despite protests (and manuscript outcome) to the contrary. I know this because they try all sorts of things to avoid plagiarism. But really, it's very simple to avoid plagiarism. What you need to do, is never copy what someone else writes unless you absolutely need to quote them, because what they said/wrote is indispensible....like The Gettysburg Address (by Lincoln) or Churchills address to the British people in 1940 about how ‘Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.’(check it out).

I was shocked to find students who, in the course of a writing exercise, routinely copied what other people said, thinking that at a later date, they'd remove the offending phrases and rework the sentences so as to drop below the Professor's 'plagiarism radar'. In fact, what typically happens is that they forget exactly what they copied (because they weren't really all that engaged in the writing process anyhow) and it somehow slipped through, and the Prof caught it. How unnecessary! This happens because 1) the student is lazy (most of us are, quite frankly); 2) the student is pressed for time (aren't we all!); 3) because we just don't believe in ourselves....so much has been written ...surely I'm not smart enough to write something unique..... NONSENSE!

Consider this. You have 26 letters of the alphabet to work with in English. Some languages have a bit more, some a few less...and some languages use modified heiroglyphics, like Chinese, and in that language you aren't considered to have a good college education until you have mastered about 30,000 characters!

Combine all of those letters in all of the complex words that can be formed...the potential combination results in an infinite series of unique phrasings. Consider English, and let's say that all words are merely two letters long (ridiculous, right? but some languages use very short words...). So, 26 characters can be combined to make a bunch of 2 letter words...you calculate this out by raising the number of possible combined characteristics to the total size of the product (this was how Gamow worked out what the likely size was for the codon sizing for the DNA code - didn't know Gamow did it? shame on you see: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/the-invention-of-the-genetic-code/4), then there'd be 26 squared numbers of possible combinations of characters...and so the same number of words. 26 squared....676. Of course there'd be usage rules and that would cut them back, but that's still a pretty large number, but not nearly the size of your vocabulary. The average word is actually about 5 letters in length in English....5.1 actually; that's 16,457,508 possible combinations of about the average length word....again rules will cut it back considerably, but pretty big. How about German? 6.36 average word length: over 7.2 billion possibilities of the average word length, and this is assuming that you don't include the special German characteris like 's-scet' (dbl s, looks like a lower case beta) and all the modified characters with umlauts, etc....this gets ridiculous of course because it doesn't really quite work that way....but you see my point. Lots of opportunities to say things. Language: ain't it cool!

So, just use your own head. It's actually easier! It may seem to take longer, but really, it doesn't. And, you can't get caught for plagiarism. Guess what? You won't ever even have to worry - not even think - about plagiarism, if you are really using your own phrasing, because there are so many possibilities. Of course, famous phrasing gets stuck in our heads sometimes, and to be sure it doesn't hurt to run what you wrote through Google...or Turnitin if you like. Remember, however: it's the process you go through to do the writing that is important. Not so much, the end product.