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Beginning September, 2000

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Word Order

Recently, the Advanced Composition class discussed the effect of different word orders during a class on using the infinitive noun. Look at the three examples below.

Student Example (First sentence)

-To find a job, for a new immigrant, is very difficult. 
-For a new immigrant, to find a job is very difficult. 
-To find a job is very difficult for a new immigrant.

Pay attention to the different ways you can express the same thought and the different order of words, specifically. 

We tend to notice the beginning, the end, and then the middle when reading a sentence. Change word orders to provide a different emphasis.

October 21, 2001

A Way to Interrupt: Parentheses

Sentences sometimes require an interruption (though not always, of course) in order for your meaning to be clear. Many of these interruptions are handled by commas, but if the words interrupt or, particularly, if the words explain, then use parentheses.

Here are a few examples:

I am (actually, I always have been) very helpful to my neighbours.

Only very few students (two or three) complete their work on time.

Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000) was Canada's Prime Minister for 14 years.

October 14, 2001

Poetic Terms: Symbol (Sixth in a series)

A symbol is something our eyes see, but which means more than what our eyes take in. Somehow, a symbol has taken on more meaning, a meaning associated with the object.

The fall of the World Trade Center towers on September 11 is a good example of symbol. The towers themselves represented the financial power of the USA and of the world. Their fall, as anyone can see, means more than the destruction of the buildings (and the horrendous loss of life). 

The towers, then, were symbols. Their fall was meant to be symbolic by their attackers. What the events of September 11 will mean, symbolically, in future remains to be seen and depends on other events that will come.

October 8, 2001

Poetic Terms: Other Rhymes (Fifth in a series)

To review, rhyme is when a poet repeats the sounds inside words in two or more lines of poetry. But, there are other things to know about rhyme!

Feminine rhyme: the rhyming words rhyme on more than one syllable as in cooking and looking or in deceptively and perceptively

Internal rhyme: the rhyming words rhyme inside the line as in Coleridge's line, "The sails at noon left off their tune."

October 1, 2001

Poetic Terms: Rhyme (Fourth in a series)

In its simplest form, rhyme is when a poet repeats the sounds inside words in two or more lines of poetry. Note the example below:

Give but his horns the slightest touch
His self-collective power is such,
He shrinks into his house with much

(from The Snail by William Cowper, 1800)

Note, too, that it is the sound that repeats as in "touch" and "such" and not necessarily the spelling of the word. Next week, look for more on some of the more complex aspects of rhyme.

September 23, 2001

Poetic Terms: Image (Third in a series)

No one could doubt the power of image this terrible week. I am haunted, still, by airliners flying into the World Trade Center and by their eventual collapse. I am haunted, too, by ghostly images of people, covered in fine grey ash walking down the hushed streets of Manhattan.

In poetry, an image is a kind of "word picture" that makes us imagine with our eyes and ears, with our tongue and hands. 

Here is an example, somehow appropriate this day, from William Stafford's poem, "At the Bomb Testing Site."

At noon in the desert a panting lizard
waited for history, its elbows tense,
watching the curve of a particular road
as if something might happen.

We all wait, today, for what may happen next. And like the "panting lizard" we too are tense with anticipation. 

September 16, 2001

Poetic Terms: Metaphor (Second in a series)

Metaphor is the backbone of literature. A spine, metaphor strengthens words and supports them. Without metaphor,  we would be terribly bored!

Of course, metaphor is an implied comparison between two things, essentially unlike. In my example above, I have used a comparison between "backbone" or "spine" and metaphor itself.

For more examples of metaphor and a worksheet visit the following pages at PALC:

Writing is Like . . . . (Composition Worksheet)

The Importance of Metaphor (Composition Worksheet)

English 10 Notes on Metaphor

Teacher Writing Example: The Child Raising Road

September 8, 2001

Poetic Terms: Metonymy (First in a series)

One of the more intriguing figures of speech is metonymy. In this figure, we refer to one thing that is related to another. 

In some restaurants, for example, waiters refer to customers according to the meal they have ordered. Thus: "The noodle soup is waiting for the bill." 

This sentence uses "noodle soup" to refer to a person (the customer) and is a kind of short hand for busy waiters!

Another metonymy substitutes a part for a whole as in "We see many new faces at the ALC this time of year." This time, "faces" substitutes for the new people (who are more than just a "face" of course!)

Use metonymy in your writing (sparingly) and watch for it in prose and poetry alike. 

September 1, 2001

Keep it Simple (and Straightforward)

Oftentimes, writers believe that fancy words are better than basic ones. Keep your prose straightforward and simple. Your readers will thank you.

Say what you want to say, simply. 

August 19, 2001

Writing: Too Slowly?

Peter Elbow, in his book Writing with Power, says that "Trying to write things right usually means writing very slowly and carefully." and as a result, "often leads to overwriting."

In any case, he still recommends that writers plan as much as they can in advance. Even so, he warns us not to "insist on success or use up too much time on the effort."

August 15, 2001

Repeat Yourself!

One effective technique in writing is formally called repetition. Often, students are afraid to repeat for emphasis, fearing they may bore the reader. 

When repetition is used wisely, however, it is a powerful technique. The emphasis on a word or phrase focusses a reader's attention, and this attention is something the writer wishes to have.

Note the number of repeated words in my samples above. So, remember to repeat yourself!

August 5, 2001

Use the Dash—A Handy Mark

You can use the dash (—) in two ways—to set off words that interrupt the main thought or as a way to introduce information (meaning "in other words" or "that is." Note how the second use of a dash is very close to a colon, but less formal).


The bicyclist whooshed by me—I saw his bike just in time—and disappeared down the street.

One thing I can tell you about grammar—the dash is a handy mark!

July 29, 2001

Watch Out for Exclamation Marks!

Don't, as William Zinsser says in his book, On Writing Well, use an exclamation point to "knock[s] us over the head with how cute or wonderful something was." 

If what you are saying is "cute or wonderful," then a good reader will know without having to be reminded. Save your exclamation marks for real exclamations.

 July 15, 2001

Who's Your Audience?

Who, exactly, are you writing for? What we write can change, based on our intended audience. 

Find out more about writing for an audience with an Advanced Composition worksheet. Then, visit a sample of teacher writing on "Being the Tooth Fairy" for two different audiences.

July 8, 2001

Proofreading Carefully

As a teacher, and a writer, I find proofreading to be one of the more important parts of writing well. Every week, I receive assignments with small errors: spelling mistakes, subject-verb agreement problems, and so on.

Nothing makes a teacher/reader less confident than an avoidable mistake! Make sure to always proofread carefully before handing in any writing. 

June 24, 2001

Time, Adverbs, and the Present Perfect

Have you ever make [sic!] a mistake using an adverbial time expression? If so the worksheet entitled "Adverbial Time and the Present Perfect" is for you!

Also, view a teacher writing sample, illustrating the use of adverbial time and the present perfect tense entitled "Weatherproofing: An Ongoing Project."

June 17, 2001


William Zinsser, in his book, On Writing Well, has this to say about simplicity: "But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components." He goes on to say that the problems of overly involved writing increase with our levels of education!

So, keep your sentences simple. It's good advice.

June 11, 2001

Topics in Threes

One of the more difficult skills to acquire is turning topics into threes. Each standard essay requires three body paragraphs. View a worksheet on Turning Topics into Threes for more information on improving your skill.

June 3, 2001

The POWER Formula

Many of you will soon be writing a test paragraph or essay for the upcoming certificate tests. Follow the POWER formula to improve your writing success.

Plan: Spend a few minutes planning your composition.
Organize: Put your ideas into order before you write.
Write: Spend a good amount of time writing your composition.
Evaluate: Take a few minutes to look carefully at your composition.
Rewrite: Fix errors before handing in your work.

May 27, 2001

A Recommended Grammar Text: Communicate What You Mean

For more than a decade, I have used the text, Communicate What You Mean, for ideas and lessons on grammar for my students. This book focuses on correct grammar in context, and provides exercises that give oral and written practice of a variety of forms.  More information on the contents of this book from Prentice Hall. 

May 20, 2001

A Recommended Text: 
On Writing Well

William Zinnser's book, On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction, is one of the best. Each chapter has something unique to offer aspiring writers. Find information on Usage, Style, and Clutter in his entertaining chapters. More information on finding the book from

May 13, 2001

If in Doubt, Cut it Out!

Beginning writers often become attached to sentences already written. They rewrite and rewrite a sentence "to death." But, sometimes the best approach is the most ruthless: cutting. If the sentence (or, even, the paragraph) won't work, then give it a decent burial and start fresh. Remember the rule: If in Doubt, Cut it Out!

May 6, 2001

Use the Active Verb

Verbs animate your sentences. Without good, active verbs, we flounder around, not saying exactly what we mean. Use verbs wisely!

We can say: John walked home. But, how is John feeling? We don't know.

Instead we can say: John shambled home. With an active verb, we know that he walked " slowly, unsteadily, or awkwardly." Now we know that John is tired, or perhaps he drank too much!

Make your verbs work in the sentence! Choose active verbs and see your writing improve.

April 29, 2001

Is That a Cause or an Effect?

Writing cause-effect paragraphs requires careful analysis. For example, a fire is caused by someone lighting a match in a house. 

But, the gas was leaking before the match was lit. And, the gas leaked because the pipe was poorly installed. The pipe was poorly installed because the homeowner tried to save money by doing the work himself. Now, what was the most important cause?

Remember to look at as many of the underlying causes to any important effect. Your paragraph will then be a more complete and carefully considered analysis.

April 22, 2001

Give Yourself a Chance!

Good writers seldom, if ever, write well in their first, second, or sometimes even third draft. Setting your expectations too high can lead to discouragement in any writer.

So, expect bad first drafts and even not-so-good second drafts when working on important writing. If your third draft is starting to look just a little bit good, then you are writing as well as the great writers already. Congratulations!

April 15, 2001

Avoiding Deadwood

Use fewer words. Save your readers' time. Deadwood, a term for using excess words, should be avoided. Here are some rules:

Use Precise Words (not lots of modifiers)

The small white dog with long hair (7 words)
The Cairn Terrier (3 words)

Reduce Clauses to Phrases or Single Words

The garden which was on the corner (7)
The garden on the corner (4)
The corner garden (3)

Avoid Wordy Phrases

Due to the fact that (5)
Because (1)

In the event that (4)
If (1)

April 8, 2001

Using Quotations (5)

Rule 5: Punctuate Quotations Correctly

a) Use double quotations marks (" ") for quotations.

b) Always put periods and commas inside quotation marks. Example: After she had done her "duties to God," she then could do her "duty to man."

c) Always put colons and semicolons outside of quotation marks. Example: Hamlet says "To be, or not to be"; in essence he is contemplating suicide.

d) Put other punctuation marks (question marks, dashes, exclamation points) inside quotation marks if they are part of the quote and outside if they are your own mark. Example: But can Hamlet really mean "there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow"?

April 1, 2001

Using Quotations (4

Here is the fourth rule for students learning to use quotations in their essays and paragraphs in any subject.

Rule 4: Change your quotations correctly

Sometimes, you must change a quotation, either by leaving something out or by making something clear. This is done by using ellipsis or brackets.

Examples of Ellipsis: 

Edgar V. Roberts offers this way of looking at tone: "Quite often authors wish to be helpfully informative . . . as though the words
are like clear windows overlooking scenes and situations." (note that three dots indicate missing words in the middle of the sentence)

He adds also that "In a broader perspective, authors may view human nature with amused affection. . . ." (note here that words are missing at the end of the quotation)

Example of Brackets

Roberts goes on to say, "[The young woman's] speech indicates contempt, indifference, and cruelty." (Here, the author had used "Her" to begin his sentence, but to make the quotation clearer the writer specifies to whom he refers inside the brackets.)

March 25, 2001

Using Quotations (3

Here is the third rule for students learning to use quotations in their essays and paragraphs in any subject.

Rule 3: Integrate Quotes into your Sentences

Using short quotations—words or phrases—from a piece of literature is an effective way to blend your own thoughts with those of the writer you are studying.

Example: The mother in "The Witch," although first concerned about the old man, goes "peacefully back to her book" when he begins to tell her son a story about his sister. 

March 18, 2001

Using Quotations (2)

Here is the second rule for students learning to use quotations in their essays and paragraphs in any subject.

Rule 2: Punctuate Quotations Correctly

A. Use a comma for brief or informal or grammatically incomplete introductions to a quote. 
Example: The boy says, "But, gran'ther, father says we mustn't!" 

B. Use a colon to separate your complete sentence introduction from a quotation. 
Example: The boy, when he finds that his grandfather wants to take him to the country fair, exclaims: "But, gran'ther, father says we mustn't!"

C. Integrate your quotation into your own sentence structure. 
Example: The boy says "we mustn't!" when his grandfather proposes going to the country fair.

March 11, 2001

Using Quotations (1) 

Students writing essays for senior English courses will often need to quote the literature they are studying. It is a bit of an art to use quotations well, but necessary to your success, particularly as you move on to post-secondary studies.

Rule 1: Introduce your Quotations

Example: At the beginning of Liam O'Flaherty's story, "The Sniper," he describes the sniper's eyes as having "the cold gleam of the fanatic." 

(Note how the author, the title, and where the quote comes from in the story is clearly identified. In further quotes in the same paper, one only needs to identify where and in what context the quote is found.)

March 4, 2001

Sound in Poetry

Poets delight in the sound of language and consciously present sounds to be enjoyed for themselves. They also use them to emphasize meaning, action, and emotion, and especially to call the reader's attention to the relationship of certain words. Rhyme, for example, has the effect of linking words together.

But, not only poets can use sound in writing. Any writer can benefit from being conscious of sound in language. For example, Shakespeare, in his sonnet below, uses explosive, unpleasant sounds (the p's and st's) to emphasize his warning on the dangers of lust.

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame 
Is lust in action; and till action, lust

February 25, 2001

The Speaker in Poetry

In poetry, the voice of the person speaking in the poem is called the speaker or persona. Much like other forms of fiction, where the speaker is referred to as a narrator, poems can have a voice very different from that of the living poet.

Here's an example:

One poem I have used with students is called "Hood" (C.K. Williams). In this poem, the speaker is a bully who speaks to the person he has bullied. As an exercise, I asked students to write in the voice of a person they were afraid of at some time. Clearly, the student poets were not the bully. Thus, we all came to understand the speaker better in poetry, and maybe just a little the character of people who we dislike!

February 18, 2001

Proof, Persuasion, and Audience

One of the more difficult forms of writing, persuasion, requires us to prove our argument. Proof depends on audience, the readers who will read your work. 

Will the readers be friendly? If so, then little factual proof is necessary. 

Will the readers be skeptical? If so, then much more proof is necessary. Remember: facts that are readily checked by your audience will be stronger than ideas you have taken out of the air!

February 11, 2001

Coordination and Subordination

Using coordination and subordination correctly helps you to develop stronger, more effective, sentences. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample showing you the use of both coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

February 4, 2001

Verbs Followed by Gerunds or Infinitives

Sometimes, a verb is followed by either a gerund or an infinitive. In some cases, however, a verb can be followed by either one. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample showing you which verbs follow this rule.

January 28, 2001

Uses of Would

Would you like to learn more about would? Much used in English, but difficult to learn, read about four different uses of would this week. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating the theory and use of the four variations.

January 21, 2001

Extended Definition: Paragraph Development

Formal definition can help us to develop new kinds of paragraph development. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating the theory and use of formal definition.

January 14, 2001

Using the Past Unreal

Using the past unreal tense is important when writing about situations where you might have done something differently. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating this useful verb tense.

January 9, 2001

How to Make a Writing Resolution 

This year, make a resolution to improve your writing in specific ways. If, for example, you lack writing vocabulary, plan to increase your knowledge and use of new words. To be specific, state that you will learn and use five new words each week. Resolutions that you can achieve and measure will work the best. Tell friends and family of your goal; they can help and praise you when you succeed. Good luck to all student writers in the first year of the new millennium. Write your resolution today.

January 2, 2001

Adjectives + Prepositions + Gerunds 

Adjective/preposition/gerund combinations need to be memorized for effective writing. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating this useful sentence structure.

December 24, 2000

Verbs using "ed": Past and Perfect 

Having control of the "ed" verb in English is important to successful writing. It is particularly important to speaking about one's life and past events. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating this useful sentence structure.

December 17, 2000

Conjunctive Adverbs and the Semicolon 

One of the more powerful structures a student writer can learn is the use of the conjunctive adverb with a semicolon; however, many students do not know how to use it. See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating this useful sentence structure.

December 10, 2000

Using Coordinating Conjunctions

Students from Level 3 and up are expected to make sentences using coordinating conjunctions. For extra practice for the certificate tests, see a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating the use of all five coordinating conjunctions.

December 3, 2000

Using the Colon

One of the handier punctuation marks, the colon is often mistaken for a semicolon.  See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating three uses of the colon.

November 26, 2000

Considering your Audience

Who will read your work? Readers knowledge and culture can have an effect on how we write.  See a worksheet on this topic and a teacher writing sample illustrating two ways to write the same topic for different audiences.

November 19, 2000

Be Concrete!

One way to improve the quality of your detail sentences is to be more concrete. Doing this can increase interest and help you avoid misunderstanding. See a worksheet on this topic.

November 12, 2000

Better Topic Sentences

One of the fundamentals of English paragraph writing, the topic sentence can make or break a paragraph. Learn more on how to write the best topic sentences ever. See a worksheet on this topic and student samples.

November 5, 2000

Correlative Conjunctions:
Either and Or

Writing the correlative conjunction can be tricky, but it is handy to know how! Either you learn it today, or I will be disappointed. See a worksheet on this topic and a sample of teacher writing

October 28, 2000

Four Rules of Description

Find out four rules of description, beginning with careful observation of the world around you. See a worksheet on this topic and a sample of teacher writing.

October 21, 2000

Uses of the Passive Voice

Often, students are cautioned to avoid the passive voice. But sometimes the passive voice is a useful method.  See a worksheet on this topic and a sample of teacher writing.

October 15, 2000

Using Appositive Phrases

Appositive phrases offer a good way to increase detail, improve variety, and garner reader interest. See a worksheet on this topic and a sample of teacher writing.

October 8, 2000

Which Verb for Which Gerund?

Some gerund nouns follow certain English verbs. Make sure you know how to use this powerful method of writing improvement. See a worksheet on this topic and a sample of teacher writing.

October 1, 2000

Sentence Emphasis

Changing a sentence can help you to emphasize the most important detail. Remember, facts can be presented in a number of ways! See a worksheet on this topic and a sample of teacher writing.

September 25, 2000

Showing versus Telling

A writer friend tells me that this is the most important rule of writing: Show, don't tell. See a worksheet on this topic and a sample of teacher writing.

September 18, 2000

Powerful Parallels

Using parallel structure can make your writing more powerful. Link here to a worksheet and example of teacher writing to learn more.

September 11, 2000


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