Mike Hannay en J. Lachlan Mackenzie - Effective Writing in English

Effective Writing in English

EffectiveWriting in English A Sourcebook

Mike Hannay

J. Lachlan Mackenzie

Third, revised edition

c u i t g e v e r ij

c o u t i n h o

bussum 2017

www.coutinho.nl/effectivewritingenglish This book has a companion website. The online study material consists of spelling guidelines as well as exercises on a number of chapters of the book and a key to those exercises.

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Foreword to the third edition

We learn to speak and understand our native language without any great effort, for these are natural aspects of the maturation of every human being. The skills of reading and writing, by contrast, have to be learned, usually in an educational context. Now, when it comes to a foreign language, all the skills (speaking, understanding, reading and writing) have to be learned. Nothing can be acquired without considerable effort. This learning process does not take place in a vacuum: it is heavily influenced by our previous experience of acquiring our native language and learning to read and write it. These facts have been taken as the background to this book. It is aimed at native speakers of Dutch who have learned to read and write their own language and who now wish to add skill in writing English to their repertoire. These may be students specializing in English studies, or students whose courses include an English skills component. Alternatively, the book will be useful for Dutch-speaking research students who have to report on their findings in English. Since these are our well-defined target groups, we will be continual- ly pointing to those aspects of written English which differ from comparable aspects of written Dutch, while also giving a complete guide to the writing process. This book follows on from the introductory material offered in Manon van der Laaken, Robert E. Lankamp & Michael Sharwood Smith (2001), Writing better English: A multi-purpose model for advanced speakers . Our book focuses on the correctness and appropriateness of the written English you produce (the quality of the product) and consequently can be seen as complementary to Janene van Loon, Arnoud Thüss, Nicole Schmidt & Kevin Haines (2016), Academic writing in English: A process-based approach , sec- ond edition, which leads you through the various processes of writing. We will be making regular reference to grammatical notions in this book, and Effective Writing in English can be used in conjunction with J. Lachlan Mac- kenzie (2014), Principles and Pitfalls of English Grammar , third revised edi- tion. All these books are also published by Uitgeverij Coutinho. This is the third edition of a book that first saw the light of day in 1996. The book is now more streamlined and reader-friendly than it used to be. Parts 1 and 2 have been rather thoroughly rewritten, with several new exam- ples; Parts 3 and 4 have also been updated, as have the Suggestions for fur- ther reading. The guidance on spelling has been moved to the companion website, www.coutinho.nl/effectivewritingenglish , where you will find the

spelling guidelines as well as exercises on a number of chapters of the book and a key to those exercises. We wish to acknowledge the help and counsel of numerous friends and colleagues whose input has been invaluable over the years. A few of these deserve special mention. Prof. Herman Wekker of the University of Gronin- gen (1943-1997) oversaw the entire genesis of this book in its original form, offering us wise and authoritative advice on a wide range of subjects. Prof. Walter Nash (1926-2015), of Nottingham University, was a source of con- stant inspiration to us both throughout our work on writing in English. Prof. Roderick Lyall, Emeritus Professor of Literatures in English at VU University, added valuable comment on the whole manuscript and Emeritus Professor Richard Todd, of the University of Leiden, kindly made available to us his style guide for literary essays, which we have adapted for part of Chapter 14. Reinder Elzenga’s and Dr Joy Burrough-Boenisch’s insightful comments on the earlier form of the book have influenced our book for the better. We learned enormously from Prof. Dirk Siepmann and Dr John Gallagher while collaborating on Writing in English: A guide for advanced learners (Francke Verlag, Tübingen & Basle, 2011). And last but not least, our lasting gratitude goes to the thousands of students – now anonymous – whose work we have read, enjoyed and corrected over the years and whose thoughts have found their way into many of our examples. Mike Hannay, Amstelveen Lachlan Mackenzie, Amsterdam May 2017


Introduction 13

PART 1 The process of writing

1 Preliminaries 21

1.1 Planning your text 21 1.2 Writing your text 25 1.3 Face-to-face interaction versus physical and temporal distance 25 1.3.1 Depersonalization: first-person pronouns 26 1.3.2 Depersonalization: second-person pronouns 29

1.4 Familiarity versus unfamiliarity 29

1.4.1 The use of questions, orders and exclamations 30 1.4.2 Complete sentences 31

1.5 Intonation versus syntactic organization 31 1.6 Challenges for writers more familiar with Dutch 32 1.7 Review 34 2 Editing 35 2.1 Introduction 35 2.2 Three levels of editing 36 2.3 Aids to editing 38 2.4 Review 40

PART 2 Organizing the text

3 The title and the introduction 45 3.1 The initial impression 45 3.2 The title 45 3.3 The introduction 51 3.3.1 The topic sentence 52 3.3.2 Elaboration 54 3.3.3 The thesis statement 57

3.4 An example 59 3.5 Review 60

4 The body 63

4.1 Introduction 63 4.2 Physical presentation 63 4.3 Structuring the body 64 4.4 The make-up of the body paragraph 67 4.5 Editing the body 71 4.6 Review 72

5 The conclusion 73 5.1 Introduction 73

5.2 The topic sentence 74 5.3 The elaboration 76 5.4 The climax sentence 78 5.5 Review 80

PART 3 Constructing effective sentences

6 Clause combining 83 6.1 Introduction 83

6.2 Finite dependent clauses 84 6.2.1 Adverbial clauses 85

6.2.2 Non-restrictive relative clauses 86 6.3 Non-finite clauses 87 6.4 Verbless clauses 90 6.5 Foregrounding, backgrounding and segmenting 90 6.6 Position 93

6.6.1 Initial position and orientation 93 6.6.2 Medial position and explanation 94 6.6.3 Final position and elaboration 95 6.6.4 A special case: using non-restrictive relative clauses 97

6.7 Sentence length 99

6.7.1 Long sentences 99 6.7.2 Short sentences 101

6.8 Review 104

7 The order of information in the clause 107 7.1 Introduction 107 7.2 Five basic principles for clause construction 107

7.2.1 Constituent ordering and informational status 108 7.2.2 Initial constituents and paragraph development 112 7.2.3 Constituent ordering and formal properties 119

7.3 What goes wrong? 122 7.4 Non-subject constituents in initial position 128 7.5 The active and the passive 131 7.6 Non-agent subjects 133 7.7 The cleft construction 136 7.8 The pseudo-cleft construction 138 7.9 The th-wh construction 142 7.10 The presentative construction 144 7.11 The existential construction 146 7.12 Discontinuous structures 148 7.13 Object-adjunct switching 149 7.14 Review 151 8.1 Introduction: coherence and cohesion 153 8.2 Reference 155 8.3 Lexical choice 161 8.4 Tense 165 8.5 Connectives 170 8.6 Review 176 9.1 The importance of punctuation 177 9.2 Commas and the principle of semantic unity 178 9.3 How to use commas 181 9.3.1 Orientations 181

8 Textual cohesion 153

9 Punctuation 177

9.3.2 Insertions 185 9.3.3 Additions 187 9.3.4 Additions with and and but 189 9.3.5 Comma splices 191 9.3.6 Lists 192

9.4 Colons 194

9.4.1 What goes wrong? 195

9.5 Semicolons 197 9.6 Brackets and dashes 199 9.7 Punctuation and style 200 9.8 Review 202

PART 4 Getting the details right

10 Matters of usage 207 10.1 Introduction 207

10.2 Dangling modifiers 207 10.3 Ending sentences with prepositions 209 10.4 Lexical repetition and lexical variation 210 10.5 Long words 211 10.6 Passives 212 10.7 Shall and will 213 10.8 Split infinitives 214 10.9 Sentences starting with and 215

10.10 That and which 216 10.11 Who and whom 217

11 Point of view 219

11.1 Introduction 219 11.2 The use of I 220 11.3 The use of we 221 11.4 The use of you 222 11.5 Modal verbs 222 11.6 Opinion clauses 223 11.7 Content disjuncts 224 12 Forceful argumentation 225 12.1 Introduction 225

12.2 The strategies of English and Dutch 225 12.3 Conciseness 228 12.4 Repetition 232

12.4.1 Lexical repetition 232 12.4.2 Structural repetition 233 12.4.3 Contrast 235

12.5 Achieving end focus 236 12.6 Interrupting the flow of information 237 12.7 Argument formulas 238 12.8 Review 242

13 Usage notes for connectives 245 13.1 Introduction 245 13.2 Usage notes 245

14 Referring to other texts 257 14.1 Introduction 257

14.2 Reporting the content of other texts 258 14.2.1 Referring 258 14.2.2 The language of reporting 259 14.3 Quoting 260 14.3.1 How to introduce quotations 261 14.3.2 How to adjust a quotation 262 14.4 Writing footnotes 263 14.5 The language mode 1: references 264 14.5.1 The author 264 14.5.2 The date 264 14.5.3 Pagination 264 14.5.4 Non-integrated references 265 14.6 The language mode 2: the bibliography 265 14.6.1 The author or editor’s name 266 14.6.2 The date of publication 266 14.6.3 The title 267 14.6.4 The source 267 14.7 The language mode 3: presenting linguistic data 269 14.8 The literature mode 1: reference notes 270 14.8.1 The author or editor 270 14.8.2 The title 271 14.8.3 Publication details for books 272 14.8.4 Publication details for journals 273 14.8.5 Pagination 273 14.8.6 Abbreviated notes 274 14.9 The literature mode 2: the bibliography 274 14.9.1 Bibliography vs reference note 275 14.9.2 Literature and language bibliographies 275

14.10 Referring to Internet sites 275 15 A checklist for revising and correcting 277 15.1 Introduction 277 15.2 Lexis and idiom 278 15.3 Punctuation 280

15.4 Grammar at the phrase level 280 15.5 Grammar at the clause level 282 15.6 Content 284 15.7 Organization at text level 284 15.8 Organization at paragraph level 285

15.9 Organization at sentence level 286 15.9.1 Reference 286

15.9.2 Linking 287 15.9.3 Ordering 288 15.9.4 Parallelism 289 15.10 Review and prospect 289

Suggestions for further reading 293

Index 296

Information on the authors 304


One of the most obvious characteristics of our contemporary world is that the written word is everywhere. A greater number of people than ever before are being confronted in their daily activities with other people’s writings and by the need to produce writing themselves, privately and above all profes- sionally. What is more, as the internationalization of our world continues to gather pace, so we are also increasingly being faced with the tasks of reading and producing texts in other languages than our own. In this respect, the dominant role of English as the language of global communication makes it essential that skill in writing English should be part of the stock-in-trade of all educated people. The English language is amazingly flexible, continually adapting itself to the various communicative needs of the people that use it in the situations in which it is being used. The form that we will discuss in this book is the argued text: by this we mean a text which both presents information and takes a stand on that information. The argued text is employed in a wide range of situations: in report-writing and in the production of academic arti- cles, in many forms of reflective journalism, e.g. editorials, in serious blogs, and in historical and biographical work. As a norm for learning and practice purposes, we will be assuming the 1,000-word text. This, in our view, is the minimum length for a text to contain an adequate introduction, a sufficient coverage of arguments, and a well-supported conclusion. We recognize, of course, that there are many other forms of prose than the argued text. Narrative texts, for example, differ in being built around the chronological sequence of real or imagined events, while descriptive texts have their structure dictated, at least to some extent, by the nature of the object or scene being described. Less formal texts, such as private letters, diary entries or e-mails, not to mention posts on social media, will have a less rigorous construction than argued texts, more incomplete sentences and generally will stand closer to what is typical of spoken language. Nev- ertheless, we feel that a mastery of the argued text is fundamental to overall competence in writing, since the principles of organization found in argued texts (notably the tripartition into introduction–body–conclusion and the division of texts into internally coherent paragraphs) return, relaxed to vari- ous degrees, in other text types. In particular, we are convinced that gaining experience in writing argued texts on subjects that you are reasonably famil- iar with and have an opinion about is the best preparation for writing aca- demic texts of various kinds.



The aim of this book is to offer you not only practical advice on writing skills but also an understanding of the reasons behind that advice. Only in this way, we feel, will you achieve control over your writing. Our goal is to make you aware of the various options that are at your disposal, and what the conse- quences are of the selections that you make. We will also be at pains to make you aware of the pitfalls that threaten every native speaker of Dutch who wishes to write accurate and effective English. The overall structure of the book is from macro to micro. Matters dealt with in broad brushstrokes in early parts of the book come back in later parts, with an increasing focus on detail. Part 1 offers a first look at the challenges of writing, taking you through the phases of planning, writing proper and edit- ing. Part 2 is concerned with the three major sections of any argued text, the introduction, the body and the conclusion, and also gives advice on how to come up with an appealing title. Part 3 deals with how to construct effective sentences, showing how important it is for successful writers to have a large range of grammatical options at their disposal, to be able to deploy various textual devices and ‒ last but not least ‒ to be proficient in punctuation. Part 4 is full of immediately applicable advice on ‘getting the details right’, giving clear but not dogmatic guidance on writing accurate and communicatively appropriate English. Among the many issues treated here are how to use con- nectives (words like however and consequently ), how to express opinions in argued prose, and how to refer to other texts. Part 4, and the book, concludes with Chapter 15, a checklist for revising. This chapter can also be used by composition teachers for correcting and marking written work. Our book contains hundreds of examples, many of them taken from texts written by our students. Not all of these deserve to be imitated: those that are ungrammatical are preceded by a cross (  ) and those that are not fully acceptable by a question mark ( ? ); in addition, those that are grammatical but in some way unsuitable in the context have been marked by a triangle ( ▲ ). Note, however, that we only use these symbols to mark specific aspects of language and use which are relevant to the subject being discussed in the text. Where example sentences include student errors that do not relate to the topic of discussion, we have not marked the sentence in any way; in other words we have let the mistake stand rather than correcting it. The advice that we offer is based on an analysis that we have made of an extensive corpus of essays written by students at VU University Amsterdam and by participants in courses given there. That analysis has revealed not only that inexperienced Dutch writers of English are liable to commit errors of various predictable types but also that they make less use of certain forms of expression which are regularly found in the writing of native speakers of English. This book aims both to eradicate errors and to draw attention to underused constructions. From time to time in the book, we suggest that you should not do X, but do Y instead. In advising inexperienced writers, how-



ever, it is difficult to make hard and fast rules, since there may well be good communicative reasons in a particular context for you to do X after all. It is not our intention to stultify your creativity; we invite you to understand our prescriptions as well-meant advice rather than as dictates.


This book has a companion website with extra study material, which you can access at www.coutinho.nl/effectivewritingenglish . The online study material consists of: ■■ spelling guidelines; ■■ exercises on a number of chapters of the book and a key to those exercises.


Part  Introduction

Part 1 The process of writing

1 Preliminaries 2 Editing


The process of writing

The word ‘writing’ will be used in this book in a broad sense. It will cover not just the actual production of written text (what we call ‘writing proper’) but also those processes that precede and follow the process of writing proper. The three processes that we distinguish are: ■■ planning ■■ writing proper ■■ editing In general terms, planning must precede writing proper: you cannot start to produce text without having thought about what you are going to write about. Similarly, editing must follow writing proper: since editing involves reading your own work critically and making changes where appropri- ate, there must be a text there to be read and adapted. Nevertheless, recent research has shown that skilled writers allow the three stages to overlap in time. As you write down your ideas, you might notice that certain elements of your original plan no longer seem appropriate and need to be revised. Moreover, new ideas keep cropping up as you write, and their relevance to the overall plan needs to be assessed. So planning and writing proper inevita- bly overlap. Much the same can be said about writing proper and editing. As a writer, you are simultaneously a reader (of your own writing): skilled writers are often able to write and edit more or less at the same time. Editing may even overlap with planning. In the self-critical process of editing, you may decide that reformulation is not enough and that the entire plan with which you started out has to be amended, which in turn will cause you to rewrite lengthy sections of your work. The processes of planning, writing proper, and editing can thus be seen as cyclical rather than simply consecutive in time (see Figure 1).


writing proper


Figure 1


Part 1 The process of writing

The two chapters in this part will deal with the three processes in turn. Chap- ter 1 will introduce you to planning and writing proper. You will learn how to ensure that your work is entirely original while referring to existing publi- cations. You will also find suggestions for building up an argument in which your standpoint and your persuasive intention come across clearly while keeping the text attractive and coherent for your readers. Chapter 1 also con- tains hints for achieving the ‘depersonalization’ that is appropriate for argued discourse; about the restrictions on using incomplete sentences, questions, and exclamations; and about how to compensate for the absence in English of various Dutch techniques for giving emphasis. Chapter 2 deals with the essential process of editing, suggesting three different levels at which your text can be improved and briefly discussing some aspects of word processing programs that are relevant to the editing process.


1 Preliminaries


Planning your text

Written language appears in many forms. The form we will focus on in this book is the argued text . By this we mean a text which both presents infor- mation and takes a stand on that information. Argued text is used in a wide range of situations in daily working life: in written reports, academic articles, opinion pieces such as newspaper editorials, blogs, and also in historical and biographical work. Argued texts also form an important part of the learning experience in tertiary education, and as a norm for this particular purpose we will be assuming the 1,000-word text. In our view, this is the minimum length for a text to contain an adequate introduction, a sufficient coverage of arguments, and a well-supported conclusion. An argued text is a product of reflection: you will need to reflect on what you wish to communicate and how you wish to communicate, both before you start writing and during the writing process. Thinking about what to write about is generally referred to as planning and is recognized as an essen- tial aspect of communicating in writing. Since you will be writing in Eng- lish, you should conduct these planning activities as much as possible in that language. This way you will only develop ideas that you have the capacity to express in English. An important implication of writing in English, now the leading international language , is that you are potentially communicating with a worldwide readership whose needs have to be considered. More spe- cifically, for the kind of argued text you will be creating, you should assume that your readers are educated adults from anywhere in the world, who have good general knowledge but are not necessarily specialists in the field that you are writing about. You should therefore not only avoid references to spe- cific aspects of your native culture but also not assume that the reader will be familiar with purely British or exclusively American cultural phenomena. Many inexperienced writers fear that they will not have enough ideas for a text of the length required. There is so much information available in today’s world, but how can you come up with original ideas for your argued text? There is no easy answer to this question, but we strongly recommend brain- storming as a way of overcoming ‘writer’s block’. Discuss your topic with as


Part 1 The process of writing

many different people as possible, again preferably in English, face-to-face or online. You’ll probably find that this interactive approach will help you to formulate your ideas, and the reactions of the people you are brainstorming with will give you a good impression of what your future readership is likely to think of your ideas. Your subject matter will be determined by the nature of the task at hand, be it a review of the literature, a report on an experiment, a proposal for research, or whatever. An important characteristic of any kind of argued text, however, is that the writer will regularly take a stand on work that has already been published. This is entirely legitimate and indeed it will be expected of you, but it is essential that you always acknowledge the source of all the information that you use, either by quoting it (using quotation marks) or by paraphrasing it (i.e. restating it in your words). In all cases, even when you are paraphrasing, you must specify the source very precisely. All the sources you use will ultimately find their way into your footnotes or bibliography. In Chapter 14, we will explain in detail how these sources are documented for two specific disciplines – linguistics and literary studies. If you are working in another discipline, you should find out what system is prevalent in that discipline, since it may differ from either of these in various respects. What- ever documentation system you choose or are required to use, you should already be applying it during this planning stage. You don’t want to be hunt- ing for references when the deadline for submission is approaching! In the academic world, only works that have been subjected to peer review are acceptable as sources. Peer review means that a publication has been ver- ified by anonymous experts in the field and selected as reliable by a recog- nized professional editor. All the books and journals in the university library have undergone this process. Today, however, almost all students, as well as senior academics, turn to the Internet rather than the library for their infor- mation, since most peer-reviewed publications are now online. However, not all the material on the Internet is reliable: many of the web pages suggested by your browser are not peer-reviewed and many pages have a short life on the net. Notice in particular that Wikipedia, like all anonymous sites, is not an acceptable source for academic writing. Although it contains a wealth of correct information, it is open to abuse since it allows anyone to edit articles. If you learn something relevant on Wikipedia, find a peer-reviewed source for the same information before adding it to your work. In addition, the sense of anonymity associated with the Internet may lead you to commit plagiarism . This is the illicit and indeed illegal practice of pre- senting other people’s written work as though it were the writer’s own (see Chapter 14 Section 2 for further discussion). If you copy and paste someone else’s text into your own, that is blatant intellectual theft. But even if you only fail to specify the sources of the information and ideas in your argued text, that is enough to make you equally guilty of plagiarism. A lot of plagiarism


1 Preliminaries

comes from writer insecurity and/or a lack of experience with the produc- tion of argued text. Using someone else’s material may at times seem like a tempting shortcut, but you should never forget that writing is an opportunity to express your own ideas while properly acknowledging the work of others; and this is also what your readers will expect of you. Once you have generated enough ideas for the argument you wish to make, it will be important to decide what is truly essential and what can be dispensed with. This is the process of selection and involves evaluating the relative effectiveness of the various items of information that you could potentially include. Even though certain details may have taken a lot of effort to develop, what ultimately counts is whether they are fully relevant to your argument. There is a natural resistance to jettisoning the results of hard work, but if you conclude that it is really not appropriate or effective, then out it must go. Now you have a good idea of what the text will be about, the next step is to take a perspective on the matter at hand. This will have a profound effect on the nature of your text and the direction of your argument. For exam- ple, in the case of an argued text that takes the form of a literature review in which you summarize various articles on some subject, you will have to decide what perspective you are going to adopt. This involves questions like: (a) should I try and retrace the chronology of ideas, attempting to recon- struct how authors have influenced each other? (b) should I aim to give an objective report or should I incorporate an element of evaluation, indicating my opinions about the work I am reviewing? (c) should I perhaps only select literature that reflects my own thinking? Whatever you decide, bear in mind that your readers will expect you to have a viewpoint, since this will be the motor behind your argument. While your perspective indicates where you are coming from, you also need to think forwards and determine what you want your text to achieve. This process of determining your intention will add dynamics and purpose- fulness to your text. It involves working out such matters as (a) whether you wish to present only one side of an argument or both sides; (b) whether you need to present examples or can achieve your aims with argumentation alone; (c) whether you want to persuade the reader or merely describe what you are dealing with; (d) whether you will be expressing your emotions about a particular situation; or (e) whether you wish to suggest some remedies for some deplorable state of affairs. As you can appreciate, the answers to these types of questions will have a great impact on your text as a whole. All the prior reflection about your assignment (brainstorming, research- ing, note-taking, selection, deselection, taking a perspective, determining an intention) at some point gives way to actually formulating your argued text, what we call the writing proper. The preparatory work has been ‘for your eyes only’. Now you are moving on to communicating with your reader, whoever


Part 1 The process of writing

they may be: your tutor, possibly, but in principle it could be anyone who can read English. It is therefore essential that your text is reader-friendly , i.e. adapted to the needs of the expected reader. This has implications for every single aspect of your text: its overall structure (which must conform to the reader’s expectations), the coherence of your argument (which must be clear to all readers), and the grammaticality of your sentences (which must not dis- tract readers from their task of understanding your message). We strongly recommend that you do not start on the writing proper of your 1,000-word text before you have a framework in your mind. You have to know what will be going into the introduction, how the body of the text is going to develop, and what you are planning to put in the conclusion. Many novices start writing without a clear idea of where they wish to end up, hop- ing that a good conclusion will occur to them when they have completed the other parts of the text. However, the result of this hopeful strategy is very often that the conclusion, which is after all the most important part of the entire text, either offers an anticlimactic repetition of ideas from the body of the text or goes off in some direction that is not predicted by the introduc- tion. Good overall planning will guarantee the coherence of the overall argu- ment. This is so essential that Chapters 3, 4, and 5 will be devoted to ensuring that the title, introduction, body, and conclusion of your argued text form a unified whole that will be satisfying to your reader (whether or not they agree with your argument). Once you have your overall plan in place, should you then write your text in the order in which it will be read? Many writers find it self-evident that you should indeed do so, but there is in fact no particularly good reason for this. One option you should certainly consider is to postpone the actual for- mulation of the introduction until you are sure of what the body and the conclusion will contain; in certain cases, it is even advisable to wait until the entire remainder of the text has been written (in pre-final form). The thinking behind this option is that an introduction is always an introduc- tion to something : you can never be sure exactly what to include and exactly what to omit from the introduction until you know what you are introducing the reader to. Many introductions are communicatively unsuccessful for this very reason: as textual units in themselves they may be perfectly adequate, but as textual units which serve to prepare the reader for what is to follow, they fail. Similarly, if you already know what your conclusion is going to be, why not go ahead and write it? The body of the text can then be tailored to that goal. Hence the rule of thumb: PLAN your introduction, then your conclusion, and then your body but WRITE your body, then your conclusion, and then your introduction


1 Preliminaries


Writing your text

Writing is such a fundamental aspect of contemporary Western society that we may forget that it is a relatively recent invention (at least in terms of the entire evolutionary development of humankind). Whereas we are fairly sure that spoken language dates back hundreds of thousands of years, written lan- guage did not start to emerge until 8,000 years ago, with the origins of alpha- betic writing being only some 5,000 years ago. There are still many ‘primary oral’ societies in today’s world that do not have a writing system. Writing can be seen as having arisen at various times and in various places as a system for transcribing speech into visible form; speech is thus historically more basic than writing. Yet this observation should not mislead you into thinking that the kind of English that is appropriate for speaking is directly transferable to the written medium. This is because the situations in which it is appropriate to write down your thoughts are typically different from those in which you use the spoken language. This has immediate consequences for the kind of language that you can use when writing. Here is an overview of the features of speak- ing and writing situations: • Speaking • Writing face-to-face interaction physical and temporal distance familiarity unfamiliarity intonation and accent syntactic and textual organization Let us consider each of these contrasts in more detail and their consequences for the practice of writing. Speaking typically occurs when both the communicator and the address- ee(s) are in the same physical environment (in face-to-face interaction) at the same time. The degree of formality of the interaction may differ enormously – think of the difference between a chat at a party and a papal audience – but what remains common to every dialogue is that there is a continual inter- change of speaker and hearer roles. No matter how many participants there are in the conversation, you will be aware when you are speaking that each of the other participants is a potential next communicator, and you will organ- ize your participation in the conversation so as to achieve a balance between ‘keeping the floor’ (i.e. not being interrupted) and eliciting reactions from your addressees, for example by asking a question or commenting on what they have said. Face-to-face interaction versus physical and temporal distance



Part 1 The process of writing

When you are writing an argued text, the major difference is that, at least in the short term, you appear to be the only communicator. You seem to have no rivals, since your readers are at such a (potentially enormous) physical and temporal distance from you that they cannot participate in any interaction. In itself, this is one of the pleasures of writing. But it also puts you at a consid- erable disadvantage. When you are conversing, you will be profoundly aware of your hearer’s reactions – a sceptical glance, a look of incomprehension, a nod of approval. When you are writing, however, you have no way of telling what effect your text is likely to have on your readers. There is an important conclusion that we must draw from these obser- vations: when you are writing, you should do whatever you can to overcome the disadvantages of the physical and temporal distance between yourself and your readers. The most effective way of doing this is to become your own ‘first reader’. As you consider how you are going to formulate your ideas, ask yourself whether the reader you imagine for your text will be likely to inter- pret it the way you wish. Remember that the reader only has your text to go by, so every clue to understanding will have to be in that text. This is very much connected with what we called reader-friendliness in Section 1. Some of the questions you should ask yourself during the writing process are: 1 Is my overall intention clear to anyone reading this? 2 Have I omitted any essential steps in the argumentation? 3 Have I provided evidence for all the claims I make? 4 Is the level (vocabulary, syntactic complexity, paragraph length) appropri- ate for the expected readership? Many if not all of the recommendations in this book are ultimately geared to helping you write in a more reader-friendly manner. By becoming your own first reader, you can to some extent recreate the face-to-face situation in which speech occurs. The fact that writing does not take place in a face-to-face situation also has consequences for certain linguistic aspects of the texts you create. Con- sider, for example, the use of the first- and second-person personal pronouns I and you . These are among the most common words in spoken interaction. In the kind of argued text dealt with in this book, however, the use of these personal pronouns is generally frowned upon. Ways of avoiding the use of these pronouns will be discussed in the following subsections. 1.3.1 Depersonalization: first-person pronouns The major justification for banning the use of first-person pronouns, i.e. I and we and related forms such as me, my, mine, us, our , and ours , is that it is the argument itself that is central to the reader’s appreciation of your text, not its


1 Preliminaries

originator. If a reader is interested in discovering more about the economic situation of contemporary Chile, for example, and has tracked down some texts on that subject, they will want to focus on the information in those texts, not on the providers of the information. For more detail on when it is and is not appropriate to use first-person pronouns, see Chapter 11 Sections 2 and 3. What we will concentrate on in this subsection are the strategies that you can employ if you wish to depersonalize your writing by avoiding the first person; avoidance of the second person will be in the following subsection. Let us consider three strategies here: (a) the use of the passive; (b) the use of nominalizations; (c) the use of ‘locative subjects’. The passive verb form is frequently employed to avoid the use of first-per- son subjects. One of the communicative advantages of the passive is that it allows the person responsible for the action described in the sentence, the ‘agent’, not to be specified. Here are some examples of how a sentence with a first-person subject can be depersonalized. The second sentence of each pair is the depersonalized version: I have shown in this paper that global warming is a phenomenon whose pres- ence cannot be proved scientifically. It has been shown in this paper that global warming is a phenomenon whose presence cannot be proved scientifically. Depersonalization is not impersonalization: the reader of the passive ver- sions can still reconstruct the identity of the agent of show and ask respec- tively. Nominalization involves replacing a verb with a noun. Whereas verbs grammatically require a subject (and possibly an object), nouns do not. This means that first-person pronouns will disappear if the nominalization option is taken. Consider nominalized versions of the preceding examples: The conclusion of this paper is that global warming is a phenomenon whose presence cannot be proved scientifically. The next assignment for the students was to compare two versions of the same text. Here show has been replaced by the noun conclusion , and ask by the noun assignment . In many cases, nominalization can be achieved by adding a nom- inalizing suffix to the verb. Here the verb investigate has been nominalized by adding the ending - ation : We then asked the students to compare two versions of the same text. The students were then asked to compare two versions of the same text.


Part 1 The process of writing

After we had investigated the pollution levels in the ditches … After investigation of pollution levels in the ditches …

Or you can convert the verb into a noun without any change of form, as in the following example in which the verb interview has been converted without any change into the noun interview :

We interviewed all the local dairy farmers about milk yields. Interviews were conducted with all the local dairy farmers about milk yields.

The last example combines two strategies: passivization and nominalization. The third option involves using a so-called locative subject (for further discussion, see Chapter 7 Section 6(a)). Let us look again at the example giv- en above:

I have shown in this paper that global warming is a phenomenon whose pres- ence cannot be proved scientifically.

Here the expression in this paper indicates a ‘location’ for the event described by I have shown … A grammatical construction favoured in English, one that is also becoming more frequent in Dutch writing, involves taking this loca- tion and making it into the subject of the sentence, delivering another way of removing all mention of the original first-person subject:

This paper has shown that global warming is a phenomenon whose presence cannot be proved scientifically.

Other examples are:

▲ In the following paragraphs, I will argue that there is a need for alternative punishments. The following paragraphs will argue that there is a need for alternative pun- ishments. ▲ From our research results we draw the conclusion that further work will be necessary. Our research results lead to the conclusion that further work will be neces- sary.


1 Preliminaries

1.3.2 Depersonalization: second-person pronouns The avoidance of second-person pronouns ( you, your and yours ) can be achieved fairly easily, usually by simply omitting them, with or without adap- tation: ▲ This paper will show you that there is cause for concern about the current situation in Western Europe. This paper will show that there is cause for concern about the current situa- tion in Western Europe. ▲ I will try to persuade you in this essay that taxation levels are unacceptably high. This essay will argue that taxation levels are unacceptably high. If the result of omission is an ungrammatical sentence, you may to have to reformulate: ▲ You must be wondering what conclusions can be drawn from these observa- tions. The question arises of the conclusions to be drawn from these observations. Since speech usually takes place in face-to-face interactions, the speaker and the hearer are usually familiar with each other. Speakers in general know who their hearers are and, as the dialogue progresses, gradually get to know them better. In a conversation you will make your interests and motivations appar- ent and will manoeuvre the conversation topics towards your particular pre- occupations. As we all know, it is often your personality that determines how successful you will be in achieving your conversational aims. In the case of an argued text of the type described in this book, the situa- tion is totally different. The writer and the reader are generally unknown to each other. Because of this you are not familiar with your reader, you will not be able to use your personality to achieve communicative success but you will have to rely on the coherence of your text. Argued texts will be assessed by readers on a totally different basis than, say, a pleasant conversation. This means that many of the devices used by speakers to enliven their speech are unsuitable for written texts. In speech, there is a constant inter- play of statements, questions, orders and exclamations. Writing of the rel- evant type consists almost exclusively of statements. After all, there is no identifiable reader from whom to elicit an answer or to whom to issue an Familiarity versus unfamiliarity



Part 1 The process of writing

order. A general rule of thumb, then, is to use only statements in your argued text. In the following subsections, we will briefly consider where it is appro- priate in argued texts to deviate from this rule. We will consider questions and orders, both of which have their rightful place in argued text, and excla- mations, which do not. 1.4.1 The use of questions, orders and exclamations When they occur in argued text, questions serve above all to introduce sec- tions of argument. It is as though you were asking yourself a question, which you then go on to answer. This technique is particularly appropriate if the question is one that your reader may be expected to be wondering about at that particular moment. An example would be where you have presented a number of proposals, each of which will cost money. You may then begin the next paragraph, which will deal with the funding of the proposals, with a question like the following: This is an attractive alternative to a statement like These proposals have a number of financial consequences . Orders are only used in argued texts to introduce examples. Even though they have the form of an order, they are understood as invitations. A particu- larly frequent expression, used to introduce a point to which you wish to give especial emphasis, is Note that … Here are a few examples of such ‘orders’: Consider the following examples. Compare the situation in France, where the taxes on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages are much lower. Note that this point can already be found in the works of Aristotle. Exclamations should be used very sparingly in written texts. The strength of feeling that they voice should rather be expressed lexically, i.e. by choosing words that reflect your horror, pleasure, etc. The following exclamation, for example, can easily be reformulated as a powerful statement: What needless suffering to inflict on innocent animals! It is a shame that such needless suffering should be inflicted on innocent animals. What now are the financial consequences of these proposals?


1 Preliminaries

1.4.2 Complete sentences As we have seen, argued texts consist exclusively of statements. In order to achieve the desired effect on the unknown reader, you will need to present these in a form which is as explicit as possible. Written texts, in English at least, generally do not contain sentences which are grammatically incom- plete. This means that: 1 they must contain a main clause, around which other clauses may be grouped; 2 the main clause must contain a subject and a finite verb. In other words, none of the following – each of which could occur as an inde- pendent utterance in the spoken language – should occur in a written text in English: The first two examples do have a subject and a finite verb, but the sentences lack a main clause. Syntactically speaking, they are adverbial clauses (sig- nalled by because and if respectively) and should be attached to the preced- ing sentence in the text. The third example has neither a subject nor a finite verb: it should therefore either be attached to the preceding sentence in the clause or expanded into a full sentence with a subject and a finite verb like Other matters will be left for future consideration . The last example, which is reminiscent of a Dutch construction, can be rectified by adding the missing finite verb, placing is after the subject This . When you are speaking, you make continual use of the rise and fall of your voice to communicate all sorts of attitudes to what you are talking about. Your intonation will make it apparent to your listener whether you are enthu- siastic or uninterested, serious or ironic, etc. Where you put the heaviest accent will indicate to the listener what you take to be the most important part of your message. As a writer, you have none of these devices at your disposal. What you do have, however, is time: time to think about the most effective way to com- municate what you want to say. One of the major intentions of this book is to help you to use this time to good effect, by pointing out, for example, how Intonation versus syntactic organization ▲ Because the government would otherwise collapse. ▲ Certainly if there is no improvement. ▲ Leaving other matters for future consideration. ▲ This to ensure that the desired effect is obtained.



Part 1 The process of writing

various syntactic options (different ways of constructing sentences) can allow you to compensate for the lack of intonation in writing. In this connection, one point needs to be made quite clearly. Although the written language obviously does not have intonation, your readers will tend to read your text – even though they do not read it out loud – as though it were being spoken to them. One of the best ways of editing your writing, therefore, is to read it out to yourself. In this way you can check whether your sentences are constructed in such a way that the reader is naturally drawn to place an accent on those elements which you wish to emphasize; if not, an alternative syntactic construction may be called for. This is what we have in mind when we say, from time to time in this book, that the accent falls on this or that part of a sentence or that a sentence has a particular rhythm.


Challenges for writers more familiar with Dutch

This final section will deal with a number of differences between written English and written Dutch. These differences are not enormous but if they are not pointed out, they will inevitably show up in your writing and mark it as foreign. Very generally speaking, there are greater contrasts between writ- ten sentence structure and spoken language in English than in Dutch. This applies, for example, to the use of accents, which are freely used in Dutch writing to indicate the presence of unusual stress on some item:

De motie werd tóch ingetrokken. Het publiek was zéér enthousiast in zijn reactie.

In English, such accents are totally impossible. The use of underlining or ital- ics is sometimes encountered, but these techniques should be used very spar- ingly in argued texts. The best ways to achieve the kind of emphasis indicated by the accents in the Dutch examples are through syntax, placing the empha- sized expression ( tóch – after all ) in sentence-final position, or through vocabulary by choosing a word that is inherently powerful ( zéér – highly ):

The motion was withdrawn after all. The audience’s reaction was highly enthusiastic.

Another way in which Dutch writers can reflect spoken-language stress is by means of the colon (:); see Chapter 9 Section 4 for details. The colon is often used in Dutch before some element of a sentence which deserves particular emphasis and in speaking would be preceded by a short pause, for instance:

Dit betekent: meer aandacht voor de overlevingskans van tijgers.


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