Mike Hannay and J. Lachlan Mackenzie - Effective writing in English

Effective writing in English A sourcebook

Mike Hannay J. Lachlan Mackenzie


u i t g e v e r ij

c o u t i n h o

bussum 2009

Website The exercises and keys belonging to this edition can be found at the following website: www.coutinho.nl

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Dit boek is een bewerkte uitgave van Effective writing in English: a resource guide uit­ gegeven in 1996 door Martinus Nijhoff, Groningen.

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Foreword 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. We aim this book 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 continually 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 M. van der Laaken, R.E. Lankamp and M. Sharwood Smith (1997), Writing Better English: A Multi-Purpose Model for Advanced Speakers (Bussum: Coutinho). Effective Writing in English should be used in conjunction with J.L. Mackenzie (2002), Principles and Pitfalls of English Grammar (Bussum: Coutinho). There are two matters concerning the presentation of information in this book that require clarification in advance. Firstly, the book contains hun­ dreds of numbered examples. Not all of these deserve to be imitated: those that are ungrammatical have been marked by an asterisk (*) and those that are not fully acceptable by a question mark (?), both procedures being stand­ ard practice in linguistics; in addition, those that are grammatical but in some way unsuitable in the context have been marked by a double exclama­ tion mark (!!). Secondly, a book such as this inevitably makes frequent men­ tion of 'the writer' and 'the reader'; after experimenting with various possi­ bilities (e.g. referring to the writer as 'she' and the reader as 'he'), we have, with some regret, decided after all to adopt the traditional – but sexist – use of 'he' to refer to both, concluding that this is still the only option that yields straightforward prose in the context of a didactic work. We wish to acknowledge the help and counsel of numerous friends and colleagues whose input has been invaluable. A few of these deserve special mention. The late Prof. Herman Wekker of the University of Groningen over­ saw the entire genesis of this book in its previous form, offering us wise and authoritative advice on a wide range of subjects. Prof. Rod Lyall, our col­ league at the Vrije Universiteit, added valuable comment on the whole manuscript when we most needed it. Dr Richard Todd, another colleague,

kindly made available to us his style guide for literary essays, which we have adapted for part of Chapter 16. Reinder Elzenga’s and Dr. Joy Burrough- Boenisch's insightful comments on the earlier form of the book have found their way into our text. Prof. Walter (Bill) Nash, now retired from Nottingham University, has been a source of constant inspiration to us both throughout our work on writing in English. And not least, our lasting gratitude goes to the hundreds 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 July 2002

Foreword to the Second edition

This second edition features one major revision to the original text, namely to the content of Chapter 16, Referring to other texts . We offer a new set of recommendations for references formulated in the language mode, following new formats agreed by publishers of international academic journals. In addition, examples have been updated where necessary and a number of typographical errors have been corrected.

Mike Hannay, Amstelveen Lachlan Mackenzie, Amsterdam January 2009


Information on the authors




Part 1 The three processes of writing


Chapter 1 Planning

19 19 20 26 31 32 33 33 33 37 39 39 42 43 43 44 45 47 52 52 52 57 65 66 68 68 68 69 72 76 78 51

1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6


Planning: six activities An example of a plan

Final preparations


Chapter 2 Writing proper


Face-to-face interaction versus physical distance

Intimacy versus unfamiliarity

Intonation versus syntactic organization

Writing in English


Chapter 3 Editing

3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4


Three levels of editing

Aids to editing


Part 2 Organizing the text

Chapter 4 The title and the introduction

4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6

The initial impression

The title

The introduction

An example


Chapter 5 The body


Physical presentation Structuring the body

The make-up of the body paragraph

Editing the body


Chapter 6 The conclusion

79 79 79 82 84 85

6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5


The topic sentence The elaboration

The climax


Part 3 Constructing effective sentences


Chapter 7 Clause combining

90 90 91 93 96 96 99

7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 8.9


Finite dependent clauses

Non-finite clauses Verbless clauses

Foregrounding, backgrounding and segmenting


Sentence length

104 109


Chapter 8 The order of information in the clause

111 111 111 126 131 134 136 138 141 144 146 148 150 151 152 154 154 155 161 165 168 174 175 175 176


Five basic principles for clause construction

What goes wrong?

Non-subject constituents in initial position

The active and the passive Non-agent subjects The cleft construction The pseudo-cleft construction

The th-wh construction

8.10 The presentative construction

8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14

The existential construction Discontinuous structures Object-adjunct switching


Chapter 9 Textual cohesion

9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6

Introduction: coherence and cohesion


Lexical choice




Chapter 10 Punctuation

10.1 10.2

The importance of punctuation

Commas and the principle of semantic unity

10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8

How to use commas

178 190 193 195 196 198



Brackets and dashes Punctuation and style


Part 4 Getting the details right


Chapter 11 Matters of usage

203 203 203 205 206 207 207 209 209 211 211 212 213 213 214 214 215 215 217 217 219 219 219 222 225 230 230 231 235 236 236 236 237 238

11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 11.8 11.9 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8


Dangling modifiers

Ending sentences with prepositions Lexical repetition and lexical variation

Long words


Shall and will Split infinitives

Sentences starting with and

11.10 That and which 11.11 Who and whom

Chapter 12 Point of view

Introduction The use of I The use of we The use of you Modal verbs Opinion clauses Content disjuncts

Chapter 13 Forceful argumentation


The strategies of English and Dutch

Conciseness Repetition

Achieving end focus

Interrupting the flow of information

Argument formulas


Chapter 14 Spelling guidelines

14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4


A or an ?



14.5 14.6 14.7 14.8 14.9

American forms Apostrophes Capital letters

239 239 240 241 242 242 244 247 247 248 248 250 250 250 261 261 262 264 266 267 268 272 272 277 278 280 280 281 282 282 284 286 286 287 288 292


Double consonants

14.10 Hyphens, and one word or two?

14.11 - ist , - istic , - ic and - ical

14.12 - ize or - ise ? 14.13 Numbers 14.14 Problem pairs

14.15 Representing unstressed syllables

Chapter 15 Usage notes for connectives

15.1 Introduction


Usage notes

Chapter 16 Referring to other texts

16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 16.6 16.7 16.8 16.9 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 17.7 17.8 17.9


Reporting the content of other texts


Writing footnotes

The language mode 1: references The language mode 2: the bibliography

The language mode 3: presenting linguistic data

The literature mode 1: reference notes The literature mode 2: the bibliography

16.10 Referring to CD-Roms and Internet sites

Chapter 17 A checklist for revising and correcting


Lexis and idiom


Grammar at the phrase level Grammar at the clause level


Organization at text level

Organization at paragraph level Organization at sentence level

17.10 Review and prospect

Suggestions for further reading

294 296

Subject Index

Information on the authors Mike Hannay is Professor of English Language at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). He studied German and Regional Studies at the University of Surrey and lectured at the University of Kent before moving to the VU in 1977. He obtained his doctorate in linguistics at the University of Amsterdam in 1985. Together, his theoretical work in Functional Grammar and more applied work in the areas of writing, editing, and translation have convinced him that linguists and language teachers need to gain more insight into the differences between how English speakers and Dutch speakers organise their ideas in planned discourse. Over the last ten years he has been involved in projects designed to improve students’ language skills using ICT. Among books he has co-written or co-edited are English Existentials in Functional Grammar, Working with Functional Grammar, Functional Grammar and Verbal Interaction, Structural-Functional Studies in English Grammar, Van Dale Handwoordenboeken Engels-Nederlands and Nederlands-Engels (as editor-in-chief), Van Dale Spreekwoordenboek, Zakenbrieven in Zeven Talen , and Van Woorden Weten (Coutinho). J. Lachlan Mackenzie is Honorary Professor of Functional Linguistics at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). He studied French and German in his native Aberdeen (Scotland) before obtaining his doctorate in General Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. In 1977 he was appointed to the Department of English at the VU, where he worked as Lecturer and then Professor of English Language. In daily interaction with students in the classroom, he became convinced that there are vital links connecting con­ temporary research into grammar and discourse to the didactics of composi­ tion teaching. His research has been concerned with showing how the gram­ matical description of constructions can reflect their use in real discourse, and together with Prof. Hannay he has published a number of articles on academic writing at tertiary level. Among books he has co-written or co- edited are Functional Discourse Grammar, Writing in English, Current Trends in Contrastive Linguistics, Languages and Cultures in Contrast and Comparison, Crucial Readings in Functional Grammar, Studies in Functional Grammar and A New Architecture for Functional Grammar . He is the author of Principles and Pitfalls of English Grammar (Coutinho).


Introduction 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 progresses, so we are also increasingly being faced with the tasks of reading and produc­ ing 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 (the expository function) and takes a stand on that information (the more nar­ rowly argumentative function). The argued text is employed in a wide range of situations: in report-writing and in the production of academic articles, in many forms of reflective (rather than reportive) journalism, e.g. editorials, 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 sequences 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, will have a less rigorous construction than argued texts, more incomplete sentences and generally will stand closer to what is typical of spoken language. Nevertheless, we feel that a mastery of the argued text is fundamental to overall competence in writing, since the prin­ ciples of organization found in argued texts (notably the tripartition into introduction–body–conclusion and the division into internally coherent para­ graphs) return, relaxed to various degrees, in other text-types. 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 consequences 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 general overview of the


writing process, distinguishing in successive chapters between planning, writing proper and editing. Part 2 is concerned with the three major sections of any argued text, the introduction, the body and the conclusion, also giving advice on inventing appealing titles. Part 3 deals with how to construct effec­ tive sentences, showing how important it is for a successful writer to control a large range of grammatical options, textual devices and, last but not least, punctuation choices. Part 4 is full of immediately applicable advice on 'get­ ting the details right', giving clear but not dogmatic guidance on writing accurate and communicatively appropriate English: among the many issues treated are how to use connectives (words like however and consequently ), how to express opinions in argued prose, and how to refer to other texts. This Part, and the book, concludes with a checklist for revising; this list can also be used by composition teachers for correcting and marking written work. The advice that we offer is based on an analysis that we have made of an extensive corpus of essays written by students at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and by participants in courses given there. That analysis has revealed not only that inexperienced Dutch writers of English are liable to make errors of various predictable types, but also that these writers 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, however, 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.


Part 1

1 Planning 2 Writing proper 3 Editing


The three processes of writing

The word 'writing' will be understood in this book in a broad sense. It will be used to cover not just the actual production of written text (what we will call writing proper) but also those processes that precede and follow the process of writing proper. The three processes that we recognize 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 appropriate, 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 will tend to notice that certain ele­ ments of the plan you are currently working to no longer seem appropriate and need to be revised. What is more, new ideas keep cropping up, and their relevance to the original plan needs to be assessed. So planning and writing proper inevitably overlap. Much the same can be said about writing proper and editing. As a writer, you are simultaneously a reader (of your own writ­ ing): 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).

Figure 1


The three chapters in this Part will deal with the three processes in turn. Chapter 1 will introduce you to planning. Six distinct phases in the planning process will be distinguished, each of which takes you gradually nearer to the point where you can start composing your text. A worked example will be given of how a writer progresses from a jumble of ideas to a well-organized plan. Chapter 2 is concerned with writing proper. It will address a number of related issues: how you can produce reader-friendly text while also achieving the 'depersonalization' that is appropriate for argued dis­ course; the restrictions in this kind of discourse on the use of incomplete sentences, questions, exclamations, etc.; and how to compensate for the una­ vailability of various Dutch techniques for giving emphasis. Chapter 3, finally, addresses the essential but challenging process of editing, suggesting three different levels at which the text that results from 'writing proper' can be improved and briefly discussing some aspects of word-processing pro­ grams that are relevant to the editing process.




1.1 Introduction

In this chapter, we will consider the nature of the planning process, reserving discussion of the process of writing proper to Chapter 2 and of editing to Chapter 3. Planning is of great importance in the entire writing process. Indeed, writing is inherently planned discourse, and is thus essentially dif­ ferent from speech, which is typically spontaneous. Whereas speakers give each other the opportunity to repeat and reformulate ideas, or to 'repair' con­ versations that lead to misunderstandings, writers have in principle only one opportunity to express each idea. What is more, writers have to capture and hold their readers' attention, whereas speakers can move fluidly from one subject to the next if interest appears to be flagging. These are among the many reasons why a piece of writing needs to be thoroughly thought through in advance. Planning is not just a useful preparation for writing; it is, as we shall see, an essential aspect of the entire process of communicating in the written medium. To a considerable extent, planning is a transferable skill. In other words, much of your mastery of planning a piece of writing in Dutch can be carried over into English without major adaptation. Nevertheless, we would very strongly recommend that you conduct your planning activities, as much as possible, in English. Whether the planning is done in the privacy of your study or in a group discussion, it is essentially a linguistic operation, since it involves taking a mass of ideas, attitudes and feelings and transforming them into language items that correspond to your own communicative goals. Information drawn from encyclopaedias, books, magazines and other works of reference will of course already have a linguistic form – but is this form appropriate for your purposes? And what is even more difficult, but no less important, is that your attitudes and emotions are often vague and undefined, and you will need to talk (to yourself or others) about them before they can crystallize into communicable form. If you first go through this phase in your native language, and then translate the outcome into English, you will encounter all sorts of new problems: you may have developed ideas that it is beyond your knowledge of English to express; and you may run into difficul­ ties of translation that merely complicate the task of self-expression. Much better, then, to plan the text in English, the language of the two other proc­ esses. Admittedly, there is the real problem that, as a Dutch writer in a Dutch context, the material that you read as part of your planning activities may well be in Dutch, either because appropriate English-language texts are not available or because you are writing about some Dutch phenomenon for



which no English-language material is available. Notes that you take in Dutch should, however, at a very early stage in your preparation be trans­ ferred into English. In this way, you can integrate the information into the planning stage as early as possible. Only in this way can you be sure of avoiding the production of English that reads like translated Dutch. Another, equally important reason for the planning stage to be carried out in English is that a text written in English will often be for an international readership operating in English. Even the planning of a text is to be seen as a communicative act. In making a selection from the many ideas and feelings that are stimulated by the topic, you will want to consider the potential read­ ership, and must do so from the very outset. For the kind of text you will be writing, you can assume that your reader is an educated adult with good general knowledge, although not a specialist in the field that you are writing about. Bear in mind that English is now an international language and that your text will potentially have a worldwide readership. You should therefore not only avoid references to phenomena that belong only to Dutch culture, but also not assume that the reader will be familiar with purely British or exclusively American cultural phenomena.

1.2 Planning: six activities

The planning process comprises six major activities:

1 2 3 4 5 6

generating content

selecting and grouping points establishing a perspective

determining an intention

formulating a title, structuring the introduction and conclusion

drafting paragraph themes

In this section we will consider each of these stages in general terms. We will then, in Section 1.3, go on to show what each of these stages looks like in practice by taking an example of an imaginary piece of planning. What will emerge is that the order of events even within the planning process is cyclical, in that any of the later stages may lead to a revision of earlier stages.

1.2.1 Generating content

As we pointed out above, generating content, i.e. thinking about what to write about, is a process which precedes, accompanies and follows writing proper. Many inexperienced writers fear that they will not have enough ideas around which to build a text of the length required. The solution to this problem usually lies in interaction. Nothing activates ideas as much as communicating, either with yourself, with others, with written sources of information, or with the Internet.


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