Plan for the Day
- Don’t forget about the many syllabus changes
- Utah State University Visit–Technical Communication & Rhetoric
- Ch. 9: Cohesion (Kolln & Gray)
Ch. 10: Sentence Rhythm (Kolln & Gray)
- More Preview Rhetorical Analysis
- Review Massive Punctuation Quiz
- In-class Copyediting Assignment
Because it’s Halloween, I notice something at the end of Ch. 10 on my re-reading. The “For Group Discussion” on p. 170 has a sentence that ends on “a horror.” It got me thinking…what sounds more grave? a horror or horror?
Ch. 9: Cohesion
Now that we’ve (attempted) to learn all the rules, we’re going to consider when and when not to break them. As usual, this chapter isn’t about correctness–it’s about style, providing cohesive sentences to communicate more effectively. Remember, you’re not writing for yourself in professional contexts. Of course, I realize I’m your audience for these assignments, but the goal is for your to learn and practice higher-level writing strategies.
Readers expect to learn something, find useful information, or be amused with your writing. Although some technical writing is amusing, we’ll focus on readers’ expectations to learn or to find useful information. Here’s a general reminder:
Aim for Reader-Based Prose and not Writer-Based Prose. Reader-based prose keeps the reader in mind and doesn’t make him or her make the same leaps to conclusions that you make. Remember, the reader isn’t in your head, so you can’t expect him or her to just agree with your assertions. Your messages need proof for all assertions you make. What may seem obvious to you (e.g., what a flux capacitor does) isn’t universally known. You have to explain the difficult parts of your message based on your readers’ assumed knowledge.
This chapter starts out discussing the notation “awk” in papers. This is a taboo practice–writing “awk in the margins of student papers–because there often isn’t any more advice on how to un-awk the phrase. I disagree with those who have a blanket policy of condemning this practice, but I understand why it might not be useful for students. However, I sleep at night by pointing out that it is the writer’s responsibility to aim for clear, concise prose in nearly all professional contexts. Your readers won’t right “awk” in your margins. They’ll just “walk” away…
Note on Topic Sentences
Most readers in our fast-paced world only scan documents, meaning they read very little of the body of a text. Instead, they focus on headings and topic sentences (and places that call out like “In conclusion…”). As a general rule, writers should stick to one idea per paragraph. Consider the following audience and purpose for a letter and come up with an appropriate topic sentence:
Audience: Parents of a local school district
Purpose: Students in the school district are not scoring well on standardized tests, and this is adversely affecting their unbridled spirit.
Remember, you don’t have to fit everything into the topic sentence. You need to quickly explain what the letter is for; the rest of the letter will supply more information and solutions.
We’ll skip over repetition (pp. 142-143) because we’ve covered that previously. However, I do want to point out that the known-new contract may require repetition–just not obvious repetition. For instance,
- The squirrel jumped the fence and landed in the cat’s territory. The invader had little chance because the trees were between it and the guardian.
That’s much better than the following:
- The squirrel jumped the fence and landed in the cat’s territory. The squirrel had little chance because the trees were between it and the cat.
Notice that the invader is the squirrel and the guardian is the cat. No one would confuse the two, and this repetition with variation adds both meaning and clarity to the sentences.
Known-New Contract Details from Kolln & Gray
- p. 143: “The first sentence in a paragraph…sets up expectations in the reader about what is coming.”
- The expected order is to have “the known information coming first, generally in the subject position, and the new information–the reason for the sentence–in the predicate.”
- Notice the way the above sentence is punctuated…why commas and dashes?
- p. 143: Paraphrase the known information for pleasing variation (almost repetition):
“The two researchers worked on numerous projects together. Although their collaboration eventually ended, they often reviewed each other’s future work.”
- p. 145: Remember, this is the expectation, so, if you need to go against that, “you’ll have to signal that change to your reader with…[an] indication that you’re shifting gears.”
Let’s consider how the known-new contract works in the “For Group Discussion” on p. 145. Or let’s just go to Exercise 30 on p. 146.
The Role of Pronouns
If you’ve ever been told you have a “pronoun-antecedent disagreement,” that means your pronoun doesn’t agree–it’s the wrong choice–with the noun phrase it refers to. For instance, “Students need to bring their books to class.” Their is the proper third-person plural possessive pronoun for students. What about this…
- A student needs to bring their book to class.
Here are some of the highlights of the section we can focus on:
- Personal Pronouns: he, she, it, they, we
- Personal Possessive Pronouns: him, her, its, them, us
- Demonstrative Pronouns: this, that, these, those
- pp.147-148: “this and these indicat[e] closeness, that and those more distance.”
Let’s do Exercise 31 on pp. 149-150, being careful not to use broad reference pronouns.
Although there are more and less logical places to put information in your sentences, we often have subjects before predicates. At this point in the semester, you have many strategies for re-ordering where information goes in your sentences. Using passive voice and placing adverbials strategically will help move readers from known to new information well.
For the most part, you’ll want to limit passive voice, but Kolln & Gray explain that it can be useful because it “allows known information to be in the subject position” (p. 150). Let clarity guide you in your decision and not a blanket rule banning passive voice. Look at the paragraphs on pages 150 and 152.
We’ve covered this previously, but a review would be good. Kolln & Gray tell us “[parallelism] can also provide cohesion, especially when the repeated elements extend through a paragraph or from one paragraph to the next” (p. 152). They go on to claim that “parallel structures are…among the strongest cohesive ties that the writer has available….parallel structures are not only connected but also significant” (p. 154).
This chapter specifically highlights antithesis, which is incorporating contrasting or dissimilar ideas. Let’s look at the Stephen Jay Gould paragraph on pp. 153-154 and then the first paragraph under “For Group Discussion” on pp. 154-155.
Ch. 10: Sentence Rhythm
Our focus on style might seem to be irrelevant to professional contexts because the techniques reflect creative works. Before dismissing style as not useful, consider the benefit of having a broad understanding of language, a repertoire full of techniques for a variety of contexts. Sure, if you don’t know the choices available in language, you won’t use them. Ignorance keeps us from knowing other things.
I’ll admit that some of these techniques for emphasis and stress are subjective. However, they aren’t coming out of no where. Good writers absorb these techniques unconsciously and might not know how to recognize them: good writing just feels a certain way. In the interest of time, let’s concentrate on End Focus and the clefts. We’ll return to Power Words in Ch. 12, and we’ve covered adverbials and emphasis quite a bit.
I want to highlight what Kolln & Gray recommend on p. 158: Read your work aloud to catch errors, awkwardness, and rhythm.
I’ve been stressing that the end of the sentence has the most emphasis. We also covered that punctuation (commas and semicolons) helps emphasis. Although the end of a sentence usually has the most emphasis, there are strategies to alter that.
Review the two sets of example sentences on p. 158. Then, let’s consider the benefit of passive voice for the example sentences on p. 159. Time permitting, we’ll do Exercise #32 on p. 160.
Again, I’ve told you to limit “it is” and “there is/are” phrases in your prose because they are easily overused. In fact, they’re called expletives, which means they’re place fillers that don’t mean anything on their own. Notice the difference in emphasis between the following sentences from p. 161:
- The butler solved the mystery.
- It was the butler who solved the mystery.
Kolln & Gray claim “butler” is emphasized in the it-cleft sentence. Be careful distinguishing writing and speech. When speaking, you might hear “it was” emphasized; in fact, the speaker might speak that louder. The way I can try to explain this is the the it-cleft is the red carpet roll out for the subject of a sentence.
Let’s do the “For Group Discussion” on p. 162.
Obviously, you don’t want to use these clefts too much, but, if you use them strategically, you can control your sentences’ meanings and rhythm better. Those of you analyzing speeches for your Rhetorical Analysis (due in two weeks) will want to pay close attention to this. Then again, anyone wanting to do well on their Final Exam should pay close attention as well.
Kolln & Gray tell us that a “what-cleft splits the original sentence into known and new information, providing two strong beats” (p. 162). Look at the examples on p. 162, and let’s do the “For Group Discussion” on pp. 162-163.
*Not to be confused with Wyclef.
Here’s another expletive to shift the focus of your sentences. In the following sentences, notice how the revision with “there is” emphasizes what follows:
- A stranger is standing on the porch
- There is a STRANGER on the porch.
Remember, “it is and there are…are not redundant, unnecessary words when they are used in the right place and for the right reason” (p. 163). Just don’t overuse them. Yes, starting multiple sentences (if not all of them) in a paragraph constitutes overuse.
Time permitting, let’s do Exercise #33 on p. 164.
One last thing before your in-class copyediting assignment. The last section of the chapter discusses the correlative conjunction both–and & not only–but also (and others). Again, those doing speeches and those wanting to do well on the final exam should should pay attention. Notice the rhetorical effect of the following change (pp. 169-170):
- Individuals and nations must learn to think about the environment.
- Both individuals and nations must learn to think about the environment.
- Not only individuals but also nations must learn to think about the environment.
- Not only individuals but nations as well must learn to think about the environment.
Based on the change of emphasis, using correlative conjunctions implies through stress (I argue) who or what is most responsibility for the environment. The original sentence without any correlative conjunctions keeps the emphasis on the final word environment. If these were topic sentences, what might readers expect in the rest of the paragraph based on there different emphases?
Get to it! This is the (really easy) version of the copyediting assignment I wanted you to do during the Midterm Exam, but Florence changed our plans. When you’re done, you’re free to go. If you have questions for me about this assignment (or other assignments), ask me quietly so you don’t disturb your fellow classmates.
You must have a selection of prose for your Rhetorical Analysis next week. The assignment is due in two weeks–11/14. This isn’t an assignment you can do well the night before–especially if you don’t have a passage of prose to analyze. I will set some time aside for a brief workshop (that you may not leave during, or you’ll be counted absent) next week.
Keep up with the update syllabus. The next chapter is even more subjective than the two for today. Ch. 11 is on the writer’s voice, and it’s kind of a nebulous term, but we’ll try to make it more concrete. It’s a longer chapter than the previous several Kolln & Gray chapters, so don’t wait until the last minute.