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Style Choices for Informed Writers

An interactive take on controversial writing style choices, focusing specifically on issues highlighted by Strunk and White.
by

Nekoda Witsken

on 18 September 2013

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Transcript of Style Choices for Informed Writers

Specific emphasis on Strunk and White debates
Style Choices for Informed Writers
an "ear for style"
They, He, or She?
That vs. Which
Passive
vs. Active Verbs
To Definitely Split or Not to Split
Helpful Links to Choice-Based Grammar Guides
Your native instinct as a writer, developed through personal usage and immersion in culture and education, is your stylistic "ear."

It will help you decide between one grammar choice or another.
When writing, and you don't know/specify a person's sex, can you use "they" and "their" instead of "he/she" and "his/her"?
When describing an object, do we use "that" or "which"?
When writing, is it better to use passive or active verbs?
Is there a stylistic difference between using however or nevertheless?
Is it acceptable to split infinitives?
http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/
http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index2.htm
http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/easywriter4e/#t_518364____
Your ear will get stronger with practice (usage, writing, etc).
SOUND IT OUT!
Having grammatical
CHOICES
is important to develop your unique writing style.
Listen to your own voice.
Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" is too dictatorial and does not illustrate the importance of
CHOICE.
HOWEVER,
there are useful, choice-driven grammar guides.
For a great example, see Edith Wollin and Michael Kischner's text.
Connectives:However vs. Nevertheless
EXAMPLE:
When a student speaks, ( ) should say ( ) words clearly.
they?
he? she?
their?
his? her?
Is using one over another sexist?
3 options
To Specify the Gender
EXAMPLE:
When an activist protests,
she
is all voice and enthusiasm.
Effect of Choice:
The addition of the gender pronoun can add layers of meaning and connotation to your writing.

This specific choice may let the reader infer that these activists are feminists or at least women. If "they" was used instead, the activist becomes an anonymous being.
To Keep the Gender Unknown
EXAMPLE:
Once voters cast
their
ballot,
they
have fulfilled
their
civic duty.
Effect of Choice:
Using "they/their" keeps the subject matter vague and gender-neutral.

By having a gender-neutral pronoun here, the sentence remains politically correct and does not exclude men or women. If the sentence was revised to use"he/his" instead, it would imply that women did not have the right to vote.
By Nekoda Witsken
EDU 225 Spring Class, 2012

EXAMPLE:
Cupcakes ( ) contain chocolate are my favorites.
that? which?
Why does it matter which I choose? What are the effects of choosing each?
Restrictive That
Nonrestrictive Which
Restrictive Which
EXAMPLE:
Cats
that
are black scare me.
Effect of Choice:
Here, the use of "that" serves as a type of word funnel, or restriction, to specify the noun. If the "that" phrase was removed, the sentence meaning would change.

The speaker isn't afraid of all cats, just black ones. The noun is "restricted" because the loss of the "that" phrase changes the sentence meaning.
EXAMPLE:
Cats,
which
are often playful, can sometimes be vicious .
3 options
Effect of Choice:
Here, the which forms a phrase that can be taken out of the sentence and not change its meaning. It is nonrestrictive, or does not specify a certain type of the noun.
This is not the only use of "which!"

Cats are sometimes vicious, even if the "which" phrase is removed. The meaning of the sentence does not change.
EXAMPLE:
The doughnuts
which
come from Denny's are undoubtedly my favorites.
Effect of Choice:
The "which" used here is actually restrictive. While this isn't a traditional use of "which," modern language accepts this variation of grammar. (Use your ear to decide if you want to use it!) The phrase, if removed, would change the entire meaning of the sentence.

The person's favorite doughnuts are specifically the Denny's brand. Removal of the "which" phrase would alter that connotation.
NOTE: Often, the restrictive that can be removed to improve clarity. Use your ear, is your "that" necessary?
EXAMPLE:
"He must have taken the books."
vs
"The man hacked and sliced his way into the jungle."
Which verbs do you use for clearer or more engaging writing?
2 options
Passive Verbs
EXAMPLE:
"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States
have fallen
or
may fall
into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we
shall not flag or fail
"
-Sir Winston Churchill
Effect of Choice:
Passives, while they can cause wordiness and can lack the visual punch of actives, are also very useful in making direct, simple, staccato, and powerful points.
Winston Churchill as well as many writers and politicians use passive verbs to emphasize strength, formality, and clarity.
Note: Sometimes passives are unavoidable for clarity as well. Make sure use of passives is deliberate for stylistic effect or to resolve wordiness. Use your ear to decide if that use is effective.
Active Verbs
EXAMPLE:
The wind
shrieked
and
cackled
as the storm clouds
tumbled
forward.
Effect of Choice:
Active verbs add punch, visual imagery, emotion, and poignancy to writing. They often liven up dull subject matter and create much stronger interaction between a reader and the text.
This sentence, rewritten with passives(The wind was shrieking as the storm was coming) could offer much less visual saturation is becomes much duller.
Note: Use of action verbs does not ensure sentence poignancy or clarity. For example, the passive construction "The shrieking, whining wind was here, pounding on the windows" is equally as expressive as the example. Adjectives, participial phrases, word choice, and sentence structure play a large part in active verb effectiveness.
EXAMPLE:
I would love to join you for tea; ( ), I'm busy being queen.
however? nevertheless?
Are the two synonymous, apples and oranges? Is there a stylistic difference?
2 options
However with Commas and Nevertheless: Interchangeable
EXAMPLE:
I would love to join you for tea,
however/ nevertheless
, I'm busy being queen.
Effect of Choice:
"However with commas" used connectively has almost no grammatical difference from nevertheless. It is often the writer's personal ear for style that determines which to use. Here, however and nevertheless are interchangeable.
Either of the choices is grammatically effective, but in other cases the use of either depends a lot on the context of the sentence.
Non-Connective However
EXAMPLE:

However
busy you are on Tuesday, I would still love to grab some coffee.
Effect of Choice:
The non-connective "however" is not always interchangeable with nevertheless. This depends on context, personal ear for style, and sentence structure. There is subtle meaning difference as well.
Here, replacing "however" with "nevertheless" is not a logical connective substitute.
EXAMPLE:
The man needs ( ) sure he is ready to propose.
to really be? to be really?
How do you decide whether or not to split an infinitive (verb in the form of to ---- )?
1 option
The Rule of Not Splitting Infinitives is a Myth
EXAMPLE:
To boldly go
where no man has gone before... - Star Trek
Often, traditional grammarians will denounce the splitting of infinitives, or placing words in between the "to" and the "verb" in the infinitive conjugation. However, this rule is outdated. It is acceptable to split an infinitive when the ear for style calls for it.
"To go boldly..." would make this famous phrase much less dramatic and grammatically poignant.
Helpful Handout:
http://twp.duke.edu/uploads/media_items/passive-active.original.pdf
Helpful Handout:
(More specifically for comma usage if you are confused on when to use the various "however's")

http://twp.duke.edu/uploads/media_items/commas.original.pdf
And if you'd like to take Strunk and White with a grain of salt:

http://www.bartleby.com/141/
Works Cited
Bergman, Daniel J., and Cathlina C. Bergman. "Elements of Stylish Teaching: Lessons from Strunk and White." The Phi Delta Kappan 91.4 (2010): 28-31. Print.
Boisvert, Will. "Strunk and White Is So, Like, Over: PW Talks with John McWhorter." Publishers Weekly 258.28 (2011): n. pag. Print.
Bottum, Joseph. "The War on Strunk and White." The Weekly Standard 16.27 (2011): 5. Print.
Bulley, Michael. "Defending Strunk and White." English Today 26.04 (2010): 57-62. Print.
Gaston, Eugene A. "Strunk and White." Editorial. Dis Colon Rectum 1985: 371-72. Print.
Hollich, George. "Combining Techniques to Reveal Emergent Effects in Infants' Segmentation, Word Learning, and Grammar." Language and speech 49.1 (2006): 3-19. Web.
MacEachern, Doug. "Writing Rules Are Made to Be Broken...even Will Strunk's." Editorial. The Masthead Mar.-Apr. 2006: 3. Print.
Minear, Richard H. "E. B. White Takes His Leave, or Does He? "The Elements of Style", Six Editions (1918-2000)." The Massachusetts Review 45.1 (2004): 51-71. Print.
Prendergast, Catherine. "The Fighting Style: Reading the Unabomber's Strunk and White." College English 72.1 (2009): 10-28. Web.
Pullum, Geoffrey K. "The Grammarians have no Clothes." Wilson Quarterly 33.3 (2009): 85-6. Web.
Pullum, Geoffrey K. "The Land of the Free and The Elements of Style." English Today 26.02 (2010): 34-44. Print.
Strunk, William, and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. New York: Macmillan, 1979. Print.
White, Edward M., William Linn, and Catherine Prendergast. "Comments on “The Fighting Style: Reading the Unabomber's Strunk and White”." College English 73.1 (2010): 91-2. Web.
Zepezauer, Frank S. "Consciousness Rasied to Ideology: A Comment on Diana Worby on Strunk and White." College English 43.3 (1981): 306-07. Print.
To Use "His/Hers" and "He/She"
EXAMPLE:
When a singer performs,
he/she
must project
his/her
voice.
Effect of Choice:
Using this form of pronoun often jars the reader and disrupts the flow of the text. However, for extremely formal or politically correct situations this may be necessary to reinforce that both genders are included.

This sentence clearly enforces that both men and women can be singers, which may be useful in a cultural context.
GENDER PRONOUNS
THAT VS WHICH
PASSIVE VS ACTIVE VERBS
HOWEVER VS NEVERTHELESS
SPLITTING INFINITIVES
LINKS
EAR AND CHOICE
Definition: grammar choice- a specific grammar decision made by an informed writer to further personal style and add meaning
NOTE: It is a myth that you can't start a sentence with "however."
NOTE: If used to connect two independent clauses, a ";" is needed.
Another good choice-central guide is Diane Hacker's Pocket Style Manual.
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