Academic Writing: Revising Mixed Constructions

TRANSCRIPT

Generally speaking, mixed constructions can be divided into three different kinds. They occur when either a dependent clause, a prepositional phrase, or an independent clause is incorrectly used as the subject of a sentence. Let’s look at the independent clause first:

1.

Because he works eleven hours every day explains why he is always tired.

The first part of this sentence, so Because he works every day, is a dependent clause because it does not express a complete thought.  It needs another, independent clause, to give it meaning, and it should not be used as the subject of a sentence. A revised version of this sentence would look like this.

Because he works eleven hours every day, he is always tired.

2.

It’s also not a good idea to use a prepositional phrase, so a phrase starting with a preposition like in, by, on, after, etc., as the subject of a sentence, like in this instance:

By enlisting in the army is a good way to see the world.

After revision this sentence could look like this.

By enlisting in the army, you can see the world.

3.

Finally, using a clause that would also work as stand-alone sentence with a subject, a verb, and its own meaning – so an independent clause – also causes sentences with a mixed construction, like here:

She was rich made her buy much more than she needed.

Here She was rich is the independent clause that is used as the subject of the sentence. It could be rewritten like this:

Being rich made her buy much more than she needed.

Eliminating Wordiness

Eliminating wordiness is all about being concise, so only using the words necessary to make your point in a clear way. In other words, this means that if you can express an idea in five words, don’t use 10.

When revising a text, this means that all unnecessary words should be deleted until you are left with a clear, effective piece of writing that is not longer than it needs to be.

These nonessential words can be divided into four categories.

  • Deadwood
  • Utility words
  • Interlocution
  • Wordy phrases

1.

So, let’s start with number 1, which is deadwood. The term deadwood refers to words and phrases that take up space but add no meaning, like this example:

There were a few experiences that supported her decision to change her life.

Here There were, and that really serve no purpose and a sentence without these words would have exactly the same meaning. A revised version of this sentence would look like this:

A few experiences supported her decision to change her life.

Another common example of deadwood is starting sentences with phrases like I think, I feel, or I believe, like in the sentence:

I believe that not enough money is spent on education.

Here I believe is not necessary to make your point because since you are the person writing the sentence, it is obvious that – unless stated otherwise – you are the person who has  that belief and just writing Not enough money is spent on education, makes exactly the same point.

2.

The second way to eliminate wordiness, is to get rid of utility words. Utility words are words that just act like fillers and, just like deadwood, do not contribute to the meaning of a sentence. They include:

  • Words with imprecise meanings (Like factor, or aspect, etc.)
  • Meaningless adjectives (Like good, bad, important, and so on), and
  • Meaningless adverbs (For instance basically, or quite)

Now let’s look at look at the following sentence:

The financial aspect played a role in the decision.

The word aspect here adds nothing to the meaning of the sentence. Aspect means part or feature of something, so what the sentence says is something along the lines of the financial part of something. What the writer is really trying to say, however, is that money, or finances played a role, so that is what the sentence should be.

Finances played a role in the decision.

This much clearer.

The following is an example of how meaningless adjectives are used in a way that does not add meaning to a sentence.

This deal will offer many good opportunities to make a profit.

The word good can be left out here because opportunities are always good. The word opportunity itself means favourable situation, so, again, good does not add meaning to the sentence and it should therefore be left out. So, the sentence should just be:

This deal will offer many opportunities to make a profit.

Adverbs can also be used in a way that does not add meaning. Like here:

Going along with the proposal was basically out of the question.

The word basically is used to describe the essence of something to emphasize what the most important idea is in order to clarify a point. If something is out of the question, however, it is already clear that something is not going to happen. Basically does not need to add to that, and can therefore be left out. The revised sentence would then be:

Going along with the proposal was out of the question.

3.

A third way to eliminate wordiness is to avoid circumlocution. Circumlocution means using roundabout way of saying something. Like here:

It is not unlikely that the virus will spread.

The phrase It is not unlikely is an example of circumlocution because the same meaning can be expressed by saying:

The virus will probably spread.

Here is another example using a roundabout way of saying something:

The suspect was in Paris during the same time that the crime was committed.

However, the writer could have said the same thing like this:

The suspect was in Paris when the crime was committed.

4.

Avoiding wordy phrases is another way of making your writing more concise, or less wordy. Similar to circumlocution, using wordy phrases is also about using more words than necessary to express a certain idea, but here the difference is that wordy phrases are often standardized expressions that many people feel sound formal or academic. Because of that, they are considered good style. However, they are not terribly effective. Examples are using:

Due to the fact that, which means the same as because. Or using Have the ability to, which could be written as Be able to, or choosing the expression At the present time when Now would do

Now, as a final example of using wordy phrases, let’s look at a one and see how it could be revised.

At the present time my client does not have the ability to comment due to the fact that he is part of an ongoing investigation.

This sentence could be rewritten like this:

My client cannot comment because he is part of an ongoing investigation. So, to conclude. To make your writing less wordy, make sure you get rid of deadwood, avoid utility words and circumlocution, and check your work for wordy phrases.

Revising Comma Splices

SCRIPT: Revising Comma Splices

You create a comma splice when you join two independent clauses with a comma but without a conjunction. To be able to understand what that means it is important to understand what an independent clause is and what a conjunction is.

 An independent clause is a clause that has a subject and a verb and that expresses, a ‘complete thought’. This means that an independent clause has a meaning on its own and does not need another clause to give it meaning. A simple example of an independent clause would be I sleep until nine, for instance. Here the subject is I, the verb is sleep, and the sentence expresses a complete thought because it is clear what is meant.

Conjunctions are words that link other words, phrases or sentences together, like in this example:

I like ice skating and field hockey, but I hate ice hockey.

Here and and but are the conjunctions that link the words and phrases together. As mentioned before, a comma splice is created when two independent clauses are joint together with a comma but without a conjunction, like, for example and or but.

The following is an example of how a comma splice is created starting with two independent clauses. The first independent clause is:

Spiders are not considered insects.

And the other one is:

They are arachnids.

When you join these two sentences together using just a comma – like in the example – you create a comma splice.

Spiders are not considered insects, they are arachnids.

There are three ways in which you can correct a comma splice. You can add a conjunction, you can change the comma into a semicolon or you can make separate sentences. So, let’s take this sentence with a comma splice and rewrite it in these three different ways:

So, we start with:

He is not going to buy a house, he is planning to rent one.

This sentence contains a comma splice.

1.

As mentioned, option number one is to simply add a conjunction. The sentence would then read like this:

He is not going to buy a house, but he is planning to rent one.

So, the comma is still there, but it is now followed by a conjunction.

2.

Option number two is at add a semicolon. Like here:

He is not going to buy a house; he is planning to rent one.

As you can see, nothing really changed apart from the fact that the comma has now been replaced with a semicolon. Note that if you decide to use a semicolon, make sure there is a close, logical connection between the two independent clauses. In this case the semicolon worked because both phrases are about ways get a house, for example, which is the logical connection.

The third, and last, option is to divide the sentence containing the comma splice into two separate independent clauses. The sentence would then look like this:

He is not going to buy a house. (Full stop, end of sentence), He is planning to rent one. (Starting a new sentence.)

Finally, there are also a few instances in which comma splices are acceptable. The first one is when using question tags, like in:

He is not here, is he?

It is also okay to use comma splices in short parallel contradictions, so when both phrases that make up the contradiction have a similar grammatical structure. Like in:

I’m not rich, I’m poor.

Thirdly, comma splices are often used in fiction and poetry for the simple reason that in these types of informal writing the rules are a lot less strict. An example would be:

I came, I saw, I conquered.

Revising Sentence Fragments

As the word ‘fragment’ suggests, a sentence fragment is a ‘part of’ a sentence. In other words, a sentence that is not complete. To be able to talk about sentence fragments it is important to talk about a sentence first.

For a group of words to form a complete sentence, it needs to, first of all, be a complete thought. This basically means that what is being expressed makes sense. The sentence should have a clear meaning by itself, without relying on other sentences around it to give it meaning.

Secondly, for a group of words to be a sentence, there needs to be a subject. This is the someone or the something that the sentence is about.

The third condition for a group of words to qualify as a sentence is that it needs to have a main verb. The main verb helps to explain what the subject (so the someone or something) is or does.

The following is an example of a complete sentence:

The researchers chose three random samples.

In this sentence ‘The researchers’ is the subject and ‘chose’ is the verb. Also, the sentence expresses a complete thought because it has a clear meaning by itself.

So, let’s move on to the sentence fragment.  In a sentence fragment, important information is missing and therefore it does not express a complete thought. These sentence fragments often occur in informal types of writing, for instance when the writer tries to use a more journalistic style, but in formal writing, fragments should not be used. Now, let’s look at these three examples of fragments:

Because the team made three awkward choices.

A plan with many risks involved.

Potential for making money everywhere.

There are four reasons groups of words are considered fragments. Either:

There is a subject missing;

The main verb is missing;

They are both missing. (So, the subject and the verb),or the writer has created what is called a subordinate clause.

Number one is when the subject is missing. Like in this example:

By simply shipping more units can make this business profitable again.

Here the writer mistook the prepositional phrase ‘By simply shipping more units’ for a subject, which created the sentence fragment.  To correct this mistake, the preposition, so ‘By’ could be taken out, making the activity of ‘Simply shipping more units’ the subject of the sentence. Now it is a complete sentence that works.

Number two.  Sometimes a fragment is created because the main verb is missing, like in the following example:

Affordable products sold everywhere.

Possible revisions, in this case, could be either completing the verb, creating:

Affordable product were sold everywhere.

or turning the fragment into the direct object of the sentence by adding a subject and a verb. Like here:

They saw affordable products sold everywhere.

Number 3.  Sometimes the subject and the verb are both missing, like in this example:

Without a suitable explanation.

In this fragment there is no someone or something, doing or being anything, and it is also not a complete thought.  To revise this fragment, (to turn it into a sentence), a subject and a verb could be added, and the sentence would look something like this:

She left without a suitable explanation.

The fourth, and final, reason why a group of words is a sentence fragment is that the writer has created a subordinate clause (also known as a dependent clause, so a clause that needs independent clause to make a sentence).  A subordinate clause is a group of words that does contain a subject and a verb, but that does not express a complete thought because this type of clause needs to be combined with an independent clause to give it meaning. A subordinate clause by itself is a sentence fragment. Here is an example:

Until all the preliminary data has been processed.

To turn this fragment into a sentence it needs to be combined with an independent clause (In this case ‘the project cannot move forward’), and the sentence could look like this:

Until all the preliminary data has been processed, the project cannot move forward.

This is now a sentence that expresses a complete thought.

Revising Faulty Predication

A predicate in a sentence (or clause) tells you what the subject does or is. You could also say that the predicate is everything that is not the subject. So, to give you an example, in the sentence ‘The email contained many interesting details’, ‘The email’, is the subject, and ‘contained many interesting details.’ is the predicate.

In the sentence ‘The applicants for the job were skilled programmers.’, The applicants for the job’ is the subject, and ‘were skilled programmers’ is the predicate.

What faulty predication means is that a sentence’s predicate doesn’t logically complete its subject, and there are three causes for it:

  1. Incorrect use of the verb Be
  2. Incorrect use of ‘Is when’ and ‘is where’
  3. Use of: ‘The Reason … Is Because’

Let’s start with number 1: Incorrect use of Be. Faulty predication often occurs in sentences with a linking verb – a form of to be, for example. – in combination with a subject complementlll, like in this example:

Political corruption and Economic decline were the downfall of the Roman Empire.

What the writer says here is that ‘Political corruption and economic decline’ were the downfall of the roman empire, as if ‘the downfall of the Roman empire’ described or identified the subject ‘Political corruption and Economic decline’, while in fact what the writer meant to say was that they were reasons for the downfall.

What the sentence should have been is:

Political corruption and Economic decline caused the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Number two is incorrect use of Is when and Is Where. This type of faulty predication often occurs when the writer presents a definition that includes a construction with one of is when or is where, like here:

Arachnophobia is when a person has a fear of spiders and other arachnids.

When defining something is must be preceded and followed by nouns or noun phrases, which is not the case here so the sentence could be rewritten like this:

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and other arachnids.

Now ‘the fear of spiders and other arachnids’ defines ‘arachnophobia’.

Number three, using The reason in combination with Is because leads to a similar problem as you can see in this sentence:

The reason they overeat is because they are bored.

When the phrase the reason is precedes because., like in the example, the word because means for the reason that, so the writer is saying the same thing twice. This is why because should be deleted and the sentence would look like this:

The reason they overeat is that they are bored.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject/ verb agreement means that subjects and verbs must agree with each other in number. In other words, this means that if the subject of a sentence is singular, the verb that goes with it needs to be singular as well, and if the subject is plural, the verb needs to be plural. Even though this seems pretty straightforward there are some situations in which using the right form of the verb could cause problems.

In the sentence, ‘My brother is taking the bus to school,’ for example, ‘brother’ is a singular noun so the singular verb ‘is’ needs to be used. However, in the sentence ‘My brother, as well as most of his friends, is taking the bus to school.’ It is a lot less clear whether a singular or a plural verb needs to be used. The following guidelines will help you make sure that your subjects agree with your verbs. Situation number one”

1.

When the subject is made up of two or more nouns or pronouns connected by and you need to use a plural verb. So,

           He and his sisters are on vacation.

2.

When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, you use a singular verb. Like in this example:

            The chairman or the secretary is at the meeting.

3.

Number three. When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearest to the verb.

                  The owner or his employees go to the bank every day.

                  Or

                  The employees or the owner goes to the bank every day.

4.

Number four is about not being misled by phrases that come between the subject and the verb. You just have to make sure that the verb agrees with the subject, not with a noun or pronoun that might be in the phrase.

                  One of the men is injured.

                  The girl with all the dogs walks down the road.

5.

Number 5. You should use singular verbs with the words: each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one.

                  Each of these books is good.

                  Nobody ever calls the emergency number.

6.

Number 6 is about what to do with nouns such as mathematics, civics, euros, measles, and news. Although they also need singular verbs. So,

                  The news comes on at ten o’clock.

Note: words like euros or, for example, dollars, are a special case. When you are          talking about an amount of money, you need to use a singular verb, but if you are are referring to the euros or dollars themselves, so the currency, you need to use       a plural verb. So,

                  Ten euros for a ticket sounds quite cheap.

                  Euros are often used instead of Pounds.

7.

Number 7. Plural verbs are used for nouns like scissors, tweezers, trousers, etc.           

                  Those trousers look very cool on you.

8.

Moving on to number 8. When using sentences beginning with there is or there are, make sure the   subject follows the verb. So,

                  There is one option.

9.

Number 9. Collective nouns, so nouns that are considered singular but are usually made up of multiple members, like team, committee, class, family, etc. take a singular  verb when they operate together as a group .  Like in:

There are many possibilities.

If the members of the group represented by the collective noun operate    independently, (so doing different things probably at different times) you should        use a plural verb.  Like in:

                  The class write their thesis papers this year.

This means that the people in the class write papers on different topics, probably             at different times during the year. They don’t operate in unison towards the same goal.

10.

The last one is number 10. When you use expressions like including, accompanied by, in addition to, or as well, etc., the number of the subject does not change. If the subject is singular, so is the verb.

                  The King, accompanied by the Queen, is visiting the Netherlands.

Revising Mixed Constructions in Your Writing

Generally speaking, mixed constructions can be divided into three different kinds. They occur when either a dependent clause, a prepositional phrase, or an independent clause is incorrectly used as the subject of a sentence. Let’s look at the independent clause first:

1.

Because he works eleven hours every day explains why he is always tired.

The first part of this sentence, so Because he works every day, is a dependent clause because it does not express a complete thought.  It needs another, independent clause, to give it meaning, and it should not be used as the subject of a sentence. A revised version of this sentence would look like this.

Because he works eleven hours every day, he is always tired.

2.

It’s also not a good idea to use a prepositional phrase, so a phrase starting with a preposition like in, by, on, after, etc., as the subject of a sentence, like in this instance:

By enlisting in the army is a good way to see the world.

After revision this sentence could look like this.

By enlisting in the army, you can see the world.

3.

Finally, using a clause that would also work as stand-alone sentence with a subject, a verb, and its own meaning – so an independent clause – also causes sentences with a mixed construction, like here:

She was rich made her buy much more than she needed.

Here She was rich is the independent clause that is used as the subject of the sentence. It could be rewritten like this:

Being rich made her buy much more than she needed.

How to Revise Unwarranted Shifts in Your Writing

Revising Unwarranted Shifts

Sometimes writers change their writing style within a sentence without good reason, which often leads to passages that are awkward or not clear  When this happens, this is called an unwarranted shift. These shifts can be divided into the six different kinds, and they are explained below.

1.

Verb tense in a sentence, or in a group of related sentences, should not change without a good reason. A good reason could be to indicate a change of time, for instance. Like in this example:

Pulp Fiction is a classic film that was made in 1994.

 Unwarranted shifts in tense, like in the following sentence, can make your text confusing.

I enrolled in the business course because I wanted to take over my father’s business. However, after a few months I start losing interest.

This would be an unwarranted shift from past to present and a revised version of this sentence would look like this:

I enrolled in the business course because I wanted to take over my father’s business. However, after a few months I started losing interest.

 The verb start is now in the same tense as in the related sentence.

Unwarranted shifts don’t only occur from past to present, but also the other way around.

2.

Shifts in voice can also occur, for instance from active to passive, or from passive to active. The following example shows an unwarranted shift from active to passive

Walter Isaacson wrote a biography of Steve Jobs, and later a biography of Leonardo da Vinci was written.

 This awkward change in voice could be revised like this, by making the passive voice (was written) active (wrote):

Walter Isaacson wrote a biography of Steve Jobs, and later wrote a biography of Leonardo da Vinci.

There are instances where a shift in voice from active to passive within a sentence may be necessary, however,  like here:

Although the students protested, the legal drinking age was raised.

 In this case the shift from active (protested) to passive (was raised) keeps the focus on the students and the fact that they protested. Saying who raised the drinking age (for example, the government), in an active sentence would change the emphasis of the sentence here.

3.

Mood indicates whether the writer is making a statement or asking a question, which is called the indicative mood. Issuing a command or making a request is a called the imperative mood, and expressing a wish or a hypothetical condition is called the subjunctive mood.

Shifting between moods also leads to awkward sentences, like in this example, where the sentence shifts from the imperative to the indicative mood for no reason.

Next, place the slide under the microscope, and you should make sure to refocus the lens.

 A revised version of this sentence would look like this:

Next, place the slide under the microscope, and be sure to refocus the lens.

 4.

Person indicates who is speaking (for instance first person I or we), second person (So, who is spoken to (you)), and who is spoken about (he, she, it and they), which is third person. Unwarranted shifts in person often occur between third and second person, like in this sentence:

When someone buys a house, you should compare mortgage rates.

 Here is the revised sentence:

When you buy a house, you should compare mortgage rates.

 5.

Number indicates shifts between singular (for instance, words like it, business,  or cell) and plural (they, them, businesses, or cells). Singular pronouns should refer to singular antecedents and plural pronouns should refer to plural antecedents, which is not the case in the following sentence

If a person does not exercise regularly, they will not remain physically fit.

 Here plural they refers to singular noun, a person. The revised sentence should be this:

If a person does not exercise regularly, he or she will not remain physically fit.

 6.

Direct discourse reports the direct words of the speaker or writer using quotation marks and an identifying tag (for instance she says), like in this sentence:

My teacher said, ‘I want you to report to the principal’s office.’

Indirect discourse summarises the words of the speaker of writer and no quotation marks are used. To introduce the reported words, that is often used in case of a statement. For questions, who, what, why, whether, how, or if are used. Here is an example:

My teacher said that he wanted me to report to the principal’s office.

Shifts from in direct to direct discourse often cause the sentence to be confusing. Like here:

During the speech, Jake Anderson strongly emphasised the regulations and said I am in charge.

And this is the revised sentence.

During the speech, Jake Anderson strongly emphasised the regulations and said he was in charge.

Shifts from indirect to direct discourse are equally confusing. Like in this in this sentence:

My lawyer asked, was I ever going to pay the fine.

This sentence is much better: