Friday, 2 December 2016

Capitalisation: the holiday edition

I’ve written about capitalisation here before, but as we approach Christmas I saw an opportunity to expand on the subject.

Everywhere you look, you’ll probably see that most holiday greetings are capitalised:
Merry Christmas
Seasons Greetings
Happy New Year

The reason that holiday greetings are capitalised is because the holidays themselves are proper nouns (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, etc.), and the greeting (happy, merry, etc.) is usually at the beginning of the sentence or standing alone, and therefore requires a capital as well.

But sometimes we see these greetings in the middle of a sentence:
“We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

Some of those capital letters don’t actually belong, and these can probably be regarded as stylistic exceptions. When there are holidays and events, style can trump grammar because it’s often more aesthetically pleasing. But in the example sentence above, we can and should strive to write it correctly because it is a proper sentence as opposed to a standalone greeting. It should look like this:
“We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

Note that “new year” isn’t capitalised because I’m not referring to the holiday. Instead, I’m saying that I hope the upcoming new year is a happy one. The new year itself isn’t a holiday; only New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are holidays. So, when you say “Happy New Year”, that is a holiday greeting and is the equivalent of “Merry Christmas”. But if you wish someone’s new year will go well, the capitals aren’t needed. I explained a similar rule in my other post, comparing generic use of “bridge” with “Sydney Harbour Bridge”. Depending on context and meaning, capitalisation changes.

We see this with “Happy Birthday” and “Happy Anniversary” as well. One’s birthday or anniversary is not an official holiday and not at all a proper noun, yet we continue to write “Happy Birthday, ____”, when, in reality, if we were following capitalisation rules accurately, it would be “Happy birthday, ____”. Again, this seems to be excused for the sake of style.

The rule I recommend and prefer to follow is this:

If you are saying a standalone greeting to someone, use capitals for each part of the greeting -
Happy Birthday/Anniversary
Merry Christmas
Happy New Year

But if you are writing out a full sentence in regards to holidays and birthdays, only capitalise proper nouns -
I hope you have a happy birthday.
Enjoy the new year.
Have a wonderful Christmas.

Having said all of this, it is a stylistic choice more often than not, and I'm sure the recipients of your greetings won't notice a minor capitalisation rule like this. But I still think it's a valuable thing to be aware of, much like all of my other blog topics over the past year or so. Thank you to those who have been reading and supporting my blog and my work. I hope you do have a happy holiday season and enjoy the new year.
If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Monday, 24 October 2016

Less or fewer?

When should you use less? And when should you use fewer?
This will be a short one because it’s very easy to explain.

This is one of those things you might know subconsciously because it sounds right a certain way. Most of the time it comes naturally, but many people do get it wrong, so here’s a quick reminder:

Fewer should be used when the subject can be counted and is plural (preceded by “are/were”) – there are fewer apples, there were fewer trees, etc.

less should be used when the subject is singular and can't be counted (preceded by “is/was”) – there is less water, there was less pain, etc.

But if you watch Game of Thrones you probably know this already. Thanks, Stannis.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Monday, 10 October 2016

Metaphors, analogies, similes, allegories - how are they different?

These four literary devices are roughly the same as each other, but with some varying aspects. Each of them will draw comparisons between things to help the reader further understand the meaning or impact of what is written, but they each do this differently. Allegories in particular are quite different to the other three, as they are far more subtle and symbolic, lacking the “clear comparison” aspect.
A metaphor involves saying that one thing is another thing, when it actually isn’t. The comparison is implicit, so it often says A is B, rather than A is like B. This often means metaphors sound illogical and ridiculous, but it’s usually clear when a metaphor is a metaphor, so we embrace the idea it is expressing.

The job interview was a breeze.
My face is a canvas.
The world is a stage.
He is my rock.
An analogy is basically a metaphor, but takes it a step further by extending the comparison. Therefore, an analogy is more of an argument than a figure of speech. Metaphors and similes are figures of speech, and analogies are often made up of them both. Or, as Britta so simply put, “it’s a thought with another thought’s hat on”.

- “Politicians are puppets, and we are the audience. We don’t see the strings, so we just believe whatever we see, and we don’t know who is really putting on the show.”
- The best example, though, is the famous Forrest Gump quote: “My momma always said life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.”
A simile is basically a metaphor, but with the words “like” or “as” chucked in there for clarity. This makes it explicit rather than implicit.

We’re as close as two peas in a pod.
She’s as light as a feather.
The sun’s warmth is like a blanket.
When people bring their bins in from the street, they rumble like thunder. (Is this just an Aussie thing? Is it just me?)

Allegories are implicit and symbolic. They aren’t spelled out for the reader like the metaphors and similes and analogies. They exist in many forms of art where one story is clearly told, but an alternate meaning or idea can be found within it. This isn’t usually identified within the work, as it is more open to the audience’s interpretation. It’s up to the audience to draw their own comparisons by noting familiar themes, and so on.

- Some might say Star Trek is an allegory for racial diversity and general discrimination, as it involves a number of different alien races all interacting and clashing in various contexts. The same might be said about X-Men, as it also shows those who are marginalised for being different. This could be a hint at any kind of discrimination, such as homosexuality, even though they focus on aliens and mutants. This is an allegory.

- Another example I like to refer to is The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote about trees waking up and marching to destroy the home of the man who destroyed them for the purpose of building machines and creating armies. If that isn’t an allegory for the industrial revolution and destruction of our forests, I don’t know what is. There are many more you can find within LOTR that relate to war, greed, etc. But Tolkien never liked allegories for his stories anyway. That is perhaps indicative of the allegory - it is often only open to the interpretation of the audience.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The value of an editor

This is going to be a long one, but only because it’s important and I care.
It’s a little bit of a rant, but also a little bit of advice. I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to read this through. It matters a great deal to me and to many others. And before I begin, a friendly reminder: I do not think less of people who aren’t as good at English as I am. I’m not picking on them, I promise. This is about the role of editing.

Lately I've noticed a number of obvious and damaging written errors in some important places: news articles, magazines, emails, ads, promotional posts by small businesses, etc.
The one that made me cringe the most: I was reading a reliable and well-known science magazine that had misspelled "extinction". Twice. On the same page.

But that’s not the end of it.
At a later date I was reading another article in the same issue of the same magazine and stumbled upon three more errors. This time they’d left out a space between “match” and “our”, creating this weird new word, matchour.
Then they had used neither and or together, instead of neither and nor. The general rule is to pair neither with nor, and either with or. Mixing them up just sounds wrong.
Finally, further along in that article, I found this: “The prospect of genetic inequality are at the heart of public concern…”
That was even more irritating once I realised they’d re-used and emphasised that quote in a larger font separately on the page with the correct grammar. They had indeed used “is” instead of “are” there, so why was it wrong in the actual article?

How do writers for a science magazine misspell a word used commonly in the science world? How do writers forget spaces and confuse plural with singular? Well, the writers have probably just made some mistakes. That happens and is forgivable human nature. But that’s why editing exists – to look over written work for inevitable errors. And I think it’s a given that an acclaimed magazine would have an editing department. And so the question now becomes: How do errors like that get through editing without being picked up?

I might shrug it off if bad writing was confined to Facebook posts and texts, but it’s not. People are bringing their poor grammar and spelling with them everywhere, in contexts where more damage can be done.
Errors have been popping up all over the place, and I’ve been left feeling dejected and disappointed.
The career I’m attempting to pursue exists to avoid these issues. Nevertheless, I am seeing more issues, and getting less work. This post is an attempt to address what I believe is contributing to this lack of care for language, and to encourage those reading to consider the value of the editing role.

One of these contributing factors, from my observation, could lie in the “editor” role that is so well known in media, and yet so not an editing job.
I call myself an editor because editing is what I do. But if I accepted a job at a magazine to be an editor, I don’t think I’d be spending my days focused on editing. Many times I’ve looked at ads for jobs like this, and all too often the actual “editing” part of the role is mentioned briefly down the bottom of the job description, or not at all.
I get that there are other jobs to be done in editorial departments, but it seems there is a lack of focus on the editing itself. I rarely find job postings that are just looking for people to edit words. There are always other tasks that take precedence, and this is a problem because editing requires all the focus in the world. There’s no point hiring an editor who has great attention to detail if you’re giving them a hundred different details to focus on beyond their actual editing work. No wonder magazines and newspapers are producing content riddled with errors. Their editors don’t have the capacity, time, or focus to put everything into the task at hand because they have a list of other roles to fulfil as well.

Where are the editing roles that are just about editing? Sure, get your editor to run some other errands when things go quiet, but let editing be their thing. If you need people to do all those other tasks, create a new job title.

To be fair, I know there are editors editing magazines. And I know there are jobs out there. I’ve looked. Occasionally I do stumble upon a job offer that indicates the role predominantly involves editing and fact-checking. But I have a point to make: the editing role requires more care and focus than it seems to be getting. It isn’t valued enough. If it was, I’d be finding more jobs to do, and the world’s words would be cleaner and make more sense. If editing was valued, I wouldn’t have easily found four significant errors in a science magazine.

And yes, that matters. People are lazy with language these days, so much so that anyone trying to correct poor grammar is picked on and called a “grammar nazi”. People would rather joke about it than try to improve. I’ve had people joke about poor grammar to me, like it’s just some annoying hobby I do. But it’s my chosen career and I think it matters, as much as dental health matters to a dentist, and education matters to a teacher.
And beyond the fact that I care, it just seems very few people get the importance of speaking and writing well. In my view, it’s all about effective and meaningful communication, which matters in every aspect of life, in every corner of the globe.
Spelling errors in prestigious magazines, for example, can damage credibility, reputation, and the reader’s experience. The same can apply to novels and news articles. And that’s just the media side of things. Words are used in many other important places where mistakes can be far more impactful.

Beyond all of that, there is another contributing factor that affects me more directly.
I can detach from media jobs to some extent. I know it’s a role I may have to play at some point in this career, but I was never into the idea of a nine-to-five office job anyway, because I’m driven by what makes me happy. That’s why I put my focus (for now) into flexible freelance work, helping the small businesses, passionate individuals, and independent authors out there who could use a second pair of eyes.
So far, that’s worked out a little bit for me. But only a little bit.
I appreciate all those who have reached out in the past year and hired me for their own passions. Every opportunity has brought so much to me. Thank you for taking it seriously and seeing the value.
But, unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough for me to leave my other job which is slowly breaking my back. And spirit.

I’m passionate, I work hard, and I am good at what I do. But I don’t get to do it enough. I’ll keep on doing whatever is necessary to get more work – promoting, networking, and advertising. I know a large part of it is how hard I work to get myself out there. But I believe the following message has to be relayed as well, because clients are the other half of it.
Many of you are ignoring the editing step. And for your sake as well as mine, you shouldn’t.

I’m noticing that small businesses I follow are making constant mistakes in their social media posts. These people know I exist and they know what I offer, but I am not contacted.
I’ve also had clients show interest in edits for their websites and blogs, but have followed that up by not replying to my messages at all. I even gave away a free website edit as part of a deal, and one of my clients simply didn’t use the edits, so I was unable to reference her website as work experience. She also didn’t acknowledge or thank me when I sent them to her.
I mean, if nothing else, that’s just unbelievably rude.

Let me put it this way:
You’d probably rely on a professional printing company for your business cards and flyers. It’s definitely worth spending the money instead of doing it yourself if you’re not good at that sort of thing. You’d spend money on advertising and equipment too.
But why, when it comes to presenting clean words in promotional posts, websites, blogs, etc., are people so unwilling to pay a small amount of money for proofreading?

Speaking and writing well doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Perhaps you put more effort into your passions and your strengths. That’s important to you, so your focus is on that, not your words. And that’s how it should be. But if writing and grammar aren’t your strengths, and you know that, you should be getting a professional to check words for you before publishing. If you know you’re not the one to oversee it, then hire someone who can, who is passionate about writing when you’re not.

It matters, by the way. I’m not just typing this up because I want work. I am also typing this up because I really want to help. I’m tired of seeing problems I know I could have helped with. It’s frustrating and disheartening. And it also sucks for you and what you’re selling, whether you realise it or not.

If you are trying to gain a reputation and make your professional mark on the world, having an editor you can rely on is a good idea. Proofreaders and editors are everywhere, and we exist for this exact reason. Writing is not for everyone, but it does have an effect on the way your potential clients perceive you, and whether they will take you seriously. You don't have to be the one to perfect your writing, especially if it's not something you enjoy. But please recognise that, and acknowledge that someone else can help. If you don't care enough to present your work well, your clients may not care enough to give you a chance. It might be easy to brush proofreading off as an unnecessary step in your work, but I can assure you it makes all the difference. I know many people, myself included, who will be less inclined to give money to a company whose words are all over the place. Poor spelling and grammar turns me off. It turns a lot of people off.
It's great to see so many people sharing their passion with the world, but your followers can be easily distracted by messy writing, and may subsequently lose interest.

Unfortunately, the services editors offer aren’t as desirable as personalised arts or crafts, clothes, food, or photos. It’s a need more than a want, and as a client it can be hard to confront your faults. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. You probably need it, and I’m here. Also, my rates are more than reasonable. I’ll probably raise them some time in the near future, so now is kind of a good time to use me.

If you made it this far, thank you. I want to be clear that I don’t intend to offend anyone. I am simply choosing to speak up because it affects people and I believe talking about it can help. Over the past year I’ve realised I do a thing that people don’t seem to want. But it’s a thing they need. Please don’t be afraid to reach out. I love to support other people pursuing their desires, and I’d appreciate your support too.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

“Used to” or “use to”?

This is one I never really thought about until a friend mentioned it the other day. I've always used "used", but there is confusion out there, so I did some investigating.

It’s hard to know which one you’re actually using because they both sound about the same when spoken.
But one is right, and one is wrong. I’ll cut to the chase.

You should be saying “used to”, because you are referring to something that happened in the past.
- I used to listen to different music.
However, “use to” can be used in questions and in the negative.
- Did you use to play an instrument?
- I didn’t use to listen to music very often.

That being said, “use to” in those examples, in my opinion, sounds a bit awkward.
My argument is you can drop the “use to” in both example sentences and they would still make perfect sense. But it is technically correct, so go ahead. Just remember, in general, it should be “used to”.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

"Should of" is not a thing

This is much like the he’s/his issue, where people are inclined to write what they hear without actually thinking about the meaning of the words being used.

“Should of” does not mean anything. Neither does “could of”, “must of”, “would of”, etc.
The reason you’re saying it or writing it like this is probably because they are contractions – “should’ve” (should have) and “could’ve” (could have) – which makes it sound like they have “of” in there somewhere.

“I should have/should’ve gone to the party” is correct. “I should of gone to the party” makes no sense.

This is why making assumptions is a bad idea. Lazy writing and lazy speaking can leave some negative impressions on all the right people. So, know what you’re saying before you say it. If you’re ever in doubt, it takes just a few seconds to check!

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Prepositions: What are they and why should I care?

Here is another interesting suggestion from one of my friends.
Prepositions. We all know the word, but do we know the meaning and significance of it?
As school becomes a thing of the past, it can be easy to forget what each grammatical term refers to, so let’s start with this one.

What are they?

The Macquarie dictionary describes a preposition as “a word which defines the relationship between a noun (or pronoun) and some other word(s) in the sentence.”
This means the preposition is usually telling you when, how, where, etc. Without prepositions, we wouldn’t get to add detail as easily.

The dog sat
on my bed.
She walked
across the road.
We ate lunch
inside the café.

If you want a little clue to help you remember what prepositions are, think of the “positions” part of the word. Often a preposition will tell you what position the subject of the sentence is in.

Why should I care?

Well, there’s a good chance you use prepositions every time you speak and write. They are an essential part of our language, and I personally think it’s important to know as much as you can about the everyday things you do. A preposition can assist you in descriptions and in connecting words to one another. This is extremely useful in communication, both in social and professional contexts. And the more of them you know, the more versatile you can be in your word usage. Good language is impressive to many people, myself included.

Another reason to care became apparent to me through one of my friends, who is a speech pathologist.
She reminded me that many of her patients (who are kids) struggle to use prepositions. This sort of blog post, though brief, might be useful for those patients. Being able to communicate easily is something we probably all take for granted, but unfortunately it is a challenge for some. When there is a barrier preventing you from communicating properly, it must be a very frustrating and disheartening experience. So, if you have the ability to use prepositions, know what they are and use them well. Spread the knowledge. It might help someone.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

His and he’s are two different words

I recently asked my Facebook followers to share their pet peeves and grammar queries with me. I am so glad this one came up. Thanks, Gwen!

Too often people will use a wrong word simply because it sounds close enough to the right one. This is a very lazy thing to do, and it’s not the kind of mistake you want to be making, if any.

Examples of said lazy mistake:

He took he’s hat off.
His going to the movies with me.
I am going to he’s house to watch he’s movies because his really nice.

None of those sentences make sense, but they happen. A little too often.
With most things, you just need to take a second to consider what you’re writing or saying before you actually deliver it. Ask yourself: What even is “he’s”?
Well, it’s a contraction. “He” and “is” have been put together, and it can also be "he" and "has". Once you realise that, you probably won’t be using it for ownership anymore. You should only use “he’s” when you want to say “he is” or "he has". And then hopefully you’ll be using “his” for ownership, as it should be.

Examples of how to use these two words correctly:

His results were outstanding.
He’s going shopping for his mum.
He's fixed the car.
He’s so smart that his teachers let him skip a grade.

This topic almost ties in with the your/you’re/their/they’re/there issue, which I have dealt with in one of my earlier posts. If you wish to read it, go here.

Remember, just because it sounds right, doesn’t necessarily mean it is right. Buying your mum flours might sound good in conversation, but the second you write it down there will be confusion.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Climatic or climactic?

Yes, there are two different words with two different meanings. It is confusing because they sound very much the same, so one can be forgiven for using them in the wrong context. But that’s why it’s important to investigate and learn new things, perhaps by reading blog posts like these.

To highlight this lesson I’m going to use Lord of the Rings. No one is really surprised.

In The Return of the King when the Ring (yes, this ring gets a capital because Tolkien said so) finally gets destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, it’s emotional, exciting, and dramatic. But it’s also a climax of the film, so we can also describe it as climactic. It’s a good word to use when there is a climax.
Another climactic moment occurs in The Two Towers when Aragorn and Theoden lead their army out of the gates at sunrise, and Gandalf and Eomer arrive shortly after to help them win the battle for Helm’s Deep. And it’s also probably my favourite scene ever, but that’s beside the point.

The other word is climatic. Notice the difference?
Climatic has one less “c” in it, and it refers to the climate. You might use it like this:
“Climatic factors occasionally hinder the characters on their journey through Middle Earth.”
Or, the non-geek version:
“Predictable climatic conditions make it easier to plan holidays.”

So, how will you remember which is which?

The way I see it, climatic is pretty easy. It sounds a lot like the word it belongs to: climate.
Just take climate and replace the e with ic.

And I remember climactic belongs to climax because of the extra c. I like to look at the extra c as representing the x in climax. The x is a reminder that there is something extra involved in this word, so chuck in an extra c.
I hope that helps!

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Lost in translation

In reference to my business I often talk about the value of meaningful communication, as that is one of the reasons I am passionate about perfecting written communication through editing. The way we communicate matters if you want to deliver your message well. Bad word usage, sentence structure, or even a typo can have a negative impact on your message. This article provides a fun yet concerning list of written errors that led to significant repercussions.
Whether you’re a large company hoping to achieve something significant, or a small business looking to attract the attention of a potential passing customer, you need to avoid mistakes. Typos and poor grammar can turn people off.

But one important thing to consider, which became more apparent to me in the last month, is that often mistakes are a result of problems in translation. This occurs not only in writing, but in speaking as well. I spent some time in France and Belgium recently, and had lots of fun observing the way things translate differently from French to English, and vice versa. I was already aware of this, as I studied French in high school, but seeing it and hearing it around me was an eye-opening experience.

For example, on a tour to the magnificent Mont Saint Michel in Normandy, our tour guide would sometimes say the name in what would technically be the English translation: Mount Saint Michael. And every time he said it, I smiled. It sounded kind of funny, and I think that’s because some things just don’t need to be translated – especially names.

I think part of communicating effectively involves acknowledging and understanding, to some extent, the different languages of the world. And it’s important to use some logic as well, because quite often direct translations don’t make sense.
For example, a chocolate croissant in French is pain au chocolat, for which the direct translation would be chocolate bread. But you probably wouldn’t put “chocolate bread” on a menu. You need to consider what chocolate bread might be referring to, and adjust it in a way that English speakers will understand.
Another good example is chocolat chaud, which is a hot chocolate. But if you tried to translate that as two separate words in that order without considering the way French works, it would come out as "chocolate hot".
It does seem that French words are a little back-to-front at times, like in “la tour Eiffel”, where the tower part comes first. But they usually translate well. You just have to be aware of the differences if you’re dealing with other languages. And don't assume that "tour" in French just means "tour" in English. Always find out first.

If, in your writing, you wish to use a language other than the one(s) you’re familiar with, just be sure you’re learning as much as you can about it. A mix-up in translation can be just as damaging as a typo. In general it matters to be thorough and strive to communicate in the way that your audience will understand.

On a side note, consider one of my favourite quotes by JRR Tolkien:
“Do not write down to children or to anybody.”
I agree that we should be as complex as we can be because surely that will encourage others to learn something new. Use other languages if you can. Use big words. Be clever and diverse. But my message is to be sure you’re doing it right. Translate properly, get your stuff edited, and just double-check things.

And a little bit of travel advice:
If you’re in a foreign country and struggle to understand the language, always consider context. If your taxi driver has stopped and is talking in his/her language and gesturing to the left and the right, and you’re too focused on trying to understand what they're saying, you might miss the very obvious fact that they’re asking whether to go left or right. It’s not always about words; sometimes body language and surroundings can give away what the person is trying to communicate. Just think about where you are and what you’re doing, and the meaning behind what is written or being spoken may become clearer.

If you see a red windmill in front of the words "Moulin Rouge" it might be fair to assume moulin rouge means "red windmill". Again, though, it's backwards, so if you took it word by word without considering French properly you would get "mill red". This is also another example of a time you would just leave the French name as it is, because Moulin Rouge sounds much nicer than Mill Red, or even Red Mill.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Monday, 20 June 2016

How to answer a question properly (and why that’s important)

Answering questions properly and presenting solid arguments can be a challenge, so I’ve been analysing what works best and why it matters. This could be relevant to you no matter who you are or what you do, but perhaps more so if you are: a student, a public speaker, a politician, a job seeker, or a writer. Or maybe you believe in the value of a well-structured argument/debate.

Recently I got my hands on a copy of the latest Marie Claire (July 2016 edition), which is kind of weird for me. I don’t look at magazines unless I see something of value to read. Well my eyes caught something on the front cover that I wanted to check out: a Turnbull/Shorten interview (page 50, if you’re interested).
I’d rather not use politics as an example for writing advice, but this one was too good to pass up.

Reading through it I noticed the best answers – the ones I paid attention to and believed – were the ones that got straight to the point, provided lists or statistics, and didn’t use vague statements to avoid a clear answer. The influence those answers had on my interpretation – whether positive or negative – was fascinating.
Let’s look at an example.

Both men were asked, “What are the most important issues for women in 2016?”
(I will list and analyse the responses without specifying who said what, because if I do it will become a political blog post, which is not really what I’m going for…)

1) “Respect is absolutely critical, whether you’re talking about access to great jobs and business opportunities or domestic violence. The most important thing we can do is teach our sons to respect women. Respect for women is part of my DNA, which informs every aspect of our policies. Women hold up half of the sky, as the Chinese say, and they should be given due credit for it in every respect.”

“If this country does nothing else in the next 10 years, we must achieve the equal treatment of women. Everything from more women in positions of power or in parliament, to bridging the pay gap, gender savings gap and the burden of unpaid care that falls on women, right through to the worst example of the unfair treatment of women in society: domestic violence. If we can do nothing else but solve those problems, we will be a very rich country. We need to put more women into more positions of power.”

Notice some differences?

The first response was centred on the overall importance of respect for women, which he repeated a couple of times. He also referenced a Chinese saying to support his opinion, which gives the impression he’s filling in space instead of elaborating on his points. It was nice, and he mentioned a couple of issues, but he didn’t focus on them enough. It wasn’t convincing or satisfying.
The second response, however, was very clear in its answers. He acknowledged equal treatment of women as the most important goal for Australians to achieve, and then he listed the exact issues that need to be addressed to achieve that. He told us what and how without tiptoeing around it. The first response did offer up a little bit of what and a little bit of how, but the second response was far more effective at doing that.
The question is: Why?

This sort of pattern seems to emerge a lot in politics, but also in other familiar places, like in essays and job interviews.
I remember during my studies sometimes I didn’t understand an essay question or I couldn’t figure out how to answer one, so I would just try to write as much as I could about the topic. I thought that would be enough and it sounded great because I could write really well, but my content lacked any real meaning because I was avoiding the point of the essay. As a result, I failed to answer the question and subsequently received lower marks.

I wish I had done then what I’m about to suggest to you all now.

To answer a question properly you need to first reread the question and realise what it is asking of you. A question about the causes of climate change, for example, is not the time to get carried away about your opinion, or even what the results of climate change are – unless, of course, you are asked to do so. If the question asks about causes, you must list causes. What are the causes? Why are they causes? How impactful is each cause?
If someone asked me a question like that, I’d probably go off on a tangent and talk about the results, and what it means for the future of Earth, and so on. I might provide good information and I might have more fun, but in many cases my arguments could fall flat, because we need to focus on what we’re specifically asked in order to satisfy our audience.

Now, of course, this applies more strictly to school and university. Essays usually require you to answer the questions very specifically. It really depends on what you’re being asked to do. But if you lose track, you risk not answering the question at all. In the essay context, you’ll get lower marks. In the interview context, your answers won’t be valued or taken seriously. It matters.

So, if you don’t understand the question, spend some time making sure you do. If you’re unclear on the meaning of a word, look it up. If the wording confuses you, get someone else to read it to you or provide their take on it. You can also ask whoever is asking the question to clarify what they mean.
And, if it helps, re-write the question for your own sake, in a way that makes the most sense to you.

Once you’re clear on what the question requires of you, you need to think of the best way to present your answer. Structure matters. Let’s look at how our politicians utilised structure.

2) He identified the problem: gender inequality.
He listed the exact issues, as requested by the question: more women in parliament/power, bridging the pay gap and gender savings gap, the burden of unpaid care, and domestic violence.
He recognised the impact of these issues, that our country will be rich even if gender inequality is the only thing we solve.
He concluded with a suggestion on how to begin the process, by putting women in positions of power.

Evidently the structure of this response is clean and carefully considered. It has a beginning, middle, and end. I’m actually a little impressed he managed that in an interview context. Now look at the first response, and notice how the structure isn’t as easy to follow, which makes it harder to absorb.

1) He didn’t identify the problem, but rather jumped straight to an answer, which was to respect women.
He mentioned a few issues, which addressed the question briefly: career and business opportunities, and domestic violence.
He reiterated his view on respect.
He made it personal by referencing his own DNA.
He used a Chinese saying to support his beliefs.

After reading through both responses many times, I have determined that one good way to introduce your response is by looking at why the question is being asked in the first place. If it’s about the causes of climate change, I would probably open with an acknowledgement of climate change as a real and important issue, and then lead into how it has become such an issue by listing the causes.

In the case of our politicians, the second response approached it well because he had things he wanted to acknowledge, but he prefaced them with an important statement before simply listing them. He took the time to first address the fact that the question was being asked, by pointing out how important it is to eradicate gender inequality in the first place. Then he was able to list the various examples of gender inequality to solidify his stance.
The problem with the first response was that he seemingly heard “women’s issues” and jumped straight to “respect women” instead of framing something a little more substantial. That isn’t to say respect is a bad thing to bring up. It just doesn’t get your attention like the second answer does. And in essays and interviews and speeches and arguments, you want to get your audience’s attention with something more specific.

As you can see, structuring your response in the right way can give you a head-start. But the content matters just as much. Response 2 offered a good number of examples of gender equality issues, and they were all solid. Response 1 offered only a few, and they were not necessarily good choices. Domestic violence was a good one to bring up, of course, but the other two were not as well thought out. It’s almost one point spread across two. This could leave readers thinking perhaps our interviewee is a little ignorant or indifferent on the topic. Having the right information is the first step, and knowing which to focus on is what can put you ahead. It shows that you understand what you’re talking about.

However, to be fair, both responses offered their opinion on what to do about it. 1 said we need to respect women and teach our men to respect women. 2 said we need to give women more power. Both are good points, but there’s a subtle difference that helps the second one over the line.
Respect is a very broad and general term. It’s easy to throw that word around and know it means good things. But suggesting women belong in positions of power requires a little more preparation. You have to first know that there aren’t enough women in power, and then know that women being in power will be useful to inequality and the country as a whole, and then understand its importance in solving the overall problem. This alone makes the second response even stronger.

And all of this is important because you need your readers/audience to understand you and believe you. If you have an important message to get across, it won’t happen with poor content and structure. If you have to write an essay, you’ll give yourself the best chance at high marks if you put thought into your response. It matters even if you’re not answering a question. You need to be able to provide people with the information they need or want to hear. If you don’t, they may lose interest or miss the point, and it really sucks when you’re not heard or understood.

If you have something important to say, or you need to hit the nail on the head in an interview, it’s a good idea to consider some of this stuff. So, I’ll summarise:

- understand your question – clarify its meaning, and re-write if you need to
- consider the structure – acknowledge the topic/question/problem, list the reasons/examples, show its importance, and provide a possible solution
- be straight to the point
- use good content – lists, statistics, numbers, facts
- know what is relevant – the content that will answer the question and appeal to your audience the most

- use vague statements and ideas that could be applied to anything
- tiptoe around and avoid the actual question
- forget the question
- go off on tangents and get distracted
- go in blind without being sure you understand the question or topic

- to engage your audience/interviewer and hold their attention
- to help people understand and believe your message without confusion
- to have your views valued and taken seriously (in interviews, for example)
- to demonstrate your knowledge and competence to get higher marks (in essays, for example)
- to spread important information in the most effective way
- to satisfy your audience by actually answering the question

And here’s why it matters to everyone else if you’re not answering questions well:
If you struggle to make your point, it comes across as though you don’t know enough, you don’t care enough, and/or you’re lying. And those are not good things if you’re in a position to answer/argue/explain.
But, of course, sometimes it’s just social anxiety, which is totally understandable.

I hope this proves useful to some of you!

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The question mark

When editing, I see people misuse question marks quite often.

You should only use a question mark at the end of a question.

The problem is, many think it belongs at the end of a sentence like this:
I wonder how many people attended the concert?

That is not a question, and so the question mark should not be there.
You’re stating that you’re wondering the amount, but you are not actually asking what the amount is.

If you were asking, and wanted to use a question mark, it should look like this:
How many people attended the concert?
OR Do you know how many people attended the concert?

Question words at the start of sentences can help sometimes. These include: what, when, where, who, whom, why, would, should, could, how, do, etc.
But that can also be misleading since we can ask questions without those words, and we can use those words in a non-question context.

For example, I can ask a question without using a question word:
Remember that time we learned about question words in primary school?
Or I can use a common question word without actually asking a question:
How we teach grammar is very important.

I know in informal conversation question marks are used a lot more freely (I do it myself sometimes, for emphasis or for comedy), but in formal writing you need to get it right.

Just remember, if you’re not actually asking a question, you shouldn’t use a question mark.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Which or that?

This one can be a little tricky if you haven't learned the rules yet. Read on for a quick explanation.

“Which” should be used when
you’re adding information to the subject (a non-defining clause).
“That” should be used when
you’re defining the subject (a defining clause).

If you don’t know what to use, ask yourself: Does the second clause add information to the first clause, or does it actually define it?

If it’s adding information, put “which”. And make sure there is a comma before it too! Non-defining clauses will always require a comma. There will be a natural pause before the additional information.
If it’s defining, put “that”. No comma needed here.

Here’s how it might look:

“We drank beer, which I preferred.” – I use “which” because I am simply stating that I preferred beer over anything else. This is just additional information describing how I felt about generally drinking beer.

“We drank the beer that I prefer.” – I use “that” to indicate we specifically drank my favourite beer. This defines the beer we drank.

And here’s an example of incorrect usage, to help you tell the difference:

“I parked in the spot which was closest to the entrance.” – You’re defining the parking spot, and there is no natural pause after “spot”, so “that” should be used here instead.

Just look for whether you are adding information or defining, and whether there is a natural pause between the clauses.

That's all, folks.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Track Changes: what, why, and how

If you’re a writer or editor and you don’t know what Track Changes is, you might be very thankful for what you’ll read next.

If you do indeed write, it’s always important to get your work edited. If you’re strapped for cash, even getting a friend or family member to look over your writing is better than nothing.
But what happens if you send through your Word document, they make some changes, send it back, and you can’t quite pick out what they’ve changed? It would be extremely inconvenient and time-consuming to bring up the before and after documents and compare them word for word.
Wouldn’t it be great if there were some feature that tracked the changes that you or someone else made to a document on Microsoft Word?

Well, there is. It’s called Track Changes, and it’s a part of Microsoft Word. I’d like to write about it today because I believe it has great value for writers and editors everywhere.

What is it?
Track Changes is a review feature of Microsoft Word. Once enabled, it records any changes you make to the document, including formatting, font, insertions, deletions, and so on. You can also insert comments for the next person to read when they go through it.
You can do this sort of thing with pen and paper, which is how I was initially trained, but that's not always an option. I actually thought electronic editing would be kind of weird and no fun at all. But I was so wrong.
Since becoming familiar with Track Changes, I’ve grown very fond of it.

The idea is that a writer will send their work to an editor, the editor will do their thing using Track Changes, and then the writer will accept or reject the changes once the editor has sent it back. The comment feature is also a really convenient way to point out anything of confusion or doubt, to ask questions, or to explain edits.

I also like to throw in encouraging comments here and there when I particularly enjoy what I am reading. Sometimes if it makes me laugh, I let the author know. Genuine feedback on the overall content is as valuable as fixing technical errors, and Track Changes is a nifty way to do this.

Why should I use it?
It’s effective and convenient, saves paper and ink, and makes communication between author and editor a lot easier.

You could be anywhere in the world and still edit a document for a client, because all you need is a computer.
It’s also very easy to use. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of it, and when you do, it becomes a second nature. I think writers should become as familiar with it as editors are.
The comment feature is brilliant, because you can insert the comment right where the issue is and the author will know what part of the text you’re referring to. There is no ambiguity and they can adjust it immediately. The same applies to other changes made – they are clearly highlighted in a different colour and can be fixed at the time and incorporated into the document with great ease.
And if the author wishes to, they can insert their own comments with questions or ideas and send it back to the editor.

It’s efficient, simple, and versatile. I still love the red pen and the proof marks, but this is just a better way to do it if you can. All you need is Microsoft Word and email.

How do I use it?
Track Changes can be found under the “Review” tab when you open Microsoft Word.
You’ll find a section off to the right that says “Track Changes”. Simply clicking that button will turn Track Changes on, and any changes made to the document will be subsequently tracked.

Next to the button there are three other subheadings to personalise the feature. This part is basically your way to adjust how you see the changes as they are made.

"All Markup” will show all changes made. “No Markup” means that you won’t see the changes highlighted until you choose to reveal them again. That might be preferable if you don’t want too many visual distractions, which can also be achieved by selecting “Simple Markup”. “Original” shows you the document before any of your changes were made.

You can also pick and choose which revisions you wish to see. For example, you might find that seeing your format changes is a bit distracting, so you might want to untick formatting while you work. Or perhaps you want to go over only your formatting changes to be sure they are consistent, in which case you would untick everything but formatting.

You also get to choose whether the changes will appear in the text, which can be clearer, or off to the side in the margin, which can be neater.

Furthermore, there is a reviewing pane you can enable which allows you to navigate your changes.

How you adjust the above settings is entirely up to your preferences – whatever allows you to focus as you make changes or review changes.
But if you’re on the reviewing end, you might want to be sure everything is ticked and visible so you don’t miss anything as you go through it.

Speaking of which, there are still more buttons you can use. You can “accept” or “reject” each change as you go through them all using the “previous” and “next” buttons. You can choose to accept or reject all changes but I think it’s always good to look over them first. Hitting “previous” or “next” will just help you to navigate from change to change easier, but you can always navigate through the document manually if you prefer.

Nifty, right?

I hope this has been informative and encouraging for those of you who could really use a tool like this. Computer stuff scares people off sometimes, but I promise this one is worth trying. If you have any questions or doubts, feel free to ask away!

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

I could/couldn't care less

It’s a common phrase, but you’re probably saying it wrong. So many people say it wrong.
But it’s so easy to figure out the right way, if you just take a second to look at the words you’re using and pay attention to what they mean before you use them.

I could care less
This is the one people use incorrectly. It literally means you DO care, because you’re saying you could care less than you currently do. It’s pretty self-explanatory. The problem is, many people use this phrase when what they’re really trying to say is…

I couldn’t care less
This one is what you’re looking for! It literally means you could NOT care less, which is a pretty effective way of indicating you just don’t care. If you use the first one (the wrong one), clever and observant people will be like, “HA! So you DO care. Joke’s on you!” And I don’t think that’s what you want.

So next time you want to tell someone just how much you don’t care, remember this: the fact that you DON’T care means you need to chuck a NOT in there. It’s “could not”. That is unless you want to be a bit of a smartass and tell people you do care, in an obscure sort of way.

This is how you might do that:
“Do you even care that I got hit by a car yesterday?”
“Well, I suppose I could care less. That sounds pretty serious."

But the more common way should look like this:
“I have an assignment to do and it’s about—”
“I don’t want to hear it. I couldn’t care less.”

Just keep in mind that sounds kind of mean. There are nicer ways to show disinterest.

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Saturday, 30 April 2016

The importance of hyphens

You simply cannot misuse hyphens.
Why? Because the meaning of an entire story can change.
How? Consider this article:

Obviously the article is telling a story about an eighteen-year-old who hopped trains for so many years. Cute story. But go back and read the title again.
I personally didn’t know trains could hop, let alone use a camera.
In case you missed it, the wording of this title implies that the train is eighteen years old and did the hopping. Can you see why that is?

The eighteen-year-old train hopped vs. the eighteen-year-old train-hopped.

Hyphens are primarily used when joining two words together to make a compound word. Without a hyphen, train-hopping is no longer a thing the teenager is doing. It is now a hopping train.
Compound adjectives are the easiest example here. You work a nine-hour day. You go for a half-hour walk. You write a 300-page story. You dress in an old-fashioned style.

One key way to know whether you need a hyphen or not is to ask yourself whether you could put “and” between the two words. If not, you probably need a hyphen because the two words are combining to mean something different from their separate parts. Another way to know you need a hyphen is if the words don’t make sense used separately. For example, a blue-eyed girl needs a hyphen because you cannot say the girl is blue and eyed. But if the girl has big blue eyes, that’s fine, because you can say she has big eyes and blue eyes.

If you go back to the article about the train-hopping, you’ll find in the first sentence, right at the beginning, there is another error within the hyphen category. The “18-years-old” does not require hyphens. You only say 18-year-old when you’re calling the person an 18-year-old, not describing them as 18 years old. It’s “I have blonde hair” vs. “I am a blonde-haired girl”.
One thing they did right with hyphens was using one in “eye-opening”. A hyphen used there is correct.

So hyphens are important where compound adjectives are concerned. But just to complicate things, there is a rule that states a compound adjective that follows its noun, instead of coming before it, doesn’t require a hyphen.
Chris Hemsworth is a well-known actor (the noun comes after, so a hyphen is required).
The actor Chris Hemsworth is well known (the noun comes before, so no hyphen is required).

There are phrases that need to be hyphenated too, like run-of-the-mill. That particular phrase works as an adjective. Without the hyphens it could be interpreted differently. The hyphens make it one thing instead of lots of different things – a combination of several words to create one new meaning – so they’re very important to use in these situations.

In the case of the train, that is not a compound adjective, but rather a kind of verb. This is a very specific example and it gets a bit tricky sometimes. The Chicago Manual of Style has a fantastic table ( which outlines the various compound terms and how to deal with them. I definitely recommend reading through it if you are in doubt.

At the end of the day, if what you’re saying can be interpreted differently without a hyphen, you should probably consider the hyphen. Trains should only hop in strange fiction stories, not in news articles.

If you're looking for editing or proofreading services, be sure to visit my website to check out the services and rates I offer. Thank you for reading!