ImageTechnical and academic writing share one thing in common: they present focused information to a targeted audience to accomplish a specific purpose. Technical and academic writing can be, and need to be, good writing. By presenting the principles of good writing, strategies for clear technical and academic writing, and essentials of writing mechanics, this concise guide shows you how to write well.

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A Missed Date with Commas

Where do you put commas when writing out the date? Commas with dates can be a little confusing because comma use changes according to how the date is written. Perhaps this little dialogue will demonstrate.

“I’m going on a date with Lisa,” Bob said.
“Oh, when are you going?” Tom asked.
March 14.”
“Really?” Tom asked again. “What year?”
“What do you mean, what year? In 2012!” Bob said, indignant.
“So you’re going in March 2012?”
“Yes, on the 14th!”
“Let me see if I understand,” Tom said.”On March 14, 2012, you’re going on a date with Lisa.”
“That’s what I said! Not January 2012. Not February 2012. March 2012!”
March 14, 2012, you and Lisa are going on a date?”
Bob got mad at Tom’s persistent questions. “What are you getting at, Tom?”
“Will you answer one more question first, Bob?”
“What?”
“You do realize, don’t you, that March 14, 2012, has already passed?”

One quick note about these examples: The dates in this dialogue follow American English conventions, with month, day, and year. Other countries use different systems, such as day, month, and year (example: 14 March, 2012).

Now, to explain:

1. Month and Year only = no comma

2. Month and Day only = no comma

3. Month and Day and Year = commas around the year (before and after). This follows Zen Comma Rule AC: Put commas around the year with the month and day are included.

I hope this helps!

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Commas with That and Which

I’ll answer two questions at the same time. Do you use that or which? Do you need commas with that and which?

To answer both questions, you need to understand restrictive and non-restrictive phrases and clauses. Here are the answers in brief.

1. Use which and commas with non-restrictive phrases and clauses.
2. Use that and no commas with restrictive phrases and clauses.

Now, let’s find out why.

Restrictive phrases and clauses: A restrictive phrase or clause points out which thing you are writing about.

Let’s say you have four filing cabinets in your office and that all but one cabinet is locked. The unlocked cabinet is the one next to the window. You need someone to come and lock the cabinet because you don’t have a key.

You decide to send an e-mail to the maintenance office. You need to tell the maintenance officer which cabinet is unlocked. You correctly write this statement:

“Please come to my office as soon as possible and lock the cabinet that is next to the window.” (The restrictive phrase is underlined.)  Read the rest of this entry »

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Bumbo Sits Motionless

The Koan

Bumbo sat motionless in the Temple of Meaning. His teacher asked what he was doing.
“I am learning to use commas,” Bumbo told him.
“You foolish student,” the teacher exclaimed. “If you do not act on what you know, your life will never be complete.”

The Explanation

Bumbo, the subject of this koan, isn’t doing anything. He thinks he is, but he is wrong. The teacher reminds him that a subject without an action is incomplete. He wants Bumbo to learn that a comma should not separate the predicate from the subject because a subject needs a predicate to make a complete sentence.

The Lesson

Every complete sentence needs two things: a subject and a predicate. These two parts are required and work together to make a complete sentence. The key word here is together.

Commas separate items in a sentence. The absence of a comma shows that they are connected. If we put a comma between the subject and predicate, we separate them. This is wrong because they need to be connected: they work together.

Wrong example: The author of the best-selling book on marketing, began planning his next book.

In this wrong example, the complete subject is The author of the best-selling book on marketing. The predicate, which begins with the main verb, is began planning his next book. This example is wrong because it has a comma between the subject and predicate. To fix this sentence, we remove the comma and join the subject and predicate.

The only time you can have a comma between the subject and predicate is when the end of the subject has some phrase or expression that requires a pair of commas. In that case, the commas are in the sentence not to separate the subject and predicate but to separate the phrase, as seen in the next example.

Correct example with commas: The author of the best-selling book on marketing, which he released the prior year, began planning his next book.

In this example, the comma before the main verb is part of a pair of commas to separate the non-restrictive phrase which he released the prior year. The first sentence of the explanation above also uses commas in this way.


Need help with commas? Get Zen Comma, an instructive reference guide on the 17 major uses and misuses of commas, available in PDF and Kindle formats. Read more about Zen Comma.

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