Technical Writing
for Researchers
and Graduate Students
Spring 2003
Lincoln Campus
Instructor: Deborah Derrick
Unit 5: Language/style
OUTLINE OF TOPICS
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
Overusing the word “and”
Non-parallel construction
Handling pronouns imprecisely
Using too many prepositions
Being redundant
Missing articles
1. Overusing the word “and”
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The word “and” connects sentences,
clauses and phrases. It connects lists of
words and bulleted items.
BUT, its overuse causes more poor
sentences than any other problem!
“And” can make sentences very long!
Overusing “and”
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To use “and” successfully, you should
remember two points:
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“And” can make sentences very long.
Items connected by “and” must be parallel.
Overusing “and”
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“And” can lead to long, run-on
sentences.
Here are 3 solutions to solve this
problem:
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Break the long sentence into two or more
smaller sentences.
Use other connectives.
Recast the sentence.
Overusing “and”
Example:
“For PAS in the infrared region, conventional
infrared spectrometers can be utilized, and
thus the only expense (if a spectrometer is
available) is the cost of the construction of
the PAS cell and the associated optics
necessary to couple the PAS cell and the
spectrometer.”
Overusing “and”
Solution:
Divide the sentence into two sentences; then
use “with” to replace “and.”
“For PAS in the infrared region, conventional
infrared spectrometers can be used. Thus, if
a spectrometer is available, the only expense
is the cost of constructing the PAS cell and
the optics needed to couple the cell with the
spectrometer.”
Overusing “and”
Example:
“For the new drug entity, complete
preclinical and clinical trials are required
with satisfactory results to gain
approval, and often post-approval
surveillance is undertaken.”
Overusing “and”
Solution:
To improve this sentence, break it into two
sentences. Then recast the first sentence.
Approval of a new drug requires satisfactory
results from complete pre-clinical and clinical
trials. Often, post-approval surveillance is
undertaken as well.
Overusing “and”
Example:
“The solvent ion-exchange process makes
possible reduction of waste tailings, and
also eliminates the classic recovery of
copper from dilute solution by scrap
iron and the subsequent
pyrometallurgical processing with
attendant air pollution and slag dumps.”
Overusing “and”
Solution:
Break the sentence into three, and then recast
the first and third sentences.
Use of the solvent ion exchange process
reduces waste tailings. It also eliminates the
classic recovery of copper from dilute solution
by scrap iron. In addition, it eliminates the
pyrometallurgical processing that results in air
pollution and slag dumps.
2. Parallel construction
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Items connected by “and” must be PARALLEL.
Consider:
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You can’t add different types of numbers without
putting them into a similar form (e.g., two or more
fractions need a common denominator).
Therefore, you shouldn’t “add” or combine words,
phrases, or clauses in a sentence without putting
them into a similar form.
Parallel construction
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“Similar form” means using the same
structural or grammatical form for all
parts of the series.
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
“To build this piece of equipment you will
need nuts, bolts, and screws.” (series of
nouns)
For other examples, see handout.
Non-parallel construction
Example:
“The pulsed mode of (laser) operation leaves
the adjacent material virtually unaffected and
no chips or burrs are left as is common with
conventional drilling.”
In this sentence, the verbs in the two clauses
are not parallel: one is active, the other is
passive.
Parallel construction
A better sentence would be:
The pulsed mode of operation leaves the
adjacent material virtually unaffected
and eliminates the chips or burrs that
are common with conventional drilling.
3. Use pronouns precisely
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Pronouns include words used as:
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Subjects (I, you, he, she, we, they, one, it)
Objects (me, her, him, us, them, one, it)
Possessives (mine, ours, his, hers, yours,
theirs, one’s, its)
Relative pronouns (who, which, that)
Demonstratives (this, that, these, those)
Pronouns
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Pronouns are shorthand forms that
enable us to refer to previous
concepts—words, phrases, sentences,
or even entire paragraphs and sections.
Correctly used, pronouns can reduce
the number of words needed to express
an idea.
Pronouns
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Pronouns cause problems:
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When the item they refer to is unclear or
unidentified
When they have different meanings in the
same sentence
When they “dangle” without an
accompanying noun.
Pronouns
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See page 4 of today’s handout for
examples of sentences with imprecise
pronouns—and how to fix these
problems.
4. Reduce preposition use
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Prepositions signal changes in:
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Direction (toward, from, to)
Ownership (of)
Time (before, after)
Place (above, below)
Prepositions are one of the worst
problems for a non-native speaker of
any language!
Reduce preposition use
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Reducing use of prepositions will
simplify your sentences. You will be
able to communicate in a direct,
straightforward manner.
Please turn to page 4 of today’s
handout for examples.
Reduce preposition use
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Ways to decrease preposition use:
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Convert nouns into verb forms
Convert nouns to adjectives or adverbs, or
convert adjectives to adverbs
Streamline commonly used prepositional
phrases
(see Unit 5 handout, pages 4-5)
5. Avoid redundancy
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Some redundant words are modifiers
that merely repeat an idea already
contained in the word being modified.
Consider the phrase very unique.
Actually, unique means one of a kind,
so it is impossible for anything to be
very unique.
Avoid redundancy
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One car manufacturer designed its
advertising campaign around the slogan new
innovations. (Is there such a thing as an old
innovation?)
The best way to spot redundancy is to ask
what a word is “buying” in a particular
phrase. Is it adding meaning?
See page 6 of today’s handout for examples
of redundant phrases.
6. Use articles correctly
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The English language has two types of
articles:
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Definite (the)
Indefinite (a, an)
Indefinite articles: A, An
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Use a or an when you refer to one particular
person or thing when the reader/listener does not
know which one is meant, or when it does not
matter which one.
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A doctor must like people. (Any doctor, it does not
matter which one.)
Could you lend me a pen? (This means that any pen is
OK; it does not matter which one.)
She lives in a house in Lincoln. (Exactly which house is
not known.)
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When the noun is plural, use the
corresponding indefinite quantity word
some.
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Some students are not paying attention in
class. (It is not known who they are.)
Indefinite articles: A, an
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The rule is:
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a + singular noun beginning with a consonant: a
boy
an + singular noun beginning with a vowel: an
elephant
a + singular noun beginning with a consonant
sound: a user (sounds like ‘yoo-zer,’ i.e. begins
with a consonant ‘y’ sound, so ‘a’ is used)
some + plural noun: some girls
Indefinite articles: A, an
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If the noun is modified by an adjective,
the choice between a and an depends
on the initial sound of the adjective that
immediately follows the article:
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a broken egg
an unusual problem
a European country (sounds like ‘yer-o-pian,’ i.e. begins with consonant ‘y’ sound)
Indefinite articles: A, an
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A or an is used to indicate membership
in a profession, nation, or religion.
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I am a teacher.
Brian is an Irishman.
Seiko is a practicing Buddhist.
Definite article: the
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Use the when you refer to a specific person
or thing, or when what is being referred to
is known to both the writer/speaker and
the reader/listener.
Use the before singular and plural nouns
when the noun is particular or specific.
Indefinite, definite articles
Indefinite
(a or an)
Definite
(the)
Singular
A dog (any
dog)
The dog (that
specific dog)
Plural
Some apples
(any apples)
The apples
(those specific
apples)
Definite article: the
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The is NOT used with non-countable
nouns referring to something in a
general sense:
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[no article] Coffee is a popular drink.
[no article] Japanese was his native
language.
[no article] Intelligence is difficult to
quantify.
Further uses of articles
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The use of a, an, and the also depends
on whether the noun following the
article has one of these paired qualities:
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Countable vs. non-countable
First vs. subsequent mention
General vs. specific
Further uses of articles
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A and an are used if the noun can be
counted.
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I drank a glass of milk. (Glasses of milk can
be counted.)
I saw an apple tree. (Apple trees can be
counted.)
Further uses of articles
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The must be used when the noun
cannot be counted.
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I dove into the water. (How many waters
did you dive into? The question doesn’t
make any sense because water is not
countable. Therefore, use the.)
I saw the milk spill. (How many milks? Milk
cannot be counted.)
Further use of articles
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Use a or an to introduce a noun when
you mention it for the first time in a
piece of writing.
Use the each time that same noun is
mentioned afterward.
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I saw a car yesterday. The car was red.
(The car in the second sentence was
mentioned in the first sentence.)
Definite article: the
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The is used with non-countable nouns
that are made more specific by a
limiting modifying phrase or clause:
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The coffee in my cup is too hot to drink.
The Japanese he speaks is often heard in
the countryside.
The intelligence of animals is variable but
undeniable.
Definite article: the
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Use the when a noun refers to
something unique:
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The White House
The theory of relativity
The 2003 federal budget
Geographical uses of “the”
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Do NOT use the before:
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Names of countries (Italy, Mexico, Bolivia) except
the Netherlands and the U.S.
Names of cities, towns, or states (Seoul,
Manitoba, Miami)
Names of streets (O Street, West Dodge Road)
Names of lakes and bays (Lake Michigan) except
with a group of lakes like the Great Lakes
Geographical uses of “the”
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Do NOT use the before:
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Names of mountains (Mount Everest,
Mount Fuji) except with ranges of
mountains like the Andes or the Rockies or
unusual names like the Matterhorn
Names of continents (Asia, Europe)
Names of islands (Maui, Key West) except
with island chains like the Aleutians or the
Canary Islands
Geographical uses of “the”
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DO use the before:
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Names of rivers, oceans and seas (the Nile, the
Pacific, the Mississippi)
Points on the globe (the Equator, the North Pole)
Geographical areas (the Midwest, the Middle East)
Deserts, forests, gulfs, and peninsulas (the
Sahara, the Persian Gulf, the Black Forest, the
Iberian Peninsula)
Omission of articles
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Some nouns never take an article-- definite or
indefinite. Here are some common types of
nouns.
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1. Names of languages and nationalities (Chinese,
English, Spanish, Russian)
2. Names of sports (football, basketball, soccer)
3. Names of academic subjects (mathematics,
computer science, chemistry)
Omission of articles
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The omission of articles also expresses
a generic (or general) meaning.
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Tigers are dangerous animals. (all tigers)
Anger is a destructive emotion. (any kind
of anger)
Further uses of articles
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For more information on use of a, an,
and the, see today’s handout from
Purdue University, pages 3-5.
Other online resources:

http://www.rpi.edu/dept/11c/writecenter/w
eb/esl.html [Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute Writing Center]
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Technical Writing Seminar for Researchers and Graduate