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Understanding the importance ofcharacters
The CIAfeared the president would recommend to Congress that it reduce its budget.Thefearof the CIA was that a recommendation from the president to Congress would be for a reduction in its budget.
p.53Here’s the point:Reader want action in verbs, but they want characters as subjects even more.
Diagnosis and revision:Characters
1.When your subjects are not characters2. If they aren’t, where you should look for characters3. What you should do when find them
Diagnose sentence:
Underline the first seven or eight wordsFind the main charactersSkim the passage for actions involving those characters, particularly actions buried in nominalizations#usingconjunctions such as: if, although, because ,when ,how and why
Before:Governmental interventionin fast-changing technologies has ledto thedistortionofmarket evolutionandinterferencein new productdevelopment.After:Whenagovernment intervenesin fast-changing technologies, itdistortshow marketevolveandinterfereswith their ability todevelopnew products.
Reconstructing absent characters
Invent characters:
One stiffWe ambiguousDoerYou not naming readers inappropriatePassive verbs
Abstractions as characters
p.58 Here’s the point:Familiar withyour abstractions no problemnot familiar avoid using lots of other abstracts around2. Characters are “people in general”researchers, social critics, one, we
Characters and Passive Verbs
When you write in the active voice, youtypically putThe agent or source of an action in the subjectThe goal or receiver of an action in a direct object
A verb is in the passive voice when its pastparticiple is preceded by a form of be. Thepassive differs from the active in two ways:The subject names the goals of the action.The agent or source of the action is after the verb in a by-phrase or dropped entirely.
The terms active and passive, however , are ambiguous.
For example, compare these two sentences.We can manage the problem if we control costs.Problem management requires cost control.
Grammatically, both sentences are in the active voice,but the second feels passive, for three reasons:Neither of its actions –management and control—are verbs; both are nominalizations.The subjects is problem management, an abstraction.The sentences lacks flesh-and-blood characters.
Choosing Between Active and Passive.
Tochoose between active and passive, you haveto answer three questions:
1. Must your readers know who is responsible for the action?For example:The president was rumored to have considered resigning.
2. Would the active or passive help your readers move more smoothly from one sentence to the next?
3. Would the active or passive give readers a more consistent and appropriate point of view?
The “Objective” Passive vs.I/We
Some scholarly writers claim that they should not use a first-person subject, because they must create an objective point of view.Contrary to that claim, academic and scientific writers use the active voice and the first-person I and we regularly.It is not true that academic writers always avoid the first person I or we.
Passives, Characters, andMetadicourse
Whenacedemicwriters do use the first person, however, they use it in certain ways. Look at the verbs in the passages above. They fall into two groups:
Some refer to research activities:examine, observe, measure, record, use. Those verbs are usually in the passive voice:The subjects were observed…
Others refer not to the subject matter or the research, but to the writer’s own writing and thinking:cite, show, inquire. These verbs are often active and in the first person:We will show…They are examples of what is calledMetadiscourse.
Metadiscourseis language that refers not to be thesubstance of your ideas, but to yourself, your reader,or your writing:yourthinking and act of writing: We/I will explain, show, argue, claim, deny, suggest, contract, add, expand, summarize…your readers’ actions:consider now, as you recall, look at the next example…the logic and form of what you have written:first, second; to begin: therefore, however, consequently
Metadiscourseappears most often in introductions, where writers announce their intentions:I claim that…, I will show…, We begin by…,andagainat the end, when they summarize:I have show…, I have argued…What distinguished those actions is that only writer can lay claim to them.
On the other hand, scholarly writers generally do notusefirst person to describe specific actions they performed as part of their research, actions that anyone can perform:measure, record, examine, observe, use. Those verbs are usually in the passive voice:The subjects were observed…We rarely find passages like this:To determine ifmonokineselicited an adrenal steroidogenic response, I added preparation of…
Most writers would use a passive verb,were added, to name action that anyone, not just the writer, can perform:To determine ifmonokineselicited a response, preparationwere added.A passive sentence like that, however, can create a problem: its writer dangled a modifier.
You dangle a modifier When an introductory phrase has an impliedsubject that differsfrom the explicit subject in the following or preceding clause.For example:(X) To get a better grade, my essay has been revised twice.(O) To get a bettergeade, I have revised my essay twice.
Noun+Noun+Noun(The long compound noun phrase)
It can distort the match that reader expect between the form of an idea and thegrammerof its expression.Strings of nouns feel lumpy, so avoid them, especially ones you invent.
Revise compound nouns of your own invention; revise, especially when they include nominalizations. Just reverse the order of words and find prepositions to connect them:1 2 3 4 5early childhood thought disorder misdiagnosismisdiagnose disordered thought in early childhood5 4 3 2 1If, however , a long compound noun includesatechnicalterm in you field, keep that part of the compound and unpack the rest.
Clarity and the Professional Voice
Every group expects its members to show thatthey acceptits values by adopting itsdistinctive voice.For Example:The apprentice banker must learn not only tothink and looklike a banker, but also tospeak and writelike one.
Too often, though, aspiring professionals try to join the club by writing in itsmost complex technical language.When they do, they adoptan exclusionary style that erodes the trust a civil societydepends on, especially in a world where information and expertise are the means to power and control.
Apart from theoretical conceptualization there would appear to be no method of selecting among the indefinite number of varying kinds of factual observation which can be made about a concrete phenomenon or field so that the various descriptive statements about it articulate into a coherent whole, which constitutes an ‘’adequate,’’ a ‘’determinate’’ description. Adequacy in description is secured insofar as determinate and verifiable answers can be given to all the scientifically important questions involved. What questions are important is largely determined by the logical structure of the generalized conceptual scheme which, implicitly or explicitly, is employed.
We can make that clearer to moderately well-educated readers
Without a theory, scientists have no way to select from everything they could say about subject only that which they can fit into a coherent wholethat would be ‘’adequate’’ or ’’determinate’’ description. Scientistsdescribe something ‘’adequately’’ only whenthey can verifyanswersto all the questionsthey think are important.They decide what questions are important based on theirimplicitorexplicittheories.
And we could make even it more concise
Whatever you describe you needa theory to fit its parts into a whole.You need a theory to decide even what question to ask and to verify theiranswers.
Here’s the point
When you read or write a style that seems complex, you must determine whether it need to be so complex toexpress complex ideas precisely.Everything should be madeas simple as possible, but no simpler. Accordingly, a style should beas complex as necessary, but no more.
If you detect aneedlessly complex style when you read, look forcharacters and actionsso that you can unravel for yourself the complexity the writer needlessly inflicted on you.When you write, use the same tools to detect when you are guilty ofgratuitous complexityand, if you are,revise.When you do, you follow the Writer’s Golden Rule:Write to others as you would have others write to you.
Summing Up
Readers judge prose to be clear when subjects of sentencesname characters and verb name actions.Fixed S. V.Variable Character Action
If you tell a story in which you make abstract nominalizations its main characters and subjects,use as fewothernominalizationsas you can:A nominalizationis areplacementof a verb by anoun, often resulting indisplacementof charactersfrom subjects by nouns.Whena nominalization replacesa verbwithanoun,it oftendisplacescharacters from subjects.
Use a passive if the agent of an action is self-evident:The votersreelectedthe president with 54%of the vote.Thepresidentwasreelectedwith54%ofthevote
Use a passive if it lets you replace a long subject with a short one:Researchdemonstrating the soundness of ourreasoningand the need for actionsupportedbythis decision.This decisionwas supportedby research demonstrating the soundness ofour reasoningand the need for action.
Use a passive if it gives yours readers a coherent sequence of subjects:By early 1945,the Axisnations hadbeenessentiallydefeated; all that remained was a bloody climax.The Germanborders hadbeen breached,andGermany and Japan were being bombed around the clock. Neither country, though, hadbeensodevastatedthat it could notresist.
Use an active verb if it is ametadiscourseverb:Theterms of the analysis mustbe defined.We mustdefinethe terms of the analysis.
Whenpossible, rewrite long compound noun phrases:Wediscussed theboardcandidatereviewmeetingschedule.We discussed thescheduleofmeetingstoreviewcandidatesfor theboard.
Thanks for your attention.





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