Miscellaneous Matters in Writing

Advice on correct Speech and Cultured Conduct


Remember Your Readers.—In writing for a given periodical, you should first re­member the particular needs of that paper. Try to visualize the readers among whom it is circulated. If you are writing for a journal whose chief purpose is to present the truth to non-Adventists, and convert them, you will have a far different approach and phraseology than you would were you writing for one of the journals that is distributed al­most exclusively among our own people. Study the style and type of material used in our various periodicals before attempting to write for them, and try to make what you write appropriate to the peculiar need.

Do not take your readers' time for nought. Give them something for the time they spend with you. C. C. Cotton's sage observation may well be pondered: "That writer does the most who gives his readers the most knowl­edge and takes from them the least time." It has been said that an editor should give much more thought to the readers for whom the paper is intended than to the paper itself, and it is also very important for the contributor to give much thought to the readers.

Capitalize the Press .—In writing for the public press, the worker may make use of a medium that goes to a large and varied group of readers. Special services, sermons,. pro­grams, experiences, rallies, conventions, Insti­tutes, graduations, funerals, baptisms, cam­paigns, elections, visits by leaders and missionaries, and announcements of our regu­lar church services can be written up, and many columns of space utilized, in keeping our work before the people. The Press Bureau of the General Conference is glad to aid our workers with any of their problems along this line, and on request it will send out a pam­phlet entitled, "Lessons in Newspaper Re­porting."

Faulty Grammar—Under the strain and stress of rapid speaking, a preacher often makes glaring mistakes in grammar. Per­haps he himself realizes, after he has uttered a sentence, that the grammar is faulty. He wishes he had not made the mistake, but it is too late to correct it. In writing, however, he can sit down and calmly shape his thoughts. He can go over his material as many times as he wishes in order to weed out errors, and such practice will help him to avoid similar errors in the spoken word.

Number Agreement.—One of the most common—and most offensive—mistakes in the spoken and the written word is failure to maintain agreement between parts of sen­tences, particularly between subject and predi­cate. We should remember that a verb is always singular if its subject is singular, and plural if its subject is plural. The verb should always agree with the noun no matter how many words intervene between them. Ex­amples of correct and incorrect usage follow.

Correct. Only one [singular subject] of the ten men was [singular verb] ready.

Incorrect. Every one of these letters were signed by me.

Incorrect. One person after another have agreed with me.

Correct. Each of the thousand tiny points of life is as clear as a star.

Wrong Antecedents.—Many mistakes are also made in maintaining number agreement between pronouns and their antecedents. Such words as each, everyone, everybody, someone, somebody, anybody, etc., are singu­lar in form, and the pronoun which refers to them should also be singular. But because of the generality of suggestion, there is an almost universal tendency to use a plural pro­noun. In such a sentence as "Let each take his turn," consider each unit separately. That is, each person, considered separately, is to take his turn. It would be incorrect to say, "Let each take their turn."

Before leaving the discussion of antece­dents, confused antecedents should be con­sidered. Personal and relative pronouns, such as he, it, that, this, are often used to refer back to noun equivalents in such a way as to leave a question as to just what the antecedent really is. After a lengthy discussion of sev­eral paragraphs, the writer may start a new paragraph by stating, "This is to be deplored," and the reader wonders what this refers to. Sometimes it takes several readings to puzzle it out. In cases of confused antecedents, either repeat the antecedent verbatim, or use a sub­stitute expression in such a way that the meaning is clear. Exercising care in the use of antecedents is more often disregarded than some might think.

Change of Person.—Avoid sudden changes of person. Every now and then we find a impersonal vein which is written in an vein for a page of two, then the writer sud­denly shifts to the personal vein for one sen­tence, and back again to the impersonal. That is, he may be telling what ought to be done in the third person, then insert sentences in which he speaks directly to his readers (second person), and then switch back to the third person. Thus—

"When a preacher is on the platform, he should not pace nervously from one side to the other," etc. (third person). "Remember, the group before you is watching your every move" (change to second person). "The preacher's platform presence should be care­fully considered," etc. (switch back to third person).

We are not trying to set forth here that a writer is never to change from one person to another in an article, for this is done by the best of writers. We are merely offering a word of caution that such transitions be smooth and natural and not too sudden.

Sequence of Tense.—Similar caution should also be taken in making sudden changes in the tense of verbs. There are times, of course, when it is necessary to use more than one tense in a story or an article, or even in a single sentence. But as a rule the tense of all the verbs should be the same. That is, the time of all clauses throughout should be past, present, or future. Some writers do not observe proper sequence of tense, and fail to notice that their time does not harmonize. This is not so objectionable in one or two sentences, but cases have occurred in which an article or story runs on for several pages in the present or historic present, and then suddenly shifts to the past tense in the latter part of the composition.

"The Writer" and "Myself."—One au­thority on business-letter writing says: "Avoid using the writer and the undersigned. Say / or we. Remember that it is no disgrace to use personal pronouns in a letter." The same rule might well apply to articles and reports. Use of the writer, in an attempt to avoid what might appear to be the egotistical I, is a prac­tice that is to be deplored. Such usage is false modesty and constitutes awkward writ­ing. It is far better to use the simple, direct form and say, "/ did so-and-so," rather than "The writer did so-and-so." In the magazine Correct English (December, 1937), we find this statement : "The writer is an obsolete form, and is no longer considered good usage:" and a later issue has this to say : "The use of the writer for the personal pronoun / is con­demned by all authorities as a strained attempt to avoid personal reference."—February, 1940.

The word myself may be correctly used in a reflexive sense or for emphasis, and although authorities differ as to whether it is absolutely incorrect to use it in the way just illustrated, it is best not to do so. Examples of correct usage of the reflexive and emphatic forms follow :

Reflexive. "I hurt myself."

Emphasis. "I myself will attend to the matter."

"A" and "The"—The definite article the and the indefinite article a are two of the most-used words in the English language, and yet one is often used where the other should be. In my work of preparing articles, I have often puzzled over a sentence which did not seem to read just right, hardly knowing what was the matter. Finally I would discover that if I substituted an a for a the, or vice versa, this was all that was needed. Also it is sur­prising how often an a or a the may be omitted and still leave the meaning intact. The writer can catch many of these little adjust­ments if he watches.

Punctuation—The matter of punctuation may seem unimportant to some, but lack of punctuation or overpunctuation many times makes a great difference in the meaning. The writer himself knows better than anyone else what he has in mind, and he should give some thought to the proper placement of these lit­tle marks in order that his material will not be too puzzling to the editors and readers.

Check and Double Check!—Avoid inac­curacies of fact, inconsistencies of thought, misquotations, and misspellings. The copy edi­tor will, of course, trace most of these down by use of dictionary, encyclopedia, World Al­manac, Who's Who, altos, concordance, index, history text, cyclopedia of quotations, the Bible and its various versions, etc. But some­times this takes hours of time and costs the publishers far more than it should. The more care expended by the writer in checking his facts, quotations, and spellings, and painstak­ingly recording the sources of his quoted mat­ter, either in the article itself or in the margin, the less time and expense involved in editorial and publishing offices. This is especially true of proper names and technical terms peculiar to a certain profession or locality, which may not be readily verified from ordinary sources.

A writer has to know what he is writing about in order to convince others. He should choose something to write on that he really knows and that he wants to tell, and thor­oughly prepare for it. Then he should gather all the information, assemble all the facts, and formulate his presentation into powerful, meaningful words, and simple, concrete terms. Words mean nothing unless they are used to communicate an idea to a listener. He who presumes to write should really have something to offer. Dr. Andrew Weaver presents this startling challenge to speakers and writ­ters in Better English:

"What is the plight of the speaker who begins his talk with the knowledge that he is unprepared? As he looks over his audience of, let us say, one hundred, it occurs to him that he is going to take up one hundred hours of audience time, that he is going to disturb two hundred ears with his sound waves. He knows he has not earned the right. He feels inadequate and his poise suffers."-February, 1939.

After you write an article, let it rest a few days. Then take it out and look at it again. Read it through carefully, perhaps aloud. Ask yourself solemnly, "If I were the editor of___ , would I accept this article for publication? Is it convincing and of interest to the particular readers of this magazine? Is it something others will need or want to know, something worthy of taking the time of many people to read? Is it overwritten? Have I used too many words ? Does it have a mes­sage? Can I improve it?" These are im­portant questions to consider in giving a manuscript the last final look before submitting it for publication.

[End of Series]

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