Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grammar. Show all posts

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

11+ English: Transition from Primary to Secondary School


This stimulating guide to Year 5/6 and 11+ English provides an excellent resource for children making the transition from primary to secondary school. 11+ English offers helpful and clear guidance for tutors and parents.

The six test papers use multiple choice questions to ensure that a student’s answers can be marked efficiently and academic progress can be monitored effectively.

Year 5/6 11+ English benefits from the following features:

- 300 multiple choices questions

- An introduction to communication skills for parents and tutors

- How to improve reading and comprehension skills

- Key skills for success in English comprehension tests

- The critical and creative training zone

- Pathways to success

- Six English Tests examine comprehension and grammar

- 52 Creative writing activities

- A Glossary / 62 Key terms explained

Available on Amazon.

"An extremely engaging collection of texts and enquiries which serve as a catalyst to enable students to become deeply enquiring. Useful for teachers on the run; helpful for parents who want to understand what the kids are up against and eclectic in its vision. Valuable." - - - REVIEWER

Research Interests: 





















Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Grammarly perfection tested


Further to my recent post examining the effectiveness of software designed to assist with grammar, punctuation, and style, I wanted to find out whether it was possible to score 100% on the grammarly.com software.

I tried to test www.grammarly.com by using text taken from their own website. That does not work, however, as they recognize their own work and they have already marked it as 'perfection.' They award themselves 100% for their own work. Is that surprising?

Nonetheless, if we select text from www.grammarcheck.net, their text has a variety of errors - according  to www.grammarly.com. Similarly, text taken from the  www.grammarly.com website fares badly when it is tested by www.grammarcheck.net. These results suggest that the software programmes have not managed to create a reliable and universal system that successfully tests and verifies grammar, style and punctuation. Whichever system is used there is a typical 35% reporting of errors in the text submitted. Clearly, they are playing on this margin of error in order to convince us that we are in urgent need of their services.

Apparently it is possible to score 100%. I tried this:

There is a balance between pedantry and charity. The pigs are chattering in the trees. In fact, the birds dislike flying. Parasitic earthworms invented grammar. As a result, punctuation is no longer revolutionary. The trees have stolen the semicolons from the elephants. Biologists never use punctuation. It is unfair to test children under the age of fifty. We published the results of the research in a journal. The red bird snorted and guffawed. Is this a sentence? Is this an answer? Creative writing employs unusual techniques.

"Grammarly found no writing issues in your text. Score: 100 of 100 (good)"

However, the postmodern text generator also fared quite well (if spelling is discounted)


In the works of Tarantino, a predominant concept is the distinction between opening and closing. The primary theme of the works of Tarantino is the role of the reader as writer. However, Sartre uses the term ‘the postdialectic paradigm of reality’ to denote the economy, and eventually the paradigm, of semantic class.
The example of posttextual discourse depicted in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown is also evident in Reservoir Dogs. In a sense, the premise of precultural theory suggests that sexuality, perhaps ironically, has intrinsic meaning.If subconstructivist libertarianism holds, we have to choose between posttextual discourse and capitalist feminism. Therefore, Lacan promotes the use of Marxist class to challenge capitalism.
The postdialectic paradigm of reality implies that expression is created by the masses, given that art is equal to reality. It could be said that Baudrillard uses the term ‘subdialectic modern theory’ to denote the role of the participant as artist.

Grammarly found 10 critical writing issues in your text.

Score: 53 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
Plagiarism !
  • Unoriginal text detected
Contextual Spelling Check 7 issues
  • Spelling (7)
  • Ignored words
  • Commonly confused words
Grammar 1 issue
  • Passive voice use (1)
  • Use of articles
  • Use of conjunctions
Punctuation 1 issue
  • Punctuation within a sentence (1)
  • Closing punctuation
  • Formal punctuation
Style and Word Choice
  • Writing style
  • Vocabulary use

Monday, 16 December 2013

Testing the Grammar Check Test



The march of technology into every corner of contemporary education often leads to the harsh judgment that traditional teachers have become - or will soon become - a redundant human resource. 

Are the rumours of pedagogic extinction justified?

With the perfection of advanced linguistic software, a brave new world of error-free writing has emerged. Machine-generated clarity and precision is leading us to a written world that will be ruthlessly stripped of recurring lapses and common mistakes. Foggy chasms of fatal confusion will be banished from the linguistic ecology of the planet.

There will be no more sleepless nights; no more worrying about the comma splice, sentence fragments, and dangling modifiers. Indeed, an inexpensive monthly subscription provides an enticing opportunity to join the new democratic republic of letters - a nation of automated stop-keepers.

After all, the technology has now conquered the checking of spelling, grammar and style. Indeed, some of the  most celebrated providers of software boast millions of 'followers' and 'likes' in social media.

Is it true that the days of the grammatical pedants, composition instructors, and style fascists are numbered?

With this question, and these common reflections in mind, I set out to test the standard of writing of several major writers.

I'm sorry to say that all of them failed the test. In fact, they all failed so badly that I am led to question whether any of the classics are suitable (fit-for-purpose) in the modern world of computerised SPAG (spelling, punctuation and grammar).

In the examples examined, the grades awarded by the Chief Examiner ranged from Poor to Weak.

(The plagiarism check was, however, excellent in each of extracts tested. Nonetheless, in more subtle cases the results from other reviewers were far more critical.)

This was a Bad Year for classic writers, but perhaps a good one for real-life (RL) teachers.

Don't give up your day jobs!


THE GRAMMARLY TEST RESULTS

Their homes were so distant, and the circles in which they moved so distinct, as almost to preclude the means of ever hearing of each other's existence during the eleven following years, or, at least, to make it very wonderful to Sir Thomas that Mrs. Norris should ever have it in her power to tell them, as she now and then did, in an angry voice, that Fanny had got another child. By the end of eleven years, however, Mrs. Price could no longer afford to cherish pride or resentment, or to lose one connexion that might possibly assist her. A large and still increasing family, an husband disabled for active service, but not the less equal to company and good liquor, and a very small income to supply their wants, made her eager to regain the friends she had so carelessly sacrificed; and she addressed Lady Bertram in a letter which spoke so much contrition and despondence, such a superfluity of children, and such a want of almost everything else, as could not but dispose them all to a reconciliation. She was preparing for her ninth lying-in; and after bewailing the circumstance, and imploring their countenance as sponsors to the expected child, she could not conceal how important she felt they might be to the future maintenance of the eight already in being. Her eldest was a boy of ten years old, a fine spirited fellow, who longed to be out in the world; but what could she do? Was there any chance of his being hereafter useful to Sir Thomas in the concerns of his West Indian property? No situation would be beneath him; or what did Sir Thomas think of Woolwich? or how could a boy be sent out to the East?

[Jane Austen, Mansfield Park]

Dear Jane,

Grammarly found 13 critical writing issues in your text.

Score: 43 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
 
Plagiarism !
  • Unoriginal text detected

    Grammar 7 issues
    • Use of articles (2)
    • Verb form use (1)
    • Other (1)
    Punctuation 5 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (4)
    • Capitalization (1)
    • Closing punctuation


    The nature of the following work will be best understood by a brief account of how it came to be written. During many years I collected notes on the origin or descent of man, without any intention of publishing on the subject, but rather with the determination not to publish, as I thought that I should thus only add to the prejudices against my views. It seemed to me sufficient to indicate, in the first edition of my 'Origin of Species,' that by this work "light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history;" and this implies that man must be included with other organic beings in any general conclusion respecting his manner of appearance on this earth. Now the case wears a wholly different aspect. When a naturalist like Carl Vogt ventures to say in his address as President of the National Institution of Geneva (1869), "personne, en Europe au moins, n'ose plus soutenir la creation indépendante et de toutes pièces, des espèces," it is manifest that at least a large number of naturalists must admit that species are the modified descendants of other species; and this especially holds good with the younger and rising naturalists. The greater number accept the agency of natural selection; though some urge, whether with justice the future must decide, that I have greatly overrated its importance. Of the older and honoured chiefs in natural science, many unfortunately are still opposed to evolution in every form.

    [Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man]

    Dear Charles,

    Grammarly found 18 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 32 of 100 (poor, revision necessary)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected
    Contextual Spelling Check 8 issues
    • Spelling (8)
    • Ignored words
    • Commonly confused words
    Grammar 5 issues
    • Comparing two or more things (1)
    • Verb form use (1)
    • Wordiness (1)
    Punctuation 3 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (3)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation
    Style and Word Choice 1 issue
    • Writing style (1)
    • Vocabulary use


    Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.

    [Charles Dickens, Bleak House]

    Dear Charles,

    Grammarly found 8 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 50 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected
    Contextual Spelling Check 2 issues
    • Spelling (2)
    • Ignored words
    • Commonly confused words
    Grammar 2 issues
    • Faulty parallelism (1)
    • Sentence structure (1)
    • Use of articles
    Punctuation 3 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (3)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation


    In a remote solitude, vanity may still whisper in my ear, that my readers, perhaps, may inquire whether, in the conclusion of the present work, I am now taking an everlasting farewell. They shall hear all that I know myself, and all that I could reveal to the most intimate friend. The motives of action or silence are now equally balanced; nor can I pronounce, in my most secret thoughts, on which side the scale will preponderate. I cannot dissemble that six quartos must have tried, and may have exhausted, the indulgence of the Public; that, in the repetition of similar attempts, a successful Author has much more to lose than he can hope to gain; that I am now descending into the vale of years; and that the most respectable of my countrymen, the men whom I aspire to imitate, have resigned the pen of history about the same period of their lives. Yet I consider that the annals of ancient and modern times may afford many rich and interesting subjects; that I am still possessed of health and leisure; that by the practice of writing, some skill and facility must be acquired; and that, in the ardent pursuit of truth and knowledge, I am not conscious of decay. To an active mind, indolence is more painful than labor; and the first months of my liberty will be occupied and amused in the excursions of curiosity and taste. By such temptations, I have been sometimes seduced from the rigid duty even of a pleasing and voluntary task: but my time will now be my own; and in the use or abuse of independence, I shall no longer fear my own reproaches or those of my friends. I am fairly entitled to a year of jubilee: next summer and the following winter will rapidly pass away; and experience only can determine whether I shall still prefer the freedom and variety of study to the design and composition of a regular work, which animates, while it confines, the daily application of the Author.

    (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

    Dear Edward,

    Grammarly found 13 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 43 of 100 (weak, needs revision) 
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected
    Contextual Spelling Check 1 issue
    • Commonly confused words (1)
    • Spelling
    • Ignored words
    Grammar 7 issues
    • Use of articles (1)
    • Other (1)
    • Wordiness (1)
    Punctuation 4 issues
    • Punctuation within a sentence (4)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation




     The principal conquests of the Romans were achieved under the republic; and the emperors, for the most part, were satisfied with preserving those dominions which had been acquired by the policy of the senate, the active emulations of the consuls, and the martial enthusiasm of the people. The seven first centuries were filled with a rapid succession of triumphs; but it was reserved for Augustus to relinquish the ambitious design of subduing the whole earth, and to introduce a spirit of moderation into the public councils. Inclined to peace by his temper and situation, it was easy for him to discover that Rome, in her present exalted situation, had much less to hope than to fear from the chance of arms; and that, in the prosecution of remote wars, the undertaking became every day more difficult, the event more doubtful, and the possession more precarious, and less beneficial. The experience of Augustus added weight to these salutary reflections, and effectually convinced him that, by the prudent vigor of his counsels, it would be easy to secure every concession which the safety or the dignity of Rome might require from the most formidable barbarians. Instead of exposing his person and his legions to the arrows of the Parthians, he obtained, by an honorable treaty, the restitution of the standards and prisoners which had been taken in the defeat of Crassus.

    (Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

    Dear Edward,

    Grammarly found 10 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 40 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected



    Grammar 8 issues
    • Confusing modifiers (1)
    • Wordiness (1)
    • Passive voice use (6)
    Punctuation 1 issue
    • Punctuation within a sentence (1)
    • Closing punctuation
    • Formal punctuation

    Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling.  ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.  Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.  Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.
    Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date ‘1500,’ and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw.’  I would have made a few comments, and requested a short history of the place from the surly owner; but his attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance, or complete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatience previous to inspecting the penetralium.

    (Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights) -

    Dear Emily,

    Grammarly found 5 critical writing issues in your text.

    Score: 60 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
     
    Plagiarism !
    • Unoriginal text detected

      Grammar 4 issues
      • Verb form use (1)
      • Wordiness (1)
      • Passive voice use (2)

      The Prince had always liked his London, when it had come to him; he was one of the modern Romans who find by the Thames a more convincing image of the truth of the ancient state than any they have left by the Tiber. Brought up on the legend of the City to which the world paid tribute, he recognised in the present London much more than in contemporary Rome the real dimensions of such a case. If it was a question of an Imperium, he said to himself, and if one wished, as a Roman, to recover a little the sense of that, the place to do so was on London Bridge, or even, on a fine afternoon in May, at Hyde Park Corner. It was not indeed to either of those places that these grounds of his predilection, after all sufficiently vague, had, at the moment we are concerned with him, guided his steps; he had strayed, simply enough, into Bond Street, where his imagination, working at comparatively short range, caused him now and then to stop before a window in which objects massive and lumpish, in silver and gold, in the forms to which precious stones contribute, or in leather, steel, brass, applied to a hundred uses and abuses, were as tumbled together as if, in the insolence of the Empire, they had been the loot of far-off victories. The young man's movements, however, betrayed no consistency of attention—not even, for that matter, when one of his arrests had proceeded from possibilities in faces shaded, as they passed him on the pavement, by huge beribboned hats, or more delicately tinted still under the tense silk of parasols held at perverse angles in waiting victorias. And the Prince's undirected thought was not a little symptomatic, since, though the turn of the season had come and the flush of the streets begun to fade, the possibilities of faces, on the August afternoon, were still one of the notes of the scene. He was too restless—that was the fact—for any concentration, and the last idea that would just now have occurred to him in any connection was the idea of pursuit.

      (Henry James, The Golden Bowl)

      Dear Henry,

      Grammarly found 11 critical writing issues and generated 1 word choice correction for your text.

      Score: 44 of 100 (weak, needs revision)
       
      Plagiarism !
      • Unoriginal text detected
      Contextual Spelling Check 1 issue
      • Commonly confused words (1)
      • Spelling
      • Ignored words
      Grammar 6 issues
      • Use of articles (1)
      • Conditional sentences (1)
      • Sentence structure (2)
      Punctuation 2 issues
      • Punctuation within a sentence (2)
      • Closing punctuation
      • Formal punctuation
      Style and Word Choice 1 issue
      • Vocabulary use (1)
      • Writing style


      Nothing is more usual and more natural for those, who pretend to discover anything new to the world in philosophy and the sciences, than to insinuate the praises of their own systems, by decrying all those, which have been advanced before them. And indeed were they content with lamenting that ignorance, which we still lie under in the most important questions, that can come before the tribunal of human reason, there are few, who have an acquaintance with the sciences, that would not readily agree with them. It is easy for one of judgment and learning, to perceive the weak foundation even of those systems, which have obtained the greatest credit, and have carried their pretensions highest to accurate and profound reasoning. Principles taken upon trust, consequences lamely deduced from them, want of coherence in the parts, and of evidence in the whole, these are every where to be met with in the systems of the most eminent philosophers, and seem to have drawn disgrace upon philosophy itself.
      Nor is there required such profound knowledge to discover the present imperfect condition of the sciences, but even the rabble without doors may, judge from the noise and clamour, which they hear, that all goes not well within. There is nothing which is not the subject of debate, and in which men of learning are not of contrary opinions. The most trivial question escapes not our controversy, and in the most momentous we are not able to give any certain decision. Disputes are multiplied, as if every thing was uncertain; and these disputes are managed with the greatest warmth, as if every thing was certain. Amidst all this bustle it is not reason, which carries the prize, but eloquence; and no man needs ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art enough to represent it in any favourable colours. The victory is not gained by the men at arms, who manage the pike and the sword; but by the trumpeters, drummers, and musicians of the army.

      (David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature)

      Dear David,

      Grammarly found 19 critical writing issues in your text.

      Score: 38 of 100 (poor, revision necessary)
       
      Plagiarism !
      • Unoriginal text detected
      Contextual Spelling Check 3 issues
      • Spelling (3)
      • Ignored words
      • Commonly confused words
      Grammar 9 issues
      • Use of articles (1)
      • Incorrect use of prepositions (1)
      • Subject and verb agreement (1)
      Punctuation 4 issues
      • Punctuation within a sentence (4)
      • Closing punctuation
      • Formal punctuation
      Style and Word Choice 2 issues
      • Writing style (1)
      • Vocabulary use (1)
      I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider'd how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.—Believe me, good folks, this is not so inconsiderable a thing as many of you may think it;—you have all, I dare say, heard of the animal spirits, as how they are transfused from father to son, &c. &c.—and a great deal to that purpose:—Well, you may take my word, that nine parts in ten of a man's sense or his nonsense, his successes and miscarriages in this world depend upon their motions and activity, and the different tracks and trains you put them into, so that when they are once set a-going, whether right or wrong, 'tis not a half-penny matter,—away they go cluttering like hey-go mad; and by treading the same steps over and over again, they presently make a road of it, as plain and as smooth as a garden-walk, which, when they are once used to, the Devil himself sometimes shall not be able to drive them off it.

      (Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy)

      Dear Laurence,

      Grammarly found 20 critical writing issues in your text.

      Score: 10 of 100 (poor, revision necessary)
      Plagiarism !
      • Unoriginal text detected
      Contextual Spelling Check 4 issues
      • Spelling (4)
      • Ignored words
      • Commonly confused words
      Grammar 6 issues
      • Wordiness (1)
      • Passive voice use (5)
      • Use of articles
      Punctuation 7 issues
      • Punctuation within a sentence (7)
      • Closing punctuation
      • Formal punctuation
      Style and Word Choice 2 issues
      • Writing style (2)
      • Vocabulary use

      Why not go to grammarly.com and paste in your own samples? No genius is safe.

      Incidentally, my introduction (above) scored 69/100 ( = "Weak, needs revision")

       Apparently, I have already plagiarized myself,  * prior * to the publication of this blog.

      Now that's clever.

      Napoleon?

      Friday, 29 November 2013

      Top Ten Writing Problems - a list

      That's my last sentence on this topic. Ever.

      In your view, what are the TOP TEN problems that students experience in their writing?

      Obviously, it depends quite a lot on the age group, their experience, and whether English is their first language. In this blog I'm thinking about weaker students, aged 11+.

      It is clear, however, that many of the problems also affect the work of undergraduates and adult business people. And we're constantly striving to improve our writing, as earlier versions of this informal post would undoubtedly demonstrate.

      In my experience, many common writing problems are persistent and recurrent.

      Is a quick fix really that difficult? Do you make of a checklist for your students?

      How do you empower your students to take more professional care and control of their work?

      Any ideas?

      Here is my draft list:

      Many sentences that need a verb don't have one.

      There is a tendency to use phrases, or sentence fragments, rather than sentences.

      The flow of ideas is restricted by a lack of connectives and transitional phrases.

      Paragraphs are not used at all.

      Essays show an inability to compose an effective introduction or conclusion.

      There is a failure to vary sentence length, for example, by using a range of simple, compound and complex constructions.

      The vocabulary is limited and many words are repeated.

      The style of writing is colloquial rather than formal; the style does not suit the target reader, or is inappropriate to theme and/or genre.

      A monstrous flood of words has replaced the punctuation of sentences.


      What's the best way to fix these issues, in your view?

      Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
      (2013) ... also available on Kindle, or to download. A bargain!




      Wednesday, 28 August 2013

      Use of Connectives and Transitions in Composition



      Connected Brain Zones


      § 371. IV. The use of connectives. The words of connection and transition between clauses, members, and sentences, may be made, according to the skill or the awkwardness of the writer, sources of strength or of weakness.

      It is always a source of weakness for two prepositions, having different antecedents, to be co-ordinated in connection with a common subsequent.

      This mode of expression has been called "the splitting of particles;" a name not very applicable to it as it occurs in English construction. The proper name for it is the one implied in the italicized words above. The following is an example.

      "Though personally unknown to, I have always been an admirer of, Mr. Calhoun."

      The way to correct it is to complete the first clause, and let the last, if either, be elliptic; thus:

      "Though personally unknown to Mr. Calhoun, I have always admired him," or "been an admirer of him."

      It is proper to remark that the very construction here condemned, enjoys a kind of toleration in legal and formal documents. The object in such compositions is not strength but clearness. Perhaps a good deal may be conceded to the usages of a profession proverbial for its attachment to what is old and of long standing; but in all compositions that have any pretension to literary merit, this construction must be disallowed.

      § 372. The most enfeebling of all practices in writing is the constant repetition of the conjunction and, whether as a contextual or a member-joining particle. It is a fault into which young persons are peculiarly apt to fall. Sometimes in writing a narrative, when their minds are eagerly carrying on the thread of the story, they will indite a series of sentences, each commencing with the formula "and then," or "and so;" altogether unaware of the slovenly manner in which they are using language. To avoid this, let the pupil avail himself of all the expedients in his power for varying the expression, and avoid the necessity of using this one conjunction so often.

      § 373. With regard to the use of co-ordinating conjunctions in a series of terms or short clauses, there are two different figures of syntax, directly the opposite of each other, each of which may be so used as to contribute to Strength. They are called Asyndeton and Polysyndeton. In the one, the connecting conjunction is entirely omitted from a series of co-ordinates; in the other it is carefully repeated, either before every member of the series, or else between each pair. In the former, the object is to present a succession of spirited images; in the latter, the writer desires to make the mind of the reader dwell upon each successive thought, not passing from it until its full force is felt. But they both possess what is called tho cumulative power; heaping up before the mind a combination of thoughts that are intended powerfully to affect it. Witness the following examples, in which these figures are combined with the balanced construction, showing that St. Paul evidently delighted in such rhetorical devices.

      "There is one body and one spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all." (Observe how the asyndeton and the polysyndeton are combined in the foregoing extract.)

      "Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

      "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body."

      “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

      "For all things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas; or the world or life or death; or things present, or things to come;—all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's."

      § 374. No single feature of style more plainly marks the mature mind, conversant with literature, than the judicious use of contextual connectives. These include Sot merely the conjunctions, but all those adverbs and adverbial phrases that indicate the relation of the sentences which they severally introduce, to the preceding context. All of them, including the conjunctions, have been subjected to a searching classification, which, however, is of no great practical value. To base upon such a classification a system of rules, would be to invest with difficulty a matter which would be more economically learned from extensive and varied reading.

      SOURCE: John Mitchell Bonnell, A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition: For the Use of Colleges and Schools (1867).

      Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
      (Quibble Academic, 2013)

      Thursday, 14 March 2013

      The Art of Description: 25 Tips

      'Scott has spent pages and pages upon describing a country scene, this is very uninteresting, but it is intensely good literature.'

      (The Newbolt Report: “The Teaching of English in England” (1921))




      In popular literature description appears to have been devalued in favour of character and plot. Description can be enjoyable in itself, but often it relates to, and helps to build the plot, mood, character, or atmosphere.  In our busy modern world perhaps we feel that we don’t have time to wallow in description. I have heard some writers saying that they don't bother doing the scene setting any more. This is sad.

      In fact, our age is one of immense (simulated) visual and sonic richness and variety. Never have we had such an immense range of sensory stimuli. Nonetheless, we are often so caught up in the flow that we lack either the creative engagement or the critical detachment that would enable the production of delightful or striking descriptive prose.

      Descriptive writing vividly re-connects us to the world, and it stimulates deeper, more sustainable thinking and feeling about our lived and our imagined experiences.

      What techniques are involved in effective description, and what should be avoided?

      In my view, description should avoid

      1. writing that is dull and flat.
      1. lazy words: had, was, get, nice, good, bad, really.
      1. padding - unnecessary description
      1. simply listing words or items
      Effective description


      1. selects key details to convey and focus the primary impression of the scene
      2. cultivates magic and mystery
      3. presents what was plain or the banal so that it stands out in a more vivid way
      4. chooses interesting words
      5. aims for specificity and clarity in word choice 
      6. develops creative writing skills by reading and critically dissecting literary texts
      7. makes the scene vivid to the reader: clear, strong, credible
      8. considers handling of time and place, and transitions between them
      9. use frames, snapshots, or photographs. These can then be placed in a logical sequence
      10. considers the reflective mood of the observer
      11. employs the five senses
      12. copes well with a sense of proximity and distance
      13. plans its ideas in advance (e.g. spider diagram, mindmaps, notes)
      14. prioritises and foregrounds key details
      15. varies sentence type and structures, with a consciousness of pace and rhythm
      16. considers rhetorical strategies
      17. employs striking figurative tropes such as simile, pathetic fallacy and metaphors
      18. borrows from poetry a sense of sound (e.g. assonance, alliteration)
      19. employs a beginning, a middle and the sense of an ending
      20. attends to the flow of thoughts by using connectives and transitional words
      21. checks accuracy of spelling, grammar and punctuation

      Sadly, even the models of excellence (A*) outlined by the exam boards seem to lack flair and imagination. But here they are, in case you need to refer to them:

      Content and organisation

      · content is well-judged, sustained and pertinent, firmly engaging the reader’s interest

      · the writing is well-crafted in an appropriate form with distinctive structural or stylistic features

      · paragraphs are effectively varied in length and structure to control detail and
      progression

      · there is a sophisticated organisation of detailed content within and between paragraphs

      · a wide range of appropriate, ambitious vocabulary is used to create effect or convey
      precise meaning

      Sentence structure, punctuation and spelling

      · there is appropriate and effective variation of sentence structures 

      · there is a sophisticated use of simple, compound and complex sentences to achieve
      particular effects 

      · accurate punctuation is used to vary pace, clarify meaning, avoid ambiguity and create deliberate effects 

      · virtually all spelling, including that of complex irregular words, is correct

      · tense changes are used confidently and purposefully

      Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
      (2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.


      Tuesday, 12 March 2013

      What's that myth about boys not wanting to read anything?



      Boys are underperforming by 10% or more, compared to girls' literacy.

      My experience working with boys and adolescents (9-15) in the last year has taught me that they do not have an insurmountable problem with reading or writing. But far too often they are being forced to answer tedious comprehension questions. Or they are pushed into commenting critically on subjects that do not relate at all to their interests. Research shows that often boys visualize reading as a female activity. So some of the problems are part of the current culture and construction of reading as an activity.

      At first, the key to success, in my view, is to work with their existing interests. That means that you need to find out what fires their imagination. In an overcrowded classroom that is sometimes difficult, and there is a tendency for the whole class to work on the same topics such as "Africa," or "Environment," or "Superheroes."

      The young people I've worked with thrive on football and other sports, gadgets, fashion clothes and brands, fast cars, &c.

      As a result of looking at and comparing media texts, such as advertisements, technical data, brochures, films, and leaflets,  the persuasive reading and writing activities emerge as a critical and creative focus for the young people's work.

      This process of working with the most appropriate subject matter, or allowing young people to make their own choices, results in deeper engagement and closer reading. There is an awakened and heightened critical faculty, and the discovery of hitherto latent creativity. Often they are still reading when the one hour lesson has finished. And there has been no loss of concentration. They are asking me to let them 'do' this topic as their homework!
      With a little guidance, it's not difficult to cover complex sentences and witty epigrams; rhymes and rhythm; alliteration; layout and design; multimedia and interactivity. Quickly they will pick up a wide descriptive and technical vocabulary that was a closed book when they were 'studying' traditional literary topics. They identify literary devices and the impact they have as a tool for advertising and promotion. They begin to deconstruct those sinister forces - the secret and hidden persuaders. By unlocking the promotional tricks of the trade they learn to imitate or resist them. This in turn has a potential for growth and empowerment.

      Having picked up key skills, confidence, and competence, the young learners are far less resistant to exploring texts and images critically and creatively.

      It's far easier to slip in some classic writing after a solid foundation and strong motivation has been acquired.


      Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
      (2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

      Also worth a look: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.