10 comments Contributed by Janette Siu on 19 February 2009 at 14:24

In high school, your English teacher might have taught you the "inverted triangle" approach to writing introduction paragraphs, in which you start with a broad statement and narrow it down to your thesis statement over the course of four or five sentences. While this is not the worst approach for starting a paper, it can lead to a serious condition known as Generalization Syndrome (GS). Students quickly discover that the easiest way to achieve the inverted triangle is to start with the broadest possible statement, so as to maximize the number of topics that they can mention between the first sentence and the thesis. This can lead to openings such as:

Since the dawn of time, all of mankind has needed food.

While this sentence is certainly true, and doubtless succeeds as the "broad" part of the inverted triangle, it is such a painfully obvious statement that there should be no need to write it down. This is an example of GS Type 1: the sentence is so blatantly indisputable that it is entirely unnecessary to the paper. The effects of GS Type 1 include bland writing, superfluous prose, and loss of readers' interest.

Fortunately, if you identify the symptoms, GS is entirely curable. One of the most common symptoms of Type 1 is a sweeping statement that encompasses all of humanity or all of history. Watch out for phrases such as "Throughout all time," "Since the beginning of the universe," or "All the people of the world." (Notice that the example sentence above has two all-inclusive phrases.) Another symptom is saying, "Well, duh!" after reading a sentence. If you identify an offending statement (and it might not be at the beginning of your paper), remove it and consider replacing it with something more specific and less obvious. For example, instead of the sentence above, you could write:

Ever since prehistoric man domesticated the cow, beef has been a common source of protein for many cultures.

Note that this statement does not include all cultures. If it did, it would be an example of GS Type 2:

Ever since prehistoric man domesticated the cow, beef has been a common source of protein for the entire world.

GS Type 2 is characterized by a sweeping statement that is not true. Some religions, especially Hinduism, consider the cow sacred and therefore do not eat beef products; vegetarians would not eat beef either. The effects of GS Type 2 are found in the reader and may include doubting the point of the argument, taking offense, or being distracted by thinking of exceptions to the statement. GS Type 2 is usually caused by excessive zeal in framing an argument; a writer thinks that if he can make an absolute statement (saying that something is always true for everybody, or never true for anybody), the stronger language will strengthen his argument. However, a false statement will detract from a writer's credibility rather than adding to it.

Common symptoms of GS Type 2 are words like "everyone," "nobody," "all people," "anything," "always," "never," and "without exception." Before using these phrases, always be sure that what you're saying is actually true; since very few things are "always" or "never" true, try to avoid using language like this. If you are absolutely sure that a statement is true, check to make sure that it has not been infected with GS Type 1 instead.

If you find a sentence afflicted with GS Type 2, modify it so that it is a true statement. Words like "most," "often," "some," "usually," "many," "frequently," "few," "commonly," and "probably" are your allies in defeating this disease.

Carefully cure your composition of generalizations, and you will have a happier and healthier paper!

0 comments Contributed by David Kent on 09 February 2009 at 16:07

Today The Observer published the first of, hopefully, many SPWC crosswords. These puzzles are meant to be entertaining and elusive, but that doesn't mean they can't be edifying. What follows are the correct answers along with an explanation of each clue where appropriate; each entry is concluded by an example sentence of the word in action.

Across:
1. Answer: Salaam. Salaam is an Arabic word meaning peace and is used as a salutation in Islamic countries.
Ex: He greeted me with "Salaam," and then we sat down to work.

7. Answer: Cringe. Cringe means to shrink in fear or to cower.
Ex: I cringed as the dentist began to drill.

8. Answer: Ringer. A dead ringer is a slang term for an exact duplicate. The term originally referred to a horse substituted for another, similar-looking horse in order to rig a race.
Ex: Sarah is a dead ringer for her sister.

9. Answer: Egging. Egging means to throw eggs, usually chicken eggs. Egging is also used to mean encourage or incite, always with the preposition on.
Ex: Egging the neighbor's house is a typical juvenile prank.
Ex: Quit egging him on. He already said he didn't want to do it.

10. Answer: Whence. Whence means from where. It is a matter of debate as to whether one should write from whence or if the from may be omitted. I have found that both forms appear to be used with approximately the same frequency, but I would lean towards including from unless striving for an artistic tone. For an excellent discussion of this topic, see this article. The similarity to the sound of the clue for 7 across is coincidental.
Ex: He left from whence he came.

11. Answer: Strays. Strays are animals found wandering at large without any owners. Stray cats are commonly adopted as pets. This could also be true for rabbits, but the clue is also intended to remind one of stray hairs.
Ex: The pound has many strays available for adoption.

Down:
1. Answer: Screws. Screws are metal fasteners with a spiral form. Tortuous means full of twists, turns, or bends, which is certainly true of screws. Thumb screws, on the other hand, are torturous.
Ex: We used screws to fasten the boards together

2. Answer: Aright. Aright means correctly.
Ex: Did I hear you aright?

3. Answer: Linger. Linger means to remain longer than expected.
Ex: Her beautiful smile will linger in my mind for days to come.

4. Answer: Angina. Angina refers to any sort of painful choking, but is more commonly associated with Angina pectoris - heart pain due to a lack of blood and oxygen.
Ex: Angina affects Americans of all backgrounds.

5. Answer: Agency. An agency is an organization that provides some service for another. The CIA is the Central Intelligence Agency, whereas the FBI is the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Ex: The agency exists to serve its clients.

6. Answer: Merges. Merges means combines.
Ex: Watch how the one cell merges with the other.

Well, I hope you had fun with the puzzle. Please let me know what you think - too easy, too hard, too small, etc. Remember to check The Observer next week to find another crossword similar to this week's.

0 comments Contributed by Janette Siu on 06 February 2009 at 11:32

"In Other [People's] Words" Part 1 and Part 2 gave a lot of rules about punctuating and formatting quotes, but what is the process of quoting that happens before and after you actually use a quote in your paper? Here's some hints on how to decide when to quote, and how to cite the original works in your bibliography.

When to quote:
When making an argument, you should always use evidence from other sources to back up your opinion. That doesn't mean, however, that you should always include a quote. Over-quoting can make your paper sound choppy, and it can be tiring for your reader; often, paraphrasing will do just as well. Some situations in which a quote is a good idea would be:

1) When the original wording is very unique.
2) When the original wording is better than any way you could say it.
3) When you want to use a passage that has a lot of statistics.

As a general rule, you can remember this guideline: When the ideas are really good, paraphrase it; when the words are really good, quote it.

How to cite works:
How you cite works depends on which writing style your professor would like you to use. (Google the style name and "citation" to find details on the correct formatting.) If he or she does not specify a writing style, MLA is always a good standard to use.

In MLA, there are two parts to citation: the in-text citations and the bibliography. In-text citations are required whenever you get material from another source, whether it's a quote or a paraphrase of that source. Usually, you include a brief reference to identify the work (most often the author's last name) and the page number that the material came from, like this:

Some cows are known to have eccentric personalities and surprising levels of intelligence, which makes them good pets (McDonald 32).

Note that the reference comes before the ending punctuation, is enclosed in parentheses, and uses only the page number (not "page 32" or "p. 32"). You don't have to include the author's name in the citation, though, if you mentioned it in your sentence already, like this:

As Old McDonald writes in The Beauty of the Cow, some cows are known to have eccentric personalities and surprising levels of intelligence, which makes them good pets (32).

The punctuation starts to get tricky when you quote sources instead of just paraphrasing. The citation goes after the closing quotation mark, but you move the ending punctuation to after the citation, like this:

Old McDonald writes, "I have known cows that would have made great pets, because of their oddball personalities. Some are actually very smart, too, which is also a good characteristic for a pet" (32).

However, if the quote ends in a question mark or an exclamation point, you keep that punctuation inside the quotation mark, but add a period after the citation, like this:

Old McDonald expresses his passion for cows when he writes, "Bovine does not mean bland!" (17).

You should ONLY do this if the question mark or exclamation point was in the original text; if you are adding the punctuation yourself, use the first rule (where you put the ending punctuation after the citation).

A helpful website with information on MLA in-text citations is here. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to other useful sections on this website.

The other half of citing works is the bibliography page. A writing handbook, such as Andrea A. Lunsford's The Everyday Writer, is probably your best resource, but some online resources such as this one can also be very useful. Guidelines for writing your bibliography can be found all over the internet; just make sure that you're looking at a credible website (usually .edu domains are reliable). Also, try to use websites that have been updated recently, because occasionally MLA will make a slight change to the rules.

With that, we conclude our series on quotations... at least for now. Because this is a subject with so many nuances, we could fill books with all the ins and outs of using other people's ideas. However, this series has hopefully captured the most important guidelines and helped to answer some of the FAQ of quotations. Therefore, go forth with confidence and quote! (Or Google the answer when you don't know.)

2 comments Contributed by Janette Siu on 24 January 2009 at 13:36

Welcome back for another semester at Case Western Reserve University, and another installment of information on correct quotation! Picking up right where we left off...

5) Omit part of a quote with an ellipsis or alter it with brackets. Of course, a quote should only be altered for clarification or to make the grammar agree with the quote's place in your paper's sentence; any alterations should not change the meaning of the quote. Going back to Old McDonald's email, you see that he said, "The milk cows are probably the most useful creatures on the farm, because they produce both milk and calves. I love them; they are my favorites because they are such sweet creatures." You could quote him like this:

Old McDonald said, "I love [the milk cows] ... they are such sweet creatures."

Here, you have clarified the otherwise unclear pronoun "them" and you have omitted the part of the sentence that you did not think was necessary to make your point, without changing the original meaning of the sentence.

You could also use brackets to change a verb so that its tense agrees with your paper's sentence. For example, you could write,

When we went to see the milk cows, I remembered that Old McDonald had said that "they [were] such sweet creatures."

However, you can sometimes eliminate the need to alter a quote by rearranging the sentence. The above sentence could be changed very simply by quoting a smaller fragment of Old McDonald's sentence, like this:

When we went to see the milk cows, I remembered that Old McDonald had said that they were "such sweet creatures."

Of course, if the rearranged sentence sounds awkward, it is better to make your paper easier to read, in which case you should just alter the quote.

6) Finally, long quotations should be formatted in block quotes. The definition of "long" varies depending on what style you're using; if your professor specified a style, Google "block quotes" and the style name. If your professor did not specify a style, MLA format is widely accepted; in MLA, if a quote is four lines or more, it should be formatted as a block quote. That means it should be indented one inch from the left margin. However, don't indent the first line of the quote any more than the others, and don't use quotation marks around the block quote. If the phrase introducing the block quote is a full sentence, end it with a colon, but if it is an incomplete sentence that is completed by the quote, no punctuation is necessary. An excellent example with detailed rules for block quotes can be found here.


Another excellent reference on quotations, including the rules given here and much more, can be found here. You can also find information on when to quote and how to cite quotations in "In Other [People's] Words" Part 3. By practicing proper quotations, the pupil can prevail over a paper's punctuation!