Technically Speaking Part II

I know, you all have been waiting with baited breath for the second part of my mini-series on commonly repeated writing mistakes. Wait no more, here it is!

When we last left off we were discussing Doctor Block’s German Shepard, role-playing, and Sheila’s pencil…today, we are going to finish off with the semicolon, acronyms, and parentheses.

Common Writing Mistake #4: The Semicolon.

The semicolon, not be confused with the colon, can be a tricky little beast. Why not just use a comma? Well folks, it all comes down to relationships and lists.

When you have two thoughts on a matter, they can be written in three ways:

1. Time Magazine wrote a great article about Twitter. The slew of observations made it engaging.

2. Time Magazine wrote a great article about Twitter, and the slew of observations made it engaging.

3. Time Magazine wrote a great article about Twitter; the slew of observations made it engaging.

Although all three styles are correct, each has a slightly different intonation. Notice how the last style (#3) indicates a closer relationship between the two thoughts, is more brief, and almost more forcible. I know, it may be almost imperceptible, but think about how you want to express your thoughts, and use the semicolon to communicate them eloquently.

Hold your hay wagon. There are three other instances when you need to use a semicolon. Use a semicolon when your thoughts are separated by a conjunctive adverb. A con what? (Let me wet your noodle:  nonetheless, therefore, besides, then, otherwise, etc.) Use a semicolon when your thoughts are separated by a transitional expression, and use it when you have a list of three or more elements that have internal commas (but NOT to introduce the list, that’s when you whip out the ol’ colon).

The Chargers are a great team; however, they just can’t seem to win a Superbowl.

Michael Jackson’s success is unsurpassed; for example, his Thriller album is the best-selling album of all time.

We read three magazines: (a) Esquire, for the trendy man; (b) Cosmopolitan, for the young woman; and (c) The New Yorker, for the metropolitan junkie.

NOT: Wonder Woman has three super powers; strength,  stamina, and breasts.

Common Writing Mistake #5: Acronyms.

First of all, don’t assume everyone knows what KTF means, or that everyone has the same frame of reference. KTF can refer to Korean Taekwondo Federation, Kauai Test Facility, or Kermit The Frog. The moral of that story: if you’re going to abbreviate (i.e. use an acronym) spell it out first , and after it, put the acronym in parentheses. Once you use the acronym don’t switch between it and the complete term, that looks both a little “schizo” and unprofessional. Remember too, not all acronyms are associated with capitalized terms; some people prefer to use OR for operating room even though “operating room” is not capitalized. That trivial fact plagued me for several years…

Examples of proper acronym use:

The Venture Brothers (VC) is my favorite animated series.

My best friend forever (BFF) told me that everyone at school wants to date the guy I like; I feel hopeless.

Letters in acronyms are not separated by periods unless it’s the initials of someones name (J.R. Ewing) or it’s a Latin abbreviation (i.e.). Use Latin abbreviations sparingly (preferably never) in a sentence, but rather in parentheses. Another tidbit: plurals of abbreviations may or may not be written with an apostrophe-s, but I think it looks a lot sharper without the apostrophe.

Every woman needs one great-fitting pair of jeans, a favorite t-shirt, a suit, and a little black dress; but she needs plenty of accessories (shoes, belts, earrings, necklaces, etc.).

The IQs for many populations have been rising at an average rate of three points per decade since the early 20th Century.

Finally, units of measurement. I have seen probably ten different approaches for expressing five feet. So…is it five feet, 5 ft., of five ft? I don’t want to get into a numbers game right now (just remember spell out all numbers under10), but the rule is this: If you are writing a technical paper, abbreviate units of measurement, if not, spell them out.

Common Writing Mistake #6: Parentheses.

Parenthetical expressions are digressions, explanations, facts, or examples. They are non-essential to the message of your sentence, and should be enclosed in parentheses.

If all martians were like The Great Gazoo (little, green, cute, and happy), we would all believe in flying saucers.

If your sentence has a parenthetical expression, punctuate as if it wasn’t there (i.e. outside the last parentheses); unless it is the sentence, then punctuate within the parentheses. If your parenthetical expression is a question or exclamation, include those marks within the parentheses.

We believed he was right (and why should we have doubted him?), so we followed him into the tunnel.

If you need to digress within your digression, use brackets within the parentheses.

I woke up feeling refreshed (despite the frigid temperature [-40 degrees Celsius] and darkness outside), and immediately began writing my memoir.

Thank-you again to The Little, Brown Compact Handbook and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association for assistance. Today, an additional thanks to The Elements of Style.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please contact me through my website: Happy writing, and enjoy the summer heat!

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