Introduction Ch. 02 Writing for the Mass Media

Ch. 2: Writing for Media: Basic Tools of Grammar Chapter 2 in our textbook is all about the
basic tools in the writer’s toolkit: spelling, grammar, and punctuation. These parts of language, and the rules concerning
their use, allow us to communicate ideas and information to one another using a common
framework. Think of them as the rules of the road, which
allow us to drive along safely and “communicate” with other drivers. This isn’t a grammar class, so we won’t
be spending too much time on these rules. However, I want you to have an understanding
of basic grammar, and use it in your writing. If you’re well-versed in it – great! If not, don’t worry; we’ll work on it. Let’s go back to the last lecture’s analogy
of the writer as a builder. The writer uses their knowledge of the English
language as a solid foundation to build upon. Let’s say that grammar is the blueprint
to building a house. Without a guideline to follow, the builder’s
house is going to come out looking weird (no matter how strong the foundation is). And without grammar rules to follow, your
writing may come out looking a little wonky: “When nine hundred years old you reach,
look as good you will not.” – Yoda, Return of the Jedi A writer relies on the shared meaning of a
word when addressing their audience (using a word that means the same for them as for
their audience). Good writers should be able to step back and
view their work as a reader to look for any confusing words or passages. “ Inconceivable!” “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it
means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride Let’s talk about sentences. They have two parts: a subject (someone or
something) and a verb, or action. Here’s a sentence: “Jane ran.” “Jane” is the subject, and “ran” is
the verb. Sentences can be arranged in four structures: The first is a simple sentence (also known
as an independent clause), which contains a complete thought, like the “Jane ran”
example. Another one would be “Cindy jumped.” A complex sentence has both an independent
clause (a subject-verb phrase) and a dependent clause, which does not express a complete
thought. Here’s an example: “When they arrived,
Cindy jumped out of the car.” “When they arrived” is dependent and isn’t
a complete thought on its own, but you can combine it with the independent clause “Cindy
jumped out of the car” to form a complex sentence. The third type is a compound sentence, which
contains two independent clauses joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction. An example of this would be: “Cindy jumped
out of the car, and she ran to her aunt.” The word “and” serves as the link between
the two independent clauses, or complete sentences. The fourth kind is a compound-complex sentence,
which has two independent clauses and one dependent clause. Like in a compound sentence, a comma and conjunction
link the two clauses. Example: “When they arrived, Cindy jumped
out of the car, and she ran to meet her aunt.” “When they arrived” is dependent, and
the two independent clauses are linked by a comma and the word “and.” No one wants to read page after page of one
kind of sentence. Using all four types of sentences will bring
a variety to your writing that readers will appreciate. It’s like cooking dishes with different
flavors like sweet, savory, or salty. A dinner party with only one type of flavor
would be boring. Speaking of flavors, sentences come in four
different “flavors” as well. We’ve talked about their structure, so now
let’s talk about their content. The first “flavor” or type is a declarative
sentence, or one that makes a statement, like “I love chocolate ice cream.” The next is an interrogative sentence, which
asks a question: “What kind of ice cream do you like?” Think of an interrogation. An imperative sentence issues an order or
command. Example: “You will love ice cream.” An exclamatory sentence expresses a strong
emotion, and usually ends with an exclamation point: “I hate ice cream!” There’s an additional glossary of grammar
terms on pages 18-19. Moving on! Let’s address some common grammar problems
and how to avoid them. Agreement between the subject and verb means
that you use the proper form of the verb depending on whether the subject is singular (one) or
plural (multiple). Here’s an example of a singular subject
with its singular verb: “The dog runs around.” The incorrect way to write this is “The
dog run around.” However, if you make the word “dog” plural
by adding an “s,” this sentence would be correct: “The dogs run around.” Next is using the active voice versus the
passive voice. The active voice emphasizes the subject and
what it is doing; for example: “The dog brought back the stick.” We like the active voice. Its counterpart is the passive voice, which
puts emphasis on the action being done to the subject. Example: “The stick was brought back by
the dog.” Notice that in the first example, the dog
is the one doing the action, while in the second, the dog is overshadowed by the action. It’s tempting to use the passive voice,
as it can feel lofty and official, but fight that temptation. Here are some examples of active and passive
voice from Active: The wedding planner is making all
the reservations. Passive: All the reservations will be made
by the wedding planner. Active: Harry ate six shrimp at dinner. Passive: At dinner, six shrimp were eaten
by Harry. More examples available at Participles come before a sentence’s subject
and tell us a little more about it. A dangling participle is a phrase meant to
modify the subject, but it’s left hanging without the proper subject to point to. It ends up grabbing onto the first noun in
the sentence, as seen in Grammar Girl’s example: “Hiking the trail, the birds chirped
loudly.” Wait, so… the birds are hiking? “Hiking the trail” is the dangling participle,
because it sounds like the birds are hiking the trail while chirping. Let’s fix it: “Hiking the trail, Squiggly
and Aardvark heard birds chirping loudly.” Now the participle tells us that Squiggly
and Aardvark are the ones hiking (example from Appositive phrases are a way to rename or
rephrase the subject, and are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas. Here’s an example from Wikipedia: “Queen
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of Her other Realms
and Territories, addressed the crowd at her Diamond Jubilee.” The appositive phrase falls within the two
sets of commas, both of which are extremely important for clarity. We talked about clauses and their role in
providing more information about the subject. “That” and “which” are two pronouns
used for introducing clauses. “That” introduces an essential clause. In other words, the sentence wouldn’t make
sense without it. Example: “The eagles that nested on the
roof made a lot of noise.” Compare it to “which,” the word that introduces
a nonessential clause set off by commas, in this example: “The dogs rolled in the mud,
which they tracked all over the house.” The sentence would still make sense without
the last clause. “Who” and “whom” are two pronouns
used to set off clauses involving the subject. “Who” is used when it is the subject of
a sentence, clause or phrase; for example: “The cat, who never broke eye contact with
me, knocked the glass off the counter.” “John called Sally, who knew all about the
surprise party.” “Whom” is used when it is the subject
of a verb, clause or phrase. Example: “The parrot, for whom the cracker
was intended, squawked angrily.” “The landlord, to whom the letter was addressed,
looked puzzled.” The cracker and letter were intended for someone,
so for whom? Apostrophes look like airborne commas and
indicate ownership or possession, like “Jackie’s dog,” “the dog’s tail,” or “the
student’s book.” If a word is plural and/or ends in -s, add
an apostrophe but not another -s. For example: “the kids’ playground”
or “Agnes’ car.” Note: In the case of names ending in -s, I’ve
seen it both ways, but I prefer this way. They also signal a contraction (a word produced
by running two words together and leaving out some letters), like can’t (cannot),
isn’t (is not), or won’t (will not). Don’t use apostrophes when writing a word’s
plural form. “Twelve orange’s” is incorrect, as is
“a dozen cookie’s.” A writer’s arsenal of punctuation includes
commas, semicolons, periods, apostrophes, and colons. The comma is arguably the most useful, the
most important, and the most contentious. When do you use it? How do you use it? So many questions! First of all, use it to indicate a pause,
or to clarify the sentence for the reader. My favorite example of the comma’s importance
can be found in these two sentences: “We’re going to eat, Grandma.” Ok. Cool. “We’re going to eat Grandma.” Aah! Not cool! Let’s go over some of the common uses of
the comma. First, use it to set off independent words
(like the “first” in this sentence). Other examples include: “Nevertheless, she
persisted,” or “Still, I wondered.” You can also use commas for transitions: “In
spite of this, we kept driving.” Use it to separate items like clauses or phrases:
“It came as a shock, but she quickly regained her composure.” The comma is also useful for lists: “Eggs,
milk, bread, cheese…” Without the comma, you’d end up with such
delicacies as milk bread or breaded eggs. As we discussed before, it’s also used to
separate the parts of a compound sentence: “We ran to the playground, and we climbed
onto the jungle gym.” It’s useful for large numbers like 19,000
or 1,000,000; for visual presentation, like in dates (August 1, 2017); and in names (Doe,
Jane or Bob Bobbington, Jr.). If you don’t use the comma correctly, you
may end up with an issue like the comma splice or run-on sentence: “He sat down, he heaved
a sigh.” In this sentence, we have two independent
clauses, but they need to be connected with a word like “and,” “but,” or “then.” Sometimes writers slip in a comma after the
subject, like this: “The girl, kicked the football,” or “The carpenter, made a beautiful
chair.” In both cases, the comma indicates an unnecessary
and somewhat confusing pause. As you write, take time to read your work
out loud. If it sounds wrong, it might be. Semicolons can be used to separate independent
clauses in one sentence, instead of using a comma and a conjunction. Example: “Santa filed his taxes early; the
elves got an extra day off.” They’re also used to separate lists with
commas to avoid confusion: “The Justice League is composed of Wonder Woman, princess
of Themyscira; Batman, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego; and Superman, son of Krypton.” Colons signal the start of a list. “Nick Fury issued a call to the Avengers:
Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Thor, and Hulk.” Periods are used to end sentences and abbreviations. An example of its use in a sentence would
be “I’m hungry.” It’s used in abbreviations like Mr., Mrs.,
and Dr. Many people frequently confuse the words “its”
and “it’s.” The first “its” (no apostrophe) is possessive
and indicates ownership, as in these examples: “The monster showed its face,” and “The
octopus reached out its tentacle.” The other “it’s” is a contraction of
“it” and “is.” Use this version instead of “it is”; for
example, “It’s a nice day,” or “It’s no big deal.” Regarding spelling: If you are typing your
assignments on a computer, either in Word or Google Docs or some other word editing
program, there’s a good chance you have access to spell check. Keep in mind that spell check isn’t perfect,
and may miss words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly: “The weather is clam
today” is a good example of that. Make sure to have someone else look over your
work, preferably someone with equal or better language skills than your own. Don’t feel discouraged by the amount of
grammar rules we’ve discussed. You can develop your grammar skills through
practice. Master the ones you know, and begin introducing
new ones into your writing. Writing is all about communication. The best writing is clear and effective in
conveying its ideas and information to the reader. In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King compares
writing to an act of telepathy – sending a mental image to the receiver via words. The more effective your writing skills, the
more effective the telepathic message will be.

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