Thursday, June 25, 2009

Since Versus Because

Since Versus Because

I am writing about a “rule” in written English that is controversial, involving when to use the word “since” and when to use the word “because.” The rule used to be (and to some of us still is) that “since” is used when you want to denote the passage of time, that is:

“The store has been in operation since 1985.”


“I wanted to be a social worker since I was eight years old.”

“Because” is used to ascribe cause, to explain a reason why, as in:

“Dogs should net be exposed to prolonged heat, because they cannot cool down except through panting.”


“The researchers studied adolescents only, because they are the population at greatest risk for this disorder.”

Some people feel mixing up since and because is fine, some feel it is fine in spoken language only, never in written language, some say never mix them up at all. I am in the middle. I think students should use since and because properly in written communication (that is, follow the rule above), but can mix them up in informal speech.

Next time: what is a split infinitive and does it matter anymore?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Accuracy and Precision

Accuracy and Precision in Language
Note to readers: I am recovering from a strenuous hike up Old Rag Mountain (Great views! Sore legs!) so forgive me if there is a typo or two in here I did not find in my fatigued state!
We all know what the words accuracy and precision mean, but how do we translate them into action? Here are a few guidelines to follow that may help;
Numbers: numbers often convey a sense of precision. It is more accurate to say “35 percent” than “a third” (though sometimes the latter is Ok too). (It is possible to lie or misdirect with numbers, but that is a topic for another entry. A good book on this is “How to Lie with Statistics”).
Definitions and details help with precision. “Smith and Jones (200) studied depression” versus “Smith and Jones (200) studied the Beck Depression Inventory scores of 173 women aged 19 to 29, both before and after cognitive-behavior therapy.”
A problem I find in regard to accuracy in language is word meaning or using a word that does not quite get at the meaning the writer intends. Small versus miniscule, aggressive versus violent.
Word confusion: comprise and compromise are very similar in spelling, but mean different things.

Which is more precise?
“Most dog lovers like cats too” or
“About 57% of self-described dog lovers like cats too (Jones, 2000).”

“Welfare reform changed welfare as we knew it.”
“The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 reduced the welfare rolls by between 33 and 90 percent, varying by state” (citation).

“Positive rewards are more effective than punishment at changing behavior.”
“Positive reinforcement increases desired behaviors by 37 percent: punishment increases desired behaviors by 22 percent” (Brenner, 1995).

So, numbers help with precision (and also evidence-based writing).
Citations helps with precision.
Details can help with precision.
Definitions and descriptions can help with precision.
And using the correct, more specific word can help with precision.

Here are some real world examples of problems with precision in language:
A member of Congress “Tobacco kills with lethality.” Is there any other way to kill?
A student “I believe that child emotional abuse is more harmful than sexual abuse to me.” “I believe” implies “to me”, so drop the “to me”. Or was the student disclosing that she was abused? (I think not, but it could be read that way).
A student writes in a term paper “I just read that…” instead of “I recently read…” (did you read the referenced material immediately before you wrote it? Does that hold true a week later when the prof reads the paper?)
My friend wrote “My mother was a hard woman.” How hard? Like stone? How about “My mother was unsympathetic to my childhood needs” or “My mother rarely smiled or laughed” or “My mother appeared to suffer from chronic depression” whichever is more accurate.

I am sure I will have more to say on this topic in subsequent posts.

Keep Writing!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blog Entry 5: Procrastination


I have been procrastinating and it is not something I usually do (in grad school, I started papers weeks before they were due, maybe even doing the library research a month in advance. I had my dissertation finalized a month before my defense date and was the only student up to that time who successfully defended with no revisions, to either the content or the writing!). I hate that feeling I get when I have put something off to the last minute, the anxiety, the poor sleep, so I do whatever I can to avoid it. However, I have been procrastinating with this blog, with writing the entry on “accuracy in language.” This is partly because it is hard to come up with good examples of accuracy (though I recently heard a good one: a member of Congress, when asked about the pending tobacco legislation, said tobacco “was a substance that kills with lethality.” Huh? Is there any other way to kill? Can you kill without being lethal?)

I realized that I have been procrastinating because I set myself up to work on this particular blog entry in a way that I do not usually work, that is, I know my best work style and I violated it. My best work style is to start work on a project early, even if it is only in small increments of time. When I write or develop a project, I need to take time to develop my ideas and to let inspiration hit. For example, I write a garden blog. I have a folder with a list of many different topic ideas, some with just the main theme written out, others with an outline, others in near complete or complete form. This allows me time to think out my ideas and the organization of my writing. I did this in grad school too, because I had multiple projects, as you probably do too.

So, for the accuracy in language blog entry, I kept stumbling over the difficulty of coming up with good examples. I did not chip away at it slowly, and let it build up to be a problem, if only in my own mind. I have made a plan: today, I am going to outline what I want to say about this topic. Tomorrow I will do some research using the APA manual, Strunk and White and online sources. Early next week I will jot out my ideas, then GID (get it done!)

This style of working is best for me. You need to determine how you do your best writing, but I would think that working it out, bit by bit, in advance and giving yourself sufficient time to mull over your ideas is a good way to go. Some students say they thrive on the rush of getting work done at the last minute, but I would suspect, in almost every case, they could have performed at a higher level if they gave themselves more time. I know that sometimes time is scarce and have sympathy for that, but a short work session within the context of a plan should work with most schedules.

Keep Writing!