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Pet Peeves


Our Pet Peeves

Want to drive us crazy (and lose points in the process)? If so, ignore this page. If not, remember:

  • Use at least two paragraphs per page.
    If you write as well as authors like James Joyce or José Saramago, you can get away with a single paragraph per page – or chapter. Most of us use very long paragraphs when an issue is confusing or overwhelming and we can't order our ideas. If you find yourself using only one paragraph on a page, ask yourself "Why?"

  • Avoid sexist language.
    However, choose elegant rather than awkward ways to do so. This is ugly: "A student is often overwhelmed and they..." or "A student is often overwhelmed and he or she..." I appreciate the intention, but hate the manner of presentation. Here are some simple ways to avoid sexist language:

    • "Students are often overwhelmed and will..."

    • "Students are often overwhelmed in college. They will..."

    • "Mary is often overwhelmed. She will..."

  • Match nouns and verbs in number.
    This bothers me as much as fingernails on a chalkboard: "The students is..." Most of us don't do this with very simple sentences such as this example, but do it with more complicated sentences such as this one: "The students carrying the banner walks rapidly down the road."

  • Use active voice to describe your actions.
    Rather than saying "It was felt that the Spring was a beautiful time of year," write "I think that Spring is a beautiful time..." This isn't just an idea to help you become a better writer, but will help you recognize your control over your world rather than leaving you feeling buffeted by fate.

    Another similar example is the use of "as if" or "as though" instead of "that": "I felt as if his behavior was inappropriate." Did you or didn't you? Instead of distancing yourself from your experience, experience it directly: "I felt that his behavior was inappropriate." Use "as if" in a simile, to compare two different things: "He walked as if he was a three legged camel."

  • Use "think" and "feel" correctly.
    Use "feel" to describe emotions: "I feel anxious when..." and "I think that Freud's work has little scientific basis." Again, this isn't just a good writing and thinking skill, it makes sense psychologically. While we have little direct control over our feelings, we can control our thoughts. However, the first thing we need to do is recognize what our thoughts (directly controllable) and feelings (indirectly controllable) are.

  • "Better" is an adjective not a verb:
    "I want to feel better, " rather than "I want to better myself."

  • Use words appropriately.
    Learn the differences between:

    • "effect" and "affect." "Affect" is either a verb or refers to mood, "effect" is generally a noun, as in a consequnce.

    • "its" and "it's." "It's" should only be used when you mean to say "it is." "Its" is a possessive noun.

    • "There," "they're" and "their." "There" is a place. "They're" is a contraction of "they" and "are." "Their" is a possessive pronoun.

  • Avoid using "and" for "to" as in, "I'll try and do it." ("I'll try to do it.") Use "should have" rather than "should of." ("He should have gone to her house first.")

People judge your abilities by how you present your thoughts and ideas. When you use words inappropriately readers assume you don't know what you're talking about.