Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: June 8, 2003
(Note: as explained below, this exercise
will run for the next two
A number of exercises we've run in the
past deal with the importance
research. Whether we write fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or whatever,
to "write what you know", which means drawing upon our own experiences,
also being able to learn new things. Research is thus an invaluable
A number of the exercises also explore
various writing rules and
(such as "write what you know" in the paragraph above.) The truth is
many of us have a poor understanding of the basic tools of writing:
For grammar: how many of us really know
what a gerund is? When
should it be
Do you know how to parse a complex
sentence? What are dependent and
Do you know your verb tenses? What tenses
are used in the following
"Doesn't John work at
"He had been working
there, but he found a better
job at Pet Village.
He'll be working on Saturday, if you want to see
Why are those different tenses used?
Similar questions come up with style.
What is passive voice, exactly?
What is the value of involving the senses?
There are many sources of information
available to help learn about
grammar, style, and other writing topics.
For grammar, something as simple as a
school grammar book.
An essential resource for writers is The
Elements of Style.
Style guides contain valuable information
on style and usage. For
Chicago Manual of Style, or in Canada, the Canadian Style. (Style
specialized books, so remember what their target audience is when you
them; nevertheless, they contain much valuable information that will
any form of writing. For example, The Canadian Style has the best
I've found to date for compound (hyphenated) adjectives.)
Of course, there are also valuable online
resources. Part of this
will be for you to find some of these resources, but here are a few
Remember to use a grain of salt when
evaluating any writing resource.
of course the obvious differences - British versus US spellings, of
also different rules for punctuation. Some resources are aimed at
some at journalists, some at fiction writers. Some of them are strict,
(For example, the grammar site listed
above is aimed at journalists,
information is a bit dated.)
OK, now the exercise.
Review the resources above, or any other
resource you might prefer.
rule or concept you'd like to explore further. (This could be one of
questions above; one of the writing "rules" we often see discussed on
Writing list; one of the rules or principles in The Elements of Style;
grammatical point, such as when to use commas, semi-colons, or dashes;
on.) Research this topic in at least two different resources.
In your submission, tell us which
resources you looked at (both in
topic, and in researching), with a quick blurb about what that resource
particularly good for. Try to include one resource not listed above.
write a short essay or discussion of your topic. Include examples - for
example, if your topic was passive voice, give examples of passive
how those examples cold be rewritten in active voice. Give exceptions
rules - in the passive voice example, for example, tell us when passive
be superior to active.
When critiquing, highlight what you found
particularly useful (be
and see if you can add anything to the topic. For example, can you
point you thought was not clear enough, or give an example when a rule
be broken? If something seems wrong, tell us why (but remember the
above about how the "rules" are different based on where you write, and
Remember: it's only a critique if it adds
significant information to
submission! If your only comment is "great work, I learned a lot", then
that privately to the author, not to the list. (So think before you hit
send button, and make sure you're sending it to the right place.
I think this is a very rich topic, and one
we can all benefit from -
what our current knowledge is, we can always learn more, and our
be all the better for it.
And as always, remember to have fun - the
English language is a
idiosyncratic, language, rich in possibilities, full of traps. Through
exercise, remember to look not just at dry rules, but how they
the richness of the language.
This exercise will run for the next two
weeks. You will be allowed
once each week, if you wish. For example, if your topic is complex, you
post a preliminary submission the first week, then continue researching
review the critiques) to resubmit on the same topic the second week. Or
could post a submission on two different topics.
Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: June 24, 2003
Well, I thought this was going to be a
great exercise, and it
started out great
- informative and interesting submissions on various aspects of
posts confirmed the goal of the exercise: when it comes to writing,
style, there is no end to learning, and it doesn't need to be boring.
Then, dead silence. Maybe *everybody* got
extra busy all at once?
I doubt it...
For those who did not join in, I wonder
why. I can think of the
reasons not to do this exercise:
- you already know everything you need
- grammar and style aren't important.
- grammar and style are too complicated.
- you had to shampoo your goldfish.
Well, the first three are misconceptions. (As
for the goldfish, let it
a while, it's getting exhausted from all the shampooing...) We all can
more, grammar and style do matter, and (again), we all can learn more.
that a successful research exercise doesn't mean learning everything
topic; the goal is to learn at least *one* thing (and at the same time,
remind ourselves that we've already learned a lot, and that we'll keep
- as long as we are ready to make a bit of an effort now and then.)
While some of the submissions were very
detailed, and showed
knowledge, others explored basics. The second is just as valid as the
- the key is that everyone who submitted now know more than they did
because they shared with us, we all know a bit more as well.)
We will run this exercise again, so for
now, start thinking about
start at least looking at various resources. And when a critique points
grammar and style problem in your writing, then *look it up*.
To those who did participate - through
submissions or by adding
value in their
critiques - my thanks and congratulations. Obviously, there are a lot
sources out there to help us with this matters!
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.