Tag Archives: advice

Semicolons Are Your Friends: A Quick Guide on How to Use Them

As a proofreader, I come upon semicolon issues in almost every piece of work I read. They are often seen as difficult and are frequently mis-used instead of commas or colons, or left out completely; some people are reluctant to use them for anything other than winking emoticons.  I remembering taking a while to grasp their uses when I was taught. But why do people struggle with them so? Perhaps they just aren’t taught well at school (stick that in your baccalaureate, Gove). What ever the reason, there are two simple rules that anyone can learn: 

1.  Semicolons are used to mark a break in a sentence, usually where both halves of the sentence could stand as sentences in their own right. You use a semicolon instead of a full stop to indicate that the points are closely linked.  This could mean that the second half explains or expands on the first, but semicolons should also be used when the two factors are directly contrasted. 

‘He loved the video of a kitten playing the piano on YouTube;  she preferred recordings of Glee-themed flash mobs.’

It would also be technically correct in this instance to use a full stop; the relationship between the two is more neatly expressed using a semicolon.

Another example: if I were to write out the lyrics to David Guetta’s ‘Titanium’, it would look like this: 

‘You shoot me down, but I won’t fall; I am titanium.’ 

You could use a full stop in between, but a semicolon nicely demonstrates the causality between the two assertions.

2. Semicolons can also be used to separate items in a list where they consist of more than one word. The list should be introduced with a colon and the items separated by semicolons.

‘He enjoyed a variety of other videos: the panda falling out of a hammock; squirrels spinning like whirligigs on bird-feeders or washing lines; that dog that does the lambada; and anything featuring Benedict Cumberbatch on a day off.’  

That’s it; there are just two uses. You can do it!

Have a go at punctuating these: 

‘All passengers have been informed that they must not carry sharp objects that random spot-checks can be expected that longer than usual delays are possible’

‘She couldn’t dance in her favourite ballroom it was being renovated’

Let me know how you get on in the comments! 

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Advice for Students: The Wisdom of Graduates!

I think the best advice comes from experience, so  I asked my friends, acquaintances and the lovely people of the Internet how they coped with university life and what advice they would give to current undergrads. Here is their collective wisdom! Thanks everyone!

(p.s. Please add yours in the comments!)

New addition from Sorcha: ‘YOU ARE NOT A NUMBER!  Now is the time to start developing your own personality. If you want to party every night – fine! If you don’t – fine! Live on the edge of your comfort zone – it’s the best time to find out what your comfort zone is – but don’t live beyond it. You are the only person you have to live with for the rest of your life so you are (in the end) the only person you have to answer to – that, and the police!

Reading/essay writing? Read as many essays as you write. Twain, Swift, any of the modern essay writers – you get to see how the good, the bad and the ugly write essays, so get to see how it (should not) be done.’ I think that’s such excellent advice- thank you for your contribution!

Ricky wrote: ‘My advice would be to use your first year wisely. It doesn’t count towards your degree, so is the perfect opportunity to find your own style with which you’re comfortable, to make mistakes and learn about university expectations for when it really counts.’ I’m not sure if this is true of all universities, but is certainly the case at many. It’s definitely worth using this time well  and gaining the skills that will make subsequent years more manageable.  

Peter says: ‘The things I learnt, sometimes the hard way, was to leave yourself plenty of time, research something you

Honey on toast will make your essays better. FACT.

find interesting / relevant and get a friend or proofreader to read through it as well. This was my survival guide to third year!’ Great advice, and very on message! 

Sara has 3 excellent points: ‘1- the thinking is the most important bit-spend a few hours with research books closed,

computer off and just a piece of paper and pen to doodle out your ideas.

2-tell people what you’re going to say over and over again. It’s an essay, not a James Patterson, so while it is important it is engaging, cliffhangers and plot twists should be avoided in favour of clarity

3-honey on toast.’ The perfect blend of sugar, carbs and comfort to keep you going! 

Clare gives this vital advice: ‘When you’re researching and you find something useful, always write down where it came from – there’s nothing worse than reading that perfect quote in your notes and not being able to reference it!’

From Holly: ‘Always give yourself at least 24 hours before the deadline to print your essay — I don’t know about anyone

WWOD? What Would Orpheus Do?

else but our uni printers were a mare. Also, once it’s printed, channel the mythical lyre-player Orpheus when he was given the chance to save his beloved Eurydice from Hades: don’t look back. Just hand it in.’ This was absolutely true for my uni too, I’m pretty sure physical fights broke out over printers on deadline day! Also, what a reference! If in doubt, I always think what would Orpheus do?  

Jonathan adds this: ‘from someone who has 3 college degrees and wrote more 20 page papers than should be allowed, I have one tip that was not brought up yet when writing a paper. Write it as if  you were going to tell a story. Know your beginning, know your ending and figure out how you are going to get from A to Z. Use plenty of examples, quote, use APA style, and use examples. However, the most important thing? Read-understand what is asked of you. Understand the assignment. Lastly, when possible, choose topics you enjoy, that interest you. My grad school thesis was “parental rage in youth sports” I looked at the many examples of parents who became violent because of their child playing sport and I concluded that there are 2 main causes… My thesis was 76 pages…but you don’t have to worry about that till you get to grad school!’ Marvellous points: I especially agree that you must make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you and keep to that brief. 

I’m afraid for want of space I have to paraphrase the quality, extensive advice from Rachel: ‘First if you’re a psych, nursing, or anything to do with APA use, use and use!  Even just in your citation every bit counts! 
As to more general tips.

1. Please don’t be like my friend (well a few of the friends I have had throughout the years) and edit every single sentence or paragraph as you write. Wait until the very end! If you do you’ll get nothing done.
2. Don’t let a teacher influence the writing. I held my writing up and I didn’t want to do it or wasn’t as motivated because I hated my teacher, bad idea: nearly failed the class.
3. Essays actually take time, more time and even more time. don’t wait till the night before! Do it as soon as you can, because you’ll regret cramming it in to a space of a few hours! 
4. Research a somewhat popular topic. I am very known for searching stuff there is no research for, or else very little.

So you think flip flops are better than sandals? Prove it!

also, a bad idea, especially in APA when they ask for only peer reviewed journals. 
5. Make your intros interesting, and don’t put a note there telling people you’re going to screw with their heads. If you plan to great but don’t tell them. We read an essay in class like that last semester and after that we had no interest really in reading it any more.  But about intros, start with a good topic sentence, lead, hook, whatever you want to call it. but you want one so we don’t all fall asleep! 
6. REVISION! The most crucial part of writing! Make sure you edit edit edit after you write. the most important thing to writing is editing, and it is the most important and takes the longest in the writing process, read it aloud, have someone else read your paper aloud, have a friend edit it, wait a day till you can edit and catch mistakes, use spellcheck, whatever!
7 Evidence! make sure you have evidence in your paper don’t just say stuff without backing it up. If you think sandals are better then tennis shoes and tennis shoes are better then flip flops, great! write it down and prove it to us, with some research!

8. THESIS! If you write a paper, somewhere in that paper you need some sort of claim summary sentence to tell us what it’s about!
9. Conciseness is key! 
10. Conclude! that’s important, while your favourite sci-fi action horror comedy can get away with a cliff hanger, you can’t!  End it. Summarize it, put some sort of closing statement that lets people’s minds rest!
11. Some things to avoid at all costs in academic writing: writing your paper like this post, it’s not okay for ‘!’ to appear in your paper: don’t do it! You’ll either sound, overly angry, angsty, upset, or something like that! Don’t ask your readers questions throughout your paper and don’t talk directly to them. Stricter academic writers don’t like you even using contractions. So don’t. Don’t write like you are speaking and don’t use text chat.
12. Plagiarism is NOT okay! Also cite correctly, use in-text citations, put everything that are another person’s exact words in quotes, don’t quote too large of a bit otherwise it would sound like you’re filling space, and irrelevant. 
13. Don’t mimic.’ See the full version here.

Thanks so much to everyone who shared their brilliant thoughts! If any of you would like me to put in links to your blogs or anything, do get in touch. Is there anything we haven’t covered? Tell us in the comments or send me a message!  The more contributions the better!

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At the end of the day, when can you use a cliché?

Clichés are overused, stereotyped expressions that have lost their force and impact.  If I come across a cliché in an otherwise original and well-written piece of work, I find that it can jar. It just reminds me of awkward post-match interviews and phatic communion on public transport. The overuse of one of these phrases causes the sentiment to be lost as they can seem impersonal and insincere. Additionally, they can indicate a lack of vocabulary or careful thought and are not always exactly appropriate. They come in five main types:

As sick as John Cleese’s Parrot.

1. Clichés can take the form of similes, for example, ‘sick as a parrot’ or ‘as bold as brass’. I would recommend avoiding these in your writing because they are so well-used.

2. They can also be metaphors: ‘the long arm of the law’; ‘a baptism of fire’ and ‘he’s got an ace up his sleeve’.

3. Some proverbs and quotations have become clichés from overuse, including, ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ and ‘the blind leading the blind’.

4. Phrases and idioms can also become perhaps too widely repeated: ‘last but not least’, ‘age before beauty’ and ‘adding insult to injury’.

5. Also beware of excessive use of common adjective-noun pairings, for example, ‘timeless classic’, ‘burning question’ and ‘graphic description’.

They can be an effective device when used in particular ways. Most obviously, a well-used cliché can create a familiar, shared image that your readers can relate to, ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ for example. They can also be used in direct speech; which clichés they use can tell the reader a lot about a character.

There’s a section in Julie Burchill’s Sugar Rush where clichés are used cleverly as the characters of Saint and Kim, two smoking, swearing fifteen year olds ironically observe of younger teens, ‘Kids today, eh?’ and make each other laugh by employing adopted phrases such as ‘rites of passage’ and ‘when you need me, call me!’.

Clichés can be great for humour. I personally enjoy it when the literal meaning makes its metaphorical use nonsensical: ‘If they make bungee jumping illegal, they’ll drive it underground’. Another favourite of mine is ‘so I turned around and said to him’; when used repeatedly, I can’t help but imagine the speaker pirouetting continually!

A lot of jokes are based on subverting the expected wording to a cliché with word play. A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion! When you’ve seen one shopping centre, you’ve seen a mall!

If you’re unsure whether to use a cliché, I recommend instead coming up with your own original metaphor or simile for the phenomenon. By creating a new, accurate expression you will give the reader a satisfying and delightful feeling of recognition. Having the imagination and vocabulary to describe something in an original, yet instantly relatable way is a great skill to develop as an author.

I’ll leave you on a final joke: Why did the chilly Inuits’ boat sink when they lit a fire in it? Because you can’t have your kayak and heat it too!

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Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female

Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. This famous assertion is the headline of Tania Kindersley and Sarah Vine’s modern guide to life as a woman. The tone is friendly and the advice is cheering. It was a supreme joy to read. It is the antidote to all the women’s literature and magazines that proscribe strict beauty regimes, career plans and parenting perfection that amount to an implausible, and frankly tiring, way to live. By drawing from their own life experience, they provide a guide that is sensitive to the complexities of modern life and celebrates a range of female achievements and lifestyle choices.

The wittily titled chapters are brief enough to dip in to, but still retain impressive depth of insight and understanding. For example, ‘The Art of Reconciling the Fantasy World of Work Painted for Your Younger Self With the Mundane and Often Alarming Adult Reality’, ‘How To Call in the Perspective Police’ and ‘How To Read a Fashion Magazine Without Wanting To Cut Your Head Off With a Penknife’ were particularly pleasing and heartening.

It covers multiple facets of life including love, loss, philosophy, friendship, finance, age and politics. Additionally, the ‘Practical Chapter’ has everything from recipes to how to deal with a bore. As well as being thoroughly useful, it is a beautiful book. The illustrations throughout are charming and it even comes with a ribbon to keep your page! They really have thought of everything.

Every woman should read this book. It is honest, helpful and ultimately reassuring. Their positive spin on old age has me rather looking forward to it!

‘Things you can do as you get old.

–          Never again have to go to the gym and do physical jerks while an idiot in a leotard shouts things like, ‘Yeah, ladies, take it to the max!’

–          Admit that you like going to bed at 9.30 with a good book…

–          Never have to sit at a bus stop in a very small skirt at 3am waiting for the N70…

–          Take as long as you damn well need to pull out at junctions…

–          Stop making excuses.

–          Keep the radio permanently tuned to Radio Four.

–          Pretend selective deafness.’

Buy it, find it, borrow it; it is wise and liberating.

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