Monthly Archives: December 2014

Be Aware of the Most Misused English Words

the most misused English words

There are many misused words in the English language. Through repetition, the misuse becomes more widespread. Whether you’re trying to write a great essay or report, nail an interview or simply impress your readers, proper use of the English language is essential.

Check out this mega-list of commonly misused words:

Laying vs. Lying
Incorrect use: I was laying on the beach.
Correct use: I was lying on the beach.

Unthaw vs. Thaw
To thaw means to unfreeze something. So unthaw, technically means to freeze.

Hysterical vs. Hilarious
Hysterical is to be uncontrollably emotional. Hilarious is funny.

Anarchy is a political term that means the absence of government. It’s often used in the place of “crazy” or “chaotic”.

Momentarily vs. Shortly
Momentarily means something has the span of a moment.
Incorrect use: I will be with you momentarily.
Correct use: I will be with you shortly.

Anniversary means once per year, “annus” coming from the Latin for “year”. Therefore it’s impossible to celebrate a six-month anniversary.

Different than vs. Different from
Incorrect use: Apples are different than oranges.
Correct use: Apples are different from oranges.

Electrocuted vs. Shocked
Electrocute means to be killed or to kill someone with an electric shock. If you received an electric shock and didn’t die, then you were shocked, not electrocuted.

Literally is often used incorrectly and somehow has become a form of hyperbole. “You’re literally killing me,” means that someone is actually killing you instead of what you probably mean which is that they’re hurting you or causing you extreme stress.

Disinterested vs. Uninterested
Disinterested means that something holds no value or importance for you. Uninterested means that it doesn’t hold your attention.

Espresso vs. Expresso
“Espresso” is the correct spelling of the strong coffee drink.

Could of vs. Could have
Incorrect use: I could of gone to the store for you.
Correct use: I could have gone to the store for you.

Travesty vs. Tragedy
Travesty actually doesn’t mean tragic at all. It means absurd or ridiculous. It can also be used as a verb “travestying” which means to make a mockery of somebody or something. Ex: The play was banned for travestying the ruling political party.

Capital vs. Capitol
Capital is a the city where the seat of government is located. Capitol is the name of the building where the government members assemble.

Bemused vs. Amused
Bemused means to be confused whereas amused means to be entertained.

Affect vs. Effect
Affect means something has been influenced by something else. Ex: She’s really been affected by losing her job. Effect means something is a result of something else. Ex: Losing her job has had a negative effect on her.

Complement vs. Compliment
A complement is something that makes something better or more perfect. Ex: A glass of pinot noir can complement a steak dinner. A compliment is something that expresses admiration. Ex: She complimented her on her well-written article.

This word doesn’t actually exist. Those who use it mean to use the word “regardless”.

Peruse vs. Skim
Peruse means to examine thoroughly. Ex: She perused the report for hours, looking for evidence to back up her suspicions. It’s often mistaken to mean skim. Ex: He skimmed the book in a matter of minutes which caused him to fail the test.

Many people erroneously tag an “s” onto the ends of these words. Correct use: I walked toward the building./ I didn’t want to go to the party anyway./ I’ll see you afterward.

Supposed to
The “d” is often erroneously left off the end of this word.

For all intents and purposes
A lot of people mistake “intents and” for “intensive” as in “for all intensive purposes.” The correct form is “for all intents and purposes.”

Accept vs. Except
Accept means to receive or to agree to something. Ex: I accepted the job offer. Except means that something is excluded. Ex: I would like to try on all of the dresses except for that one.

Emigrate vs. Immigrate
When someone emigrates, they are leaving their home country. Ex: I emigrated from the United States to Brazil. When someone immigrates they are moving to another country. Ex: Many Mexicans immigrate to the United States.

Then vs. Than
Than is used to compare two words. Ex: I am taller than my brother.
Then is used in reference to time. Ex: I didn’t want to see him then, but I’m ready to now.

There, Their and They’re
These three are often confused.
There is used to determine place. Ex: Put the books down over there.
Their is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership. Ex: Their car is over there.
They’re is a contraction of they + are. Ex: They’re walking to their car over there.

Your vs. You’re
These two suffer the same fate as there, their and they’re.
Your is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership. Ex: Your dog is chasing my cat.
You’re is a contraction of you + are. Ex: You’re a very interesting person.

Who’s vs. Whose
Yet another possessive vs. contraction issue.
Whose is a possessive pronoun used to show ownership. Ex: Whose bicycle is that?
Who’s is a contraction of who + is. Ex: Who’s going to the show?

All right vs. Alright
All right is the correct spelling. “Alright” is an incorrect spelling of “all right”.

Beside vs. Besides
Beside means next to. Ex: Come and sit beside me on the couch. Besides means “anyway” or “also”. Ex: Besides, the only reason he wants that job is for the corner office.

Cite vs. Site
Cite means to quote a source. Ex: She cited the leading expert on this subject.
Site is a location. Ex: The site of the shooting has been roped off by the authorities.

How Writing Feeds Your Inspiration

writing for inspiration

Ahhhh, inspiration. That moment when the rest of the world falls away and all that’s left is you and the perfect sequence of words, like the unveiling of a mystery, the solving of a puzzle, everything all of the sudden just fits.

While these moments exist, and thank goodness that they do, most professional writers will confirm that inspiration isn’t enough to finish a project or to carry an idea to its fruition. You have to also sit down and slog through some pretty ugly stuff when everything you write looks awkward and stupid and you’re considering becoming a waitress or a used car salesman because this artist thing is just too hard.

But sitting down and slogging through the mud is actually what opens you up to moments of inspiration. It’s creating the space for it to happen and working through it when it isn’t present that allows for inspiration’s sudden arrival. Kind of like a lightning beacon – by showing up, sitting down, scribbling out some words that may look like total nonsense, you’re basically holding up a metal rod in the middle of the storm, saying “Okay, come and hit me.”

Many novice writers carry the erroneous notion that in order to write, they must first be inspired. Researcher David Boice found that writers who write on a daily basis have creative thoughts twice as often as those who only write when they feel like writing. William Faulkner said of inspiration: “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately, I’m inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”

It’s true. The writing process is the road to inspiration. Take this quote from Joyce Carol Oates: “The first sentence can’t be written until the last sentence is written.” It might sound like a Zen koan. But it basically means you start out not knowing where you’re going or even where you are. By the time you get to the end, you can finally see the beginning. But without going through the steps to get to the end, you’ll never even see the beginning and the rest of the story will never unfold.

Louis L’Amour advises us to “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Many writers describe the feeling they get when they’re writing as something transcendental. It has the ability to heal, to comfort, to transform and yes, to inspire. Catherine Drinker Bowen explains one of the great pleasures of writing, “For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word”.

Neil Gaiman explains the feeling of fulfillment that writing can bring when he says, “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days, nothing else matters.” Anne Frank said, “I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” Anais Nin defines the pleasure of writing: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” And Joss Whedon tells us that “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.”

Joan Didion uses writing as an exploration of her own mind, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Toni Morrison advises us to use writing as creative fulfillment when she says, “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Some writers warn that writing comes with a huge price. Flannery O’Conner explains that, “Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.” And George Orwell admits that, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one was not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” (via WritersDigest)

The demon, the muse or whatever it is that drives writers to write is also what makes it so painful when they don’t. Though writing does have a price, what about the price of not writing? Paulo Coelho poetically explains that, “Tears are words that need to be written.” (via Goodreads) Mitch Albom says, “Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say,” and Maya Angelou warns, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Writing not only inspires better writing, but having the courage to write inspires you to live more freely and courageously.

Kurt Vonnegut tells us, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” (via BuzzFeed) And Ray Bradbury begs us, “Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper” and “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. (via WritersDigest)

And Franz Kafka instructs us, “Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” (via Goodreads) And Natalie Goldberg wants us to be brutally honest with ourselves in the writing process, “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” (via BuzzFeed)

The writing process takes you out of the mundane and throws you into the creative realm. It’s there that lightning most often strikes. So if you want to be inspired, don’t wait, write.

Improve Your Academic Writing With 7 Simple Tricks

improve your academic writing

There is virtually no such thing as being naturally good at academic writing. It’s a skill honed over years of training, starting from your first expository essay in middle school and gaining momentum throughout high school and university.

The good news is that it’s never too late to learn. If you’re struggling with your academic writing or would simply like to improve the skills you already have, here are some tricks to get you writing better essays:

Craft a clear thesis

One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself is to spend time fine-tuning your thesis statement. The clearer, more well-defined and specific it is, the easier your essay will be to write. That’s because you’ll have a good idea of exactly what to look for. On the other hand, the more vague and broad it is, the harder it will be to research and find supporting evidence for it.

For example: “Young children who are exposed to reading in their home environments tend to perform better academically throughout their education.” vs. “Reading is good for you.” For the first one, you know what age group you’ll be researching, what kind of evidence you need to support it, the types of academic journals you can look for to find evidence to support it, etc.

The second statement could apply to any age group or demographic and could mean anything from staving off Alzheimer’s to alleviating depression. It’s just too broad to know where to begin.

Make it readable

The common belief is that academic writing has to be stiff, boring and full of words that require a dictionary to understand. Actually, an essay’s greatest strength is in its readability. If the ideas are conveyed in simple terms in a way that flows and with supporting evidence, that’s the best you can ask of an academic piece.

Overusing of sophisticated terminology may confuse your reader and make it difficult to understand your thesis. Don’t let your point get buried under unnecessary academic frills.

But don’t be too casual

Though you don’t want to be too stiff, you don’t want to be too casual either. Slang, curse words and colloquial phrases don’t belong in an academic paper. Keep the point of view in the third person present or simple past.

Don’t use the first or second person. Ex: “The beginning of the 21st century can be defined by the use and misuse of social media.” vs. “These days, you need to be careful who you friend on Facebook.” The first one is appropriately formal, the second one is too casual for an academic paper.

Stay objective

Writing an academic paper is a little bit like being a diplomat. You have to make a statement but at the same time tow the line between making an objective observation and stating a subjective opinion. An academic essay should always be objective.

Blanket statements that express bias are not appropriate. Ex: “All Republican politicians are corrupt.” That’s a biased statement and an accusation. It’s also too broad. Try this instead: “Widespread allegations of voter fraud in Florida districts during the 2004 elections have cast a long shadow of corruption on the Republican party.”

Avoid subjective statements that include “all”, “every” and “always”. Instead use objective phrases such as “It’s likely that…”, “It’s possible that…” and “Evidence suggests that…”.

Quote sparingly

There’s nothing wrong with using quotes. At the very least, they show that you’ve done some research. But it’s all too easy to cross the line into over-quoting. Of course it sounds good coming from the mouth of an expert and it’s tempting to let them do all the talking. But the essay is yours and the professor wants to read your words and your perspective on the subject. Over-quoting not only drowns out your voice, but it robs you of the chance to practice writing. And the more you practice writing, the better you’ll get.

Be specific

When producing evidence to support your thesis statement, be as specific as possible. Don’t say “A lot of people use alternative forms of medicine these days.” Instead say “According to a study by the American Journal of Medicine, from 2000-2010, use of alternative and holistic medicine has increased in the United States by 23 percent.” Fill your essay with credible information.

Use numbers, statistics, dates, facts, titles, names of institutions and experts. These things lend authority to your writing, making your research so transparent that the reader can essentially trace your steps and verify your research for themselves. No fuzzy blanket statements or fabricated opinions, just solid facts.

Leave time to edit and proofread

Probably one of the most overlooked skills in academic writing is editing. That may be because of a common ailment called procrastination. You wouldn’t be the first or the last student to write their essay at the last minute, but by doing so, you lose a chance to edit. Editing requires time – not only the time it takes to edit, but time in between the writing and the editing process to let your thoughts settle, so you can look at your words with a fresh perspective.

By doing this, you’re more likely to spot grammar, punctuation and spelling errors, identify and fix awkward phrasing and catch any contradictory theories that don’t add to or support your thesis. An essay that’s been edited at least 3 times is usually good to go. Make sure you leave time for this process. There’s really no substitute for it.

For a helpful guide to common grammar errors, crafting an argument and other writing tips, check out this link from the University of Essex.

10 Non-Fiction Books to Read This Winter 2014-2015

non-fiction books to read this winter

With the short days of winter having arrived, we’ve turned our attention to compiling a list of reading material to get writers through until spring. There’re lots of great books to choose from, so we’ve shortlisted this selection of 10 non-fiction books that are making their way up the bestseller ladder. Enjoy!

1. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace – Anne Lamott

A compilation of new and selected essays written with Ms. Lamott’s stylistic humor and self-deprecation, Small Victories offers insights into the human condition. Drawing from her own experiences with family and friends, Ms. Lamott connects with the reader at a deep, heart-felt level. With wit and intelligence, she delves into the trials and tribulations of daily life and gives us her stories as a vessel to shift our perspective from the “why me?” mindset to the one of gratitude and appreciation. Small Victories could be called Small Miracles as she invokes the grace of forgiveness with her charming storytelling.

2. Dreamers and Deceivers: True Stories of the Heroes and Villains Who Made America – Glenn Beck

Engaging stories of American history’s visionaries and black hats, Mr. Beck uses his considerable storytelling skills to delve into the characters’ psyches. Using perspective to look back on these fascinating people and events, he shows how they affected not only their times but also the future. Each chapter centers around a person or historical event told in an anecdotal style, as Mr. Beck draws us into these spellbinding vignettes. History made interesting and exciting.

3. The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age – Astra Taylor

Proponents of the new digital media landscape make promises of a utopian society with unrestricted communication, autonomous artistic expression and a cultural balancing of society. But Ms. Taylor challenges the presumptions that the new media is an improvement over the old guard, pointing out the contradictions contained in today’s technological consortiums – elitist control of access, surreptitious marketing, and an unrealistic emphasis on personal popularity.

A savvy analysis of digital reality, The People’s Platform summons the reader to question the kind of culture and democracy we’re creating with our tacit agreement to cede power and control to the monopolies of the 21st century. Excellent reading for anyone who uses the internet.

4. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History – Elizabeth Kolbert

More than any other species on the planet, mankind alters the Earth in ways that compound change in a frightening manner, accelerating the destruction of the very forces that support life here. A sobering and disturbing subject, Ms. Kolbert reports with clarity the hard science and historical concepts behind the impact humans are having on our environment and ecology as a bona fide, destructive geological force. Told with scientific exactness, wit and lucid prose, The Sixth Extinction reads like a good thriller – enthralling, compelling and gripping. An important and enlightening read for our times.

5. Little Failure, A Memoir – Gary Shteyngart

A best-selling novelist, Mr. Shteyngart’s memoir is full of humor and pathos as he explores issues of ethnicity, immigration, integration and creative expression. Refreshingly free of blaming others for life’s foibles, Mr. Shteyngart exposes his every wart and floundering efforts to fit in with droll candor. The descriptions of his outlandish family and the cultural ridiculousness of both the old world and the new, are poignant and heartrending. A wonderful foray into the alchemy of turning misery into art.

6. The Motivation Manifesto – Brendon Burchard

Peak performance trainer Brendan Burchard has delivered a towering work that will shake even the most lethargic out of their familiar comfort zone. The Motivation Manifesto urges us to reclaim our personal power by overcoming the twin demons of external, social oppression and our own inner resistance of self-doubt, fear and daily distractions. Much more than the trite euphemisms found in a majority of self-help books, Mr. Burchard provides deep psychological insights combined with wisdom that will inspire you to think carefully about accepting mediocrity for one more day.

7. Monster – Steve Jackson

From the fascinating world of true crime, Monster is a well-researched and compelling account of repeat offender Thomas Luther and the dogged pursuit by Detective Scott Richardson to bring him to justice. The reader gets to know both sides of Tom Luther, as well as the other characters involved, as Mr. Jackson skillfully guides us through their motivations, insights and fears in this compellingly well-written case study.

8. The Secret History of Wonder Woman – Jill Lepore

Pulp fiction comes to real life in this wonderfully bizarre tale of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston, who is equally famous for the invention of the lie detector. Racy, colorful and improbable, Ms. Lepore investigates the contradictions behind the man responsible for one of America’s leading icons of feminism.

9. The Empathy Exams – Leslie Jamison

In The Empathy Exams, Ms. Jamison delivers an exquisitely written series of essays on pain -emotional, psychological and physical pain, and asks primary questions about the reality of pain itself. Penned with humor and keen insight, The Empathy Exams offers a peek into out mind’s inner workings in relation to the way we judge and relate to empathy. Philosophical and passionate, it’s a moving attempt to guide us into being more generous and genuine in the manner in which we relate to ourselves and others.

10. What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe

Funny, entertaining and strangely heart-warming, What If is written in a breezy style with quirky sketches illustrating the mathematical and scientific points outlined in Mr. Munroe’s explanations. He offers scientifically sound answers to strange and inane questions (many of which he receives at his science Q&A blog) in a way that makes science fun and approachable. Not your typical science and technology textbook.

And there you have our selection of 10 non-fiction books to read over the long winter months, ones that will hold your attention and entertain. Some science, a bit of true crime, a dash of philosophy and the wacky origins of Wonder Women… showing that truth really can be stranger than fiction!