Friday, March 30, 2012

Topic Sentence You Are A-Okay... Love, The Business World

Last week I went on a bit of a rant about the Topic Sentence. After having slept on that post for several nights (well an attempt to sleep because my toddler is teething again...), I began to think that maybe I should revisit that post and let people know that there is a place for the Topic Sentence.

I know, I know. Last week I told you to banish them from your writing and instead embrace paragraph unity.


Your paragraphs do not need a topic sentence to function properly.

Also, while we are on the subject of paragraphs, did you know that paragraphs can function in many different forms? Paragraphs aren't as constrained and rigid as we often think!

W. Ross Winterowd wrote that, "Paragraphs can be divided into three categories: those that are full stages in the development of the subject of the composition, those that signal a shift in focus or topic, and those that emphasize the importance of a single, relatively brief point."

The last function that Winterowd mentions brought to mind the topic sentence and how it does indeed serve a purpose (cringe) and has a place--yes, this was hard for me.

So, where is that place?


Yes! The business world loves the topic sentence.

And if you spend some time thinking about it, this all makes perfect sense.

How many business reports have you read that didn't tell you up front what you would be reading? Or perhaps weren't broken down into subheadings.

My guess is probably not a lot.

My experience working in big business (yes...I was a member of the corporate world for quite some time) taught me that there is not a lot of time to actually spend reading reports, information needs to be clear and available.

Most often the reports that I encountered were about auto insurance rates. Did they include graphs? Sometimes, but most often these reports were pages long and broken down into different topics regarding various rate changes/why these changes were being made.

Each topic had its own heading, and also its own introductory sentence--letting me (the auto underwriter) know what this section would be about.

I was not looking for creativity or even a well written report when I would review these findings, I was simply looking for the information.

In this case the topic sentence was extremely useful. It saved me time!

I did not have to spend a lot of my work time reading a document and deciphering the information--it was all right there, nice and neat for me in the form of a topic sentence.

Other areas that topic sentences might be useful?

Off the top of my head I can think of the following: Lab reports, case studies, and court commentaries.

So, if you love the topic sentence and my last post caused you much outrage-- Simmer down, I take a little bit of it back.

Topic Sentence + Business Writing = Success

grumble, grumble, grumble...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Drop and Give Me Twenty: Whipping Verbs into Shape

Verbs demand attention.  They drive the action in a sentence and push the reader through our ideas.  Unfortunately, many of us feed our verbs Cocoa Puffs and Pixie Sticks when we should be cramming steaks and protein bars down their throat.

"What the heck is this guy talking about?  Verbs and steak?  Heck, I don't even like Cocoa Puffs."

First off, you're crazy.  Chocolate should be deified.  Second, I'm referring to weak verbs in writing, the most frequent of which is our friend "to be."  Writing is already a tough job, and it gets even harder when people expect you to get fancy with it.  Often times, the simplest way to describe something is to display in a static state of being: Noun is adjective.  

Sometimes that works.  But what if you want to include more vivid images or create more engaging text?  If that's the case, consider taking a long, hard look at how you use your verbs.  Instead of using static verbs like "is" or "are," consider putting your subjects in a state of action.

But enough talk.  I'm a big fan of examples.  Check this out:

It is a scientific fact that people named Bob are likely to be cruel.

It's not wrong by any stretch of the imagination.  But let's take a look at the verbs in that sentence:

It is a scientific fact that people named Bob are likely to be cruel.

Woah.  That's a lot of static verbs.  Let's pack some muscle onto these wimps, shall we?

1. "It is a scientific fact" -- That's great.  Why don't we focus on the discovery of this fact?  Or the proof that science has given us?  Plenty of correct alternatives exist, but for now, let's assume the importance was proving this particular hypothesis.  

Here's our sexy alternative phrase: "Science has proven..."  Check out the beef on that one!  Right from the get go, this gives the reader a strong indication of what's coming next.

2. "...people named Bob are likely..."  --  Now this is where things get a little tricky.  Even though "to be" might be a ninety-pound weakling, it exists within the English language for a reason.  If you try to eliminate every instance within your paper, insanity will surely follow.  So what's an aspiring verb buffer-upper to do in this situation?  Check the context.  That brings us to ... 

3. " be cruel."  "Hold the phones," I hear you crying (if you're into outdated, cheesy phrases).  "We didn't finish examining point number two!"  And you're right.  Some phrases, like our first, include hints that give us a good idea of where the sentence is headed.  Others, like number two, could go any number of ways.  It's impossible to change the phrase "are likely" without knowing what comes next.

What if the original sentence had ended as follows: "...people named Bob are likely to die?"  We're still using the infinitive "to die," but that's pretty vivid.  There's no reason to mess with that unless you crave melodrama: "...people named Bob are likely to succumb to the cold, heartless fingers of the Reaper."  

Honestly, there's no reason for that kind of eye-rolling wordiness.  It can work in fiction, but even creative prose has limits on pulpy cheese.  Just ... just don't do that.

When you have a "to be" phrase (such as "are likely") followed immediately by a second "to be" phrase (or in this case, just the words "to be"), there's almost always a stronger verb that will handle both phrases just fine.  For example, in our current situation, the phrase "tend towards" gives your reader the exact same information, and it looks awesome while doing so.

HOWEVER, this usually requires you to adjust your object.  No one says, "tend towards cruel."  That's plan wrong.  Cruel becomes cruelty.  Pay attention to how these verb shifts play with the rest of your sentence.  It's generally pretty easy to tell when you need to make these kinds of adjustments.  Read your phrases out loud if you're unsure.

No, really.  Do it right now.  Say, "tend towards cruel."  It sounds stupid.

So with all that said and done, we're left with a sharper, sexier sentence: 

"Science has proven people named Bob tend towards cruelty."  


As I said before, I'm not suggesting you boycott "to be" verbs.  They can be pretty darn useful sometimes.  Also, some styles of writing may have preferred stylistic methods.  Lab reports, for instance, are often written in passive voice, even though that gives most other instructors an aneurysm.  

In the end, it all comes down to style.  If you're looking for ways to sharpen your imagery and tighten up your sentences, getting tough with your verbs can pack quite a punch.

Wednesday Workshop Series

"Writing that Works: Strategies for Revising & Editing"

March 28th at 3:30pm
EIU Writing Center
3110 Coleman Hall

You have a first draft. Now what? Learn how to polish your rough drafts to create more cohesive final pieces.

Monday, March 26, 2012

OWL-ternative Online Sources, Part 3

I'm going to hop onto Stephen's bandwagon and ride shotgun if he doesn't mind (do you?) to offer up an OWL-ternative (darn fine pun) website myself. After perusing a few online writing labs from various universities, I stumbled across University of Wisconsin at Madison's "Writer's Handbook." It doesn't match the thoroughness of Purdue University's OWL, unsurprising considering Purdue launched theirs in 1994 when the Internet was but a wee tyke. Nevertheless, it's a solid alternative that is easy to navigate and less overwhelming than its Purdue counterpart.

The main index is simple yet elegant; on the left side of the page is a purple (or green for all I know since I'm colorblind) area with links for such topics as "Improving Your Writing Style," "Stages of the Writing Process," "Common Writing Assignments," and "Grammar and Punctuation." All of these proceed onto further pages of links offering advice in sentence concision and comma usage, most of which offer solid examples.

What I found unique about UW-M's OWL is that one of the pages offers a "self-test and answers" link that allow you to "test your knowledge" of a given subject. Want to see how up to snuff you are at commas? Scroll to the bottom of the "Using Commas" page and you'll find a link that will initiate a pop-up with a few example sentences to see if you can correctly identify the issues in the sentences. Though most of the other pages lack this feature, it could be a feature that's "in the works" that I would love to see in a more complete form some day.

The Writer's Handbook also features a section on reference citation that, though it lacks the thoroughness of the OWL, still recognizes the other systems outside of MLA and APA. At first, I thought that the page on Chicago style is a bare-bone description noting that "Chicago or Turabian style places bibliographic citations at the bottom of a page or at the end of a paper." On the far right side, however, they offered links to learn more about the documentation style. Aesthetically, it was a little confusing as their MLA page has a clear "Table of Contents" in the center of the page while on the Chicago/Turabian page there is no "Table of Contents," just a side menu. For the unobservant, this menu will elude the reader and cause the reader to go to a different, easier to navigate OWL.

Though not perfect, The Writer's Handbook at The University of Wisconsin - Madison has the potential to grow into a pOWLerhouse (worse pun), offering up great ideas yet not as thoroughly executing them. Some pages are a bit roughly designed, but for the most part it's an impressive alternative to the Purdue OWL.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Curious Case of the Topic Sentence

"Kelly, this sentence feels like it is missing something. I think it needs a signal or a lead in. I've got it. It needs a topic sentence!"


This is when I say, "Student, put down the pen. Back away from the paper. Now, slowly walk away from the table and towards me...come towards the light Carol Ann!"

Thankfully these situations are usually not quite that dramatic. However, I do get a bit freaked out when students tell me that their paragraphs lack focus and that the topic sentence is a sure fire fix.

Does the topic sentence represent evil (maybe...)?

No, of course not.

But in my mind the topic sentence is insulting to the reader of your work.

For Example:

My daughter Maisy likes to ride bikes and likes to let everyone know this fact. Last fall Maisy and her friends went on a long bike ride to the park and had a wonderful time. While at the park, she ran into some friends who had been dropped off by their parents, because they did not understand the joy of bike riding. Maisy immediately started telling the non-bike riders that they were missing out, and they should start right away. The naysayers moaned and groaned about the exercise, but Maisy would not take no for an answer. She insisted that bike riding was fun and a great way to spend time.

Do I really need that first sentence? It is a topic sentence for the paragraph, yes. However, from the sentences that follow, it is evident that this paragraph is about how my daughter Maisy is a bike riding fanatic and that no one is safe from her bike riding rants.

Who can we blame for this madness? As much as it pains me to admit, a Scots-Irishman named Alexander Bain started this whole topic sentence stuff back in the day--the 19th century. As a Scots-Irishwoman I think that I must stand up for the rest of my normally super cool culture and say, "Whoa whoa whoa. Don't judge us because of this guy!"

Back in the winter of 1974 Richard Braddock, a guy so cool that there is an award named after him , wrote an article entitled "The Frequency of Topic Sentences in Expository Prose", and it shook up the world of all those topic sentence believers.

This article itself is made up of an in-depth study that Braddock enacted in order to track the use of the topic sentence as well as the relevancy of it. The conclusion to the article suggests that teachers rely on the topic sentence while teaching writing because it makes structure and idea flow easier for students to comprehend, but that it is not this way for professional writers.

Thus, teachers should not tell students that professional writers or writing always includes the topic sentence. Although it might be a great way to get things started and help a struggling student along, relying on the topic sentence can actually become a crutch for students to lean on, and they can also hinder the progress they need to make in their writing.

So, what do we do if we don't use topic sentences?

We also write with paragraph unity in mind.
We also work diligently to develop transitions that make sense which in the end bring all these paragraphs and the main point together.

Here is an example of a paragraph that could follow the one about Maisy from earlier:

Maisy and her friends left the park and rode their bikes down to the video store. They each arrived winded and exhausted but were still exhilarated from the bike riding experience. Maisy looked around at her friends and said, "See, how great that was! We are tired but we also feel great!", and everyone nodded in agreement. Suddenly the idea of going into the video store to rent the new PS3 Modern Warfare 3 game wasn't as tantalizing and the group rode off into the sunset. Of course, Maisy would return another day to fight the battle of video game vs. exercise,   but today she proved to be the victor.

Is there a topic sentence in that paragraph? Nah. Does it transition from the one before? Yep.

Do you think I need to include a sentence that let's you know that this paragraph is going to be about Maisy and her philosophical triumph over a video game? Nope.


Cause you are a smart reader and you don't need me to tell you what the paragraph is going to be about, right? You can glean that information from my well developed paragraph.

So, in short. Do not channel Alexander Bain.

Instead, focus on good transitions and paragraph unity. This means that paragraphs don't necessarily have to have topic sentences. However, they need to be focused and unified around an important point with details, an example or set of related examples, or a detailed explanation.

Remember those things and your reader will be happy, and you will be super cool.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

OWL-ternative Online Sources, Part 2

While exploring the often-frightening depths of the internet for other interesting online writing resources, I stumbled across what might possibly be the most bland, generic name for a writing lab that one could possibly conceive:

Guide to Grammar and Writing

While its name certainly won't be winning any creativity awards, the core of this website is pure gold.  It has three drop-down menus that each deal with a different aspect of the writing process (such as sentence-level, paragraph-level, and essay-level) and three others for miscellaneous resources -- PowerPoints, Grammar Quizzes, and the like.

But the thing that sold me was the index.

Being the giant nerd that I am, I frequently find myself digging through rulebooks for various roleplaying and tabletop games.  Few things make me sadder than a poor index ... or the lack of one at all.  The index is alphabetized, which makes it easy enough to find what you're looking for, but what really makes it shine is the simple fact that it's on a computer.

Which means I can use Control+F.

If that keyboard shortcut was a person, he (or she) would be one of my best friends.  We'd go to picnics in the park, take long walks on the beach, and sing "Kumbaya" into the early hours of the morning.  Seriously, though, the ability to pull up a digital index and immediately locate whatever particular issue that haunts you is pretty awesome.  And yes, I'm aware that many writing labs have a built-in search feature, but rarely are all the resources compiled together in one convenient location.  It's also nice to see the other categories as you snag the particular one that's giving you trouble.

Now, with all that said, it's important to check the quality of the information.  And while you'll need to get past some cutesy fonts and its propensity to bold, italicize, underline, and color-swap constantly, it's definitely worth the effort.  It's a book that you definitely don't want to judge by it's initial cover.  The information is presented concisely and simply, but it's never intelligence insulting.

While the OWL certainly has a lot of good information on grammar, the Super Duper Zany Grammar-Palooza (as I'm renaming it, starting now) goes into an incredible amount of depth with a mind-boggling number of topics.  (NOTE: Apparently, my mind is not that difficult to boggle.  The exact number of entries is 427.  I'd have hoped that my brain-boggle threshold would have at least been in the thousands ... C'est la vie.)  It has entire entries on the difference between "few and a few," when to use slashes (also called a virgule, as I learned today), "which versus that," and many other topics.

The variety of topics covered and the detail given to each of them make The Super Duper Zany Grammar Funhouse of Doom worth a visit, at the very least.  Once again, I'm not claiming that this website should overrun the OWL with flaming pitchforks and bloody axes, but it's definitely a nice alternative if you have specific topics you're looking to explore in depth.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Citation Smackdown: MLA versus APA

There seems to be some disagreement among the disciplines as to what citation style is superior: MLA versus APA. Some of the spineless "pacifists" who wish to remain outside of the argument simply state that they serve their own purposes, like MLA for literary analysis and APA for scientific research. I say "nay" to that. An emphatic "nay!" While it's true that they do serve certain disciplines more easily than others, ultimately there has to be one that reigns supreme over the other. MLA and APA can't share kingship (or queenship).

You might be saying, "They both do in-text citations and bibliographies, so why does it matter?" Just because they both do it, doesn't mean they do it clearly or concisely. Others of you might be saying, "Well, I use Chicago style." Well, get out. This isn't meant for you.

First, let's look at MLA. It's sleek, it's simple. You don't get bogged down by the information. Check it:
According to Whitmore, the book "took liberties with the life of Bruce Campbell" (93).
The citation is non-intrusive. Here all we have is a page number in parentheses after the author is already mentioned. Any further information can be found on that back page called "Work Cited." But how does APA do it?
According to Whitmore (1997), the book "took liberties with the life of Bruce Campbell" (p. 93).
Ugly. Grotesque. More numbers than there ought to be. And the "p." before the page number? Is that necessary? I think not. While in some cases it might be convenient for the reader to find the cited work's year of publication in the sentence their reading, the parenthetical year can kill the rhythm of a work. Yeah, the reader's not necessarily supposed to read the year, but they still do it in their heads. I do it in my head. I'm still doing it in my head. 1997. Argh.

Parenthetical citation-wise, I think MLA has the upperhand. But then again, I'm just talking about a fake article written about a fake book about Bruce Campbell. What if I had online sources dealing with the same issue?

If it's MLA, I sure hope it's a Tweet.

I kid. According to the Purdue OWL, there are a few online sources that you can clearly cite utilizing MLA format. Its scope, however, is a bit limited. APA, on the other hand, blows MLA out of the water by having specific citation styles for wikis, audio and video podcasts, computer software, online interviews, etc. Sure, APA doesn't outright tell you the proper way to cite a Tweet on Twitter, but by golly it'll tell you how to do so for an "interactive map," whatever that might be.

While I do have particular affection for MLA, compared to APA it does seem a bit behind in the times as far as the intarwebz goes. Maybe in the 8th edition of the MLA manual it'll step it up and tell me how to cite my Facebook statuses.

They deserve it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Synthesize This

Whenever I am asked to synthesize articles and write a response essay, I automatically start grooving to 80s music.

Synthesize is forever locked in my brain alongside famous SynthPop bands such as Soft Cell, Tears for Fears, and Depeche Mode (which is fun for about 15 minutes, and after that I wish for death). After I get over that 15 minute intense mental pop jam, I most often pause and say to myself, "Synthesize. Yikes. I forgot what that means! Analyze? to google."

Forgetting the definition of synthesize is easy for me because I most often confuse the term with Analysis. And guess what, I'm not the only person who does this. Truth!

This week I met three students who were working on a Synthesis paper, and each of them was inadvertently writing an analysis instead...eep! With three people being confused, I decided that this was indeed an epidemic, and something had to be done-- thus this post.

A nice simple easy definition of what a Synthesis essay does is this: To bring together your own ideas with the ideas of other writers (sources--articles, books, films, 80s music).

An Analysis means that you break a topic down into smaller parts or sections and dive into it, spend time discussing the ideas, and get extremely familiar with all aspects of the topic.

In hindsight, Analysis seems much more difficult than Synthesis, at least in definition. So, yeah! Synthesize doesn't sound so bad, right?

Also, a synthesis essay allows you to take the information that you have learned through your sources and add your own theories and ideas--and this (in my humble opinion) is more of a learning experience.

When you have studied your head off and devoted your sweet time to your selected field, you can take the knowledge you learned and enter into a conversation with other persons (your sources). Then you are able to bring everything together and come up with something new--holy cats that's sweet! And also a major Kumbaya moment.

How do you write a synthesis? First off, you read.

You read A LOT.

After your eyes have bled from all this reading, a neat trick to do is write a quick little summary regarding each of your sources. Sometimes this helps especially if you have a lot of sources and have a difficult time keeping track (not that I have ever done that...).

Once you have those summaries, quickly read through them and then take a moment. What do you think? What do you want to say regarding this conversation? Do you have something different to say? Or perhaps you have something similar to say OR the ultimate scenario--you have groundbreaking stuff to say.

What next? Write that thesis statement. Put that ultimate groundbreaking bit of information into one killer thesis statement and get to work!

The rest of the synthesis essay is written much like any other essay: introduction (possibly mention the articles/sources that you will be synthesizing), thesis statement, lots of body paragraphs with good relevant information, solid transitions, an occasional transitionary paragraph (just for kicks), and a sensational conclusion.

You will have so much fun synthesizing your own theory with that of others that this paper will write itself (seriously...this paper is a great paper to write).

So when you are assigned that synthesis paper remember to do the following: lots of reading, develop a strong thesis statement, formulate your thoughts into a conversation with that of your sources, and enjoy 80s SynthPop music.

Or you can just do THIS.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

OWL-ternative Online Sources: HyperGrammar (University of Ottawa)

Yes, that's an abomination of a pun.  But it was the best I could come up with in the absence of a portable Doug.  He rocks those titles.

Anyway, all fowl puns aside (sorry, couldn't help myself), I thought it might be interesting to explore some quality online resources outside of the comfortable realms of Purdue's OWL.  Sure, the OWL is a fantastic resource, but variety is the spice of life.  It's time to broaden our online horizons.

In all seriousness, it can't hurt to have a few more resources under your belt.  Different people are going to react differently to the various layouts and approaches.  In some instances, these alternative sources might even be better for you.  Blasphemy, right?  I know, I know.  Set down your jagged rocks.  Put out ye flaming torches.  Toss aside your sharpened pitchforks.

The first newcomer hails from the University of Ottawa.  Their Writing Centre (yes, they use the fancy spelling) has a segment called HyperGrammar, which is actually pretty neat.  Now, before you go traipsing off to that website and return in a huff, let me preface this introduction by admitting it focuses more on the basics of writing than much of what you'll find on the OWL.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

HyperGrammer is actually presented in a way that resembles an online classroom.  There's a nice navigation bar on the left-hand side that allows you to either progress through the numerous subject they offer or hunt down the one that's giving you the most trouble.  Honestly, I think it can be incredibly helpful even for advanced writers to occasionally return to the basics.  I know when I'm in the Writing Center, struggling to explain something that I learned half a dozen years ago, having a place of reference makes the task a whole lot easier.

Additionally, nearly all the explanations include hyper-links embedded into the actual explanatory text.  Forget the difference between a correlative and coordinating conjunction while reading up on strategies for combining sentences?  No problem -- click on the phrase and it'll take you straight to the matching page.

Whether you're a veteran writer looking for a refresher or a frustrated freshman trying to sift through gerunds and appositives, HyperGrammar is at least worth a looksie.

For those of you who want to check it out, the link is below:

(Well, you could also click on the linked "HyperGrammar" up where it's first mentioned, but I felt like pasting a URL.  It was cathartic.  Don't ask me why.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Catastrophic Apostrophes

Apostrophes have always been a funny punctuation mark to me. There are a few ways you can look at them; in one sense, they look like floating commas. On the other hand, they're like a single quotation mark or half a regular quotation.

They don't really function like any of the above, however. There are two primary uses for apostrophes:
  1. To make a contraction
  2. To make a noun possessive
Seems simple, no? It is, for the most part. Let's take a look:
The book of Steve sits on the coffee table.
Sounds like a book of the Bible, I imagine. But unfortunately, Steve is no prophet. He also didn't write the book, but instead just owns it. This "book of Steve" just sits on his coffee table in an open spot so all can see how smart Steve is and see him for the intellectual that he wants to be--I mean, is. But enough about Steve. Let's talk about his book.

Not only does saying "book of Steve" make it sound highly revered, it's also wordy as heck. Let's make it less wordy:
Steve's book sits on the coffee table.
Wow. Cuts down on the words, doesn't it? Also makes it a bit clear as to what the nature of the book is. This isn't the divine word of Steve, but just a book he owns, a very thick book that makes him look like he's a smarty. But what about the contractions?
I do not believe in the word of Steve.
Sounds very formal, doesn't it? But maybe we're talking with our best bro Jake who doesn't much care for high-and-mighty language. Let's shave it down for him.
I don't believe in the word of Steve.
Makes it only slightly less wordy, but definitely feels more conversational and less stiff. Then again, Jake might word it like this:
I ain't a believer in the word of Steve.
But there's a trap with all this business: it. What do we do with it? The contraction of it and is is simple enough: it's. But we can't do that with the possessive form. As far as I can tell, the reason for making the possessive form of it lack an apostrophe is just to minimize the confusion. I can see where it might occur.
Its unlikely that Steve will ever see this post. Its web address is rarely typed on his computer.
It is one of those rare words that can so often be used in both a contraction and as a possessive pronoun. You wouldn't see that confusion with the pronoun "he" since its possessive form is "his"--an entirely different word. The omission of the apostrophe in the possessive form of it is just a nice, although understandably confusing, way of differentiating between the two words.

I can see why some have problems with apostrophes. It's an aspect of grammar that you learn so long ago that it just feels increasingly irrelevant the older you get. On the whole, though, I'd say most people don't really have a problem with them. I think many issues with apostrophes may come from simple proofreading mistakes, but I can only posit this as a theory so far.

Then again, this site may suggest otherwise.

Friday, March 2, 2012

APA Workshop Today!

Special Day/Time for APA Workshop! Today at 1:30pm in the Writing Center!

Working with Sources: APA Style

Friday, March 2nd at 1:30pm
EIU Writing Center
3110 Coleman Hall

The focus of this workshop will be using the APA documentation style. We will examine different sources within that context in a fun and informative way.

Exclamation Point - Is there a place for you anymore?

Recently, I was told that I use too many exclamation points in my emails. Pssh.

It is an email. Who cares?

But then the author of the email, my grandma of the punctuation police, told me that it appears as if I am shouting at her when I use it.


Well, first of all there is some truth in that because my grandma is 87 years old and I do shout when talking to her. But I have to admit that shouting was not my intended tone. Instead, I wanted to convey how excited I was to be having lunch with her that day.

This is what my sentence looked like: "Grandma, today is going to be great! I'll meet you at Monicals at about 11. Save a spot for me?!!! Violet has been super cranky, and I can't seem to get moving on time today. Ugh!"

This is how my grandma corrected my sentence: " Grandma, today is going to be great. I will meet you at Monicals at 11. Will you save a seat for me? Violet has been cranky all morning, and I am not keeping good time today."

Then after that correction lashing, my grandma said, "Kelly. I know you are fun and sweet. I should be able to tell that with your words, not your punctuation."

And suddenly I was whiplashed viciously into grad school. All the memos that I had written, all the papers, all the emails to professors, all were heavily laden with exclamation points. It was almost like I had looked back on my life through slow motion, all this time, and no one had told me. Why no intervention? I feel that blame should be placed on everyone else for this....

So then what do you do when you realize that you have a problem and need to fix it? Google. Yep. I started searching for reasons why the exclamation point is so vehemently hated, and I found the following statements:

"The exclamation point is like the horn in your car—use it only when you have to. A chorus of exclamation points says two things about your writing: First, you're not confident that what you're saying is important, so you need bells and whistles to get attention. Second, you don't know a really startling idea when you see one." (Patricia O'Connor - Woe is I)

"I can sum up the problem that most people have with the exclamation point in one short sentence: They use them. That's right. That's the problem. Most often when an exclamation point is used, it is unnecessary. In an academic paper, exclamation points are inappropriate. In fact, in most writing, even in personal letters, one almost never needs an exclamation point. The exclamation point means that you are extremely excited and maybe even shouting. If people talked like they write, with all of the exclamation points, they'd be out of breath and have a sore throat"
(Dr. Rick Walston)


Apparently F. Scott Fitzgerald likened using exclamation marks to laughing at your own jokes (guilty as charged).

Ouch. But don't worry. I did find a positive:

"The use of exclamation marks is appropriate in creative writing. Sometimes they accompany interjections (e.g., ouch, oh, wow), but most times, exclamation marks are used to convey a strong emotion or surprise. However, Even though exclamation marks are accepted in creative writing, the danger is that they can promote lazy “telling” and not vivid “showing” writing. By overusing them, authors are relying on a piece of punctuation as a shortcut for exposition" (

Even the positive comes with a warning though.

It may hurt me exponentially, but these are indeed very good points. Is the exclamation point the sign of a nervous or self-conscious writer? Maybe.

I would most definitely fit into that category, and admit that I have fought the urge to have them all over this post. I think the problem I have and maybe other writers have is that we wonder if the correct emotion is conveyed without the use of the exclamation point.

Can my reader understand how important the phrase I'm writing is without the EP? Or how happy I am to be writing to them? I think that, "Hi! How are you!?" is perfectly fine. To me, it reflects the fact that I am indeed very happy to talk to the reader of my note, but in retrospect this does appear to be shouting.

I guess this is what Facebook, Twitter, and texting have done to us although my exclamation point love most definitely originated before the social networks. Alas, it is a hard habit to break, but do I have to break it?

Yes. Sigh.

Exclamation points should be used sparingly in academic writing because the words you choose to write should be strong enough to not need an exclamation point. There are instances where they are acceptable, and that decision has to be made by you. You have to remember your audience. Would I use an exclamation point in a 16 page essay regarding Peter Elbow? (well, man...yeah. Who wouldn't?) Probably not as much as I desperately want to do it.

I would be afraid that my professor wouldn't take me as seriously if I emphasized my all important point with ! UNLESS I had come up with something so ground breaking and so amazing that I decided this one time, this one perfect time, this serendipitous place where my point is going to be absolutely off the charts remarkable is perfectly suited for the EP. Perhaps a sentence like this, "I have found the lost island of Atlantis!"

Now that I know that I have a problem will I stop using the EP so much?

Yes, grumble grumble. I'm even going to go as far as to try and stop using it in my Facebook status updates and my texts. Will people still understand my excitement?

Probably. At least I hope so.

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Anyone else ready to put that life of exclamation points behind you?

My name is Kelly, and I'm addicted to Exclamation Points.