Because, Because, Because: Causality Problems

It’s a danger inherent to complex and formal writing, and I see this mistake often while editing—and in revising my own writing. It’s the error of attributing multiple, competing causes to the main clause in a sentence. Here’s a totally fabricated example: Small birds of prey are rather easily trained. For this reason, falconry became a popular sport for the upper classes because they had the extra funds to pursue such leisure activities. The multiple causality arises in the second sentence. The basic formula in evidence in the above example is for this reason + [main clause] + because + [reason]. This does not violate any grammatical or mechanical rules, but the presentation is problematic. Essentially, the core of the sentence, falconry became a popular sport for the upper classes, is given two quite different causes: the ease of training the birds and the disposable wealth of the upper classes. The multiple causality is competing because of the signal phrase for this reason, which indicates that only one cause will be identified. Almost no one would misread it this way, but the sentence is effectively suggesting that the ease of training and the disposable wealth factors are one and the same. Clearly they are not, so the sentence structure should reflect that. For clarity’s sake, causality—whether multiple or singular—should be unidirectional and therefore noncompeting. Both of the (again, totally fabricated) reasons in the example passage could have indeed contributed to the rise of falconry as a sport, but dual causality can be better expressed: Falconry became a popular sport for the upper classes for two main reasons: small birds...

Small Caps=Big Deal

Continuing the trend of capitalization-related posts, here is an ode to the wonders of small caps, a formatting trick that elevates the look of documents instantaneously. For beautifully typeset headings, try small caps. It gives the look of initial capital letters that are set in a slightly larger font than applies to the other letters—but without the need to manually differentiate the sizes. Go from to all by using one very, very simple operation. In Microsoft Word, this effect is achieved quite simply. Hit CTRL+D (COMMAND+D on a Mac) or go to Format>Font and check “small caps.” Try this in your CVs, letterheads, and section headings throughout academic papers. Instant...

Toggling Letter Cases

Microsoft Word has a handy tool for rectifying inadvertent caps lock: Change Case. This feature will take A PASSAGE LIKE THIS and make it A Passage Like This or a passage like this. All you need to do to access this feature is hit SHIFT+F3 on a Windows-based computer or COMMAND+OPTION+C on a Mac machine. (Also try ALT+CTRL+C on a Windows machine; that may work as well.) You can also go to Format>Change Case in Word 2003/2004 or find Change Case under Font in the Home tab of Word 2007/2008. Engaging Change Case cycles through the following formats: Sentence case lowercase UPPERCASE Capitalize Each Word (a.k.a. headline-style caps) tOGGLE cASE This is exceedingly handy not only when caps lock is left on inadvertently but also when formatting citations. Remember, the APA Publication Manual requires Sentence-style capitalization while Chicago and MLA go with Headline-style Caps (I’m modeling the two styles there). Toggle through all of the Change Case options to format according to your style manual. Some caveats, though: Change Case cannot identify prepositions and conjunctions, neither of which should be capitalized in headline-style caps. The feature is also blind to proper nouns, which always should be capitalized, even in sentence-style caps. Also, Change Case always treats the second word in a hyphenate as a new word and will capitalize or lowercase it depending on the case selected. But, according to Chicago, the second word in a hyphenate should not be capitalized. Change Case will therefore not cure every caps-related ailment. But it will can move you closer to your ideal combination of uppercase and lowercase letters. Often, this saves...

Shhhhh: Silently Altering Quoted Material

Sometimes quotes just don’t want to fit within the structure of our sentences. Unless you are in a legal field, some sciences, or writing for a UK publisher, you can silently tame quoted material in a number of permissible ways. This means that you don’t have to flag your insertions, deletions, and changes by using brackets, ellipses, or footnotes. I’ll break the rules down by major academic style guide. The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, § 11.8 OK to change silently: case of quotation’s first letter (“paradigms of excellence” to “Paradigms of excellence,” for instance) single quotation marks to double, and vice versa final punctuation that doesn’t fit the grammar of your own sentence, except question marks, exclamation marks, semicolons, colons, and dashes that are not original to the quotation—these must be placed outside the quotation marks endnote and footnote callouts (they can be omitted in quotation) Fraktur and archaic letters (“goodneʃs” to “goodness” and “Vnited” to “United,” for example) Not OK to change silently: omitted material (use ellipses) inserted material (enclose in brackets) added emphasis, usually expressed in italics (note by inserting “emphasis added” in brackets after the quote) clarifications (“he [James] spoke of troubled times”) MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition, § 3.7 OK to change silently: closing punctuation (quoted material woven into the end of your own declarative sentence can take a period even if not in the original) Not OK to change silently: basically everything else: capitalization, spelling, interior punctuation, omissions, additions, emphasis, inserted explanations Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, § 6.07 OK to change silently: case...

Parenthe-seize the Divided List!

When we write a list within a sentence, we often want to make the structure absolutely clear by numbering or lettering the items in the series. For students and junior scholars, the divided list is even more important, as it is the well-known writers who can assume that their readers won’t abandon overly complex, understructured passages. When dividing a list, make sure that: numbers or letters appear within a set of parentheses (rather than simply following the number or letter with one parenthesis) elements are grammatically parallel (all nouns, for instance) appropriate punctuational dividers are used the imposed structure illuminates rather than obscures meaning the divisions do not unintentionally imply hierarchy That itself could be formatted as a divided list within a sentence: The key aspects of serializing are the following: (1) numbers or letters appear within a set of parentheses; (2) elements are grammatically parallel; (3) appropriate punctuational dividers are used; (4) the imposed structure illuminates rather than obscures meaning; and (5) the divisions do not unintentionally imply hierarchy. Let’s say that Michel Foucault wanted to make this complicated sentence a bit more organized to the reading eye: Bentham’s Panopticon is the architectural figure of this composition. We know the principle on which it was based: at the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on...

TWEED’s Guide to Academic Style

The TWEED Guide to Academic Style gives you a place to start the sometimes-daunting revision process. Brush up on the syntactical, grammatical, and tone-related indicators of scholarly writing. Attention to style signals to your readers that you are serious about your research. Read the guide now to remind yourself of the hallmarks of academic style, and then use it as a checklist as you write and revise. The PDF document is meant to be printed double-sided, and you’ll get two guides out of the one download. Pass the other along to a friend or...