Monthly Archives: June 2013

Links: Summer Edition

Explorations of Style is going on a summer hiatus. I’ll be back in the middle of August, after a family vacation and a summer research institute. While I’m away, I’m going to experiment with reprinting some older posts. Many of you are recent followers of the blog and may not have seen the earlier posts. I’m going to resist the almost-irresistible temptation to update those posts, but I welcome, as always, your comments about what needs more clarity. When I return from the summer institute, I’m beginning a sabbatical, which will give me some time to devote to all the half-written posts I’ve accumulated over the course of the year. I also plan to create some sort of annotated table of contents to help new readers find what they need in the archives; if you have any thoughts about how to make any aspect of the blog easier to use, please let me know.

I wish you all a happy and productive summer of writing!

Recent links from @explorstyle on Twitter

From @thesiswhisperer, a post on finishing and feeling finished.

From @readywriting, a project to create a list of academic blogs across the disciplines. Add yours!

From @DocwritingSIG, an account of different disciplinary approaches to publishing during the PhD.

From @ThomsonPat, a great account of different reading strategies. Don’t try reading in graduate school without a strategy!

From @monkeycageblog, an interesting question about the relationship between academic writing and the humanities.

A good summary of what @Feedly has done over the last 100 days to welcome new users.

From @chronicle, interesting reflections from a self-aware grammar stickler.

From William Helmreich in @insidehighered, advice on the job interview.

From @chronicle, the Ph.D. Placement Project, an information gathering project on post-PhD employment.

From @NewYorker, the relationship between thought and writing on Twitter.

From @thesiswhisperer, a post on the status of research Masters students.

From @fishhookopeneye, a reminder that commenting on blogs is an important part of social media participation.

From Mary Ann Mason in @Slate, child-bearing and academia.

From Geoffrey Pullum in Lingua Franca, the tension between editorial practices and academic approaches to usage.

From the New APPS blog, strategies for productive writing for early career researchers.

From @insidehighered, guidance on the early stages of a job search.

From @WmGermano, in praise of very, very long words.

From @TheAmScho, interesting thoughts on the psychology of how we use acronyms.

From @qui_oui, a great piece on fat shaming in academia, reminding us it’s not just about social media etiquette.

From @ProfessorIsIn, creating space for writing amid the busyness of teaching, service, and family.

From @chrishumphrey, concrete and helpful advice on doing a non-academic job search.

From @ThomsonPat, a discussion of the value of specific headings and subheadings in academic writing.

Maybe I shouldn’t be spending so much time trying to craft the perfect ending to my blog posts, via @Slate.

From @GradHacker, advice about finding new productivity strategies to support graduate study.

From @DocwritingSIG, why doctoral study can be different for mothers.

Lots to think about here, but at what point does banning laptops become like banning pen and paper for some students?

From @byagoda, using the word ‘blog’ to refer to a ‘blog post’. I use ‘post’, but is there a better option?

From @RohanMaitzen, thoughtful comments on the relationship between blogging and academic publishing.

From Claire Goldstene, an interesting long read on the politics of contingent academic labour.

From the CAUT Bulletin, a reminder about the vital importance of childcare at conferences.

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A Question of Parallelism

The following letter was sent to me recently. After replying to the letter directly, I asked if I could reprint a version of the letter here on the blog. The letter writer’s problem was simple, but extremely common: the almost-parallel sentence. The fact that the necessary changes are small doesn’t mean that they are insignificant.

Dear Rachael:

Could you please tell me if the punctuation in the following sentence is correct?

I have learned humility and empathy volunteering in remote barefoot hospitals on the Burmese border; I have learned the values of respect and dedication working alongside families in the rice fields of Thailand; I have learned patience and responsibility while educating both children and elders in village schools in Ecuador, and I have discovered the worth of companionship and the value of support systems while working with abandoned children in Cambodia.

Here is a reworked version of my reply:

The problem with the punctuation in this sentence is inconsistency. These list items could be separated by either semicolons or commas, but the pattern should be followed consistently. Here are three options:

ONE: The same pattern, used consistently

I have learned humility and empathy volunteering in remote barefoot hospitals on the Burmese border; I have learned the values of respect and dedication working alongside families in the rice fields of Thailand; I have learned patience and responsibility while educating both children and elders in village schools in Ecuador; and I have learned the worth of companionship and the value of support systems while working with abandoned children in Cambodia.

The simplest solution: use the same verb in all four instances and replace the final comma with a semicolon. The benefit of this approach is the emphasis that comes via the repetition of ‘I have learned’; that simple repetition can help to draw the reader’s attention to the four different experiences. The downside is the repetition and the limits imposed by using a single verb to express many different things.

TWO: A similar pattern, with four different verbs

I have learned humility and empathy volunteering in remote barefoot hospitals on the Burmese border; I have experienced the values of respect and dedication working alongside families in the rice fields of Thailand; I have demonstrated patience and responsibility while educating both children and elders in village schools in Ecuador; and I have discovered the worth of companionship and the value of support systems while working with abandoned children in Cambodia.

In this case, the four different sentences are given different verbs. This version avoids repetition and gives the writer the opportunity to express more nuance.

THREE: A different pattern, with one verb followed by a list

I have learned many things from my work in the field: humility and empathy volunteering in remote barefoot hospitals on the Burmese border; the values of respect and dedication working alongside families in the rice fields of Thailand; patience and responsibility while educating both children and elders in village schools in Ecuador; and the worth of companionship and the value of support systems while working with abandoned children in Cambodia.

Here, the list is placed after a single verb. This approach works well when repetition is undesirable and when that single verb applies equally well in all cases.

Overall, the writer must consider meaning, preference, and context to decide on the best way to establish parallelism. Once we identify faulty parallelism, our decision about how to fix it must be based on a renewed understanding of what we are trying to say. And once that meaning is clearer to us, we can make further refinements based on our own stylistic preferences and any particular demands of the context in which we are writing.

Finally, the original question asked only about punctuation, so I focused my revision on the punctuation and the structuring of the list. Parallelism, of course, also relies on parallel expression. In this example, parallelism could be further improved by a consistent use (or omission) of ‘while’ and by a more consistent pattern across the four sentences.