Monday, May 11, 2015

Nosy Gamer, Grammar Nazi

One of the benefits of blogging is practicing and improving my writing skills. Practice makes perfect, right? On the flip side, imperfect practice does not help and ingrains bad habits. So how do I avoid that trap since I do not have an editor to review my posts before pushing the publish button?


For me, the biggest aid is Microsoft Word. The word processing program not only possesses a built-in dictionary, but also conducts grammar checks. "Grammar?" you ask. "Who cares what the grammar Nazis think?"

I don't rush to the comments section of an article whenever I find a mistake, but I do believe the proper use of grammar makes a post more readable. Then again, my real life experience reinforces my belief that grammar matters. Back in my Army days in the mid-1980s, I avoided a lot of details (i.e. cleaning toilets) because my superiors tasked me to write intelligence summaries and reports instead. Then again, since each article required the approval of two editors with different standards, I think some of those cleaning toilets thought I received the shit assignment.

You too can have an editor

I should mention a personal quirk concerning using Microsoft Word or other word processing programs. I hate squiggly lines in my documents. Whether producing technical documentation or the results of an investigation, the presence of squiggly lines gives the appearance that I just hastily slapped something together to get the recipient out of my hair; a perception I don't want to project to anyone I help.

During my years in university, I took a couple of classes from a professor who absolutely hated the use of the passive voice. After writing papers for him for a couple of semesters, I too became an advocate of using the active voice. I love the following quote explaining the differences between the passive and active voice:
"Verbs are also said to be either active (The executive committee approved the new policy) or passive (The new policy was approved by the executive committee) in voice. In the active voice, the subject and verb relationship is straightforward: the subject is a be-er or a do-er and the verb moves the sentence along. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed (The new policy was approved). Computerized grammar checkers can pick out a passive voice construction from miles away and ask you to revise it to a more active construction. There is nothing inherently wrong with the passive voice, but if you can say the same thing in the active mode, do so (see exceptions below). Your text will have more pizzazz as a result, since passive verb constructions tend to lie about in their pajamas and avoid actual work."

In addition to what Word displays as passive sentence construction, the verb "to be" is an integral part of the passive voice. To avoid the temptation of using the passive voice, I eliminate the words "be" and "being" from my writing entirely. I also try not to use the words "was" and "were" as well as monitor how I use the word "is." I found watching my use of the verb "to be" makes my writing a little less wordy. Also, one piece of advice I learned in grade school is to avoid repeating words as much as possible. Using the active voice gets rid of a lot of repeated words. Professional writers paid by the word might balk at the practice, but sometimes getting rid of some padding helps when the maximum word limit is too constricting.

I have two additional pet peeves, one of which I see creeping into my own writing lately. First is the use of the word "there," especially when used at the beginning of a sentence, like "There is" and "There are." Using the word in relation to a place is fine, but otherwise is imprecise. The second is the overuse of the word "it." I try completely avoiding the word as confusion can result, but I see myself occasionally falling into the trap of using the word. I really need to proofread my writing more carefully.

As a demonstration of my editing powers, I'll use an EVE Online news roundup on MMO Games. Since CCP's CEO tweeted out the article in approval, I think I can safely state that the content of the article is good. First, here is the first story in the original article:

Tensions Rise Between Black Legion and BRAVE as they move into Fountain
In the last few weeks we have been closely detailing the events unfolding within the BRAVE alliance. Following a disastrous retreat from Catch ordered by Second-in-Command Liquid Drisseg, the alliance and the HERO coalition it belongs to was rocked when internal dissent culminated in a dramatic betrayal as Alliance Executor Lychton Kondur was forcibly removed from his position while he slept. The following weeks have been a fountain of drama as the coup was reversed when alliance leaders recognized they had been exploited by Diplomat Anna Niedostepny. Lychton Kondur was reinstated, his first action being to remove those guilty for his exile, before stepping aside to put affairs in order following the catastrophic series of events. Since that time, June Ting has taken over as interim leader of BRAVE and HERO, and the alliance has abandoned their home in Catch.
With Lychton back in action, things seemed to be looking good for the Brave Newbies as they brokered a deal with The Imperium to move to the recently vacated region of null-sec space known as Fountain. As it turns out, the move isn’t going to be as easy as they had hoped.
Black Legion have asserted their desire to control several systems within Fountain, and in the last two weeks they have initiated several successful campaigns to take systems that were originally intended for BRAVE.
As of yesterday, Black Legion have captured a total of 9 systems in a period of roughly 24 hours, and they are showing no signs of slowing down.
During an address last week, June Ting had this to say:
“Black Legion previously took two systems in Satyr and Kraken during our transfer process, and has announced their desire to take the moons and systems of Chimera constellation by force. We will bring solid fights to oppose them rather than sit on our laurels and allow them to take Chimera uncontested. BRAVE, NAGA, and XPLCT all have substantial moon holdings in Chimera and Unicorn, so it is of high importance to us that we defend the moons we currently hold in the constellation and keep reinforced any moons that BL is able to take.”
While the conflict is only beginning to heat up, it remains to be seen how BRAVE intends to respond to the recent Black Legion threat. There is much speculation that BRAVE, after the events of the previous weeks, is simply unable to mount an effective defense due to losing too many pilots during the internal struggle. Others still suggest that BRAVE may simply be waiting for the massive changes in sovereignty that are expected to happen in exactly one month’s time.
Either way, we’ll keep you apprised as the conflict progresses.

Here is my edited version:

Tensions rise between Black Legion and BRAVE as they move into Fountain
Over the past few weeks, we closely detailed the events unfolding within HERO Coalition's BRAVE alliance. Following the disastrous retreat from Catch ordered by second-in-command Liquid Drisseg, internal dissent rocked both the alliance and the coalition, culminating on April 5th with the dramatic betrayal of Lychton Kondur by forcibly removing him from his position of alliance executor while he slept. A fountain of drama ensued over the next 7 days, ending with the reversal of the coup as alliance leaders belatedly recognized the duplicity of diplomat Anna Niedostepny. Upon regaining control of the alliance, Lychton purged those responsible for his exile and then stepped aside as the coalition's leader to concentrate on putting BRAVE's affairs back in order. June Ting assumed temporary command of HERO, and the alliance abandoned its home in Catch.
With Lychton back in action, the situation improved for the Brave Newbies as HERO Coalition brokered a deal with The Imperium to occupy the recently vacated null-sec region of Fountain. The move, however, isn't progressing as smoothly as originally hoped. Black Legion declared its intention to control several systems within Fountain, capturing 9 systems originally intended for BRAVE over the past 24 hours with no signs of slowing down.
During an address last week, June Ting stated:
“Black Legion previously took two systems in Satyr and Kraken during our transfer process, and has announced their desire to take the moons and systems of Chimera constellation by force. We will bring solid fights to oppose them rather than sit on our laurels and allow them to take Chimera uncontested. BRAVE, NAGA, and XPLCT all have substantial moon holdings in Chimera and Unicorn, so it is of high importance to us that we defend the moons we currently hold in the constellation and keep reinforced any moons that BL is able to take.”
While the conflict is only beginning to heat up, speculation abounds as to how BRAVE will respond to the recent Black Legion threat. Many pundits believe BRAVE, after the events of April, is unable to mount an effective defense due to losing too many pilots during the internal struggle. Others suggest that BRAVE is simply waiting for the massive changes in sovereignty expected to occur in exactly one month’s time.
Either way, we’ll keep you apprised as the conflict progresses.

While I didn't check for the accuracy of the facts in my rewrite, I think I improved the readability of the story. I don't want to go into a blow-by-blow description of the changes, but removing the passive voice required some creativity. I even conducted a little research in order to remove all but one use of the word "weeks." For some reason, I found the word annoying. I also did use the word "its" twice, but I didn't feel like conducting an even bigger rewrite of the story.

Despite the subject of the post, I don't want to state that all bloggers must use perfect grammar. Sometimes imperfections give an author a distinctive voice and helps draw the reader into an author's world. But when I visit a news site, I really do like to read well-written as well as well-researched articles.

12 comments:

  1. As you mention, passive voice isn't a grammar error, rather it's just dead writing. I suspect passive voice appeals to so many because it feels more formal and for many folk writing something down for others to read is an unusually formal act. Sadly, the attempt to 'formal up' rarely succeeds since things just end up sounding stilted.


    Don't put on airs. Call it like you see it.

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  2. Passive, active... sleepy... hrm, I think I use my drinkin' voice... =\

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  3. And passive voice tends to weaken responsibility, which is particularly annoying in an age when people take great pains to carefully say nothing at all.

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  4. Bhagpuss BhagpussMay 11, 2015 at 3:31 PM

    Grammar is a reflection of culture not a natural law. Some cultures (France is a well-known example) really do have an official government body that sets and enforces grammatical rules but even that is a cultural artifact. Put plainly, you can break any law of grammar you like but try breaking the Law of Gravity.

    I make concerted attempts to use colloquial speech patterns when I blog, which often means bending or breaking grammatical rules. I like to use a lot of supposedly redundant qualifiers because if I say I am "really looking forward to" something it has a resonance that is easily and immediately understood. Any good editor would take all those adverbs out. They'd also ask for that last sentence to be re-arranged to put the preposition somewhere other than at the end. And so on and so on.

    Writers need to find their authentic voice, grammar be damned. That said, it is essential to understand the rules before you bend and break them.

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  5. It is also less aggressive. Which is a fall back in an age where people go to war with others just because they can. Having an opinion is a hard.

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  6. The crusade against the passive is overdone. I'm a professional writer, and I use it frequently. The key is not to overuse it or to misuse it. Something around 10 to 15% of "substantive" writing (i.e., something with some meat to it) should be in the passive. Pure active voice sounds stilted and choppy. Elegant prose is more concerned with sound and sense than with arbitrary style restrictions.

    For an excellent guide and on writing and the "proper" use of the passive, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style:_Lessons_in_Clarity_and_Grace.

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  7. I use the passive voice a lot when writing, primarily because my writing has to be neutral, both in tone and content, and so the passive voice is the more natural way to do this.

    I write blogs explaining science, and do scientific writing, so not only do I try to take great care that what I write cannot possibly be misconstrued, I also avoid the use of personal pronouns in my writing, which tends to lend itself to the passive voice as well, as does the lack of a requirement for identifying the agent.

    Use of passive vs active depends on the subject matter imo.

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  8. Two of my personal pet peeves: 1) Using the word "utilize" instead of "use," and 2) Starting a sentence with the word "However."

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  9. http://dailymaza360.blogspot.com/

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  10. I agree with you about using "utilize" instead of "use" (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/use-versus-utilize).

    However, I disagree with you about starting a sentence with "however". However, you must punctuate it correctly. :-) (http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/starting-a-sentence-with-however-right-or-wrong)

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  11. How do you feel about passive-aggressive voice? I see that a lot in EVE Online forum posts.

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  12. I hate utilize. However, starting a sentence with "however," "but," or "and" is grammatically correct.

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