April 2011 -->

Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

When Am I I and When Am I Me?

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By Brian Timmerman, Manager of Writing Tutoring Services

I hate me. There. I said it. And before you even think about referring me to Dr. Drew, let me stress: I mean using the word me, not me personally. I’m awesome.

“My boss asked her and me to review the report.”
“Let Dave or me know if you need anything.”
“My grandmother gave my sister and me a plant.”

If you’re like me, saying anything resembling the above probably makes you feel like Cookie Monster as soon as it comes out of your mouth. And that’s why I hate it. You might well have just said, “Me hungry” or “Me like shiny.” The use of me just doesn’t sound right (although, grammatically speaking, the use of me in all three instances is 100% correct).

So, when do you use me (instead of the far more sophisticated-sounding I)? Well, that’s actually kind of simple, and it’s all about being selfish. Let’s break down those sentences, making them all about me.

“My boss asked her and me to review the report.”
“Let Dave or me know if you need anything.”
“My grandmother gave my sister and me a plant.”

Now, those . . . those sound good, right? You would never say, “My boss asked I to review the report.” And that alone lets you know that me is, in fact, correct.

OK, OK, OK, but when do you use I?

Well, that’s pretty easy, too. Just be selfish. Change “My wife and me need to get groceries” to “My wife and me need to get groceries,” and it’s pretty clear that you should use I: “I need to get groceries” or rather, “My wife and I need to get groceries.”

Now, as with most tricks, there is an exception. Let’s say you have a sentence with the verbs are or were:

“Beth and I are going to Italy.”
“Beth and I were in Brussels.”

If I break the first one down, I’d have “Beth and I are going to Italy,” but me, of course, doesn’t work either: “Beth and me are going to Italy.” In these instances, the tie always goes to I.

“Beth and I are going to Italy.”

And good for I, I say. I hate me.

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Using Verbs Carefully

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By Annie Pezalla, Dissertation Editor

Many of us who are passionate about social science research are also passionate about writing creatively. This passion for creative writing might stem from an innate love of language, or from a class taken long ago in poetry or fiction. Alternatively, it might stem from reading too many published articles that seem, well, like a snooze fest, and the subsequent resolve to write something more engaging. Wherever that zest originated, there’s no denying that it exists. And it often guides the language choices we use in our scholarly writing.

In an effort to marry those two passions, it feels only natural to be creative with the language choices in our scholarly writing. Instead of writing that a researcher found a relationship between two constructs, for example, we might instead write that a researcher declared a relationship or, even better, opined a relationship. After all, declared and opined are much more creative than the boring old verb found, right? In other efforts to keep our readers engaged, we might be tempted to introduce additional creative verbs into our work: proclaimed, protested, or harangued. After all, we want to engage our readers, right?

Yet caution should be used when those creative temptations start to rise. This advice might sound like a buzz kill, but in scholarly writing, verbs should be unembellished and straightforward. For example, if I wanted to report the findings from Zuckerman’s (2009) study on the impact of gender on the preference for the Twilight vampire series, I should stick with the straightforward verb of found to discuss his results:

Zuckerman (2009) found a relationship between gender and preference for Twilight.

Any other verb choice would be unclear here. Zuckerman (2009) stated that there was a relationship… suggests that Zuckerman didn’t actually carry out a study on gender and Twilight; he simply thought about it and made some proclamation about it. Similarly, Zuckerman (2009) argued that there was a relationship… suggests that Zuckerman engaged in some philosophical debate about the topic but didn’t collect any empirical evidence on it. The verb found clearly conveys to readers that Zuckerman carried out this study and generated findings based on the resulting evidence.

In your own writing, a helpful guideline for choosing verbs could stem from the type of research—theoretical or empirical—on which you are reporting. Theoretical research is generally contemplative or speculative, and the verbs to describe such research should reflect the tentative nature of that kind of knowledge.

Sigmund Freud (1932) speculated that all behaviors are reflective of unconscious urges from the id.

B.F. Skinner (1930) hypothesized that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning.

Empirical research, on the other hand, is based on direct observation or experiment; hence, the verbs used to describe empirical research should reflect that sort of discovery.

Anna Freud (1941) tested her father’s psychoanalytic theory on her adolescent patients.

Behavioral researchers have assessed the validity of Skinner’s (1930) claims by studying the role of partial reinforcement in the likelihood of compulsive gambling.

In your scholarly writing, remember to use your verbs carefully, with attention given to the type of research you are reporting. And when it comes to those creative urges, channel those into the findings you are reporting, not into the verbs associated with them.

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How to Get Your Name in the APA Manual

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By Jeff Zuckerman, Dissertation Specialist

Having all but given up on winning the Nobel Peace Prize, I was gratified a couple of years ago when I achieved another lifelong dream: My name appeared in the preface to the sixth edition of the APA style manual.

It’s true. It’s right there on page xvi: “For taking their time to share their recommendations, we are most grateful to [a bunch of people no one cares about] and Jeff Zuckerman.” Next time you’re at my house you’ll see the page blown up as a 3 ft x 4 ft poster on my refrigerator.

When the style manual was released, several Walden faculty members thanked me “for writing the new manual.” I considered confessing that all I did was send the editors a few nasty messages complaining about the preceding edition of the publication. But why bother? Who was I to tell a group of PhDs how wrong they were?

So that’s the whole story. Over the last 6 years, I did contact the APA editors on a number of occasions to discuss certain ambiguities in the fifth edition, as well as certain conventions that had been driving our students and faculty crazy. I built up a relationship with one of the editors—yes, they are real people, in Washington, DC—and, in fact, she and I met over coffee in early 2009 when she was visiting my hometown of Minneapolis.

More interesting than my involvement is what I learned from this editor.

The APA style manual is written by a committee of editor-types and psychologists. During the writing process, at times the discussions were passionate. At times the discussions were inane. Fascinating to me was that the psychologists tended to get the final word in over the editors. That might explain why a few things that bug me, such as how numbered lists are formatted and the exclusion of the journal issue number in most references, survived the final cut.

We did “win” clarification on the acceptance of first person. In the second printing, we also won single spacing after a period.

One specific rule I argued for was single line spacing of block quotes and reference lists. The fifth edition was ambiguous about it, which led to a lot of, um, discussions with faculty over spacing guidelines. The sixth edition clarified the rule, so now double spacing is required. That ended the arguments, all right, but I still think double-spaced block quotes are hard to read.

In any case, that’s all there was to it: a few phone calls and respectful email messages. Next on my list is the Congressional Medal of Honor, and I’ve already sent a few messages on my behalf to my close personal friend Congressman Keith Ellison. Stay tuned!

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Table of Confusion

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By Jessica Barron, Writing Tutor

I always thought I was pretty tech savvy: not quite a computer expert, but fairly adept at solving any word processing issues in Microsoft Word. That was, of course, until I met the table of contents (TOC).

Anyone constructing a capstone project most likely has encountered trouble with a TOC. Whether an “Error! Bookmark not defined” message or an entire paragraph popping into your Level 2 heading, TOC glitches can cause headaches, undermine confidence, and make stepping on your keyboard seem like a good idea. Unfortunately, the Writing Center staff is unable to help students troubleshoot any TOC issues, but do not fret! There are multiple resources available to help you create, update, and troubleshoot a TOC.

One way to avoid any of the common TOC errors is to create the table manually. This option does mean that you will have to hit the tab and period keys many times and that reformatting may be painstaking, but it can provide piece of mind when you add additional text to your document. If interested in this route, see our document templates to view examples of APA 6th format for TOCs.

If manually creating a TOC is not attractive to you, Microsoft Word does have functions that allow for automatic TOC creation. On the Microsoft Word support website are step-by-step instructions on how to create and update a TOC in Word 2003, 2007, and 2010. When using these steps, be sure to review the “APA Style” headings that your version of MS Word populates in your document. Some versions might not be updated with the APA 6th edition format, so reviewing our sample templates will help you know if your formatting is aligned with the current requirements.

If you are more of an audiovisual learner and you want help beyond the step-by-step Microsoft instructions, there are a multitude of online videos designed around the troublesome TOC. Searching the Internet for phrases like how to and table of contents yields many viral videos on the subject. One of my personal favorites is this video, which is informative but still brief.

So, after using these resources, you will have a TOC in your document. Nevertheless, even if you’ve followed the directions and feel comfortable with the format of your TOC, errors still might occur when you add text or try to update your page numbers. The MS Word support website has listed the most common occurrences and solutions to these errors in an FAQ format in addition to the other links on TOCs. If this page does not have your specific error, you can contact the technical department at Microsoft to help work through the issue with you.

While we at the Writing Center are not technical gurus who can provide TOC guidance, we try to point students to word processing resources (see the right-hand side of our Writing Resources page). We have worked with the Walden Student Support team to create some handouts for our website specifically on the TOC, but if you’ve found any of the previous links helpful or you uncovered a useful online video, let us know! We would love to share your unproblematic experience with other Walden students.

Happy formatting!

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