Issue For July 3, 2006
We want your questions! Help build our library of Help Nest Questions by submitting a question you have or would like to see our users respond to. Just use our simple Web form available at http://owl.english.purdue.edu/purdueowlnews/.
Writing Question of the Week
This is usually a question submitted by an OWL user to the OWL Tutors. If you have a question you need answered quickly, ask one of our OWL Tutors or call the Writing Lab's Grammar Hotline at 765-494-3723. And remember, both services are free for everyone!
Even as late as the 70's I was taught that an exception to the use of the indefinite article "a" was the words historic and historical, which should read "an historic occasion" or "an historical society". Suddenly now I'm seeing "a" used instead--has this been codified somewhere?--Cathi
Thanks for writing. In American English, it is correct to write 'a' before words that begin with an 'h' sound, such as 'historical.' (In fact, in American English, writing "an historical" is considered by some to be an affectation.)
However, you would still want to use 'an' before any word beginning with 'h' in which the 'h' is silent, such as in 'an honor.' Hope this helps.
The OWL Help Nest
Each week we publish Purdue OWL News readers' requests for advice or information and the responses from other Purdue OWL News readers.
My teacher marked off some of my grade because I wrote "Hip-hop is different than rap." He said it was supposed to be "different from," not "different than," but I still don't understand why. Is there really any difference? Or is he just being picky? --Anonymous
According to the American Heritage dictionary:
Since the 18th century, language critics have singled out "different than" as incorrect, though it is well attested in the works of reputable writers. According to traditional guidelines, "from" is used when the comparison is between two persons or things: My book is different from (not than) yours. "Different than" is more acceptably used, particularly in American usage, where the object of comparison is expressed by a full clause: The campus is different than it was 20 years ago. "Different from" may be used with a clause if the clause starts with a conjunction and so functions as a noun: The campus is different from how it was 20 years ago.
Since you are comparing two things, then I would agree with your teacher. Since we wouldn't say "Hip-hop is popular than rap," or "Hip-hop is cool than rap," it's only logical that you wouldn't say "X is different than Y."--Robert, Yokohama, Japan
Neither choice of words is incorrect, one being an British English preference and the other being an American English preference. Unless the teacher has specified a specific dialect, style guide, or dictionary to use, the teacher is incorrect in marking down your paper.--Brad B
Yes, your teacher is being a little picky, but his purpose is to show you the most widely acceptable usage. He's not the only one who might object to "different than." Just for the fun of it, Google "different from different than" and enjoy the discussion. My favorite is http://www.bartleby.com/68/37/1837.html. When we understand why one choice is different from/than another, we make wiser decisions.--Robert Rosser, University of Maryland, Japan
I came across this before and found an answer in Strunk and White's The Elements of Style (1972): "Different than. Here logic supports established usage: one thing differs from another, hence different from. Or, other than, unlike" (page 44). Also, consider this from Chapter IV, Words and Expressions Commonly Misused: "Many of the words and expressions listed here are not so much bad English as bad style, the commonplace of careless writing."--Brigitta Flick, James Cook University, Australia
The standard grammar indicates that you use "than" with the following combinations: "more + adjective + than", "less + adjective + than" or an adjective ending in "-er" + than. But "different" cannot be combined with "more" or "less" to compare; you use it, in fact, as an alternative structure for comparing (basically to say that something is not similar to something else). Notice in my previous sentence that I have used another comparison structure: "similar to" (compare this structure to "as + adjective + as) not "similar than".
To sum up, there are three possibilities when comparing (superiority/inferiority, equality/similarity, and inequality/dissimilarity) and each structure has a different form. What you are doing when using "different than" is mixing a superiority/inferiority structure with a inequality/dissimilarity structure. Notice that the opposite of "different from" is "similar to"--unlike, for example, "more important than" being the opposite of "less important than".--Ismael Arinas, Madrid, Universidad Politecnica
Last semester, some of my students wanted to use their blogs on Blogger.com or Xanga.com to create their final portfolios. At the time, I told them they couldn't. But now I worry I was too strict. Has anyone allowed students to post portfolios or other writing assignments on blogs? If so, what were your impressions of allowing students to do that? Thanks! --Lauren, Augusta, GA
I run a private language school, so my situation might be different than yours; however, since Blogger seems a bit too casual for posting a portfolio, why don't you use Writely.com?
Writely lets me post assignments online, lets me control who has access to the document, and lets my students interact with me via their document in real time. It is a great tool for teachers and students to interact with each other online-much better than Blogger.--Robert, Yokohama, Japan
Editor's Note: The Purdue OWL News does not endorse Writely.com or any other Web-based writing software or service mentioned in the Purdue OWL News.
Lauren, I have allowed students to create a blog as an assignment and loved it. Their assignment was to research an item of technology, indicate how it has changed over the years and WHY, and forecast how it might change in the future and WHY (what would be driving that change). They created separate blog entries for their introduction and each part of the assignment. It was very interesting, they were really into it, and it was fun. I used a rubric and reviewed their blogs for their major grade. Along the way, I asked them to review and post SUBSTANTIVE comments to each other's blogs for daily grades. Great experience! Looking forward to doing it again this year!--Mary, Carrollton, Texas
I work with a writing consultant at my firm. He's trying to persuade my colleagues and me that we have too much text on our PowerPoint slides. Does anyone know if there is a rule for how many words should be on a slide? --Jeff Johnson, Nevada
Editor's Note: We recevied an extremely large number of answers to this question; representative answers are offered here. Thank you to all who responded with such enthusiasm! You keep our newsletter interesting.
Although there is no rule on how much text is right on a PowerPoint slide, experienced presenters say that 6 to 8 words is ideal. Less is even better! My experience as an advertising copywriter is that on slides, as on posters, hoardings and billboards, about 8 words is OK, because a person driving on the road cannot spend more than a second trying to read the text.
Remember that it's a 'presentation', and not a self-running slideshow. Also, visuals tell the story better than text. There's no point in letting the audience read text off the slide, or the presenter reading aloud off the slide, either!--Rajan Nair, Mumbai (Bombay), India
I am in the world of writing, you could call me a "wordsmith", and brevity is the key - whether in slide format or writing or speech, even. Say what you have to say succinctly, otherwise it looks like 'padding'. Also pictures/graphs etc are always more interesting than a whole lot of words! Unfortunately, I am on the side of the writing consultant. As I would say, KISS - keep it short and succinct!--Denise Dreyer, United Kingdom
I don't think there's a hard and fast rule, but you're colleague is correct in advising you that too many words on a slide is ineffective and can cause an audience to moan and groan. A PP should summarize and highlight main ideas. If you need a handout to accompany it, supply it, but nothing is more annoying than having someone read aloud the contents of a slide. Use it to enhance and capture main ideas, rather than showing every detail. I suggest my students use no more than 25 words per slide.--Marjean Huber
As a rule of my own and also what I teach my students, I use the 7 by 7 rule. This means a maximum of 7 lines with 7 words each in one slide. This always work in my own presentation. This will make your slide easier to read from a considerable distance and you can add some graphics too. --Marcelina
PowerPoint is a communication device set-up to convey information simply and quickly. It functions as a highway billboard. A project: Present a PP using your 'verbiage' and test it with actual viewers. Present the same PP edited by your consultant, test again. Rule: most people can only remember three ideas, instructions or such at one time.--George Steed, Lodz, Poland
I don't know of any written rule. Having given and attended many presentations over the years the following are the most important for me:
- PowerPoint slides should provide a visual impact to support your verbal message.
- PowerPoint slides should NOT be a replica of your verbal message. Make them bullet points of the most important information...probably no more than 5 one-liner points per slide.
- PowerPoint slides should not include tables...convert that data to an attention grabbing graph
You should trust your writing consultant..it's his/her field of expertise. Have fun with the new look of your presentations!--Prue, Mexico, internationally licenced TEFL teacher.
From my own observation, the use of Power Point in presentations should be characterised by brevity, simplicity of words used, listing of points in sequential and logical order, boldness in the presentation of words (not in forms that readers will have to strain their eyes to read. That is, the bigger the point sizes the better), and the use of fonts that are not confusing to the readers.
It is up to the presenter to choose how many words to put into each slide, which may vary from slide to slide even in the same presentation. If the presenter is keen on passing a message and mindful of carrying his/her audience along, the speed of presentation should also be determined at each presentation. Even if the audience is made up of people in the same profession, the speed should still be determined to accommodate variations in the rates of assimilation of various individuals.--Dr. Olukayode Oyeleye, Lagos, Nigeria
Next Week's Questions
What's Your Question?
If you have a question you'd like to ask our readers, please send it via our simple Web form.
This Week's Feature Story:
On Language and Lucky Dumplings
(Or How Not to Look too American in Foreign Surroundings)
by Dana Bisignani
If I were to ask what you envision tutors and students in Purdue's Writing Lab talking about, you'd likely assume topics like grammar or citing sources. What would you think if I told you one of the most recent conversations in which I took part dealt with lucky dumplings?
Each day, students sign in and make themselves comfortable on the green couches in one of the Lab's adjoining rooms. Students often bring friends or sometimes husbands or wives along. They come from every department and range from undergraduates to those slogging through dissertations. Many are active in research at Purdue, and some work as teaching assistants as well.
When I first learned that I would be facilitating one of the conversation groups for students learning English as a second language, I was excited by the opportunity to sit down and simply talk with people. So much of the work we do in the English Department is about text that we sometimes forget there are human beings on the other end. However, in the weeks before my group began, I felt anxious. Other tutors in the Lab who had run conversation groups assured me I would do fine. "What if I offend someone?" I asked. "You won't," they said.
When I first began my Masters in English, I had attended a meeting for students interested in a summer exchange program in Ireland. While English is still the dominant language in Ireland, the study abroad facilitators stressed cultural differences and reminded us again and again how offensive Americans were to the rest of the world. "Don't wear jeans," they told us. "You'll look too American." Looking American, we were told, made us prime targets for muggings.
Language is an enormous key to any nation's culture, and having the ability to navigate the native language, when writing or during conversation, can make things immensely easier for those who are in the midst of acclimating themselves to foreign surroundings. For example, a Korean student asked the conversation group one day if Chinese people ate special (or 'lucky') dumplings before a big test. Two young women from China looked confused. The three of them talked, exchanging descriptions of various foods in both China and Korea, making sure they were on the same page. Apparently, the word for dumpling in Korean denoted something slightly different from a dumpling in Chinese. Sometimes, one girl said, her mother made her eat eggs before a big test. But never one egg, she said, because that stood for zero.
The students who attend the conversation group I facilitate on Mondays come mostly from Japan, Korea and China. English, though a second language for all of them, has become the language by which we all speak to each other and share our experiences. The last time we spoke together, I asked the group what they found hardest about coming to study in a foreign country. Hsin-Yu Li, a quiet student sitting in a chair, said, "It's hard to understand jokes." When native speakers talk and joke around, she explained, it's hard to keep up or contribute, something that can make it harder to make close friends who are native speakers of English. Dazhi Yang, another student attending that day, jumped in. "In China, I was funny," she said, "but in English I'm boring!" Some of the students laugh and nod their heads in agreement.
On a daily basis, native speakers take their puns and pop culture references for granted. But think back to the last foreign language class you took. The teacher asks the class in Spanish (or Japanese or French) what everyone did over the weekend. Those of us who would normally begin stories about hilarious exchanges among friends at the Steak and Shake frantically struggle to say, "I went to the movies...je something aux cinema." We are suddenly reduced to describing simple activities listed in our textbooks beside pictures of friends buying popcorn in a French movie theater. As native speakers, our idiomatic expressions don't sound strange to us. But I remember the first time I heard the French expression "the mustard is crawling up my nose," which, the teacher told us, meant someone was irritated. I couldn't help but wonder where such a saying had come from.
"There is hidden pressure," says Dazhi, searching for the exact words for the idea she wishes to express. "In China, if my car breaks down, I can call someone. It's no big deal," she says. But here, she continues, everyone is busy, or she isn't sure who to call. "You have to rely just on yourself," she concludes. Not only are these students learning to express the complexity of their lives in a new language, but in moving to a new country to work and study, they have left behind networks of close friends and family who support them.
I cannot help but laugh with Dazhi in commiseration. When I moved to West Lafayette in 2004, I knew no one in the area--my own friends and family were spread from coast to coast. During my first year here, my poor, old car kept breaking down all over town, and there wasn't a mechanic that seemed able to figure out what the problem was. For those first few months, I knew some of the tow truck drivers in town better than I knew colleagues in my own department at Purdue. I felt as lost and on my own as what Dazhi Yang had just described--yet I had only moved from west-central Illinois. Could Indiana be a foreign country?
Both the students and facilitators at the Lab's conversation groups learn not only about language, but about other cultures as well. In a world where at times we all find ourselves in foreign surroundings, it helps to have a comfortable space in which to share and ask questions. We have all learned after all, there are no 'lucky' dumplings that will help you before an important task.
What's Happening on the OWL at Purdue
- OWL Eye On...Printable OWL Handouts. Did you know that all pages on the new OWL, http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/, are specially formatted for printing? Any page can be printed, and it will look quite different from the screen version! Since the OWL handouts are now broken up into multiple pages (a feature that will make the OWL Search function, which will debut soon, much more targeted), you can follow the icon in the toolbar for Full Resource for Printing to run all sections end-to-end for one-click printing of any OWL resource. Try it, you'll like it!
- OWL Eye On...OWL Trivia to Impress Your Friends! The month of May 2006 was OWL's busiest ever. During May, the OWL:
- Welcomed 1,965,457 visitors from 180 different countries
- Fulfilled 5,342,832 requests for individual OWL pages
- Transmitted 367 gigabytes of data, enough to fill 525 CD-ROMs!
What's Happening in the Writing Lab
- OWL Eye On...Writing Lab Satellite Locations. During the spring 2006 semester, the Writing Lab began offering drop-in tutoring hours in the Hicks Undergraduate Library on Monday evenings from 7-10 pm. This satellite location, in addition to the Meredith Hall location, will be open again during the fall 2006 semester, which starts August 21.
- OWL Eye On...Writing Lab in the News. The Writing Lab's Business Writing Consultant service (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/writinglab/topic/bwc/) and the OWL were featured in a number of media outlets, including Inside Indiana Business (http://www.insideindianabusiness.com/newsitem.asp?ID=17376) and an April 4, 2006 story on WLFI Channel 8 (http://wlfi.com).
- OWL Eye On...Summer Hours and Operation. The Writing Lab will offer tutoring and ESL conversation groups throughout the summer. Hours of operation are Monday through Thursday, from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and Friday, from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Conversation groups for ESL students are held on Monday and Tuesday, from 3:00pm to 4:00 pm, and on Wednesday and Thursday, from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm. Workshops on writing-related topics are offered by request. Please call 494-3723 for more information about workshops, tutorials, and conversation groups.
This week's OWL News was edited by Karl Stolley, OWL Webmaster.