Issue For November 1, 2007
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!
I am doing a copy editing job, and am puzzled about internet vs Internet. I'm noticing in newspapers that the I is capitalized. Why? And how was this determination made? The internet is a public resource like the web, not the state of Maine, or the country Tasmania, or the company Google. It doesn't make sense to me that it should be capitalized.
Thank you for contacting the Purdue OWL.
You've asked a good question! While different people/organizations do not completely agree on the use of upper- or lower-case 'i,' it is more common to use 'Internet,' viewing the word as a proper noun. The argument is there is only one, therefore... the Internet. The argument I prefer is that using lower-case 'i' signifies any internet connection. One might say, for example, "we use an internet software program that works for our small company."
The most important thing is to be consistent: Decide on a choice and always use it. This is especially important within organizations.
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 professor says that I can't organize anything and that my papers sound like random thoughts. He says I will fail the class if I can't learn to organize. Can anyone give me some advice? I need to pass this class! --Jean, University of Pittsburgh
Yikes! If your prof is vowing to fail you for being disorganized, I think he's being pretty drastic. He should be helping you to become organized.
So try this: after gathering your information and typing your notes, choose the single most important idea from your notes. Then choose the second most important, etc. When you write your paper, discuss the most important idea first, then the second most important, and so on. So the paper would look something like this: "The Purdue Owl newsletter exists to help writers . . . The newsletter is sent as an email every two weeks . . ."
In the news business, we call this the inverted pyramid style, where we write about the most important fact first, then the second most important, etc. and the unimportant details are left to last. It's both a simple and effective way to organize stories and/or papers.
Good luck with the class.
--Joe, Adjunct professor, University of Tampa, University of Tampa
Jean there is no golden rule not even for getting organized. Were you also told that your thoughts are not good, original, clever, or perhaps even fascinating? Ask your professor about what he/she thinks about your way of writing. He/she might only be helping you. It´s not difficult to get organized (just some discipline ;) but it´s not always possible to be original, clever, fascinating... something I learned when studying literature was always have a pencil and a piece of paper at hand: original thoughts never come back, jot them down when those moments of inspiration come. This will perhaps be the first step towards getting organized.
--Ljudmila, Ramos Mejia, Buenos Aires, Argentina
It sounds like you are currently in a tough spot, Jean. What came up in this edition of the Purdue OWL News in other responses bears repeating as regards your case. Your current professor likely is your best resource for determining what equals effective / “good” organization on his or her essay assignments. If possible, arrange to meet with the professor during office hours ASAP to get a clearer understanding about expectations. That might involve reviewing information contained in lecture notes, handouts, assignment sheets, textbook passages. Or it might simply involve carefully discussing your previous essay or an in progress one via questions and answers about the organization aspects. Show that you care about your academic work by preparing for the meeting with at least some written questions. Consider writing down the professor’s answers during the meeting so that you don’t lose them. As lots of Purdue OWL News readers will likely try to offer you other valuable essay organizing tips and resources, consider checking out a couple of them with your professor before applying them. Good luck!
--C. Tushla, CA
The reason I'm responding to your question is that I had a similar problem, except my professor wasn't quite so mean, I just suffered from the tendency to freewrite my major papers... what my teachers suggested was that I go through the writing process in steps, that I brainstorm a little first, but just enough to meet the topic of the paper. Then I would create a thesis, to give my paper a purpose. Then I would just write, and continue to brainstorm along the way if I had to. You can go back and revise your paragraphs while writing, but only to make sure that you're staying on track, in other words you are saying just enough to satisfy your thesis statement, and that you aren't just babbling endlessly (at least that's what I used to do). Make sure you're pacing yourself and not giving extra info that distract attention from the purpose of your paper. When you revise, however, don't overdo it, and definitely don't change your ideas unless you've changed your mind about a certain decision. Don't "beat your paper to death," as my literature teacher would say! But make several copies of your paper (double-spaced) when done and ask other available people to revise it for you. This helps a lot. Make sure you ask several people to revise your paper so you have multiple views on it. I wish you good luck in your class, I hope your professor doesn't fail you!
In a sentence which begins "The comings and goings of the president.........." are "comings" and "goings" plural gerunds? --Donald Eckert
They are gerunds because they are noun equivalents, that is to say they you can test whether they are gerunds by replacing them with other nouns. Besides, both words are pre-modified by the definite article "the."
When writing a list of things, do you put a comma before "and" (i.e. apples, bananas, peaches, and pears). All of my professors say "definitely yes" or "definitely no" and it's getting really confusing. --Maegan, Sam Houston State University
That's called an Oxford comma. It's explained in some detail in the book "Eats Shoots and Leaves." I believe in the U.S. the Oxford comma is optional. In the UK, it's required.
--Ellen Howland, W. S. Parker Middle School
My mother sent me to the store for bread, milk, peas, and carrots. These are separate items, so she might be serving the carrots as an appetizer.
My mother sent me to the store for bread, milk, peas and carrots. This is a combination bag of peas and carrots, so she must be making a casserole.
What's your "recipe" calling for?
--Renee Santos, Piedmont Technical College, SC
Chicago Manual of Style (and other authorities) states that to avoid ambiguity, use a comma before the final conjunction; hence, "apples, bananas, peaches, and pears."
In the case of a pair of items linked with a conjunction appearing at the end of a list or series, that well placed comma helps with clarity. Hence: We ate apples, bananas, pears, and peaches and cream. Confer _Chicago_ for exceptions.
--Derrell Thomas, Thomas Writer's Center
English is a living language. Efforts are constantly underway to simplify it. Sometimes these efforts conflict. A comma before or no comma before and is one of these. I say it is your choice. I also note that many abbreviations are appearing without a period after it; MR MRS. Organizations usually have a style sheet available and it will tell the preferred style.
--George Steed, Poland
I teach to always include the comma. If your professor is coming from a journalism background, he/she probably does not include the comma since journalism does not follow quite all the same rules for commas.
--Mary Kurtz, Athens, GA/St. Joseph Catholic School
The comma that comes before "and" in a list of items is called the serial comma. Generally, it is good practice to keep that comma, especially if leaving it out can cause confusion, as in this example: Teachers want to help students to write clear sentences, concise paragraphs and essays. (Does concise modify both paragraphs and essays?) In some genres of writing, such as journalism, this comma is sometimes omitted--maybe because journalists have to work with strict word limits. I don't think there is one correct answer to your question; the answer really depends on the context of your writing.
--Sam V. H., Iowa City, IA
Next Week's Questions
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What's Happening on the OWL at Purdue
- OWL Eye On...New OWL Resources. We have a number of new and revised resources up on the OWL. This includes the following: Writing a Book Report http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/703/01/; Writing a Job Acceptance Letter Presentation: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/661/01/; Writing Scientific Abstracts Presentation: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/706/01/; Writing a Job Acceptance Letter Presentation: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/661/01/; Conducting an Interview Presentation: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/708/01/ .
What's Happening in the Writing Lab
- OWL Eye On...MLA Workshop. The Writing Lab is hosting a Writing with MLA Workshop on Tuesday, November 6 at 2:00 pm in the lab, Heavilon 226. Call 765-494-3723 for details.
- OWL Eye On...ESL Tailgating Party The Writing Lab is also hosting an ESL tailgating football party for Purdue University conversation group participants on Saturday, November 10 from 11:30-2:30 at 416 Stadium Avenue, West Lafayette, IN 47906. Contact Derek Laan at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions and details. BOILER UP!
- OWL Eye On...Cancer Culture and Community The Department of English is presenting Cancer Culture and Community from November 15-16 in cooperation with the Purdue University Discovery Park and the Oncological Sciences Center. The program features authors Terry Tempest Williams (Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, 1991) and poets Sandi Wisenberg and Sue Ellen Thompson. Visit this site for details: http://www.purdue.edu/discoverypark/oncological/.
Corrections to Last Week's Purdue OWL News
Jim A.'s response from your last issue concerning "because" and commas is inaccurate. First he rewords the question poorly. In his examples, he says that he uses the comma only in the last example because the "because" starts a clause. However, every one of his examples uses "because" as a subordinating conjunction, i.e. the beginning of a clause.
I think the explanation from the Purdue OWL website is much better:
Don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).
1. She was late for class, because her alarm clock was broken. (incorrect)
2. The cat scratched at the door, while I was eating. (incorrect)
3. She was still quite upset, although she had won the Oscar. (correct: extreme contrast)"
--Cathy Crittenden, UAB
This week's OWL News was edited by Dana Lynn Driscoll, OWL Webmaster and H. Allen Brizee, OWL Coordinator.