Issue For January 30, 2008
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 have a former student writing a research paper who, while on the job over many years has increased her knowledge considerably. What does she do to cite something now that she knows and acknowledges is not common knowledge, but which she has known for many years, the original source of which is long gone?
This is an interesting quandary but one that is quite common. In our respective professional fields, we internalize so many things and often forget where they come from. Often these come in the forms of terms or concepts but not precise quotes or passages. Several students, for example, can speak readily of deconstruction, but few can link it to Derrida, for example, or to a specific work.
Scholars in the field will recognize these "snippets" in one's research. Often they will view these items as simply being part of the vocabulary of the field.
The worst thing your former student could do would be to acknowledge a source only to explain they no longer had the original.
If these items point to specific references that should be credited, your former student will need to seek these sources out again. However, if they refer to things commonly discussed in the field, he/she may not need to worry.
As you know, these things can be both touchy and tricky. If your former student has an brief example (less than 100 words), I would be happy to look at and offer my opinion as to whether or not there is an issue with plagiarism.
OWL Mail Tutor
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 in English 1301 stresses writing in the active voice. As part of the revision process, students circle the forms of the "to be" verb. Then after I run spell/grammar check, Word gives Readability Statistics and the percentage of passive sentences. What percentage of the paper can be in the passive voice and still be a good paper?
In general, it is probably better to avoid using passive voice altogether. Try not to use passive voice at all, as frequent, or even small amounts of use, will throw off the reader. I will give you the very example my history teacher gave me when explaining passive voice to me, I tend to overuse it, too. Here's the example:
Instead, she suggested I write:
Most of the time, when using passive voice, the importance of the main point of your sentence, or even your essay, might be minimized. In the example I gave you, just by changing the order and bringing the "land-hungry democrats" to the beginning of the sentence, I stress that rather than Jackson. Most of the time, passive voice will put the stress and attention in the wrong place and it might confuse the reader. The best sentences are most often straight-to-the-point ones that do not confuse the reader by stressing the wrong thing. So, unless you really want to stress the object of the sentence (like Jackson, as opposed to any other president), it is best not to use passive voice. However, there are times when passive voice better conveys the point, if used successfully, and there are always exceptions to every rule; this one is no different.
--Parisa R, UCHS, MO
Always insisting on active voice can cause mis-communication, awkward phrasing and just plain inaccuracy. One of my favorites is:
Do we know for sure it was medics, plural? Shouldn't the first word you read or hear be the "lead actor" on the stage, which is the boy? What if you are looking at video of the boy or his picture? Say dog, see dog. Don't lead off about medics when the story is about the boy. That is just one small example of my copywriting battle against the absolute "Active Rule" as applied to television news. I realize you address print issues but wanted to speak out for clear writing of all kinds. thank you for your newsletter I enjoy it!
--Carolyn Williams, Assistant News Director, WTHR Ch13 Indianapolis
I was recently asked to write an article on chronic pain. In describing pain, it was suggested that I write, "Opioids are indicated for moderate-to-severe pain. This didn't seem correct, so we used "moderate to severe" instead. Were we right?
I think you were right. Hyphens would be correct if it were an expression that works as an adjective and can be replaced by a single adjective. An example of what I mean would be: "They had a happy-go-lucky relationship." In your case, "moderate to severe" does describe "pain" but cannot be replaced by a single adjective.
--Maria Korza, Buenos Aires, Argentina
What is the proper way to say: "Please contact John with any questions (regarding or concerning) this request."
I wouldn't use "regarding" or "concerning"; the plain, unpretentious word "about" can do the job.
--Liv Marken, University of Saskatchewan Writing Help
Turn the sentence around. Tell the reader whether the sentence applies, then what to do. "If you have questions, please contact John."
--Lewis Garnett, freelance writer
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.
What's Happening on the OWL at Purdue
- OWL Eye On...OWL History. Dana Driscoll, the Purdue OWL Webmaster, has been working on compiling a history about OWL. We encourage users to share their stories or encourage anyone who has contributed to OWL in its long history to contact her with any information they are willing to provide. You can contact Dana here: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/writinglab/email/webmaster .
What's Happening in the Writing Lab
- OWL Eye On...Resume Extravangaza! Our trained consultants will make sure your resume is dressed to impress at our Two-Day Resume Extravaganza. Stop by the Stewart Center Lobby on February 4-5, from 10:30-2:30 for feedback on your resumes and cover letters. No appointments are necessary..
This week's OWL News was edited by Dana Lynn Driscoll, OWL Webmaster and H. Allen Brizee, OWL Coordinator.