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Writing Like an Educated English Speaker

Writing Like an Educated English Speaker

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Writing Like an Educated English Speaker

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  1. Writing Like an Educated English Speaker Kathryn Minnick Nov. 8, 2013

  2. What I’ll Talk About General Principles of Writing (3-7) CAS’s Audience and Goals (8-13) Common Requirements for Good Writing (14-19) Differences Between Chinese and English (20-22) Grammar and Style Tips (23-60) Journalistic, Presentation and Personal Writing (61-81) Summary (82) Exercises (83-111) Appendix (112-125)

  3. Writing Style is Relative Know your goal + Know your audience = Know your format + style

  4. Writing Goals Vary • News ✓ • Entertainment • Persuasion ✓ • Factual reports ✓ • Academic writing ✓ • Public relations ✓ • Artistic expression

  5. Media and Publications Vary • Different media and publications target different audiences and have different goals • Goals also vary within different sections of publications (or broadcast programs) • Huge variety • Imagine how a major Chinese achievement in S&T would be handled by: 科技新时代Website – focus on science, less specialized CCTV 新闻联播 – focus on economic benefits, with nationalistic tone 人民日报 – focus on role of CPC in facilitating achievement Science – focus on science, medium specialized – implications for average people’s lives China Daily – “soft power” PR, proof of China’s advance New York Times – strong emphasis on implications for U.S.-China rivalry Specialized science journal – highly specialized science focus

  6. No Single “Right” Way To Write

  7. Depends on Audienceand GoalFor Each Piece

  8. CAS’s English Audience • Foreign scientists and engineers • Science administrators from other countries • Foreign government officials • NGO officials • Employees/officers of S&T-related companies • Journalists/media specialists • Educated nonspecialists • Generally non-Chinese • Some may have bias against Party or government due to geopolitical rivalry, etc.

  9. Why Should We Care About Their Opinion?

  10. CAS English language publications and Websites affect English readers’ opinion of CAS: • Strong English writing increases readers’ capacity to understand CAS and its achievements • English readers take English writing as an overall measure of CAS’s quality and professionalism • “Politically flavored” writing may suggest to some readers that CAS is not free to do independent science since it places too much emphasis on politics/ideology English readers’ opinions may affect CAS’s domestic standing: • A strong external reputation is likely to strengthen CAS’s reputation at home among government, Party and business leaders • Strong international reputation  better funding, more political support

  11. Conclusion:What English Readers Think of CASMATTERS Both Abroad and in China

  12. CAS’s English Writing Goals • Report scientific results to global S&T community • Disseminate achievements and other information to multiple audiences • “PR” – increase CAS’s reputation among all audiences • Attract partners for S&T research and commercialization • Communicate with international partners • Increase China’s “soft power”

  13. Main Writing Formats for CAS • Journalistic ✓ • Press releases • Website news stories • Presentation style ✓ • Annual report • Most Website materials • Reports, etc. to international organizations, etc. • Speeches • “Personal” ✓ • Letters, e-mails, etc. to colleagues • Academic • Journal articles • Abstracts

  14. Different Formats –Common Requirements

  15. Good Writing Should Be: Correct Clear Concise Compelling

  16. Correct • No factual errors • No grammatical errors • No misuse of word • No spelling mistakes • No proofreading errors

  17. Clear • Important points of sentences, paragraphs, articles, etc. are clear • No ambiguity • Modification is clear • Chronology is clear • Cause and effect relationships are clear • Writer quickly gets to the point

  18. Concise • Meaning is expressed in as few words as possible • Unnecessary modification eliminated • Omit information that readers can assume

  19. Compelling • Writing style draws the reader in and encourages her/him to finish the piece • Interesting “leads” (to news stories) or beginnings to other pieces • Variation in sentence pattern • Use of vivid, concrete descriptions when necessary • Use of “action” words and active voice

  20. Chinese “Soil” + English “Plant” =Huge Challenge

  21. Chinese Writing • Dense – a few characters can express a lot of meaning • Sentences are often long – containing many interrelated parts • Sentences often provide extensive “background information”: Based on . . . principle,CAS has decided to . . . Under the leadership of . . . , the institute has committed to . . . • Chinese often makes extensive use of lists • The doer of an action is often not clearly stated in Chinese • Whether a noun is singular or plural is often unclear in Chinese • Whether a noun is definite or indefinite is often unclear in Chinese • Verb tense is less precise in Chinese • Political elements often appear in nonpolitical publications (e.g., “Under the leadership of the government and the Party, . . . “ appearing in the CAS annual report) • Propaganda “flavor” may be strong

  22. What Can CAS Writers Do? • Write directly in English • Follow checklist • Turn “propaganda” into “PR”: soften stridency, change phrases that have strong association with CPC into more “neutral” phrases ORIGINAL: China wants to build a harmonious society. (strong “propaganda” feel) WHAT WESTERN READERS MAY HEAR: China wants to stifle all dissent and cover up problems. ALTERNATIVE: China is trying to reduce social conflicts. (still vague but slightly better)

  23. Writing Tips:Grammar and Style

  24. Key CAS Grammar Problems Misuse of: • Articles – a, an, the • Prepositions • Verb tenses • Modifiers • Esp. position, relative pronouns, need

  25. Articles • Misuse of articles is big clue that writer is not a native speaker; both underused and overused • At least use articles correctly with proper names (e.g., Beijing University, theInstitute of Physics, Sanlihe Road,theBeijing Zoo, Tianjin, theThird Ring Road) • Are you talking about something specific or not? Has it been referred to before? Ex.: 我要去饭馆. (哪一个?) • Do you know when to use “a” and “an”?(e.g., anNPC delegate, anegg, acomputer)

  26. Prepositions • Many phrases require a particular preposition • Logic often doesn’t help – must memorize: “inNovember,” but “onNovember 4th” • Different prepositions may produce different meanings: He did it by himself. (He did it alone.) He did it forhimself. (He did it to benefit himself, but he did not necessarily do it alone.) • Use English Website to check

  27. Verb Tenses • Past tense is default tense when talking about the past; present perfect also is often used • Past perfect (“I had read”) and future perfect (“I will have read”) are hard to use correctly; avoid them if possible! • Present tense is usually used in news headlines to describe past events, but not in news stories • Subjunctive is used in situations of uncertainty or speculation, or when discussing a wish, requirement or necessity, etc. • Keep tense as consistent and simple as possible over a piece of writing

  28. Most Commonly Used Tenses • Present: I studyIT. ✓ • Present progressive: I am studying IT in Germany. ✓ • Past: I studiedIT at Tsinghua. ✓ • Past progressive: I was studying IT in the U.S. ✓ • Present perfect: I have studied IT for five years. ✓ • Future: I will study IT in graduate school. ✓ • Future progressive: I will be studying IT next year. • Present subjunctive: It is necessary that she studyIT. • Past subjunctive: If I had studied IT I would be rich.

  29. Modifiers • Words, phrases and clauses that give us more information about the words they describe: effectivetreatment(what kind of treatment) Before the speech, he drank coffee. (when did he drink) The meeting was held on Tuesday, the day I left. (which day) She flew to Germany without telling her boss. (how did she fly) • Keep modifiers as close as possible to what they modify to reduce ambiguity • Eliminate unnecessary modifiers • Use correct relative pronouns (who, which, that, where, etc.)

  30. Examples: Modifiers ORIGINAL: On March 26, 19 foreign counselorsand other guests were invited to participate in the CAS event in Beijing.(ambiguous; the date seems to modify “were invited”; so, were they invited on March 26 or was the event on March 26?) REVISION: Nineteen foreign counselors and others were invited to participate in the CAS event in Beijing on March 26. (we assume the date modifies “participate” since “participate” is the closest verb to the date)

  31. Examples: Modifiers ORIGINAL: He attended the 2013 IAP General Conference held in Rio de Janeiro in February, wherehe delivered a speech on open data. (“where” is right next to the date, but in fact modifies “IAP General Conference” which is farther away) REVISION: He delivered a speech on open data at the 2013 IAP General Conference, whichwas held in Februaryin Rio de Janeiro. (“which” modifies “IAP General Conference” and is right next to it; this sentence does not emphasize that he “attended” the conference, but that is unimportant; we want to stress the speech, not attending the conference)

  32. Example: Modifiers Both sides agreed to facilitate cooperative research projects and personnel exchange in the future. (“in the future” is unnecessary; when else would it happen?) She is fullycommitted to the project. (“committed” implies “fully”) Hecompletelyfinished the project in two years. (“finished” implies “complete”) The reason he transferred to the institute isbecause it had better funding. (“the reason is” is unnecessary; it is clear that we are explaining the reason) More examples:

  33. Writing Style

  34. Sentence Construction • Know what you want to express • Main idea should stand out clearly, especially in complex sentences • Avoid long sentences (maximum 35-40 words is best) • Average sentence should be 10-25 words • Use punctuation appropriately to set off subordinate clauses, certain phrases, items in lists, etc. • Ellipses ( . . . ) arerarely used in news writing or reports, etc.

  35. Sentences:Background vs. Foreground “Background”: Elements that form the basis or conditions for a certain action or state “Foreground”: Action or state being discussed – should be most important part of sentence • Background and foreground should not have equal weight within a sentence • If background information has too much “weight,” it should be moved to a separate sentence, shortened or eliminated

  36. Example: Background ORIGINAL: 以“需求导向,基础依托,资源集聚,协同创新”为原则,聚焦关系区域经济社会发展,关系民生,地方党委政府关注的重大问题,“牛鼻子”问题和“卡脖子”问题,开展了与 31 各省(市区)院地合作“一三五”战略规划研究,明确了与 31 个省(市区)院地合作工作定位,确定了 86 项重大突破,153 项重点培育任务。 TRANSLATION: Taking “demand orientation, relying on the base, resource agglomeration and collaborative innovation” as principles, and focusing on the major problems that are key to regional social and economic development and people’s livelihood and that local governments and Party officials are concerned about, as well as other very pressing problems, CAS has begun research on cooperating with 31 provincial-level entities to do strategic planning for the “1-3-5” program, has clarified how CAS will cooperate with 31 provincial-level entities, has determined 86 major breakthroughs and 153 major talent development tasks. (Background distracts from central idea of sentence; dominates foreground)

  37. REVISION: CAS has clarified how it will cooperate with 31 provincial-level entities to implement the “1-3-5” program. The program encourages institutes to focus on areas of competitive advantage while reducing overlap with other institutions in order to save resources. With an emphasis on collaborative innovation with local and regional entities, CAS has identified 86 major potential breakthroughs and 153 major talent development tasks it aims to implement. • Combine foreground elements and move to the beginning of the paragraph • Identify key background element (collaborative innovation); put it in subsidiary position; eliminate other background information • Explain “1-3-5” program • Separate information into different sentences • Use “collaborative innovation” clause to vary sentence structure, improve flow of paragraph

  38. Goal vs. Means • Don’t give equal weight to goal and means in a sentence • Can we eliminate one or the other? • A goal may imply certain means that do not need to be stated • Means may imply a goal that does not need to be stated • “Goal” seems more important, but may not be • Goals are often insubstantial or vague • “Means” usually refer to practical actions • We should focus more on practical actions and achievements than vague goals

  39. Example: Goal vs. Means ORIGINAL: The 18 members signed the Beijing Declaration during the ceremony, agreeing to establish an innovation-driven development modeby promoting strategic cooperation, integrating innovation resources and building a collaborative innovation system. • “establish an innovation-driven development mode” is vague goal • “means” (promoting strategic cooperation, etc.) are more important – they are the actual goal REVISION: During the ceremony, the 18 members signed the Beijing Declaration, which aims to promote strategic cooperation and build a collaborative system of innovation. (new practical goal)

  40. Reduce Sentence Length ORIGINAL: 中国科学院组织200余位战略科技专家,在持续开展重要领域科技发展路线图战略研究的基础上,深入分析未来10年科技发展新趋势新特点和我国转型发展对科技的战略需求,研究形成“科技发展新态势与面向2020年的战略选择”研究报告。该研究为国家科技决策提供了咨询建议,也为院战略布局和重点任务遴选提供了研究支撑。 ORIGINAL ENGLISH TRANSLATION: Based on continuous strategic research on S&T development roadmap in some key areas, CAS invited over 200 experts to analyze in depth the new trends and new characteristics of S&T development in next ten years and the strategic needs for science and technology for transformation development in China, and produced a strategic research report: New Trends of S&T Development and Strategic Choices Facing 2020, which provides consultative suggestions for national S&T decision-making while gives support for CAS strategic layout research and key tasks selection. (one sentence, 84 words)

  41. REVISED ENGLISH TRANSLATION: In 2012, over 200 experts analyzed in depth new S&T development trends for the next 10 years and our country’s strategic S&T needs during its process of transformation. (28 words) Based on this work, CAS produced the report New Trends in S&TDevelopment and Strategic Choices Approaching 2020, which made suggestions for national S&T strategy. (25 words) The document can also serve as a basis for CAS’s own strategic planning. (13 words) (three sentences, 63 words)

  42. Punctuation Sentence should contain “one complete thought” • Additional “complete thoughts” should be separated out into new sentences ORIGINAL: He has also developed China’s Agricultural Policy Simulation and Projection Model, (CAPSIM), recognized as a very sophisticated model, it is regularly used in policy analysis. (new complete thought) REVISIONS: He has also developed China’s Agricultural Policy Simulation and Projection Model (CAPSIM). Recognized as a very sophisticated model, it is regularly used in policy analysis. (two sentences) He has also developed China’s Agricultural Policy Simulation and Projection Model (CAPSIM), which is recognized as a very sophisticated model. It is regularly used in policy analysis. (two sentences)

  43. Punctuation (cont.) Subordinate clauses should be separated from main clause by a comma ORIGINAL: "Her goal from the beginning was to determine the structures and understand the functions of these two HIV co-receptors and she was very determined which was inspiring,” said Stevens.  REVISION: "Her goal from the beginning was to determine the structures and understand the functions of these two HIV co-receptors and she was very determined, which was inspiring,” said Stevens. 

  44. Active and Passive Voice • Should mainly use active voice • Use passive voice if the recipient of the action is much more important than the doer

  45. Examples of Voice ORIGINAL: Meetingsregarding promoting cooperation in biodiversity and marine sciences were heldbetween the delegation and the above research institutions. (The word “meetings” is not so important that it requires passive voice.) REVISION: The delegation metwith representatives of the research institutes to discuss cooperation in the fields of biodiversity and marine sciences. (active voice)

  46. When to Use Passive Voice • hepatitis E vaccine approved (focus is on the vaccine, not who approved it) • colossal black hole equal to 17 billion suns discovered (focus is on the black hole, not who discovered it)

  47. Word Usage Similar looking words may have different meanings or usage: “technology” and “technique” Spaceborne synthetic aperture radar technology.(implies a physical product) He pioneered a new surgical technique. (implies a method) “publish” and “publicize” Science magazine published the article. (to distribute or make public) CAS publicized the upcoming meeting. (to tell people about) Words used in similar contexts may have different usages: “award” and “confer” He was awardeda science prize by the president of CAS. (correct) He was conferreda science prize by the president of CAS. (incorrect; a prize or award is conferred – not a person) The CAS president conferredthe science prize on the young scholar. (correct)

  48. Don’t turn an intransitive verb into a transitive verb: CAS officially initiated the Innovation 2020 Program – flourishing it with openness. (Incorrect; “flourish” is intransitive, e.g. “the economy is flourishing”) Some Chinese terms are habitually mistranslated in English because they come close to an existing concept English: In a publication, 栏目 ≠ “column”; 栏目 = “section” In English, a “column” of a publication refers to a particular, regular feature that is always written by one person, such as the column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times. The Policy Forum 栏目of Sciencemagazine should rightly be called a “section.”

  49. Eliminate redundant words: patent license (a patent is a license; we do not need two words) Explain coined or new words, or terms unfamiliar to readers: CAS is committed to “informatization” – the application of information technology. CAS has introduced its “1-3-5” program, which encourages institutes to identify their competitive strengths and eliminate programs that have little hope of success. Use proper form of word; however, this is changing rapidly: USAGES NOW CONSIDERED CORRECT: “Syria crisis” (rather than “Syrian crisis”; fewer words now use adjectival form) Who did you call? (objective case “whom” is being lost) Use native English language sources to check word definitions, usage, etc.

  50. Plurals Some words do NOT use a plural form, or the plural form is expressed in an unusual way: We need to takeadvicesfrom the grassroots. (incorrect) We need to take advicefrom the grassroots. (correct) The institute has several new equipments. (incorrect) The institute has several new pieces of equipment. (correct) Some words do not NEED a plural form unless the writer wants to emphasize a particular number: The company has developed new computer technology. (correct; can mean one piece of technology or several) The company has developed new computer technologies. (correct, but not necessary; emphasizes that company developed more than one technology) The company has developed five new computer technologies. (emphasizes the exact number of technologies)