Saturday, March 30, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is Question Marks In the Middle of a Sentence

Punctuating question marks in the middle of a sentence confuses the best of us. Our instinct is often to capitalize the word that follows the question mark, but usually that's wrong. Here's an example:

When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, "What is the purpose of life?" this is the answer I received.

Note two things about that sentence. One, the word that proceeds the question and the question mark is lowercased. That's because the phrase "What is the purpose of life?" is still part of a larger sentence, even though it is a complete sentence and can stand on its own normally, but in this instance it is only half of the sentence. "This is the answer I received" is the other half and we need it to make our point. Two, there is no comma after the question mark. A version of our example which includes the comma is wrong, e.g., When I asked my teacher, Mr. Cotton, "What is the purpose of life?," this is the answer I received.

Fortunately, your spellcheck will probably pick up the second issue and flag it as a problem; however, spellcheck may incorrectly tell you that you want to capitalize any word after a question mark. Don't do it automatically; do so only if it is not part of a larger sentence and that includes dialogue. ("Is the purpose of life to love and be loved?" she asked. No caps for the pronoun and no comma after the question mark.)

Sigrid Macdonald is an author and an editor. You can find her at   

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today's Writing Tip Is When to Use "Like" and When to Use "As If"

Like and As If

Recently, my mother said to me, “I feel like a bowl of soup.” I replied, “You don’t look like a bowl of soup” and she grimaced. Ordinarily the family grammarian, my mother would have been better off saying, “I feel like having a bowl of soup” unless indeed she felt wet, warm, and slushy.

If you like ice cream, if someone is running like a bear, if it feels like 120° in the shade, that’s the appropriate way to write it. But if you write, “I feel like going home,” that’s not optimal grammar. It’s better to say, “I want to go home.” And instead of writing, “I felt like he didn’t respect me” write, “I felt as though…” or “I felt as if he didn’t respect me” because the first phrase is slang, but the second and third are not.

However, if you want to use that line when you are composing dialogue that’s fine because we know you’re simulating authentic conversation. That works especially well if you’re quoting a teenager, who won't necessarily be speaking in full sentences or using proper grammar.

This is unrelated to the word “like” that frequently pops up in slang, especially for those under the age of twenty-five or thirty. “I went to the movie and it was, like, so sweet!” It’s all right to use that sentence in dialogue but the grammar police will be all over your case if you use it in any other context.

This is an excerpt from the book Be Your Own Editor, by Sigrid Macdonald. Visit her at:  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Multitasking – Does It Help or Hinder Writing?

I used to play music when I wrote letters, short stories, and articles. Then when I became an editor, and started proofreading or evaluating manuscripts, I continued this practice. Big mistake. When it comes to editing, I definitely need to focus on one thing at a time. Now I turn off the TV, ignore incoming text messages, and close my Facebook page in my browser; the only windows I leave open are and a search engine if it's related to what I'm researching.

Some people feel more creative writing with music playing in the background, and aren't distracted by answering the occasional text or e-mail. That's fine, but know yourself and try it both ways. If you've been accustomed to doing three or four things at one time while you write, try eliminating them all and just write. Conversely, if you sit in total silence, experiment with playing something soothing, stimulating, or edgy and see if it improves your story. But definitely downplay your distractions when you're proofreading your work.

Sigrid Macdonald is an editor and the author of three books, including Be Your Own Editor. You can find her at


Free Search Engine Optimization