In Part VI of Not Trivial: How Studying the Traditional Liberal Arts Can Set You Free, I explain the simple method that I use for turning bad writers into good writers. I explain a few of the lessons in detail in some articles in my grammar column in the American Medical Writers Association Journal.
I have also included some links to articles I have written for medical journals. Some of them are not open source, so they are behind a paywall. Sorry about that.
- Definitions: how to say what you mean—There is a difference between a dictionary definition, a legal definition, an operative definition, and a Socratic definition.
- Accentuate the positive—Avoid using positive to mean good and negative to mean bad. A positive result from a pregnancy test could be good or bad news.
- Colorless green ideas sleep furiously—What is the difference between syntax (sentence structure) and semantics (meaning)? The sentence Colorless green ideas sleep furiously is grammatically correct but nonsensical.
- The peasants are revolting—A word or string of words is ambiguous if it could have more than one meaning. Semantic ambiguity results from a word having more than one possible meaning. Syntactic ambiguity results from a problem in the structure of the sentence.
- Women and girls sometimes go boldly, but they are never female men—Some grammatical rules should be followed, and some should sometimes be broken.
- Do your nouns have anything to do with your verbs?—In really bad writing, the subject-verb-object relationships make no sense.
- Prepositional phrases—A preposition is a function word that turns a noun or noun phrase into a modifier. If you put a prepositional phrase in the wrong place, your sentence will not mean what you meant it to say.
- Dangling participles—A participle is an adjectival form of a verb. It is dangling if the noun it is supposed to modify is missing from the sentences.
- Don’t lead readers down the garden path!—A garden path sentence is a sentence that is grammatically correct and unambiguous, but it initially leads the reader into a false interpretation. Garden path sentences break up the flow of your writing because the reader has to stop and reparse the sentence.
- Meanwhile, back at the ranch—Use conjunctive adverbs and conjunctive adverbial phrases to make your writing more coherent.
- The passive voice and expletive constructions—The passive voice is appropriate when the identity of a verb’s subject is either unknown or unimportant. You can sometimes use an adverb instead of an expletive construction.
- Watch out for -ing!—By using your word processor’s find-and-replace feature to highlight every instance of ing, you will mark every English present participle. This procedure will help you find and fix dangling participles!
- Parallel structure: the right way to list, compare, and contrast—Sentence elements that are linked by coordinating conjunctions (and and or) should be in the same grammatical form.
- Editorialize with sentence adverbs—Sentence adverbs are disjuncts. They do not modify anything in the sentence. Instead, they express the speaker or writer’s feelings about the content of the sentence (e.g., Unfortunately, it rained. Fortunately, I brought my umbrella.)
- Shoulda, woulda, coulda—The confusing ways in which we express modality of verbs in English.
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- Effects of 7 days on an ad libitum low-fat vegan diet: the McDougall Program cohort—This article shows the stunning health improvements that patients got from eating a low-fat starchy vegan diet in an all-you-can-eat buffet setting for only a week. Dr. McDougall let me be second author on this study because I worked so hard to get it published. To understand why it was so hard to get it published, read this next article.
- How evidence-based medicine biases physicians against nutrition—Doctors are still being blinded by the smokescreen created by hacks who were being paid by the cigarette industry, to make them doubt that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. Similar propaganda is being used to bias doctors against effective dietary therapy. (You can read the abstract. I’m sorry that this article is behind a paywall. I don’t own the copyright.)
- Are your patient’s medically unexplained symptoms really “all in her head”?—In this article, I explain a big mistake that the American Psychiatric Association made when it compiled the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. (You can read the abstract. I’m sorry that this article is behind a paywall. I don’t own the copyright.) The mistake in the DSM has still not been corrected, even though psychiatrists are now using DSM-5. Dr. Allen Frances, who chaired the committee that compiled DSM-IV, argues that I’m right and the mistake should be corrected.