ESL Corner: Adjectives and Adverbs – What’s the difference?

English language writers use adjectives and adverbs to describe things. Unfortunately, the words are not interchangeable and can pose some problems for ESL writers. Unlike many other languages, English places adjectives before nouns – not after. And ESL writers can struggle with irregular adverbs as well as punctuation with adjectives. So here’s some guidance for […]

Scientists: Twitter is Research Too

A recent Sunday edition of the New York Times featured a word of warning to scientists who aggressively pursue publication in a variety of new venues. The article, “Scientific Articles Accepted (Personal Checks, Too),” outlines a series of practices it describes as predatory, and decries the fate of the unwary scientist who falls into the […]

ESL Corner: Perfect and Continuous Tenses

When English language writers wish to reference a block of time collectively—last week, later, Saturday afternoon—they treat it as one point in time.  This applies to simple past and simple future.  English language writers use simple present for things done routinely or habitually. Think of simple present as this point in life or even this point […]

Plain Language: A Division of Labor

Definitions of Plain Language on include those by legal writer Bryan Garner, scholar Robert Eagleson, software creator Nick Wright, technical communicator Beth Mazur, and essayist George Orwell. Such diversity illustrates the difficulty we have implementing plain language today. How should plain language practitioners define plain language and establish guidelines for its implementation with such […]

The Scientific Paper and Modes of Discourse

One strategy composition teachers have used since the earliest days of the art is to ask students to decide upon a mode of discourse. Classical rhetoricians had three: deliberative, forensic, and epideictic. In modern parlance, if you’re writing about why or how something should be done, it’s deliberative. If you’re attempting to determine whether or […]

The Importance of Writing Skills and Grammar for Your Résumé

When it comes to résumé writing, a surprisingly large number of people agonise about the little things like what size margins to keep or whether to underline a particular term. Things like this are often not too important because when a recruiter is scanning your résumé, they probably won’t imagine how it would have looked […]

Subject / Verb Agreement for ESL Writers

Subject/verb agreement in English language writing obviously means that the subject actually does what the sentence states. For example: A car’s engine runs when it’s turned on, but a car does not run down the street. It goes down the street. I write my name, but I don’t write a pencil. I write my name with a […]

Commas and the ESL Writer

Commas are the bane of many writers. Native speakers often trip over this punctuation mark, and ESL students struggle with it even more. So in this post, I will try to reduce this enigma to its essential parts. NOTE: This post is strictly for writing in American Standard English. The Queen’s English sometimes differs. The rule many […]

Teaching Writing Skills the Right Way

I teach government biologists how to write more clearly. And for the past six months, I’ve been knee-deep in curriculum design. So I thought now would be a good time to share some wisdom from the trenches, the lessons I continue to learn about how to teach writing in ways that are efficient, effective, and engaging. While these […]

How to Write Concisely in English

As a writer and editor, I have noticed that native English speakers often use extra words when writing. This is ineffective. My advice: be concise. First, let’s discuss passive voice. Passive voice turns the direct object into the subject so that something or someone else can act on it. For example, The report was submitted […]