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Every writer needs to maintain a high standard of grammar and have a good understanding of key components of writing. Keep yourself sharp by testing your knowledge…

What strikes you about the following passages?

  1. Course fees, which were revised this year, will remain unchanged for 2005. This means that:
  • All new students will begin the course at the new fee-level.
  • Other students are expected to change to the new fee structure during 2005. Students will change to the new fee structure depending on enrolment circumstances.
  • All students will change to the new fee structure by the end of 2005.
  1. If you are a parent:
  • With a child younger than 16 years
  • Have been involved in community activities for the past two years and
  • Plan to be involved in community activities next year

you are eligible for a Community Award.

~

Point-form or bulleting is generally recognised as an effective tool in presenting information concisely. However, misuse and lack of understanding of point-form leads to information being harder to understand than if it were kept in sentence form.

In point-form, each point relates to the same idea but is separate from the next and previous. Correct use of point-form can be tested by reading the phrase preceding the point-form before each item.

Therefore, the second point in Passage 1 is messy: ‘This means that… other students are expected to change to the new fee structure during 2005.’ ‘Other students’ is not defined if the point is taken in isolation. The use of ‘other’ at the beginning of the point makes the sentence dependent on the one before it, and should therefore not be separated from the first point. To make the second point correct without changing anything else in the passage, it would need to be altered to read: ‘Students already enrolled in the course before the beginning of 2005 are expected to change to the new fee structure during 2005…’

In the same way, the second and third points in Passage 2 are incorrect (they do not make sense if preceded by ‘If you are a parent…’).

When using point-form, it is best to consider and organise the wording of each point so that words common to each point can be ‘cancelled out’ and added to the introductory phrase.

Corrected in the simplest way, the passages would read:

  1. Course fees, which were revised this year, will remain unchanged for 2005. This means that:
    • Students enrolling from 2005 onwards will begin the course at the new fee-level.
    • All continuing students are expected to change to the new fee structure during 2005, on a date determined based on each student’s enrolment circumstances.
  2. If you are a parent with a child younger than 16 years, have been involved in community activities for the past two years and plan to be involved in community activities next year, you are eligible for a Community Award.

As the information in Passage 2 is not complex, it can easily be left in sentence form. The passage in its original form was so badly written that sentence form would be more comprehensible. Corrected to point-form, however, it would read:

You are eligible for a Community Award if you:

  • have a child younger than 16 years;
  • have been involved in community activities for the past two years; and
  • plan to be involved in community activities next year.

 

Source of featured passages: various commercial and non-commercial publications.

The original version of this article was published as ‘Frustrations of an English Pedant’ in The Australian Writer issue 369 (September–November 2010).

Image source: Volkspider (Flickr)

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