If you’re fluent in English, you pick the right verb tense naturally, without stopping to flip through a grammar book. But when you need to write a paper for a peer-reviewed journal, a research report, or your PhD thesis, verb tenses start to haunt you if you’re a beginner writer or lack confidence in your grammar skills. Should the introduction or literature review be written in the present tense or past tense? How about the methods section? Past or present tense—which is better for a research paper?
The verb tense controversy
There’s no consensus on verb tenses in academic writing. For the literature review, most academic writing books recommend using the past simple or present perfect when talking about past research, and the present simple when referring to general truths. However, some other resources say writing the literature review in the present simple tense (the so-called literary present) helps simulate an ongoing academic conversation, to which you’re contributing with your current paper. For the methodology and results sections, virtually all academic writing resources agree that the past simple tense is the logical choice, as is the present simple tense for the conclusions.
The danger of imitating others’ writing style
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“Sorry, I need to cancel this job. I bought a grammar checker and no longer need a copyeditor”, an Upwork client said to me a few years ago.
I wish I had this blog back then.
No matter how advanced technology becomes, English editing can’t be left to computer programs. Language is too complex, and grammar checkers—from Microsoft Word’s built-in tool to Chrome extensions that check your grammar while you type—can only do so much. They are good at finding misspellings, repeated words, some usage and punctuation errors, and a few other things. But there’s a long list of what they can’t do, which is why they won’t replace professional editors or proofreaders anytime soon.
Here are just 10 things English grammar checkers cannot detect: Read more →
A few years back, I wrote an article for a project management website. In the final draft I submitted for publication, I left an error: Scum Master instead of Scrum Master. How could I have missed such an embarrassing typo? Now I know: When we read our own work, we don’t focus on the words themselves but on the message we’re trying to communicate, so our typos tend to survive till they meet an objective eye.
My job as a proofreader is to seek and destroy typos in other people’s work, but I have a nerdy hobby: I collect the funniest ones and then write blurbs inspired by them.
I presented the first half of the funniest typos of 2017 in my July blog post. Here’s the second half:
Arial [Aerial] photograph
Aerial comes from Latin aerius, meaning “airy, aerial, lofty, high” or from Greek aerios, meaning “of the air, pertaining to air”. An aerial photo is taken from a plane, helicopter, satellite, or drone (National Geographic has some great drone photos). Arial is a font developed by Monotype, and professional designers wouldn’t have a photograph of Arial in their wallet. They actually frown upon Arial because it’s an imitation of Helvetica. Read more →
My favourite grammar whodunit is the case of the dangling modifier.
It all starts on a cold, dark night…You’re sitting on the sofa, wrapped up in a woollen blanket, holding a tablet in your hand. You read a sentence but feel something is wrong with it, so you read it again and notice the doer of the action has escaped and is nowhere to be found. You’re now in charge of gathering all the clues from the context to guess the suspect’s identity. Unravelling the intended meaning of a flawed sentence is hard detective work for you as a reader. Read more →
In the first part of this post, I described my experience working on Upwork. In this second part, I’ll tell you why I used Upwork for so long and why I decided to close my account.
Why I liked Upwork
For a long time I thought that if I cancelled my Upwork profile, new clients wouldn’t be able to find me, since my website is not SEO optimised and I’m not paying for Facebook ads or the like. But they did find me—it turns out word-of-mouth beats paid advertising. Read more →
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
When I decided to become an English editor and proofreader, I didn’t know where to start. I had no clue where to find projects, lacked professional editing experience, and had no confidence in my skills. So I did what many newbie freelancers did at the time: opened an oDesk (now Upwork) account. Read more →
Let’s play a quick game: Read the title of this blog post aloud. How did you read it? “A coffee costs two euros” or “A coffee costs two euro”? Here’s my guess: If you’re American, British, or Portuguese, you probably said “two euros”. If you’re German or Italian, you probably said “two euro”. The nice thing about this game is that everyone wins. The correct plural of euro is euro or euros, depending on whom you ask or what dictionary you consult. Read more →
My job gives me the chance to see all kinds of typos—many dull, a few irreverent, and some hilarious—before they reach the reader. Although it’s fun to correct misspellings, some are too creative to be buried under red markups forever. That’s why last year I decided to start this series of blog posts.
Here is the first half of the lineup of the most creative typos I came across in 2017:
Customers prefer leaning [learning] about a brand
Who knows what customers prefer these days? Leaning against a brand or learning about a brand? I lean towards the second option. You can lean against a wall when you’re tired of waiting in queue. You lean towards an idea when you have a preference towards it. Read more →
A couple of days ago a manager shared on LinkedIn a photo of a team of smiling men and women celebrating some achievement. Nice. But her message read, “thanks to my 15-man team” (I’m paraphrasing).
It’s true that in Old English man meant “person”. But by the Industrial Revolution, the generic man was gone and the modern meaning of the word (“adult male human”) was firmly established. So, “15-man team” is not the same as “15-person team”.
Not convinced? Would you say “Marie Curie was the first man to win a Nobel Prize twice”?
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In the first part of this blog post, I listed five language editing tips for academic writers:
- Write we did instead of this paper did.
- Avoid long paragraphs.
- Use because.
- Reference figures in parentheses.
- Be assertive.
Language editing tips
In this second part, I’m discussing five more tips, which I hope you’ll find useful when revising your own papers. Read more →