Writing exercises for engineers and scientists

Tuesday 13 April 2004

I’ve always considered myself a good writer on the technical aspects of grammar, spelling and the like. But Writing Exercises for Engineers and Scientists presented me with a few head-scratching moments. They present grammar as a tightly structured endeavor (for example, “The adverb ‘therefore’ cannot join two independent clauses”), which struck me as overly strict. Some of the sentences they presented as correct also seemed poorly constructed to me.

I’m not sure what to make of the whole thing. Are they out-dated prescriptivist grammarians with no sense of style? Or am I a sloppy writer losing touch with the basic rules of sentence structure?


I dunno about the prescriptivist part, but my Gregg Reference Manual says that therefore, when used as a transitional expression, may join two independent clauses. The first clasue ends with a ';' and you use a ',' after therefore.

Ex(not from the book): I did not like their advice; therefore, I will not follow it.

If they meant you can't just surround 'therefore' with commas, they appear to be correct; however, that would be a terribly imprecise way to explain it on their part.
(I don't normally use semi-colons - I couldn't resist using a transitional expression joining independent clauses, though.)
I haven't noticed any sloppy writing from you; therefore, they are probably out-dated prescriptivist grammarians with no sense of style.

I love those self-referential grammar jokes. One of my favorites was a sentence in a book chapter that was discussing the design of the Unix spell checker. One thing that the spell checker looked for, besides words that weren't in the dictionary, was words that appeared twice in succession, like "Paris in the the spring." The sentence read: "It is clear that that almost never happens intentionally."

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