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With a Ph.D. in American literature, Marc D. Baldwin has been writing, editing and teaching for 37 years. He’s published a scholarly study of Ernest Hemingway and numerous articles in various literary journals, and is president of Edit911, Inc.

The World Needs Important Dissertations

What would make a good dissertation topic?

In a perfect scholarly world where all research and writing is done by intelligent, diligent, inspired and inspiring people, a dissertation would be a) a great read about b) a very important topic that c) has been rigorously and thoroughly researched and d) thoughtfully and brilliantly developed to e) instruct, edify and inspire a wide-ranging audience into f) action that thereby solves or, at least, moves in a positive direction toward solving a major problem or issue in the world or field about which the doctoral candidate has studied and with which he/she has engaged.

That’s a perfect world dissertation, anyway.

Sadly, it’s been my (vast) experience that few dissertations achieve those admittedly lofty goals. Most of the 4000+ dissertations I’ve seen are good, but not great. Adequate but not outstanding. Worthy but not noteworthy. Good enough but not enough to do any good.

Pick an important topic, if you’re a serious doctoral student that is.

This is very serious, folks. No less than the future of higher education rests–in a very large sense–on the seriousness, scope, and importance of the research, arguments, and conclusions of this generation’s doctoral students. I say to this current legion of doctoral students: don’t settle for writing tripe. Pick a big and crucial subject. Do your dissertation diligence as if your life and the future of humanity, the world or at least your field depends on it.

Write a great dissertation, I challenge you.

As a PhD and owner of one of the world’s most experienced dissertation editing services (having edited over 4000 of them since 1999), I am an authority on this subject. I hereby challenge all universities and all doctoral candidates to raise the bar far higher than it is now. Raise it to Olympian heights. Demand of students and of yourselves to tackle the world’s problems with your research and writing. Make your dissertation make a difference. Don’t settle for merely obtaining your PhD with it. Make it so good it can be turned into a book that everyone should read.

Now that’s a worthy goal. You can do it, you doctoral candidates. You can make a difference. You can write a great dissertation that might even change the world. All that’s stopping you is yourself.

 

Farmville English, and Why Not to Use It

Farmville has become one of the most popular games on Facebook. However, any good book editor or book editing service would tell you that its use of English is problematic for several reasons. Let’s take a recent example:

Gordon has a chance to discover a very rare chicken in FarmVille!

Gordon just harvested their Chicken Coop and found some Treasured Cornish Mystery Eggs! They’re excited at the chance to hatch a rare chicken and wants to share the opportunity with you.

While there’s nothing wrong with the title, there are two serious grammatical errors in the 31-word statement that follows it. First, “Gordon” is singular, and “their” is plural. Second, while “They’re” is plural, and therefore matches “their”, it doesn’t match “wants”, which is singular. For completeness, I should also point out that I was harvesting eggs from the chicken coop, and not harvesting the coop itself, but this last error does not concern me here.

As a copy-editor, I receive documents that mix singular nouns with plural pronouns increasingly frequently. I would suggest that there are two main contributing factors in this situation: the increasing popularity of text messaging, with its necessary use of abbreviations, which can sometimes result in habitual mis-spelling by those who text often; and computer-generated language from inadequately programmed apps.

Nevertheless, laziness is not the only potential problem here: there are also more complicated constructions that can make it difficult to know when to use singular pronouns and when to use plural pronouns. One obvious, frequently used example is “a flock of geese”. Since “flock” is singular, pronouns relating to the flock must also be singular. However, “geese” is plural, and pronouns relating to the geese that make up the flock must be plural. Attention is therefore needed to the subject when selecting pronouns. This is something with which many writers struggle, including some professionals. However, consistency in number does also improve the clarity of your writing. If you write well, which includes structuring your sentences well, you are more likely to be able to sell your work, and you are likely to get a larger readership. So be on the lookout for such issues when you perform your book editing.

–Dr. Gordon, www.edit911.com

Designing Dialogue: Real Words for Real People

Good dialogue is vital to good writing for a number of reasons:

  • It shapes character without an intrusive narrator telling the reader.
  • The conflict between the speakers can move the plot along.
  • It can provide vital exposition for a reader’s understanding of backstory.

Because a character’s speech is such an important part of developing depth, it’s very important to do it well. Here are some hints to follow when performing your book editing:

  • Pay attention to mannerisms in speech. A person who is uncertain might open a statements with “Well,” as a matter of course. A more extroverted person might use “I” often, signaling his/her sense of importance.
  • Pay attention to dialect, especially regional. This can be like Twain’s Huck Finn, or merely the use of contractions (can’t instead of cannot) or even a general dropping of the “g” at the end in such words as tryin’ or callin’. Sometimes this can indicate a sense of class or education, so make use of what it suggests.

There are some caveats, though, about dialogue:

  • When trying to capture speech, sometimes too much reality can be distracting. A modern teenagers really does use you know or like a great deal in a given line of dialogue. While this should be represented, too much can suggest a lack of eloquence and draws attention from the speech to its problems (unless, of course, this is your intention).
  • Again, dialogue can be great exposition, but make sure it’s natural. For example, the following is slightly clunky:

“Hi,” said Rachel.

“Hello,” said Jason.

“You must be Jason,” she said, “Sarah’s friend, the one who works for a Wall Street firm and volunteers at a homeless shelter on the weekends.”

There are a few issues here. First, while this is important information about Jason, Rachel mentioning it seems forced. Such detail might be teased out later in conversation. So resist the urge to tell what can be shown. Also, be wary of repeating “said” too often. Instead:

  • Use more descriptive words. Perhaps Jason whispered or muttered “hello,” depending on his mood and character. While this can be overdone, if you find yourself writing “said” over and over again, variety can save the prose.
  • If there are only two speakers and they are alternating lines naturally, it’s possible to leave out the “said” altogether. So:

“Hello,” said Rachel.

“Hello?” Jason’s head jerked around.

“Jason? Sarah’s friend?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Rachel. Sarah’s roommate. I saw you at the shelter yesterday, remember?”

“Oh, right,” Jason responded, still hesitant.

This dialogue is more natural: brief questions and even briefer, halting answers as people first meeting each other might use; no need to use “said” when “ventured” suggests a bit more abouthow Rachel speaks; and leaving out the speakers’ names since it’s clear who is saying what and this focused our attention on the dialogue rather than on names.

Dialogue format:

Formatting dialogue is relatively simple. Indent as you would for a paragraph each time there is a shift in speaker. Also, use a comma before the closing quotation mark and the verb: so, note the commas in the example above before “ventured” and “Jason responded.”

Indirect Discourse:

A neat way of avoiding too much dialogue is the use of indirect discourse. This is when one character (or the narrator) relates in a summarized fashion what another character has said or is saying. For example,

“I’m Rachel. Sarah’s roommate. I saw you at the shelter yesterday, remember?”

“Oh, right,” Jason responded, still hesitant.

Jason politely nodded as Rachel began to confide in him about why she hated being late for work, the laziness of the super, and Sarah’s surprising choice of turning down the role.

It’s not necessary to relate all the dialogue, and we get a sense of the character through this as well. Think like a book editor and experiment with your own dialogue.

–Dr. Dan, www.edit911.com

Critical Thinking Part 5: When is a Fact not a Fact?

Ultimately, analysis comes down to discriminating between facts and opinions. This relates to the preceding discussion in two essential ways. First, objectivity seems to imply you are dealing with facts, whereas subjectivity implies you are dealing with opinions. Second, the debate about absolute vs. relative truths and perspectives is itself contingent on the distinction between facts and opinions.

Since, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, the first step in analytical critical thinking is to define your terms, how might we define a fact? “Some thing, some issue, some belief that almost every rational person everywhere would agree is a true and accurate representation of reality.”

But that’s a might slippery definition! Note the “almost,” which allows for exceptions. And how do we define a “rational” person? Or “a true and accurate representation of reality”? What is “true”? What is “accurate”? What is a “representation”? And what the heck is “reality”?

We just can’t get away from subjectivity—from relativity! We must struggle endlessly, it seems, to arrive at a definition we can all agree upon. So, undeniably, viewpoints, positions, terms, words themselves are agonizingly complex and difficult to settle. They can always be “traced” further back, as the deconstructionists note.

Thus, even the very first step of defining terms often hangs us up in analysis. But let’s go with that definition of Fact and add to it the definition of Opinion (or inference) as: “Some thing, some idea, some belief which may or may not be true, and needs factual support to prove it’s a fact.” That’s easier than a fact. Because what isn’t a fact is an opinion. Of course, what’s a fact to you is just an opinion to someone else who holds the opposite viewpoint. And vice versa. It’s very frustrating, isn’t it, to believe something is an absolute fact and to be confronted by someone else who believes it’s not a fact at all?! Thus, the necessity for a rigorous analysis and discriminating critical skills.

The point is that those who have been raised on the tolerance and non-judgmental propaganda of the radical relativists and p.c. crowd need to be reconditioned. In the interest of us “all getting along,” many people have had it drilled into their heads to not discriminate, not make judgments, not think that one thing is any better than any other thing, not criticize, and to be tolerant of every opinion and every viewpoint. But such an approach to life is not only counter-productive, it’s hypocritical. We all make judgments and discriminations all day long. It’s what our minds do. We have to in order to survive.

To be continued…

Your Business is Our Business

What do Toyota, DHL, Black & Decker, Transitions Optical, and Hanson Robotics have in common? They’ve all employed us on a variety of editing tasks. Thousands of business professionals, scholars, academics, and regular folks have also asked us to edit their journal articles, dissertations, books, and a wide variety of other important documents. All told, we’ve edited over 11,000 texts for over 7000 clients.

When I founded www.edit911.com, Inc. in 1999, I did so by drawing upon three main lessons learned from my degree in Business Administration and my 5 years of experience in sales: 1) Provide clients the very best service and value at the lowest possible price; 2) Stand behind our work 100%; and 3) Treat every editing job as an opportunity to develop a lifelong business relationship.

To that end, we provide business document editing, dissertation editing, book editing, and all copyediting for a modest fee and with the industry’s fastest turnaround. You’ll receive precise, concise, and correct copyediting, on time every time.

In assembling my Staff of 71 PhD’s, I’ve applied what I’ve learned from my own PhD in English and from my 35 years of experience in teaching writing to both high school and college students. I know how to fix bad writing and so does my Staff. They don’t need any babysitting from me because they’re all consummate professionals and extraordinary wordsmiths. I’m confident in asserting that I have the best team of editors in the world, bar none.

Take note of our membership in TrustE and the BBB. Read our Privacy Statement and peruse our Testimonials. No other editing service can match us—period.

Give us a try and we’ll try our very best to earn your business for life.

Critical Thinking Part 4: Political Correctness

In today’s politically correct climate, you are at once free to think and believe anything you want, without discriminatory judgments against those thoughts. All must be tolerated. However, if you hold politically incorrect opinions or beliefs—no matter how valid or heartfelt—you will not be tolerated.

So there’s a fundamentally contradictory irony in the radical relativists’ position. If they hold that all is relative, then that sentence itself is contradictory because “all” is an absolute. Furthermore, as I noted above, the politically correct crowd and the radical relativists are generally one and the same. They scoff at the notion of any Absolute moral or philosophical “Truths” while simultaneously insisting that their politically correct positions are absolutely correct.

They attempt, in other words, to enforce tolerance through intolerance of dissenting viewpoints. I elaborate on the above points not just as a primer or warning, but to make a profound point about analysis: to analyze is to discriminate, to make judgments, to say that one thing is better than another, to determine what is true and what is false, and to suggest how best to act upon those conclusions.

Therefore, if you subscribe to the radical relativist, politically correct way of “thinking,” then your analytical hands are tied and you run the risk of being ostracized and condemned for having an opinion that does not correspond to the “correct” one. By its very nature, Political Correctness is counter-productive to a healthy society. So, there’s a fundamental contradiction in such a position.

To be continued…

Critical Thinking Part 3: Absolute vs. Relative Truth

Let’s discuss the sticky issue of absolute vs. relative truth. This is a most problematic philosophical, theological, political, and sociological issue. The debates rage throughout academia and the world at large over how many, what, and even whether or not there are any absolute “Truths” or if everything, every idea, every principle, every notion, is relative to one’s perspective, paradigm, or culture.

This debate is fundamental to analysis and critical thinking. Why? Because what may be true for you, may not be true for someone else. Let’s take just two examples for now: First, how about the statement that “Welfare is good.” Well, perhaps it is for you, if you’re receiving government assistance. But for those who are not, yet are paying higher taxes because of welfare, it’s not so good, is it?

Let’s take another example: “Eminem is better than Bruce Springsteen.” Again, if Eminem talks to you, if he’s where you’re comin from, and Springsteen doesn’t talk to you, he’s not where you’re comin from, then for you it’s a truth that Slim Shady’s better than the Boss. However, if you’re a little older and relate more to Bruce, he’s better than Marshall. Note that I’ve used three different names for them both, which seems to call into question their own relative identities, doesn’t it?

A little American history is in order here (I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I do know a few things about  U.S. history). Prior to the 1960’s, it was believed by the vast majority of people that there were quite a few Absolute Truths. Then came the sex, drugs, and rock and roll revolution, along with the rise of feminism, the Vietnam War, and the deconstructionists in philosophy. The rise of the New Left liberalism tore at the fabric of nearly every Absolute moral and social “Truth.”

Whether these were positive or negative changes is not for me to say. As Fox News Channel says: “We report; you decide.” My point is, however, that from thence forward, radical relativism has been in fashion. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Cultural Relativists, who suggest that nothing is better than anything else, that all cultures are equal, and that to judge is to discriminate and be guilty of racism, sexism, specieism, etc. etc.

This movement against making any discriminatory value judgments gained strength and credibility when associated with the Civil Rights movement and, a little later, the Gay Rights movement. So that today’s generation and today’s politically correct thinking, for better or worse—you be the judge—accepts as ‘Truth’ the notion that there are few, if any Absolute “Truths” and that all “Truths” are relative and all opinions are valid if shared and espoused by some culture or “lifestyle.”

To be continued…

The Conan O’Brien School of Creative Writing: 7 Comedic Ideas to Break Writer’s Block

Do you ever watch a comedian and wonder where he gets his inspiration for comedy? The answer may surprise you … and the creativity involved is just the type of thing to break any writer’s block.

7. Robert DeNiro: Who knew someone like Robert DeNiro could be a comedian? Isn’t he a serious actor? He broke the mold with Analyze This and Analyze and has never looked back! We’re glad he took the skills he learned as a dramatic actor and ventured into the world of comedy. Apply what you have learned from other fields of study to give a fresh take on a subject. A lot of comedy does this very thing. Women are like computers because … . Men are like dogs because …. It opens an entire new way of thinking about a subject that just seems old.

6. David Letterman: Will it float? Letterman’s famous bit is also something most realists ask about any new venture: Will it stay afloat? Does it hold water? Try out any good idea just like a comedian does his jokes. They never get it right the first time either!

5. Jerry Seinfeld: Take the everyday and turn it on its head. Jerry Seinfeld was the master of doing this. He took common everyday events and people and made us laugh about them. He noticed people who stood too close, talked too low, walked with their arms by their sides, etc. You might find inspiration in your everyday life, just by intentionally thinking about the everyday all around you.

4. Gallagher: Sometimes you just need to take Gallagher’s approach and get out the sledgehammer.  Bust things up. Think outside the box? No, smash it instead! Sometimes you may need to just toss out an old idea and start over. Don’t be afraid to use File 13!

3. George Carlin: Take the George Carlin approach. His famous bit was about the words you can’t say on TV. Sometimes you need to purposefully go the places others say you can’t go. Don’t be afraid to take risks and push the limits! Risks lead to success. Ask the tough questions. Write about unmentionable subjects. You may find opposition, but you will break new ground.

2. Jay Leno: Sometimes you need to revisit the ideas you threw away before! Ask Jay Leno if it is OK to say, “I made a mistake!” Old ideas come around again. An idea has its time. Knowing when that is takes real talent! —even if it means taking back something you didn’t want.

1. Conan O’Brien: Think about the opposite extreme. Conan O’Brien has mastered the art of spoofing characters who are the most unlikely or undesirable you can imagine. Remember the bear? I’m embarrassed just thinking about it. All good brainstorming sessions take off this way too. Put the craziest ideas out there first. Sometimes you have to go through 15-20 ideas before you get to a real winner. Don’t be afraid to think of the wild, stupid ideas. They lead to creative, innovative ones.

7 Fiction Writing Strategies of Ernest Hemingway

A giant among novelists, Ernest Hemingway can teach all writers many excellent lessons on how to write fiction. Here are 7 tried and true Hemingway techniques and strategies that you can apply to your own writing. I’m not suggesting that you try to write just like Hemingway. That would be impossible, derivative, and get you nowhere since he’s already written in his own style better than anyone else can. But you can consider his methods and see how they might help you become a better writer in your own style, your own voice.

1) Make your writing the embodiment of your life Few writers have ever made better use of their own life experiences than Hemingway. He drank, he fought, he hunted, he fished, he partied, he worked hard, he was wounded, and he wounded others. And it’s all in his books and stories in one way or another. He took his life and turned it into art. As Hemingway advised: “Write the truest sentence that you know.”

2) Be as honest and accurate as you can with your pain and wounds “You have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously,” he said. “But when you get the damned hurt, use it…don’t cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist.” Truth truly is stranger and more powerful than fiction. As the great critic Malcolm Cowley noted, Hemingway was like Poe, Hawthorne and Melville before him—writers who were “haunted and nocturnal.” Interestingly enough, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a better foursome of American authors than this one.

3) Utilize the Iceberg Principle Just as an iceberg is 7/8ths hidden, beneath the surface, Hemingway’s stories all have rich and complex backstories—just like our own lives. So much is left unsaid or assumed because it happened and they don’t talk about it. “Whatever you know, leave out,” he said. To affect this sense of an iceberg, of real lives having been led by your characters before your story begins, try these two methods:

–          Begin “in medias res”, in the middle of things. Start your story in the middle, get immediately into the action, the conflict. Don’t have a long windup. Pitch the ball fast.

–          Write detailed character bios for yourself. Even if none of what you write makes it into the actual story, write pages and pages of biographical information about each main character. Get to really know who your characters are. Give them lives and experiences before the story starts.

4) Use understatement and irony Nothing’s more boring than a person or writer who tells you everything and does so with no subtlety or indirection whatsoever. Personality in characters, as in real people, resides to a large degree in what they say and how they say it. In your own narration and dialogue, don’t tell us everything. Hold back. Tone down. Be understated. Be ironic. Leave things out. Embrace the silences. Hemingway learned from the Impressionist painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries the paradoxical lesson that what’s left out of the picture makes it stronger and more vivid.

5) Don’t talk about it Whatever it is—death, war, violence, sex—don’t talk about it, show it. Don’t fall into your own voice going on and on about how tragic, painful, awful or wonderful something is. Describe it in such a way that readers actually feel and understand the emotion you want to evoke. T.S. Eliot called this the “objective correlative: A set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”

6) Shape your plots in a 3 stage quest: from innocence, to alienation, then aspiration; or from departure, to initiation, to return; or from rejection, to avoidance, to the quest for something new. This 3 stage plot structure is mythically appealing to a reader. It’s the stuff of epics, bestsellers, and blockbuster movies.

7) Violently edit your writing Take an axe and chop off all sentimentality, discussion, explanation, extraneous words, hello’s, goodbye’s (unless they’re a profound part of the plot), he said’s, she said’s, adjectives, clichés, and definitely any metaphors that aren’t as fresh as tomorrow’s Tweet. Aim for a direct cinematic contact between the eye and the object. As Chekov pointed out, the colder and harder a writer writes, the more deeply and movingly emotional the result is likely to be.

5 Ways to Write Like a Modernist

Modernism was an artistic, cultural, and even philosophical period from approximately 1885-1935 or so.  Why should that matter to a writer? How could knowing a little bit about Modernism help you write a better novel or story? Because knowing the history and lessons learned and imparted by those who came before us in any discipline or field can only make us better at what we do. The application of knowledge and education works cumulatively and synergistically. The more we know, the better we are at what we do. Does anything make more sense than that?

#1 Foster and express a rebellious spirit

The Victorian world was no longer. The old values were gone or exposed as false or hypocritical; the feeling was that new values must be created. The philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche had a profound influence, scorning the idea of getting at truth, believing that there is no truth, no reality, no absolute. All is relative and a matter of individual perception.

He believed in “undecidables”—in life, language, and art. Writers who rebel, creating new ways of writing or thinking about things, are always in demand. Risk takers win big. Writers who play it safe lose.

#2 Understand, recognize, and shun decadence

When a form of something (art, lifestyle, fashion, culture, civilization, government, etc.) has gone as far as it can and no one can think of another direction for it, that’s decadence. So much writing today is decadent. It’s so derivative and redundant. Do we really need another wizard, vampire, or dragon fantasy novel? Decadence stresses the invalidity of structure, believing that there can be no such thing as a coherent, truly workable design in nature or society. Revolt by writing something absolutely fresh and radical. Don’t be an imitator; be an innovator.

 

#3 Think and write like a Romantic

The Modernists loved Romanticism. Study it as they did, to learn its lessons and borrow its timeless aspects for your own writing. Self-consciousness, self-reliance, and the imagination’s power to create are almost obsessions of Romanticism. Though concerned with the commonplace—what’s natural, simple, real—Romantics sought the absolute by transcending the actual. It’s ironic that the Modernists, like the Romanticists, searched for the “Ideal.” Lace your story together with that paradoxical thread—characters realistically seeking what’s idealistic—and you’ll have a winner that will captivate readers.

#4 Experiment with what were then new notions of the nature of consciousness

Freud and Jung were Modernists who posited that consciousness is multiple; that the past is always present and coloring one’s present reaction; and that people are their memories. In literature, these ideas were manifested in Faulkner’s “stream of consciousness” style and Hemingway’s “iceberg principle.” Writers developed a new kind of reality, one preoccupied with the inner life, the subjective.

#5 Play with the then new views of time itself

Thanks to the Modernists Einstein and Bergson [there sure were a lot of monumentally great Modernists, weren’t there?], time was beginning to be seen not as a series of chronological moments in sequence, but as a continuous flow in the consciousness of the individual, with the ‘already’ merging into the ‘not yet.’ Read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying andSlaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut (a 60’s post-Modernist) for what can be done with time-out-of-joint writing. You do not have to write in a chronological order.

The Modernists were a great bunch of artists and personalities. Writers would do well to consider how to incorporate or use for inspiration these five aspects of Modernism in their own work.