An Algorithmic and Social Introduction to Computer Science (CSC-105 2000S)

SamR's Writing Bugaboos

Here are a few commonly-misused and commonly-abused phrases and writing strategies that I expect you to avoid. Not all are incorrect, but all bother me in some way. Hence, you should avoid them in any writing you show to me.

I've listed these ``bugaboos'' alphabetically, since I didn't want to provide any implicit order-of-precedence.

couple used as an adjective
``Couple'' is a noun (meaning two or a few) or a verb (meaning join). Please don't use it as an adjective. That is, don't write ``a couple mistakes''. Rather, write ``a few mistakes'' (preferred) or ``a couple of mistakes''.
This is used too often as a synonym for destroy. However, it means something more, particularly because of its historical background. The origin of the term has to do with an ancient military practice (a Roman practice, I believe) of lining up the people in a village and killing every tenth person (or man), thereby demoralizing the populace. Use it only when you mean ``remove one in ten'' or ``harm to such a level that it demoralizes that which is harmed''.
An overused word, that doesn't say much more than ``makes it easier for X to do Y''. Tends to lead to weak, inactive sentences. For example, rather than ``Computers facilitate interaction'' (between whom?) write ``Computers make it easier for students and teachers to interact'' or ``Computers help students interact with teachers''.
data is
``Data'' is a plural noun (the plural of ``datum''). Hence, you should write ``data are''.
HTML programming
You do not program in HTML. HTML is a markup language, not a programming language. Markup languages talk about appearance or roles. Programming languages (typically) talk about actions. You might ``write HTML''. You might ``mark-up a page with HTML''. You do not ``program HTML''>
media is
``Media'' is a plural noun (the plural of ``medium''). Hence, you should write ``media are''.
Do not use ``real'' to mean ``very'', as in ``that's a real cute kid you have''.
I dislike this word for a number of reasons. One is that it is often too vague. We speak of ``users'' of particular kinds of software. However, at least on the Web, it may be more appropriate to speak of ``readers'' and ``authors''. While ``users'' may be appropriate for some forms of software (after all, people do use software), you might consider making it clearer what use people are making of that software.
A second reason that I dislike this word is that it is often used condescendingly, often leading to the term ``lusers''.
Yes, there are others.
"Use", dressed up, but with no additional meaning.

Multiple Adjectives

You should also be careful when using multiple adjectives to modify a noun, since there are fairly strict rules about meaning (and misuse of the rules can lead to you saying something other than what you mean).

There are three basic forms for two-adjective modifiers,

Obviously, for some cases, standards or custom allow you to violate these rules. For example, in ``Supreme Court justice'', it is clear that ``Supreme Court'' is intended as a logical whole, even though it is not hyphenated and probably shouldn't be. (Note, however, that ``supreme court justice'' refers to the most supreme of the court justices.) In other cases, the context makes the meaning obvious. However, in almost every case, you should punctuate your adjectives appropriately.

For my class, you should always use ``World-Wide Web'', even though convention is moving toward the incorrectly hyphenated version.

(The more obnoxious among you may be wondering why I didn't hyphenate ``incorrectly hyphenated'', since the third rule seems to imply that I should do so. However, ``incorrectly'' is an adverb, not an adjective (what is an ``incorrectly version?''), so the association of adverb to adjective is clear.

Some Formatting Bugaboos

As you will soon realize, I also care a lot about formatting, particularly formatting in HTML. Here are a few simple guidelines.

Use <P> and </P> tags to indicate paragraphs. Don't use <BR> with some non-breaking spaces.
Don't (except for links, which the browser should do automatically). Underlining has its roots in typewritten text, in which writers did not have different weights and styles available. If you want to underline, use italics, boldface, or perhaps a different font color (depending on intent). In addition, underlining on the Web typically means ``this is a link'', so you should not use it for other purposes.

I prefer to see syntactically correct HTML, even if I don't always write it. If you're not sure whether or not your HTML is syntactically correct, run it through the verifier at (Unfortunately, this page is not correct because of some difficulty my page generator has with description lists.)


Monday, 7 June 1999.

Saturday, 21 August 1999.

Wednesday, 15 March 2000

Disclaimer Often, these pages were created "on the fly" with little, if any, proofreading. Any or all of the information on the pages may be incorrect. Please contact me if you notice errors.

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