This part of the appendix covers grammar problems involving the structure of a sentence as well as usage problems such as capitalization.

Problem Modifiers

Modifier problems occur when the word or phrase that a modifier is supposed to modify is unclear or absent, or when the modifier is located in the wrong place within the sentence. A modifier is any element—a word, phrase, or clause—that adds information to a noun or pronoun in a sentence. Modifier problems are usually divided into two groups: misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers:

Misplaced modifiers They found out that the walkways had collapsed on the late evening news.
(Was that before or after sports?)

The committee nearly spent a hundred hours investigating the accident.
(Did they spend even a minute?)


The superviser said after the initial planning the in-depth study would begin.
(Just when did she say that, and when will the study begin?)
Dangling modifiers Having damaged the previous one, a new fuse was installed in the car.
(Who damaged that fuse?)

After receiving the new dumb waiter, household chores became so much easier in the old mansion.
(Who received the dumb waiter?)

Using a grant from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, a contraflow lane was designed for I-45 North.
(Who used that money?)

Pointing out the productivity and health problems plaguing US workers, aerobic fitness programs may become much more common in American industry, according to the spokeswoman.
(Who pointed that out?)

To correct misplaced modifier problems, you can usually relocate the misplaced modifier (the word or phrase). To correct dangling modifiers, you can rephrase the dangling modifier, or rephrase the rest of the sentence that it modifies.

Revisions
On the late evening news, we heard that the walkways had collapsed.

The committee spent nearly a hundred hours investigating the accident.

The superviser said that the in-depth study would begin after the initial planning.

Because the previous fuse had been damaged, a new one had to be installed.
or
Having damaged the previous one, I had to install a new fuse in my car.

After we received the dumb waiter, it was immediately installed.
or
After receiving the dumb waiter, we immediately installed it.

When the Urban Mass Transportation Administration granted funds to the city, planners began designing a contraflow lane for I-45 North.
or
Using a grant from the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, city planners designed a contraflow lane for I-45 North.

Because of the productivity and health problems plaguing US workers, aerobic fitness programs may become much more common in American industry, according to the spokeswoman.
or
Pointing out the productivity and health problems plaguing US workers, the spokeswoman said that aerobic fitness programs may become much more common in American industry.

One particularly effective way to correct dangling modifiers is to create a summary appositive, that is, a noun or pronoun summarizing what was just said followed by an adjective clause:

Dangling modifier problems Summary appositive revisions
Stars that were formed relatively recently should have higher concentrations of heavy elements than do the older stars, which is confirmed by observation. Stars that were formed relatively recently should have higher concentrations of heavy elements than do the older stars, a prediction that is confirmed by observation.
Most astronomers now believe that the energy of quasars comes from giant black holes in the cores of the quasars, which fits the growing belief that black holes are present in the cores of many galaxies, our own included. Most astronomers now believe that the energy of quasars comes from giant black holes in the holes of quasars, a theory that fits the growing belief that black holes are present in the cores of many galaxies, our own included.

Parallelism

Parallelism refers to the way that items in a series are worded. You want to use the same style of wording in a series of items—it makes it easier on the reader. Widely varied wording is distracting and potentially confusing to readers. Here are some examples, with revisions and some comments:

Problem: The report discusses how telescopes work, what types are available, mounts, accessories, and techniques for beginning star gazers. (The "how" and the "why" clauses are not parallel to the "mounts," "accessories," and "techniques" phrases.)

Revision: The report discusses how telescopes work; what types of telescopes, mounts, and accessories are available; and how to begin your hobby as a star gazer.
Problem: Customers often call the showroom to inquire about pricing, what items are available, and to place orders. (The "what items are available" clause does not go with the two phrases beginning with "to.")

Revision: Customers often call the showroom to inquire about prices, check on the availability of certain items, and place orders.
Problem: While the dialysis solution remains in the peritoneal cavity, the dialysis is achieved, a process that includes the removal of nitrogenous wastes and correcting electrolyte imbalances and fluid overloads. (The "removal" phrase and the "correcting" phrase are not parallel to each other.)

Revision: While the dialysis solution remains in the peritoneal cavity, the dialysis is achieved, a process that includes the removal of nitrogenous wastes and the correction of electrolyte imbalances and fluid overloads.
Problem: This report is intended for people with some electronics background but have little or no knowledge of geophysical prospecting. (The "with" phrase is not parallel with the "have little" clause—this one is not even grammatical.)

Revision: This report is intended for people with some electronics background but with little or no knowledge of geophysical prospecting.

Parallelism problems have to do when same types of phrasing are not used in the same areas of a document: such as for list items in a vertical list, or for all headings at a certain level within a specific part of a document. At times, working on parallelism of phrasing is pedantic and unnecessary. However, in many instances, parallel phrasing can give readers important cues about how to interpret information. A jumble of dissimilar styles of phrasing for similar elements can be confusing. Shown below are those different styles:

Questions Noun Phrasing
How are groundwater samples collected?
How should soil samples be handled?
Must monitor wells be used to collect groundwater for laboratory analysis?
What should the samples be analyzed for?
Method of groundwater sample collection
Soil sample handling
Purpose of monitor wells in groundwater collection for laboratory analysis
Purpose of soil sample analysis
Gerund Phrasing Sentences
Collecting groundwater samples
Handling soil samples
Using monitor wells in groundwater collection for laboratory analysis
Analyzing samples
Groundwater samples must be collected properly.
Soil samples must be handled using the specified method.
Monitor wells must be used to collect groundwater for laboratory analysis.
Samples must be analyzed for specific elements.
Infinitives Imperatives
To collect groundwater samples
To handle soil samples
To use monitor wells in groundwater collection for laboratory analysis
To analyze samples
Collect groundwater samples.
Handle soil samples properly.
Use monitor wells in groundwater collection for laboratory analysis.
Analyze samples.

Subject-Verb Agreement

With subject-verb agreement problems, either a singular subject is matched with a plural verb, or vice versa. (Remember that some singular verbs end in -s.) Sometimes it's hard to spot the true subject, particularly in these cases:



Pronoun Reference

Pronoun reference is an area that has caused international conflict and created major rifts in the women's movement—so don't expect this little section to explain it all. A pronoun, as you may know, is a word like "he," "they," "him," "them," "which," "this," "everyone," "each," and so on. It's like a variable in programming—it points to some other word that holds its meaning.

Problems arise when you can't figure out what the pronoun is pointing to (its "reference") and when it doesn't "agree" in number or gender with what it is pointing to. You may have experienced the first type of problem: you're reading along in some incredibly technical thing, and it up and refers to something as "this." You look back up at the sea of words you have just been laboriously reading through—you say "this what?!" You have just experienced one form of the pronoun-reference problem. Here's another example:

Agreement problems Revisions
Lasers have also been used to study the reaction by which nitric oxide and ozone make nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and molecular oxygen. It plays an important role in the chemistry of the ozone layer that surrounds the earth and protects us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. ("It" what?) Lasers have also been used to study the reaction by which nitric oxide and ozone make nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and molecular oxygen. This process plays an important role in the chemistry of the ozone layer that surrounds the earth and protects us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. (Okay, now we see...)

The second kind of pronoun-reference problem arises over lack of agreement between the pronoun and what it refers to. Here is one common example:

Problem: Motorola has just announced their new PowerPC chip.

Revision: Motorola has just announced its new PowerPC chip.

The problem here is that "Motorola" is a singular thing, while "their" is a plural thing—they don't agree in number! Now, maybe any dummy knows what's being said here, but this is imprecise writing, and it can lead to serious problems, given the right situation. Here is a second example:

Problem: These days, every student needs to own their own computer.

Revision 1: These days, students need to own their own computers.

Revision 2: These days, every student needs to own his or her own computer. (How politically correct...)

Revision 3: These days, every student needs to own a computer.

The problem in this example is that "student" does not agree with "their": one is singular; the other, plural. Some self-proclaimed authorities have tried to call this usage acceptable. However, it is imprecise—and we care greatly about precision in technical writing. We have to search for the plural noun we think is being referred to by "their." Not a good idea in technical writing. As you can see from the revisions, there sometimes is no good way to fix the problem. (Things like "h/she" have pretty much been booed off the stage.) Whenever it works, try converting the singular noun to a plural—the plural pronoun will then be okay (but don't forget to change the verb to plural).

Here are some additional examples (the reference word is underlined and the pronouns are italicized):

Problem: NASA hoped that, by using production tooling rather than by making each tool individually, they could save time and money.

Revision: NASA hoped that, by using production tooling rather than by making each tool individually, it could save time and money.
Problem: If an energy efficient system can be developed, electrical vehicles could become as popular as its conventional counterpart.

Revision: If an energy-efficient system can be developed, electrical vehicles could become as popular as their conventional counterpart.
Problem: Currently, Houston has $328.2 million in their 1984-1985 budget to help fund a new form of mass transportation.

Revision: Currently, Houston has $328.2 million in its 1984-1985 budget to help fund a new form of mass transportation.
Problem: Aerobic fitness programs help to improve an employee's physical condition by strengthening their circulatory, muscular, and respiratory systems.

Revision: Aerobic fitness programs help to improve employees' physical condition by strengthening their circulatory, muscular, and respiratory systems.
Problem: American industry should implement aerobic fitness programs for the betterment of their employees even if there is some opposition to it at first. (A double dose of pronoun-reference grief! It refers to what?)

Revision: American industry should implement aerobic fitness programs for the betterment of its employees even if there is some opposition to such programs at first.

Pronoun Case (Who, Whom)

Yes, you too can learn the proper usage of who and whom. (This will soon be an exciting new self-help seminar offered `round the country; look for it advertised late at night on a cable channel.) Who is used in the same slots that words like he, she, they, and we are used; whom is used in the same slots that him, her, them, and us are used. So if you can run a little replacement test, you can figure out which to use. Here's the test:

  1. Imagine that you start out with sentences like these (admittedly not an eloquent crew but they'll do):

    It was the NBS engineers [who, whom?] Sen. Eagleton's office contacted on July 17.
    It was the NBS engineers [who, whom?] performed the tests on the walkways.
    Send a copy of the report to [whoever, whomever?] wants one.
    No one is sure [who, whom?] will be the next mayor.
    It was the NBS engineers to [who, whom?] Sen. Eagleton's office made the request for technical assistance.
  2. Now, strike out all the words up to the who or whom including prepositions:

    It was the NBS engineers [who, whom?] Sen. Eagleton's office contacted on July 17.
    It was the NBS engineers [who, whom?] performed the tests on the walkways.
    Send a copy of the report to [whoever, whomever?] wants one.
    No one is sure [who, whom?] will be the next mayor.
    It was the NBS engineers to [who, whom?] Sen. Eagleton's office made the request for technical assistance.
  3. Next, juggle the remaining words so that they make a complete sentence:
    Sen. Eagleton's office contacted the NBS engineers.
         
    The NBS engineers performed the tests on the walkways.
         
    [Who, whom] wants one?
         
    [Who, whom] will be the next mayor?
         
    Sen. Eagleton's office made the request for the technical assistance to the NBS engineers.
    
  4. If it sounds right to substitute I, he, she, they, we, use who. If it sounds right to substitute me, him, her, us, them, use whom:
    Sen. Eagleton's office contacted them. => (whom)
         
    They performed the tests on the walkways. => (who)
         
    He wants one? => (who)
         
    She will be the next mayor? => (who)
         
    Sen. Eagleton's office made the request for the technical assistance to them. => (whom)
    
  5. Here are the results:
    It was the NBS engineers whom Sen. Eagleton's office contacted 
    on July 17.
    
    It was the NBS engineers who performed the tests on the 
    walkways.
    
    Send a copy of the report to whoever wants one.
         
    No one is sure who will be the next mayor.
         
    It was the NBS engineers to whom Sen. Eagleton's office made the request for technical assistance.
    

This trick works without having to toss around terms like nominative case and objective case. (Incidentally, the third example, which contains "whoever wants one," is typically missed by people who pride themselves on their grammar. The rule about always using whom when it comes after a preposition does not work!

Caution: You can get whom exactly grammatically right but sound fussy and predantic. The famous day-time quiz show in which Johnny Carson got his start was called Who Do you Trust? not Whom Do you Trust?. You have to have an ear for the langauge. If it sounds fussy and pedantic to use whom, use who.

Capitalization

One of the big problems in technical writing involves capitalization. Technical people, developers, and other nonprofessional writers tend to use capital letters for everything that feels important—particularly the stuff that they've worked on. Problem is that this practice breaks all our standard capitalization rules and, more importantly, makes text harder to read. Most professionals in publishing, writing, and editing believe that excessive and unnecessary capitalization is distracting and confusing for readers. Capitalization should not be used for emphasis (use underscores or italics for that, or for really important things, use special notices.

Capital letters should be used for proper names—formal, official names of things and people. For example, Tandem Corporation is a proper name; Mosaic is the proper name of a software product. However, a loose reference to the "development area" at IBM does not need caps; it's not the official name of that area. Similarly, WordPerfect is a proper name, but not its grammar-checking feature. In technical writing, the impulse is often to use caps for the components of a thing—no! For example, if we were discussing the disk drive, the monitor, the CPU unit, the modem, the mouse, or the printer of a computing system, none of it should be capitalized. However, if we were talking about the the Dell NL40 Notebook computer, the Microsoft Mouse, or the IBM 6091 Display, then certainly caps are in order.

Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, in instructions, you want to reproduce the capitalization style shown on buttons, knobs, and other physical features of products as well as on the display screens of computer programs as they are shown on the hardware—but not if all caps are used. If I have a Service button on my computer, I'd write it as Service but not SERVICE, no matter how it is shown on the machine.

A common misuse of capitalization involves acronyms. You know that whenever you use an acronym in your text, you should spell it out first then show its acronym in parentheses. Writers often want to put the spelled-out version in initial caps; you would do so only if the spelled-out version were a proper name in its own right:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed just after Word War II.
When you turn your computer on, it normally goes through a process called initial program load (IPL).

Here are the standard rules for caps:


Numbers vs. Words

In the section on hyphens, it was pointed out that worrying too much about hyphens will drive you crazy—so will numbers. The main hurdle to overcome is to learn that in technical contexts, we use numerals in text—even ones below 10—if they are critical values. In other words, we break the rules that are taught in regular writing courses and that are used in normal publishing and copyediting practice. That's because in the technical and scientific context, we are vitally interested in numbers, statistical data, even if it's a 2 or 5 or—yes—even a 0.

The difficulty is in defining the rules. You should use numerals, not words, when the number is a key value, an exact measurement value, or both. For example, in the sentence "Our computer backup system uses 4 mm tape" the numeral is in order. Also in "This recipe calls for 4 cups of unbleached flour." But consider this one: "There are four key elements that define a desktop publishing system." A word, not a numeral, is preferable here because—well, how to explain it? The number of elements is exact all right, but it's just no big deal. Four, five—who cares?

To summarize the rules that we normally apply:

Here are some examples where these rules are applied:

Some 19 million tons of sulphur dioxide are discharged from US sources alone each year, and another 14 million tons from Canada.(Using the number "19" and the word "million" indicates an approximate amount. "19,000,000" might make some readers think it was an exact amount.)

It was not until after December 1952, when 4000 people died in London from air pollution in just a few days, that real gains in pollution-control legislation were made.

The US Army's standard airborne Doppler navigator weighs 28 lb (12.7 kg), requires 89 W of power, and operates at 13.325-GHz frequency.

All vitrain of the European classification, if more than 14 micrometers thick, has been regarded as anthraxylon.

In 1971, 11 countries accounted for about 91 percent of world production of coal.

The Department of the Interior has just published a report that reviews 65 different coal gasification processes.

Combustion turbines total about 8% of the total installed capability of US utility systems and supply less than 3% of the total energy generated.

Internal combustion engines in small power plants account for about 1% of the total power-system generating capability of the US.

The water-cement ratio will generally range from 4 gal of water per sack of cement to about 9 gal per sack. (These are exact values here; in technical writing, use the numeral even if it is below 10.)

The problem is located in piston number 6. (When there are enumerated items or parts, technical writing uses the number, as in this example. But notice that no "#" or "No." is used.)

The signal occurs in 6-second intervals.

The order is for 6-, 8-, and 12-foot two-by-fours.

Use Code 3 if a system shutdown occurs.

Mined coals commonly contain between 5 and 15 percent mineral matter.

The above illustration shows a 20-unit coaxial cable with 9 working coaxial pairs and 2 standby coaxials, which automatically switch in if the electronics of the regular circuits fail.

There are 59 different species of the coffee shrub, but only 4 are of commercial importance.

Most grinds of coffee contain particles ranging in size from 0.023 to 0.055 inches in diameter.

Using carrier frequencies between 0.535 MHz and 1.605 MHz in the US, AM broadcasting stations sprang up all over the country beginning in the 1910s.

As a base from which to work, 2-1/2 to 3 gal of water are needed for each sack of cement for complete hydration and maximum strength. (These are exact values; therefore, in the technical-writing context, we use numerals. Notice how fractional values are handled: put a hyphen between the whole number and the fraction to prevent misreading.)

The order for twelve 30-foot beams was placed yesterday.

The order was for 30 fifteen-gallon tubs.

They used six 8-pound sacks of nails.

The microprocessors of the 70s and 80s operated under the control of clocks running at 1 to 5 MHz, that is, 1 to 5 million counts per second.

Your eye has a bandwidth of 370 trillion Hz, the visible spectrum.

Transmission rates on ETHERNET range from 1 to 10 megabits per second (0.125 to 1.25 million bytes per second).

In 1978, the satellite carriers' revenues were about $88 million, and by 1986, they are expected to reach $800 million.

Most communications satellites are in geostationary orbit: at an altitude of 22,300 miles over the surface of the earth and at a distance of 26,260 miles from the center of the earth (the earth's radius being 3960 miles).

Aggregates constitute about 70 percent of a concrete mix.

Uniform compaction of 95% or better of standard AASHO densities is recommended.

In this book, Chapter 7 discusses the different audiences of technical prose and translation techniques for communicating effectively with the less specialized ones.

The wheels of the four-wheel tractor give it increased speed over the Crawler, but because of the weight distribution over four wheels rather than over two wheels or tracks, this vehicle has less traction.

Hundreds of thousands of people will have purchased microcomputers by the end of 1980. Tens of millions of them will bought them by the end of the century.

There are two telephones in service today for every three people in the US.

In 1965, Dr. Gordon Moore announced his "law" that the complexity of a chip would double every year for ten years. (Use the word "ten" here because it is not an exact amount.)

The typical stand-alone microcomputer system consists of seven physical components. (Use the word "seven" here because, even though it seems like an exact amount, it is not a key value. It doesn't have the same significance as the "7"would have in "7 quarts of oil.")

If you are using page-zero addressing, use a RAM for memory page zero.

Primary fuel cells are those through which reactants are passed only one time.

Before recharging, a zinc-carbon battery must have a working voltage not less than one volt. (Even in technical-writing contexts, rules for one and zero vary. Just pick a style and stay with it. Using the word "one" is the standard in this example.)

Japan has roughly one-third of the US production of dry batteries. (In running text, always write out fraction like this, and hyphenate them. However, you'd still write "5-1/2 inches.")

The radial fractures are so extensive that they are the dominant structural element over half of Mars's surface. (And just to be sure, "half" by itself in running text is always a word.)

A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.

Inside the UP are three 16-bit registers. (When you have two separate numerical values side by side, one has to be a word, and the other a numeral. Styles vary here, but make the numeral the higher number. Contrast with the next example.)

Data from the frequency counter take the form of 16 seven-bit ASCII words.

Sales of batteries have increased from $510 million on the average during 1957-1959 to $867 million in 1966 and are projected to exceed $1.8 billion in 1980.

The speed of light is roughly 300 million meters per second.

Fifty-three representatives of different software development companies showed up at the meeting. (Never start a sentence with a numeral in any writing context. With this example, some rewriting might be a wise idea to get the numerical out of the beginning of the sentence, as in the following rewrite.)

At the meeting, 53 representatives of different software development companies showed up.

Symbols and Abbreviations

In technical-writing contexts, you may often have to decide whether to use " or ' for "inches" or "feet" or whether to use "inches," "in," or "in."

First of all, remember that symbols and abbreviations are distracting to readers; they are different from the normal flow of words. However, there are plenty of cases where the written-out version is more distracting than the symbol or abbreviation. Also, the context (specifically, technical or nontechnical) has a lot to do with which to use.

Imagine a technical document which has only one or two references to numerical measurements in inches. There is no reason to use symbols or abbreviations here—just write the thing out. But imagine a technical document with numerous feet and inch references: using symbols or abbreviations in this case is better, more readable, more efficient for both reader and writer. But which? Imagine the amount of foot and inch references there would be in a carpentry project (for example, a dog house). In this case, the symbols, " and ' would be greatly preferable. However, this would be an extreme case; otherwise, use the abbreviations.

When you do use symbols, especially for feet, inches, and some math symbols, use a symbols-type font. Avoid the "smart" quotes for feet and inches. Use the multiplication symbol for measurement contexts.

Which are the standard symbols and abbreviations to use? Go with the standards in the field in which you are writing, or with those found in a standard reference book such as a dictionary. Don't make them up yourself (for example, "mtrs" for meters)!

What about plurals? Very few abbreviations take an s to indicate plural: for example 5 in. means 5 inches. For the few that you think might take the s, check a dictionary.

What about obscure abbreviations and symbols? If you are concerned that readers might not recognize the abbreviation or symbol, write its full name in regular text and then put the abbreviation and symbol in parentheses just after the the first occurrence of that full name.

Here are some examples of abbreviations or symbols in text:

High resolution displays use larger video bandwidths, up to 30 MHz or more.

Most touch-sensitive displays use a matrix of either LED/photodiodes or transparent capacitor arrays to detect a physical touch.

The part of the memory that is easily alterable by the operator consists of RAM chips.

A satellite in geostationary orbit looks at the earth with a cone angle of 17.3θ corresponding to an arc of 18,080 km along the equator.

The arc from 53θ W to 139θ W will cover 48 states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) and is said to provide conus coverage.

Fairchild Industries, Inc., was an early participant in commercial satellites.

The voice was compressed from the usual 64-kb/s pulse code modulation (PCM) to 32 kb/s per channel by near-instantaneous companding (a modified PCM technique).

Terrestrial microwave radio communications require repeaters spaced every 20 to 40 mi from each other.

Over a period of several days the spacecraft is tracked from the ground and positioned on station (i.e., in the preassigned orbital spot) in order to commence operations.

A velocity increment of approximately 155 ft/s per year is required to correct drift problems in satellites.

The ancient battery-like objects made by the Parthians in 250 BC were thin sheets of copper soldered into a cylinder 1.125 cm long and 2.6 cm in diameter.

The standard electrodes are the normal and the 0.1 normal (N) calomel electrodes in which the system is Hg|KCl solution saturated with HgCl.

Such batteries contain 4400 cc of water in which NaOH is dissolved.

Water pressure in the heat recovery loop can be as much as 25 psig.


Quotation Marks

Coming soon!