Thursday, March 03, 2011

For Khairin: a history question

Was the breakdown of wartime alliance inevitable?

Consider this:
The question invites you to take some kind of stance, yes? To be blunt about it, you say, "Yes, it would have happened, no matter what" or "No, it could have been avoided." The fun bit is in justifying the stance you take.

What assumptions does the question itself contain? Off the top of my head:
  1. They were working together
  2. The alliance didn't last; it broke down
  3. There is room to argue that the breakdown could have been avoided. Alternatively, there is also room to argue that it would have happened in any case.
Why look at the assumptions? Because it tells you what kind of facts you'd want to reference in your answer.

One way of breaking the question down would look something like this:
What is the topic? Wartime alliance
What happened? The alliance fell apart
Who was involved? List your Allies
Why were they working together in the first place?
Why did it fall apart? List the contributing factors
Now think about which of these factors would have happened, no matter what the circumstances, or what anyone did. Which could have been avoided?

What forces contributed to pulling the allies apart? Your analysis will be incomplete if you don't also look at what pulled them together. Was it a marriage of convenience? Once you've looked at both why the Allies were working together, and what differences and disagreements they might have had, you'll be in a better position to think about if it was possible to avoid the falling out.

If you believe that the breakdown was inevitable, you'll need to say why. If you think it was avoidable, you'll need to say why. How do you construct a reasoned argument? If all factors are equal, then it'll be hard to make any kind of an argument. If, on the other hand, some factors are more important than others, you'll be able to say exactly why the final outcome was avoidable or not.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Punctuation – A Guide to Commas

Over the years, I've seen lots of user submissions. Articles, reviews, competition entries… Reading these submissions has always made me wonder: do they even teach punctuation in school anymore?

I know that in a world of text speak (or would that be txtspk?) it's no longer fashionable to spell correctly and to use punctuation. But English literature major that I am, I refuse to accept that it's okay to present someone with 200 hundred words with no punctuation whatsoever.

When you write something to someone, presumably you want them to understand what you're saying to them. You're trying to communicate. Decent spelling and punctuation are tools in your toolbox to help you communicate. Style, clarity of expression and organisation, among other things, can come later.

All this blather, by the way, is only a lead-up to an excellent article I read today. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to share with you The DumbLittleMan Guide to Comma Use. Enjoy. :)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bunny lullaby

Rockabye bunny in the burrow
When the wind blows the hayfields will sway
When the gate breaks the bunnies will roam
And down will come carrots, green tops and all.

(placeholder image till I can get one of my boys uploaded!)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

'Whereby' is not the same thing as 'where'. People using the word 'whereby' to sound intelligent only sound silly when they use it wrongly. Often, people also use 'whereby' when they mean 'wherein'. (This all drives me bats, by the way.)

In the effort to sound more impressive, many people use big words they don't quite understand, but words have nuances, and similar-sounding words don't always mean the same thing. 'Angry' is not the same thing as 'annoyed' or 'furious', for example — there are shades of meaning there.

There's nothing wrong with using simple language and clear speech, as long as it gets your point across. Think about it: cheap clothes made of poor quality material are often dressed up with fancy decorations and trimmings; a plain, well-cut shirt made of excellent fabric needs no disguise with ric-rac and beading and sequins. You can see the quality of the well-made item right away. Tons of cheap trimming, on the other hand, doesn't disguise poor material and cut at all. ;)

Also, while you're at it, think about pacing in your writing. Vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs. Reading a piece that's all long, involved run-on sentences isn't fun, and more often than not, complex sentence structure obscures your meaning. Also, when you write long sentences, grammar tends to suffer, unless you're really good about proof-reading and know your grammar instinctively.

Exclusively using short sentences, on the other hand, makes your writing choppy. This again makes it hard to follow your train of thought.

Writing is really about communicating, so communicate! :)

Friday, January 12, 2007

What's it all MEAN?

You know, one of the neat things about Google is that it's kinda got a built-in dictionary. Or at least it makes it easy for you to check on the meaning of words. All you do is type in "define:" and voila, you turn up a list of search results for the word you're looking for. It's pretty neat.

Plus, Google search has kinda a built-in calculator thing going. Try typing "square root(4225) - 33" into the search box and see what you get.

One of the reasons I like Firefox is the search bar. By default, Firefox uses Google as its web
search engine, so it means you can use the same searches you would use on the Google homepage, and it works exactly the same way.