Saturday, June 11, 2011

Another minor sentence edit

I'm writing The World's Most Boring Paper, that is, a paper formatted perfectly to fit APA guidelines. I mean, I have a Table of Contents, and then a section of the paper explaining how to format the table of contents.  No, I don't think any student is actually going to read this all the way through, but this is the sort of thing I get paid for. :)

Anyway, I wrote this sentence, and yes, it's boring, but that's not why I'm copying it here.  It's a good example of a "misplaced modifier."  See if you can tell what I mean.
Don't forget documentation of the works cited on the final page.

The modifier is that prepositional phrase in bold above. Positioned there at the end, it sounds like documentation is only required for those works cited on the last page (that is, not all the way through the paper).

Easy fix, once I sensed there was something wrong. And you know, when you make a minor mistake like that, there's always some very earnest student who actually did read the whole paper and meticulously followed directions and documented only the works cited on the final page.

So here's the easy fix, and you figured that out too, I bet. (The hard part is sensing instinctively that something is wrong.)
Don't forget documentation on the final page of the works cited.

So what's on the final page? Documentation!

You'd be surprised, I hope, that there are actually writers (and we've come across them) who are so defensive they argue they MEANT it that way and won't change the misplaced modifier.  (These are the writers editors refuse to work with again.)

Don't be one of those.

And don't all clamor for a glimpse of this fascinating essay. :)



Lisa Hendrix said...

How about something both more positive and more direct:

Remember to document works cited on the final page.

Jordan McCollum said...

That's more positive and direct, but it uses the same ambiguity.


On the final page, document works cited. On pains of death.

What level are these students? A college student making that kind of argument is being a snark and deserves the mark-down.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

On the final page, include a listing, in proper APA format, of all works cited within the paper.

Man, I haven't played with APA format in a long time. When I used to freelance copyedit, that's what I did the bulk of.

Edittorrent said...

Jordan, that's the sort of snark I think students probably like!

Lisa, yes, I actually like the more direct address. It helps avoid passive voice too.

Susan, I am dreaming APA these days. Depressing! And then they went and changed it. Groan.

green_knight said...

Remember to include a bibliography of all works cited at the end of your paper.

IMHO, it helps to include the term they might want to look up - and I wouldn't want any student to internalise 'cited works need to fit on the last page'.

(I think such essays can be tremendously helpful - particularly with current changes or if you use a house style.)

green_knight said...

dreaming APA sounds kind of surreal - are you fighting your way through paper mountains, the trusty Alot at your side?

Edittorrent said...

GK, bibliography means something different in APA, so I don't use that. :)

I have dreamed about being crushed by a mountain of papers. But if the APA is correct, I don't mind!

green_knight said...

Alicia, could you define the difference? I suppose I should have said 'references' since that's what's mostly used, but I've come across people purporting to use APA referring to it as 'bibliography.'

Miles said...

"Don't forget documentation on the final page of the works cited."

Wait, am I supposed to add my documentation to the last page of the original works I cited?

This version really isn't much more clear than the original. Also, I think the original may not have technically been a dangling modifier -- the modifier "on the final page" goes with "documentation of the works cited." It's all about which groups of words go together to form a discrete unit in the sentence. Now that you've split "documentation" from "of the works cited," it's hard to tell what you're even talking about.

There's ambiguity either way. You may just want to recast the sentence. Maybe something like, "Don't forget to document the works cited. Your documentation belongs on the final page."