Top critical review
Good start, but needs a second edition
Reviewed in the United States on May 25, 2016
(My credentials: Taught high school and college English for 10 years, MA in English.)
I like this book. I really want to love it, but before I could recommend it for high school and college students, it needs a second edition with some added material and better organization. It’s generally well-written and the concepts the author includes are clearly explained, but in its current form, it’s not really a practical reference for students who need help with the sentence-level problems teachers and professors are most likely to call out.
Who I would recommend this book to: the student who doesn't struggle too much with the mechanics of writing but doesn't have much formal instruction in grammar and wants to cover the basics before taking a grammar course in college or before taking an AP English Language and Composition class that will expect them to understand these concepts before moving on to more advanced grammatical and rhetorical concepts. It’s also a useful reference for advanced English language learners.
Specific pros and cons I noted while reading:
• It’s easy to either read cover-to-cover or use as a reference. The table of contents and index are clear and easy to use.
• However, the overall organization is sometimes idiosyncratic. I'm not sure why he has a whole (but only two-page) section to list/define parts of speech, then addresses spelling and sentence structure, then goes back to the parts of speech. Also, a subsection on the word "brung" is given the same importance as the subsection "writing with consistent tenses," which appears right after it.
• Tips for composition are to the point, and even after getting a M.A. in English, writing a thesis, teaching for ten years, and working on my own fiction, I found them helpful and inspiring. (I never thought of using PowerPoint to organize a writing project before! Duh!) But they'll also be helpful to the college freshman or high school student looking for help with tackling the blank page.
• I like that each tip is stated simply and in bold at the beginning of a brief but enlightening paragraph of explanation. This makes review/skimming very easy.
• The section on composition is brief but cogent. It's not intended to serve as an instructive text for a composition course but instead just a quick reference for those who need reminders about such things as the differences between intro/conclusion and body paragraphs and what kinds of things to put in a body paragraph.
• The one bone I have to pick (and this may just be because it's my own biggest pet peeve) is that he doesn't address plagiarism, even briefly. I suppose this is excusable since he doesn't go into how to cite sources (since each department/program will use a different citation guide), but still, a brief "Note on Plagiarism" would be a nice reminder for students.
ATTITUDE TOWARD GRAMMAR
• Kudos to the author for taking a descriptive rather than prescriptive view of grammar! For example, he is flexible on the (sparing) use of coordinating conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence or the use of contractions even in formal writing.
• This will probably be controversial, but I applaud the author for supporting the use of "they" and "them" to refer to a singular noun of unknown gender. He points out that this usage has been around for at least 600 years.
STUDENT EDITING ISSUES
• In general, the author does a good job of addressing common problems at the micro level (like forming plurals or using apostrophes correctly) but not so much at the sentence level.
• He does a good job describing the most common parts of the sentence but doesn't highlight related editing issues, like run-ons, comma splices, subject-verb agreement, and dangling modifiers. He occasionally (and very briefly) touches on a few of these common errors, but they are virtually hidden and nowhere near as well-explained as the mechanical tips. He really needs a whole section on “Common Sentence Errors” with these issues covered more effectively and with bold, easy-to-find subheadings.
• Sentence structure: It would be nice to have some graphic assists such as color coding or circling/underlining/arrows, especially in cases like demonstrating the direct object or object of the preposition. The verbal explanations, however, are succinct and accurate.
• I do like how he explains independent and dependent clauses: it's brief and clear without getting into the issue of coordinating vs. subordinating conjunctions, which usually just makes students glaze over. (He does address conjunctions, but only after clearly and simply explaining the difference between independent/dependent clauses.)
• The "Common Mistakes with Commas" section only includes two common mistakes (really just one, since they’re closely related.) There are a lot more common mistakes he could have included.
• He provides good, practical, long-term advice on improving spelling.
• Spelling rules: In the section on adding a suffix to a word ending in -y, it might be nice to point out the few common exceptions (like attorney - attorneys, monkey - monkeys).
• I like how he briefly addresses little usage quirks like "nth" in the section on cardinal numbers and the differences in writing dates and times between the U.S. and the rest of the world. This is helpful both to English language learners and native speakers who aren’t widely read.
• I like the good, solid, useful tips on how to choose verb tenses when writing about various things, like commenting on what a source says versus narrating a chain of events. One common issue that I wish he had included in the list, however, is what tense to use when summarizing part of a literary text (present tense is most widely accepted among scholars, but students often use the past tense).
NOTE: I received this product at a discounted rate in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.