Video of ASTC Conference 2022 presentation

I presented my paper ‘Two big gremlins: personification and the comma splice’ to members of the Australian Society for Technical Communication (ASTC) in Melbourne on Wednesday, 12 October 2022. The 45-minute video of the presentation is viewable on this blog page.

Apostrophes across the airwaves!

At 12.45 p.m. on Tuesday, 18 October 2022, I was interviewed briefly by radio presenter Deborah Knight on Sydney station 2GB (873 on the AM band). I’d been asked to comment on the day’s Sydney Morning Herald article written by Jordan Baker and headed ‘“We can use the word illiterate”: The writing crisis in Australian schools’, which was published in the paper’s ‘Education’ section. Listen to the interview here.

Colour-coded course notes now available

Hi, everyone. Course notes now available for purchase I’m very pleased to announce the availability of printouts and PDFs of the following five sets of course notes, via my website shop or me directly: ‘Grammar and Punctuation: The basics’ ‘The Parts of Speech: Nouns, verbs and the other seven’ ‘All Your Sentences Sorted: Simple, compound and complex’ ‘Perfect Punctuation: Commas, colons and co.’ ‘Writing Effective Paragraphs: What you need to know’ The price of each printout is $45, and the cost of shipping one or two copies by courier or ordinary mail in Australia is $10; total cost $55. Each printout is secured in a plastic wallet. The price of each PDF is $35. When you’re in the website shop, you can view the two-page agenda for any or all of the five sets of course notes so you can decide whether the content and scope are what you’re after. […]

‘Five years, stuck on my eyes’: An Australian woman’s harrowing ‘historical’ abuse

Author’s note: Please read this highly personal essay if you’ve experienced intimate-partner violence or you have an interest in the subject. The essay is a one-off piece that bears no relation to my grammatical posts or any of my other website content. In the essay, I contextualise and outline the five years of abuse and violence I endured at the hands of ‘Brandon Kray’. I use the present tense and a chronological structure to enable you to be in the thick of the action with me. At the end, I bring the story up to the present day and share a few reflections. On Tuesday, 16 November 2021, I participated in a webinar interview and Q&A session hosted by legal intern Eva Bluett of Forty Four Degrees Pty Ltd. We addressed the legal issues associated with intimate-partner violence, as I allude to in the essay, and discussed ways in which […]

Avoiding ‘the pathetic fallacy’

Do you sense there’s something wrong with the following example paragraph? The report reveals that in some areas of Australia, one in six Year 5 students can’t read or write properly — or understand simple mathematical concepts. One section states that the finding indicates that our education system isn’t equipping students to become productive members of society. Tables illustrate the statistics. The study concludes that low standards of literacy and numeracy are letting down not only young people but our whole society. Each sentence in the paragraph contains at least one example of ‘the pathetic fallacy’, which according to The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary is attribution of human feelings and responses to inanimate things, especially in art and literature. Pathos is to do with emotion and feelings, and a fallacy is a false statement. When we read a piece of creative writing, we like to be able to visualise the actions […]

Making peace or war with our readers

In my experience, a useful mantra for any writer or copy editor to repeat is ‘It’s all about the reader.’

Another is ‘I choose to make “peace”, not “war”, with my readers: I consciously strive to make my writing pleasant, effective, alive, clear and enduring.’

Here are some suggestions for the questions and points to keep at the front of our mind when we’re working with precious words – our own or anyone else’s – and we recognise the imperative of making peace with our readers:


‘Enhance’ is a transitive verb that means ‘heighten’ or ‘intensify’ (something such as a quality, power or value) or ‘improve’ (something already of good quality). Roget’s Thesaurus includes seven synonyms for ‘enhance’: ‘augment’, ‘manifest’, ‘emphasise’, ‘exaggerate’, ‘make better’, ‘aggravate’ and ‘decorate’.

In the glossary to Don Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, the entry for ‘enhanced, enhancing, enhancement’ is ‘To improve, increase, grow, streamline, beautify, strengthen, lengthen, tighten, loosen where necessary or desirable; make go faster; implement an efficiency-gain; brighten; whiten, lighten; make hairier, scarier, lairier, etc. Make more violent or serene. There is nothing that cannot be enhanced. Enhance your penis, your garden, your prospects, your retirement, breasts, lifestyle, chances, medical cover, relationships, froth (with a “froth enhancer” . . .).’

Be a comma chameleon

Are you a comma-crazy writer who sprinkles commas throughout your sentences so you hopefully seem clever? Or are you a comma-phobic writer who uses ‘minimal punctuation’ and omits the comma altogether? Or are you a ‘comma, comma, comma, comma, comma chameleon’ who can flexibly tailor your comma usage so you convey your meaning as quickly as possible?

Let’s study four problematic combinations of words: