Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What are the clichés in English?

Some things that might be so obvious to people using only English, are totally invisible to people who have English as their second, third, fourth or fifth language, and are living in a non-English speaking country. I learned English as my fourth language, so it is hard to guess, what are the combinations of words to avoid. I do not have such a strong feeling for the language to be sure of the difference; therefore I decided to write a blogpost about clishés and try to collect some good links and hints for me and other people like me.

Scott Bury, an editor, journalist and writer living in Ottawa, says that clishés are words or "phrases that sounded fresh once, but have had the life squeezed out of them through overuse by lazy writers." So, these are the combination of words that show clearly you being a careless writer. Clishé is like an intellectual shortcut, the difference between art and copies.

So lets now make a short collection of not-to-do-it-at-home-while-writing found online.

List of "new clichés" by Scott Bury from 2011: 

thin blue line, meaning the police force
splitting headache
fallen on deaf ears
snapped like a whip
peppered with gunfire
master plan
pushing the envelope
out of the box
going forward, meaning the future
hit on
tagged and bagged, meaning a dead body
more than meets the eye — the writer’s job is to show the reader more than their eyes will see.

Dr. Michael Spear ´s journalistic clichés from the WritersWeb:

all walks of lifegive the devil his duenever a dull moment
behind the eight ballhook, line, and sinkernipped in the bud
bitter endby hook or crookpatience of Job
calm before the stormin the nick of timepaying the piper
checkered careerin the same boatsands of time
chomping at the bitleaps and boundsselling like hot cakes
cool as a cucumberleave no stone unturnedstick out like a sore thumb
cry over spilled milklock, stock, and barrelwhirlwind tour
fall on deaf earslong arm of the lawwinds of change
from time immemorialmarch of historywriting on the wall

The same writers´ webpage is teaching how to identify clichés by yourself.
When writing, question any comparison or image you are about to use. Cliches often sneak in the barn door (that's a cliche, by the way) when we try to be descriptive. Is the phrase you're about to use one that you've heard frequently in casual conversation, newscasts, and advertising? If so, it is probably a cliche or on its way there.
Worn-out or vague phrases found in student work, and alternates (or at least advice):
everyday lifecan be cut completely or made specific. Consider: everyday life is very different for a college student and, say, a stock broker or homeless person!
in today's societytoday, currently
pros and consadvantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits
peoplewhich ones? Be specific.
societywho is "society"? Too many alternates exist to list. Instead, be specific about which specific group of people considered
this day & agetoday, presently

Pearl Luke ´s collection of

681 Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing

I was going through some of them, there are 681!!! I do not think that I use that many myself, it is probably because I am not so familiar with the overused phrases in the first place, so I am not able to use them. Some of them are actually quite funny, like 

curiosity killed the cat

I do not think I will be using it in my academic writing even though research is all about being curious and many experiments have been made using small animals, usually rats or rabbits. Well, that was a Nordic joke.

David Z. Morris, a writer, musician, and currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of South Florida, compares jargon and clishés in his blog "Minds like knives". Even though the name of his blog "minds like knives" sounds in itself a bit like a clishé to me, I invite you to take a look at what David is writing.
Jargon condenses a whole discourse into a single word, and when used judiciously, and with a consciousness of audience, makes writing richer.  A cliche, by contrast, is the performance of a conventional linguistic gesture that has actually lost whatever original meaning it might have had, a verbal twitch that has more to do with sounding like an academic than actually thinking carefully.     
He has a quite good description about what we should be avoiding while writing academic texts. He does not stop with this explanation but goes on stating that clishés in academic writing "deserve to be banned from the lexicon forever. There's a wealth of these that enrage and frustrate me, utterly empty phrases that cloud minds and swell word counts to absolutely no effect. Since the journals are providing new bad writing all the time, I'm hoping the topic will keep me angry and productive basically forever." 

Well, there you go! Some people really hate clishés and are ready to spend their free time to fight against this kind of bad language. We have to be careful not to be pushed to the walls and having our throats cut off by these angry academic people. 

At the same time I see why they are angry. Some people do misuse the language in a way that should be pointed out. Scott Bury suggests:  "Think of new ways of getting these images across. No, it won’t be easy, but did you think the writer’s job would be easy?" He says that writing must be simple but not easy.     

Looking for lonely island #artofeducation

"I took a step back and was watching people, watching how everybody reacted" says the science fiction author Peter V. Brett, leans back and writes his bestselling book about 9/11 while other people are freaking out and going mad of horror. Instead of following the crowd in their emotions, he decides to behave rationally, and write.
I read somewhere that the best time to write is when you first arrive at a new place, whether that’s a new country, city, or even restaurant. Everything is fresh and new and strange. You don’t have those lenses over your eyes that tell you what to ignore and what to notice. We writers can be social misfits. While sometimes that’s uncomfortable, it gives us a creative edge. When you’re an outsider, you see things others don’t.
This is an excerpt of Joe Bunting´s handbook for writing "The Write Practice: 14 Prompts"(2011:17) that he shares free of charge via his homepage The lines what I chose were actually a small part of Joe ´s first exercise for writers. He suggest to write about the "out of space" experiences, the awkward moments when we feel misplaced, uncomfortable (ibid.).

Why is the distance important?

Getting a distance requires you to "transcend the immediate moment in your mind" explains Maria Konnikova referring to the work of psychologist Yaacov Trope. In her recent book "How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes: The Value of Creativity and Imagination" she goes even further, and claims that "[o]ne of the most important ways to facilitate imaginative thinking is through distance."

To get distance is nowadays becoming quite a challenge, because we are actually getting more and more connected to each other. For writers, it means creating a distance in a very conscious way, it means choosing to be alone, choosing the strange situations, new places, cutting off from mass communication and think or work in solitude.

There are people writing together in groups but at least I have never yet experienced, that it is possible to compose a good sentence in a room filled with people who are communicating with me. Writing is much more fruitful in a lonely island. I am living in a small village surrounded by the sea, forests, small cliffs and open fields in Sweden. Sometimes I feel it is not distant enough.

#slowtwitter to find a lonely island

Creative imagination in writing #artofeducation

I am at this point now, where there is a deadline coming closer and closer, but I have nothing to deliver. The usual student syndrome. How to find the creative side in myself despite the stress?

Hours are passing. I am writing nothing. But instead reading, small talking, chatting, skyping, blogging, reading again...

What is the flow?

First I am in the  #slowtwitter discussion @tammevelin with a Swedish educational scientist (Bertil Törestad) about the meaning of "flow" and unconscious in our behaviour. That keeps developing. What is creativity and how does it occur? I am very creative here, flow is the main mood of working for me.

I think flow is when you are unconsciously processing what you are up to and everything just flows....
 View conversation 

Törestad has a PhD in psychology. I disagree because I have a book called "Flow" from Csikszentmihalyi (I´ll never learn to write the name correct! I guess that is not so special.):
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, this positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields. (
I think that the flow means that you are fully present and conscious of what you are doing, the senses are wide open but you stay focused. It is exactly the opposite of unconscious mood. The psychology PhD says nothing after a while, I guess he did not know about the flow so much. So I am all alone and getting back to my previous topic which was to write something for

Word is the beginning of intelligent design

A moment later I am sitting here watching videos with David Dennett about "Intuition pumps" and "intelligent design", again getting into a discussion. Now I am disagreeing with some of his arguments. Dennett talks about his newest book "Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking", there are 77 thinking tools he is sharing in the book, he presents some of them to this audience. Interesting, he calls it the App-s for the brain. Sounds like something you would like to download: "rhetorical question" we should try to answer these anyway (!), "surely-alarm" being usually the weakest link in argumentation and "rathering-signals" that very often present a false dichotomy. These are nice little tools that are used regularly, start noticing it and you are able to avoid at least some of the classical "white men´s traps".

Dennett himself is a nice old man, little bit like a grandfather or a Santa Claus figure for a mankind. Sweet and innocent. I have a good relationship with old men with white beards, at least usually I have. Perhaps that is changing now because  recently I wrote a blog post "Mom, watch me, I am doing the impossible" questioning "their" real expertise in a most straightforward manner. That, of course, is nothing personal, I am just exercising my rights to think and question the world as perceived by our grandfathers, turning off some of the common "fixed points" or "intuition pumps", to use Dennett´s vocabulary.

Dennett´s discussion and claims were actually quite interesting, until he mentioned Stalin "treating" people instead of "punishing" and asking if we want Stalin`s methods back. That is a tricky road, specially from a person talking about thinking tools while standing in front of an admiring global audience... Hearing that sentence, made my my eyeballs want to jump off, and roll away to opposite directions. What a naive approach from an old educated man, especially if you want to advocate for punishment, as Dennett did! I guess he has not heard of Gulag prison camps in Siberia and millions sent there to die. Punishment was the favourite thinking tool for Stalin, he exercised it on millions and millions of people. It was no way a therapy or a treatment machinery that put 10 016 persons (June 1941) and 20 701 people (March 1949) in Estonia on animal wagons and send them to Siberia (Estonian population all together was about 1 million or even less back then). They were innocent people sent to die of hunger and cold, 90% of them never returned (women, men, children, old people). Calling that treatment, is an obvious misstatement.

I find it interesting how people build up their claims, it is a kind of emotional ladder, very often there is no rational explanations behind the ideas. These old men with their beautiful Santa beards are probably one of the cleverest people on Earth, they are used to people just staring at them. This admiration does not mean that we are stupid, we just love the Santas. I have the feeling that real discussions are not posted online because clever people sometimes underestimate their audiences, they underestimate us, ordinary people. I love to meet these men every now and then and talk face-to-face because they are just so sweet and lovely. It always feels like Christmas then.

IMAGINATION. Am I becoming the Sherlock Holmes of the www?

How to write new meaningful texts for wider audiences? Maria Konnikova says: "Imagination takes the stuff of observation and experience and recombines them into something new." She advises people to step back and take a wider view on the topic they would like to write about, because "one of the most important ways to facilitate imaginative thinking is through distance." The Sherlock Holmes´ view reveals details left unnoticed, enables us to combine our knowledge in a new way, create and innovate.  When I moved to Sweden then I slowly discovered much more about Estonia and Estonian culture, the ways of being there. That 300 kilometres distance changed my view tremendously.

It is easy to be creative and write if you are passionate about your topic. I could write books about Estonian history for example. I have collected materials, stories, pictures etc through many years. This is a way how to get your imagination going! The hardest thing for me to manage is discipline, it is not so easy to keep the focus, when distractions are everywhere...  

Time is passing, the lines are here, but still I have nothing to deliver. @tammevelin in #slowtwitter mood.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Reading your own writing: A.A. Milne reads "Winnie-The-Pooh"

Don´t you just love to meet the famous authors and listen to how they read their own stories? What about Alan Alexander Milne? He is the author of one of the most popular children´s book through all times - "Winnie-The-Pooh".

I have the feeling that his books are especially popular amongst adults. I remember how I enjoyed reading it to my daughter when she was small...

In this recording you can listen to Alan A. Milne reading his book "Winnie-The-Pooh" from 1929.

Got exited? Watch and listen also how Isol, the winner of this years Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner, reads her books. How to write children´s books? Learn from Isol, the winner of ALMA price 2013.

More news about writing and the future of education in my #slowtwitter account @tammevelin.

Online handbooks about scientific writing

There are loads of online material available for everyone who would like to write and publish something. The more I am getting into it, the more links I am finding with tips and pieces of advice. It seems to me that the reason for poor writing cannot not be the lack of online materials to support your writing process. It must be something else... yet to be figured out...

Before you can start your scientific writing, you need to do a lot of reading. That comes first, nothing can replace that  (not even a great editor). And then, before starting with your writing process, it is important to think about the audiences and language you are using and many other aspects in writing. There are so many things to consider before the actual writing, not to mention of course that there is so much to think while writing. Thinking, thinking, thinking...

- Where to find support then?  And be short!

For example there is a useful free online journal that helps you through the process of getting your scientific article published created by Elsevier writers with the title " Understanding the Publishing Process: how to Publish in scientific and medical journals". Perhaps that will give you some firsthand assistance?

All the upcoming findings about writing in English and the future of education in my #slowtwitter account @tammevelin.

Author´s guide to slow twitter #artofeducation

I started with twitter @tammevelin few weeks ago, and was going through all the experiences described in most of the guides for beginners in twitter... I have found out that many online writers learn soon how to start to use the twitter tools for automatic online marketing and tend to forget about the real meaning of communication between us, human beings. Instead it is the machine that chooses whom to follow or whom to dump, it is the machine that finds the keywords of the day, they will RT(retweet) because then you are kind of forced to return the favour etc.  

Human beings are machines
human beings are machines
human beings are machines
human beings are ...

Are we? Machines?

Thanks to your blogpost, Richard, I found some new information about how some "professional" people treat others with the help of the available online tools. I know now, that I have to learn to make a difference between the real communication, personal meetings online, you sending me a message, and the advertising industry shallow lines to sell a product.  

I do not need to sell anything and I buy so very rarely. Writing is a way of life to me, meeting people is a possibility to co-create our worlds together. You might think that it is naive but I call it authentic and slow life. Meeting the Other is what brings value, that is what creates what´s human in us.

I like the idea of being present while communicating with others and dislike the automatic approach, the social media machinery. I am inviting people to think twice before giving up their personal presence while sending out their unique messages to the world, sending their messages to us. The automatic messages loose their value, you will be alone much too quickly, we all will be alone because no one will be reading these automatic messages sent in every 24,5 minutes 24 hours a day 7 days a week. In this way you turn yourself into machines, you are part of something else, something not human and the communication has lost all its meaning. There is no you and me anymore. It is just the machinery continuing the "business as usual".

I look outside through my windows and see how the spring is coming, write some lines and send a tweet or write a blog post. My life is not automatic, it is real. I am present.


How to write children´s books? Learn from Isol, the winner of ALMA price 2013.

News from the world. Isol from Buenos Aires won one of the highest children´s literary prices in the world, Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA price) in 2013. Isol is an author and an illustrator. Her books can be found in more than 20 countries and since the news about the price has spread, many more will follow.

Swedish TV channel made a beautiful programme with Isol where you can watch her showing her pictures, telling the stories and explaining some of the ideas behind.

One of the most intriguing tips she gives to other authors is to be simple and complex at the same time. This is her way of creating the characters of her books and finding a visual language to it. The interview was made in English and has Swedish subtitles. I encourage you to take the time and learn from this wonderful women who creates children´s books that have won the love and appreciation of so many in the world.

Find the video here: Samtal med Isol in UR Samtid.

Twitter news @tammevelin

Monday, May 27, 2013

Science writing online. Who participates?

Stanford University had an online writing class for science writing autumn semester in 2012 and 11 000 people responded to their pre-course survey. Who were these people taking free online classes at Stanford University in order to improve their writing?

-35% are graduate students; 17% are undergraduates; 22% are research scientists or engineers; 8% are academics/professors; and 3% are professional writers. (The remaining 15% don’t fall in one of these bins.)
-33% are from computer science, engineering, or math; 28% from biology or medicine; 15% from physics, chemistry, or earth science; and 10% from the social sciences. (Another 7% are in other scientific areas; and 7% are non-scientists.)
-69% of you indicated that you intend to participate in all the assignments, including writing papers and editing your peers’ work. 

The information is based on the welcoming note sent out on Mon 1 Oct 2012 8:55 AM CEST (UTC +0200) and available online at course homepage.

As you can see most of the people who take the writing classes are professional and well educated. In one of my recent posts at the AppleTree I asked who are the experts in education and did not answer. Perhaps that here provides us with a small hint about MOOC.

Personal Benchmark Statement for First-Year Composition 2.0

Today I started a new writing course. It will be my fourth. It is a kind of a marathon but I ´ll try to keep myself on top of it. So far so good.

The team of the First-Year Composition 2.0 with Dr. Karen Head as their leading figure promises that I "will gain confidence in using written, visual, and oral communication to critique and create documents and presentations." 
Over the next 8 weeks, not only will you will draft and revise a personal essay, create or select an image to illustrate the same concept, and transform that essay into an oral presentation, but you will also develop confidence in yourself as a communicator along the way. More specifically, the work you do in First-Year Composition 2.0 will help you to practice and improve your competence in the following areas: 
Critical Thinking: Evaluate the effectiveness of personal essays, images, and oral presentations. Assess your work and the work of your peers. Reflect on your own processes and performance.   

Rhetoric: Analyze the ways in which you and other communicators use persuasion. Think about and use context, audience, purpose, argument, genre, organization, design, visuals, and conventions.  

Process: Apply processes (read, invent, plan, draft, design, rehearse, revise, publish, present, and critique).  

Digital Media: Produce written, oral, and visual artifacts. 

One of the very firsts tasks is to write a short Personal Benchmark Statement.

Within the next weeks I will write at least 10 blog posts related to writing in English and at least one longer article for a magazine. I will improve my grammar and active vocabulary.   

Follow my learning news in twitter @tammevelin.

List of five to ten nouns and adjectives week2

Write down a list of at least five to ten nouns and five to ten adjectives as you observe a scene at home, work, or in your community.



There is a teenage girl sitting on the sofa watching her iphone as if it was more important than life. I feel tired. Everything is kind of slow and a bit messy; bookselves are filled with books and photos, some of these  are on the walls and some are on the floor. Dark forests and soundless cliffs on the other side of the living room windows. I see a shadow of an academic light. It is my lamp in a bourgeois living room. This is where I live and work. Just another woman without a room of its own.

Reading list

A Room of One´s own by Virgnia Woolf

8 sentences describing an action you witnessed Week3

That morning I looked outside the window of my living room and noticed that something had changed. At first I could not recognise what it was exactly so I kept focusing to figure it out. It had been raining in the morning. There was nothing so special about that. Rain is common in Sweden. Then I realised that the colour of the nature had changed overnight. It was gray and brown but now everything was greenish and fresh, growing and blooming. What a tremendous difference it was!

The 8 Parts of Speech Week2

Crafting an Effective Writer Week 2

1. Nouns
2. Pronouns
3. Adjectives
4. Verbs
5. Adverbs
6. Prepositions
7. Conjunctions
8. Interjections


a person, place, thing, quality, or action and can function as the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, or an appositive

renames nouns to reduce repetition

modifies nouns and pronouns

indicates action or state of being

modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs

acts as relationship between words in the form of condition, direction, location, or time

links words, phrases, and/or clauses

brief, emotional responses to a situation or event

• Common or proper
• Person, place, thing, living creature, idea

• Subject
• Object
• Indefinite (subject or object)
• Relative (introduce relative clauses)
• Demonstrative (subject, object, adjective)
• Possessive (refer to specific belonging)
• Interrogative (questions)
• Reflexive/Intensive (refer back to noun/pronoun; function as objects)

• Descriptive (describes quality of noun)
• Proper (formed using proper noun)
• Predicate (after noun, connected by linking verb)
• Determiner (a, an, the)

• Action (show an action)
• Linking (explain condition)
• Helping/auxiliary (describe main verb)
◦ helping verb + main verb = complete verb

• Some end in -ly, some do not

• Prepositional phrases – begin with preposition and end with noun or pronoun

• Coordinating
• Correlative
• Adverbial
• Subordinate

• Not used in academic writing

Friday, May 24, 2013

MOOC online courses about writing in English

I am taking part of three online courses to improve my writing in English and learn more about online learning and teaching. These are: English Composition I: Achieving Expertise held in Duke University, Writing II: Rhetorical Composing held in Ohio State University and Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade held in Mt. San Jacinto College.

For the first two courses I have used my blog called "Discussions with an AppleTree". It is a blog where I share my work in English. During the last weeks it has received quite many visits and followers. I can witness how the community of my readers is growing with my confidence in writing. Because of the course design I have received a lot of feedback and peer support that I feel most grateful for. It is not so easy to overcome the fear of not being able to express yourself in the proper manner, especially if you are writing in an academic environment where the expectations for the mastery of English are far above the average.

This blog here will be a space where I intend to collect materials that have more to do with the editing process or will provide an online of toolbox for writing. Here I will work with the ideas and grammar, I will show the details of creative writing process before there will be anything to publish. This will be a kind of working space or a writing workshop where you can drop-by and look at what happens backstage of writers blogs, articles and books.

Since I am also having classes about creative writing and organising poetry workshops, it might happen that I post here and there a short reflection about what is going on in these spaces. Sometimes I might write about what am I working with at the moment.

I welcome you to this blog and look forward of our conversations about how to write and create in words and languages. This is a communicative space so please feel free to share your thoughts, links and make suggestions.