The 7 Signals of Meaning: How Writers Can Say What They Mean
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This compact little book offers a simple but admittedly unorthodox approach to spotting and addressing sentence-level errors, a method that requires no previous knowledge of the terms and rules of formal grammar and usage. In a nutshell, all writers signal meaning in just seven ways, and the book's chapters explain and demonstrate those ways while showing writers how spot problems and come up with remedies.
The premise of this book is that grammar and usage are dependent upon intended meaning, not the other way around. In its function, The 7 Signals of Meaning is neither another writer’s handbook on the do’s and don’ts of writing sentences nor a workbook on sentencing skills in any traditional sense. Handbooks seldom help even half of the students in a class spot and fix errors, let alone help them understand how they made a certain type of error in the first place. The approach here is different--a system students can learn for putting the rules, terms, and conventions of Standard Written English into practice without necessarily learning them at first. By working at seeing and identifying their intended meaning in seven ways, writers can see their sentencing improve without having to know very many grammatical terms and sentencing conventions by name.
The book’s chapters define and explain the seven signals of meaning. Each way of signaling meaning gets its own chapter, and each chapter has four sections. The first section, “What Can Happen When [the signal] Gets Mixed in a Sentence,” includes subsections showing and diagnosing “Samples of Basic Sentences and Solutions,” “Samples of Expanded Sentences and Solutions,” and “Samples of Questions, Directions, and Exclamations,” followed by three other sections of the chapter: “Finding Solutions through Dialog with a Reader,” “Microlearning Tips for Using what a Reader Has Seen,” and a self-test section, where students can assess their understanding of that signal and actively reflect on their own dialog with a reader.
The appendices in the back of this book contain some materials that writers and teachers of writers may find useful. Appendix one focuses on punctuation’s role in signaling intended meaning. In appendix two, readers will find proofreading tools that are configured as “decision trees,” an alternate way of finding mixed signals, and a reference sheet that sorts the standard grammatical terms by the seven signals. In appendix three, readers will also see the solutions to the signaling problems displayed in each chapter’s self-test.
While each chapter includes paragraph-length self-tests on each of the seven signals, this focus of this book is sentences. It stands to reason that students need to construct paragraphs with their sentences, but learning to build better sentences is arguably more challenging and takes longer than learning to construct solid paragraphs.
1 QUANTITY Do you mean one or more than one?
2 TIME When do you mean?
3 IDENTITY Who do you mean?
4 LOCATION Where do you mean?
5 TRANSACTION What does one side get from the other?
6 SEQUENCE What order of words or thoughts do you mean?
7 RELATION What relation of sentence parts do you mean?