Your “prayers not answered” means your “expectations not fulfilled.” The TAO wisdom explains why: your attachments to careers, money, relationships, and success “make” but also “break” you by creating your flawed ego-self that demands your “expectations to be fulfilled.”

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Choice of Words in Good Writing

As an ESL learner, pay attention to the words you use when you write. Be aware of your choice of words, especially as you begin to know more words.

Avoiding wordiness or unnecessary words

Do not use a phrase if a word will do:

e.g. Many students have a tendency to skim through the instructions on the test.

e.g. Many students tend to skim through the instructions on the test. (better)

e.g. I will show you the way in which to do it.

e.g. I will show you the way to do it. (better)

 e.g. I will show you how to do it. (better)

e.g. The Senate did not pass the bill due to the fact that it was unconstitutional.

 e.g. The Senate did not pass the bill because it was unconstitutional. (better)

e.g. You should take the advice given to you by your doctor.

e.g. You should take your doctor’s advice. (better)

e.g. I was supportive of your decision.

 e.g. I supported your decision. (better)

e.g. The man conducted himself with irrational behavior.

 e.g. The man behaved irrationally. (better)

Do not say the obvious:

e.g. Her hat was red in color.

e.g. Her hat was red. (better)

e.g. The basketball player was tall in height.

e.g. The basketball player was tall. (better)

Avoid unnecessary adjectives, nouns, or adverbs:

e.g. These are vital essentials of life.

e.g. These are essentials of life. (better)

e.g. Do not question his technique employed.

e.g. Do not question his technique. (better)

e.g. There is too much danger involved.

e.g. There is too much danger. (better)

e.g. The Congress would make decisions about changing the Constitution.

e.g. The Congress would decide on changing the Constitution. (better)

e.g. You committed an act of violence.

e.g. You committed violence. (better)

e.g. It took a long period of time.

e.g. It took a long time. (better)

e.g. It was clearly evident that he took the money.

e.g. It was evident that he took the money. (better)

e.g. Evidently, he took the money. (better)

Avoid constructions with it is … and there are …:

e.g. It is truth that will prevail.

e.g. Truth will prevail. (better)

e.g. There were many people inside the cinema when the bomb exploded.

e.g. Many people were inside the cinema when the bomb exploded. (better)

However, it is and there are may have their legitimate uses in emphasizing an idea.

e.g. It is the truth that we are seeking, not the myth.

e.g. Fortunately, there were only two persons inside the cinema when the bomb exploded.

Avoid excess use of abstract nouns:

e.g. The effectiveness of writing requires an element of conciseness.

e.g. Effective writing requires conciseness. (better)

Avoid flowery or high-sounding language:

e.g. now NOT at this point in time

e.g. nowadays NOT in this day and age

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Effective Writing Made Simple

Effective writing is a lifelong communication skill. To master this skill, useful information is needed. But information is useful only when you can apply it to your writing. It is the application of useful and appropriate information that makes a difference in learning effective writing skill, and it is what this book is all about.

Learning effective writing requires four easy steps. You need to find out what to do in order to write well. The next step is to do it. Strangely enough, many people know what to do, but they don’t do it. Then, you need to make sure that you are doing the right things when you write. The last step is to practice and practice writing until you become confident and proficient in your writing.

This book provides you with guidelines and the right information, including basic grammar, correct sentence construction, effective use of words, paragraph development, style and usage, with many examples and illustrations to show you how to write well.

Stephen Lau

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Language is forever changing. What is currently acceptable or popular may be replaced by something else in years to come, and the use of slang is a strong testament to that. Slang is just an alternative way of saying something. It is sometimes hard to identify what is slang and what is not. Slang and colloquial expressions are often acceptable in informal writing because they are used in communication in movies, newspapers, radio, television, and other mass media The more you learn, the more you will know when to use or not to use them in your formal writing. No matter what, knowing these common everyday expressions is a plus for all ESL learners.

By a long chalk: by a great amount.
e.g. He lost his re-election by a long chalk.

Get wise to: discover; realize.
e.g. Soon you’ll get wise to what is really happening under the roof.

Killer: a very funny joke.
e.g. That last one was really a killer;  everybody laughed.

Kick back: relax and enjoy.
e.g I really want to kick back and enjoy the music.

Go the whole hog: go through thoroughly.
e.g. The prosecutor went the whole hog when he inspected the murder weapon.

Alive and kicking: in good health.
"How is your grandmother doing?" "Very much alive and kicking."

For a song: very cheaply.
e.g. I got that piece of antique for a song.

Head above water: out of debt.
e.g. Nowadays, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Mean-green: money.
e.g. Can I borrow a little mean-green from you?

All that jazz: all that sort of thing; etcetera.
e.g. He was telling everyone about his success in real estate investment and all that jazz. Well, we all heard that before.

In a jiffy: soon.
e.g. The manager will see you in a jiffy.

Head above water: out of debt.
e.g. Nowadays, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Next to nothing: hardly anything.
e.g. “Did she leave you anything at all?” “Well, next to nothing.”
Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

English Slang and Colloquial Expressions

Slang is just an alternative way of saying something. It is sometimes hard to identify what is slang and what is not. Slang and colloquial expressions are often acceptable in informal writing because they are used in communication in movies, newspapers, radio, television, and other mass media The more you learn, the more you will know when to use or not to use them in your formal writing.

Here are some examples:

All the go: popular.

e.g. Carrying a smart phone is all the go these days
Easy on the eye: good looking.
e.g. I say, your girlfriend is easy on the eye.
Act your age: behave yourself according to your age..
e.g. You’re almost an adult. Come on, act your age, and stop behaving like a spoiled brat!
Call it a day: consider something to be done or finished.

e.g. Let’s call it a day, and just go home.

Nod is as good as a wink: take note of the hint.

e.g. I think he was trying to tell you to resign; a nod is as good as a wink.

Butter up: flatter.

e.g. Now that you have been promoted, everybody seems to butter up you.

Catch it: be scolded.

e.g. If you do this again, you’ll catch it.

Bag your face: go away!

e.g. Shut up, and bag your face!

No oil painting: ugly.

e.g. To tell the truth, the dress you bought me is no oil painting.

All hot and bothered: agitated, confused, or excited.

e.g. She was all hot and bothered when she heard the news of her daughter’s divorce.

Buy it: die.

e.g. During the car crash, I thought I was going to buy it.

Much of a muchness: practically the same.

e.g. I don’t see any difference between the twins; they’re pretty much of a muchness to me.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Monday, September 7, 2020

Adjectives or Adverbs

Knowing grammatical terms is essential for effective writing because these grammatical terms provide a common language for discussing and talking about what is good and effective writing.


An adjective describes a noun. Adjectives often give precision and meaning to sentences; in other words, they add color to your writing.

Beware: some words are both adjectives (describing nouns) and adverbs (modifying verbs).

e.g. This is hard work. (an adjective)

e.g. He works hard. (an adverb)

Linking verbs, such as bebecomelookseemsmelltaste, require the use of adjectives rather than adverbs.

e.g. He became angry. (NOT angrily)
e.g. He looked angrily at me. (it was the action expressed in the look)
e.g. He looked angry. (it was the expression, not the action)
e.g. She looks happy. (NOT happily)

e.g. The food smells wonderful. (NOT wonderfully)
e.g. The baby was smiling wonderfully.

e.g. The wine tastes good. (NOT well)


An adverb modifies an action or an adjective.

Most adverbs take the comparative and superlative forms with more and most.

e.g. My father walks more slowly than my mother (does).

e.g. He is the most talented student in the class.

Exceptions to the rule are: 

fastfasterfastesthardharderhardestsoonsooner, soonest.

          e.g. I can run faster than you (run).
Certain adjectives do not require adverbs to modify them.

e.g. essential (NOT absolutely essential: essential means “absolutely necessary”)

e.g. unique (NOT most unique or extremely unique: unique means “one of a kind”)

e.g. universe (NOT most universal: there is only one universe.)

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Everyday Slang for ESL Learners

In the raw: naked.
e.g. Did you see that man on the street? He was dancing in the raw.

Go down with: be accepted or approved by.
e.g. The President's speech went down with the Spanish community.

Not so dusty: quite good.
e.g. Well the performance was not so dusty; much better than I expected.

Go one better than: surpass.
e.g. He went one better than his sister in playing the piano.

Get out of bed of the wrong side: be irritable.
e.g. Your Mom seems to have got out of bed on the wrong side.

Drive up the wall: irritate intensely.
e.g. Don't drive me up the wall every time I see you.

In the clear: innocent.
e.g. I know you didn't do it; the investigation will put you in the clear.

Gift of the gab: ability to give effective speeches.
e.g. The new Mayor has the gift of the gab: people like listening to him.

Keep one's head above water: stay out of debt or a difficult situation.
e.g. In this economic environment, it is not easy to keep your head above water.

Fine weather for ducks: very wet weather.
e.g. "It's raining cats and dogs." "Fine weather for ducks."

Do one's bit: do one's share of responsibility.
e.g. I've done my bit; I hope it's going to work.

Stephen Lau     
Copyright© by Stephen Lau

Sunday, September 6, 2020

How to Expand Your Writing

To write effectively, you must know not only how to write correct sentences but also how to use your sentences to expand and develop your ideas. 

Develop Your Topic 

After introducing your topic, you begin to develop it by giving it more substance. Before you do that, you need to help your readers follow the flow of thought, which is expressed in the following: 

Point of View 

This relates to how you present a subject. It can be explicit or implicit; it can be personal or impersonal.

Personal tone: You play the role of the writer openly and directly. In this approach, you frequently use I, me, and my.

Impersonal tone: You keep your personality below the surface.

Your point of view should be stated or implied in the opening paragraph, and maintained consistently throughout your writing. Remember the following:

Select your point of view appropriate to your subject.

Establish your point of view in the beginning paragraph.

Maintain your point of view consistently. 


This reflects your personality in your writing. Your tone is inevitably implied in the choice of words you use, how you use them, and their arrangement within your writing. You reveal your tone towards your subject (it can be objective, subjective, or even angry), and towards your reader (it can be assertive or intimate). 

Plan Your Writing

 Begin your statement of purpose

Now that you have pulled in all your ideas for what you are going to write, begin your statement of purpose. Writing one to two paragraphs describing what you are going to say.

Remember the following:

This statement of purpose is for yourself, not your readers.

You have to think about what you can say before you can think of what you are going to say. 

Ideas have to be sought, and then arranged accordingly. 

Writing the Introduction 

Introductions serve the following purposes:

Setting the tone of your writing

Defining your purpose

Drawing your readers into your writing

Ways for effective introductions

Begin with a relevant quotation that leads to the subject.

Begin with some background information that leads to the subject.

Begin with a relevant question that leads to the subject.

Begin with directly speaking to your readers in an imaginary situation related to the subject.

Begin with a relevant anecdote that leads to your subject.

What to avoid in introductions

Avoid making obvious general statements.

Avoid making personal statements, such as the use of I.

Avoid making statements that lead to nowhere. 

Planning the Outline 

Divide your subject with all its ideas into major parts, and then into subparts. Your plan provides a guideline for you. You can always update and make changes to your outline.

Expanding the Writing

You expand your writing by giving it more substance in different paragraphs, with a topic sentence in each.

A good topic sentence is concise and emphatic.

e.g. The United States is now in an economic expansion.

A topic sentence can be in the form of a rhetorical question.

e.g. Why do people go into debt?

A topic sentence is generally placed in the beginning or near the beginning of a paragraph. 

Writing the Draft

Write your draft, which is an early version of your writing. Keep writing, and don’t worry about making mistakes in your choice of words or in sentence structure. Just keep on writing, editing, and revising.

In revising, read slowly, and read aloud so that you see as well as hear your words. Revision makes you more thoughtful and critical of what you have written; you will spot mistakes in punctuation, spelling and typing, lack of clarity, or inconsistency.

Stephen Lau
Copyright© by Stephen Lau