If you want to write well, read well. Find an article or book that is written well. Read like a writer. Read to develop an ear for language. Read a section out loud so you will feel the rhythm of the language, as well as practice your pronunciation. Find out the meaning of the words you are not familiar with. Among the many things you can check out, take special note of tenses, punctuation, as well as the prepositions and how they coordinate with either the head or the object (see my discussion on prepositions)..

Let’s practice learning from reading. What I did with the interesting TIME magazine article below was to discuss the use of punctuation, tenses, hyphens, etc., in the footnotes.


Red highlight – take note of the preposition pairings
Blue highlight – take note of the tenses
Footnotes – explanations on grammar and language

Here we go! :)

Why Do Heavy Drinkers Outlive Nondrinkers?

By John Cloud

One of the most contentious issues in the vast literature about alcohol consumption has been the consistent finding that those who don’t drink actually tend to die sooner than those who do. The standard Alcoholics Anonymous explanation for this finding is that many of those who show up as abstainers in such research are actually former hard-core drunks who had already incurred [1] health problems associated with drinking.

But a new paper in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that—for reasons that aren’t entirely clear—abstaining from alcohol does actually tend to increase one’s risk of dying even when you exclude former drinkers. The most shocking part? Abstainers’ mortality rates are higher than those of heavy drinkers.

Moderate drinking, which is defined as one to three drinks per day, [2] is associated with the lowest mortality rates in alcohol studies. Moderate alcohol use (especially when the beverage of choice is red wine) [3] is thought to improve heart health, circulation and sociability, which can be important because people who are isolated don’t have as many family members and friends who can notice and help treat health problems.

But why would [4] abstaining from alcohol lead to a shorter life? It’s true that those who abstain from alcohol tend to be from lower socioeconomic classes since drinking can be expensive. And people of lower socioeconomic status have more life stressors—job and child-care [5] worries that might not only keep them from the bottle but also cause stress-related [6] illnesses over long periods. (They also don’t get the stress-reducing benefits of a drink or two after work.) [7]

But even after controlling for nearly all imaginable variables—socioeconomic status, level of physical activity, number of close friends, quality of social support and so on—[8] the researchers (a six-member [9] team led by psychologist Charles Holahan of the University of Texas at [10] Austin) found that over a 20-year period [11], mortality rates were highest for those who had never been drinkers, second-highest for heavy drinkers and lowest for moderate drinkers.

The sample of those who were studied included individuals between ages 55 and 65 who had had [12] any kind of outpatient care in the previous three years. The 1,824 participants were followed for 20 years. One drawback of the sample: a disproportionate number, 63%, [13] were men. Just over 69% of the never-drinkers [14] died during the 20 years, 60% of the heavy drinkers died [15] and only 41% of moderate drinkers died.

These are remarkable statistics. Even though heavy drinking is associated with higher risk for cirrhosis and several types of cancer (particularly cancers in the mouth and esophagus), heavy drinkers are less likely to die than people who have never drunk. One important reason is that alcohol lubricates so many social interactions, [16] and social interactions are vital for maintaining [17] mental and physical health. As I pointed out last year, nondrinkers show greater signs of depression than those who allow themselves to join the party.

The authors of the new paper are careful to note that even if drinking is associated with longer life, it can be dangerous: [18] it can impair your memory severely and it can lead to nonlethal falls and other mishaps (like, say, [19] cheating on your spouse in a drunken haze) that can screw up your life. There’s also the dependency issue: [20] if you become addicted to alcohol, you may spend a long time trying to get off the bottle [21].

That said, the new study provides the strongest evidence yet that moderate drinking is not only fun but good for you. So make mine a double.

[1] Past perfect is used here because of the word already (like present perfect).

[2] Has a comma before and after this clause because this clause is a non-essential adjective clause

[3] Has a parenthesis before and after because this clause is a non-essential adjective clause. Can also use commas. Can also use em dashes. The writer has the choice.

[4] Use would instead of will because abstaining from alcohol may likely lead to a shorter life, but this position isn’t absolute and is subject to contest (making it conditional).

[5] Hyphenated because these terms are used as an adjective before the term worries.

[6] Hyphenated. Same reason as in Footnote 4.

[7] Remember that sentences can also be enclosed in parentheses. Don’t forget to punctuate the sentence inside the parentheses.

[8] This entire clause is set apart by em dashes. Em dashes here are used like commas. The em dashes highlight and separate a clause that lists all the “imaginable variables” referred to in this sentence. Why use em dashes? So that this sentence will be easier to read.

[9] Hyphenated because this term is used as an adjective before the noun term.

[10] This is part of the name of the school—University of Texas at Austin is the name of the university.

[11] Hyphenated because this term is used as an adjective before the noun period.

[12] Past participle—this action happened before the more recent action were studied.

[13] Has a comma before and after because this is an appositive to the subject disproportionate number.

[14] Hyphenated because this is a noun.

[15] It would have been better to insert a serial comma here.

[16] There is a comma here because this separates two independent clauses (which are like sentences—there is a subject, a verb and a complete thought).

[17] Or this can also be said vital to maintain—notice the prepositions.

[18] This can be a semicolon because what follows next amplifies and elaborates on the first clause (why drinking is dangerous). A colon can also be used because the second colon enumerates how drinking can be dangerous.

[19] There is a comma before and after say because this word is an interruption.

[20] There is a colon here because what follows next lays out the “dependency issue” mentioned in the first clause. The first clause introduces the second.

[21] Idiomatic phrase for those trying to kick the drinking addiction.

2 thoughts on “Write well, read well

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