A collection of Facts, Opinions and Comments from survivors of Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong,  The Worldwide Church of God and its Daughters.
Updated 03/05/07 11:29 AM PDT

The painful truth about Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Arrmstrong and the Worldwide Church of God

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Writing Tips:
How to Write a Dissident Letter

by John B

Recently I’ve been fairly critical of people who write dissenting letters to this website and others. Invariably, it seems the person doing the writing is the least literate of anyone in whatever group he represents. The problem isn’t intelligence (although you wonder what kind of logic some of these people use), it’s presentation. You might have an IQ of 175 and be dead right about what you’re saying, but if you can’t spell or use proper punctuation, no one is going to take you seriously.

It isn’t really fair to criticize people too harshly – grammar and punctuation are difficult for many people. Like most things, English grammar is an aptitude. Some people have it, others don’t. So it has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s just something we had to do in school that many of us hated and then promptly forgot.

But it comes back to bite you in those critical moments when you have something to say and want to be heard. At times like that, you find yourself literally crippled if you can’t remember certain things about writing. That’s what this article is all about: if you want to write anything, not just a dissident letter, you need to be able to sound intelligent. If you don’t sound intelligent, people will assume that you aren’t.

I’m not actually going to tell you how to write a dissident letter (or any other kind), I’m just going to give you a few critical do’s and don’ts. (Some of this will sound distantly familiar, if you’ve been out of school as long as I have.)

Basic typing rules

The problem with most people, when they sit down to write something important, is that they don’t have much experience at it. It’s truly amazing what turns up in articles and emails sometimes. Even the most rudimentary rules of typing are often ignored. So, at the most basic level, remember the following:

• Never write anything all in one case. (don’t write everything in lower case, and DON’T WRITE EVERYTHING IN UPPER CASE.) Capitalize when appropriate (see below for more on capitalization).

• At the end of a sentence, after the period, hit the space bar twice. Do not EVER start typing immediately after the period. (Amazing how many people do this.)

• Break your letter up into paragraphs.  It's intensely disturbing to have to read 2000 words in a single, unbroken string (and it raises questions about the organization of the mind that generated it).  Organize your thoughts and present them in some sort of order, and start each successive thought with a new paragraph.  People will appreciate it, and perhaps be more inclined to hear what you are trying to say.

Capitalize correctly

It can be confusing to know when to capitalize a word. The rules are fairly simple:

• Always capitalize the first word of a sentence.

• Always capitalize proper nouns.

A noun is a person, place, or thing. A proper noun is a person, place, or thing that has an official name. Example: “house” is a thing, and is not capitalized, but “White House” is a thing (or place) that has an official title. The word “bill” is not capitalized if it’s something on the face of a bird, a ball cap, or a message from your creditor. But if “Bill” is the name of your neighbor, it gets a capital.

Confusion can set in sometimes. Some words are capitalized based on the context in which they are used. For example, “president” is not capitalized if you are speaking of presidents in general (“There have been 43 presidents”), but when you are speaking of a specific president, then it becomes “President” (“The President will be coming out shortly”).

Use the right word

English is replete with words that sound the same but are spelled differently, and vice versa. It can be confusing for anyone who doesn’t pay close attention, and I pity the foreigner who tries to learn it from scratch. Some of the most blatant errors occur in this area. For example, the following groups of words sound the same, but are used in specific ways:

• to, too, two

• there, their, they’re

• its, it’s

• lead, lead, led

Many people use these words incorrectly, so don’t feel too badly. But it’s important to get them right. Use them incorrectly, and when a person who knows the difference reads what you’ve written, your credibility drops several degrees.

Let’s break them down, in order:

to, too, two

“to” is a preposition, which requires an object (never mind, just accept it) – “Let’s go to town”.

“too” is a modifier that adds degree – “That water is too hot”. When used at the end of a sentence, “too” is a synonym for “also” – “I’d like to go also”; “I’d like to go too”.

“two” is the number 2.

there, their, they’re

“there” is a place or a direction (“Look over there”). It’s also used to make a declaration (“There is a tree in Brooklyn”).

“their” is a plural possessive – “It’s their house”.

“they’re” is a contraction meaning “they are”.

its, it’s

This is probably the single most common error of all. People simply cannot remember the distinction between the two, and it’s because this is one of those exceptions to the rules. Normally, an apostrophe is used before the letter S when possession is indicated (“That shoe is Bill’s”). But in the case of “it”, an exception is made. The reason for the exception is the contraction “it’s”, which means “it is”. Because the contraction needs the apostrophe, the possessive of “it” doesn’t get one.

The proper use is as follows:

its: “Put everything in its proper place.”
it’s: “It’s gonna be hot today.”

lead, lead, led

This one drives me nuts because lately it seems nobody gets it right.  The word "lead" can be pronounced two ways: "leed" and "led".  "Lead" has two meanings (three, actually) -- the material found in pencils, the material found in bullets, and the act of helping someone navigate.  When speaking of pencils and bullets, the word "lead" is pronounced "led"; when helping someone navigate the darkness, it's pronounced "leed". 

The confusion comes in because of the material found in pencils and bullets -- most people seem to think that, because pencil and bullet material is pronounced "led", when speaking of helping someone navigate in the past tense, the verb is spelled "lead".

It isn't!

"Lead" is a verb.  The past tense of the verb "lead" is "led".  It sounds exactly like the material in pencils and bullets, but is spelled differently.  For example:

"Mr. Armstrong lead the church for 50 years". wrong!

"Mr. Armstrong led the church for 50 years."  correct (grammatically, anyway)

Apostrophes and Contractions

We already touched on this in the section above, but there’s more. Some people use an apostrophe every time they end a word with the letter S. Incorrect. Apostrophes generally have two uses: they denote possession, and they denote contractions.

When denoting possession, you generally place an apostrophe before the final S. Example: “That shoe is Bill’s.” (But remember, there are a few exceptions, and “its” is one of them.)

Contractions are words that are run together for ease of speech. We use them all the time: don’t (do not), can’t (can not), doesn’t (does not), isn't (is not) etc. In some cases, if a letter is duplicated, it gets dropped in the contraction (“can not” becomes “can’t”); in every case I can think of, the vowel also gets dropped (“do not” becomes “don’t”); the apostrophe is used to replace the missing vowel.

I’ve seen some people do the following: “did’nt”. That’s incorrect. The apostrophe does not point to where the two words are joined, it just replaces the missing vowel.

Except when using foreign words, which have their own rules, these are the only times we generally use the apostrophe.

Subject nouns, Object nouns

One of the most annoying things I hear all the time is something like this: “Just between you and I”. I’m willing to wager that perhaps 75% of the American public says something like that. I’ve even heard newscasters say it! And it’s absolutely wrong.  (I actually heard a newscaster the other day say that an award had been given "to he and his wife"!)

Why is it wrong? Here’s a better example: “Dad gave the money to Jim and I”.

It’s wrong because you would never say “Dad gave the money to I”.

I think the confusion arises because, when we were in the fifth grade, they taught us to say “Jim and I went to town” instead of saying “Me and Jim went to town”. What many people never caught on to was that “Jim and I” are subject nouns in that example. But when “Dad gave the money to Jim and I”, “Jim and I” are object nouns. We are not initiating the action, we are on the receiving end of it. We don’t have a problem when the noun is singular (“Dad gave the money to me”), but when the nouns are compound, we slip back into subject noun rules (“Dad gave the money to Jim and I”).

Subject nouns are different than object nouns. It’s easy to remember:

“I went to town” instead of “me went to town”.

“Dad gave the money to him” instead of “Dad gave the money to he”.

Why, then, is it so hard to remember that the same rules apply when there two object nouns? If you find it confusing, just drop one of the nouns and see how it sounds. “Dad gave the money to I”, or “Dad gave the money to me”? Once you figure that out, it’s easy. You can slide Jim back into the sentence and get it right: “Dad gave the money to Jim and me”.


Without going into a full-blown grammar text, those are the main kinds of problems I see in poorly-written letters of all kinds. A few other odds and ends turn up now and then, and when they do it’s like finding a nail in a pancake.

“I have three brother-in-laws”.

No, you don’t. You don’t have any kind of “laws”. What you have is “three brothers-in-law”.

And this gem: “Church of gods”.

No. Sorry. “Churches of god”.


Spelling and punctuation

I’m not going to spend much time on this one. The sad, simple truth is that more than half the people in North America can’t spell. This is more a reflection on the educational system than anything else. All I can say is, use the spell checker. If you aren’t sure, check a dictionary. If you still aren’t sure, signal that you at least tried by inserting “(sp?)” after the word in question. Then you at least appear to care.

As for the proper use of the comma, many people differ on this, and although there are official rules, they get ignored by almost everyone. Commas are generally used to break up the flow of a sentence. Don’t overuse them and you should be fine most of the time. Periods go at the end of a sentence and at the end of most abbreviations (“Mr.”, “Mrs.”, “Dr.”, etc.) Semicolons are used less frequently, and signal a significant pause in a sentence. Colons are used as a launching point: you want to point out something and you stop to do so.

And finally...

When you’re all done with your letter, go back over it before you send it. Make sure you didn’t leave unnecessary words in there if you did some revising. Read it out loud, see how it sounds. You can find most errors simply by doing this. Have someone else look at it. And if you were angry when you wrote it, wait until you’ve cooled down. Then ask yourself if you still want to send it. If you do, let ‘er rip. If not, at least you got it off your chest.

Now you have no excuse. The next time you write to this site, you should sound at least 50% more intelligent than before.

Don’t make me say [sic]!



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