Editing Questions.

The Year 7 National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) test printed in the Courier Mail on September 23, 2009 forced me to write this article because of the following question.

Under Language conventions the following question was displayed as follows:

5. Which sentence uses speech marks (” and “) correctly?
“Quietly he asked,” Where did you leave it?”
Quietly he asked, “Where did you leave it?”
“Quietly he asked, where did you leave it?”
Quietly he asked”, where did you leave it?”

These are interesting choices to display.

First example is wrong. There should be no speech mark at the beginning of the sentence.

The same for the third example.

The fourth example shows the speech mark before the comma which is also incorrect.

Now for the only choice in the placement of the speech marks.

Quietly he asked, “Where did you leave it?”

It is the only choice left, so a smart student would select it.

Technically it shows the correct speech marks, which is what the student was asked to find, but why has the sentence been framed the way it is?

Why are year 7 students shown an incorrect structure of a sentence as a correct answer?

Lets start with the adverb. Why are the children in Year 7 shown an example with a “ly” word, which is an adverb because it is descriptive on how he asked?

This is frowned on by all editors of publishing houses because one of the many editing rules I have learnt is to remove all “ly” words. So, why teach children incorrect structure who, when they will grow up, will use incorrect structure when they decide to become authors? Why not teach correct grammar early to make later life easier on each student?

So, now the sentence would read: He asked, “Where did you leave it?”

Are the editors correct or the teachers who work out the Literacy programs for year 7 students?

Note that the question said to look for speech marks, not quotation marks. Why then do they put a comma after the speech tag and inside the speech marks start the question with a capital letter?

Should I remove the capital letter or remove the comma?

If I remove the comma I would have to replace it with a period. He asked. “Where did you leave it?”

If I left the comma, the capital letter would have to go. He asked, “where did you leave it?”

Which looks better? Which is correct? My MS Word program is suggesting leaving the capital letter.

So lets leave it.

He asked. “Where did you leave it?”

Why use the word asked and also put a question mark at the end of the speech?

One or the other must go for correct editing rules, so either remove “asked” or remove the question mark.

He. “Where did you leave it?” Or: He asked. “Where did you leave it.”

Again my MS Word grammar checker is saying ‘He.’ is a fragment sentence.
The grammar checker is also saying that it wants a question mark after “it”.

So now the sentence would be correct if we add the question mark back in and remove ‘He.’

“Where did you leave it?”

We now know that the sentence structure is correct grammatically, but we don’t know who is speaking, unless we have sentences before it showing who is speaking, or, we add a speech or action tag to show who is talking.

Why did they not structure it this way?

He spoke quietly. “Where did you leave it?”

How can the reader know he spoke quietly before he said the words?

Why is the description of how he spoke before the words he spoke?

Why not restructure the year 7 question as below?

“Where did you leave it?” He spoke quietly.

Or

“Where did you leave it,” he quietly asked.

Both of these sentences would be structured correctly and could be used for year 7 students. Both are correct grammar and the students would understand them. Why were they not used when the test was created?

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5 comments so far

  1. LisaM on

    Both of these sentences would be structured correctly and could be used for year 7 students. Both are correct grammar and the students would understand them. Why were they not used when the test was created?

    Probably because there wasn’t the same amount of thought put into the question as you’ve put into it. Which is a great pity.

    The main part of the question I take exception to is the term “speech marks”. They’re quotation marks. ‘Speech marks’ is an informal term. Why would anyone use informal language in a formal written exam? Isn’t this just mixing up the kids ideas of formal and informal written language?

    Interesting about the action tag word choice and the punctuation for the piece of dialogue. I didn’t realise that if you used ‘asked’ you didn’t need to use a question mark.

    “Where did you leave it,” he quietly asked.

    looks right to me, however.

    I’ve learned something new, anyway, which is always great! 🙂

  2. cat on

    I laughed about some of your explanations. They were fun to read. I agree with your conclusion, there should have been more care in phrasing the question.

    What I wondered about most is the fact that for a final exam your kids get multiple choice questions for a language. That seems really, really odd to me. Our kids have to write stories, essays or articles with the subject set by the examiner. Sometimes, they also get some grammar questions but never as multiple choice (The question then would be: Write down a speech with a speech-tag and correct quotation marks) but that’s only for kids in lower grades not for a final exam.

    Nitpick:
    My MS Word program is suggesting leaving the capital letter.
    Does that mean Word is your Editor of choice? 😉

    • djmills on

      Yes, I use Word, just as the best program that I have on the computer at this time for grammar. I still don’t believe everything it says and ignore a lot of the suggestions offered.

  3. djmills on

    I realised as a child that a lot of the teachers were not well educated, and I was always in trouble in school for asking the hard questions or awkward questions where I already knew the correct answer was not the answer the teachers thought it was.

    Also if you use an exclamation mark you do not add “he shouted.” The exclamation mark and the words spoken show either anger or volume in the voice and makes the word “shouted” redundent.

    I really learnt a lot from the “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” book, which I commented on in an earlier blog. And still learning about editing. 🙂

    • LisaM on

      Also if you use an exclamation mark you do not add “he shouted.” The exclamation mark and the words spoken show either anger or volume in the voice and makes the word “shouted” redundent.

      Yup, knew about that one. Just never thought about the poor old question mark. 🙂

      I believe editors also suggest keeping exclamation marks to a minimum (or better still not use them at all).

      And Self-Editing for Fiction Writers arrived in the post today. Yay!!


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