“Grammar is your tool box. No mechanic worth a toot can fix anything without knowing exactly what tool to use. Why would it be any different with communicators? For us, knowing good grammar is as important as it is for a mechanic to know the difference between a flat-head screwdriver and Phillips screwdriver. Period.”
— Malcolm Gibson 

JOUR 002 — Grammar and Usage


    This is the syllabus for Prof. Malcolm Gibson's class, JOUR 002, Grammar and Usage, aka “Making Words Work,” for Spring 2013.

    When? 8:30 to 9:20 a.m., Mondays and Wednesdays. For those in section one (the first half of the semester), we will meet beginning Wednesday, Jan. 23, and continue through Monday, March 11. For those in the second half of the semester, we will begin on Wednesday, March 13, and continue (except for the week of Spring Break) through Wednesday, May 13. Important note: Make sure you show up for the first class of your particular section; otherwise, you will be dropped from the class and be forced to re-enroll — but only if there is space and if I approve. That is J-School policy. (See “School policy....”) And for this class, attendance is mandatory (and, even, rewarded). See attendance policy.

    And where? In 100 Stauffer-Flint (the big lecture hall at the east end of the building). We had been slated to meet in Room 114 Blake, but that meeting place was changed because 114 Blake was too small to adequately accommodate us all. So, I'll see y'all in 100 Stauffer-Flint.

    Instructors: Professor Malcolm Gibson, and Nathan Rodriguez, graduate teaching assistant. Malcolm is general manager and news adviser, The University Daily Kansan, and faculty member in Journalism, African and African-American Studies, East Asian Studies, and Global Studies. Want to know more, such as why I'm so interested in bow-ties, juggling, Ethiopian food and jumping out of perfectly good airplanes? See bio. Nate is a graduate student in journalism.
    Office: 2052 Dole.
    Contacts: 864-7667 (office); 843-8276 (home); 766-8605 (cell); e-mail: mgibson@ku.edu
    Office hours: Every Tuesday, 8 a.m.-noon, and just about anytime I'm not in class. Poke your head in the office and, if I'm not busy, come on in (if only for the free chocolate). Or feel free to make an appointment by email. I definitely will find a way to meet with you if you find that necessary. Oh, and given the size of the class and given that I'm not particularly good at “names,” when you come or we bump into each other, please say, “Hi, I'm [insert your name] from your grammar class.”

    Why grammar and usage — this class — is important: All communicators, whatever their medium or their profession, must be masters of the language. Clarity is their currency. Precision counts. And it will put money in your pocket. If you know grammar well, you will rise above the rest. You, as good friend Prof. Chuck Marsh says, “will get the corner office” because you'll be looked to for answers and will gain respect. Grammar is your toolbox to success — no matter what you choose to do.

    Goals: The standards in this course are high because the standards in the School of Journalism and the professional world are high. That’s what sets us apart from other programs, and that’s what will set you apart from others when you look for a job and, to your parents' delight, get a job.
     Students in the course will have an opportunity to learn proper grammar, usage and punctuation. In addition, you will learn professionalism.

    Readings: The readings in this class are intended to give you a foundation in grammar and usage. They include material from the required texts and other sources, as needed. You are encouraged to stay up with the readings found in the class schedule. All required readings for a particular week should be completed before the class session in which the relevant topics are discussed.

A note on how to succeed in this class

    This class requires students to take responsibility for their own learning. I will provide the direction and illumination, but you must take the initiative in reading, studying and thinking. Quizzes are likely to reveal gaps of one sort or another. Don’t ignore those. Keep all handouts, quizzes and exercises in a single folder so that you can consult them as needed, including for most quizzes. Every little bit of grammar affects every other little bit. It's like a puzzle, with every piece interconnecting with the other. So, reread material and consult additional sources when necessary. See me if you need help. I will work as diligently as you.
    Your success in this course will depend on how much time and effort you invest in mastering the assigned material. This is not the type of course in which you can succeed by skimming and cramming. Diligence and steady progress is the most — perhaps the only — effective strategy.

Required books and materials

Books   • Essential English Grammar by Phillip Gucker (Dover Publications).


Note: The text that had been used in this class — The Hodges Harbrace Handbook — cost $117+. When the J-School assigned me to this class, I searched for an alternative because I thought the $117 cost was outrageous given that, well, grammar doesn't change (that much), so why change the book every year except to switch page numbers so you can require a new edition and raise the price? My text (pictured at right), which is quite good, is $5.95. Oh, it's only $5.07 for a digital copy for a Nook, and $4.58 on a Kindle. OK, the authors of the $117 text, its publisher and the bookstores are likely mad at me, but I hope y'all are happy!

    • Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual (any recent edition), which contains one of the best chapters ever on punctuation. 

    • Assigned and voluntary (suggested) readings from Professor Gibson's “Making Words Work” Web site.

    • A good dictionary, either by American Heritage or Merriam-Webster. (Important note on dictionaries with “Webster” in the name: The Webster name is not copyrighted, so any bozo who wants to put out a dictionary can do so with Webster (referring to Noah Webster, the great lexicographer) in the title, and many do. Buy and use ONLY Webster dictionaries published by Merriam-Webster. I've had Webster dictionaries by others that included, believe it or not, MANY misspellings!)

    • A pocket folder to keep all graded work, handouts, etc., for easy reference. (A plain one or one with lots of pretty pictures or designs. It doesn't matter as long as it has pockets.)

Highly recommended:

    • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. A great “little” (literally) book that's cheap, too. You'll want to — and should —keep it forever. No good writer, editor or communicator should be without it. (In fact, no good writer, editor or communicator is without it.)

    • Oh, read. The best way to improve your use of the language is to read (and to listen to, as with NPR or CBS's “Sunday Morning”) “good stuff.”


    There are lots of quizzes! You are quizzed at every turn. But that's in your favor, so don't freak out. There's a lot to cover, but (a) I test in small bits and pieces and (b) the same stuff shows up over and over. And because everything in grammar is linked to everything else, all quizzes are cumulative, including the last “BIG” one. In other words, what you see on a quiz in the sixth week might include something from the first week, especially if I see a lot of folks missing the same things repeatedly. So, you'll be seeing a lot of the same “stuff” over and over and over. That's called rote learning. And it's the best way to learn what you want and need to learn. Trust me. We don't make this difficult; in fact, we're trying to make it relatively painless. I'm even trying to let us have a bit of fun! So, relax. Don't make this harder than it really is.

    The class schedule (first half / second half) on the class Web site and Blackboard indicates when quizzes will be given.

    Here's the basic format:

     Get-Acquainted Quiz*: Each week (well, most weeks), you will have two opportunities to take what we call a “Get-Acquainted Quiz” on Blackboard. The highest score of the two will be counted. Important note: It is an open-book quiz, meaning you refer to your texts, notes, handouts, etc. when taking the quizzes.

     One-Time Only Quiz*: Each week (well, most weeks), you will have one opportunity to take what we call a “One-Time Only Quiz” on Blackboard after you've taken the “Get-Acquainted Quiz.” As the title indicates, you have but one opportunity to take this quiz. Important note: It is an open-book quiz, meaning you refer to your texts, notes, handouts, etc. when taking the quizzes.

     In-Class Quiz*: Each week (well, most weeks), you will have an in-class closed-book quiz on what you've learned so far. It will cover what we've discussed up to that point, including that day's class discussion and review. Important note: This is a closed-book quiz; in other words, you may not use anything but your brain! No texts, notes or other materials.

     The “BIG” Quiz*: It is scheduled for the last class session. Check the class schedule (first half / second half). Obviously, it's a closed-book quiz.

*Check class schedule (first half / second half).


    Your final grade will be determined as follows: 

25% On-line “Get-Acquainted” quizzes
25% On-line “One-Time-Only” quizzes
25% In-class quizzes and participation
25% The “BIG” quiz

100-91 = A 90 = A-
89-85 = B+   84-82 = B 81-80 = B-
79-75 = C+   74-72 = C 71-70 = C-
69-65 = D+   64-62 = D
61-60 = D-
  59 and below = F


    If you receive a C- or lower on any of the four segments of the class, I have the option of making that your final grade, depending on a number of factors, including attendance, participation and other considerations. That's the “professionalism” clause. In any job, you can't pick and choose what you'll do well and not do well. For the most part, you are judged more critically on what you do that's “less than acceptable,” which, in this case, is a C- or below. If you don't understand, ask.


In the workplace, people who fail to show up without notice are soon fired. You will approach this course as you would your chosen profession. Attendance is mandatory. If you are sick and cannot attend class, or if you are going to be late for a good reason, contact me before class. If you do so, you likely will be excused. If you do not contact me before class (and do not have a compelling and truthful reason for missing the class and for not contacting me), you will receive a zero. If you incur two or more zeros for unexcused absenses, you will receive a failing grade in this class.

     If you do not understand this, ask me in class about the “Kate Treacy rule.” Actually, you likely won't have to ask because I'm likely to tell you about it anyway. A compelling reason is NOT, by the way, that your roommate forgot to contact me or that your folks have already bought airline tickets to go to the Bahamas (unless, of course, they bought tickets for my wife and me, too.)

    Make-up work: Missed assignments because of excused absences must be made up before the next scheduled class period — unless a compelling reason is given and accepted before the deadline. The responsibility for making arrangements for make-up assignments rests solely with you. Otherwise, missed work will receive a grade of zero.

    Personal or medical emergency: If an emergency or crisis causes you to miss three or more days of class, the Academic Achievement and Access Center can help contact your professors. Office: 22 Strong, Phone: 785-864-4064. Fax 785-864-2817.
     Students who miss three or more consecutive days because of illness or injury can request a Documentation of Illness/Injury statement from Student Health Services or another medical provider. Students who have illnesses or injuries of shorter duration and who schedule appointments at Student Health Services can obtain a copy of their medical records containing information about their visit by submitting an Authorization for Use/Disclosure form to the Student Health Services Records and Registration Department. The processing of this request will be completed within 10 working days.

School policy on attendance, adding and dropping

    Here is School of Journalism policy, by which you must abide:
    “No student may add a journalism class after the 20th day of a semester.
    “Students must attend their classes and laboratory periods. Instructors may take attendance into account in assessing a student's performance and may require a certain level of attendance for passing a course. Instructors may choose to drop students from a course, based on attendance, without consent.
    “The School of Journalism reserves the right to cancel the enrollment of students who fail to attend the first class or laboratory meeting.
    “The KU Office of Student Financial Aid is required by federal law to determine whether students who receive aid are attending each class in which they are enrolled. Instructors are required to report to that office absences of students who have stopped attending and names of those who have enrolled but never have attended. Students who do not attend classes may be required to repay federal and/or state financial aid.
    “Students who receive any form of financial aid should learn all requirements including minimum hours of enrollment and grades to qualify for and retain that aid.”

Academic misconduct

    The code of Academic Misconduct detailed in the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities is strictly followed. University policies covering academic misconduct are spelled out in the current Student Handbook, which is available free in Room 213 of Strong Hall.

Policy on Plagiarism and Fabrication/Falsification
The William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications does not tolerate plagiarism, fabrication of evidence and falsification of evidence.
    Penalties for plagiarism, fabrication or falsification can include a failing grade for this course and expulsion from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
    If you have questions about what constitutes plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, please consult the teachers of this course.

    The following definitions are from Article II, Section 6, of the University Senate Rules and Regulations, revised FY98.
Plagiarism: Knowingly presenting the work of another as one's own (i.e., without proper acknowledgement of the source). The sole exception to the requirement of acknowledging sources is when the information or ideas are common knowledge.
    Fabrication and Falsification: Unauthorized alteration or invention of any information or citation in an academic exercise.

     And this, from me: If you are caught cheating on any of your work or knowingly deceive in any way, including representing someone other than yourself as it relates to quizzes, attendance or anything else related to this class, you will receive a failing grade. In addition, I will promptly report such action to both the School of Journalism and the University of Kansas with the recommendation that you be expelled from both. Dishonesty will not tolerated.

Inclement weather and special needs

     Weather: In the event of inclement weather, the decision to cancel classes is made by KU officials. To determine whether snow or icy conditions have canceled classes, call 864-7669 (864-SNOW).
    Special needs: The Office of Disability Resources, 22 Strong Hall, 785-864-2620, coordinates accommodations and services for KU students with disabilities. If you have a disability for which you may request accommodation in KU classes and have not contacted the Office of Disability Resources, please do so as soon as possible. Please also contact your instructor privately.

Copying or Recording

    Course materials prepared by the instructors, together with the content of all lectures and review sessions presented by the instructors are the property of the instructors. Video and audio recording of lectures and review sessions without the consent of the instructors is prohibited. On request, the instructors will usually grant permission for students to audio tape lectures, on the condition that these audio tapes are only used as a study aid by the individual making the recording. Unless explicit permission is obtained from the instructors, recordings of lectures and review sessions may not be modified and must not be transferred or transmitted to any other person, whether or not that individual is enrolled in the course.


    The class schedule might be modified, as needed, to meet the needs of the class.

About your professor

    I came to the University of Kansas and full-time teaching in August 1996 after 34 years as a reporter, editor and news executive at daily newspapers and the Associated Press. I assumed the added duties of general manager and news adviser at The University Daily Kansan in December 2001. You should know that I am doing what I’m doing because I have a passion for quality journalism and a lifelong love of the written word. If you don’t really want to know more, that's OK, But you might want to read my “bio.” It’s nice to know a bit about the person who’ll be preaching the gospel of grammar to you for the coming weeks. 

Updated Feb. 7, 2013