Everyone has a unique voice in their writing. Writing in academic style does not mean erasing your voice. However, learning to effectively control grammar and style will make you a more effective and persuasive writer. Below you will find some guidelines on topics Writing Center Consultants discuss with students regularly.
Homophones: Words that sound alike and are often unconsciously misspelled. See charts below for examples. If you are consciously aware of these when writing, you will make fewer errors.
Makes a comparison
Refers to a time
Contraction for it is
To receive or agree
Preposition meaning “all but” or “other than”
Opposite of win
Opposite of tight
As in rain, snow, sun
As in “whether or not”
Contraction for you are
Contraction for they are
A location or concept
Means very or also
Commas can be a tricky form of punctuation. Most of us were taught to put a comma whenever there is a “natural pause,” but that is not always correct. We all pause at different points when we are speaking or thinking; that does not necessarily mean you need a comma there. Here are some guidelines to determine when you need to use a comma.
I have cleaned almost the entire house, but Alex is still cleaning the kitchen.
Note: The comma can be omitted if the two independent clauses are both very short. Example:I sing and he dances.
Wow, I can’t believe those gas prices.
The rise of reality shows, for example, speaks to the breakdown of public and private spaces in a globally connected culture.
Use a comma between a month and year and—if the year is within the middle of a sentence—use a comma after the year. Examples:
I was born in May, 1980. Stephanie began classes on August 22, 2009, at Spalding University.
Dear Ms. Donovan,
Thank you again for giving me an extension on the paper assignment. I will submit it by noon tomorrow.
The semicolon is a common form of punctuation in academic writing. A semicolon allows you to connect two complete sentences that are closely related. Usually the second sentence is an elaboration on the first. Think of it like an arrow sign. First sentence Second sentence.
Writing papers can be mentally taxing; some students take naps to help their minds recuperate.
Semicolons can ONLY take the place of a comma when items within a list contain commas.
Patients were excluded from the study if they had a family history of heart, liver, or kidney issues; were pregnant or nursing; or were taking medications for psychiatric treatment.
Colons are often used to give a list of examples.
There are several stakeholders when it comes to school safety: students, teachers, parents, administrators, campus security officers, and staff members.
Colons are sometimes used in place of semicolons (connecting two complete sentences) if the second sentence defines or explains the first sentence.
There is one rule of fight club: don’t talk about fight club.
Em Dash (—)
An em dash is formed by using two hyphens with no spaces immediately before or after the hyphens (or by hitting Ctrl, Alt, and the hyphen key in the number section of the keyboard). Em Dashes are used for interjections. Commas or parentheses can also be used for interjections, and it is a good idea to alternate punctuation symbols to avoid repetition. Overuse of em dashes can make writing seem choppy or jumpy, whereas overuse of commas or parentheses for interjecting thoughts can seem too long-winded.
En Dash (–)
An en dash is a slightly elongated hyphen formed by hitting Ctrl then the hyphen key in the number section of the keyboard. An en dash is used to replace the words “through” or “to” when showing a period of time. Example: February–March. En dashes are also used for prefixes such as “pre–World War I.”
PROTIP: You can remember that the Em dash is longer than an en dash because an “m” has two humps and an “n” only has one.
Hyphens are used for compound words or two words working together as one adjective. Example: “Did you watch that eye-opening documentary?” Not needed if used at the end of as entence because it doesn’t affect clarity: “That documentary was eye opening.”
Used for titles of larger works like books, films, and magazines. They can also be used to show inner monologue in creative writing:
Jane covered her face and ducked into the cereal aisle. What is Mom doing here? She should be at work.
Single and Double Quotations
Double quotations (“) are used to indicate dialogue in a story, cite someone’s words, or represent the title of a shorter work such as an article, television episode, or chapter title.
Single quotes (‘) are used to show a quote within a quote:
“What we mean we say ‘I Do’: An Exploration of Marriage Vows in America.”
For both types of quotations, all end punctuation—periods, commas, question marks—goes inside the quotes for nonacademic writing. However, in academic writing, periods and commas will appear after the in-text citation. Question marks are still inside quotes in academic writing and a period is used after the in-text citation. See below:
“Here is an example” (Meijers 2003, p. 3).
“Does that make sense?” (Meijers 2003, p.5).
Writing can sound repetitive if sentences structures are too similar. One way to avoid this is by alternating short and long sentences to break up the rhythm. See below example from Purdue OWL:
Example: The Winslow family visited Canada and Alaska last summer to find some native American art. In Anchorage stores they found some excellent examples of soapstone carvings. But they couldn't find a dealer selling any of the woven wall hangings they wanted. They were very disappointed when they left Anchorage empty-handed.
Revision: The Winslow family visited Canada and Alaska last summer to find some Native American art, such as soapstone carvings and wall hangings. Anchorage stores had many soapstone items available. Still, they were disappointed to learn that wall hangings, which they had especially wanted, were difficult to find. Sadly, they left empty-handed.
Another way to vary your sentences is to make sure they do not start with the same word, since that can cause repetition. Be especially aware of overusing these words at the start of a sentence: The, There, I, It, This.
Sentence Fragments (from Purdue OWL)
Fragments are incomplete sentences. Usually, fragments are pieces of sentences that have become disconnected from the main clause. One of the easiest ways to correct them is to remove the period between the fragment and the main clause. Other kinds of punctuation may be needed for the newly combined sentence.
Below are some examples with the fragments shown in red. Punctuation and/or words added to make corrections are highlighted in blue. Notice that the fragment is frequently a dependent clause or long phrase that follows the main clause.
Fragment: Purdue offers many majors in engineering. Such as electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering.
Possible Revision: Purdue offers many majors in engineering, such as electrical, chemical, and industrial engineering.
Fragment: Coach Dietz exemplified this behavior by walking off the field in the middle of a game. Leaving her team at a time when we needed her.
Possible Revision: Coach Dietz exemplified this behavior by walking off the field in the middle of a game, leaving her team at a time when we needed her.
Fragment: I need to find a new roommate. Because the one I have now isn't working out too well.
Possible Revision: I need to find a new roommate because the one I have now isn't working out too well.
Fragment: The current city policy on housing is incomplete as it stands. Which is why we believe the proposed amendments should be passed.
Possible Revision: Because the current city policy on housing is incomplete as it stands, we believe the proposed amendments should be passed.
The term run-on sentences is often misused; a run-on sentence is not just a long sentence. It is perfectly fine—and even expected—to have longer sentences in academic writing. A run-on is a sentence is actually defined as two complete sentences that are fused together and lack the required comma and coordinating conjunction (remember the FANBOYS: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). A comma splice is when a comma is added, but the conjunction is missing.
Run-on Sentence (no comma or conjunction):
Many believe Salinger was a reclusive man most people do not know how he behaved in his private life.
Comma Splice (no conjunction)
Many believe Salinger was a reclusive man, most people do not know how he behaved in his private life.
Many believe Salinger was a reclusive man, but most people do not know how he behaved in his private life.
In writing, parallelism means that lists of words or phrases should have the same grammatical structure. It unifies and clarifies ideas for the reader.
Political activism can mean volunteering, advocacy for a cause, or you can engage in political dialogues with friends and family.
Political activism can mean volunteering at an organization, advocating for a cause, or engaging in political dialogues with friends and family.
Notice in the revision that all items in the list start with a verb ending in –ing followed by a prepositional phrase (like at an organization), which makes the similarities between those items clearer.
Usage of Relative Pronouns That, Which, Who, and Whom
Relative pronouns serve similar functions in a sentence, but they are used in different situations.
PRO TIP: In formal writing, it is common to avoid ending a sentence in a preposition. The reason for this, in theory, is that it is unclear what the preposition is modifying if it comes at the end of a sentence. The solution? Usually, a relative pronoun (that, which, who, or whom) is contained within a sentence ending in a preposition. Move the preposition in front of the relative pronoun and make sure you using which or whom (object forms), not who or this (subject forms).
Incorrect Sentence: I do not remember who this quotation came from.
Corrected Sentence: I do not remember from whom this quotation came.
Sometimes it is better to avoid wordiness and completely rewrite the sentence as shown below.
Alternate Correction: I cannot remember the exact origin of this quotation.
In general, academic writers opt to spell out words rather than using contractions, since contractions can seem informal (example: they are instead of they’re). However, contractions can be used in reflective, professional, or creative writing in which the tone is not supposed to be overly formal.
Using i.e. and e.g.
These terms are abbreviations of Latin words that are often used in academic writing as shorthand.
The term i.e. is an abbreviation of “id est,” which translates as “that is.” You can use it when you want to clarify a point. It is the equivalent of saying “in other words” (you can remember that i.e. and in other words both start with i). You always put a comma before and after i.e. because is it like an interjection.
Example: Gatsby is a man of his time, i.e., he is a product of “new money” and disillusionment in the modernist era.
The term e.g. is an abbreviation of exempli gratia, which translates as “for example.” Like i.e., e.g. is used as an interjection and requires a comma before and after.
Example: Some Americans who teach English in Korea only learn “survival Korean,” e.g., hello, thank you, and goodbye.