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IPOL Writing Guide

Key Grammar, Punctuation & Style Errors

There are some common errors that occur in student academic writing which are set out here:

Hit Parade of Errors in Grammar, Punctuation, and Style - from the University of Toronto Writing Center


If you make some or all these errors and would like help identifying and fixing them in your writing, you can refer to the additional resources in this guide, or you can make an appointment with a writing tutor at the GUQ Writing Center.

Grammar & Punctuation

A fragment is an incomplete sentence, which is missing a subject, a verb and/or a coherent thought. For guidance on how to identify and fix fragments please refer to this resource:

Locate and Correct Fragments - from the Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Do these online exercises to help you identify fragments:

Fragment Exercises #1 - from The Learning Center at D'Youville College 

Fragment Exercises # 2 - from Purdue Online Writing Lab

Follow the guidelines in the link below to learn how to use commas correctly:

Comma Rules - from the Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Do these online exercises to become more proficient at using commas:

Comma Exercise # 1 - from the Aims Online Writing Lab 

Comma Exercise # 2 - from the Learning Center at D'Youville College

A run-on sentence occurs when two complete sentences are not separated properly. For example, they may be joined by a comma (which is a comma splice), or there may be no punctuation at all (fused sentence). This resource will help you fix run-on sentences:

Fixing Run-On Sentences - from the University of Minnesota, Center for Writing

 

To get practice identifying and fixing run-on sentences, try these online exercises:

Run-On Exercise #1 - from the Learning Center at D'Youville College

Run-On Exercise #2 - from the University of Bristol Faculty of Arts

 

A comma splice occurs when two complete sentences are joined together by a comma. A comma splice is a type of run-on sentence. This resource will help you fix your comma splices:

How to Fix Comma Splices - from the University of Texas at Dallas Writing Center 


To get practice identifying and fixing comma splices, try these online exercises:

Comma Splice Exercise #1 - from the Learning Center at D'Youville College

Comma Splice Exercise #2 - from the University of Bristol Faculty of Arts 

Style & Editing

Style
  1. Be clear and direct. Short sentences are easier to understand than long, complicated ones.
  2. Connect your ideas with transition words and sentences. Long sentences are not the way to do it.
Organization
  1. State your main idea at the beginning. Your main idea, thesis, or argument should be in your first paragraph.
  2. Have lead sentences for every paragraph. Your lead sentences along with your introductory paragraph should form an outline for your paper. With this outline, your reader will be able to follow your argument.
Revising
  1. Let your paper rest for a few days.
  2. Re-read the assignment. Ask yourself if your paper responds to the assignment.
  3. Read your paper aloud. Read one paragraph at a time. Is each paragraph unified around a single idea? Do any sentences sound confusing? If you are confused, your reader will be as well.
  4. Check your quotes. Do you have too many? Are they well-integrated into your paper?
Editing
  1. Clean up your mess. You wouldn't go to an interview with a dirty face, so don't turn in a paper with punctuation, capitalization, and spelling errors.
  2. Read the paper backwards. This is the best way to spot sentence level errors. Your mind won't get lost in the content.
  3. Check your citations. Have you cited other people's ideas and words? Are they correctly formatted? 
General Principles

The three tenses used predominantly in academic writing are present simple, past simple, and present perfect. Refer to this guide on when to use them:

Verb Tenses - from the Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Writing About Literature

When writing about a piece of literature or a literary character, "literary present" is used. The idea is that the author, characters, or fiction exist in a timeless world. However, when writing about an author outside the context of the work of fiction, often past tense is used. Some examples are:

  • In The Color Purple, Alice Walker demonstrates lasting affection between two women.
  • Alice Walker grew up in the American South.
  • In The Crucible, John Proctor decides to die rather than damage his reputation.
  • Frankenstein represents Mary Shelly's greatest literary achievement.

NOTE: Even when discussing a piece of literature, you may need to use other tenses to clarify a chronology of events as in the following example:

  • In Mary Shelly's novel Frankenstein, the monster appears to be evil. However, Shelly intends to convey to the reader that the monster was nurtured to become evil and was not created with an evil nature.
Writing About History

Do not use the literary present in history. The past tense should be used as all historical events took place at some point in the past.

 

1. Keep the main subject and verb close together. Introductory phrases help you do this
  • Since I spent too much money last month, I cannot go on vacation with you.
  • In the middle of Athens, there is a famous temple.
  • In his latest essay, Tom Friedman admits to doubts about the benefits of globalization.
  • Defeating all the other players, Paul won the tournament.
  • During the past three centuries, many pieces of art were stolen from museums in various European capitals.
2. Make your subjects and verbs agree

Even though the teacher tries to keep their attention, the students in the back of the classroom are generally not             attentive.

3. Make sure your subject and verb express a logical thought

Not logical: The school's official photograph is students laughing together
Logical: The school's official photograph shows students laughing together.

4. Be concise

Wordy: With relation to the academic rules which have been proposed, students and faculty are not in agreement           about them.
Concise: Students and faculty disagree about the proposed academic rules.

5. Use parallel construction
  • When I saw Leslie, she was excited and enthusiastic.
  • In the morning and in the evening, I go for a walk with my family.
  • Watching television and playing video games are passive activities.
  • You will not get good grades if you are absent from class and if you do not study.
6. Vary the length of your sentences

Politicians avoided serious discussion of the clean water legislation because the voters voiced more interest in issue such as garbage collection taxes.(long) This was irresponsible.(short)

7. Use plurals to avoid awkward pronoun use.

Awkward: Each student should make sure that his or her assignments.
Revised using plurals: Students should make sure that their assignments are on time

8. Make sure your pronouns agree with their antecedent nouns.

            Incorrect: All of the animals had its cage cleaned out.
            Correct:  All of the animals had their cages cleaned out.

9. Use active verbs rather than passive verbs

           Passive: Through this paper the benefits of peer tutoring will be explored.
           Active: This paper will explore the benefits of peer tutoring.