Appendix A: Glossary of English Rhetoric, Grammar, and Usage

Academic Voice

Voice refers to the relationship between writer and reader, conveyed by the level of formality in diction and syntax. The “voice” of your text messages and emails to your friends is informal, characterized by the use of slang, acronyms, and incomplete sentences. The “voice” of an essay or report you write for your teachers and professors is more formal, characterized by the use of complete sentences, Standard English, and sophisticated (but not ostentatious) diction.

Active Voice

Describes the usual syntactical relationship between a subject, verb, and object, in which the subject is the agent of the verb’s action and the object is the agent acted upon.

In this sentence, for example—The wind scattered tree branches all over the street.—“wind” is the subject, “scattered” is the verb, and “branches” is the object. The verb “scattered” is in past tense and active voice.

Active voice is distinct from passive voice, in which the agent acted upon becomes the subject of the verb, and the agent becomes the object of the verb: Tree branches were scattered by the wind, all over the street.

Active voice is generally considered more effective in academic writing because it is usually clearer and more concise. The active voice version of our example sentence above contains nine words, while the passive voice version contains eleven words.

But there are instances when the use of passive voice is required and even more effective, especially if the agent for the action is indeterminate. The verb in the sentence—Smoking is forbidden now in restaurants in most western nations—is in passive voice, but is not an error in usage.

Acronym

A word formed, in the interest of brevity, concision, and creativity, by combining first letters of related words: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome becomes AIDS, white Anglo Saxon protestant becomes WASP. Other common acronyms include NATO, MAAD, HUD, NORAD, DOT, BAFTA, UNESCO.

Technically, such letter combinations which do not form pronounceable words—FBI, CBS, NVAA, UBC, USC, RCMP—are not acronyms but abbreviations, though it is pedantic to insist on the distinction.

Acronyms and abbreviations are usually represented with capital letters, without periods after each letter.

Some acronyms have morphed into words in their own right—laser and radar, for example, began as acronyms for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation and radio detection and ranging, respectively.

The use of acronyms in academic writing is fine, but if there is doubt that readers won’t recognize the acronym, it should be spelled out the first time it is used.

Ad Populum Fallacy

One of several errors in logic which asserts that a proposition is correct because many, even most people, the ad populum, believe it to be correct.

You can argue that “She is the best candidate because she was elected by popular vote,” but your argument cannot begin and end there. Democracy presupposes an informed electorate which also considers and assesses the experience, intelligence, and character of the candidates.

The world was never flat, though the people of many ancient civilizations believed it to be.

Adjective

A word which modifies, qualifies, describes a noun: an excellent athlete; a provocative film; a Chinese character.

Adjective Clause

A group of words which begins with a relative pronoun, contains a subject and a verb and modifies a noun or a pronoun. For example,

The report on enhanced interrogation, which the Committee released last week, will damage the Agency’s reputation.
The adjective clause (underlined) modifies the noun “report.”

A homeless person who drives a Porsche is not going to have much luck panhandling.
The adjective clause (underlined) modifies the noun “person.”

Note the punctuation: in the first sentence, commas separate the adjective clause from the main clause because the clause is non-restrictive; in the second, commas do not separate the adjective clause from the rest of the sentence, because the clause is restrictive.

In some adjective clauses, the relative pronoun may be omitted, in the interest of concision, as long as meaning is clear: The homeless person (who) the limo driver claims ran away is wanted for questioning.

Adverb

Among the most versatile words in English, an adverb can describe, qualify, modify a verb—move quickly—an adjective—a very fast runner—or another adverb—move quite quickly. Its position in a clause is also somewhat flexible—both silently crept and crept silently are fine.

Adverbs cause few errors in academic writing. You do have to check to make certain you are not using an adjective, where an adverb is required—not I studied real hard, but I studied really hard; not he does good in math, but he does well in math. Nor is it a good idea to overuse adverbs.

Adverb Clause

A group of words which begins with a subordinate conjunction, contains a subject and a verb and modifies a verb. For example,

The flight was canceled, because the fog was so dense.
The adverb clause (underlined) modifies the verb, “was canceled.”
If the delegate from Venezuela is appointed to the committee, the South American contingent will withdraw its complaint.
The adverb clause (underlined) modifies the verb “will withdraw.”

Note that a comma does not have to separate the subordinate from the main clause if the subordinate clause is restrictive. The previous sentence illustrates this rule: there is no comma before the word “if.”

However, if the subordinate clause comes before and introduces the main clause—as in the “Venezuela” sentence above, a comma follows the subordinate clause, even if the subordinate clause is restrictive.

Affect, Effect

Two words which often provoke an error in usage due to their virtually identical sounds.

The main difference is that affect is a verb, while effect is a noun.

Her decision will affect the global economy, but the economy of France should suffer no ill effects.

However, “effect” can also be a verb, meaning to bring about.

Her decision will affect the global economy, and may effect positive changes to the economy of Canada.

Pay attention to these words, when you are editing your work, and make certain you have used them correctly.

Agreement

As a term in grammar, agreement refers to the correct relationship between two elements in a sentence.

A subject must “agree” with its verb: Germany is a democracy, not Germany are a democracy. See Subject-Verb Agreement.

A pronoun must agree with its antecedent, which is the word it is replacing. A brainwashed terrorist will sacrifice his or her (not their) life for the cause.

Rules governing pronoun-antecedent agreement are evolving.

Antecedent

A noun, preceding and referring to a pronoun which follows. In this sentence, for example—Elaine needed her uggs, but she couldn’t find them—“Elaine” is the antecedent of “her” and “she” and “uggs” is the antecedent of “them.”

Apostrophe (’)

Punctuation mark which indicates possession, placed before the “s” for singular possession and after the “s” for plural possession: my teacher’s laptop was stolen; my teachers’ laptops were stolen.

In the first sentence one teacher had one laptop stolen; in the second, more than one did.

Note that nouns which form their plural by changing a letter within a word (when man becomes men, for example) the apostrophe comes before the “s” even in plural form: woman’s shelter; women’s shelter; a child’s room; the children’s room.

Note that an additional “s” followed by an apostrophe in names that already end in “s” is optional: both she loves Dickens’ novels and Keats’ poetry or she loves Dickens’s novels and Keats’s poetry is acceptable.

To show the possession of compound nouns, the apostrophe usually appears in the last word only. The Minister of Defense’s travel plans are not being released to the public.

To show joint possession, the apostrophe appears in the last noun only: This sentence—IT needs to update Jack and Clara’s computer—indicates that Jack and Clara share one computer, while this sentence—IT needs to update Jack’s and Clara’s computers—indicates that Jack and Clara each have a computer they do not share.

Note that possessive pronouns are possessive by virtue of their case so the use of an apostrophe is daft and redundant. Confusion between the contraction “it’s” and the possessive pronoun “its” is especially widespread.

The apostrophe is also used in contractions: isn’t, won’t, doesn’t, can’t.

Note that an apostrophe is different from a single quotation mark, despite appearances. See Quotation marks.

Argument/Argumentative Essay

One of the most important types or genres or rhetorical modes of academic writing. In many high school and most college courses you will take, your teachers will assign a written argument, related to an issue central to the content of the course.

An argument essay proffers a robust thesis, which asserts a proposition about which there is enough controversy to foster disagreement. The essay attempts to validate the thesis.

An effective argument essay will typically acknowledge and refute the opposing point of view.

An argument essay will typically avoid logical fallacies or use them judiciously and surreptitiously in support of its thesis.

An effective argument essay will show evidence of critical thinking.

The basic template for an argument essay consists of an introduction which provides some context and presents the thesis, a body which contains the paragraph developing the points in support of the thesis, and a conclusion which reaffirms the thesis, maybe hints at additional or future implications. The number of paragraphs in each section depends upon the number of words the assignment calls for; obviously the body of the essay will contain more paragraphs than the introduction or conclusion.

The wrinkle in the argument essay template is the acknowledgement and refutation of the opposing point of view. It might be contained in a separate section of the body of the essay; it might be spread throughout the body, perhaps in a point/counterpoint form within paragraphs. The writer is in the best position to make this decision.

Audience

In the field of written composition, synonymous with readers. Audience influences the voice and style of a written text.

The author of a sixth-grade geography textbook, a travel writer, the tourist bureau, and a professional climatologist might all write a chapter or a magazine or journal article, or a brochure describing the climate of Seattle. The information in these texts will be similar. But the voice, diction, sentence structure, and style will change, according to the needs and expectations of the audience—the readers.

High school and college essay writers need to assess the needs and expectations of their audience, usually their instructor/professor as part of the pre-writing process. Read the assignment carefully and assess and consider exactly what it is your instructor/professor wants from you. This will help you shape the content of your essay.

Auxiliary Verb

Words which join with main verbs to form a verb phrase to present as precisely as possible the nature of the action of the subject of the main verb. They are also called helping verbs.

Compare “those birds sing all day,” with one main verb, with “those birds have been singing all day,” which adds two helping verbs to the main verb, “singing” and so adds depth to the meaning of the sentence,

Some auxiliary verbs can also be main verbs. Forms of the verb “to be” (is, am are, was, were, been) and forms of the verb “to have” (perfect tense), and “to do” can be main verbs. She is an engineer; she has a degree from Drexel; she did all that work alone. They can also be auxiliary verbs. She was dating an engineer; she has dumped him; he did not work well with others.

Some auxiliary verbs cannot also be main verbs; they must work in concert with a main verb. They are also called modals or modal auxiliary verbs.

The common modal auxiliary verbs are would, should, could, may, might, must, will, shall, and can. They define the exact nature of the verb they are paired with and thereby refine meaning. Try inserting each modal between the subject and verb of this sentence: I (would, should, could, may, might, must, will, shall, can) sleep all day. Notice how much more precise meaning is when the modal is inserted.

Some modals signal the presence of conditions:

I would sleep all day, if….

I could sleep all day, but….

I should sleep all day, in order to….

Usage has blurred precise distinctions in meanings between some modals.

Begging the Question

A logical fallacy, its ambiguous designator the result of a poor translation from the original Latin, a better translation of which would be “assuming the initial point.”

Begging the question means that a proposition’s initial point is reaffirmed by what follows, obviating the need to validate that proposition. Vote for the socialist candidate because she will implement policies based on socialist philosophy. Other, more reasoned and logical reasons are needed to support the proposition.

Blueprint Thesis

Sentence which expresses an essay’s controlling idea, and which includes phrases that will be developed in body paragraphs.

If a general thesis is as follows: “There are several factors that might cause a commercial jet airline to crash,” its blueprint thesis might be “Common causes for a jet airline crash include pilot error, mechanical failure, poor weather, and foul play. Each cause will be developed in at least one paragraph in the body of the essay.

Body Paragraphs

The body paragraphs of an academic writing assignment elucidate, augment, support, and develop the essay’s thesis. The body consists of at least three, and up to about a dozen or more, paragraphs, depending upon the requirements of the assignment. A minor 500 word writing assignment will typically call for three body paragraphs; a major 5000 word assignment, approximately twelve. Good body paragraphs in an academic writing assignment have three qualities: unity, coherence, and substance.

Unity refers to the relationship of the content of a paragraph to its topic sentence. The topic sentence presents the main point of the paragraph. It is, to a paragraph, what the thesis is to the essay as a whole. For a paragraph to have unity, its content should develop its topic sentence. It may be stated explicitly—often, though by no means always, the first sentence in the paragraph—or implied.

Suppose, for example, this is your topic sentence: “Another issue which animates the Black Lives Matter movement is unusually high unemployment among younger African American men.” A unified paragraph focuses on unemployment and does not veer off to reference other Black Lives Matter issues, except insofar as they might inform the paragraph’s topic sentence.

Coherence or cohesion is that property of written discourse which binds sentences and paragraphs together in the interest of clarity, logic, rhythm, and flow. The repetition of a key word can establish coherence within a paragraph. The repetition of the word “body” in the first paragraph of this listing, establishes the paragraph’s coherence.

A transitional word or phrase, such as for example, on the other hand, in addition, however, moreover, can establish coherence within a paragraph. The phrase “for example” in the third sentence of the second paragraph of this listing helps establish the paragraph’s coherence.

Substance or adequate development is a property a body paragraph possesses, when that paragraph contains enough sentences to develop its topic sentence. Body paragraphs need examples, details, definitions, comparisons, contrasts, anecdotes, causes, effects that the thesis needs, in order to be adequately developed. One or any combination of these methods or patterns of development will typically be used to develop a topic sentence.

Brackets [ ]:

In academic writing, brackets are used primarily to insert explanatory information into a direct quote, information the author of the quote did not include but the author of the academic text believes readers need, in the interest of clarity. For example:

The friendly rivalry may never be resolved, though experts like Duplessis insist that “French roast [coffee beans] produce coffee that is darker, if not richer, than Italian roast” (37).

Similarly, brackets are used to enclose those Latin abbreviations, the most common of which is sic, which means “thus it is written,” and which a writer of an academic text uses to indicate that there is an error in the original text from which the academic writer is quoting, an error which the writer of the academic text wants readers to know she did not make. For example,

He goes on to say that “coffee beans that come from Guatamala [sic] produce coffee with a medium flavour and intensity” (Duplessis 38).

Brackets are also used to enclose additional parenthetical information, which adds to information already in parenthesis. For example,

Coffee beans grown in Antigua produce coffee milder than Kenya bean coffee (and other beans grown in East Africa [Somalia, for example, is starting to export beans] and beans grown in Sumatra and other Indonesian islands), but the annual yield is not high.

This use of brackets is rare and in not recommended. It can impede clarity and is usually easy enough to avoid.

Can/May

Commonly used auxiliary verbs.

The distinction between them may have been sacrosanct years ago: “Can” implied the ability to act and “may” implied permission to act. Then, a sentence such as “Can I use a comma before this clause” made little sense because obviously a writer has the physical ability to type in or print a comma, wherever he or she wishes. “May I use a comma before this clause” was the correct usage because the “may” connotes uncertainty which the permission of an authority figure has to validate. You “can” use a comma there, but you “may” not. Common usage has blurred the distinction between may and can, and now “may” can seem stuffy, the difference between “May I see you again” and “Can I see you again.”

The distinction may still be important in academic writing. In this sentence from an assignment done for a psychology course—“Students in the control group can play all of the video games whenever they choose, but the experimental group can play only Sudden Impact and only for an hour a night”—the “can” should be changed to “may,” but the instructor grading the assignment may not flag the misuse of “can.”

The use of “may” to connote uncertainty—Evans may be traded to the Warriors—or doubt—“The distinction between them may have been sacrosanct years ago”—remains.

Capitalization

Some rules are universal and straightforward: capitalize proper nouns and proper adjectives: Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Capitalize the first word in a sentence, not one that follows a semi-colon, but one that follows a colon may or may not be capitalized.

Some of your relatives’ titles may be capitalized—I love my Aunt Jane—though I love my brother, Edmund, not my Brother Edmund—though Brother John heard his confession is correct.

Titles that follow a proper noun do not have to be capitalized: Horatio Bennett was promoted to admiral, when he was just 34-years old. Sometimes those titles at the very top of the food chain are capitalized, even if they follow the name: Ford was President for four years.

The rules vary among cultures, among handbooks, among publishing houses, newspaper and magazine style guides. Best advice, if you have a capital letter conundrum, is to consult a dictionary or a style manual, approved by those reading your writing.

Causes Assignment

An essay-length text in a college/university course, one which requires the student to explain the reasons for—the causes—of a situation or phenomenon.

This assignment often answers a “what” or a “why” essay question or report. Why was the marketing campaign for X energy drink so successful? What causes a black hole to form? Why do teenagers like scary movies?

The template/outline for a causes assignment is straightforward.

The introduction establishes context for the topic and presents the thesis. The thesis in the form of a question, which the rest of the essay answers, often works well for a causes assignment because questions are implicit in the topic: Why have changes to the climate of the Earth increased significantly since 1950? What causes global warming?

The body paragraphs answer the thesis question. They contain as many topic sentences as there are important answers to the question. Topic sentences are developed with appropriate details, supported by valid and reliable sources. Remember that one topic sentence might be important and complex enough to require more than one paragraph for development. For our global warming example, for instance, the rise in the level of greenhouse gasses would likely require explanation exceeding one paragraph.

The conclusion would reaffirm the thesis and might reference possibly dire consequences, if global warming is not curtailed.

Causes/Effects Assignment

An essay or report length text in a college/university course, which requires students to explain not only the causes of a phenomenon or an outcome but its subsequent effects, as well.

It often adds a “how” to the “why” or “what” to the causes part. What causes inflation and how does inflation affect the economy of a country? Why did Canada participate in World War I, and how did this participation shape Canada’s national identity? Why have tuition fees increased so dramatically over the past few years, and how is the increase affecting access to and the quality of higher education.

The standard template/outline for a cause/effect assignment is binary. The essay/report is in two parts: the first part presents the causes, and the second part presents the effects. But there might be different structure, alternating between causes and effects, if one effect is a specific result of one cause. If, for example, a cause of increased tuition fees is student demand for better housing and recreational facilities, then the cause paragraph explaining why this generation of students demand better facilities might be followed immediately by an effects paragraph, providing examples and descriptions of upscale residences and gymnasiums colleges/universities have built—the effect of the cause.

Citation Generators

Websites which help writers of research papers cite sources accurately. Citation Machine, EasyBib, and BibMe are among the most popular.

Use them with caution and check their format carefully because they are far from infallible.

Classification and Division Assignment

An account, usually essay length, which describes and explains the parts which make up a unified whole: Classify—explain and describe—the varieties of grapes that can be used to make red wine. Classify the styles of women’s purses. Classify the types of video games.

The template/outline for a classification/division essay is usually straightforward. If your thesis is “There are xx grape varietals commonly used in the production of red wine, your essay will likely have a paragraph which discusses the properties of each.

Clause

A meaningful sequence of words that contains a subject and a verb.

An independent, also known as a main clause, is synonymous with a sentence.

A dependent, also known as a subordinate clause, does contain a subject and a verb, but must be connected to an independent (main) clause. Otherwise, it is a sentence fragment.

In this sentence—“The executive members of the fraternity insisted an assault could not have taken place on the night in question, because there was no party at Phi Beta Kappa that night”—the words which precede the comma form an independent (main) clause, and the words which follow the comma form a dependent (subordinate) clause.

Coherence/Cohesion

Essential quality of academic writing, coherence refers to connections between and among sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs within a text, essential to establishing clarity and flow and a partner, with unity and substance, in effective paragraph construction.

Cohesion is typically established through the use of cohesive ties, which include repetition, pronoun/antecedent agreement, and transitional expressions. Cohesive ties in this paragraph are underlined.

The hallmarks of Palladian architecture are symmetry, clarity, order, utilitarianism. The Palladians did not really care for curves and spires, apses and flying buttresses, which might add character and beauty to a building, but which can be less than practical uses of space. Instead, they went for squares, triangles, and rectangles, all in perfect harmony and balance. A rectangular shape on the west side of a building would be balanced by one the same size on the east side. Similarly…

Note how the repetition of the key term “Palladian”; the pronoun “they”; and the transitional expressions, “instead” and “similarly” help establish coherence in this paragraph.

Collective Noun

A word that references a group or a collective, such as team, orchestra, press, congress, sorority, gang, audience….

Collective nouns are usually considered to be an “it” rather than a “they,” and, as such, take singular verbs; The orchestra is playing a Mozart symphony; Their team [it] wins every game it plays.

Some rulebooks distinguish between a collective noun acting as a unit and one the members of which are acting as individuals—the difference between “The orchestra is playing a Mozart symphony” and “The orchestra are tuning up their instruments.” However, to avoid ambiguity, we might write “The musicians in the orchestra are tuning up their instruments.”

Colon (:)

The colon is the punctuation mark which signals that additional information, which explains or expands upon the information which precedes the colon, is about to be presented.

Example: Today we learned the rules that govern the use of three punctuation marks: the comma, the semi-colon, and the period.

Note that a colon should not separate a preposition from its object, so it would be incorrect to write: Today we learned the rules that govern the use of: the comma, the semi-colon, and the period.

Note also that a colon should not separate a verb from its object, so it would be incorrect to write: For breakfast, my youngest daughter likes: eggs sunny side up, crisp bacon, and fried green tomatoes.

The colon can separate two sentences, when the second explains something about the first.

Example: His mark on the final exam determined his fate: he was not going to pass Philosophy 200.

A semi-colon could also be used here, though the colon underscores the nature of the relationship between the two sentences.

It is acceptable to capitalize the first word that follows a colon, if that word begins a complete sentence.

Comma (,)

The punctuation mark which signals a pause in the rhythm and flow of a sentence, in order to enhance the clarity of the sentence.

In academic writing, there are basically four rules that govern the use of the comma, but there are exceptions to most of these rules.

Rule One: The comma separates words or phrases, sometimes even clauses, in a series.
Examples:

We are learning all of the rules that govern the use of the comma, semi-colon, colon, and dash.

This week, I have an essay to write for my English class, an oral presentation to prepare for my economics class, and a mid-term to study for in my French class.

Note that opinion is divided about the use of the comma which precedes “and” in the series, commonly known as the “Oxford comma.” Some feel that the presence of “and” makes the need for the final comma redundant; other think it enhances the clarity of the sentence. Its use is optional, though it should be used if its absence causes ambiguity. With the Oxford comma, for example, the following sentence suggests that the wife, the best friend, and the spiritual advisor are three different people, but without the Oxford comma, it suggests that the wife, the best friend, and the spiritual advisor are one and the same.

Before he makes a decision, he always discusses the issue with his wife, his best friend, and his spiritual advisor.

Rule Two: A comma is used before a coordinate conjunction in a compound sentence.
Example:

Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal, and it is abundant in some areas of the country. Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal, but it is still less green than wind or solar power.

A short compound sentence might eliminate the comma.

I arrived and she left.

Rule Three: A comma separates non-restrictive words, phrases, and clauses from the rest of a sentence, but it does not separate restrictive words, phrases, and clauses from the rest of a sentence. A restrictive word, phrase, or clause is one that is essential to the meaning of a sentence, one that impairs the clarity of a sentence if it is absent.

In the following sentence, the phrase “restricting abortion” is not set off from the rest of the sentence with commas, because to do so would render the sentence meaningless:

There are no laws restricting abortion in my country.

However, in this sentence—There are no laws, which I know of, restricting abortion in my country—the clause “which I know of” could be eliminated, and the sentence would still make logical sense; therefore, commas surround it.

Note that parenthetical expressions are usually non-restrictive:

Any forms of enhanced interrogation technique, however, (or, on the other hand,; or, moreover,) are strictly forbidden.

Rule Four: A word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of a sentence, usually appearing before the subject, is usually followed by a comma, even if that word, phrase, or clause is restrictive:

In my country, there are no laws forbidding abortion.

Comma Splice

An error in sentence structure caused when a comma alone separates two complete sentences.

It is easy now to store files in a cloud, I still prefer to use a thumb drive.

To correct the comma splice add a coordinate conjunction to the comma:

It is easy now to store files in a cloud, but I still prefer to use a thumb drive.

Or change one of the sentences to a dependent clause:

Although it is easy now to store files in a cloud, I still prefer to use a thumb drive.

Or use a period or a semi-colon, in place of the comma.

The term “comma splice” is usually synonymous with run-on sentence.

Compare and Contrast Assignment

A rhetorical mode, wherein a writer is required to point out the similarities and differences between two entities. Compare and contrast a shopping mall in a large city with the main street of a small town. Compare and contrast Piaget’s and Chomsky’s theories of language acquisition in children.

This is a common assignment because it assesses higher order reasoning, requiring reflection upon and knowledge and ability to assess characteristics and value of two different entities or artefacts.

There are two templates/outlines for a compare/contrast essay.

There is the two-essay method. You may describe all of the attributes of one of the elements, then all of the attributes of the other and leave it to the reader to draw the comparisons and contrasts or you can, perhaps, highlight them at the end of the essay.

There is the common traits method. You identify the common traits for both of the items you are comparing and contrasting, then write alternate paragraphs for each common trait. A paragraph on the friendliness of the sales associates in small town shops would be compared and contrasted, in the following paragraph, with the friendliness of the sales associates who work in a similar shop in a mall.

The compare/contrast essay is usually expository, but it might have an argumentative edge. If, for example, you don’t want a new strip mall built on the outskirts of your small town, your compare/contrast essay might favor the main street shopping experience.

Complex Sentence

A simple sentence plus one or more dependent clauses, also known as subordinate clauses.

The community was especially outraged, because the police officer was white, while the teenager was black.

The simple sentence is “The community was especially outraged.” It is followed by the two dependent clauses “because the police officer was white” and “while the teenager was black.”

Compound Sentence

Two simple sentences joined together by a coordinate conjunction or by a semi-colon.

He shoots; he scores

Their goal is to make the playoffs, and they think they have a good chance.

Note that, in a compound sentence, a comma precedes the coordinate conjunction. In a simple sentence, with a compound verb, there is not a comma before the coordinate conjunction:

Their goal is to make the playoffs and avoid elimination in the first round.

Compound-Complex Sentence

A compound sentence plus one or more dependent clauses, also known as subordinate clauses.

Hedge fund managers earn millions of dollars a year, but their clients don’t complain if they see a good return on their investments.

The compound sentence is “Hedge fund managers earn millions of dollars a year, but their clients don’t complain.”

The dependent clause is “if they see a good rate of return on their investments.”

Hedge fund managers, who earn millions of dollars a year, are unpopular in some circles, but their rich clients love them.

The compound sentence is “Hedge fund managers are unpopular in some circles, but their rich clients love them.”

The dependent clause is “who earn millions of dollars a year.”

Conditional Verb Tense

The subordinate conjunction “if,” signals a condition elaborated upon and explained in the main clause.

If the shoes in his fall collection sell well, buyers will order even more from his spring collection.

In academic writing, it is important to match the verb in the conditional clause to the verb in the main clause appropriately. Note that:

  1. If the verb in the “if” or conditional clause is in present tense, the verb in the main clause is in future tense.
    If the shoes in his fall collection sell well, buyers will order even more from his spring collection.
  2. If the action in the “if” clause did not occur, use past perfect tense in both the subordinate and the main clauses.
    If the shoes in his fall collection had sold well, buyers would have ordered even more from his spring collection.
  3. The subjunctive mood form of the verb “to be” is usually the correct form in a conditional clause. For plural subjects this does not pose any problems because the plural subjunctive form is the same as the simple present form.
    If the spike heels were stronger, the shoes would be more marketable.
  4. But if the subject in the “if” clause is singular, the subjunctive may seem counter intuitive, but it is the correct form.
    If the manager were (not was) here today, she would approve of our decision.

Conjunctive Adverb

A conjunctive adverb is a word which functions as an adverb insofar as it qualifies or modifies a verb, and as a conjunction, insofar as it provides a link between two sentences. Consider this sentence:

Conjunctive adverbs are often misused; however, the rules which govern the use of a conjunctive adverb are not complex.

In this sentence, “however,” is a conjunctive adverb. It qualifies the verb “are misused,” in that it signals a refinement to the use of the verb; and it links together the two complete sentences.

Other common conjunctive adverbs include anyway, as a result, consequently, eventually, for example, furthermore, in addition, indeed, in fact, instead, in the meantime, meanwhile, moreover, namely, nevertheless, next, now, on the other hand, similarly, therefore.

When a conjunctive adverb does not link two sentences together, it is functioning more as a parenthetical expression, and it is usually preceded and followed by a comma. Compare: “We waited and waited;” eventually, he did arrive safely with: “We waited and waited; he did, eventually, arrive safely.”

In the first sentence, “eventually” is a conjunctive adverb; in the second, it is a parenthetical expression.

Continuous Present Verb Tense

Refers to use of present tense (see Verb Tense), even when describing events that were written about in the past. A book might have been written or a painting painted many years ago, but an analysis of the work will typically be written in present tense:

Gatsby knows Daisy cannot leave Tom.

The girl with the pearl earring glances over her shoulder.

Hamlet is not really insane.

Coordinate Conjunction

Those small words—and, but, or—which join together and define the relationship between and among syntactical elements: oranges and lemons; oranges but not lemons; oranges or lemons.

Note that when the syntactical elements are sentences, a comma usually precedes the coordinate conjunction.

She promised to save the last dance for the drummer, and she kept her promise; she promised to save the last dance for the drummer, but she chose the lead singer, instead; she promised she would save the last dance for the drummer, or she would go home alone.

Critical Thinking

The ability to evaluate opinion with an open mind, unclouded by ideology.

The ability to think critically is always listed as a fundamental goal of a liberal education. Its tenets include:

A willingness to reconsider and even alter social and political values, in light of impartial evaluation of information in reliable and authoritative sources;

A recognition that social and political issues are complex and not resolved by hasty generalizations or slogans;

A commitment to learn about, research, and reflect upon an issue before reaching a conclusion;

An ability to distinguish opinion from fact and to recognize and reject biased, uninformed, bigoted opinion;

A hesitation to jump on a bandwagon, until you are convinced it is going in the proper direction;

A realization that it is wiser to refute than to ignore or shut out opinion that dissents from your own;

The ability to think critically is especially important in writing an argument essay, which can be undermined by opinion which has not been vetted or by bias which cannot be dismissed. Critical thinking privileges reason and logic over ideology and emotion. A thesis statement might be refined, even reconstituted, in the wake of critical thinking.

The term “critical” may, but does not necessarily, connote disagreement. It is more synonymous with “straight” or independent thinking

Dangling Modifier

A word or a phrase which has been abandoned by the word it is supposed to modify. In this sentence, for example—

Walking along the beach at sunrise, the waves shimmer beneath the early morning light—

the walker seems not to be present. It seems, almost, as if the waves are doing the walking. The walker needs to be identified to correct the dangling modifier:

Walking along the beach at sunrise, I (we, my mother, Elton) love(s) to see the waves shimmer beneath the early morning light.

The word the dangling modifier refers to might be in the sentence, but too far away from its modifier. This sentence—

After losing seven games in a row, even their most loyal fans were ready to abandon the team—

should be:

After losing seven games in a row, the team was in danger of being abandoned even by its most loyal fans.

This sentence:

Forced to punt again, the fans booed the home team

should be

Forced to punt again, the home team heard the boos of its fans.

See also Misplaced Modifier

Dash (-)

A single dash usually indicates a break in thought or a change in tone, within a sentence, and it tends to have the effect of stressing the words that follow the dash:

It was a familiar refrain, as the game ended and the home-town crowd, convinced the referee had determined the outcome by calling too many fouls on the Grizzlies and too few on the Bulls—“We was robbed”!

The dash in this sentence could be replaced with a semi-colon or a colon or even a period, but the dash signals the emphasis and change in voice which the sentence which follows the dash conveys.

Double dashes occur within a sentence. They have the same purpose as the single dash, emphasizing the phrase or clause contained within and sometimes indicating a change in tone.

Admissions committees will be more impressed—and Ivy League admissions committees need to be impressed—if you are the president of one club rather than a passive member of three

Note that commas or parentheses could replace the dashes in the above sentence. The dashes tend to highlight the sentence between them, while parentheses tend to deemphasize the sentence, while commas suggest equal emphasis with the information in the rest of the sentence.

Dependent Clause

Synonymous to a subordinate clause, a dependent clause, like an independent clause (that is, a sentence) contains a subject and a verb but cannot act as a sentence, because it begins with a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun.

Study this sentence:

Although the phrase could be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas, the writer chose dashes, because she wanted to stress the enormity of the victory of the Trojan army, which was outnumbered two to one.

The sentence contains one independent clause: “The writer chose dashes.” There are three other clauses, which do contain subjects and verbs, but they are dependent or subordinate clauses, not complete sentences, because of the words with which they begin. Two begin with a subordinate conjunction: “Although the phrase could be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas” and “because she wanted to stress the enormity of the victory of the Trojan army.” One begins with a relative pronoun: “which was outnumbered two to one.”

Description

Kind of rhetorical mode or genre, characterized by an account of the properties, aspects, characteristics of a person, a place, a thing—anything interesting or significant enough to be so depicted.

Description can be a rhetorical mode in and of itself, but, in academic writing, it is usually in support of a paragraph’s topic sentence. The author of a study of the causes of surfing accidents might include a paragraph, part of which describes a fierce wind and its effect on the size and speed of Hawaiian waves.

Diction

As a term germane to academic writing, diction refers to the word choices a writer makes, the vocabulary he or she uses.

Like so many other properties of written discourse, diction should be reader sensitive. Consider this paragraph:

The big change to the Aventador’s 6.5 liter V-12 is a freer-flowing exhaust. It also has fresh calibrations for its variable valve timing and variable intake system. Peak power is achieved 100 rpm below redline at a shrill 8400 revs. Torque remains 509 pound-feet at 5500 rpm.

The diction this writer uses—“calibrations for its variable valve timing”—presupposes readers who know about automotive specifications. He would have to change his word choices, if he were writing for a general audience.

Academic writing is often inaccessible to general readers because of the specialized diction often found in articles in academic journals.

Dictionary

One of any writer’s essential resources, for spelling, connotation, capitalization, homonyms and, if necessary, etymology. You have access to many free online dictionaries; a good paper dictionary lodges spelling and meaning in memory more effectively and should always be within easy reach, when you are working on a writing assignment.

Below is an illustrative dictionary item on the word soldier. This entry provides information about the word, including the word division (sol•dier); pronuncuation [sōl’jer]; part-of-speech labels (noun and verb); all potential definitions, special meanings, and idioms; and the word’s etymology.

.

Dictionaries must necessarily squeeze a lot of information into a single entry, so various symbols and abbreviations are used in order to save space. This can make a dictionary item somewhat difficult to read. In the opening pages of a dictionary you will find a key to abbreviations and symbols and sometimes an anatomized sample entry like the one above.

Effects Assignment

An academic writing task that calls for the writer to explain the consequences of an action or a phenomenon. How has the three-point shot affected basketball? What effect has feminism had on the Catholic Church? What effect do gamma rays have on man-in-the-moon marigolds?

The template/outline for an effects assignment is usually straightforward. Suppose, for example, your thesis is “Children who are victims of bullying are prone to depression, decline in academic performance, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns.” The body of your essay would develop each of these effects. There would be at least one paragraph for each effect, more for an assignment that requires a longer response. The conclusion might stress the need for schools to implement anti-bullying policies.

The Effects Assignment may be combined with the Causes Assignment. What causes global warming and how has global warming affected the climate of the Pacific Northwest?

Either/Or Fallacy

A logical fallacy which suggests there is only one alternative to a proposition, when there may be several. This fallacy is especially acute when the alternative is melodramatic.

It may not be fallacious to assert that our college must start offering online courses or we risk losing revenue to other schools. It is a fallacy to say we must start offering online courses or remain in the dark ages.

Ellipses…

Punctuation mark consisting of three periods and used to indicate that some text has been omitted, usually from a quote, usually because it is not as relevant as the rest of the quote to the point a writer is making.

The ellipses is a punctuation mark consisting of three periods…used to indicate that some text has been omitted, usually from a quote…

Note in the example above that if the omitted information is at the end of the sentence, a period follows the ellipses.

Exposition/Expository Essay

A main genre or rhetorical mode of discourse, one which provides information to readers, in support of a thesis. Also known as the informative mode. An essay on the physiological effects of performance enhancing drugs on Olympic athletes is expository, while an essay arguing in favor or against allowing Olympic athletes to use performance enhancing drugs is not. It would be an argument essay. Expository essays deal more with fact; argument, with opinion.

Students in most academic disciplines are required to write expository essays. An economics major might write an essay defining and providing examples of monetary policy; a psych major might write an essay outlining the symptoms of bi-polar disorder; an art history major might write an essay defining and providing examples of cubism.

There are various types of expository essay: compare/contrast, cause/effect, definition, examples and details, classification and division. They are covered under separate alphabetical listings.

Ethos

Along with logos and pathos one of the three features of an effective argument, according to Aristotle.

If the author of a written argument asserts that his or her thesis or an argument in support of a thesis is ethical or that it is the position of the ethical, often an intellectually or socially elite, individual, the argument is more compelling. When a writer reminds readers that the President considers global warming a serious national security threat, that writer strengthens any thesis in support of the urgent need to curtail any human activity that causes global warming.

Examination Essay

Many of your teachers and professors will include questions on mid-term and final exams that require at least paragraph, if not essay length responses.

There is no substitute for hard study and sound knowledge of the content of your courses to perform well on an examination essay. But there are other things you can do to increase your chances of doing well.

  1. Anticipate some of the questions your professor might ask and draft practice answers, even if they are in the form of an outline only. Pay attention, also, to clues your instructors might drop about the questions they might ask.
  2. Read the prompt slowly and carefully. You need to know if your professor wants an expository or an argument essay, and that information will be implicit in the prompt. It will help a lot if you know a template—offered in this book—for various forms of expository essay and for an argument essay. You need to know what your instructor wants from you and to respond to the assignment appropriately. You need to know the purpose of the assignment and do your best to fulfill that purpose.
  3. Mine the prompt also for content you might use in your response. Longer prompts often contain information you can integrate into your answer.
  4. Manage your time well. If time permits, jot down a thesis and an outline; even a rough draft, if you have enough time to edit and revise it. If you are pressed for time, do your best to write extemporaneously. Bring white out and double space, so you can at least edit, if not revise, as you proceed.
  5. Eat a protein-rich meal an hour or two before you write an examination essay.
  6. Be well rested. Sometimes two more hours of sleep will serve you better than two more hours of study time.
  7. View moderate stress as a good sign. Some studies suggest that we perform best in stressful situations when we have moderate, but not severe nor absent stress.

Exclamation point (!)

Punctuation mark used to add emphasis to the end of a sentence.

Common in informal writing, friendly emails and text messages, especially, the exclamation point should be used sparingly in academic writing. Its frequent use in an argument essay will not strengthen the force of the argument!!

Exclamation points are common in quoted dialogue. The quotation mark comes after the exclamation point.

“No mean no!” she exclaimed.

Extended Definition Assignment

An essay-length explanation of a complex term or concept, often one germane to a particular academic discipline. Often requires examples. What, in Freudian psychology, is the super ego? What, in literary theory, is deconstruction? What is Marxism? What is a cost/benefit ratio?

After the key term is defined at length, the extended definition essay often morphs into an essay developed by examples. A “What is Autism” essay will provide a thorough definition of the key term and then might recount examples of typical autistic behaviour, in a paragraph, perhaps, on an atypical ability to communicate, another on an atypical ability to empathise, another on a tendency toward obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

Famous / Infamous

Both of these words mean well-known, but the difference between them lies in the reasons for the notoriety. Famous means well-known for positive reasons, infamous for negative reasons. Think of President Roosevelt saying the attack on Pearl Harbour will live in infamy. Jane Austen is famous; Count Dracula is infamous. Many celebrities, of course, are both.

Fewer, Less

Two adjectives that are often interchanged incorrectly. “Fewer” identifies a quantity and is used before a noun which could be counted; “less” identifies a quantity but is used before a noun which could not be counted.

There are fewer people eating in the cafeteria today so less food is being wasted.

Beatrice has fewer children than Beth, so Beth has less time to devote to yoga and Pilates.

I take fewer pieces of tape so that I use less tape.

Five Hundred Word Essay/Theme

A written academic text in its fundamental form. As such, it consists of an introductory paragraph which establishes some context and presents a thesis; three body paragraphs, which develop the thesis; and one concluding paragraph, which reaffirms the thesis and establishes closure.

The five-hundred-word essay is a common assignment in high-school English courses and is often the first assignment in a first-year college writing course, assigned in the belief that it is the basic template, a sound knowledge of which will help students transition to longer, more complex writing assignments.

Flammable / Inflammable

These two words are synonymous, both meaning easily ignited.

Freewriting

One of several heuristics, designed to help a writer generate content for a text. The theory behind freewriting asserts that we have many ideas and insights within our minds, but that we sometimes need ways to release them. The physical act of writing is liberating. It stimulates mental activity and forces us to get ideas onto paper. Some of these ideas, some of this content, should find its way into a complete writing assignment.

The free writer takes a minute to consider the essay topic, then begins to write, without regard for sentence grammar or structure: the goal is to liberate those great ideas and insights, trapped in the mind, abandoned and forgotten, and get them down on paper. The necessary revising and editing can come later.

Freewriting continues only until the law of diminishing returns sets in, usually after about ten minutes. However, the free writer might isolate a key point or two the first round of freewriting has revealed and begin again, using this point as the starting point.

Fused Sentence

Two sentences which run together with no punctuation between them.

Some planes are grounded if the temperature exceeds 118 degrees Fahrenheit it’s almost that hot in Arizona today.

Note that a comma after “Fahrenheit” would not correct the error. You need both a comma and a coordinate conjunction.

Some planes are grounded if the temperature exceeds 118 degrees Fahrenheit, and it’s almost that hot in Arizona today.

A period or a semi-colon after “Fahrenheit” would also correct the error.

A fused sentence is a form of the run-on sentence.

Future Tense

Verb identifying action to occur beyond the present, signalled by the auxiliary verb “will” or, less frequently, especially in American English, “shall.”

He will have to support the policy, or he will not be re-elected.

We shall not be re-elected, if the committee exceeds the budget.

The rule which dictates the use of shall with first-person pronouns (I shall report this incident to the principle; we shall not fail) has weakened over time, and your teachers will not likely penalize you for using “will” with first-person pronouns. I will pass this course.

Will and shall are often contracted: She’ll be coming around the mountain, but she won’t be driving six white horses. Contractions are less acceptable in academic writing, than in informal speech and writing.

Gender Neutral Pronoun

Usually refers to the use of plural pronouns they/them/their as singular pronouns, in order to avoid the tiresome repetition of he/she, his/her. A colonel has to obey their [as opposed to his or her] general’s orders.

The singular “they” is now widely accepted, though some of your instructors might still flag it as an error in grammar.

“They” can also refer now to those who do not identify as either gender. Neologisms such as “ze” and “ey” are also used in some circles now to identify those who do not identify as either gender or even to replace “he” and “she,” on the assumption that gender identity is fluid. Such neologisms have gained some but not gained widespread acceptance within the academic community.

General Thesis

An essay’s controlling idea, expressed without telegraphing the points to be developed in the body of the essay or report.

The Mediterranean diet is among those most beneficial to human health.

A blueprint thesis would telegraph the points to be developed in the body of the essay.

The Mediterranean diet is among those most beneficial to human health, because it includes a wide array of vegetables, monounsaturated fats, and vitamin-rich sauces.

Gerund

A word that is derived from a verb, ends in “ing,” and functions as a noun. Golfing is good exercise, but I prefer fishing.

Grader/Marker Abbreviations

Your instructor may use abbreviations in the margins of your essay to indicate an error you have made. The error will also typically be circled or otherwise flagged.

Here is a list of common symbols instructors often use when evaluating student writing. Note that in this book there is a full discussion of each error.

  • ad: adjective used incorrectly.
  • agr: usually refers to an error in pronoun agreement; could refer to an error in subject-verb. agreement, though that may be abbreviated as sv. agr.
  • awk: awkward sentence structure.
  • cap: error in use of capital letter.
  • case: error in pronoun case.
  • co: error in use of coordinate conjunction.
  • coh: coherence weak.
  • com: faulty comparison.
  • concl: weak concluding paragraph.
  • cs: comma splice.
  • d: diction; poor word choice.
  • def: term used should be defined.
  • dm: dangling modifier.
  • doc: documentation; source needs to be cited or error in citation.
  • ex: example needed or would be useful.
  • for: formatting error.
  • frag: sentence fragment.
  • fs: fused sentence.
  • hyph: hyphen needed or not needed.
  • intro: first paragraph weak; should be revised.
  • it: Italics needed or used incorrectly, often in
  • jarg: jargon.
  • lc: lower case needed; usually indicates a capital letter (upper case) used incorrectly.
  • mix: mixed construction; similar to awk (awkward).
  • mm: misplaced modifier.
  • no ,: comma not needed.
  • para: better if you paraphrase this (usually in reference to a quote from a secondary source).
  • pass: active voice verb better here than passive.
  • ref: pronoun reference (not to be confused with pronoun case) not clear.
  • run-on: run-on sentence.
  • shift: an abrupt change (often in tone) within a sentence.
  • sp: spelling.
  • sub: subordination; usually means that sentence structure and variety would be improved with subordination.
  • sum: better to summarize this; usually in reference to quote from a secondary source.
  • trans: transition; need to connect this sentence with previous one more clearly.
  • vague: sentence or passage needs to be revised in the interest of clarity.
  • vt: verb tense.
  • wrdy: wordy; revise for concision.
  • ww: wrong word.
  • ^: insert.
  • ~: transpose.
  • ¶: begin new paragraph.
  • / /: faulty parallelism

Hasty Generalization

A logical fallacy, because it purports to support an argument by implying that one example of a phenomenon or circumstance is universally applicable. Automotive magazines have panned the performance of the Blink; electric cars will never replace gas-powered ones.

Note that, like many logical fallacies, a generalization is not necessarily false or mendacious. It is ineffective to argue against tobacco use because a friend or relative died of lung cancer, only if this is only one or a small part of the evidence you offer in support of your thesis.

Helping Verb

Short word used to define the nature of an action more precisely than that conveyed by the main verb alone. You (can, may, might, will, must, should) dance.

Hyphen (-)

The hyphen is a punctuation mark, consisting of a straight line, similar in appearance to a dash—but half the length. There are four rules for hyphenation, which are fairly consistent among editors and style manual authors.

  1. A hyphen is used within a word or between two closely related words to avoid ambiguity:

    In New York, small-business owners don’t make much money. (Without the hyphen the sentence might refer to business owners who are not tall).
    A little-used desk.
    He resigned? No, I said he re-signed!

  2. A hyphen is used between a prefix and its stem word, when the last letter of the prefix is the same as the first letter of the stem word:
    His anti-immigration policies are controversial.
    Co-op housing is less expensive.
    The game was pre-empted by the speech.

  3. A hyphen is used between a prefix and its stem word, when the stem word is a proper noun.

    Countries which are pro-Israeli are often anti-Iraqi.

  4. A hyphen is used between a compound adjective that precedes a noun but not used for a compound adjective that follows a noun.

    She is famous for her strawberry-blond hair.
    Her hair is strawberry blond.
    She has a five-year-old child.
    Her child is five years old.
    I was the second-to-last finisher.
    I finished second to last.

A hyphen will also indicate a break within a word in text which has margins justified right, but academic texts do not usually require right, only left-justified margins.

Other rules which govern the use of hyphens tend to depend upon the authority under which your essay or report is composed. You can read an article on line, online, or on-line. You can read your text book, your text-book, or your textbook. You can send an email or an e-mail. Some style manuals advise against the use of hyphens for compound words before a noun when one the words is an adverb: an unusually pleasant day, but not an unusually-pleasant day, though always a day that is unusually pleasant. Hyphens in literary terms such as point of view or point-of-view and antihero or anti-hero are optional.

When in doubt, consult the style manual which corresponds to the format and citation method your instructor/professor has prescribed, which will usually be The MLA Handbook or The Chicago Manual of Style or The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. An authoritative dictionary is also a good source for acceptable hyphenation.

Implied/Implicit Thesis

A robust thesis is an essential component of an academic text. The thesis is often expressed in a single sentence, or perhaps spread over two sentences in the introduction of the essay or report. However, the thesis can be implied, rather than stated explicitly.

The thesis of the following introductory paragraph is that Japanese shin hanga prints are priceless and exquisite, but there is no single thesis sentence which nutshells the thesis

Shin hanga means “new prints” in Japanese, and it designates a group of gifted Japanese wood block artists, at work in the first two decades of the twentieth century. They were inspired by the quietly beautiful landscapes and seascapes of their native land, and by the human face and form—some of their paintings of young Japanese women, bathing, applying make up, flirting, can be surprisingly sensual. The shin hanga line is pure and precise and bold, a style which can be difficult to achieve in wood block art. The glorious colors, in every shade, every hue, are the crowning achievement of movement, the main reason why these paintings are so mesmerizing, it is difficult to turn away from them, once the eye is arrested.

Indefinite Pronoun

A word which identifies a general or indeterminate group: everyone, everybody, all, nobody, no one.

Indefinite pronouns are usually singular: Everyone is coming; all is not lost.

However, the use of the pronouns they, their, and them as the antecedent of an indefinite pronoun is widely accepted. No one is bringing their car. Everyone is paying their taxes on time this year.

Similarly, context might determine subject-verb agreement, when an indefinite pronoun is the subject: All of the money is missing; all of the students are present.

Infinitive Verb Form

The root or base form of the verb, preceded by “to”: to eat; to pray; to love.

Infinitive verb form can act as the subject of a verb: To play for the Maple Leafs was his dream come true.

Infinitive verb form can act as the object of a verb: I want to forgive him. In that sentence, “to forgive” is the object of the verb “want” and “him” is the object of the infinitive “to forgive.”

In Terms Of

In the interest of concision, student writers are advised to revise sentences which contain this compound preposition. Change “My writing has improved in terms of the number of grammar errors I used to make” to My writing has improved; I make fewer grammar errors now.”

Introduction

The opening of an academic writing assignment will vary in length, proportionate to the length of the entire assignment, one paragraph for a shorter essay, several for a longer one. The rules that apply to the content of the opening are usually more constant. A good opening typically serves two purposes: it provides context related to the assignment topic, and it presents the main or controlling idea, the thesis.

The context will make clear the genre of the essay—argument, compare/contrast, cause/effect, process. It will usually establish the topic’s broader parameters, and it might include essential background information, related to the topic.

Suppose, for example, you were to write an essay explaining the popularity among students of an iconic consumer product, and you chose denim jeans as your topic. It is a cause/effect essay, insofar as it explains the reasons why (the causes) jeans are so popular (the effect). The context portion of your opening might include this information:

  • Your own observation done over the course of a week or so which reveals that on any given day, about half of the students on your campus wear denim jeans to class on a regular basis;
  • Some historical context you have learned from your research about how long jeans have been around;
  • An interesting and relevant fact that you have learned from your research, that, for example, the average college/university student owns seven pair of jeans.

The thesis is the main or controlling idea of an essay or report, usually expressed as an opinion or an assertion, usually expressed in a single sentence, which the rest of the essay supports and augments. It is typically the last sentence of the opening paragraph (paragraphs in a longer essay), though it can also be effectively placed elsewhere.

A blueprint thesis provides readers with not only the essay’s controlling idea, but also the reasons and arguments, in phrase or even word form, in support of the controlling idea. A simple blueprint thesis for a short essay about the popularity of jeans essay, might be:

Jeans are so popular because they are comfortable, durable, and stylish.

For a longer essay, the thesis would add more supporting points:

Jeans are so popular because they are an icon of our culture, cleverly marketed, comfortable, stylish, and durable.

The advantage of the blueprint thesis is that it alerts the reader to the essay’s organizational pattern and so enhances the overall clarity of the text. One disadvantage is that it could reduce readers’ interest in the rest of the essay since it gives much away. Another is that it becomes more difficult to construct, the more complex are the reasons in support of the thesis.

A general thesis presents little else than the essay’s controlling idea:

There are several reasons why jeans are so ubiquitous an article of clothing.
It is not difficult to explain the universal appeal of jeans.

The advantage of the general thesis is that it is concise, to the point. The disadvantage is that it can seem too much a statement of the obvious.

A question thesis poses a question, to which the rest of the essay responds:

Why are denim jeans so popular?

The implied thesis is not in a single sentence in an opening paragraph. Rather, it floats between the sentences, an authoritative but invisible presence. Here is an example:

Wander around a shopping mall, an airport, or a college campus, observe what the people are wearing, and you will learn, if you did not know already, that denim jeans are among the most popular items of clothing that people choose to wear. Today, in my college English class, 14 of the 26 students—and my professor—are wearing jeans. The average North American college students own seven pairs of jeans (Ellison 14). Once acceptable only in casual venues, jeans are common now in the workplace—my bank manager wears jeans on casual Fridays!—and in restaurants that once had jacket-and-tie dress codes.

We love jeans because…

There is no single sentence that spells out thesis, but its presence is there, confirmed by the opening phrase of the second paragraph.

The implied thesis is common in the writing of professional journalists and academics. In a good essay or article, readers know what the thesis is by the time they have come to the end of the introduction, but there may not be a single sentence they can underline and write in the margin “thesis.” For students, the implied thesis is a bit of a risk: many professors want a clear thesis, as an obvious sign that the student, whose essay they are evaluating, has learned and can apply this essential feature of academic writing.

Irregardless

Word processing programs put the squiggly red line under this word because it is not a word. The correct term for not taking into account is regardless.

Irregular verb

A verb which forms its past tense and past participle in ways different than a regular verb does. A regular verb usually forms its past tense by adding the suffix “ed.” I play, played, have played my violin is past tense regular form, while I sing, sang, have sung is past tense and past perfect tense (see Verb tense) with an irregular verb.

The list of irregular verbs is long; some have the same form for present tense, past tense, and past participle: I just cut myself! I cut myself yesterday! I have cut myself too often.

Some have three different forms: Don’t bite me again! You bit me again! You have bitten me three times this week! I go every year; I went last year; maybe I have gone too often.

Some have two different forms: He won’t fight tonight; he fought last night; he has fought too often this week.

The misuse of an irregular verb form is a fairly common error in student academic writing: They had sang it often enough (should be had sung); the teacher had spoke to me before about this (should be had spoken).

Look the verb up in the dictionary, if you are not certain if it is regular or irregular or if you know it is irregular but are not certain of the difference between the past tense and the past participle. Remember, you use the past participle with an auxiliary verb.

Independent Clause

Synonymous with a main clause or simple sentence, and independent clause contains a subject and a verb and stands on its own as complete: Terrorist attacks on major European cities have escalated in the past few months.

As distinct from a subordinate or dependent clause, which also contains a subject and a verb, but which cannot stand on its own as complete: Since terrorist attacks on major European cities have increased in the past few months….

Infinitive Verb Form

The verb form, when preceded by “to”: to cook, to clean, to sew.

Infinitives function as nouns, hence as subjects or objects of verbs—To launder that much money requires some sophisticated financial transactions, but he wants to launder all of it.

Intransitive Verb

One which does not take a direct object. The police arrived in time. I will retire next spring. A verb which does take a direct object—He failed math—is a transitive verb. Verbs can be both: He could not see (the screen).

Its, It’s

The pronoun it has only two forms or cases (See Pronoun Case), but it is responsible for a common error in English usage. It is the subjective case: It is a fact. And it is also the objective case: I know it.

The possessive case is its. I like its beaches, but I don’t like its high prices.

It is, especially in less formal writing, is often expressed as the contraction it’s. It’s all good. This is where the error sometimes occurs. We see that contraction, and we know it signals possession—the quarterback’s helmet—so we might think the contraction in it’s also signals possession. It does not. It signals a contraction, like doesn’t, hasn’t.

Its is already in possessive case. It does not need a contraction, any more than his does.

All of its (not it’s) tires are flat.

Memorize this brief simple sentence, and it might help you avoid the error: It’s missing one of its pages.

And there is no such thing as its’.

Jargon

Experts in a field usually have their own language, used and understood by other experts in the field, but baffling to those on the outside.

Snowboarders talk about shreddin the gnar and avoiding a yard sale: going snowboarding and avoiding losing equipment in a fall.

Realtors talk about double-enders, balloon mortgages, half-baths, and PITI: earning a commission on both the sale and the purchase of a property; a short-term mortgage that does not fully repay the debt, due in full at a later point; a bathroom without a bath or shower; an acronym for principal, interest, taxes, insurance.

Butchers talk about chitlins, flat-iron steaks, and six-inch boners, which are, respectively, pig intestines, meat from under the shoulder blade, a special knife for boning meat out of a carcass.

Jargon has a bad reputation, but its use is not a solecism if the readers are in the know. Your literature professor will expect you to know about omniscient point-of-view, a rites-of-passage story, trochaic tetrameter, and to use these terms in your written work. The jargon of the economist, the computer scientist, the historian is fine for papers written for those courses.

But avoid using the jargon from one discipline in a paper written for another.

Kind Of

As a verb synonymous with “thoughtful and nice” the phrase “kind of” is fine: That is kind of you. As a synonym for “type,” the use of kind is fine: This kind of behaviour is inappropriate.

In academic writing, avoid the “kind of” as a synonym for rather: The critics kind of like Selena’s voice.

Lay, Lie

Two verbs often the source of errors in usage because their sound and meaning are so similar.

The difference is that “to lay” is a transitive verb and therefore takes a direct object, “eggs,” in this sentence:

Chickens lay eggs.

“To lie” is an intransitive verb and therefore does not take a direct object.

Pigs lie in the mud.

Usage errors are common between the progressive forms of the verb—laying and lying—but the rule remains the same. Don’t use “laying” if there is no direct object. These sentences are incorrect.

I plan to spend all day just laying around. Should be “lying around.” I plan to spend all day laying the groundwork for the new development is correct because now there is a direct object—groundwork.

His body was still laying [should be lying] in the street for two hours after he was shot.

Note also that confusion may arise because the past tense of “to lie” is the same as the present tense of “to lay.”

All day yesterday, the pigs lay in the mud.

Note that the past participle form of “to lie” is “lain” and the past participle of “to lay” is “laid.”

Chickens have laid eggs on this farm for generations.

Those pigs have lain in the mud all day.

Here are the two verbs, in all of their tenses. See Verb Tense.

Chickens lay eggs.

The chickens laid an even dozen eggs yesterday.

I hope the chickens will lay even more eggs tomorrow.

The chickens are laying eggs.

The chickens were laying eggs.

The chickens will be laying eggs.

That chicken has laid a dozen eggs today.

Those chickens have laid a dozen eggs today.

Those chickens will have laid a dozen eggs by sunset.

The chickens have been laying eggs all day.

The chickens had been laying eggs all day, but then the storm came.

If they continue, the chickens will have been laying eggs steadily for eight hours.

Pigs lie in the mud.

Pigs lay in the mud all day yesterday.

Pigs will lie in the mud tomorrow.

The pigs are lying in the mud.

My pig was lying in the mud.

Those pigs were lying in the mud.

My pig has lain in the mud for three hours now.

Those pigs have lain in the mud for three hours now.

Pigs have been lying in the mud all day.

My pig has been lying in the mud all day.

The pigs had been lying in the mud for three hours, before the storm hit.

If they stay there for another hour, the pigs will have been lying in the mud for eight hours straight.

Less, Fewer

Both words describe quantity, but less should be used before nouns that cannot be broken down and counted, while fewer should be used for nouns which have separate, countable units.

Less butter; fewer chocolate chips

Less fat; fewer calories

Less traffic; fewer cars

Less work; fewer chores

Less confusion; fewer words

Licence, License

The first spelling of the word is not a part of American English. You have a driver’s license and you are licensed to drive. In British English, the version with two c’s is the noun form. You have a driver’s licence. But not the verb form. You are licensed to drive. Canadians can use either.

Like

Your grammar cop instructors and professors might not approve of the use of like, as a subordinate conjunction, insisting that as should be used instead. In the following sentence, “as” is correct; “like” would be a solecism: The movie won the academy award, as most critics predicted it would. However, many essay graders would not object to the use of “like” in the previous sentence.

In academic writing, don’t use like as a parenthetical expression: Gatsby was, like, stunned when Daisy finally chose Tom.

Linking verb

A verb which links together a subject and a noun or pronoun or an adjective which follows the verb to establish a different relationship between subject-verb-noun/pronoun than that established by a transitive verb. This sentence for example—Ottawa is the capital of Canada—links together two entities that are the same—while this sentence—Ottawa plays Vancouver tonight does not. The first uses the linking verb “is”; the second uses the transitive verb “plays.” The noun or pronoun or adjective that follows a linking verb is called a subject complement.

The verb to be (is, am, are, was, were, been) is the most commonly used linking verb. Other linking verbs are to appear (The ghost appears harmless) ; seems (The Conservative candidate seems nervous); look (You look marvelous, darling); sound (the band sounds fine to me).

Consider these two sentences, containing a word often misused, following a linking verb.

I feel bad.

I feel badly.

They are both correct, but they have different meanings. I feel bad is a sympathetic condition or an indication or poor health. I feel badly means that my sense of touch is poor. This sentence—I feel badly about the company’s bankruptcy—is incorrect. It should be I feel bad about the company’s bankruptcy.

Logical Fallacy

A breach in rational thought that could undermine the content and the reception of a spoken or written argument. If you are constructing or critiquing an argument, you need to know about logical fallacies. They come in in several forms.

A hasty generalization implies that the consequences of one action or event will also apply to similar, related actions or events. He was an unarmed African American teenager, and Officer Wilson shot him dead. The police are such racists.

The post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy (Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”) asserts that one action or event will cause a similar, related action or event to occur. Marijuana has just been legalized in Washington. It won’t be long before everyone who lives in Seattle is wandering around stoned. Also called the slippery slope fallacy, this implies a series, as opposed to a single successive action or event. The government is increasing its taxes on cigarettes. It is just a matter of time before it increases taxes on alcohol, gasoline, and junk food.

The straw man fallacy matches attitudes and beliefs to group membership, implying that the attitudes and beliefs of members of that group are about as substantive as straw. Senator Smiley is a Christian conservative, so he wants homosexuality to be criminalized. Quote the senator’s words in support of the proposition, but don’t merely assume a position due to association.

Begging the question occurs when a speaker or writer precludes an opposing argument by embedding unsubstantiated evidence in the proposition. The identity of victims of rape must be protected during trial because men who are charged with rape are vile predators whose presence will traumatize victim yet again. Rapists are vile predators but those charged with rape deserve a presumption of innocence.

The either/or fallacy implies that there is only one alternative to a controversial proposition. Either radical animal rights activists must be prosecuted and imprisoned or furriers will go out of business.

The ad populum fallacy implies that a group shares common values and that you are not a real member of the group, unless you, too, share all of that group’s values. If you are a good Christian, you will oppose gay marriage.

A red herring may offer support for an argument but not for the one under discussion. Computer hackers accessed credit card and social insurance numbers, and those businesses they hacked need to stay profitable to survive. Similar to a non sequitur, Latin for “it does not follow.”

Note that a logical fallacy is not synonymous with a lie. It is a proposition that, in and of itself, forms a weak link in an argument. But if that proposition is supported by research, it no longer becomes a logical fallacy. For example, the “slippery slope” fallacy asserts that one action will lead to another related action: If we ban fighting in professional hockey, soon body checking will be banned, then all forms of contact will be band, and soon hockey will be not more exciting than ringette. There is no evidence this has happened or will happen. This is a slippery slope fallacy.

However, if, a generation ago, an editorial writer opposed a ban on smoking in government buildings, by arguing that soon smoking will be banned in private businesses, and restaurants, and apartment buildings and even sports bars (!), what appears to be a slippery slope argument is actually valid.

Logos

Along with ethos and pathos, one of the three qualities of an effective argument, originally expounded by Aristotle and now widely used in writing instruction.

Aristotle used term “logos” to refer not only to the quality of the logic in a text and of the writer’s care in avoiding logical fallacies, but to the efficacy of the structure of the text as well. However, the term now is more narrowly applied to an assessment of the extent to which reason and logic characterize a text.

Loose and Periodic Sentences

A periodic sentence is syntactically conservative, the order of its clauses and phrases orthodox.

The order of phrases and clauses in an English sentence is quite flexible. In a periodic sentence, the order is conventional, in that it begins with the main idea, followed by any qualification or support.

There will be more Muslims than Christians in Europe by the end of the century.

In a loose sentence, the qualification or support comes at the beginning.

By the end of the century, there will be more Muslims than Christians in Europe.

Here is another example of a periodic sentence followed by its loose counterpart

A loose sentence is more syntactically radical, in that its main point is delayed until the end.

Its main point delayed until the end, the loose sentence is more syntactically radical.

The lesson here is in sentence variety. A loose sentence amidst a group of periodic sentences can improve style and refocus a reader’s attention, changing as it does the rhythm and flow of the prose.

Sentence variety is important in academic writing but it must be natural, not forced. It is not a good idea to insert a loose sentence into a paragraph just because there are no others. Instead, while you are revising your work, read it out loud and listen to the rhythm and flow of your sentences and change the structure of some of them, if your ear indicates you should do so.

Main Clause

A group of words, containing a subject and a verb, autonomous in that the words form a complete sentence.

Also known as a sentence.

Also known as an independent clause.

Distinct from a subordinate or dependent clause, which does have a subject and a verb, but which is not autonomous.

Consider this sentence:

Full body swim suits are no longer allowed in Olympic competition, because they are too buoyant and too aerodynamic.

The first half of the sentence—Full body swim suites are no longer allowed in Olympic competition—is a main or independent clause—a sentence. The second half of the sentence—because they are too buoyant and too aerodynamic—is a dependent or subordinate clause, because it cannot stand alone as an independent syntactical unit. It would be a sentence boundary error, known as a sentence fragment.

Methods of Paragraph Development

In academic writing, a series of body paragraphs elucidate, develop, augment, explain the essay’s thesis. Writers typically use any combination of methods, including examples, details, definitions, comparisons, contrasts, causes, effects, and anecdotes to develop their thesis, in body paragraphs.

This paragraph is developed by the use of details.

Coast redwoods grow along the Pacific coast of the United States, as far south as Monterey County, California and as far north as southern Oregon, an area about 470 miles in length and of varying widths, from a narrow range of five miles to an upper range of forty-seven. The elevation also varies widely: some redwoods grow at ninety-eight feet above sea level; others as high as 2, 460 feet. They prefer the mountains, where they can draw rain from the incoming moisture off the Pacific Ocean, especially mountain valleys where streams flow year around and fog drip is regular. Redwoods above the fog layer are less majestic, the drier, windier, and colder conditions stunting their growth, and the Douglas fir and pine trees competing with them for sun, water and soil nutrients. They cannot flourish too close to the ocean, where the salt spray, sand, and wind can denude their branches.

This paragraph is developed by the use of examples, though there is also a compare/contrast element in the fifth sentence.

The pick-up lines with lowest ratings were those which predicted, expected, or otherwise referenced any form of desire for sexual conquest. Every woman surveyed gave a zero rating (immediately suspend the conversation) to “Did you ever realize screw rhymes with me and you.” All were equally disgusted by “Hey I’m looking for treasure; can I look around your chest?” If there was a hint of cleverness or wit in the line, the ratings were higher but still much lower than the friendship lines which scored the highest. “I lost my virginity…can I have yours” scored an average of 1.3 on the five-point scale. “What’s your favorite silverware…cause I like to spoon” scored 1.6, a reflection likely of the comparative mildness of the sexual innuendo. But the results of the survey clearly indicate that young women despise lines that hint of sexual desire, and assertively spurn the men who speak them.

This is a compare/contrast paragraph, the similarities and differences illustrated with examples and details.

The main difference between the two agencies is jurisdiction. The FBI works within the United States, tracking down criminals who commit federal crimes, including mail fraud, aircraft hijacking, kidnapping, bank robbery, identity theft, and tax evasion. The CIA operates in foreign countries, not so much to track down criminals as to spy on other countries and detect and neutralize potential threats to America, in extreme cases engineering a coup to oust a government so unfriendly to theirs that they pose an existential risk. FBI agents act when a crime is committed. CIA agents are more proactive, identifying and preventing threats to the U.S. The FBI is a federal police force; the CIA, an intelligence gathering organization.

Missing Comma after an Introductory Word, Phrase, or Clause

A sentence needs a comma after an introductory word, phrase, or clause:

Badly wounded himself, the medic was unable to care for other wounded soldiers.

In the valley, concealed by rocks and trees, the opposing army lay in wait.

Insulted, the women vowed to occupy the art gallery until their demands were met.

Note that even if the word, phrase, or clause is restrictive (essential to the meaning of the sentence), it needs a comma, if it is at the beginning of the sentence.

Many Americans claim they will emigrate to Canada if Mogul is elected President.

But:

If Mogul is elected president, many Americans claim they will emigrate to Canada.

Misplaced Modifier

A modifier is a word or a phrase or a clause, which describes or qualifies or limits the parameters of another word: a minor error; a very minor error; an error in judgement; an error that I always make.

When a modifying word or phrase or clause is in a sentence, it must be placed in a position which does not cause confusion. If it does cause confusion, it is a misplaced modifier. In this sentence, for example—After a long and intense meeting, we enjoyed a gourmet dinner, especially prepared for us, leisurely—the writer most likely wants to indicate that the dinner was enjoyed leisurely, not prepared leisurely. If this is the case, the modifier needs to be placed in a position which improves its clarity: we leisurely enjoyed a gourmet dinner or we enjoyed a gourmet dinner leisurely.

In this sentence—They served a gourmet meal to all the guests on fine china—it is a phrase, “on fine china,” that is misplaced. It seems as if the guests, not the food, were on fine china. A revised version: They served a gourmet meal on fine china to all the guests (or they served, on fine china,…).

In this sentence—They served a gourmet meal to all the guests, accompanied by a vintage Bordeaux—it is a clause that is misplaced. The meal and not the guests was accompanied by a vintage Bordeaux. They served a gourmet meal, accompanied by a vintage Bordeaux, to all of the guests.

I have a pizza in the freezer, which I will be baking. I have a pizza, which I will be baking, in the freezer. In the freezer, I have a pizza, which I will be baking. Only the third sentence does not contain a misplaced modifier.

The misplaced modifier is the comedian of the errors in sentence structure, as Groucho Marx’s famous joke—This morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. What he was doing in my pajamas, I’ll never know—illustrates.

MLA Citation Method

A method designed, prescribed, and authorized by the Modern Language Association for acknowledging sources used in a scholarly paper or college/university research assignment. Instructors and professors teaching courses in the humanities—English, history, fine arts, philosophy—often require MLA citation for student essays.

If you are required to use the MLA Citation Method, you must cite all of your sources twice, first in MLA shorthand in parentheses within the text, and, second, at the end of the paper in a list called Works Cited. The in-text parenthetical citation is brief, typically an author’s last name and a page number only.

The Works Cited list contains the complete bibliographical information for each source, enough information for readers who want to access the source would require. It is organized alphabetically, by author’s last name, so the parenthetical citation directs readers efficiently to the corresponding entry in the Works Cited list. For more information, see the MLA Style Center website.

The MLA Citation Method Rules for In-Text Parenthetical Citation

To indicate a direct quote from a secondary source, place quotation marks around the words you are quoting and then put the author’s last name and the page number from the secondary source on which the information can be found. Short direct quotes are integrated into the text of the essay and placed between quotation marks “so a short direct quote properly acknowledged would look like this” (Author 34). Note the quotation marks around our imagined quote from a secondary source and note that there is not a comma between the author’s last name (Author in our example) and the page number.

If the author’s name is already mentioned in the text, only the page number is placed in parentheses: As Author notes, “only the page number is required” (34).

Long quotes are indented and blocked off from the text of the essay. The distinction between short quotes and long ones is somewhat arbitrary, but quotes of more than about three lines should be set off from the rest of the essay in the manner illustrated here.

Note that the quotation marks have been eliminated. The indentation indicates that the material is quoted directly from a secondary source. Quotation marks are used only if the original uses quotation marks. Note also that after a short quote comes the parenthetical citation followed by a period, but in the long, indented quote, like this one, the period precedes the parenthetical citation. (Author 39)

Most instructors do not appreciate too many long direct quotes in student essays, especially if the quotes create the impression that students are turning in a “cut and paste” assignment.

In addition to direct quotes, you must cite other information taken from a secondary source. The general rule is that if you possessed the information before you began the essay you do not need to cite it, but if you acquired the information in the course of writing the essay, you do need to cite it. Again, put in parentheses the author’s last name and the page number on which the information can be found. You need to include the page number even if you have paraphrased the information.

If you have used two or more works by the same author, you need to provide a short-hand version of the title of the source to distinguish it from other titles by the same author (Author, Short 34). Note the use of the comma after the author’s name but not between the title and the page number. If the author’s name is mentioned, his or her name is not included in the citation: As Author has shown, “citing sources can be frustrating” (Short 34).

If your source is written by four or more people, you need only name the first author followed by the Latin words et al. (meaning “and others”) and, of course, the page number (First et al. 145). Note the period after “al.” Again, note that no commas are used. Et al. is also used in place of all but the first author’s name if you mention the author’s name in the text of the essay: Smith et al. have conducted research that suggests that “students enjoy writing academic essays” (145).

If your source is written by a corporate author, treat the corporate author as you would a single author: According to government sources, ten-year-olds watch an average of four hours of television per day (Royal Commission on Elementary Education 234).

If the author of your source is anonymous, name the title or a shortened version in the parenthetical citation. Italicize a book title; put quotation marks around an article title. If you use a shortened version, include the first word in the title since it will be alphabetized by title in the Works Cited list. If, for example, the title of your source is “Rating the Quality of the Undergraduate Programs of British Universities,” your citation could be as short as the word “Rating” (“Rating” 86).

If you quote from a novel, follow the procedure for a single author. You may also include the chapter number to help your readers find the passage in a different edition of the novel from the one you used. If you include the chapter number, put a semicolon between the page number and the chapter number (Austen 79; ch. 6). Usually you do not have to include the author’s name because the context of your discussion will make clear who the author is.

If you quote from a poem, give the line numbers you are quoting instead of the page number on which the quote appears (Wordsworth 34–40). Provide a shortened version of the title if you quote from more than one poem by the same author and if the context has not made clear the author and the title (Wordsworth, “Tintern” 34–40). Note the punctuation.

If you quote from a Shakespearean play or from another play in verse, list the act, scene, and line numbers, separated by periods, so that a quote taken from Act IV, Scene 2, lines nine to eleven would be (4.2.9–11).

If you quote from the Bible, list the chapter and the verse or verses, separated by a period. Include an abbreviated title of the book, if the context does not make it, so, for example, a quote from “Leviticus,” Chapter 12, Verses two to four would be (Lev. 12.2–4).

If you quote from a work from an anthology, remember it is the author’s name and not the name of the anthology editor that appears in parentheses.

If you quote from an indirect source—a source quoted in one of your sources—include the abbreviation for “quoted in” in your parenthetical citation: Smith notes that “indirect sources must be cited appropriately” (qtd. in Robins 257). Note carefully the way the citation is punctuated.

If you got the same information from more than one source or if you want to underscore the authority of a point by citing more than one source, do so by separating the sources from each other with semicolons: Experts agree that the semicolon can be used between sources (Wilson 34; Martens 68; Pelies 124).

If your source has no page numbers (as many electronic sources do not), you may omit the page numbers or include the paragraph number if the paragraphs are numbered (as they sometimes are in electronic sources): If necessary, “you should cite the paragraph number in place of the page number” (Smith, par. 12). Note the way this citation is punctuated.

The MLA Citation Method Rules for List of Works Cited

The Works Cited list contains the complete bibliographical information for each source used in an academic writing assignment. Each item in a Works Cited list must contain enough information so that readers could access the source themselves, online or at the library, if they choose to do so.

You should follow a model, in order to use MLA format correctly. Determine the type of source you are using in your list of works cited; then find an example of the same type of source, properly cited; then mimic the format of the properly cited source, as you prepare your own. A variety of such models are presented below. If the model you need is not represented in the list below, consult the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.

As a rule, begin the list of Works Cited on a separate page. If the text of your essay ends early on the last page, and your list of Works Cited contains just a few entries, you should not need to begin on a new page.

The Modern Language Association recognizes the complexity of citing sources, at a time when we get our information from such a wide array of print, digital, and online media. They allow for some leeway in the information included.

Book in Print

For a book in print, the core elements are author, italicized title, publisher, and date of publication. The place of publication is no longer a core element. Here is an example:

Smitherman, Geneva. Word from the Mother: Language and African Americans. Routledge, 2006.

A book, of course, might have more than one author; it might be in an edition subsequent to the first; it might have an editor or a translator. Note the form of the MLA Works Cited for the books listed below. Note, especially:

  • If a book has two authors, the second author’s name follows, first name first.
  • If a book is in an edition other than the first, the edition number follows the title. Note the punctuation.
  • If there are two books by the same author a line replaces the author’s name for the second (and subsequent, if there are any) source. This rule applies to all types of sources.
  • If the book does not have a named author, the title takes the place of the author and is alphabetized in the Works Cited list, accordingly.
  • If the book is a translation, the name of the translator follows the title.
  • If a book has three or more authors, the Latin phrase et al. (meaning and others) follows the first author’s name.
Works Cited

Adler-Kassner, Linda and Elizabeth Wardle. Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies. Utah State UP, 2015.

Ferris, Dana. Treatment of Error in Second Language Student Writing, 2nd. Ed. U of Michigan Press, 2011.

Gee, James P. The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013

_____. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Smitherman, Geneva. Word from the Mother: Language and African Americans. Routledge, 2006.

Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. American Educational Research Association, 2014.

Voloshinov, V.N. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Translated by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik, Harvard UP, 1986.

White, Edward, et al. Very Like a Whale: The Assessment of Writing Programs. Utah State UP, 2015.

An Article, Story, or Poem within an Anthology

For an article or a story or a poem from a book, typically an anthology of readings or literary works, start with name of the author and the title of the shorter work, followed by the title of the book and the names of its editor(s), in the manner illustrated below.

Work Cited

Larkin, Philip. “Talking in Bed.” Poems. Poets. Poetry: An Introduction and Anthology. 3rd. ed., edited by Helen Vendler, Bedford St. Martin’s, 2010, p. 114.

Article from a Periodical in Print

For an article from a periodical (journal, magazine, newspaper) in print, the core elements are author(s), title of article, title of periodical, number(s), date, page numbers. If the article is suspended, to be continued towards the end of the newspaper or magazine, a plus sign follows the page numbers. Study these examples:

Works Cited

Burrough, Bryan. “Field of Nightmares.” Vanity Fair, Nov. 2016, pp. 164-169+.

Gabriel, Trip. “50 Years Into the War on Poverty, Hardship Hits Back.” New York Times, 20 April 2014, p. A1.

Greer, Jane. “Expanding Working-Class Rhetorical Traditions: The Moonlight Schools and Alternative Solidarities among Appalachian Women, 1911-1920.” College English, vol. 17, no. 1, 2015, pp. 216-35.

Online Sources

For sources accessed online, state the author; the title; the name of the journal, newspaper, or magazine; the volume and issue number, if available; the information service (ProQuest, Academic Search Premier…), and the URL or, better, the DOI. If you use a DOI, the date of access is not necessary; it is recommended if you use the source’s URL. The MLA allows some latitude in citing internet sources, in recognition of the vast array of choices and the inconsistency in information available about authors, dates, titles. Study the following examples of online sources, cited in MLA format.

Works Cited

Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and The National Writing Project (NWP), “Framework for Success in Post-Secondary Writing,” January 2001, wpacouncil.org/framework.

Lovett, Richard A. and Scott Hoffman. “Ark of the Covenant: Many Legends, No Evidence.National Geographic. (n.d.), http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/archaeology/ark-covenant/. Accessed 3 Jan. 2017.

Oral Presentation – Classroom Workshop.YouTube, uploaded by tamuwritingcenter, 1 Feb. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJvUcd963LM.

Robertson, Liane, et al. “Notes Toward a Theory of Prior Knowledge and Its Role in Composers’ Transfer of Knowledge and Practice.” Composition Forum, no. 26, Fall 2012, compositionforum.com/issue/26/prior-knowledge-transfer.php.

Takayoshi, Pamela. “The Shape of Electronic Writing: Evaluating and Assessing Computer-assisted Writing Processes and Products.” Computers and Composition, vol. 13, no. 2, December 1996, pp. 245-57. JSTOR, doi: 10.1016/S8755-4615(96)90013-4.

Additional Notes about MLA Works Cited Format

  1. The title “Works Cited” is centered and appears in roman type. Do not use italics, boldface, or large lettering. One line is left between the title and the first entry.
  2. The Works Cited list is arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name. If the author of the source is anonymous, the source is placed in the list alphabetically by its title. The sources are not numbered.
  3. The list uses hanging indentation. The first line of each source is not indented but all subsequent lines are.
  4. Book, journal, newspaper, and magazine titles are italicized, but article titles are placed in quotation marks.
  5. Page numbers are included for articles in journals, newspapers, and magazines and for articles or essays included in an edited anthology or collection of essays.
  6. Academic journals are identified by the year in which they were published, a volume number, and, if there is one, an issue number.
  7. Citations for online sources include both the date the source appeared online and may include the date the user of the source accessed the source.
  8. Citations for online sources include the source’s Uniform Resource Locator (URL) or, preferred if available, the Digital Object Identifier (DOI).
  9. Like the rest of the essay, the Works Cited list is double-spaced.
  10. If one author has written two (or more) different sources cited in an academic text, a straight line replaces the author’s name, in the subsequent citations.
  11. You might wish to use an online citation generator, such as Citation Machine, EasyBib, or RefME to help you cite your sources correctly. You should still double check the accuracy of your citation against a textbook model. And you need to make certain the citation generator uses the most recent version of the citation system.

MLA Format

Essays and reports written in MLA format do not have a separate title page.

At the top of the first page of an MLA formatted essay, flush right, is the author’s last name and the number 1, for page one, no punctuation between the name and the number.

On the next line, or, rather, the line after the next, since the entire MLA paper is double spaced, flush left, are the author’s name, then, two lines below, the professor’s name, then, two lines below, the course title and number, then, two lines below the date: the day, followed by the month, followed by the year, no punctuation between any of the date indicators.

Two lines below the names, course identification, and date comes the title of the essay, centered on the page, but not italicized, underlined, bolded, enclosed in quotation marks, or displayed in a larger font.

Subsequent pages include the author’s name and the page number, flush right, at the top of the page.

The Works Cited list begins on a new page. The title, Works Cited, is centered, but not italicized, underlined, bolded, surrounded by quotation marks, or in a larger font.

MLA format, the text of the essays, as well as its title and Works Cited list, is Times New Roman font, 12-point type.

Note that your teacher may relax some of the MLA format rules.

Narrative

A type or genre of written discourse within which the writer uses personal pronouns (I, me, my) to recount a personal story of significance to the writer and of interest to the reader. The narrative is not, strictly speaking, an academic genre, though an academic text might include narrative elements, often as a compelling way to help develop a thesis.

Noun

A written or spoken word that names or identifies a person, a place, or a thing. In a sentence, a noun can function as a subject or an object of a verb, typically in a subject-verb-object order: Scissors cut paper; paper covers rock; rock crushes scissors. A noun can also function as the object of a preposition: Over the river, and through the wood, to grandmother’s house, we go. A noun can also function as an adjective: grandmother’s house.

States of existence are also nouns: Happiness is Thanksgiving dinner at grandmother’s house.

Adjectives can become nouns, when they are used as subjects or objects, when, for example, “poor people” become “the poor.”

Noun Clause

A group of words that begins with a relative pronoun, contains a subject and a verb, and acts as a noun. Like a noun, a noun clause can be the subject of a verb—What Anna really wants is to see him again—or as the object of a verb—Anna knew that she would see him again—or as the object of a preposition—Anna lost a sweater for which she paid over a thousand dollars.

Object of Preposition

The noun or pronoun which ends a prepositional phrase. Study this sentence:

The Daily Mail usually prints the horoscope on the last page of the morning edition, but, on Sundays, the horoscope appears in the Leisure Section, usually before Sports or between Fashion and Travel, which I always have to share with her.

“page” is the object of the preposition “on.”

“edition” is the object of the preposition “of.”

“Sundays” is the object of the preposition “on.”

“Section” is the object of the preposition “in.”

“Sports is the object of the preposition “before.”

“Fashion and Travel” are the objects of the preposition “between.”

“her” is the object of the preposition “with.”

Objective Case of Pronoun

A pronoun is (usually) a short word—I, me, my, he, him, his, she, her, hers, they, them, their—which replaces a noun.

Do you know the prime minister? Yes, I know her.

They have three forms or “cases.”

The objective cases are me, him, her, them, whom. They are used as the object of a verb: Whom will that manager promote? The manager will promote me, him, her, or them.

Objective case pronouns are also used as objects of prepositions: with her, without him, near me, by them, to whom.

One as Subject

As a subject “one” is usually paired with a singular verb: One is the loneliest number.

However if the context is “one of many,” then “one” takes a plural verb. One of the factors that influence the way a writer composes and a reader interprets a text is clarity of structure.

Organization

As a term in academic composition/rhetoric, refers to the manner in which a text is arranged, usually with a beginning, a middle and an end, also known as an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

A robust organization is essential to the clarity of an academic text, one of the features teachers value, when they grade student writing.

The effective-writing aphorism “Tell them what you are going to tell them; then tell them; then tell them what you have told them” references the importance of a good organization for an effective text.

Outline

An important stage in the process of composing a written text, the outline is usually a point form summary of the content of the essay, arranged in a system of headings and sub-headings.

It is always a good idea to make an outline before you begin to draft, but remember that an outline will likely change, develop, grow, as you draft and revise, part of the recursive process of writing.

Pathos

One of the points of Aristotle’ Rhetorical Triangle, referring to the use of appeals to emotion to persuade readers and listeners.

Emotional appeals can be effective in an academic argument, but they should be restrained. In an argument in support of euthanasia, tell the story of your grandfather’s suffering with a terminal illness but favor this language:

His suffering was acute. The painkillers were so powerful, he could only stare, catatonically, into space; but when he was off the painkillers, he alternately curled up and writhed in agony,

to this language:

Hot tears streamed down poor Gramps face, as he….

Paragraph

A paragraph is a unit of written text, usually consisting of several sentences, usually part of a larger rhetorical unit, a letter, essay, report, book. A paragraph might consist of just a single sentence, when the writer is aiming for a particular rhetorical effect. A complete text might consist of a single paragraph, of a brief letter, for example, or an email or text message.

In academic writing, a paragraph typically develops a topic sentence (see p. x), which supports, augments, develops the text’s controlling idea or thesis. Good paragraphs are characterized by unity, coherence, and robust development.

Unity means that the content of the paragraph develops the topic sentence. The writer does not wander off topic. Coherence means that there are rhetorical ties in the paragraph, clearly linking one sentence to the next. Robust development means that the content of the paragraph fulfills the expectations the topic sentence promises. Consider this paragraph:

The success small businesses have enjoyed, in the wake of the decision by many communities to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use, may not be sustainable. The federal government has not legalized cannabis, and the new attorney general seems opposed to marijuana use, for any purpose, and he might be prepared to challenge state rights to legalize the drug. Even now, the vetting pot shops need to go through before they can get a license to sell—the multiple government forms the owners need to fill out, the red tape they need to navigate—has discouraged many would-be small marijuana dealers from setting up shop. Competition is lowering prices, further diminishing the incentive to deal. But the most egregious threat comes from big tobacco, ready to enter the fray, if and when the federal government agrees to legalize cannabis. With their deep pockets and marketing savvy, tobacco companies will soon squeeze out small pot dealers.

The paragraph has a clear topic sentence—the first—and four points in support, providing the paragraphs with the unity and the robust content it needs. The repetition of key words and the use of synonyms for key words—cannabis, marijuana, pot—helps establish coherence, as do the transitional words and phrases—Even now, further, but. At 156 words, the paragraph is the average length for a body paragraph in an academic writing assignment.

Parentheses ( )

A punctuation mark, the purpose of which is to insert information into a sentence, information which expands or elaborates or qualifies the thought the sentence is expressing, but which you nevertheless prefer to deemphasize.

Facing such stiff competition from Japan and Korea, auto manufacturers closed their plants in Detroit (leaving a once vibrant and wealthy city devastated) and relocated to countries where wages are considerably lower.

Dashes or commas could replace the parentheses in the sentence above. Dashes would tend to bring more attention to Detroit’s devastation. Commas suggest that the information is neither more nor less important than the content of the rest of the sentence.

As a general rule, do not put a comma before the first parenthesis but, after the second, follow the rules for the use of the comma. (Note that neither dashes nor commas could replace the parentheses at the end of the previous sentence.)

If an entire sentence is in parentheses (see example in previous sentence), the period comes before the second parenthesis; if it is within the sentence, there is no period.

Use parentheses sparingly in academic writing assignments.

Participle

A word derived from a verb but acting as an adjective.

In this sentence—Skillfully deflecting most of the questions, the witness was excused—“deflecting” is a present participle, modifying the noun “witness.” A present participle always ends in “ing.”

In this sentence—Bemused by his response, the prosecutor decided to call a new witness—“Bemused” is a past participle, modifying the noun “prosecutor.”

Passive Voice

Describes the syntactical relationship between the subject, verb, and object of a sentence, when the agent acted upon becomes the subject of the verb and the verb’s agent becomes the object.

Passive voice is formed when a form of the verb to be (is, am are, was, were, been) teams up with the past participle form of a main verb, when, for example, the active voice, a good team played that game, becomes that game was played by a good team.

This sentence—Janet sells sea shells, by the sea shore—is in active voice, because the verb’s (sells) agent (Janet) is the verb’s subject. In passive voice, the sentence become—Sea shells are sold by Janet by the sea shore. The agent acted upon (the sea shells) becomes the subject of the verb “are sold.”

As our example sentences illustrate, active voice is often preferable, because it is clearer and more concise. The active voice version of our sample sentence contains eight words; the passive voice version, ten.

The use of passive voice is fine, however, when the subject is indeterminate or not particularly relevant to the message: Smoking is forbidden throughout the college. A dozen priceless works of art were stolen. But all is not lost.

Passive voice is common in science and social science writing: Students at Sundance College were surveyed, as opposed to we surveyed students at Sundance College….

Note that passive voice is sometimes confused with, but is very different from past tense.

Past Participle

The form of the verb used with an auxiliary verb. Most past participles, those of regular verbs end in “ed.” I have ended, suspended, terminated my relationship with her.

The past participles of irregular verbs form their past participle in ways other than the use of the “ed” suffix. I have not forgotten her, seen her for ages, brought her home to meet my mother.

A past participle can also act as an adjective. In this sentence—Stunned by the news, the entire country went into mourning—the past participle “Stunned” modifies the noun “country.”

Check the dictionary, if you are not sure about the proper form or use of the past participle form of an irregular verb. Be careful not to use the simple past, when the past participle is needed. “She drank a bottle of wine” is correct, but “She has drank a bottle of wine” is incorrect, must be changed to the past participle has drunk. “She began to feel better” is correct, but “She begun to feel better is not; the verb must team with an auxiliary—“She had begun to feel better…”

Past Tense

Verb form which indicates action which occurred an earlier point in time. I saw the light.

Perfect Tense

The form of a verb to which any form of the verb “to have” has been added as an auxiliary or helping verb. There is present perfect tense: She has sung the national anthem before each home game for the past eight years. There is past perfect tense: She had sung the national anthem before each home game for eight years, before they replaced her with a recorded version. There is future perfect tense: If she sings for another year, she will have sung the national anthem before each home game for eight consecutive years.

Notice how the information in the subordinate clauses influences tense.

Notice the subtle difference in meaning between simple present, past, and future tense and present perfect, present past, and present future tenses. “She sings the national anthem before each home game” does not signal a qualification as does “She has sung…”. “She sang the national anthem before each home game” does not require a qualification in the same way “She had sung” does. “She will sing the national anthem before each home game” does not signal a condition in the same way “She will have sung” does.

Periodic and Loose Sentences

The order of phrases and clauses in an English sentence is quite flexible. In a periodic sentence, the order is conventional, in that it begins with the main idea, followed by any qualification or support.

There will be more Muslims than Christians in Europe by the end of the century.

In a loose sentence, the qualification or support comes at the beginning.

By the end of the century, there will be more Muslims than Christians in Europe.

The lesson here is in sentence variety. A loose sentence amidst a group of periodic sentences can improve style and refocus a reader’s attention, changing as it does the rhythm and flow of the prose.

Sentence variety is important in academic writing but it must be natural, not forced. It is not a good idea to insert a loose sentence into a paragraph just because there are no others. Instead, while you are revising your work, read it out loud and listen to the rhythm and flow of your sentences and change the structure of some of them, if your ear indicates you should do so.

Persuasive Essay

A written text, usually academic in nature, which posits and defends a thesis about which there is some controversy.

Virtually synonymous with argument essay.

Some rhetoricians draw a slight distinction between the two modes, indicating that an argument essay is mainly concerned with defending a point-of-view, while a persuasive essay also attempts, more actively, to seek agreement or a change in point-of-view from the reader.

Phrase

A group of two or more words which forms a syntactic unit in a sentence but which, distinct from a clause, does not contain a subject and a verb.

A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition, ends with a noun or a pronoun called the object of the preposition, and modifies a noun or a verb. Consider this sentence:

A jubilation of larks flew through the sky alighting in unison on a single tree in the enchanted forest.

There are 5 prepositional phrases in this sentence:

“of larks” acts as an adjective modifying the noun “jubilation’;

“through the sky” acts as an adjective modifying the verb “flew”;

“in unison” and “on a single tree” act as adverbs”, modifying the participle “alighting”;

“in the enchanted forest” acts as an adjective modifying the noun “tree.”

A verb phrase consists of a verb and its auxiliary verb or verbs: I will be seeing you in all the old familiar places.

A participial phrase begins with a present or a past participle. It functions as an adjective:

“Staring silently” into space, the patient seemed to be in a catatonic state.

“Defeated again,” the team remained in last place.

Plagiarism

Research is usually an essential component of the process of writing an academic essay or report. College/university students, professors, and scholars read and make notes on the books and articles they use as research sources, and they blend this information with their own knowledge and insights and integrate it, judiciously, into the text of the essay. When they do so, they must pay tribute to the author of the knowledge they gave borrowed.

Plagiarism is the failure to pay this tribute. It is the use of information from secondary sources, without proper acknowledgement. Not only direct quotations but also information, ideas, and concepts taken from sources other than a writer’s own knowledge must be properly acknowledged, using a recognized academic citation system, such as APA or MLA.

Plagiarism is a serious form of academic misconduct.

Plan/Planning

One of the key stages in the process of composing a college/university essay. Planning or “Make a Plan” typically follows generating ideas, research your topic, and finding a thesis in a linear account of the process of writing a college/university essay, though, since writing is a recursive process, planning is typically ongoing: a writer might reconsider his or her original organizational structure in light of a revised purpose or new information which might come even after a first or second draft is in process.

The most basic plan for a basic expository essay consists of point-form notes for an introductory paragraph, which establishes context and presents a thesis, for three paragraphs which develop the thesis, and for a conclusion which establishes closure.

If, for example, you were writing an essay about McDonald’s success, as a fast food restaurant, your plan might be

Thesis: It is hardly surprising that McDonald’s is such a successful fast food franchise.

Taste: food appeals to the taste buds of many consumers

Burgers and fries a staple of the American diet

Special sauce

Toppings and condiments

Cost—inexpensive

A family of four can eat out for under $20

Examples of cost of select menu items compared to cost of same or similar menu items at other restaurants.

Efficiency

Assembly-line food preparation

Wait is rarely more than ten minutes

Drive through

Conclusion: McDonald’s formula for success proven to work profitably.

Obviously more sophisticated assignments call for a more sophisticate plan. Some writers simply jot down some notes and use indentation to distinguish main points from sub points. Other writers might use a more sophisticated system of numbers and letters.

Remember that your plan might evolve, as you draft and revise you assignment, in light of new information you might acquire along the way or other ideas you might have for a more effective organizational structure.

Possessive Pronoun

One of the three “cases” of pronouns, which signals ownership: my car; his boat; her private jet; their yacht; your loss.

The possessive case, not the objective case pronoun comes before a gerund, though the use of the objective case is common and usually goes unnoticed, as this sentence illustrates:

The committee does not like (his, him) asking for the minutes of the meetings.

The possessive case “his” is technically correct because “asking” is a gerund; but the misuse of the objective case “him” is common.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Latin for “After this, therefore because of this.”

It is a Logical Fallacy, a flaw in the logic of an argument, which can undermine the impact of an argument. It asserts, without ample proof, that one action or outcome followed another, and therefore must be its cause.

The key phrase is “without ample proof.” You may argue that smoking causes lung cancer, because you can compile enough credible evidence in support of your thesis. But if you argue that vaccination causes autism, you need to do more than indicate that your friend’s brother was diagnosed autistic a month after he was vaccinated for whooping cough. This is the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy, unless the argument is sustained by a body of credible evidence. (It is also another logical fallacy, a hasty generalization, in that it draws a conclusion from only one case.

Practice and Practise

In American English, the word “practise” does not really exist. The same spelling applies to both the noun and the verb from of the word. You can practice your three-point shot at basketball practice. In British English, the verb form of the word is practise. You can practise your three-point shot at basketball practice. Canadians get to choose either.

Preposition

A word which typically begins a phrase that ends with a noun or a pronoun, to form a prepositional phrase. Common prepositions are for, with, up, down, near, in, on, like, beside, under, around, through, of, off, to. They may begin a phrase, which ends with a noun or a pronoun—for example:

  • for him
  • with me
  • down the street
  • up the ladder
  • near the window
  • in a leather jacket
  • on the table
  • like a virgin
  • beside the white chickens
  • under the chair
  • around the corner
  • through the door
  • of the race
  • off your rocker
  • to the movie

There is controversy over some words that some consider prepositions, others consider subordinate conjunctions, and others accept as both. Consider this sentence: She’s not that tall for a basketball player, but she is certainly taller than me. Here, “than” is used as a preposition and “me” is its object. Some will argue that “than” is a subordinate conjunction, introducing a clause, in which the verb, in this case “am” is understood, so the sentence should end with the subjective case of the pronoun—taller than I (am). Most teachers grading papers will overlook minor flaws in usage.

Preposition at End of a Sentence

As a rule, it is not wise to end a sentence with a preposition, but common sense and sentence flow may overturn the rule. Choose the more effective between these pairs of sentences.

At the end of the story the family is reunited, realizing they have much to be grateful for.
At the end of the story the family is reunited, realizing they have so much for which to be grateful.

The review in the Times gave the Chalet one star, so that is one restaurant we won’t be eating at.
The review in the Times gave the Chalet one star, so that is one restaurant where we won’t be eating.

The reporter from the Times stopped in mid-sentence, when she realized she was not the one the Governor was talking to.
The reporter from the Times stopped in mid-sentence, when she realized she was not the one to whom the Governor was talking.

In the middle pair, the preposition “at” at the end of the sentence is seems unrefined; the second sentence is better.

In the first pair, the preposition “for” at the end of the sentence and, in the third pair, the preposition “to” at the end of the sentence do not seem solipsistic. However, if the instructor/professor marking your essay is in the grammar police, avoid using a preposition at the end of a sentence.

In some cases, a preposition may be considered part of a verb, in which case its terminal appearance is always fine: The game was rained out.

Prepositional Phrase

A word group which begins with a preposition and ends with a noun or a pronoun or a gerund, and which functions in a sentence as an adjective or an adverb. Consider this sentence:

Under certain conditions, the smart phone manufactured by that company, and on sale now in all the electronics stores, has been known to overheat to such an extent that smoke arises from it.

This sentence contains six prepositional phrases.

“Under certain conditions” is an adverb phrase, modifying the verb “has been known.”

“by that company” is an adverb phrase, modifying the verb “manufactured.”

“on sale” is an adjective phrase, modifying the noun “phone.”

“in all the electronics stores” is an adjective phrase, modifying the noun “phone.”

“to such an extent” is an adverb phrase, modifying the verb “overheat.”

“from it” is an adverb phrase, modifying the verb “arises.”

Present Participle

A word, formed from a verb, always ending in “ing” and functioning as an adjective.

The delegate sneaking away from the meeting early is going to consult with her ambassador.

Expecting opposition, the ambassador will try to table the resolution.

The other nations, knowing Chad’s reputation for obstruction and delay, will try to get the resolution passed.

Present Tense

Form of the verb which indicates habitual action or action occurring at the same time the speaker or writer is observing or experiencing that action.

The French drink a glass or two of wine at dinner.

She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies.

Use present tense, if you are writing about a literary work or a work of art.

Gatsby knows Daisy won’t leave Tom, but he still takes the blame for the accident.

Process Assignment

An essay-length account of the unfolding of an event or situation from start to finish. Describe the process of photosynthesis. How is red wine made? How do you create a blog?

A common assignment in many college/university courses.

Pronoun

A word that replaces a noun and refers to the noun it replaces, which noun is called the antecedent.

Consider these sentences:

Coffee can be expensive, but it is one of the most popular beverages in the country.

The principal is in her office but she has a bad cold, so she won’t tutor students, who will be disappointed because they always learn so much from her.

In the first sentence “it” is a pronoun, the antecedent of which is “coffee.”

In the second sentence “her” and “she” are pronouns, the antecedent of which is “principal.”

In the second sentence, “who” and “they” are also pronouns, the antecedent of which is “students.”

Pronouns come in different forms—pronoun “case,” as the forms are called—and rules, many with exceptions—govern which pronoun case to use in various rhetorical circumstances.

Subjective case pronouns are I, you, she, he, it, we, they, and who. They replace nouns (the first word in this sentence is an example) that act as the subject of a verb: I admire Emily Dickinson. She writes excellent poetry.

Objective case pronouns are me, you, him, her, it, us, them, whom. They replace nouns that function as the objects (see p. xx) of verbs—Emily likes me and I like her—or of prepositions—Emily gave the book to me she knows I like poems written by her.

Possessive case pronouns are my (mine), your (yours), his, her, hers, it, its, our, ours, their, theirs, whose. They signal ownership. That is my book; that book is mine.

Pronouns are small words, but they can cause big problems. They are usually harmless, when they are used alone. We know intuitively, native English speakers, especially, that “her writes excellent poetry” or “she gave the book to I” are incorrect.

The one pronoun that causes some grief, when it is used alone, is its. It is already in possessive case, so it never needs an apostrophe to indicate possession. It’s is widely used in English, of course, but only as a contraction for “it is,” never as a possessive pronoun. This sentence illustrates the difference: It’s missing one of its pages. It’s pages is incorrect.

Errors can also occur when a noun and a pronoun or when two pronouns are used together. Such errors are rare, when the two pronouns are subjects: John and I (not me) are roommates; She (not Her) and I (not me) are roommates; He and they (not them) all live together in a large house near the university.

When that noun/pronoun or pronoun/pronoun combination are used as objects, however, errors can occur. It is as if a pattern becomes established in the language region of our minds. “John and I are both friends with her” becomes “She is friends with both John and I.” But because “with” is a preposition, it requires the objective case of the pronoun: “She is friends with both John and me.” The correct objective case “me” is clearly apparent when that first noun disappears: “She is friends with me” (not “I”). The presence of the noun “John” does not change the case of the pronoun: “She is friends with both John and [with] me.”

The same rule applies to the object of a verb. It requires the objective case of the pronoun, even if the pronoun teams up with a noun. “The principal caught Betty and I smoking in bleachers” might sound better than “The principal caught Betty and me smoking in the bleachers,” but the latter is correct. Again, re-envision the sentence without that noun, and the correct pronoun becomes more apparent: The principal caught me smoking in the bleachers.

The use of the possessive case before a gerund can also cause problems.

His (not Him) leaving so early was a sure sign he would pan the play in his review.

But in this sentence:

I saw him leaving—“him” is correct because “leaving” is a present participle (see p. x) not a gerund.

Pronoun Antecedent Agreement

Rule of English grammar, which governs pronoun choice, based upon the number (singular or plural) and the gender of the noun to which it refers—its antecedent.

Pronoun antecedent agreement is usually straightforward, as these sentences indicate:

Mozart wrote many of his greatest operas, while he was living in Vienna.

Queen Elizabeth I often feuded with her closest advisors, but they remained loyal to her.

However, thousands of nouns do not signal gender. Back in the day, the convention was to use the masculine pronoun to refer to a singular noun, that does not signal gender.

A doctor will always wash his hands before he examines a patient.

A good vice president will express publicly his support for the president, even if he disagrees with his decisions.

An important role of a center is to get the puck to his wingers, so they can score.

In the wake of the feminist movement, many women began to object, rightly so, to sexist language, which excluded them. A woman can be a doctor, a president, a hockey player. By excluding the feminine pronoun, the pronoun-antecedent agreement rule discriminated against women and helped create the impression that women were excluded from practicing certain professions or participating in some sports.

The rule changed, becoming more inclusive, as the feminine form of the pronoun was added, when the antecedent was a gender neutral noun:

Stairway Pharmaceuticals is looking for a new CEO. He or she must have an MBA and a degree in pharmacy.

A boxer is not going to win many fights, if he or she does not have fast hands.

The successful applicant does not require an honors degree from a university with an elite engineering program, but if he or she is not willing to relocate to Saudi Arabia, our firm will not hire him or her.

The last sentence illustrates the problem with the use of inclusive pronouns. There is annoying repetition which mars the rhythm and flow of the sentence. It is sometimes possible to overcome this problem by changing the singular gender-neutral noun to a plural noun, which allows the use of the plural pronoun—they, them, their—which do not signal gender: Doctors will always wash their hands before they examine a patient. But if the sense is clearly singular—there is only one “successful applicant”—then you may have to use both pronouns.

Help is on the way, in the form of the singular they, which is gaining wider spread acceptance. This sanctions the use of the plural pronoun—they, them, their—even if the antecedent is clearly singular.

Stairway Pharmaceuticals is looking for a new CEO. They must have an MBA and a degree in pharmacy.

A boxer is not going to win many fights, if they do not have fast hands.

The successful applicant does not require an honors degree from a university with an elite engineering program, but if they are not willing to relocate to Saudi Arabia, our firm will not hire them.

There is some precedent, in that the plural pronoun has been widely used—if still not accepted in some circles—when its antecedent is an indefinite pronoun—everyone, anybody, no one, who, someone—even though indefinite pronouns are usually singular: No one is coming; who knows; somebody cares.

Only a zealous grammar cop would insist on changing the plural pronouns in these sentences to singular pronouns:

Someone on the upper car deck left their lights on.

Who is bringing their children with them?

That last sentence, especially, sounds confusing and strange, if the plural pronouns are changed to agree with the singular “Who.”

Who is bringing his or her children with him or her?

There have been some attempts to introduce new word into the English language, a gender neutral singular pronoun, but these attempts have yet to gain traction: A doctor must wash eir hands before E examines a patient.

Most instructors will overlook or not notice an essay in which a plural pronoun is used to refer to a singular indefinite pronoun: No one in their right mind believes the government engineered the disaster. Many will not penalize the use of the singular they or their—No child of mine will ever doubt they are loved. Every baby boomer who participated in the study was concerned as much with their emotional as their physical well being.

Pronoun in a Comparison

When comparing the qualities of two individuals or entities, and when the second is referenced by a pronoun, the choice of pronoun can cause problems.

If both items in the comparison are nouns, there is rarely a problem.

Wendy’s has better fries than McDonald’s.

Edgar is an award-winning journalist and a better debater than Stanley.

But he is not as smart as Gillian.

But if the second item is expressed as a pronoun, the choice of pronoun may be less certain.

Wendy’s has better fries than (they, them).

Edgar is an award-winning journalist and a better debater than (he, him).

But he is not as smart as (she, her, I, me).

Here is the dilemma: If the words, “than” and “as” are prepositions, then the objective case—them, him, her—is correct. Prepositions begin a phrase which ends with a noun or pronoun, the object of the preposition.

But if “than” and “as” are subordinate conjunctions then the pronoun is the subject of the clause and hence the pronouns they, he, she, and I are correct. The verb is missing but understood to be there.

Wendy’s has better fries than they have.

Edgar is an award-winning journalist and a better debater than he is.

But he is not as smart as she is or I am.

The Grammar police will insist that “as” and “than” are subordinate conjunctions, and, hence, the subjective case is needed. But “as” and “than” are also widely used as prepositions now, so instructors/professors should not give you grief if you write She is a better candidate than him, instead of She is a better candidate than he.

Pronoun Reference

A pronoun is a short word which replaces a noun. Jane/she likes John/him.

Be careful to make sure that the pronoun which replaces a noun is in the correct form. Be sure your pronoun references are correct.

The senator and I voted in favor—but The district elected the senator and me (object form after a verb).

They voted for the senator and me (object form for object of preposition “for”).

Use both pronouns in reference to a gender-neutral noun. The singular they is also now widely accepted. A professional athlete who has a good agent can usually renegotiate his or her contract, based upon outstanding performance. A professional athlete who has a good agent can usually renegotiate their contract, based upon outstanding performance.

Pun

A word that is deliberately used out of its proper lexical, auditory, or semantic context to create a clever or an amusing effect.

The gardener who calls his business the Lawn Ranger and the restaurateur who calls his waterfront Chinese restaurant Wok on Water are using puns.

In academic writing, it is advisable to use puns sparingly, if at all, as they can undermine the more staid voice appropriate for an academic style, and they can make a grader cringe, not in a good way.

Quotation Marks

In academic writing, quotation marks serve three functions:

  1. To indicate that a writer is quoting directly from a source: Estimates differ significantly. Willers claims “the pipeline construction will create about 28,000, well-paying jobs” (37), while Sedin cites studies indicating that “only temporary workers, and fewer than 10,000 of them, will be needed to help build a 500-mile pipeline” (61).
    Note the placement of the commas and the period after the page numbers.
    Remember that longer quotes from secondary sources are indented and are not enclosed in quotation marks, unless there are quotation marks used in the source.
  2. For a minor title—of a poem, a short story, an article. In “The Transcendence of Death in the Poetry and Prose of Edgar Allan Poe,” Oswald compares and contrasts the themes and style of “The Raven” and “The Masque of the Red Death.”
    Remember that the works within which short stories, articles, and poems appear are major titles, which are italicized. “The Transcendence of Death in the Poetry and Prose of Edgar Allan Poe” is from The Journal of Gothic American Literature. “The Raven” is from The Norton Anthology of Poetry. “The Masque of the Red Death” is from An Anthology of 19th Century American Short Stories.
  1. To highlight a word of phrase, perhaps to indicate the writer is using sarcasm: He claims he is going to “work” late tonight; or to indicate the use of slang (p. x): It was what college students might describe as a “booty call.”

Direct speech or dialogue is less common in academic writing, but enclose it in quotation marks, if you do use it:

“You wilfully misunderstand me,” Colonel Sartoris said.

Emily replied, “I’m not paying my taxes.”

“You refuse”? the Colonel continued.

Emily was angry now: “I most certainly do!” she exclaimed.

Note the punctuation. The comma and the period come before the terminal quotation mark. The question mark and the exclamation mark come after, as would a semi-colon.

Note that foreign words and phrases are italicized not enclosed in quotation marks. It is a faux pas.

Note that for a word or a phrase which requires quotation marks but which is already within a phrase or clause which also requires quotation marks, you use single quote marks for the quote within the quote: Dunedin notes that there “is a biographical imperative in both Women in Love and ‘The Odor of Chrysanthemums,’ which Lawrence acknowledged” (251).

Note that in British English, this convention is reversed. Single quote marks are used where, in American English, double quotation marks are used, and double quotation marks are used for the quote within the quote.

Red Herring

A logical fallacy which avoids the real issue under discussion by changing the subject or the direction of the original proposition.

If the original proposition is that chocolate is bad for you and you should eliminate it from your diet and you refuse, arguing that nutritional science is inexact or that you have already eliminated cheese from your diet, your argument is fallacious. The denunciation of nutritional science and the ban on cheese are red herrings, not relevant to the original proposition. Cite studies indicating the presence of healthy anti-oxidants in chocolate and your argument is sound.

Reflexive Pronoun

Special form of the subjective case of a pronoun, ending in self or selves. The subjective case pronoun “I” becomes the reflexive pronoun “myself”; “he” becomes “himself”: “they” becomes “themselves.”

The reflexive pronoun has two uses.

  1. It can be the antecedent of its subjective case form: She is under censure because she bought herself a new Mercedes with campaign donations.
  2. It can be used for emphasis: She must recuse herself because she is herself under censure for misappropriating campaign funds. In this form, it may be called an intensive pronoun.

Reflexive pronouns are sometimes used incorrectly as the object of a verb or a preposition: This sentence—His father deserted his mother and himself; my own father is estranged from my sister and myself—should be His father deserted his mother and him; my own father is estranged from my sister and me.

He bought that ring for myself should be He bought that ring for me. He bought that ring for himself is fine, because “himself,” even though it is the object of a preposition, is reflexive.

Relative Pronoun

A word which introduces an adjective or a noun clause.

The Baden Report, which criticizes the excessive spending in the Ministry of External Affairs, will not be released until February. It’s the only report that really matters. Who wrote the Report? I don’t know where to find it.

Make certain the adjective clause is attached to a main clause, to avoid a sentence fragment: The Baden Committee wrote that report. Which criticizes excessive spending in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Some instructors/professors might insist on drawing distinction between that and which as follows:

That is used to begin a restrictive clause, which is essential to the meaning of the sentence. It is not enclosed in commas.

It’s the only report that really matters to the future of the Minister.

Which is used to begin a non-restrictive clause, which is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. It is enclosed in commas.

The Baden Report, which criticizes the excessive spending in the Ministry of External Affairs, will not be released until February.

That and which can also be demonstrative pronouns: Which report; that report.

Rubric

A rubric is a set of criteria, usually presented in the form of a table or a grid, which explains the reasons why a student project, often a written text, is graded, evaluated, assessed as it is.

If your instructors do not provide you with a rubric for a writing assignment, ask them if they can or if they can, at least, provide some general guidelines they will use for evaluating your work. Students who are aware of the criteria instructors will use to evaluate their work usually produce better work than students who are not aware of the evaluative criteria their instructors will use. If your instructors do not provide you with a scoring guide, adapt the one below which best matches the genre and purpose of your assignment.

A good rubric will be adapted to the assignment the rubric is to help evaluate. The genre of the assignment and the time given to complete it will help determine the nature of the rubric. The rubric for a research paper will be different from a rubric for an in-class essay. The values of the instructor or the program under which he or she works will also affect the rubric. One instructor might be more of a stickler for good grammar than another, and this preference might be reflected in the rubrics each creates. Some rubrics are very detailed; others are more general.

There are several types of rubrics for college essays. A holistic rubric provides general reasons why a written text has received the grade it has. An analytic rubric adds a further dimension to the holistic rubric by subdividing qualities of good writing into several, typically four, categories, ranging from excellent to poor. A checklist rubric simply lists criteria for an excellent essay; students are to consult the checklist while they work their way through the paper and, in some cases, check a box when they believe their essay has met that criterion, and, perhaps, turn the checklist in with the finished draft.

Below are examples of a holistic rubric for assessing an expository essay, a holistic rubric for assessing an argument essay, an analytic rubric for assessing an expository essay, an analytic rubric for assessing an argument essay, a checklist rubric for an expository essay, and a checklist rubric for an argument. They are fairly general in nature, but they will be similar in content to most rubrics your instructors will provide you with, and, if your instructor does not provide you with a rubric, you can adapt one of the ones below to help you understand what you need to do to get an excellent grade and why got the grade you did.

Holistic Rubric for Assessing an Expository Essay
Grade Percentage Description
A+ 90 – 100 Paper is perfect: ideas and insights compelling, enlightening, and convincing; supported by valid and reliable sources, properly cited; thesis robust; paragraph topic sentences relevant and completely developed; perfectly clear because so well-structured, cohesive, free from errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language perfect for intended reader(s).
A 85 – 89 Paper is nearly perfect: ideas and insights compelling, enlightening, and convincing; supported by valid and reliable sources, properly cited; thesis strong; paragraph topic sentences relevant and well-developed; clear due to strong structure, cohesive ties, excellent grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language right for intended reader(s).
A- 80 – 84 Paper is excellent: ideas and insights compelling, enlightening, and convincing; supported by valid and reliable sources, properly cited; thesis is solid; paragraph topic sentences relevant and developed; clear due to solid structure, cohesive ties, good grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language right for intended reader(s).
B+ 76 – 79 Paper is very good: ideas and insights less than compelling but do develop thesis; supported by valid and reliable sources, properly cited; thesis strong; paragraph topic sentences relevant and developed; clear due to structure, cohesive ties, sound though not completely error-free grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language appropriate for intended reader(s).
B 72 – 75 Paper is good: ideas and insights ordinary but do develop thesis; supported by valid and reliable sources, though some errors in citation; thesis ok; paragraph topic sentences relevant and well-developed; mostly clear due to strong structure and cohesive ties though an error or two in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language ok for intended reader(s).
B- 68 – 71 Paper is quite good: ideas and insights bland but do develop thesis; the validity and reliability of a source might be questionable and incorrectly cited; a paragraph may lack clear topic sentence or be inadequately developed; fairly clear though structure/cohesion imperfect; a few errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary uninspired though acceptable for intended reader(s).
C+ 64 – 67 Paper is average: ideas and insights less than inspired but do support thesis; the validity and reliability of a source or two might be questionable and cited incorrectly; thesis present; paragraph may be missing or have unclear topic sentence or be underdeveloped; structure/cohesive ties present if not always effective; a few errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; sentence structure/vocabulary could be more varied, given intended reader(s).
C 60 – 63 Paper is average: ideas and insights less than inspired but do support thesis; the best secondary sources not used, nor are they always cited correctly; thesis present; two paragraphs may be missing or have unclear topic sentences or be underdeveloped; organizational structure somewhat weak/unclear as cohesive ties not always present; several errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary bland for intended reader(s).
C- 55 – 59 Paper is below average: ideas and insights uninspired and thesis somewhat vague; unsupported by sources; two or three paragraph may be missing or have unclear topic sentences and lack development; clarity impaired by weak structure, absent cohesive ties, and more than four errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, bland for intended reader(s).
D 50 – 54 Paper is weak: ideas and insights insipid; unsupported by sources; thesis vague; most paragraphs missing or have unclear topic sentences, poorly developed; lacks clarity because organizational structure chaotic and cohesive ties barely present; more than five errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence structure variety, vocabulary weak and insipid and not suitable for intended reader(s).
F 0 – 49 Paper is very poor: ideas and insights absent; thesis barely present, if at all; ideas are not sourced; paragraphs lack topic sentences and are not developed; organizational structure unclear; cohesive ties absent; many errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence structure completely inappropriate for intended reader(s).
Holistic Rubric for Assessing an Argument Essay
Grade Percentage Description
A+ 90 – 100 Paper is perfect: ideas/insights/argument completely compelling, enlightening, logical, and convincing; supported by valid and reliable sources, cited perfectly; thesis robust; paragraph topic sentences relevant and completely developed; perfectly clear because so well-structured, cohesive, free from errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language perfect for intended reader(s). Writer acknowledges and refutes opposing point of view very convincingly. Strong evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
A 85 – 89 Paper is nearly perfect: ideas/insights/arguments compelling, enlightening, logical, and convincing; supported by valid and reliable sources, properly cited; thesis strong; paragraph topic sentences relevant and well-developed; clear due to strong structure, cohesive ties, excellent grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language right for intended reader(s). Writer acknowledges and refutes opposing point of view convincingly. Clear evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
A- 80 – 84 Paper is excellent: ideas/insights/arguments compelling, enlightening, logical, and convincing; supported by valid and reliable sources, properly cited; thesis is solid; paragraph topic sentences relevant and developed; clear due to solid structure, cohesive ties, good grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language right for intended reader(s). Writer acknowledges and refutes opposing point of view. Evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
B+ 76 – 79 Paper is very good: ideas/insights/arguments less than compelling but do develop thesis; supported by valid and reliable sources, with minor errors in citation; thesis strong; paragraph topic sentences relevant and developed; clear due to structure, cohesive ties, sound though not completely error-free grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language appropriate for intended reader(s). Writer acknowledges and refutes opposing point of view. Some evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
B 72 – 75 Paper is good: ideas/insights/arguments ordinary but do develop thesis; supported by valid and reliable sources, with minor errors in citation; thesis ok; paragraph topic sentences relevant and well-developed; mostly clear due to strong structure and cohesive ties though an error or two in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, figurative language ok for intended reader(s). Writer acknowledges and refutes opposing point of view somewhat perfunctorily. Some evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
B- 68 – 71 Paper is quite good: ideas/insights/arguments bland but do develop thesis; the validity and reliability of a source might be questionable and several are cited incorrectly; a paragraph may lack clear topic sentence or be inadequately developed; fairly clear though structure/cohesion imperfect; a few errors in grammar/ spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary uninspired though acceptable for intended reader(s). Writer acknowledges and refutes opposing point of view perfunctorily. Minimal evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
C+ 64 – 67 Paper is average: ideas/insights/arguments less than inspired but do support thesis; the validity and reliability of a source or two might be questionable and some cited incorrectly; thesis present; paragraph may be missing or have unclear topic sentence or be underdeveloped; structure/cohesive ties present if not always effective; a few errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; sentence structure/vocabulary could be more varied, given intended reader(s). Writer unenthusiastic about acknowledging and refuting opposing point of view. Minimal evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
C 60 – 63 Paper is average: ideas/insights/arguments less than inspired but do support thesis; the best secondary sources not used, nor are they cited consistently correctly; thesis present; two paragraphs may be missing or have unclear topic sentences or be underdeveloped; organizational structure somewhat weak/unclear as cohesive ties not always present; several errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary bland for intended reader(s). Writer barely acknowledges and refutes opposing point of view. Little-to-no evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
C- 55 – 59 Paper is below average: ideas/insights/arguments uninspired and thesis somewhat vague; unsupported by sources; two or three paragraph may be missing or have unclear topic sentences and lack development; logical fallacies present; clarity impaired by weak structure, absent cohesive ties, and more than four errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence variety, vocabulary, bland for intended reader(s). Writer apathetic about acknowledging and refuting opposing point of view. No evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
D 50 – 54 Paper is weak: ideas/insights/arguments insipid; unsupported by sources; thesis vague; most paragraphs missing or have unclear topic sentences, poorly developed; logical fallacies mar force of argument; lacks clarity because organizational structure chaotic and cohesive ties barely present; more than five errors in grammar/ spelling/punctuation; style, sentence structure variety, vocabulary weak and insipid and not suitable for intended reader(s). Writer indifferent about acknowledging and refuting opposing point of view. No evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
F 0 – 49 Paper is very poor: ideas/insights/arguments/thesis barely present, if at all; ideas are not sourced; paragraphs lack topic sentences and are not developed; organizational structure unclear; cohesive ties absent; ideas illogical; many errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation; style, sentence structure completely inappropriate for intended reader(s). Writer fails to acknowledge opposing point of view. No evidence of ability to think critically and independently.
Analytic Rubric for Assessing Expository Essay
Level Excellent 4 Good 3 Satisfactory 2 Unsatisfactory 1
 

Ideas and Insights

Thesis and points in support of thesis are clear, strong, and enlightening, likely unique and creative. Thesis and points in support of thesis are solid, if not unique and creative. Thesis and points in support of thesis are present but one of the points weak or unclear. Thesis and points in support of thesis are insipid or absent.
 

 

Content and Substance

Excellent development of points in support of thesis; excellent sources properly cited; clear and strong topic sentences, well-developed, the author in control of a variety of rhetorical strategies for developing ideas in body paragraphs. Good development of points in support of thesis; good sources with just few errors in citation; clear topic sentences, well-developed, the writer in control of good range of rhetorical strategies for developing ideas in body paragraphs. Average development of points in support of thesis; some sources but many citation errors; topic sentences present though one or two topic sentences not developed in enough detail in body paragraphs. Weak development of points in support of thesis; no or very few sources used; several paragraphs missing or have unclear topic sentences, poorly developed.
 

 

Clarity

of Expression

Writing clear due to robust structure, exemplary use of cohesive ties, and excellent grammar/spelling/punctuation. Writing clear due to strong structure and good use of cohesive ties, though some minor errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation present. Organizational structure somewhat weak/unclear as cohesive ties not always present; significant number of errors in grammar/ spelling /punctuation. Lacks clarity because organizational structure chaotic and cohesive ties barely present; more than five errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation.
 

Efficacy of Style

Excellent sentence variety, achieved largely through subordination; diction / vocabulary, figurative language effective for intended reader(s). Good sentence variety, achieved largely through subordination; diction / vocabulary, figurative language fine for intended reader(s). Limited use of subordination adversely affects sentence variety; diction / vocabulary bland, not right for intended reader(s). Sentence structure elementary; diction / vocabulary too basic and insipid for intended reader(s).
Analytic Rubric for Assessing Argument Essay
Level Excellent 4 Good 3 Satisfactory 2 Unsatisfactory 1
Ideas and Insights Thesis and points in support of thesis promise a clear, logical, compelling, and interesting argument; clear evidence of independent and critical thinking. Ideas/arguments ordinary but do develop thesis; thesis strong; good evidence of independent and critical thinking. Arguments less than inspired but do support thesis; thesis present; some evidence of independent and critical thinking. Ideas/arguments insipid; thesis vague or absent entirely; superficial evidence of independent and critical thinking.
 

 

 

Content and Substance

Paragraph topic sentences relevant and well-developed, the author using a variety of rhetorical strategies for developing ideas; good use of sources, properly cited; opposing point of view acknowledged and refuted convincingly. Paragraph topic sentences relevant and fairly well-developed, the author using a variety of rhetorical strategies; sources quite good and only few citation errors; opposing point of view acknowledged and refuted. One or two paragraphs may be missing topic sentences or have unclear or underdeveloped topic sentences, developed with limited rhetorical strategies; sources weak and often cited incorrectly; opposing point of view acknowledge and refuted though barely. Several paragraphs missing or have unclear topic sentences, poorly developed; no or very few sources used; opposing point of view not acknowledged or acknowledged but refuted ineffectually.
 

 

Clarity

of Expression

Writing clear due to robust structure, effective control of cohesive ties, excellent grammar/spelling/punctuation. Writing mostly clear due to strong structure and decent control of cohesive ties, though some errors in grammar/ spelling/ punctuation present. Organizational structure somewhat weak/unclear as cohesive ties not always present; significant number of errors in grammar/ spelling/ punctuation. Lacks clarity because organizational structure chaotic and cohesive ties barely present; more than five errors in grammar/spelling/punctuation.
Efficacy of Style Excellent sentence variety, achieved largely through subordination; diction / vocabulary, figurative language just right for intended reader(s). Good sentence variety, achieved largely through subordination; diction / vocabulary, figurative language fine for intended reader(s). Limited use of subordination adversely affects sentence variety; diction / vocabulary bland, and possibly too elementary for intended reader(s). Sentence structure elementary; diction / vocabulary too basic and insipid for intended reader(s).

Checklist for Expository Essay

You will get a top mark on this assignment, if

[ ] you have a clear and robust thesis;

[ ] your introduction provides appropriate context for your thesis;

[ ] your points in support of your thesis are well-developed in unified and coherent body paragraphs;

[ ] your conclusion establishes a clear sense of closure;

[ ] your essay is well-edited, with minimal errors in grammar, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation;

[ ] your sentence structure is varied;

[ ] your diction and vocabulary are appropriate for your intended readers;

[ ] your sources are valid and reliable and cited correctly.

Checklist for Argument Essay

You will get a top mark on this assignment, if

[ ] you have a clear and robust thesis;

[ ] your introduction provides appropriate context for your thesis;

[ ] your points in support of your thesis are well-developed in unified and coherent body paragraphs;

[ ] your conclusion establishes a clear sense of closure;

[ ] you acknowledge and refute the opposing point of view;

[ ] your argument is not based upon logical fallacies;

[ ] your essay is well-edited, with minimal errors in grammar, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation;

[ ] your sentence structure is varied;

[ ] your diction and vocabulary are appropriate for your intended readers;

[ ] your sources are valid and reliable and cited correctly.

Run-On Sentence

Two sentences joined together incorrectly.

A comma, for example, is not a strong enough pause to form a break between two sentences. This is a run-on sentence:

In Quebec, cheese curds and gravy are often added to French fries, creating a dish called poutine, it is becoming popular in other parts of Canada and even in places in the U.S.

The comma between “poutine” and “it” is not strong enough to separate the two complete sentences.

There are usually five ways to correct a run-on sentence:

  1. Replace the comma with a semi-colon. Usually a semi-colon is appropriate when the two sentences are closely related, as the two in the example above are.
  2. Replace the comma with a period. In this case, it might be advisable to replace the “it” with “Poutine,” which may be somewhat redundant but which does clarify the reference of the pronoun “it.”
  3. Add a coordinate conjunction—and, but, or or—after the comma. This run-on sentence—Poutine is not a healthy snack food, it is still very popular in Quebec—could be corrected by adding the word “but” after the comma.
    Note that conjunctive adverbs such as however, nevertheless, and moreover are not the same as coordinate conjunctions, and, for this reason, they are usually preceded by a semi-colon, when they are the link between two sentences. Poutine is not a healthy snack food; however, it is still very popular in Quebec. If the adverb is not the link between the two sentences, but within a sentence, then it is usually enclosed in commas: Poutine is not a healthy snack food. Poutine is, however, a popular dish in Quebec and other parts of Canada and the U.S.
  4. Change one of the two sentences to a subordinate clause. This is a run-on sentence: In Quebec, cheese curds and gravy are often added to French fries, creating a dish called poutine, this dish is becoming popular in other parts of Canada and even in places in the U.S. Here it is corrected by changing the second sentence to a clause: In Quebec, cheese curds and gravy are often added to French fries, creating a dish called poutine, which is becoming popular in other parts of Canada and even in places in the U.S.
  5. Reduce one of the sentences to a phrase. This is a run-on sentence: In Quebec, cheese curds and gravy are often added to French fries, this process creates a dish called poutine. This sentence corrects the run-on by reducing the second sentence to a participial phrase: In Quebec, cheese curds and gravy are often added to French fries, creating a dish called poutine.

Semi-Colon (;)

A punctuation mark which signals a break in a text, a pause within a sentence, stronger than a comma but weaker than a period, though it can replace a period, under certain circumstances.

A semi-colon is also used to separate phrases or clauses in a series, whenever there are commas, even just one, within the phrases or clauses.

Rule One: a semi-colon usually comes before a conjunctive adverb (see p. xx), which joins together two sentences. Study these sentences, all of which are punctuated correctly.

  1. A semi-colon is used within a sentence, but it can signal the end of a sentence and the beginning of a related sentence.
  1. A semi-colon is used within a sentence; however, it can signal the end of a sentence and the beginning of a related sentence.
  1. A semi-colon is used within a sentence. It can, however, signal the end of a sentence and the beginning of a related sentence.
  1. A semi-colon is used within a sentence; it can, however, signal the end of a sentence and the beginning of a related sentence.

In sentence one, the two sentences are linked together with a comma and the coordinate conjunction (see p. xx)“but.”

In sentence two, the two sentences are linked together with a semi-colon and the conjunctive adverb (see p. xx) “however.” Note that a comma here would not be correct; it would create a run-on sentence (see p. xx). The use of a comma before a conjunctive adverb linking two sentences together is a common error.

However, in sentence three and sentence four, there is a comma before “however.” This is because in these sentences it does not link together two sentences.

Rule Two: a semi-colon comes between phrases or clauses in a series, within which there are commas.

Example: During the winter holidays, they skied in Fernie, near the Alberta border; Rossland, in the West Kootenays; and Whistler, north of Vancouver.

Sentence

A sentence is a unit of language, consisting of a single subject and a single verb—Birds sing—though capable of sustaining several subject-verb thought units: When birds sing early in the morning, we know spring has arrived, and the time has come to spend more time in the great outdoors. It is synonymous with an independent or main clause.

An English sentence will come in one of four forms:

A simple sentence has one subject and at least one verb: Jesus wept. Jesus wept and prayed.

A compound sentence has two subjects and at least two verbs, joined together appropriately: Jesus wept, and the disciples prayed. Jesus wept; his disciples prayed.

A complex sentence consists of one main/independent clause and one or more subordinate/dependent clauses: Jesus wept because one of his disciples betrayed him.

A compound-complex sentence consists of a compound sentence plus one or more subordinate/dependent clauses: Jesus wept, and his disciples hung their heads in shame, because one of their own had betrayed him.

Errors in sentence construction—sentence fragment, run-on sentence, dangling modifier, misplaced modifier, faulty parallelism—may be overlooked in casual and informal writing, but in academic writing they are often penalized with a reduced grade.

Sentence Fragment

An error in sentence structure, consisting of a group of words, punctuated as a sentence, but not forming a complete sentence.

There are two kinds of sentence fragment:

  1. A word group missing either a subject or a verb but punctuated as a sentence.
    The credit cards we use today often require only a pin number. Or merely a light tap on a credit card terminal. The first sentence if fine; the second is a fragment because it does not contain a verb. In more casual writing, a sentence fragment is acceptable, when it is used for an effect, for emphasis, for example: The credit cards we use today often require only a pin number or merely a light tap on a credit card terminal. So convenient! In an academic writing assignment, it is best to avoid such sentence fragments.
  2. A word group that does contain a subject and a verb but that is not a complete sentence, because it begins with a subordinate conjunction or a relative pronoun.

Consider these sentences:

  1. There were many errors in sentence structure in the essays I just graded.
  2.  Which is why the average grade was a C minus.
  3. The average grade in the essays I just returned to my students was a C minus.
  4. Because my students made so many errors in sentence structure.

Sentences a and c are correct.

Examples b and d are sentence fragments. They do contain subjects and verbs—“the average grade was” and “my students made”—but the relative pronoun “which” and the subordinate conjunction “Because” transition signals which indicate the beginning of a subordinate/dependent clause.

Sentence Variety

Effective academic writing employs all forms of sentences: simple, compound, complex, compound-complex, periodic, loose (see separate listings for each of these terms) to achieve an appropriate writing style. A succession of simple sentences is generally considered a solecism in academic writing. This passage is clear, but no instructor/professor evaluating a writing assignment would condone it:

Simple Sentence

A word group consisting of one subject and one verb: Hemingway uses many simple sentences in his stories. The subject is “Hemingway” and the verb is “uses.” There are other words in the sentence but only one subject and one verb.

Note that the subject or the verb might be doubled or “compound”: Hemingway and Chopin use many simple sentences in their stories; they write and revise their stories many times. Those are still simple sentences.

Note that a simple sentence is the same as an independent or main clause.

Singular They/Their/Them

Refers to the use of the plural pronoun “they” or “their” or “them” in a singular context, especially as a means of avoiding tiresome repetition of he/he and his/her. Editors of major publications are increasingly accepting the singular they/their. They would not object to changing this sentence—A surgeon puts his or her patients at risk if he or she operates more than twice in one day—to A surgeon puts their patients at risk if they operate more than twice in one day.

Changing the singular subject to plural is also an option—Surgeons put their patients at risk if they operate more than twice a day—though the switch to plural does alter the connotative meaning somewhat.

The use of the singular they/their can increase ambiguity. In this sentence—A surgeon puts their patients at risk if they are sleep deprived—the plural “they” might seem to refer to the patients.

Their seems to be more resistance to the use of the singular “them”: When the tow truck driver arrives, tell them you suspect the problem is with your alternator. The dilemma is whether to use just “him” instead or “him or her.”

Check with your English instructor to see if he or she (or they) will accept the use of the singular they/their/them. This book does have a bias towards avoiding the singular they.

Note that the use of “they” to refer to someone who does not identify as either gender is also gaining acceptance.

Slang

Casual, informal speech and writing, often associated with the language used by young adults but to be avoided in academic writing.

Slippery Slope

A logical fallacy, which suggests that one condition or circumstance will lead to another similar condition or circumstance: If the government legalizes marijuana, it is just a matter of time before it legalizes cocaine. More and better evidence is required to make such an argument.

Split Infinitive

The infinitive is the base form of a verb, the form preceded by “to”: to speak, to drive, to recover. Opinion differs about modifiers that worm their way between the two words, modifiers that split the infinitive apart. Some argue the infinitive is sacrosanct and should never be split apart. They cringe when they hear the Star Trek intro, which includes the clause, with the infamous split infinitive “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Others argue that a split infinitive is unworthy of so much grammar police grief. A compromise is to tolerate one adverb splitting an infinitive but only one. To gradually recover is ok, but to slowly and gradually recover is a bit much.

Standard English

The dominant form or dialect of written and spoken language, the form whose rules for spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and syntax are considered most appropriate for speech and written communication in journalism, business, law, government, and education. Business reports, magazine and newspaper articles, government documents, and academic texts and assignments are written in Standard English.

There is some controversy over the primacy of Standard English. It is the dialect of the establishment, of those with social and economic power. As such, it is considered by some to be racist and oppressive, another barrier to middle-class prosperity for those—ethnic minorities, especially—not raised in an environment that privileged Standard English.

Despite the controversy, most instructors/professors still expect students to use Standard English in writing assignments.

This book is written in and promotes the use of Standard English.

Straw Man

A logical fallacy which attempts to advance an argument by insisting opponents lack substance—are made of straw: Liberals oppose the bill, but they are too brainwashed to accept capital punishment as a deterrent to other potential offenders.

Subject

Essential component of a sentence, the noun or pronoun which performs the action, indicated by the verb: Kim was robbed. They stole her jewelry.

A gerund, as a semi-noun, can also act as a subject: Living is easy, with eyes closed.

A noun clause can also act as a subject: Who among you who is without sin may cast the first stone.

Subject Complement

Some verbs, called linking verbs or copula verbs, do not take objects. Compare these two sentences:

Jim saw the governor.

Jim is the governor.

In the first sentence, “governor” is the object of the verb “saw.”

But in the second sentence, the verb links together two identities of one person. “governor” complements the subject “Jim.”

See also “Linking Verb.”

Subjective Case of Pronoun

The form or case of a pronoun, which performs the action identified by the verb: I wish, she wishes, he wishes, they wish, who wishes. These pronouns are all subjects of the verb “wish.”

Subject-Verb Agreement

The subject of a sentence is the agent performing the action, indicated by the verb: The visitors have arrived. The verb must be in the same “number” (singular or plural) as the subject. A singular subject takes a singular verb—the plot thickens (not thicken); a plural subject takes a plural verb—the stories are (not is) great. When the numbers match, subject-verb agreement is attained.

Subject-verb agreement is not often a source of error for English-as-a-first-language speakers, because the correct usage is embedded; hence incorrect usage can sound like a joke: I knows I is right.

It is more challenging for ESL/EAL students. Remember that a letter “s” at the end of a verb does not signal plural, as it does for’ a noun. In fact, plural nouns often take a verb without an “s,” while singular nouns need a verb which ends in “s.” In this store a balloon pops every second. Balloons pop constantly in this store.

However, there are some subject-verb agreement rules which can stymie even native English speaking college/university students.

When a prepositional phrase comes between the subject and the verb

A verb agrees with its subject, but sometimes when a prepositional phrase comes between a subject and a verb, the object of that prepositional phrase is mistaken for the subject. Study this sentence:

The chips in that glass adversely affect the taste of the wine.

The subject of the sentence is “chips” not “glass.” “Glass” is the object of the preposition “in.” “Glass” cannot be a subject. “Chips” is the subject, with which the verb “affect” must agree. Chips affect the taste. If the singular “glass” were the subject, then the verb would be singular: A dirty glass adversely affects the taste of the wine.

It would be incorrect to write “Only one of the witnesses claim to have seen the crime being committed” because “one” not “witnesses” is the subject. It would be correct to write “Only one of the witnesses claims to have seen the crime being committed.

Two subjects joined together by “and” or “or”

When two subjects are joined together by the coordinate conjunction (p. x) “and” the verb is plural, but when two subjects are joined together by the coordinate conjunction “or” the verb agrees with the subject that most closely precedes it. Free trade and immigration are (not is) on the agenda for the cabinet meeting today. Free trade or immigration is (not are) is on the agenda for the cabinet meeting today. Three congressmen or one senator is (not are) always in attendance. One senator or three congressmen are always in attendance.

The “or” rule also applies to “either/or” and “neither/nor” construction: Neither his wife nor his children were on the plane. Neither his children nor his wife was on the plane. Either his wife or his children are joining him later. Either his children or his wife is joining him later.

A collective noun as subject

Collective nouns identify a genderless group: crew, committee, press, team, orchestra, group, employees…

A collective noun will usually take a singular verb: Our team is losing again; the committee meets once a month; the orchestra is playing a Mozart symphony.

In American English, a plural verb might be used with a collective noun, if the individuals who comprise the collective noun are not acting in unison. The press are not in accord about the significance of Russian influence. It is often advisable to use a regular noun in such cases, to avoid confusion. The members of the press are not in accord. Instead of writing “The orchestra are tuning up their instruments,” write “The musicians in the orchestra are tuning up their instruments.

Nouns such as “physics” and “news” are not exactly collective nouns, but they are plural nouns which function as singular nouns because they are a collective entity: My physics class meets three times a week; the news is on. Heroes are made, not born; Heroes is a great sports bar.

There are context-dependent exceptions: Measles is a serious disease, and measles are contagious.

Indefinite pronouns and numbers as subjects

Indefinite pronouns, such as everyone, all, any, no one, everybody usually take a singular verb: Everyone is happy; no one comes to choir practice; all is forgiven.

However, in contravention of the prepositional rule, discussed above, context provided by the object of the preposition might determine the verb choice: All of the money is missing, but all of the students are accounted for.

Similarly, numbers as subjects, can be singular—eight is enough—or plural—eight of my children are coming—depending upon context provided elsewhere in the sentence.

Subject following a verb

A subject usually precedes a verb, but a subject might come after a verb, when a sentence begins with an adverb such as “here” and “there.” The verb always agrees with the noun, never with an adverb, even if it precedes the verb: not here is the two main reasons but here are the two main reasons; not there is a lion and a tiger in my yard, but there are a lion and a tiger in my yard.

Subordinate Clause

A group of words which begins with a subordinate conjunction, contains a subject and a verb, but cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. Instead, a subordinate clause will act as an adverb, usually in support of the verb in the main clause. The subordinate clauses in the following sentences are underlined.

  1. Universal peace is a possibility when the moon is in the seventh house.
  2. Some grammarians will object if you end a sentence with a preposition.
  3. Although her spring collection was well reviewed, the clothes did not sell well.

Remember that at subordinate clause is not a sentence. If you put a period at the end of a subordinate clause, you have a sentence fragment, a common error in student academic writing, one which will often fall victim to the red-pen rebuke and might even lower your grade.

You create a sentence fragment. If you punctuate a subordinate clause, as if it is a sentence.

Subordinate Conjunction

A word, which is a conjunction, in that it links two clauses together, but subordinate, in that it begins a group of words which cannot stand alone as a sentence. Common subordinate conjunctions are because, if, when, since, before, after, although, whenever, unless, until.

Men do not get many matches on dating sites if they are unemployed.

She did not get many matches on dating sites because she admitted she has eight children.

A word which is subordinate, insofar as it begins a word group that is less than a sentence, and a conjunction, insofar as it links two clauses together.

Some subordinate conjunctions introduce adverb clauses: The barbeque was canceled, because of the storm.

Syntax

The order of words in a phrase, a clause, a sentence and the effect that order has on meaning and response.

In poetry, syntax is often deliberately eccentric to create an effect. Conventional syntax would phrase this sentence, as follows:

The west wind will blow her clarion over the dreaming earth, drive sweet buds like flocks to feed in air, and fill plain and hill with living hues and odours.

But, in his poem “Ode to the West Wind,” Shelley writes the west wind shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth and fill

(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)

With living hues and odours plain and hill.

The inverted syntax maintains the rhythm and rhyme of the poem and draws attention to the imagery, in a way conventional syntax could not.

In oratory, syntax might be unconventional, as a way to impress listeners and hold their attention: “But one penny more in taxes I will not pay, until the government reverses its position.”

In academic writing, conservative syntax is usually preferable.

Thesis/Thesis Statement

The main or controlling idea of a school/college/university writing assignments, usually expressible as a single sentence. The presence of a clear thesis, stated explicitly or implied in the text’s introduction, is highly valued and generally considered an essential component of a school/college/university writing assignment. The content of a writing assignment develops, supports, augments the thesis. Each paragraph topic sentence should reference the thesis, for an essay/report to have unity.

There are four types of thesis statements:

  1. A general thesis states the controlling idea of the text, without embellishment. Here are two examples:
    There is no evidence to suggest there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
    There is much circumstantial, but compelling evidence to suggest there is life elsewhere in the universe.
  2. A blueprint thesis includes words or phrases which telegraph the point the writer will develop in support of the thesis:
    Circumstantial evidence based upon mathematical probability, UFO sightings, and otherwise inexplicable signals from outer space, suggest that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
  3. A thesis as question frames the text’s main idea as a question, which the rest of the text answers:
    Is there enough evidence to suggest that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe?
  4. An implied thesis is embedded in the introduction of a text, but it is not expressed in a single sentence or a question. Implied theses are common in professional writing, among journalists, for example, but more common in academic writing. Teachers usually want to see a clear thesis in the introduction of an academic assignment.

Topic Sentence

The sentence in the paragraph of an academic text which states the subject of the paragraph. Other sentences in the paragraph develop, augment, explain, elucidate the topic sentence. The topic sentence may occur anywhere in the paragraph. It is often the first sentence or, if the first sentence establishes transition from the previous paragraph, the topic sentence may come second. But it can be anywhere, and it is often implied rather than explicitly presented as a single sentence. A paragraph has unity when its content connects with the topic sentence.

Transition

As a rhetorical term refers to the links within and between sentences in paragraphs and paragraphs within an essay or report, needed to help create the sense of unity and coherence essential to an effective text.

Transition is usually achieved in one or both of two ways:

  1. Through the use of transitional expressions, such as in addition, also, however, but, moreover, second.

    …Some two hundred statues, of biblical and other Christian figures, line the walls but seem poised to walk calmly into the sanctuary. The stained-glass windows are also stunning, and they, too, depict stories from the Bible in series of panels drawn and painted by the best craftsmen of the day. Another marvel of the Duomo is its altar, which…

  2. By the repetition of a key word or the use of a pronoun which refers to the key word.

    Determined to impress the nobility of France and Germany, and, of course, their Pope, the dukes of Milan commissioned the construction of the Duomo Cathedral. They did, indeed, impress, engineering the construction of the fourth largest cathedral in Europe. The Renaissance dome was the architectural centerpiece of cathedrals begun in the fourteenth century, but the Milanese dukes decided to go all out gothic. The exterior of the Duomo is all pointed arches and spires, interspersed with the inevitable whimsical gargoyles, soaring hundreds of feet into the heavens. The dukes eschewed ordinary stone, choosing instead to use the pink marble, which gives the cathedral that unearthly glow, at sunset, especially. Inside, the Duomo Cathedral is equally spectacular….

Unity

Important attribute of academic writing, achieved when all paragraphs in an academic text sustain the thesis and all sentences in a paragraph sustain the topic sentence.

When an instructor/professor notes in the margin of your essay or report “you are off topic here” or “not relevant to your topic sentence,” you are likely violating the unity principle.

Note that the content of a body paragraph marked as lacking unity may belong in your essay or report but not in the paragraph where it appears. The solution might simply be to begin a new paragraph or to integrate the content flagged as lacking unity into the relevant paragraph.

Unnecessary Comma

A simple sentence with a compound verb does not need a comma.

She was elected governor in November and impeached the following June.

It’s confusing because a compound sentence does need a comma before the coordinate conjunction.

She was elected governor in November, and she was impeached the following June.

A restrictive (essential to meaning) word, phrase, or clause does not need commas around it.

In the Liberal Party, Members of Parliament who deny the evidence of global warming are asked to resign.

Commas are reserved for non-restrictive (not essential to meaning) words, phrases, and clauses.

Our Member of Parliament, who happens to be the son of a former Prime Minister, will be reelected with a large majority.

Usage

Refers to the conventionally acceptable use of language within most social institutions.

“Conventionally acceptable” is not always the same as grammatically correct. “No one is filing their income tax early this year” may not be grammatically correct because “one” is clearly a singular subject and “their” is a plural pronoun. But an unspoken consensus condones such use, snubbing the pedant who insists the sentence should read “No one is filing his or her income tax early this year,” or the antediluvian who writes “No one is filing his income tax early this year.”

These unspoken rules of usage do not, however, condone grosser errors in grammar—In the third quarter, the fund performed good; investors seen an increase of 15%.

Nor do the unspoken rules of language used within most social institutions accept slang, profanity, sexist language, or email acronyms, LOL.

Vague Pronoun Reference

An error in usage, which usually comes in one of three forms:

  1. An ambiguous personal pronoun:

    The senator accused the general of negligence, but he could not have foreseen the consequences of his actions.

    The “he” is ambiguous because the reader cannot tell if its antecedent is “senator” or “general.”

  1. A confusing relative pronoun:

    The committee was composed entirely of women and recommended equal pay for work of equal value, which the stockholders resented.

    “Which” is ambiguous because it could refer to the make-up of the committee or to their recommendation.

  2. An ambiguous use of the pronoun “it.”

    Nutritionists recommend three servings of fresh fruit and three servings of fresh vegetables a day, but most Americans don’t do it.

    Change “it” to “follow this advice.”

Valuable / Invaluable

Both of these words mean having significant worth. The difference between them lies in the ability to quantify. Something valuable is usually quantifiable—My Rolex is valuable. Something invaluable has more intrinsic, personal worth. The advice my father gave me is invaluable.

Verb

A word in a clause which describes or explains the nature of the action or state of being of its subject.

To the subject the sun, we can add many forms of the verb “to shine,” all of which convey a different shade (!) of meaning.

The sun shines.

The sun shone.

The sun will shine.

The sun is shining.

The sun was shining.

The sun will be shining.

Verb Phrase

A main verb plus auxiliary verbs, formed to define the action of the subject of the verb as accurately as possible. To the verb “falls” in this sentence–

A tree falls in the forest—

we could add auxiliary verbs which refine, augment, and clarify the nature of the action of the verb and, hence, the entire sentence.

A tree will fall in the forest.

A tree might fall in the forest.

A tree should fall in the forest.

A tree would fall in the forest.

A tree can fall in the forest.

A tree may fall in the forest.

Verb Tense

Tense establishes the temporal relationship between a noun and its action. Negotiations continue today. They stalled yesterday. They will resume tomorrow.

In academic writing, accurate verb tense is essential. It is usually not a problem for native English speakers though it can be a challenge for English as a Second/English as an Alternate Language students, especially those whose native language does not contain the wide range of tenses English does.

There are twelve verb tenses in the English language.

  1. Present tense indicates current action, in the here and now: I think; therefore, I am. Present tense also indicates recurring, habitual action: I think about you every day; I am always happy.
  2. Past tense indicates action that has occurred at a point in time earlier than the time when the writer writes or the speaker speaks: She thought about it, then decided against it.
  3. Future tense indicates action that will occur later in time: I will think about it.
  4. Present progressive tense indicates ongoing current action, in the here and now. The sun is shining; she is baking bread. Its signature is the ing suffix. It is similar to simple present tense: The sun shines; she bakes bread. Progressive tense can signal a more causal relationship: Stockbrokers make a lot of money; stockbrokers are making a lot of money, now that unemployment is so low.
  5. Past progressive tense indicates ongoing past action, which is eventually terminated: she was scoring more goals; they were winning more games.
  6. Future progressive tense indicates action that will be ongoing later in time, under certain circumstances: The employees will all be flying first class, if business continues to soar.
  7. Present perfect tense indicates a past action that prevails in the present: He has signed the bill into law. Perfect tense always uses a form of the verb “to have” as an auxiliary verb.
  8. Past perfect tense indicates some condition which affects past action: They were too late: he had signed the bill into law. The distinction between simple past tense and past perfect tense can be subtle. He (signed, had signed) the bill into law, before Congress had a chance to study it. “Had signed” is correct, determined by adverb clause following the comma. Past perfect is, in a sense, a past past verb tense. Consider the subtle differences among these past and past perfect sentences. Notice how context determines tense: The Queen has a bad cold; the Queen had a bad cold; the Queen has had a bad cold, for the past two weeks; the Queen had had a bad cold, but she was better by Christmas.
  9. Future perfect tense indicates an action to occur in the future, as determined by another action which has taken place already. The PM will have prorogued parliament by the time the Leader of the Opposition has recovered.
  10. Present perfect progressive tense matches a verb with the progressive “ing” suffix with the present tense of the verb “to have.” She has always been more than willing to work with the Speaker of the House.
  11. Past perfect progressive tense matches a verb with the progressive “ing” suffix with the past tense of the verb “to have.” She had always been more than willing to work with the Speaker of the House, before he broke his promise. Note how context determines tense.
  12. Future perfect progressive tense matches a verb with the progressive “ing” suffix with the future tense of the verb “to have.” If she continues to work cooperatively with the Speaker of the House for the rest of the year, she will have been working cooperatively with him for the past three years. Note how context determines tense.

Here is one more example of a verb expressed in all 12 tenses.

My roommate studies.

My roommate studied.

My roommate will study.

My roommate is studying.

My roommate was studying.

My roommate will be studying.

My roommate has studied.

My roommate had studied.

My roommate will have studied.

My roommate has been studying.

My roommate had been studying.

My roommate will have been studying.

Take care with that distinction between past tense and past perfect tense. Otherwise, verb tense does not often cause problems for native English speakers.

If English is your second or alternate language, you may often need to review your work for accurate tense

Voice and Style

The level of formality in speech and writing, as indicated by word choice and sentence structure. The “voice” of a written text might be light-hearted or casual or terse or ornate or angry or playful or pedantic or contemplative or sardonic. You write your texts and emails to your friend in a casual voice, with little regard for grammar, spelling, sentence structure. You write your academic reports and essays in a more formal voice, intent on using proper grammar and careful sentence structure.

Academic voice presupposes correct grammar and sophisticated sentence structure, but there is some latitude within these basic boundaries. Your chemistry teacher will want the voice your lab report to be formal, prescribed, correct, straightforward. Your humanities teacher might permit, even prefer, a somewhat more casual voice, as long as it stays appropriate to its academic context.

Voice of Verbs

Signals the syntactic relationships among subject verb, and object in a sentence. In the English language, there are two verb voices.

In a sentence in active voice, the subject is performing an action, identified by its verb.

The Governor reads a dozen newspapers every day.

In a sentence in passive voice, that active voice subject becomes the object and the active voice object becomes the subject.

A dozen newspapers are read by the Governor every day.

Both sentences are grammatically correct, but the active voice sentence is more effective. It is smoother and, at 8 words compared to the passive voice 10 words, it is more concise.

Generally speaking, the active voice style is better than the passive voice. However, a verb’s subject is often indeterminate—Smoking is forbidden—and here the passive voice is better.

The passive voice is common in some academic writing. A social scientist would likely write “The subjects were weighed carefully before and after their time spent in the sweat lodge,” rather than “We weighed the subjects carefully…” A chemistry student would likely write, in her lab report, “Two milliliters of iodine were added to this mixture,” rather than “I added two milliliters…”

Humanities teachers and professors tend to prefer assignments written in active voice: “Hester’s beauty and serenity frustrate and perplex the women in the Puritan city of Boston,” rather than “The women in the Puritan city of Boston were frustrated and perplexed…”

Who, Whom

Relative pronouns which introduce a noun clause or an adjective clause and which often cause usage errors.

The difference between them is that “who” is a subjective case pronoun, and “whom” is an objective case pronoun.

As the object of a preposition, the use of “whom” is familiar enough:

To whom it may concern…

With whom are you going?

For whom the bell tolls.

Note that the rule stays the same when the preposition comes at the end of the clause, though the enforcement of the rule is typically less strict. “Whom are you going with” may be, strictly speaking, grammatically correct, but “Who are you going with” will pass by many editors and essay graders with impunity.

It is as the subject of the verb in the clause or the object of the verb in the clause that the distinction between who and whom causes more confusion. The rule is if the verb in the clause which begins with who/whom already has a subject then the beginning pronoun is whom because that is the needed objective case.

Here is an example, illustrating the use of whom and who at the beginning of a noun clause.

The manager knows exactly whom she wants to appoint as her assistant.

The verb “wants” already has a subject “she” so it needs the object “whom.”

The manager knows exactly who is getting fired.

“Who” is the subject of the verb “is getting fired.”

Here is an example, illustrating the use of whom and who at the beginning of an adjective clause.

Senator Evans, who is running for president for the third time, has won the Iowa caucus.

“Who” is the subject of the verb “is running.”

Senator Evans, whom the governor has never met, has won the Iowa caucus.

“Whom” is required, as the object of the verb of the verb “has (never) met.”

Here is another example:

Any reporter who is opposed to the prime minister’s policy will not be invited to the press conference.

Any reporter whom the president dislikes will not be invited to the press conference.

In the first sentence, the verb “is opposed” needs a subject, so the subjective case of the relative pronoun is used. In the second sentence the verb “dislikes” already has a subject, “president” so the objective case of the relative pronoun is used.

There can be confusion in the use of “whoever” or “whomever” following a preposition. The “whom” form of the pronoun typically follows a preposition—to whom it may concern, for whom the bell tolls—so writers reason that “whomever” should also follow a preposition. Consider these two sentences.

She will flirt with whomever she wants.

She will flirt with whoever catches her eye.

The first one is correct because the verb “wants” needs an object; “wants” already has a subject, “she.” The second one is correct because “catches” needs a subject. Yes, the pronoun “with” needs an object, but its object is the entire noun clause (see p. x) “whoever catches her eye.

Here are more examples. All of these sentences are correct.

Put your faith in whomever you trust the most

Put your faith in whoever is the most trustworthy.

The prize goes to whomever the judges choose.

The prize goes to whoever wins the race.

Alex, whom I taught last year and who is an excellent student, is at UBC now.

Note, finally, that to some, insisting on the correct use of who and whom is unnecessarily pedantic, and even some of your college instructors and professors will not flag or punish errors in the misuse of these pronouns.

Wordiness

A common flaw in academic writing, occurring when an author uses more words than necessary to convey meaning.

Wrong Word

A common error in college student writing, an error usually resulting from a failure to distinguish between

  1. Words with the same sounds but different meanings (homonyms), such as principal/principle; stationary/stationery; affect/effect;
  2. Words which are incorrect but sound similar to the correct word (malapropisms), such as for all “intensive” purposes, instead of all “intents and” purposes; should of, instead of should have;
  3. Words with similar denotations (literal meaning) but different connotations (associative meaning), such as young woman/girl/chick/lass/damsel; fat/obese/chubby/overweight/ plump/stout/hefty.

If you are in doubt about your word choice, consult a dictionary.

Media Attributions

  • Dictionary entry © Military Writer’s Handbook, Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario. Reprinted with permission.

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Composition and Literature by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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