Why is it important to rephrase awkward word order?

Since the goal of academic writing is to communicate with clarity, writers should build sentences with words and phrases that flow smoothly. Words that are missing, misplaced, or out of order can make the writing sound disjointed or send an unintended message. Reread each sentence carefully or read the paper aloud to check for awkward wording.

When should a block quotation be used?

When a writer chooses to include a long quotation—one that takes up four or more lines of text—it must be set off as a free standing block. As with any quotation a writer employs as evidence, the original text should contain relevant and compelling ideas that are expressed in vivid and concise language.

Block quotations should be used sparingly in longer essays and articles (multiple pages) and rarely in shorter works (1,500 words or less). Lengthy, wordy quotations should never be used simply to fill pages when the writer has little to say about the topic or issue.

When should long titles be shortened within in-text citations?

In-text citations usually supply the author(s)’ last name to reference their work, but when the source has no known author or more than one source by the same author is cited, the title of the source is inserted instead. When an in-text citation refers to a work with a long title, a shortened phrase from the title should be used.

Care should be taken to shorten the title in such a way that it does not compromise the reader’s ability to locate the source on the Works Cited list.

Why is it wise to avoid unreliable sources?

Information from unreliable sources is not always true, up-to-date, or accurate. Using unreliable sources in an academic paper can weaken the credibility of the writer, dilute the writer’s argument, and detract from the overall strength of the paper.

What kind of sources should be avoided?

While the Internet provides a plethora of information on almost any topic imaginable, not all of its content can be trusted. Students should be cautiously selective while doing research and avoid sources that may contain unreliable information:

  • Popular and collective websites (ask.com, about.com, WebMD.com, etc.): Websites such as these provide articles and information that has been collected from other sources that may not be reliable. While the sponsors of these sites usually employ writers who research the topics, citations for the sources of the data are not always provided.
  • Wikipedia: Wikipedia is an online open-source encyclopedia, which means that it can be edited by anyone. While the information on the site is audited by a Wikipedia editor, the information found there may or may not be correct or current.
  • Source material based solely on opinion: While material that conveys opinions and beliefs may have some validity, reliable sources that back up the opinion or belief with facts and trustworthy information should also be sought. If the opinion piece does not include data from reliable sources, a writer may choose not to include it as a source.

Note: Some sources, such as Wikipedia, provide a works cited list or reference list. Some of the cited works could be reliable, but checking the original source and interpreting the information yourself provides the opportunity to confirm its validity.

Where are credible, reliable sources found?

  • Academic databases: These databases, such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR, include searchable collections of scholarly works, academic journals, online encyclopedias, and helpful bibliographies and can usually be accessed through a college library website.
  • Academic peer-reviewed journals: Journal articles that have been peer-reviewed are generally considered reliable because they have been examined by experts in the field for accuracy and quality.
  • Google scholar: This Internet search engine helps the user to locate scholarly literature in the form of articles and books, professional societies’ websites, online academic websites, and more.
  • Library reference or research desk: Library staff can provide useful services, such as assistance with the use of library research tools, guidance with identifying credible and non-credible sources, and selection of reliable sources.

Why is it important to provide reliable support for a point?

When a writer makes a point or claim, his or her position should be supported by evidence from one or more reliable sources. Evidence from reliable sources can make an argument more convincing and build the credibility of the writer. In contrast, unsupported points or points supported by unreliable sources can compromise the integrity of the paper and the writer.

What kind of additional support can be added?

  • Quantitative data, such as statistics
    • Example: Present the percentage of a specific ethnic population in low-income housing units when making a claim related to racial poverty.
  • Empirical evidence from scientific research
    • Example: Provide data from qualitative research when comparing the effectiveness of different methods for teaching young children to read.
  • Quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from experts and specialists
    • Example: Use a quote from General Petraeus of the U.S. Army when discussing the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Anecdotal evidence and relevant narrative
    • Example: Interview a health food store owner to learn more about his or her experience with vegetarian food choices; include relevant narrative about personal experience with choosing a vegetarian lifestyle.

 What actions can be taken to locate additional support?

  • Search reputable academic databases: These databases, such as Academic Search Premier and JSTOR, include searchable collections of scholarly works, academic journals, online encyclopedias, and helpful bibliographies that can usually be accessed through a college library website.
  • Search credible news sources: Databases, such as Access World News, can be used to locate news articles from around the world. Articles from reputable news sources may also be found through careful Internet searches.
  • Search academic peer-reviewed journals: Journal articles that have been peer-reviewed are generally considered reliable because they have been examined by experts in their field for accuracy and quality.
  • Search Google scholar: This Internet search engine helps the user locate scholarly literature in the form of articles and books, professional societies’ websites, online academic websites, and more.
  • Ask for help at the library research desk: Library staff can provide useful services, such as assistance with the use of library research tools, guidance with identifying credible and non-credible sources, and personalized assistance with the selection of reliable sources.

Many emerging writers struggle with connecting sourced material to their claims and to their thesis. Oftentimes, this is because they’re too close to their work and think that the connection between claim and evidence is completely apparent to the reader.

Even if the connection is readily visible, authors should still follow up a piece of sourced material with an explanation of its relevance to the author’s point, purpose, and/or thesis. Such connections (“analysis”) should be made directly following the sourced material.

Let's look at an example:

Let’s say that I’m writing a research paper that suggests offshore drilling should be banned, and my thesis is as follows:

Though some may argue that offshore drilling provides economic advantages and would lessen our dependence on foreign oil, the environmental and economic consequences of an oil spill are so drastic that they far outweigh the advantages.

Main points:

  • The known economic impact of past oil spills 
  • The potential impact of oil spills on marine and human life
  • A comparison between advantages and disadvantages of offshore drilling 
  • A response to potential counterarguments

My conclusion would then include a proposal to ban offshore drilling.

For more information on Analyzing Evidence, see also: 

http://writingcommons.org/research/integrate-evidence/incorporate-evidence/analyze-evidence

Conciseness Improves Flow

Unfortunately, many writers use sentences that are too wordy.  This is not to suggest that lengthy sentences can never be used (because they certainly can), but most of the time writers make the mistake of using more words than necessary to get their message across.  Take this sentence, for example: 

  • “Michelle was supposed to have her car’s oil changed every 3,000 miles, and since it had been 3,000 miles since her last oil change, she took her car to the mechanic.”

This sentence is okay and makes sense, though the statement could be more precise if the author phrased it a little differently.  Describing the action first, followed by the reason, would improve it: 

  • “Michelle had the mechanic change her car’s oil because it had been 3,000 miles since the last one.”

Why is it valuable for writers to read their own work aloud?

Reading their own work aloud gives writers the opportunity to take on the role of the reader. When “writers as readers” add hearing to seeing, another of the five senses is put to work in the critical evaluation process. Words and ideas that seemed to flow smoothly and connect logically inside the writer’s head often do not reflect the same sense of cohesiveness when heard in spoken form. Writers who hear their work read aloud are better equipped to evaluate the paper’s flow of ideas at the global level and to discover grammatical, punctuation, and word choice errors at the surface level.

What should writers be listening for when they read their work aloud?

  • At the global level:
    • Does the paper make sense?
    • Does the paper’s content flow logically?
    • Do the paper’s ideas support the thesis?
  • At the paragraph level:
    • Have appropriate transitions been made between paragraphs?
    • Have appropriate segues been made among the sentences?
    • Do the paragraph’s ideas flow logically and sound unified?
  • At the sentence level:
    • What grammatical and usage errors need to be corrected?
    • What punctuation errors are affecting the rhythm of the paper?
    • What word choice issues need to be addressed?

What steps can be taken to read aloud effectively?

  1. Save a copy of your paper as a new document under a modified file name.
  2. Increase the font size to 14 or 16 pt. (or larger), and print a copy of your paper.
  3. Find a reasonably quiet, private space to work, if possible.
  4. Begin by reading your paper aloud slowly from beginning to end; underline or circle problem areas as you find them.
  5. Go back and reread each paragraph aloud a second time; mark up your draft with notes in the margins and corrections of grammatical and word choice errors between the lines.
  6. Revise the paper on a word processor based on the critical evaluation you made, and then repeat the read-aloud process to support further revision, editing, and proofreading.
  7. Consider asking a friend, relative, or classmate to read the paper aloud to you, also.

 

 

Why eliminate unnecessary “to be” verbs?

When a writer consistently uses unnecessary “to be” verbs, the writing can sound dull and lifeless. Flat, wordy writing may cause the reader to lose interest. As a writer learns to substitute stronger, more expressive verbs for “to be” verbs, the enlivened writing is likely to hold the reader’s interest more effectively.

What is a vague pronoun reference?

A pronoun is a part of speech that can replace a noun; its antecedent is the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers. A vague pronoun reference might include words such as it, that, this, and which, and can leave the reader wondering what or to whom the pronoun refers. Writers who strive for clarity in their work should be certain that each pronoun has a specific antecedent.

Why is it important to avoid unnecessary shifts in verb tense?

The verb tense expresses a sense of time in a sentence, paragraph, paper, or longer work. Generally, the writer should establish the time perspective (past, present, or future) in the opening sentence and maintain that tense consistently throughout his or her work.

What is a sentence fragment?

A sentence fragment is a word, phrase, or dependent clause that is punctuated as a sentence, but the subject, verb, or both may be missing. Though sentence fragments may be used for effect in certain types of writing, fragments are generally not used in academic or professional writing.

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on (or fused) sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined without appropriate punctuation or coordinating words. Dividing a run-on sentence into concise, meaningful units can help to clarify your message.

What is subject-verb agreement?

In a sentence, the form of the verb changes, or is conjugated, to reflect the relationship between the subject and the action being performed. To bring the subject and verb into agreement, they must correspond in number (singular or plural) and person (first, second, or third).

What is a modifier?

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes, strengthens, or clarifies another word (or group of words) in a sentence. When a modifier is placed in its proper position in a sentence, a sense of clarity is established for the reader.

What is a misplaced modifier?

A modifier may be considered misplaced when it is not in the correct position in the sentence in relation to the word (or words) being modified.

What is a pronoun-antecedent relationship?

A pronoun is a part of speech that can replace a noun; its antecedent is the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers. Unclear pronoun-antecedent relationships, or those without proper agreement, can leave the reader confused. Writers who strive for clarity in their work should be certain that each pronoun has a clear antecedent and that the pronoun and antecedent agree in person (first, second, or third), number, and gender.


How might pronoun-antecedent relationships be clarified?

  • Circle or highlight the pronouns in each paragraph.
  • Look for each pronoun’s antecedent—the person, place, or thing to which the pronoun refers.
  • Draw an arrow from the pronoun to its antecedent.
  • If the antecedent is missing, rewrite the sentence to include a clear antecedent for each pronoun.
  • If the antecedent is there, check for pronoun and antecedent agreement in person, number, and gender.

Let’s look at some examples:

Missing antecedents: He felt better about the revision process when he left his office. (Who left the office? Whose office is it?)

Clear antecedents: The student felt better about the revision process when he left Dr. Brown’s office.

 

Lack of agreement: The student put books in their backpack and left for our next class. (Student is singular, but the pronouns their and our are plural.)

Proper agreement: The student put books in his backpack and left for his next class.

 

Vague: Susan visited the animal shelter to see the stray cat before she ate. (Did the visit to the animal shelter occur before Susan ate or before the cat ate?)

Clarified: Before she ate, Susan went to the animal shelter to visit the stray cat.

What is a modifier?

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes, strengthens, or clarifies another word (or group of words) in a sentence. When a modifier is placed in its proper position in a sentence, a sense of clarity is established for the reader.

What is a comma splice?

A comma splice is a common sentence problem that occurs when two complete sentences (independent clauses) are incorrectly joined by a comma. This incorrect union of clauses creates a run-on sentence. The problem can be repaired when a different form of punctuation replaces the comma, a coordinating conjunction is inserted, or when the sentence is rewritten.

When is second person point of view used?

Second person point of view is often used for giving directions, offering advice, or providing an explanation. This perspective allows the writer to make a connection with his or her audience by focusing on the reader. Second person personal pronouns include you, your, and yours.

When is first person point of view used?

First person point of view is often used in personal narrative—when the writer is telling a story or relating an experience. This perspective is writer’s point of view, and the writer becomes the focal point. First person personal pronouns include I, we, me, us, my, mine, our, and ours.

Why is it important to avoid unnecessary shifts in point of view?

Point of view expresses the perspective from which a piece is written. Generally, the writer should establish a point of view (first, second, or third person) in the opening sentences and maintain that point of view consistently throughout his or her work.

What is an ellipsis?

An ellipsis is a punctuation mark that consists of three dots with a space before, after, and between them. Writers use this mark to represent a word, phrase, sentence (or more) that is omitted from a direct quotation.

Use an apostrophe to denote ownership to a singular or plural noun and indefinite pronoun by adding an -'s if the word doesn't end in -s.

Of all forms of punctuation, the apostrophe appears to be in greatest peril of extinction. For proof that the apostrophe should be placed on an endangered species list in some grammarian's office, one needs only to consult the popular press or a sample of student themes. However, because of its ability to denote ownership in a concise way (by avoiding the use of a preposition), the apostrophe plays an important role in the English language. Despite the frequency of its misuse, the apostrophe is a fairly simple form of punctuation to master. You can denote ownership to a singular or plural noun and indefinite pronoun by adding an -'s if the word doesn't end in -s:

  • They worked on Susan's computer.
  • The children's toys are clustering the house again.
  • You expect me to do a week's worth of typing in two days.
  • The people's choice was Bill Clinton.
  • When it is someone else's turn to have his or her writing critiqued by the group, remember to be conscientious.

When a singular noun ends in -s, traditional grammarians recommend adding an -'s:

  • She loves Keats's poems.
  • The business's direct-mailing campaign worked wonders.
  • John Adams's letters illustrate his reflective spirit.

However, this usage can be cumbersome. Consequently, the following usage is also correct:

  • John Keats' conscience and life spirit energize his poems.
  • John Adams' ideas are worth examination.

When a plural noun ends in -s, you only need to add an apostrophe:

  • The judge confiscated the drivers' licenses.
  • She won two months' free groceries.
  • The writers' guild meets Monday.

With compound subjects, when you wish to denote individual ownership, you should add an -'s to each noun:

  • Dr. Wilson's and Mr. Speinberg's lawsuits were caused by poor communication.

Or, you can demonstrate joint ownership by placing the -'s after the second subject:

  • Pat and Joe's new car is hot!
  • This is my father-in-law and mother-in-law's office.

Finally, always use an apostrophe when you form a contraction. The apostrophe is positioned where letters are dropped:

it is it's
they are they're
you are you're

who is

who's

can not

can't

she will

she'll

were not

weren't

What is a hyphen?

A hyphen is a punctuation mark used to bring visual clarity to joined words and word parts in written text. Correct use of hyphens will strengthen the visual appeal of your work and contribute to the readability and clarity of the text as well. To verify hyphen use, refer to a dictionary.

What are quotation marks?

One of the primary jobs of quotation marks is to set off exact spoken or written language. When writers use quotation marks correctly, they give credit to the original author and avoid plagiarism. Quotation marks are also used to enclose titles of short works and always appear in pairs.

What is end punctuation?

End punctuation appears at the end of a complete sentence (independent clause) or follows an interjection. The appropriate placement of a period, question mark, or exclamation point separates one statement from another and signals a pause in the word flow. Correct use of end punctuation contributes to the order and readability of the text.