Why is it important to use appropriate academic language?

The words writers choose reflect the formality or informality of the rhetorical situation. Academic writing often calls for the use of formal diction, in contrast to the less formal language of everyday conversation.

Why should unnecessary words and phrases be eliminated?

Unnecessary words and phrases result in redundancy. A writer can achieve efficiency in writing by using concise words and phrases that denote clear meaning. Each word should contribute to the argument and purpose of an assignment; if a word or phrase can be removed from a sentence without affecting its meaning, it should be eliminated.

Why is it important to use language that is sensitive to the target audience?

When writers use language that implies a biased or judgmental attitude, the audience may take offense and be less apt to listen to the writer’s argument. Language that is insensitive to gender, ethnicity, or disability should be avoided.

Why is it important to choose appropriate words?

The words writers choose are shaped (and sometimes limited) by the rhetorical situation—the audience, purpose, context, genre, and media of a piece of writing.

Skillful writers choose words that create a pleasing sense of harmony between the boundaries set by the rhetorical situation and their own style of writing. When writers choose words that fall outside those defining factors, or mistakenly choose wrong words, they are faced with the task of finding appropriate words to restore satisfying harmony.

What reference works can make word choice easier?

  • Dictionary (electronic or paper): Each entry provides the word’s definition(s) and an explanation of the word’s usage. Careful consideration of a word’s meaning (its semantic connotation) and its context should guide decisions about the word’s appropriateness.
  • Thesaurus (electronic or paper): Each entry provides a list of synonyms—words that have similar meanings. When a word does not fit the context as well as it should, but the general meaning should be preserved, a thesaurus can provide a synonym with a shade of meaning that is more suitable.

How can inappropriate words be replaced with appropriate words?

  • Determine which word or words are not appropriate, such as those that:
    • are not in harmony with the rhetorical situation
    • interfere with the meaning of the sentence 
    • may offend the reader 
    • have been chosen incorrectly following a spell check
  • Evaluate the factor(s) that makes the word(s) inappropriate.
  • If a slight change of meaning is needed, use a synonym that better suits the context.
  • If the wrong word has been chosen, use the language, message, and tone of the surrounding sentences to guide the choice of a completely new word. • Reread the sentence or passage in which a word or words have been replaced to check for proper meaning and word flow.
  • Instructors, peers, writing center consultants, or librarians may be able to provide guidance with appropriate word choice, and they can often provide assistance with the use of suitable reference works.

For more information about word choice, see also:


What is parallel structure?

Parallel structure is established when words within a sentence are united by consistent use of grammatical forms. This stylistic element is also referred to as parallelism or parallel construction.

Why is it important to use parallel structure?

Lack of parallel structure can disrupt the rhythm of a sentence, leaving it grammatically unbalanced. Proper parallel structure helps to establish balance and flow in a well-constructed sentence; the alignment of related ideas supports readability and clarity.

Why is it important to vary sentence structure?

Too many simple and compound sentences can make writing sound choppy, but too many complex and compound-complex sentences can make writing difficult to follow. Strive for a balance by combining sentences of various structures and lengths throughout your paper.

What are some common ways to structure a sentence?

Simple sentence: Contains a single subject and verb.

  • Example: The cell phone rang right before class.

Compound sentence: Contains two complete sentences (independent clauses) joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

  • Example: The cell phone rang right before class, so the student quickly turned off her phone's ringer.

Complex sentence:Contains an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses.

  • Example: To avoid an interruption during class, the student turned off her phone's ringer.

Compound-complex sentence: Contains a combination of a compound sentence and a complex sentence.

  • Example: In order to keep her attention focused on class activities, the student turned off her phone's ringer, and she put her ear buds in her backpack.

How can short sentences be effectively combined? 

A primer-style sentence is a short and simple sentence that usually includes a single subject and verb. While short and simplistic sentences can be used effectively to emphasize a point or clarify a confusing statement, frequent use of them can make a paper sound choppy and interrupt the flow of the paper. Primer-style sentences can be combined into a more complex sentence.

Why does correct spelling matter?

When a word is misspelled or is mistakenly substituted for a word with a meaning that is inconsistent with the ideas surrounding it, the inaccuracy can create confusion in the mind of the reader. The flow of the passage is temporarily interrupted; frequent spelling and meaning errors can compromise the credibility of the writer.

When should italics be used?

A slanting font style called italics is used when writers wish to emphasize, or give special significance to, a word or words. When writers prepare a document on a word processor, italic type is used to distinguish titles, words used as words, and foreign words from hyperlinks, which are usually underlined.

What are homonyms?

Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings, such as pair, pare, and pear. Choosing the wrong word from among two or more homonyms results in a spelling error; this inaccuracy creates confusion in the mind of the reader and temporarily interrupts the flow of the passage.

Why is it important to follow capitalization rules?

Following capitalization rules helps to maintain order in written text and makes it easier to distinguish one word from another. When capitalization rules are followed carefully, this adherence to the accepted conventions of the English language strengthens the writer’s credibility.

Why is it important to use the active voice?*

When writers use the active voice, their words are direct; they use concrete verbs and clearly state the action being performed by the subject. In contrast, the passive voice is indirect; writers may use weak “to be” verbs (is, am, was, were, being, been) or present progressives (e. g., is working, is laughing), and the actor in the sentence is absent or disguised.

Why should tone and voice be considered?

Writers should consider the audience and purpose of each assignment and be cognizant of the tone and voice they use to communicate with their readers. Sensitivity to the audience’s stance on a particular topic will affect their perception of the writer as the argument unfolds; a respectful tone is more likely to reach the audience than one that is condescending.

Why is it important to pay close attention to assignment requirements?

When a writing project is assigned, the instructor (or the department) will usually spell out specific assignment requirements; these expectations are often communicated verbally, inscribed on a white board, or made available through an electronic or paper document.

Requirements often center on adherence to the main focus or topic of the assignment, due date(s), length, type of research and sources, style and format, method of submission, and other specific essential elements.

Failure to adhere to assignment requirements generally results in a penalty (often significant) to the student’s grade. Additionally, if the paper—or drafts of the paper—are to be reviewed by the instructor or peers prior to the final due date, missing a draft due date will also result in the loss of valuable feedback.

Each institution, department, or instructor may have unique assignment-specific requirements. Any questions about the requirements of a particular assignment should be directed to the professor or instructor.

What elements are typically included in assignment requirements?

  • Project focus: The writing assignment will almost always have a focus—such as argument, rhetorical or literary analysis, narrative, exposition, or research.
  • Topic: A specific topic, or range of topics, may be required or suggested.
  • Drafts: College-level writing assignments may be written as a series of drafts. Pay attention to the required number of drafts and expectations for revision between drafts.
  • Due date(s): Take careful note of the assignment’s due date(s) in a digital or paper planner. If multiple drafts are involved, note the due date for each draft.
  • Length: A minimum—and often maximum—number of words or pages are generally required. Use the word count at the bottom of the word processor screen to help determine the number of words that are included in the text of the paper.
  • Research and sources: Follow any specific instructions related to expectations for research. A minimum—and possibly maximum—number of sources are generally expected. The type and origin of sources should also be given careful attention:
    • Should they be scholarly academic books and articles, popular media, multi-media, or non-traditional?
    • Should they come from print or electronic sources, or a combination?
    • Should they be primary or secondary, or a combination?
    • Should specific data bases be accessed?
    • Should a specific publication date range be considered?
  • Bibliography: Expect to find a directive describing how to present a record of the works that have been cited, summarized, paraphrased, or referenced in the paper. The title and format of these pages will be determined by the prescribed style guide.
  • Style and Format: Pay close attention to required style and format. Adherence to MLA, APA, or Chicago style, among others, is often expected.
  • Point of view: Most academic papers are written in 3rd person; however, personal narrative and some other types of writing may necessitate the use of 1st person.
  • Method of submission: Whether the assignment is to be submitted electronically or as a paper copy (or both) is usually specified; plan accordingly.
    • If an electronic submission is required, make note of the required file type (e. g., .docx, .pdf, .rtf, .pptx) and the exact time by which the assignment is to be submitted.
    • If a paper submission is expected, allow sufficient time to accommodate possible computer, printer, or paper issues.
  • Plagiarism detection: Directions for submission of the paper to a computer-assisted plagiarism detection system, such as SafeAssign or Turnitin, should be followed.



If this comment appears on your paper, your Works Cited page is probably missing or incomplete; check the assignment requirements. A Works Cited list includes complete source information for each source that has been quoted, paraphrased, or referenced in your paper. Failure to properly acknowledge the origin of your sources is considered plagiarism.






When is a thesis considered weak?

A well-developed thesis statement should clearly and concisely communicate the main point, purpose, or argument of a paper. A weak thesis may be unfocused, incomplete, or inaccurate in some way. Building a focused, accurate thesis can be a challenge, but revising a weak thesis to make it complete and insightful will strengthen the paper’s foundation.

How can a weak thesis be revised to make it stronger and more insightful?

  • Avoid asking a question: Clearly state a purpose or position rather than posing a question.
    • Weak: Should schools require students to take Physical Education courses or play a school sport?
    • Revised: A productive form of physical activity should be offered by schools to encourage healthy exercise habits and contribute to lowering the childhood obesity rate.
  • Avoid making a statement of fact or accepted knowledge: Establish a thesis that is arguable, and state the how or why of the position clearly.
    • Weak: Taking affirmative action is a way to confront discrimination.
    • Revised: Taking affirmative action is still necessary today to confront discrimination and ensure fair representation of gender and ethnicity within universities and work places.
  • Avoid simply stating an opinion: A thesis should state a position that is supported by reliable evidence.
    • Weak: Marijuana should not be legalized because smoking it is morally wrong.
    • Revised: Marijuana should not be legalized because research has shown that its use negatively affects brain cells, compromises the user’s judgment, and can become addictive.

  • Avoid vague statements: Replace vague terms with relevant details that address the who, what, where, when, why, and/or how of the thesis.
    • Weak: Teenagers have things easier than in the past due to several advancements in society.
    • Revised: Today’s teenagers can access information quickly and easily due to technological advancements such as the wide availability of computers, high-speed Internet connections, and electronically searchable databases.
  • Avoid including conflicting ideas and unnecessary information:Focus consistently on one main idea and include only relevant details that support your idea.
    • Weak: Providing iPads for each student is probably an unrealistic goal because damaging cuts are being made to educational spending, but this new technology should be provided as it is a useful tool for teaching students several skills.
    • Revised: Public schools should provide an iPad for each student because the device can be used as a helpful teaching tool in a variety of subject areas.

How should a thesis be developed?

The topic

  • e. g., unwanted teen pregnancy

The main point, purpose, or argument

  • e. g., incidence can be reduced

The how or why of the purpose or argument

  • e. g., by providing support for abstinence programs, increasing funding for sex education, and making contraceptives more accessible to teens

Example of a well-developed thesis:

The incidence of unwanted teen pregnancies can be reduced by providing support for abstinence programs, increasing funding for sex education, and making contraceptives more accessible to teens.

For more information about thesis development, see also:

What is a thesis?

A thesis consists of one or two sentences that clearly and concisely summarize the main point, purpose, and/or argument of an academic document. The thesis serves as the foundation—or heartbeat—of a paper; without a thesis, a paper is incomplete and lifeless. Ideally, a well-crafted thesis increases the likelihood that the target audience will engage with the writer’s discussion.

Why is it important to avoid the use of unsupported opinions as evidence?*

  • Unsupported opinions can weaken the credibility of the writer because the reader may lose their trust in the writer.
  • Strong opinions may offend the reader, who may feel differently about the issue or have a personal connection to the opposing view.
  • Opinions without supporting evidence can compromise the strength and perceived validity of the paper’s argument because such opinions may overshadow other trustworthy evidence.

When should an opinion be left out?

An opinion should be left out of an academic paper when it:

  • cannot be supported by credible sources or reliable research.
  • is informed only by personal experiences, religious beliefs, or strong emotions and not by relevant date.
  • can be replaced with a more compelling point.

How can an opinion be properly stated and supported?

  • Identify the root of your opinion: What is your opinion based on? If the answer is related only to personal experiences, religious beliefs, or strong emotions, you will need to do some research to ensure that credible sources are available to back your opinion.
  • Locate credible evidence that supports your opinion: Look for specific evidence in your research that supports your opinion. Citing an authority in conjunction with communicating your opinion will help strengthen the credibility of your claim.
  • Establish a connection between your opinion and reliable evidence: Demonstrate to your reader that an opinion used to support a point has been informed by research and credible sources. Connect relevant research to the opinion as clearly as possible.

Let’s look at an example:

Unsupported opinion: I believe that the current ‘anti-bullying’ campaigns aimed at today’s adolescents are useless and will only create a future society that is full of wimps.

Supported opinion: ‘Anti-bullying’ campaigns targeting today’s adolescents may create a future society that is unprepared to cope with conflict. In support of this idea, noted psychologist Peter Smith explains that while reports of bullying decrease with age, the frequency of bullying remains the same across different age groups. He attributes this decline in reported bullying incidents to the fact that older victims have developed valuable coping mechanisms to help deal with bullying (Smith 336). Smith’s idea suggests that bullying may not always be detrimental to the victim, since building coping skills during adolescence may contribute to greater resiliency in adulthood. [1]

[1] Smith, Peter, Shu Shu, and Kirsten Madsen. "Characteristics of Victims of School Bullying: Developmental Changes in Coping Strategies and Skills." Peer Harassment in School: The Plight of the Vulnerable and Victimized. Ed. Jaana Juvonen, Sandra Graham. New York: Guilford Press, 2001. 332-351. Print.



How are supporting details used?

When a writer makes a claim, the position should be backed with supporting details and examples. These details supply evidence that defends the validity of the claim, and they should be relevant, credible, and verifiable.

Why is it important to relate supporting details directly to the thesis or topic sentence?

In an academic paper, the claim and main ideas stated in the thesis and topic sentences require further explanation and support. The major components of a paper—the thesis, the topic sentences, and the supporting details—should work together to create a strong and stable essay. The thesis should be supported by each paragraph, and each paragraph’s topic sentence should be supported with relevant details and examples. If one of those components fails to do its job, the foundation of the paper is compromised and the argument is weakened.

Without relevant supporting details, the paper may lack cohesiveness and credibility. The reader may be unable to follow the progression of the argument and remain unconvinced that the claim or ideas have a credible foundation. To maintain the credibility of the author and the paper, include details and examples that clearly correspond to the claim and main ideas. It may be helpful to list some of these potential supporting details and select the most relevant before writing.

Let’s look at an example:

Claim: A stay-at-home parent performs a number of important tasks that others are paid to do.

Relevant supporting details: This list should include jobs that others are commonly paid to perform. These items on the following list could be considered relevant to the claim and could be verified by many stay-at-home parents and by reliable research:

  • nanny: children are cared for
  • chauffer: children may be transported to school and a variety of activities
  • tutor: assistance with homework and projects may be provided
  • manager: a wide variety of household tasks are organized and performed
  • chef: meals are planned and prepared
  • accountant: finances are managed


Irrelevant details: These ideas would not be appropriate to support the writer’s claim, because these activities are not usually performed by paid workers and would be considered irrelevant to the claim.

  • coach: youth sports are often coached by the parent of one of the team members
  • volunteer: parents may do volunteer work at their child’s school
  • scout leader: boy scout and girl scout troops are usually led by a parent volunteer


Why is it important to avoid dropped quotations?

A dropped quotation—a quote that appears in a paper without introduction—can disrupt the flow of thought, create an abrupt change in voice, and/or leave the reader wondering why the quote is included.

Instead of creating an unwelcome disruption in their paper’s cohesiveness with a dropped quotation, thoughtful writers should employ strategies for smoothly integrating source material into their own work.