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.

Why is it important to conclude a paragraph with the writer’s voice rather than a quote or paraphrase?

Although quotations or paraphrased material from reliable sources are often used to add credibility and to support a writer’s ideas, the focus of the paper should remain on the writer’s voice and his or her own agency as a writer.

Credible evidence should be provided to support the points a writer makes, but source material should not overshadow the writer’s voice. Each paragraph’s conversation should be directed by and concluded with the writer’s own voice, not by another author’s words.

How can a paragraph be effectively concluded with the writer’s voice?

Conclude with at least one sentence after the quote or paraphrase that wraps up the paragraph’s main point and connects the voices of the writer and the quoted or paraphrased source:

  • Look for key words in the quote or paraphrase that can be reiterated effectively in the concluding sentence(s).
  • Look for connections and reasonable conclusions that can be made as a result of weaving the writer’s and quoted or paraphrased material’s ideas together.
  • Look for ways to link the quote or paraphrase to the purpose of the paragraph and/or the thesis of the paper.
  • Look for nuances in the quote or paraphrase that could be used to help create a transition to the next paragraph.

Let’s look at an example:

Main point of the paragraph: Plastics and plastic waste are found nearly everywhere in America, but only a small percentage are recycled.

Quotation: “Only 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling” (“Plastics”). [1]

Example of a student writer’s paragraph:

          Consumer goods made of recyclable plastic are utilized in a variety of ways by most Americans on a daily basis. Plastics are frequently encountered in marketplaces, restaurants, workplaces, schools, and in homes; these plastics may take the form of shopping bags, plastic packaging, food containers, or beverage bottles, among countless others. Since many of these recyclable plastics are disposable, consumers must decide whether to simply throw them away or place them in a collection container that will be taken to a recycling facility. Of these disposable plastics, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that “[o]nly 8% of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling” (“Plastics”).

Note: Here, the reader is left with a quote generated by the EPA. Though this statistic from a reliable source supports the writer’s point, the quotation creates an abrupt end to the paragraph and leaves the source’s voice speaking.

Suggested ending sentences:

This statistic suggests that American consumers did not recycle the majority of the plastic waste generated in 2010. To target this non-recycling population, recycling campaigns aimed at raising the percentage of plastic waste that is recycled in the future could be initiated.

Note: Here, the suggested sentences use key words from the quote (plastic waste and recycled). One sentence draws a simple conclusion based on the information in the quotation, and the other offers a suggested action in response to the statistic.

[1] “Plastics.” EPA. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 26 Apr. 2012.

Why is it important to use only the most vital part of a quote to support your point?

Although the use of direct quotations from reliable sources contributes to the credibility of the writer, the use of lengthy quotes can dilute the writer’s voice as well as remove attention from the writer’s point.

Judicious writers should concern themselves not only with the quality of quoted material, but also with the quantity. Careful selection of the most vital words and phrases from a quotation can contribute to the writer’s ability to support their ideas clearly and concisely.

How can a quote be shortened?

  • Carefully select only quotations whose words are significant, concise, and unusually expressive.
  • Choose only the key words and phrases from the quote that are relevant to a specific point; use ellipsis points where a word, phrase, or sentence is omitted.
  • Try to limit the length of a quotation to no more than two lines.
  • Keep the 10% guideline in mind—quoted material should make up no more than 10% of the paper’s content.
  • Follow your instructor’s directives for quote length—some may impose a limitation on the number of words for each quote.

Let’s look at an example:

Quote that is inappropriately long:

       Parents should be concerned about their child's hand-washing habits—not only under supervision at home, but when the child is being cared for by others. Experts from the Mayo Clinic staff offer their support for this aspect of parental responsibility: (Note: An introductory signal sentence precedes the quotation.)

Hand-washing is especially important for children in child care settings. Young children cared for in groups outside the home are at greater risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, which can easily spread to family members and other contacts. Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand-washing or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Ask whether the children are required to wash their hands several times a day — not just before meals. (“Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts” 2) [1]

Note: This 71-word quotation is not only too long for an average-length essay, but it contains additional details that are not essential to support the writer’s point.

Shortened version of the same quotation:

       Parents should be concerned about their child’s hand-washing habits—not only under supervision at home, but when the child is being cared for by others. Experts from the Mayo Clinic staff advise that “[h]and-washing is especially important for children in child care settings. . . . Be sure your child care provider promotes frequent hand-washing” (“Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts” 2).

Note: Here the quotation has been shortened to less than two lines (21 words) and is integrated into the paragraph with a signal phrase. The sentences selected from the longer quotation contain key words and phrases that relate directly to the writer’s point.

For more information on shortening quotations, see also:

[1] “Hand-washing: Do’s and Don’ts.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 Oct. 2011. Web. 25 April 2012.

What does it mean to paraphrase?

When paraphrasing, a writer uses his or her own words to restate someone else’s ideas. Paraphrasing does not mean simply changing a few of the original words, rearranging the structure of the sentence, or replacing some words with synonyms. A paraphrase should explain a borrowed idea in the writer’s own voice but must also remain true to the message of the original text.

Why is it important to paraphrase using only your own words?

  • To avoid plagiarism: If you are presenting an idea other than your own and you haven’t cited the source, this act could be considered plagiarism. Remember, however, that even when you paraphrase using your own words, you must still cite the original source since the idea has been borrowed.
  • To simplify or clarify complex ideas found in the original passage: Sometimes an author has explained an idea or concept in a way that is difficult to follow, or an idea may be particularly perplexing. By using your own words, you not only illustrate to readers that you understand this concept, but also help readers understand the idea more clearly. This clarification is especially important if the idea you’re paraphrasing is vital to developing and supporting your own argument.
  • To report the essential information of the idea: A lengthy direct quote may provide details that are not clearly relevant to your purpose or argument. By using your own words to paraphrase the idea, you can eliminate information that might distract your reader from the main message.

Let’s look at an example of a paraphrase:

Direct quote: “[The new laws] would also help ensure that companies like BP that are responsible for oil spills are the ones that pay for the harm caused by these oil spills, not the taxpayers. This is in addition to the low-interest loans that we've made available to small businesses that are suffering financial losses from the spill” (Obama). [1]

Paraphrase: According to the President, the proposed legislation would hold oil companies accountable for damages caused by oil spills and provide affordable loans to businesses whose profits have been affected by such incidents (Obama).

[1] Obama, Barack. “Remarks on the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” The White House. Washington, D.C. 14 May 2010. Address. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.

For further information on presenting source material:


What does it mean to paraphrase?

When paraphrasing, a writer uses his or her own words to restate someone else’s ideas. The borrowed idea should be presented in the writer’s own voice but must remain true to the message of the original text. A paraphrase should clearly and accurately communicate the most important points of a text without integrating outside ideas.

What is a summary?

A summary uses the writer’s own words to concisely explain the main point(s) or major argument(s) of a source or passage. Key words and main ideas from the original text should be used to create a brief, accurate review of the source’s original ideas. A summary does not include minor details, and therefore, should be significantly shorter than the original text. Summarized material should be integrated into the writer’s work using a signal phrase, which informs the reader of the source’s author(s), title, and/or origin.

Why is it important to summarize concisely?

An essay generally includes an informed blend of the writer’s ideas and new knowledge gained from reliable sources. A brief summary of relevant material from such sources can be used to effectively support the writer’s ideas. Lengthy summaries of source material should be avoided; too much focus on the ideas of others can detract from the writer’s voice and weaken the content of the essay.

What steps can be taken to help keep a summary brief and accurate?

Summarizing an article or chapter:

    1. As the piece is being read, look for the main point of each paragraph and take note of key words and short phrases.
    2. After reading the entire piece, break the content up into sections and briefly summarize each major section in a short sentence or phrase.
    3. Combine the ideas from the section summaries into a brief, accurate summary of the entire piece.


Summarizing a short text or paragraph:

    1. Read the text or paragraph closely and carefully to ensure comprehension of the original author’s meaning; make appropriate notes as the text is being read.
    2. Without looking back at the original text, summarize the text or passage in your own words.
    3. Compare your summary with the original passage; your summary should accurately and concisely represent the original author’s ideas.

Let’s look at an example:

The following excerpt is from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action. We have gone through all of these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying of the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of police brutality is known in every section of this country. Its unjust treatment of Negroes in the courts is a notorious reality. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in this nation. These are the hard, brutal, and unbelievable facts. On the basis of them, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the political leaders consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation. (King)  [1]

The original paragraph contains 140 words, but the following summary captures the main ideas of this part of King’s letter in just 26 words:

King explains that despite nonviolent attempts to achieve peace and racial equality in Birmingham, the city remains a hotbed of unparalleled racial segregation and related violence.

For more information on summarizing, see also:

[1] King, Martin Luther, Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay. New York: Norton, 1997. 1854 – 66. Print


What is transitional language?

Transitional language includes words, phrases, and sentences that writers use to help their readers make connections; new information is linked to previously stated material through the effective use of transitions.

While the writer may understand how the ideas between sentences or paragraphs are related, the reader may not perceive the same sense of clarity. When used effectively, transitions help the reader to understand the relationship between the writer’s ideas.

Where are transitions used?

  • Between sentences: Transitional words or phrases are used to create connections between sentences, as well as within sentences; both uses enhance the writer’s flow of thought at the sentence level.
  • Between paragraphs: Transitional sentences are used to create a bridge between paragraphs. These sentences should provide a summary of the main idea of one paragraph and give the reader a clue as to what is coming in the next paragraph.
  • Between sections: Transitional paragraphs are used in longer works to summarize the discussion of one section and introduce the reader to the concept(s) presented in the next section.

What words and phrases may be used to illustrate the relationship between ideas?

  • To compare: also, likewise, similarly
  • To contrast: however, nevertheless, conversely
  • To show cause and effect: as a result, consequently, therefore
  • To show a logical relationship: since, therefore, for this reason
  • To present a sequence of events: next, and then, first/second/third
  • To illustrate or provide an example: for example, for instance, for one thing
  • To add information: furthermore, additionally, moreover

How can appropriate transitional language be chosen?

  1. Determine which relationship connects the paper’s ideas:
    1. Does the relationship between the ideas appear to be similar or different?
    2. Does one action appear to have caused another?
    3. Does one idea lead to another idea?
    4. Does one statement contain information that explains or illustrates another?
    5. Does one statement add information to another?
  2. Once the relationship between ideas has been identified, choose appropriate transitional language to illustrate this relationship. (Consult a writing handbook for detailed lists of common transitional words and phrases.)
  3. Vary the choice of appropriate transitional language to avoid tedious repetition.
  4. Align transitional language with the tone and diction level of the remaining content.

Let’s look at an example:

Original sentences: Some people are concerned about the potentially negative effects of ingesting Genetically Modified Foods (GMF). Others believe that GMFs could help to relieve the hunger crisis.

Note: The first sentence communicates a negative aspect of GMFs, while the second sentence communicates a positive aspect, indicating a contrast between the ideas.

Revised sentences: Some people are concerned about the potentially negative effects of ingesting Genetically Modified Foods (GMFs). However, others believe that GMFs could help to relieve the hunger crisis.

Note: A transitional word has been added to illustrate the contrasting relationship between the two ideas.

For more information on transitions and segues, see also: