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Style

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.

Examples of sentences written from the first person point of view:

  • I was only seven years old when my family moved to the United States.
  • We took a vacation that allowed us to explore our nation from east to west and north to south.

In most instances, place a comma between two sentences that are joined with a coordinating conjunction--and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet:

  • She was not sure if she had the necessary mathematical abilities to be an engineer, so she pursued a graduate degree in history.
  • He was surrounded by fifty people, yet he felt all alone.

You do not need to place a comma between two independent clauses if they are short and similar in meaning, provided that no misunderstanding will take place, as illustrated in the following example:

Learn how to use proper punctuation.

Below is a summary of how to punctuate different sentence patterns and how to analyze the likely effect of different syntactical forms on readers' comprehension.

Commas: Understand conventions for using commas and appreciate the likely effects of particular sentence lengths and patterns on reading comprehension.

Dashes: Create emphasis and define terms by interrupting the flow of a sentence using a dash; know when the dash must be used as opposed to the comma.

Understand conventions for using commas and appreciate the likely effects of particular sentence lengths and patterns on reading comprehension.

Commas are like pawns in chess: They seem relatively insignificant and unobtrusive, yet they are actually very important. If properly placed, the lowly pawn can checkmate the king or, once it has reached the end of the board, become a more powerful piece. Commas play an extremely important role in ensuring that your documents are understandable. In fact, failing to insert a comma in the correct spot can cause considerable misreading (and subsequent embarrassment). Beyond a few special circumstances, there are six basic ways to use commas correctly.

Use a semicolon to join two sentences or to punctuate a series or list of appositives that already includes commas.

The semicolon offers a "higher" form of punctuation than the comma or dash. Unlike commas or dashes, the semicolon can correctly be used to separate sentences. If readers tend to pause for a half-second when they come to a comma, they pause for three-quarters of a second when they reach a semicolon. Writers use semicolons two major ways.

Use the colon when the first sentence anticipates the second sentence or phrase, thereby creating an emphatic tone.

The colon provides a dramatic and somewhat underutilized way to bring a little spark to your writing. Beyond normal business correspondence (Dear Sir or Madam:), you can use the colon before quotations, formal statements and explanations. The colon enables you to highlight a semantic relationship--that is, a movement from a general statement to a specific clarification. The colon also provides a dramatic way to tease the reader's curiosity:

Why should figurative language be used in engaging writing?

Figurative language makes a comparison that is not meant to be read literally; instead, figures of speech are intended to create a connection or highlight a significant part of a discussion. Certain literary devices—such as similes, metaphors, and personification—can help create word pictures for the reader. When persuasive writers use figurative language, they are more likely to engage their readers and make their argument more relevant and convincing.

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.

Although there are occasions when a shift in tense is appropriate, unnecessary and inconsistent shifts—especially within a sentence—are distracting to the reader and can cause a break in overall coherence.

Although there are occasions when a shift in point of view is appropriate, unnecessary and inconsistent shifts—especially within a sentence—are distracting to the reader and can cause a confusing change in perspective.

How can you correct an unnecessary shift in point of view?

  • In a passage where an unnecessary shift has been noted, go through and highlight each of the point of view words.
  • Change the point of view of the inconsistent pronouns to align them with the primary point of view that has already been established.

When writing an original paper, you want to ensure that your voice takes center stage. The reader should hear your voice, not the voice of a distinguished professor and not the voice of your best friend. While you want to avoid being overly conversational in most academic writing, you certainly want your voice to be driving the paper. After all, the reader wants to hear you! This section addresses the common mistakes that can cause writers to lose their voice in an essay. By reading about archaisms, jargon, and cliches, you can develop a sense of the types of rhetorical choices that distance readers.

Although characterized as a "local concern," style is an incredibly important aspect of writing. In this section, you will learn how to craft engaging, dynamic prose and how to best communicate your information and purpose as a writer. For a brief introduction to this topic, see Style: An Introduction.

Voice

Learn how to negotiate between formal academic writing and conversational prose by maintaining an academic tone while staying true to your own voice in Making Sure Your Voice is Present.

An archaism refers to an out-of-style word or phrase, such as “whilst,” “thusly,” or “thou.” When cultivating your own personal writing style, it’s important that you avoid sounding artificial. And one surefire way to sound artificial is to produce stilted writing by loading your paper with old theatrical-sounding words. Here are some archaisms commonly found in student writing (ones to avoid):

  • Thusly: You can use “thus” in writing, but be careful not to overuse it. Constantly repeating the word “thus” can make your writing sound unnatural. Try varying your transitional language by incorporating phrases like “as such,” “as a result,” or “in effect.” “Thusly,” however, should never be used. When have you ever heard that word used in modern-day society?

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.

Identify when the active voice is preferable to the passive voice.

In general, you can make your writing more persuasive, clear, and concise by using the active voice rather than the passive voice. There are instances, however, when the passive voice is preferable to the active voice, as discussed below.

What are pronouns and antecedents?

pronoun is any word that stands in for a previously stated noun, and an antecedent is whatever noun a certain pronoun represents. Using pronouns helps make writing less wordy and repetitive, improving style and expressing the same ideas in fewer words. For example, a piece about “George Washington,” the first president of the United States, does not need to repeat this full name every time it appears, but can instead refer to the antecedent “George Washington” with the pronoun “he”:

When George Washington was asked to run for office, he initially refused.

Eliminate choppy writing by avoiding unnecessary prepositions.

When used in moderation, prepositions are invaluable: they work as connecting words, linking the object of the preposition to a word that appears earlier in the sentence. Like linking verbs, however, prepositions do not convey action, nor do they subordinate one thought to another. Instead, they merely link chunks of meaning that readers must gather together in order to understand the sentence.

You should limit the number of times that you interrupt the flow of a sentence by placing modifying words between the subject and its verb. When you do introduce such appositives, participial phrases, or adjective phrases or clauses, you must determine whether the modifiers are restrictive or nonrestrictive. Essentially, restrictive modifiers add information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas nonrestrictive modifiers add information that is not essential. The best way to determine whether a modifier is restrictive or nonrestrictive is to see if taking it out changes the meaning of the sentence.

Restrictive: Lawyers who work for McGullity, Anderson, and Swenson need to take a course in copyediting.

Why should abstract terms be replaced with concrete, sensory terms?

The goal of a writer is to communicate ideas clearly. Since language that refers to intangible or immeasurable qualities can obscure meaning, abstract terms should be replaced with concrete terms. Language that connects with tangible and sensory (taste, smell, touch, sight, and sound) is easier for readers to understand and relate to.

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.

How might this run-on sentence be divided?

  • Locate the fused independent clauses; it may help to underline the subject-verb pairs.
  • Draw a vertical line (or lines) on your paper to separate the independent clauses.

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. Misplaced modifiers can weaken or twist the intended meaning of a sentence, thus creating a sense of ambiguity or absurdity.

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. The use of conversational language and informal tone—writing as we speak—in academic papers is often too casual and may weaken the credibility of the writer. On the other hand, the use of language that is pompous or stuffy can make the writing sound overly complex. Utilizing language appropriate to the academic context can help to create balanced communication between writer and reader.