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Welcome to Writing Commons, the open-education home for writers. Writing Commons helps students improve their writing, critical thinking, and information literacy. Founded in 2008 by Joseph M. Moxley, Writing Commons is a viable alternative to expensive writing textbooks. Faculty may assign Writing Commons for their composition, business, STEM/Technical Writing, and creative writing courses. 

Writing Commons houses ten main sections: Academic Writing | Rhetoric | Information Literacy | Evidence & Documentation | Research Methods & Methodologies | Style | New Media Communication | Professional & Technical Communication | Creative Writing | Reviews

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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.

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.

"Exercise: Figurative Language" was contributed by Allison Wise.

Examine a famous speech or essay (political pieces and sermons work particularly well, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” would make a good choice). Make note of all the examples of figurative language, identifying which type of figurative language they are.

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.”

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 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.

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. Just as writers hope their audience will be willing to respect their point of view, they need to respect the diversity of a broad base of readers.

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.

Write sentence-long, paragraph-long, or extended definitions.

We routinely define new concepts, terms, activities, research methods, and research findings. Our definitions may be limited to a sentence or they may extend to whole paragraphs, passages, essays, or books.

Enable readers to visualize your message by appealing to the five senses and using specific details.

Description is an important feature of all writing genres. Writers use description to support arguments and illustrate concepts and theories. They try to invoke mental pictures of a place so readers can imagine it in their minds.

Use metalanguage to help your readers understand your organization and reasoning. Clarify logical relationships, temporal relationships, and spatial relationships by using metalanguage.

The term "metalanguage" refers to language that helps writers explain relationships between ideas or words that explain how texts are presented. Phrases like "for example," "as a result," and "therefore" are examples of metalanguage.

Be concise. Once you have written a solid draft, a document that has been well researched, take a step back and question whether or not you can delete half of the words. In a world where billions of instant messages and emails are sent daily, brevity is a virtue. People love conciseness. They respect writers and leaders who can explain difficult matters simply.

Parentheses (also called brackets in British English) are a punctuation mark used to contain text that is not part of the main sentence, but that is too important to either leave out entirely or to put in a footnote or an endnote. Since there are many reasons to use parentheses, be sure that the function of parentheses is always made clear to your readers.

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.

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.

How should ellipses be used?

 What is a dash?

A dash is a punctuation mark used to set off an idea within a sentence and may be used alone or in pairs. Dashes interrupt a thought in a more dramatic way than a phrase enclosed in commas, but less theatrically than parentheses. To form a dash, type two hyphens—without a space before, after, or between them—and your word processor will convert them to a dash.

How should dashes be used?

  • To provide further explanation, clarification, or a summary of the material that comes before the dash

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.

How should hyphens be used?

  • To join some compound words into one word when the word reflects a single concept
    • The well-known doctor gained additional recognition when the results of her top-notch research were published.

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.

When and how should quotation marks be used?

What is an apostrophe?

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark used to show possession, to indicate the plural form of letters of the alphabet, and to form a contraction.

How should apostrophes be used?

  • Use an apostrophe and -s (-’s) to show possession of singular nouns.
    • the author’s main point

What is a semicolon?

A semicolon is a punctuation mark used to separate closely-related independent clauses. Stronger than a comma, a semicolon does not require the use of a coordinating conjunction.

How should semicolons be used?

  • Use a semicolon to link two closely-related independent clauses.
    • Homelessness is a problem that has evaded resolution; despite the heroic efforts of many concerned citizens, there are still thousands left on the streets.

What is a colon?

A colon is a punctuation mark used to separate significant parts of a sentence, particularly when the first part offers a sense of anticipation for the second. This form of punctuation is also used in other conventional applications as noted below.

How should colons be used?