A free, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, award-winning Open Text for students and faculty in college-level courses that require writing and research.

Joe Moxley, Founder, WritingCommons.org

Joe Moxley

Founder
WritingCommons.org

Dear Colleagues and Students,

At Writing Commons, we are happy with the overall success of our project. Since 2011, when we launched at WritingCommons.org, we have hosted 6,315,882 users who have reviewed over 11 million pages. We are thrilled that students and faculty find our site to be helpful. Our ongoing mission is to be the best writing textbook possible. We also happen to be free. While we cannot perhaps claim yet that we are the best possible textbook for technical writing or creative writing courses, we are working on that.

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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.

How can vague pronoun references be clarified?

  • Search the document for the words it, this, which, and that, and circle each occurrence.
  • Draw an arrow to the antecedent for each circled word.
  • If the antecedent is missing, rewrite the sentence to include a clear antecedent for each vague pronoun.
  • An appropriate noun or noun phrase may be added after this or before which.
  • If a sentence begins with it, replace it with a noun or a noun phrase.

Let’s look at some examples:

Vague: The student’s paper showed little revision between drafts. It lowered his grade.

Replace it with a noun or noun phrase: The student’s paper showed little revision between drafts, and the lack of effort resulted in a lower grade.

 

Vague: The student’s paper showed little revision between drafts. This lowered his grade.

Add a noun after this: The student’s paper showed little revision between drafts, and this problem lowered his grade.

 

Vague: The student’s paper showed little revision between drafts, which lowered his grade.

Add a noun before which: The student’s paper showed little revision between drafts, a problem which resulted in a lower grade.

For additional information on avoiding vague pronoun references, see also:

Cassandra Branham, Editor-in-Chief WritingCommons.org

Cassandra Branham

Editor-in-Chief
WritingCommons.org

Dear Colleagues and Students,

Welcome to Writing Commons, an open-education resource for instructors and students of writing across the disciplines. Our mission is to provide a high-quality, cost free resource to support students in the development of writing, research, and critical thinking practices.

This summer, we have been working on a site redesign in an effort to increase the usability of our site for both instructors and students. Our most significant change has been the inclusion of additional categories and subcategories to create a more intuitive hierarchy within the site.

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