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Ten Easy Ways to Improve Your Writing

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If you would like clarification of any of these writing tips, please make an appointment to see an Academic Learning Advisor.

1. Understand the difference between written and spoken language

When we speak, we use not only words but also body language, voice tone and emphasis, and pauses to convey our message.  In contrast, when we write, we need to use clear language and the correct grammar and punctuation to help the reader understand our meaning.

 

2. Use parallel structure

When you start a sentence using a certain grammatical structure, you must keep to that same structure throughout the sentence.

 

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I love eating pizza, reading thrillers, and to ride my bike.

Correction:

tick

I love eating pizza, reading thrillers, and riding my bike.

 

 

 

 

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The students learned that the timetable had changed and about the different classroom.

Correction:  

tick

The students learned that the timetable had changed and that they would be in a different classroom.

 

3. Be consistent in your use of tenses 

Do not move between the past and present tense.

 

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I stayed up all night finishing my assignment, and then Susan gives us all an extension.

Correction:   

tick

I stayed up all night finishing my assignment, and then Susan gave us all an extension.

 

 

 

 

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The student gives an amazing performance and collapsed on the floor.

Correction:   

tick

The student gave an amazing performance and collapsed on the floor.

 

OR

The student gives an amazing performance and collapses on the floor.

 

4. Ensure subject-verb agreement

The subject and verb in a sentence must agree in number.

 

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The box of books have arrived.

The subject of the sentence is box, which is singular, so the verb must be singular too

Correction:

tick

The box of books has arrived.

 

 

 

 

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Heather and her sister grows potatoes.

The subject of the sentence is plural, two people, so the verb must be plural also.

Correction:  

tick

Heather and her sister grow potatoes

 

5. Avoid dangling (unrelated) participles

The present participle is the –ing form of the verb (e.g., laughing) and the past participle usually ends in –ed (e.g., laughed).

When you use participles, you must make it clear the words to which they relate.

 

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Lying on the sofa reading a book, the back door opened                                                       silently.

Can a door lie on the sofa reading a book?

Correction:

tick

While Jane was lying on the sofa reading a book, the back door                                              opened silently.

 

6. Avoid sentence fragments

Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences.  They are often pieces of sentences that have been separated from the rest of the sentence by a full stop.  Fragments do not make sense on their own.

There are two main types of sentence fragments:

1.

The fragment has no subject or verb.

 

 

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Running down the street.

 

Who is running down the street?  We need to add a subject and an auxiliary (helping) verb, to make the fragment into a complete sentence.

 

Correction: 

tick

The child was running down the street.

 

 

 

 

2.

The fragment adds extra information to the main sentence and often begins with which; it has a subject and a verb but does not make sense on its own.  Sometimes, just the punctuation needs to be changed and a capital letter put into lower case.

 

 

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The student had misunderstood the question and needed to rewrite her assignment.  Which is why she was not at the party on Saturday night.

 

Correction:

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The student had misunderstood the question and needed to rewrite her assignment, which is why she was not at the party on Saturday night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When the concert had finished and the applause had died away.  Everyone hurried out of the theatre and climbed into the waiting buses.

 

Correction:

tick

When the concert had finished and the applause had died away, everyone hurried out of the theatre and climbed into the waiting buses.   

 

7. Avoid comma fault/run-on sentences

Comma fault (also known as comma splice and run-on sentence) refers to the joining of two sentences by a comma instead of a full stop.

 

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Please let me know if you can help in this matter, I would appreciate your reply as soon as possible.

Correction:

tick

Please let me know if you can help in this matter.  I would appreciate your reply as soon as possible.


NB. Each group of words is a complete sentence and therefore needs to be separated by a full stop.

  • Sentences can be joined together using a comma and a conjunction (linking word), such as

             and, but, or, nor, so, yet, because, although, e.g.,

    It was a beautiful day, so we went to the beach.
    I went to town yesterday, but I didn’t buy anything.

  • When two sentences are closely related or reflect each other, they can be joined together by a semicolon.

 

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Drivers think cyclists are a menace on the roads cyclists think drivers don’t give them enough room.

Correction: 

tick

Drivers think cyclists are a menace on the roads; cyclists think drivers don’t give them enough room.

NB.   The group of words on either side of the semicolon must be able to stand alone as a sentence. Remember, before the words however and therefore, you must use a semicolon or a full stop.

 

8. Use the comma correctly, especially in the following ways:

  • After an introductory word or group of words, e.g.,

    However, the line of argument is clear and consistent.
    When he had finished his assignment, Marcus watched a DVD.
    In 1969, man landed on the moon for the first time.

  • Between the two parts of a compound sentence (one in which two or more simple sentences are joined together), e.g.,

    Drivers think cyclists are a menace on the road, but cyclists think drivers don’t give them enough room.
    Women live longer than men, and they visit the doctor more often.
    The tutor gave the students a month to complete their assignments, yet many had not finished by the due date.

     

9. Use clear language

Be careful using the following pronouns:  it, they, and this.

 

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Education is essential for all children, and financial stability is important for everyone.  The Government should provide it.

What should the Government provide, education or financial stability?

Correction: 

tick

The Government should provide both of these essentials.

 

 

 

 

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The boss asked the workers to tidy up before the visitors arrived, so that they would enjoy the experience.

Who would enjoy the experience, the workers or the visitors?

Correction:

tick

The boss asked the workers to tidy up before the visitors arrived, so that the visitors would enjoy the experience.

 

 

 

 

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Rob worked hard and achieved his degree, supported throughout by his wife.  This has led to his gaining a new job in the farming sector.

What has led to the new job: hard work, achieving a degree, or his wife’s support?

    Correction: 

tick

 

Rob worked hard and achieved his degree, supported throughout by his wife.  All three factors have led to his gaining a new job in the farming sector.

 

10. Use the correct word

  • Your means belonging to you, e.g., Your slip is showing.
  • You’re is a contraction of you are, e.g., You’re a genius.
  • Whose means belonging to whom, e.g., Whose car has its lights on?
  • Who’s is a contraction of who is, e.g., Who’s going to make the coffee?

 

  • Their means belonging to them, e.g., Their car was stolen last night.

    Their is NEVER followed by is, are, was, were, will, should, would, or could.

  • There is used before the above words, e.g., There was an earthquake this morning.
  • There often refers to a place, e.g., John lives there.
  • They’re is a contraction of they are, e.g., They’re coming for dinner.

 

  • Its means belonging to it, e.g., The cat ate its dinner.
  • It’s is a contraction of it is or it has, e.g., It’s a beautiful day.  It’s been done.

     

  • Being is a present participle and follows is, are, was, and were, e.g., She was being silly.
  • Been is a past participle and follows has or have, e.g., They have been well taught.

 

  • Where is to do with place, e.g., Home is where I can relax.
  • Were is the past plural of the verb ‘to be’, e.g., The children were cheerful and relaxed.
  • We’re is a contraction of we are, e.g., We’re now living in Otaki.

 

  • Affect is a verb, meaning to influence or cause to change, e.g., Rain affects my mood.

  • Effect is a noun, meaning the influence or the result, e.g., The effect of divorce on children can be huge.

 

  • Lose is a verb, meaning to be unable to find something or to have something taken away, e.g., I often lose my car keys. I may lose my job.
  • Loose is an adjective, meaning not firmly held or fixed in place, not fitting closely, e.g., These trousers are the wrong size for me as they are too loose.

A comprehensive list of easily confused words can be found at www.grammar-monster.com

 

Grammar Quiz

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