Writing Tips

This is a list of problems I usually come across when grading written work (and that lower your grade), along with some advice about how to solve them. Please read this before handing in your written work, so that you can write better and I can give you a good grade. 

1. Communicate using Standard English. Any written work using texting slang, jargon, lingo, etc. will not be accepted.

2. Correctly spell and use the appropriate forms of words. Also, please do not abbreviate words (i.e. thru or info).

 A lot: I see a lot of snow (never alot)  Since≠ because: I’ve been a redhead since I got divorced; The pool is closed because it’s thundering.  Principal ≠ principle: She was named a principal partner in the firm; He refused to do it on principle.
 Who ≠ whom: Who said that?; To whom should I address this?  Phase, faze: Oh, he’s just going through a phase; Christine was not fazed in the least.  Moot ≠ mute: It’s a moot point now; I was mute with surprise.
 than ≠ then: Then is used in reference to time. Than is used when making comparisons. Then we left the arena, rather than wait for the end of the game.  affect ≠ effect: Affect is usually a verb, and effect is a usually a noun.  roll ≠ role
 beliefs ≠ believes  through ≠ threw  countries ≠ country’s
 piece ≠ peace  their ≠ there ≠ they’re
They’re going to the store; It is their problem; Don’t stand there.
 your ≠ you’re
I like your purse; You’re very funny.
 Two ≠ too ≠ to
Two children played; I want to go, too; She drove to the mall.
 Weather ≠ whether:
The weather is so unpredictable; I’m not sure whether I want pancakes or waffles.
 Loose  lose
My belt is loose; Don’t lose your backpack!

3. Begin each sentence with a capital letter and end with proper punctuation.

4. The titles of books, movies, and artworks should be italicized.  The titles of articles should be in “quotes.”

5. Write complete sentences that are clearly worded, not garbled and confusing. Do not use fragments, comma splices or run-on sentences.

6. Avoid glaring grammatical errors. Look up the grammar rules if you do not remember the appropriate usage. Seek help in the writing center, or a grammar handbook such as the Purdue OWL.  Grades will suffer because of spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and capitalization errors.

7. When preparing a paper, create a thesis sentence that states the main idea of the essay or a topic sentence that states the main idea of the paragraph. Make sure to close with a strong conclusion that wraps up all your ideas.

8. Organize the major supporting ideas and information so that the reader can follow.

9.Before you submit your responses/writings, please re-read them out-loud (preferably to another human being) to edit spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.

10. Also, I cannot emphasize enough how helpful the writing center is!  Contact them atwriting_center@wvwc.edu

11. Wikipedia is never a valid source for research.  It might lead you to other valid sources, but it by itself is not a valid source.


  • Apostrophes: Apostrophes indicate contractions or possession, as in: That’s Catie’s geography book. Apostrophes should never be used to indicate a plural.
  • Commas: Frequently overused, commas are used to separate items in a list, after an introductory phrase or to separate distinct thoughts that are related. The use of a conjunction is a good indicator of proper comma placement. For example: I’ll take the red, blue and yellow ones, but I don’t care for the green.Comma splices happen when usage rules for semicolons and commas are confused. Related independent clauses with no conjunction result in a comma splice: I really dislike eating meat, I don’t feel deprived at all. Instead, separate each thought with either punctuation or a conjunction following the comma: I really dislike eating meat, and I don’t feel deprived at all.
  • Semicolons: Often confused with commas, a semicolon is used to separate related thoughts that are each independent clauses; no conjunctions are used. Pascal plays beautifully; he has studied with a private piano coach for many years.
  • That and Which: That is a restrictive pronoun, meaning it has no qualifiers and is tied to its noun: I don’t like clothes that itch. Which, on the other hand, introduces a relative clause that allows qualifiers. I don’t like cashmere sweaters, which are itchy. A good rule of thumb: if a comma is required, which is probably your best choice.
  • That and Who: Who is used in reference to people. That is used in reference to inanimate objects, animals or entities. Use: You’re exactly who I was looking for!, and The puppies that got out have been returned to the shelter.
  • Quotation marks: Quotation marks indicate a quote. They do not indicate emphasis of any kind. They must also exist outside of any punctuation. Use: Jenny answered, “I’d much rather write fiction.” Not:Jenny “disliked” history and said, “I’d much rather write fiction”.
  • It’s and Its: It’s is a contraction of It is, which is the only time it’s necessary to use an apostrophe for this word. Its is a possessive pronoun. It’s the cutest thing when the puppy chases its tail.
  • Fewer and Less: Fewer refers to something that is tangible and can be counted. Less refers to intangible ideas. She did fewer reps than yesterday, and This recipe needs less salt.
  • Spellcheck errors: It really depends in the weather that day. Spellcheck is not the end-all solution for proofreading.
  • Tense errors: I ran into him and he goes, “Hey!” Ran in this sentence is past tense, and goes is present tense.
  • Unnecessary capitalization: I have a Bevy of Attorneys at my disposal. While this may seem obvious, many writers break this rule.
  • Pronoun/antecedent agreement: Each reporter must file their own copy is incorrect because ‘their’ incorrectly modifies ‘reporter.’ Each reporter must file his or her own copy is correct.

For every broken rule in the English language, there is likely an online resource that breaks down the details. You may find these additional resources helpful.


Proper citation of sources is importance in college; without it, plagiarism would be rampant. Proper citations allow for an easily-understood format, so that professors or other readers can look up your original data. There are three recognized schools of thought on proper citation: The Modern Language Association Style Guide (MLA), the American Psychology Association Style Guide (APA), or the Chicago Manual of Style.

According to the MLA Style Guide, citations should be used parenthetically within text. Each reference is signified in the text and specifically detailed on a Works Cited page added to the manuscript. You may signify a reference with a number or phrase, or perhaps both when you are drawing attention to a specific page in a work that you’re citing. For example:

An unlucky and under-reported effect of Hurricane Katrina was the large number of pets that their owners were forced to abandon (Eggers, 93).

In this case, the Works Cited page must contain a full reference to the text by Eggers. Following the MLA style to reference books, the reference on the Works Cited page should read exactly as follows:

Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. New York: Random House, 2009. Print.

Other media citations are proscribed by the MLA as so:

Journal: Fearon, James D., and David D. Laitin. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War.”American Political Science Review 97.01 (2003): 75. Print.

Video: Inglorious Basterds. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Universal Pictures, 2009. Film.

Website: The Purdue OWL Family of Sites. The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U, 2008. Web. 23 Apr. 2008.

As a rule, citation styles are meticulous; every capitalization, punctuation and space matter. The AP Style Manual and the Chicago Manual are also used in many academic environments, though less frequently. Each of them has their own set of distinct citation rules. Generally, students in the humanities are asked to use MLA; science majors, APA; and history and social studies majors use the Chicago Manual. If you are unsure which to use, check with your professor for your university’s standard.


Writing academic papers may seem overwhelming at first. However, approaching the workload rationally, understanding what’s being requested of you and practicing good time management can go a long way toward decreasing the associated stress. Taking advantage of the writing resources here can result in a relatively painless turnover of academic papers. You may also find these additional resources helpful:

  • OWL: Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab has long been considered a go-to resource for all things writing. Descriptions and tips on specific essay requirements, writing tips for general and academic audiences, and grammar and punctuation advice are only a few of OWL’s offerings.
  • Writer’s Workshop: The University of Illinois’ Writing Workshop can improve any student’s writing ability. Definitive explanations about grammar, usage, parts of speech and proper citation are included, as is a tips and tricks page.
  • Quick and Dirty Tips: Maintained by a blogger styling herself as Grammar Girl, this entertaining website is chock full of short, informational descriptions of how to handle common grammar questions.
  • The Elements of Style: Known generally to writers as Strunk & White (referring to the author’s names), this definitive style guide has been made available online by Bartleby.com. Free advice on composition, usage and principles of grammar is easily obtained via a search menu.
  • Guide to Grammar and Writing: The comprehensive A to Z index answers hundreds of grammar questions; interactive quizzes also test your grammar knowledge.