Archive for April, 2011

Commas, semicolons, or colons? How to make sense without sounding like Faulkner

April 22, 2011

Compound sentences are necessary and often used parts of an essay. It would seem strange for an essay to be made up entirely of simple sentences. Conversely, if an essay were a series of run-on sentences, you would most likely confuse your reader. Grammar tools like commas, semicolons, and colons are great ways of breaking up information while maintaining sentence clarity. It can be difficult to know when to use each one, especially since semicolons are particularly scary for essay writers. We have already covered comma use in earlier posts, but to reiterate, use a comma to:

1. Join two independent clauses
2. To set off elements that are not part of the main clause
3. To list three or more things in a sentence

When you want to change up your style, or play with punctuation, you can opt to use a semicolon. Use a semicolon when you want to:

1. Link two independent clauses without any connecting words like ‘and’ or ‘but’
I am eating a sandwich; I plan on finishing it.
2. Link two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb (therefore, otherwise, nevertheless, thus)
It was a sunny day; therefore, we went to the park.
3. To join elements in a series when the individual items are already separated with a comma
The previous stops on our road trip were Sacramento, California; Elko, Nevada; Houston, Texas, Tucson, Arizona.

When you want to use a colon, you can do so if:

1. You want to join two independent clauses while emphasizing the second one
2. When making a list

It can be a bit daunting to have to juggle commas, semicolons, and colons. Remember, these tools are style markers, as well as ways to avoid common sentence errors like comma spices and run-ons. You should feel free to experiment with each of the tools above!


A little bit of modification

April 15, 2011

Grammatical modifiers, sometimes referred to as qualifiers, come in two types: “bound” & “free.”  One way to understand free modifiers is to think of them as any construction or phrase added to a bases clause, which is set off by commas.  Bound modifiers, on the other hand, are not set off by commas but interwoven into a base clause that they modify.   Modifiers can be a word, a phrase or an entire clause.   All in all, modifiers provide more accurate definitional meaning for another element of a sentence—and being able to recognize various types allows writers, particularly in revision, to add more detail or meaning to a sentence.

Free Modifiers

When a fourth customer in one week complained about her service, after working another eight hour shift without breaks, without coffee or a cigarette, she decided to quit, nerves shot and burned out on retail.

*The base clause is “she decided to quit,” and the underlined phrases modify it by adding in extra information—enriching the sentence and explaining why she quit.

Bound Modifiers

One reason academic writing is highly valued at American Universities is it’s supposed to represent an educational standard that reflects or measures the growth of one’s critical thinking skills.

*The unusual split here in the base clause shows that the bound modifiers are not set off by commas and are interwoven, clustered around, what they modify.

Correcting dangling modifiers:

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word or base clause which has not been clearly stated in the sentence.


*Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon, Cecily brought up Hulu on the computer when she got home to try and relax.

“Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon” recounts an action from a part of a day but does not name the actor who performed the action.  In English sentences, the actor has to be the subject of the main clause.  Because it is clear that Cecily is the actor who quit her job, this sentence does not have a dangling modifier.


*Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon, to try and relax Hulu was brought up on the computer.

“Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon” is a participle expressing action, but the actor is not Hulu (i.e. the subject of the main clause).  Hulu doesn’t quit jobs or try to relax after a hard day.  The actor expressed in the participle was never stated so the participle phrase is said to be a dangling modifier.

Quick tips on fixing dangling modifiers:

Name the appropriate or logical actor that carries out the action as the subject of the main clause.

Name the actor in the clause thus altering the phrase that dangles, making it into a complete introductory clause.

Join the main clause and phrase into one coherent sentence.

MLA Works Cited

April 14, 2011

For many of us, the works cited page is the looming beast at the end of the paper. It strikes terror into the hearts of students merely by existing. It is the part of the paper that you are never exactly sure if you have quite right, especially with MLA. Not to mention, MLA has recently updated, and now has new changes to add for when you are working on that works cited page. Fantastic! But, keep in mind that citing your sources in an academic research paper is imperative; if you do not give credit to the original author, it is considered plagiarism, even if you did not intend that.

Well, never fear, because the Writing Center is here to help outline a few of the more common sources that you may need to cite. Just scroll through the list below for examples! Check the MLA handbook or Purdue Owl for more citation examples.

Book: (printed edition)

Author’s Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Book from an internet database:

Author’s Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Name of database. Medium of Publication [web]. Date Database was accessed.

Book with a separate author for each chapter, if you are citing only one of the chapters:

Author’s Lastname, Firstname. “Chapter/Article Title.” Title of Book. Editor (Ed.) First Last Name. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Encyclopedia (if well known): Print and Web:

Lastname, First. “Article Title.” Encyclopedia. Print year. Edition #. Medium of Publication. [If web, insert date accessed]

Journal Article Print/Online:

Lastname, First. “Article Title.” Journal Title. Edition. Year. Page #’s. Medium of Publication. [Date accessed if web article].

Footnotes and Endnotes

April 8, 2011

Footnotes and Endnotes are used to give credit to sources of any material borrowed, summarized or paraphrased. They are intended to refer readers to the exact pages of the works listed in the Works Cited, References, or Bibliography section.

The main difference between Footnotes and Endnotes is where they are placed.  Footnotes are placed numerically at the foot of the very same page where direct references are made, while Endnotes are placed numerically at the end of the essay on a separate page entitled Endnotes or Notes.

When mentioning a work for the first time, a full and complete Footnote or Endnote entry must be made.

Only one sentence is used in a Footnote or Endnote citation, i.e., only one period or full stop is used at the end of any Footnote or Endnote citation. 1

Both, Footnotes and Endnotes, include author’s name, title, publishing house, city of publication, year of publication, and pages where you found the information. See example below.

First Footnote or Endnote example:

               2 Elie Wiesel, Night (New York: Bantam Books: 1960) 26.


Bibliography example:

Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1960.

 For a website, include author’s name of website, title of webpage, date it was published, web address, editors name if applicable, and date you accessed the page.  Web pages are tricky because even credible websites don’t always have all of this information.  See example for this blog post below.

 For Footnote or Endnote citations, if you should see the term ibid. being used, it just means that the citation is for the second mention of the same work with no intervening entries:2


1 “Are Search Guide,” 2008, (accessed March 26, 2011)