Author Archive

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!

Welcome to the exciting world of APA formatting!

March 9, 2011

Welcome to the exciting world of APA formatting. While most of us can assume that our essays will conform to the MLA style, some essays, especially those in the social sciences, will have to use the APA method. So, what exactly does this entail?
Formatting: Headers and Clearly marked sections.

The header is simply a space on the top of each page that states the title of your paper. You should also place the page number at the top of the page.
In an essay in the social sciences, each section in a paper should be clearly marked, for example, as: title page, abstract, main body, references, and in some cases, introduction and conclusion.

Citations: Direct and Indirect quotes

According to APA styling, if you are using a direct quote then you must site the source. If you are merely referring to a source or idea that you have already referenced in your paper, you do not need to include the full citation. All you have to do is reference the author and the year of publication of the text, for example, (Smith, 2002.) Remember, most of these papers will need to include a list of sources at the end, so you shouldn’t worry too much. For a direct quote, you should first reference the author and the year at the beginning of the quote, and then add the page number at the end. For example, According to Smith (2002), “Students who were familiar with MLA formatting often found it tedious to switch to APA formatting” (p. 29). If you are using a source with two different authors, then include both in the citation, for example (Smith and Johnson, 2002).

Citation: Articles, Books, and electronic sources

When you are compiling your references, it is important to cite them properly. To cite an article, the rule is:

Author, A. A. (Year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, volume number(issue number), pages.

If there is more than one author, list them all alphabetically at the beginning;

Author, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year). Title of article. Title of Periodical, volume number(issue number), pages.

If you are citing from a book, then this is the proper format;

Author, A. A. (Year of publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

And finally, if citing from an electronic source, you should use;
Author, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of publication). Title of article. Title of Online Periodical, volume number(issue number if available). Retrieved from

APA guidelines can be tricky, but there are plenty of resources out there for you to use. You do not usually need to worry about footnotes or endnotes. You merely want a neat and clearly explained paper. Good luck!

Run-on sentences

February 23, 2011

When you write an academic essay, you have a lot of information to consider. All of this information is jockeying for a place in the essay; each piece wants to go first, and to be the most important. Sometimes, because of this mass of information, it is hard to stick to one topic at a time. One of the problems that will arise from this is that you may find yourself writing a lot of run on sentences. If you can identify what a run-on sentence is, then you will be able to avoid them more easily. A run-on sentence has at least two independent clauses that are improperly fused together. They are either two clauses that are best left separate because they do not actually connect to each other, or they are two clauses that have a connection that is insufficient. Run-on sentences can be confusing to recognize. They offer a tempting means of organizing a mass of information. Run-on sentences are tempting, because they masquerade as complex clauses. In an academic essay, it is important to take your time when organizing your thoughts. Analyze your sentences, and try to notice how each clause connects to the next one. Here are some examples of run-on sentences:

1. When an independent clause gives an order or directive based on what was said in the prior independent clause:
The restaurant is downtown, you should take the freeway.
2. When two independent clauses are connected by a transitional expression (conjunctive adverb) such as however, moreover, nevertheless.
Ms. Smith enjoys the literature program at her college, however, she has left her homework in the library.
3. When the second of two independent clauses contains a pronoun that connects it to the first independent clause.
This DVD player isn’t working, it didn’t’ come with instructions.

How do we fix these sentences?

One way that we can separate the sentences is with a period. Never underestimate the impact of short, concise sentences. If you want to keep the sentences relatively complex, you can use a semi-colon. A semi-colon is a great tool to use for avoiding comma splices. Another way to fix a run-on is to use both a comma and a conjunction, like ‘and’ or ‘but’. You can employ a variety of techniques, but the important thing to remember is that the two (or more) clauses must connect logically; they cannot merely be stuck together. A clause is a complete and logical thought. It is important to give your thought the credit that it is due, after all, you’ve worked hard on it!

Writing your Conclusion

February 6, 2011

So, you’ve written the bulk of your essay.  You are happy with your thesis statement and the body of the paper looks good.  But when you try to write your conclusion, you find that you’re stuck.  Most people dread writing conclusions; and because it is the last part of the essay, it often gets brushed aside.  But there are a few tricks to learning how to write a compelling conclusion without merely restating the introduction.

A concluding paragraph reaffirms the thesis.  A good way to do this is by echoing the thesis without restating it word for word. In this way it brings the essay full circle, and is also a useful tool in referring back to the essay as a whole.  If, when you restate your thesis, you find that the statement no longer applies or has changed in any way, then you can go back into the essay to find where you may have changed course.  You should not, however, simply restate the thesis.  At the end of the essay you should be able to look at your thesis in a new light.  Your thesis has evolved into a proved theory.  Use that to add to the conclusion.  Revisit the thesis in a way that reflects your understanding of the argument.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when writing a conclusion is introducing new information.  The conclusion should summarize the essay—so if new information is in the conclusion, it will seem strange that this information was not in the body of the essay as well.  This is another opportunity to see what you may have missed in the essay body.  Is this information crucial? Or is it merely something you feel you need to add to the conclusion as a sort of filler?  Your conclusion should wrap up the essay, without adding previously unexplored details.

In the conclusion, do not simply reword the introduction. The conclusion is the last thing your teacher will read, and you want to leave with a good, lasting impression.  Review your argument, taking into account all of the factors you have explored in your essay. In the conclusion, you want to map how your argument developed, and how it brought you to the end.  It really is that simple.  Stick with concrete details.  Do not end the essay with a vague statement about world peace or how (your topic) is ‘good’ for everyone.  Be specific.  Use evidence from the essay.  You can even use a quote.  Even if you feel like you are being repetitive, it is much better to end with strong detail than with a throw away statement.  Above all, relax.  The conclusion should reaffirm your argument and validate your work.  If you have taken the time to research the topic and you feel good about your essay, then it will do just that.