Cover graphic reads "Writing for Success 2023"

Writing for Success 2023 (adapted in 2023 by Jamie Campbell Martin) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Original author removed in 2015 by the University of Minnesota at the request of original publisher.


Publisher Information

  1. Introduction To Writing
    1. Reading And Writing In College
    2. Developing Study Skills
    3. Becoming A Successful College Writer
    4. Introduction To Writing: End-of-chapter Exercises
  2. Writing Basics: What Makes A Good Sentence?
    1. Sentence Writing
    2. Subject-verb Agreement
    3. Verb Tense
    4. Capitalization
    5. Pronouns
    6. Adjectives And Adverbs
    7. Misplaced And Dangling Modifiers
    8. Writing Basics: End-of-chapter Exercises
  3. Punctuation
    1. Commas
    2. Colons
    3. Semicolons
    5. Apostrophes
    6. Parentheses
    7. Dashes
    8. Hyphens
    9. Punctuation: End-of-chapter Exercises
  4. Working With Words: Which Word Is Right?
    1. Commonly Confused Words
    2. Spelling
    3. Word Choice
    4. Prefixes And Suffixes
    5. Synonyms And Antonyms
    6. Using Context Clues
    7. Working With Words: End-of-chapter Exercises
  5. Help For English Language Learners
    1. Word Order
    2. Negative Statements
    3. Count And Noncount Nouns And Articles
    4. Pronouns
    5. Verb Tenses
    6. Modal Auxiliaries
    7. Prepositions
    8. Slang And Idioms
    9. Help For English Language Learners: End-of-chapter Exercises
  6. Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas And Shaping Content
    1. Purpose, Audience, Tone, And Content
    2. Effective Means For Writing A Paragraph
    3. Writing Paragraphs: End-of-chapter Exercises
  7. Refining Your Writing: How Do I Improve My Writing Technique?
    1. Sentence Variety
    2. Coordination And Subordination
    3. Parallelism
    4. Refining Your Writing: End-of-chapter Exercises
  8. The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?
    1. Apply Prewriting Models
    2. Outlining
    3. Drafting
    4. Revising And Editing
    5. The Writing Process: End-of-chapter Exercises
  9. Writing Essays: From Start To Finish
    1. Developing A Strong, Clear Thesis
    2. Writing Body Paragraphs
    3. Organizing Your Writing
    4. Writing Introductory And Concluding Paragraphs
    5. Writing Essays: End-of-chapter Exercises
  10. Rhetorical Modes
    1. Narration
    2. Illustration
    3. Description
    4. Classification
    5. Process Analysis
    6. Definition
    7. Compare-and-contrast
    8. Cause-and-effect
    9. Persuasion
    10. Rhetorical Modes: End-of-chapter Exercises
  11. Writing From Research: What Will I Learn?
    1. The Purpose Of Research Writing
    2. Steps In Developing A Research Proposal
    3. Managing Your Research Project
    4. Strategies For Gathering Reliable Information
    5. Critical Thinking And Research Applications
    6. Writing From Research: End-of-chapter Exercises
  12. Writing A Research Paper
    1. Creating A Rough Draft For A Research Paper
    2. Developing A Final Draft Of A Research Paper
    3. Writing A Research Paper: End-of-chapter Exercises
  13. APA And MLA Styles
    1. Formatting A Research Paper
    2. Citing And Referencing Techniques
    3. Creating A References Section
    4. Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Style
    5. APA And MLA Documentation And Formatting: End-of-chapter Exercises
  14. Creating Presentations: Sharing Your Ideas
    1. Organizing A Visual Presentation
    2. Incorporating Effective Visuals Into A Presentation
    3. Giving A Presentation
    4. Creating Presentations: End-of-chapter Exercises
  15. Readings: Examples Of Essays
    1. Introduction To Sample Essays
    2. Narrative Essay
    3. Illustration Essay
    4. Descriptive Essay
    5. Classification Essay
    6. Process Analysis Essay
    7. Definition Essay
    8. Compare-and-contrast Essay
    9. Cause-and-effect Essay
    10. Persuasive Essay

Works Cited

Publisher Information

Table of Contents

2023 Adaptation

This book, Writing for Success 2023, has been adapted by Jamie Campbell Martin in spring of 2023 from 2015's Writing for Success. It is made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Specific Changes

  • Chapter 1:
    • Removed discussion of learning styles as recent research is skeptical about them. For example, see "Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence" at
    • Added discussion of LMS-provided reminder apps
  • Chapter 5: Updated discussion of the definition of a noun to explain that linguists prefer syntactic definitions to semantic definitions
  • Chapter 11: Added discussion of citation managers such as Zotero
  • Chapter 13:
    • Updated APA coverage to APA 7.
    • Updated MLA coverage to MLA 9 from MLA 7.
    • Added MLA-formatted version of sample research paper for comparison to APA-formatted version
  • Chapter 15: Added my own sample persuasive essay on legalizing medical marijuana
  • Added Works Cited section

General Changes

  • Simplified language for developmental readers
  • Made style updates to agree with APA 7: "internet" for "Internet", "email" for "e-mail", etc. (see the APA Publication Manual p. 162).
  • Updated broken links
  • Added comprehensive alt text to images or replaced images with text to improve accessibility for screen readers
  • Reformatted text in GitHub Flavored Markdown. See

2015 Adaptation

Information from the 2015 University of Minnesota adaptation is below:

Writing for Success is adapted from a work produced and distributed under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA) in 2011 by a publisher who has requested that they and the original author not receive attribution. This adapted edition is produced by the University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing through the eLearning Support Initiative.

This adaptation has reformatted the original text and replaced some images and figures to make the resulting whole more shareable. The 2015 adaptation did not significantly alter or update the original 2011 text. The work was made available under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Chapter 1

Table of Contents

Introduction To Writing

1.1 Reading And Writing In College

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the expectations for reading and writing in college.
  2. Apply strategies to complete college reading efficiently and effectively.
  3. Recognize kinds of writing assignments you are likely to see in college.
  4. Apply strategies for managing college writing.
  5. Determine which reading and writing strategies work best for you.

Why do you need an introduction? You have probably been writing and reading since elementary school. You may write on the job, too. Why is a college writing course necessary?

Getting excited about an introductory college writing course can be difficult. But whatever you study, honing your reading, writing, and critical thinking will give you a solid foundation.

In college, teachers expect more than at most high schools. The amount of work increases. When instructors expect you to study hours and hours for one course, managing your workload can be challenging. This chapter includes strategies for studying efficiently and managing your time.

The quality of the work you do also changes. It is not enough to summarize what you have learned on an exam. You will have to think hard about complex new ideas. You are moving into deeper waters. A good introductory writing course will help you swim.

High School Versus College Expectations

High School College
Readings are short. Readings are long.
Teachers review in class. You review on your own.
Teachers give study guides. Teachers don't give study guides.
You get many small grades. You get a few large grades.
You do mostly personal writing. You do mostly expository writing.
Most writing is the same (five-paragraph essays). Each writing assignment may be different.
Teachers seek you out to help. You have more responsibility to help yourself.
There are lots of second chances. There are fewer second chances.

This chapter covers the types of reading and writing assignments you will encounter as a college student. You will also learn strategies for mastering these new challenges---and becoming a more confident student and writer.

Throughout this chapter, you will follow a first-year student named Crystal. After several years of working as a saleswoman in a department store, Crystal has decided to pursue a degree in elementary education and become a teacher. She is still working part-time, and she finds it challenging to balance of work, school, and caring for her four-year-old son. As you read about Crystal, think about how you can use her experience to get the most out of your own.

Exercise 1

Review Table 1.1 and think about how you have found college to be different from high school so far. Answer these questions:

  1. In what ways do you think college will be more rewarding for you as a learner?
  2. What aspects of college do you expect to find most challenging?
  3. What changes do you think you might have to make in your life to ensure your success in college?

Reading Strategies

Your college courses will sharpen both your reading and your writing skills. Most of your writing assignments will depend on understanding something you have read. And it is difficult to write effectively about a text that you have not understood. Even when you do understand, it can be hard to write about it if you do not feel personally engaged with the ideas discussed.

This section discusses strategies to get the most out of your college readings. These strategies fall into three categories:

  1. Planning strategies. To help you manage your readings.
  2. Comprehension strategies. To help you understand the material.
  3. Active reading strategies. To take your understanding to a higher and deeper level.

Planning Your Reading

Have you ever stayed up all night cramming just before an exam? Or found yourself skimming a detailed memo from your boss five minutes before a crucial meeting? The first step in handling college reading is planning. This involves both managing your time and setting a clear purpose for your reading.

Managing Your Reading Time

You will learn more detailed strategies for time management in Section 1.2, but for now, focus on setting aside enough time for working in manageable chunks. If you are assigned a seventy-page chapter to read for next week's class, don't wait until the night before to start. Give yourself at least a few days.

Your method for breaking up the assignment will depend on the type of reading. Suppose the text is very dense and packed with unfamiliar terms and concepts. In that case, you may need to read no more than five pages in a sitting so that you can truly process it. With more user-friendly texts, you will be able to handle longer sections at once---forty pages or even more.

As the semester progresses, you will better understand how much time you need to allow for the readings in different subjects. It also makes sense to preview each assignment well in advance to assess its difficulty level and to determine how much reading time to set aside.


College instructors often set aside reserve readings for a particular course. These consist of articles, book chapters, or other texts that are not part of the primary course textbook. Copies of reserve readings are available through the college library; in print; or, more often, online. When you are assigned a reserve reading, download it early. Skim through it to understand how much time you will need to read it.

Setting A Purpose

The other key component of planning is setting a purpose. Knowing what you want to get out of a reading assignment helps you determine how to approach it and how much time to spend on it. It also helps you stay focused during those occasional moments when it is late, you are tired, and relaxing in front of the television sounds far more appealing than curling up with a stack of journal articles.

Sometimes your purpose is simple. You might just need to understand the reading material well enough to discuss it intelligently in class the next day. However, your purpose will often go beyond that. For instance, you might also read to compare two texts, to formulate a personal response to a text, or to gather ideas for future research. Here are some questions to ask to help determine your purpose:

How did my instructor frame the assignment? Often your instructors will tell you what they expect you to get out of the reading:

Read Chapter 2 and come to class prepared to discuss current teaching practices in elementary math.

Read these two articles and compare Smith's and Jones's perspectives on the 2010 health care reform bill.

Read Chapter 5 and think about how you could apply these guidelines to running your own business.

How deeply do I need to understand the reading? If you are majoring in computer science and you are assigned to read Chapter 1, "Introduction to Computer Science," it is safe to assume you will need to master it.

However, for other readings you may only need a general understanding. Again, pay attention to how your instructor presents the assignment.

How does this assignment relate to other course readings or to concepts discussed in class? Your instructor may make some of these connections explicitly, but if not, try to draw connections on your own. It helps to take detailed notes both when in class and when you read.

How might I use this text again in the future? If you are assigned to read about a topic that has always interested you, your reading assignment might help you develop ideas for a future research paper. Some readings provide valuable tips or summaries worth bookmarking for future reference. Think about what you can take from the reading that will stay with you.

Improving Your Comprehension

You have blocked out time for your readings and set a purpose for reading. Now comes the challenge: making sure you understand all the information you are expected to process. Some of your readings will be straightforward. Others will be longer or more complex, so you will need a plan for them.

Most reading in college is expository. That means it is nonfictional (not made up) and informative (meant to present ideas that are important). For any expository writing, your first goal is to identify the main points. Because college texts can be challenging, you will also need to monitor your comprehension. That is, you will need to stop periodically and assess how well you understand what you are reading. Finally, you can improve comprehension by taking time to determine which strategies work best for you and putting those strategies into practice.

Kinds Of Reading

In college, you will likely read all of the following:


Often include study aids: summaries, glossaries, review questions, etc.

Trade Books

Less likely to include study aids. A trade book is a book written for the trade, meaning a book written to sell a lot. Merriam-Webster says the term first appeared around 1870.

Written for everyone. These are typically magazine or newspaper articles. These days they are typically read online.

Scholarly Articles

Written for specialists, who we also call "scholars." There are also scholarly books, though you will rarely be asked to read an entire scholarly book.

Identifying The Main Point

With an expository text, the key goal is to identify the main point: the most important idea that the writer wants to communicate. The main point is often stated early on. Finding the main point allows you to organize the details and relate the reading to lectures or other readings. After finding the main point, you will find the supporting points: details that develop and clarify the main point.

Below I listed the kinds of texts in order by how easy I think it usually is to find the main point. We start with the easiest and end with the most difficult.

Textbooks are built to help you. They include headings and subheadings to help students to identify important ideas. Graphics such as sidebars, diagrams, or charts help students grasp complex information. When you are assigned a textbook chapter, always use the headings and the graphics to help you.

Popular articles are not designed to help you find the main point. But they are short and meant for a reader who is not an expert. It's important to pay close attention to the headings and first paragraphs when reading popular articles. In magazines, these parts (along with the ending) usually give you the main ideas. In newspapers, the first paragraph of a news article tells you the most important information, and the following paragraphs give more specific details.

Although trade books aren't made to help you find the main point, they sometimes have an introduction that tells you what the author is writing about. You can get a general idea of what a chapter is about by reading its title and subtitles. Also, reading the first and last paragraphs of a chapter can help you understand the main point.

Scholarly articles are the most challenging. Both textbooks and scholarly articles are written for students, but scholarly articles are written for extremely advanced students: people who already know a lot about the area.

When you read scholarly articles, use the same strategies as before. The beginning of a scholarly article usually tells you what the writer is trying to prove. Headings and subheadings can show you how the writer supports their argument. Also, academic articles often have a summary at the beginning, called an abstract. Databases provide summaries too.

For more information about reading different types of texts, see Chapter 12.

Monitoring Your Comprehension

Finding the main idea and paying attention to text features as you read helps you figure out what you should know. Just as important, however, is figuring out what you do not know and developing a strategy to deal with it.

Textbooks often include comprehension questions in the margins or at the end of a section or chapter. As you read, stop occasionally to answer these questions on paper or in your head. Use them to identify sections you may need to reread, read more carefully, or ask your instructor about later.

Even when a text does not have built-in comprehension features, you can actively monitor your own comprehension. Try these strategies, adapting them as needed to suit different kinds of texts:

  1. Summarize. At the end of each section, pause to summarize the main points in a few sentences. If you have trouble doing so, revisit that section.

  2. Ask and answer questions. When you begin reading a section, try to identify two to three questions you should be able to answer after you finish it. Write down your questions and use them to test yourself on the reading. If you cannot answer a question, try to determine why. Is the answer buried in that section of reading but just not coming across to you? Or do you expect to find the answer in another part of the reading?

  3. Do not read in a vacuum. Look for opportunities to discuss the reading with your classmates. Many instructors set up online discussion forums or blogs specifically for that purpose. Participating in these discussions can help you determine whether your understanding of the main points is the same as your peers'.

These discussions can also serve as a reality check. If everyone in the class struggled with the reading, it may be exceptionally challenging. If it was a breeze for everyone but you, you may need to see your instructor for help.

As a working mother, Crystal found that the best time to get her reading done was in the evening, after she had put her four-year-old to bed. However, she occasionally had trouble concentrating at the end of a long day. She found that by actively working to summarize the reading and asking and answering questions, she focused better and retained more of what she read. She also found that evenings were a good time to check the class discussion forums that a few of her instructors had created.

Exercise 2

Choose something you need to read for one of your college courses. In your notes:

  1. Summarize the main points of the text in two to three sentences.
  2. Write down two to three questions about the text that you can bring up during class discussion.


Students are often reluctant to seek help. They feel like doing so marks them as slow, weak, or demanding. The truth is every learner occasionally struggles. If you are sincerely trying to keep up with the course reading but feel like you are in over your head, seek out help. Speak up in class, schedule a meeting with your instructor, or visit your college learning center for assistance.

Deal with the problem as early in the semester as you can. Instructors respect students who are proactive about their own learning. Most instructors will work hard to help students who make the effort to help themselves.

Taking It To The Next Level: Active Reading

Now that you have reviewed planning and comprehension strategies, college readings may feel more manageable. You know what you need to do to get your reading done and grasp the main points. However, the most successful students in college are not only competent readers but active readers.

Using The SQ3R Strategy

One strategy you can use to become a more active reader is the SQ3R strategy, a step-by-step process to follow before, during, and after reading. The process works like this:

  1. Survey the text in advance.
  2. Form questions before you start reading.
  3. Read the text.
  4. Recite and/or record important points during and after reading.
  5. Review and reflect on the text after you read.

Before you read, you survey the text. Look at headings to identify what important topics will be covered. Look over sidebars, photographs, and graphics. Skim a few paragraphs. Preview any boldfaced or italicized vocabulary.

Next, start brainstorming questions about the text. What do you expect to learn from the reading? You may find that some questions come to mind immediately. If not, try using headings and subheadings in the text to formulate questions. For instance, if one heading in your textbook reads "Medicare and Medicaid," you might ask yourself these questions:

  • When was Medicare and Medicaid legislation enacted? Why?
  • What are the major differences between these two programs?

When you're reading, try to ask questions that make you think more deeply about the text. As you read, pay attention to whether the text confirms or challenges your initial thoughts. Also, look for answers to your questions and ask new ones. It's a good idea to summarize important points and ideas in your own words as you read. After you finish reading, review the material more carefully, and take notes in a more detailed format. Think about what you learned, what surprised you, and what you agreed or disagreed with. You can write these down in a reading journal or in response papers that your instructor may ask for.

Exercise 3

Choose another text you have been assigned to read. Use SQ3R to complete the reading.

Do all the steps. Then, reflect on how helpful you found SQ3R. On a scale of one to ten, how useful did you find it? How does it compare with other study techniques you have used?

Using Other Active Reading Strategies

SQ3R encompasses several active reading strategies: previewing a text, making predictions, asking questions, and summarizing.

The following strategies can further deepen your understanding.

Connect what you read to what you already know. Look for ways the reading supports, extends, or challenges concepts you have learned elsewhere.

Relate the reading to your own life. What statements, people, or situations relate to your personal experiences?

Visualize. Try to picture what is described. Visualizing is especially helpful when you are reading a narrative text, such as a novel, or when you read expository text that describes a process, such as how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Pay attention to graphics. Photographs, diagrams, flow charts, tables, and other graphics can help make ideas concrete and understandable.

Understand the text in context. Understanding context means thinking about who wrote the text, when and where it was written, the author's purpose for writing it, and what assumptions or agendas influenced the author's ideas. For instance, two writers might both address the subject of health care reform, but if one article is an opinion piece and one is a news story, the context is different.

Plan to talk or write about what you read. Jot down a few questions or comments in your notebook so you can bring them up in class. (This also gives you a source of topic ideas for papers and presentations later in the semester.) Discuss the reading on a class discussion board or blog about it.

As Crystal began her first semester of elementary education courses, she occasionally felt lost in a sea of new terms and theories about teaching and child development. She found that it helped to relate the reading to her personal observations of her son and other kids she knew.

Writing At Work

Many college courses require students to participate in interactive online components, such as a discussion forum, a page on a social networking site, or a class blog. These tools are a great way to reinforce learning. Do not be afraid to be the student who starts the discussion.

Remember that when you interact with other students and teachers online, you need to project a mature, professional image. You may be able to use an informal, conversational tone, but complaining about the workload, using off-color language, or "flaming" other participants is inappropriate.

Active reading can benefit you in ways that go beyond just earning good grades. By practicing these strategies, you will find yourself more interested in your courses and better able to relate your academic work to the rest of your life. Being an interested, engaged student also helps you form lasting connections with your instructors and with other students that can be personally and professionally valuable. In short, it helps you get the most out of your education.

Common Writing Assignments

College writing assignments serve a different purpose than the typical writing assignments you completed in high school. In high school, teachers generally focus on teaching you to write in various modes and formats, including personal writing, expository writing, research papers, creative writing, and writing short answers and essays for exams. Over time, these assignments help you build a foundation of writing skills.

In college, many instructors will expect you to already have that foundation.

Your college composition courses will focus on writing for its own sake, helping you make the transition to college writing. However, in most other college courses, writing serves a different purpose. In those courses, writing is one tool for learning how to think about a particular discipline.

Other assignments teach you how to write professionally for a field. You might be asked to write a lab report, a case study, a literary analysis, a business plan, or an account of a personal interview. You will need to learn and follow the standard conventions for those types of written products.

Finally, personal writing is less common in college than in high school. College emphasizes expository writing---writing that explains or informs. Often expository writing assignments will include outside research, too. Some classes will also require persuasive writing assignments in which you state and support your position on an issue. College instructors will hold you to a higher standard when it comes to supporting your ideas with reasons and evidence.

Below are some common college writing assignments. Which assignments you encounter will depend on your courses your instructors.

Common College Writing Assignments

Assignment Description Example
Personal Response Expresses your response to a reading, quote, or issue. May be very brief. For an environmental science course, students write about President Obama's 2010 speech about the BP oil spill.
Summary Restates the main ideas of a text briefly and in your own words. For a psychology course, students write a one-page summary of an article about a man with short-term memory loss.
Position Paper Defends your position on an issue. For a medical ethics course, students state and support their position on using stem cell research in medicine.
Problem-Solution Paper Explains a problem and suggests a solution. For a business administration course, a student presents a plan for starting an office recycling program
Literary Analysis Argues a thesis about a work of literature (a made-up story such as a novel, play, or poem). For an American literature course, a student compares two novels by the African American writer Richard Wright.
Research Review Sums up the research that exists on a topic. For a media studies course, a student reviews the past 20 years of research on the impact of violent video games.
Case Study Investigates a particular person or situation. For an education course, a student studies a developmentally disabled child whose schoolwork improved through behavior modification.
Lab Report Presents a lab experiment, including hypothesis, methods, results, and conclusions. For a psychology course, a group presents an experiment that explored whether sleep deprivation damages memory in rats.
Research Paper Presents a thesis and supports it with original argument and cited research. See Chapter 12.

As an English professor, I have seen many students unsure of what we mean by "literature," so let me explain that briefly. Literature "has been commonly used since the eighteenth century . . . to designate fictional and imaginative writings--poetry, prose fiction, and drama" (Abrams and Harpham 152). In other words, "literature" means made-up stories--stories that didn't really happen.

One kind of literature is the "novel." A novel is a book-length work of prose fiction--usually 200 pages or longer, published as its own separate book. Elsewhere in this book, I explain how language is already changing. In South Florida where the 2023 revision of this book was written, more and more students use the word "novel" to mean any stand-alone book. But this is not what it currently means according to the dictionary.

Writing At Work

Part of managing your education is communicating well with others at your college. For instance, you might need to email your instructor to request an office appointment or explain why you will need to miss a class. You might need to contact administrators with questions about your tuition or financial aid. Later, you might ask instructors to write recommendations on your behalf.

Treat these documents as professional communications. Address the recipient politely; state your question, problem, or request clearly; and use a formal, respectful tone. Doing so helps you make a positive impression and get a quicker response.


  • College reading and writing differs from high school assignments not only in quantity but also in quality.
  • Managing college readings requires you to plan and manage your time, set a purpose for reading, practice comprehension strategies, and use active reading to deepen your understanding of the text.
  • College writing assignments emphasize learning to think critically about a discipline. They rarely ask for personal and creative writing.

1.2 Developing Study Skills

Learning Objectives

  1. Use strategies for managing time effectively as a college student.
  2. Understand and apply strategies for taking notes efficiently.
  3. Determine the specific time-management, study, and note-taking strategies that work best for you individually.

By now, you have a general idea of what to expect from your college courses. You have probably received course syllabi, started on your first few assignments, and begun applying the strategies you learned about in Section 1.1.

At the beginning of the semester, your workload is lighter. This is the perfect time to establish good habits. When the demands on your time become more intense, you will have a system in place.

This section covers specific strategies for managing your time effectively. You will also learn about different note-taking systems that you can use to organize and record information efficiently.

Remember that every student is different. These strategies work well for many people. However, you may need to adapt them to work for you. I keep everything on my smartphone, but I have a friend who can only keep her schedule in a physical notebook that she can carry with her.

Read with an open mind and consider what has worked for you (or not) in the past. Which habits from high school or work could help you succeed in college? Which habits might get in your way? What changes might you need to make?

Understanding Yourself As A Learner

To succeed in college, it helps to know what makes you tick. For decades, psychologists have examined how people learn best. Here are just a few questions to think about:

When are you most productive? If are at your best early in the day, try blocking out morning time for studying or writing. If you work best at night, set aside time in the evening.

How much clutter can you handle? Some people know just where to find everything on their messy desks. But others feel better if they keep their workspace clear.

How well do you resist distractions at home? If you can study at home without turning on the television or fixing yourself a snack, you may make home your workspace. But if you need less distraction, try your college library or a quiet place somewhere else in your community.

Does some background noise help or hurt you? Some people work better when listening to quiet music or the hum of conversation in a coffee shop. Others need silence.

When you work with others, do you stay on task? A study buddy or study group can be a big help. But if you find that the group study sessions turn into social occasions, you may study better on your own.

How do you manage stress? At some point in the semester, you will probably feel stressed. In your day-to-day, keep some time to exercise, see your friends, or just relax.

Time Management

In college you have increased freedom to structure your time as you please. With that freedom comes increased responsibility. High school teachers often take it upon themselves to track down students who miss class or forget assignments. College instructors, however, expect you to take full responsibility for managing yourself and getting your work done on time.

Making A Plan For The Week And A Plan For The Semester

At the beginning of the semester, establish a routine for when you will study and write. A general rule is that one hour of class = three hours of studying.

If you are taking a biology course that meets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for an hour each time, you should plan for nine hours per week of work for it outside of class. You will need to schedule time for the class just like an employer schedules shifts at work.

That may sound like a lot, but you can do it. If you are taking 15 credits (a typical full-time load), you will need to spend about 45 hours per week on homework. A full-time student should spend about as much time on school as a full-time employee spends on work. It is hard to go to school and work at the same time, but it is possible.

In addition to setting aside time to work each week, you will need to plan for the busy times of the semester. Most classes have a final exam or a final paper which requires more time than typical homework. Many classes have a midterm in the middle of the semester which also requires more time. (The words "semester" and "term" mean the same thing at most colleges, and I use them that way in this book.) At the beginning of the semester, go through your course syllabi and mark all the important essays or tests on a calendar. Keep the calendar somewhere you will see it, such as on your phone.

Another choice to to download an app to remind you. Most colleges now use a Learning Management System (LMS) to organize their classes. Some LMSes are Blackboard, Canvas, and D2L. Many of these LMSes have apps to go along with them. For example, if your college uses D2L, you can download the Brightspace Pulse app from an app store to get automatic reminders about your classes.


The three-hour rule may sound intimidating, but remember it is only an average. Some courses will be harder than others, and you will get more or less busy throughout the semester. You may have trouble-free weeks and stressful weeks. When you schedule your classes, try to balance introductory classes with more advanced classes so that your workload stays manageable. (By the way, this is another synonym: in this book, I use the words "course" and "class" to mean the same thing.)

Crystal knew that to balance a job, classes, and a family, she had to get organized. For September, she drew up a weekly calendar that listed her classes, her work shifts, the days her son had preschool, and the days her husband was off from work. She and her husband discussed how to share their responsibilities so she could get her schoolwork done. Crystal also made a note to talk to her supervisor about reducing her hours during finals week in December.

Exercise 1

Now that you have heard about time management, let's apply those skills. For this exercise, you will develop a weekly schedule and a semester schedule.

  1. Working with your class schedule, map out a one-week-long schedule of study time. Apply the three-hour rule. Include other responsibilities, such as work or childcare.
  2. Look through all your course syllabi and record your major tests and papers in a single location--on your phone or in a notebook, for example. Use a star, highlighting, or something else to set off times that look like they will be extra busy.

Time Management Do's And Don'ts

Setting up a schedule is easy. Sticking with it is harder. A schedule that looked great on paper may prove to be unrealistic. Sometimes even the most prepared student may end up pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper or study for an exam.

But remember that a schedule is a tool. Like any tool, its effectiveness depends on how well you use it. If you buy an expensive level to hang your artwork straight on your walls but then never pull it out, your artwork will stay just as crooked.

If it turns out your schedule or any tool really isn't working even when you pull it out regularly, you need to figure out why and try using something else.

Below is a list of dos and don'ts for managing your time. Look back at it throughout your class to help yourself stay on track.


  1. Make sure to regularly check and update your schedule or calendar.
  2. When planning your study time, be realistic about what you can do and don't plan to study when you want to be socializing with friends.
  3. Be honest with yourself about how you spend your time and avoid getting distracted by things like email and social media when you should be studying.
  4. It's okay to sometimes get off track with your work because nobody is perfect.
  5. You may not always have time to do all the fun things you want to do.
  6. If you're feeling overworked and exhausted all the time, you might need to cut back on some of your commitments.
  7. Have a plan for how you'll handle high-stress periods, like finals week, by reducing your other commitments and scheduling time for relaxing activities.


  1. If you have a hard assignment, don't wait until the last minute. Break it into smaller tasks that you can do one at a time.
  2. Don't think you have to do everything at once. If you have some free time, even if it's just half an hour, use it to work on something productive.
  3. Don't put things off and tell yourself you'll do them later. It will be even harder to get them done later on.
  4. Don't rely on caffeine and sugar to make up for not sleeping enough. Your brain works better when you're rested, not just hyped up on stimulants.

Exercise 2

The key to managing your time effectively is consistency. Completing the following tasks will help you stay on track throughout the semester.

  1. Set aside some time each day or week to make a plan for what you need to do. Decide which tasks are the most important and figure out how to do them.
  2. Use your time-management system for the next two weeks. Check in with yourself every day and week, follow your plan, and make note of anything that gets in the way. After two weeks, look at your plan again and decide if you need to change it.
  3. Review the list of dos and don'ts above.

Writing At Work

If you have a job, you probably have ways to get things done quickly. You can use those same ways to do well in school. For example, you can use an electronic calendar to keep track of your school and work schedules. Instead of talking to your boss about work deadlines, you can talk to a friend about school projects. Take school as seriously as work.

Note-taking Methods

One final valuable tool is a good note-taking system. Just the act of converting a spoken lecture to notes helps you organize and retain information, and of course, good notes also help you review important concepts later. Although taking good notes is an essential study skill, many students enter college without having received much guidance about note taking.

These sections discuss strategies you can use to take notes efficiently. No matter which system you choose, keep the note-taking guidelines in mind.

Note-taking Guidelines

  1. Before class, quickly review your notes from last time and the reading. This will help you focus during the lecture.
  2. Make sure you have everything you need for class, like paper, pens, textbooks, and handouts.
  3. Come to class ready to learn and pay attention. Ask questions and participate.
  4. Write down important ideas in short phrases or abbreviations instead of full sentences.
  5. Organize your notes visually with important points, smaller ideas, and details, and leave space to add more details if you need to.

Review your notes throughout the semester, not just before exams.

Layers Of Ideas

One of the biggest ideas we want to teach our students, whether they are reading or writing, is that ideas come in layers. Instead of just one thing after another, nearly every reading you do in college will have layers. A reading may have two major points, and each major point may have several smaller ideas inside of it. Each smaller idea will be full of details to expand and clarify it.

Your writing should have these layers too.

Most note-taking systems ask you to turn a lecture or a reading into a layered set of notes that shows you the structure at a glance.

When you write, we ask you to move in the opposite direction: we ask you to make an outline that organizes your ideas in layers before you turn the outline into one long stream of writing.

So one question is, how many layers are there? The real answer is that it depends.

But in discussion of note-taking below, we ask you to use three layers:

  • major points
    • smaller ideas
      • supporting details

These layers can go by all different names. Sometimes you will see them called "topics, subtopics, and supporting points." But the idea is the same: you need to use layers in reading and layers in writing. There is no real God-given rule about how many layers to use, but we will suggest that you use three layers in your notes.

Organizing Ideas In Your Notes

To take good notes, you need a system that helps you tell the difference between important points, smaller ideas, and details. It should also show how these ideas are connected. And you need to be able to write your notes down quickly. Some people make detailed outlines or maps, but that might not be best for taking notes in class, where the teacher often talks too fast for that.

Below are note-taking techniques that are popular with many students. Try one of them. My own favorite is the Cornell note-taking system; it offers a built-in way to review your notes.

Modified Outline

A modified outline uses indenting to show layers of ideas.

We call it a "modified" outline because it is simpler than the formal outline that we will discuss in Chapter 11.

The example shows Crystal's notes from a developmental psychology lecture about Jean Piaget, a very famous figure.

Notice how the line for the major point is all the way to the left. Smaller ideas are indented, and supporting details are indented further.

Crystal also used abbreviations for terms like development and example.

Idea Mapping

Some people prefer to use a more visual format for notes. The next example shows how Crystal's lecture notes could be set up as an "idea map," a more visual way to show the same information as the modified outline did.


If a lecture is highly structured, you might choose to use a chart to record your notes. This system works best when you already know which categories you should include. The next figure shows how a chart for Crystal's notes might look.

Theorist Country of Origin Years Active Stages of Child Development
Jean Piaget Switzerland
Erik Erikson Denmark (emigrated to US in 1930s)

The Cornell Note-taking System

Another choice is the Cornell note-taking system. This popular format makes it easy to organize information, note key terms, and summarize.

To use the Cornell system, set up your page with these components:

  • The course name and lecture date at the top of the page
  • A narrow column (about two inches) at the left side of the page
  • A wide column (about five to six inches) on the right side of the page
  • A marked-off space at the bottom of the page

During the lecture, write your notes in the wide column.

As soon as possible after the lecture, review your notes and find key terms.

Write the key terms in the narrow left-hand column.

You can use the left-hand column as a study aid by covering the notes on the right side with your hand, looking at the key terms, and using them to restate the main points of the lecture. Uncover the notes on the right to check your understanding.

Finally, use the space at the bottom of the page to summarize each page of notes in a few sentences.

Using the Cornell system, Crystal's notes would look like the following:

Writing At Work

Especially in jobs where PowerPoint or other "slide deck" programs are used a lot, a presenter may give you pre-made notes summarizing their slides. This may tempt you not to take your own notes. But writing at least a few of your own notes will keep you focused, let you capture details you might otherwise forget, and let you add your own questions or responses.

Exercise 3

Establish a note-taking system that works for you.

  1. Try one of the techniques above.
  2. It can take some trial and error to find what works for you. If you you are struggling to keep up with lectures, consider a different format or just focus on separating what really matters from less-important details.
  3. If you are still struggling, set up an appointment with your school's academic resource center.


  • To manage your time well, you need to consider both the short term (daily and weekly schedules) and the long term (major semester deadlines).
  • Be consistent about keeping your schedule. If your schedule is not working for you, adjust.
  • A good note-taking system must separate major points, smaller ideas, and supporting details. It must also allow you to work quickly. Choose the format that works best for you.

1.3 Becoming A Successful College Writer

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify strategies for successful writing.
  2. Demonstrate comprehensive writing skills.
  3. Identify writing strategies for use in future classes.

In the preceding sections, you learned what you can expect from college and identified strategies you can use to manage your work. These strategies will help you succeed in any college course. This section covers more about how to handle the demands college places upon you as a writer. The general techniques you will learn will help ensure your success on any writing task, whether you complete a bluebook exam in an hour or an in-depth research project over several weeks.

Putting It All Together: Strategies For Success

Writing well is difficult. Even people who write for a living sometimes struggle. Even people who enjoy writing have days when they would rather do anything else. For people who do not like writing, it can be stressful or intimidating. And of course, you cannot get through college without having to write.

No magic formula will make writing quick and easy. However, you can learn to manage writing assignments more easily. This section presents an overview of these strategies and resources. The remaining chapters of this book provide more detailed, comprehensive instruction to help you succeed at various assignments. College will challenge you as a writer, but it is also a chance to grow.

To complete a writing project successfully, good writers use some variation of the following process.

The Writing Process

Prewriting. In this step, the writer generates ideas to write about and begins developing these ideas.

Outlining a structure of ideas. In this step, the writer determines the overall organizational structure of the writing and creates an outline to organize ideas. Usually this step involves some additional fleshing out of the ideas generated in the first step.

Writing a rough draft. In this step, the writer uses the work completed in prewriting to develop a first draft. The draft covers the ideas the writer brainstormed and follows the organizational plan that was laid out in the first step.

Revising. In this step, the writer revisits the draft to review and, if necessary, reshape its content. This stage involves moderate and sometimes major changes: adding or deleting a paragraph, phrasing the main point differently, expanding on an important idea, reorganizing content, and so forth.

Editing. In this step, the writer reviews the draft to make additional changes. Editing involves making changes to improve style and adherence to standard writing conventions---for instance, replacing a vague word with a more precise one or fixing errors in grammar and spelling. Once this stage is complete, the work is a finished piece and ready to share with others.

Chances are, you have already used this process as a writer. You may also have used it for other types of creative projects, such as developing a sketch into a finished painting or composing a song. The steps listed above apply broadly to any project that involves creative thinking. You come up with ideas (often vague at first), you work to give them some structure, you make a first attempt, you figure out what needs improving, and then you refine it until you are satisfied.

Most people have used this creative process in one way or another, but many people have misconceptions about how to use it to write. Here are a few common misconceptions students have about the writing process:

"I do not have to waste time on prewriting if I understand the assignment."

Even if the task is straightforward and you feel ready to start writing, take some time to develop ideas before you plunge into your draft. Freewriting---writing about the topic without stopping for a set period of time---is one prewriting technique you might try in that situation.

"I should complete a formal, numbered outline for every writing assignment."

For some assignments, such as lengthy research papers, proceeding without a formal outline can be very difficult. However, for other assignments, a structured set of notes or a detailed graphic organizer may suffice. The important thing is that you have a solid plan for organizing ideas and details.

"My draft will be better if I write it when I am feeling inspired."

By all means, take advantage of those moments of inspiration. However, understand that sometimes you will have to write when you are not in the mood. Sit down and start your draft even if you do not feel like it. If necessary, force yourself to write for just one hour. By the end of the hour, you may be far more engaged and motivated to continue. If not, at least you will have accomplished part of the task.

"My instructor will tell me everything I need to revise."

If your instructor chooses to review drafts, the feedback can help you improve. However, it is still your job, not your instructor's, to transform the draft to a final, polished piece. That task will be much easier if you give your best effort to the draft before submitting it. During revision, do not just go through and implement your instructor's corrections. Take time to determine what you can change to make the work the best it can be.

"I am a good writer, so I do not need to revise or edit."

Even talented writers still need to revise and edit their work. At the very least, doing so will help you catch an embarrassing typo or two. Revising and editing are the steps that make good writers into great writers.

For a more thorough explanation of the steps of the writing process as well as for specific techniques you can use for each step, see Chapter 8.


The writing process also applies to timed writing, such as essay exams. Before you begin writing, read the question thoroughly and think about the main points to include in your response. Use scrap paper to sketch out a very brief outline. Keep an eye on the clock as you write your response so you will have time to review it and make any needed changes before turning in your exam.

Managing Your Time

In Section 1.2, you learned time-management skills. By combining those skills with what you have learned about the writing process, you can make any writing assignment easier to manage.

When your instructor gives you a writing assignment, write the due date on your calendar. Then work backward from the due date to set aside blocks of time when you will work on the assignment. Always plan at least two sessions of writing time per assignment, so that you are not trying to move from step 1 to step 5 in one evening. Trying to work that fast is stressful, and it does not yield great results. You will plan better, think better, and write better if you space out the steps.

You should set aside at least three separate blocks of time to work on a writing assignment: one for prewriting and outlining, one for drafting, and one for revising and editing. Sometimes those steps may be compressed into just a few days. If you have a couple of weeks to work on a paper, space out the five steps over multiple sessions. Long-term projects, such as research papers, require more time for each step.


Sometimes you might not have enough time to do all the steps of the writing process, like when you have to write in class or finish a short paper quickly. In these situations, you can still try to do your best by following a shorter version of the writing process. Even though these assignments might not be as formal as longer papers, you should still try to do a good job. If you're not sure what your teacher expects, it's okay to ask them for help and advice on how to display your writing skills in the assignment.

Each Monday in Crystal's Foundations of Education class, the instructor distributed copies of a current news article on education and assigned students to write a one-and-one-half- to two-page response that was due the following Monday. Together, these weekly assignments counted for 20 percent of the course grade. Although each response took just a few hours to complete, Crystal found that she learned more from the reading and got better grades on her writing if she spread the work out in the following way:

Article response assigned. Read article, prewrite. Draft response. Revise and edit response.

For more detailed guidelines on how to plan for a long-term writing project, see Chapter 11

Setting Goals

One key to succeeding as a student and as a writer is setting both short- and long-term goals for yourself. You have already glimpsed the kind of short-term goals a student might set. Crystal wanted to do well in her Foundations of Education course, and she realized that she could control how she handled her weekly writing assignments. At 20 percent of her course grade, she reasoned, those assignments might mean the difference between a B and an A.

By planning carefully and following through on her daily and weekly goals, Crystal was able to fulfill one of her goals for the semester. Although her exam scores were not as high as she had hoped, her consistently strong performance on writing assignments tipped her grade from a B+ to an A−. She was pleased to have earned a high grade in one of the required courses for her major. She was also glad to have gotten the most out of an introductory course that would help her become an effective teacher.

How does Crystal's experience relate to your own college experience?

To do well in college, it is important to stay focused on how your day-to-day actions determine your long-term success. You may not have defined your career goals or chosen a major yet. Even so, you surely have some overarching goals for what you want out of college: to expand your career options, to increase your earning power, or just to learn something new. In time, you will define your long-term goals more explicitly. Doing solid, steady work, day by day and week by week, will help you meet those goals.

Exercise 1

In this exercise, you will connect a long-term goal to some short-term goals.

  1. For this step, identify one long-term goal you would like to have achieved by the time you complete your degree. For instance, you might want a particular job in your field or hope to graduate with honors.
  2. Next, identify one semester goal that will help you fulfill the goal you set in step one. For instance, you may want to do well in a particular course or establish a connection with a professional in your field.
  3. Review the goal you determined in step two. Brainstorm a list of stepping stones that will help you meet that goal, such as "doing well on my midterm and final exams" or "talking to Professor Gibson about doing an internship." Write down everything you can think of that would help you meet that semester goal.
  4. Review your list. Choose two to three items, and for each item identify at least one concrete action you can take to accomplish it. These actions may be recurring (meeting with a study group each week) or one time only (calling the professor in charge of internships).
  5. Identify one action from step four that you can do today. Then do it.

Using College Resources

One reason students sometimes find college overwhelming is that they do not know about, or are reluctant to use, the resources available to them. Some aspects of college will be challenging. However, if you try to handle every challenge alone, you may become frustrated and overwhelmed.

Universities have resources in place to help students cope with challenges. Your student fees help pay for resources such as a health center or tutoring, so use these resources if you need them. The following are some of the resources you might use if you find you need help:

Your instructor. If you are making an honest effort but still struggling with a particular course, set up a time to meet with your instructor and discuss what you can do to improve. He or she may be able to shed light on a confusing concept or give you strategies to catch up.

Your academic counselor. Many universities assign students an academic counselor who can help you choose courses and ensure that you fulfill degree and major requirements.

The academic resource center. These centers offer various services, which may range from general coaching in study skills to tutoring for specific courses. Find out what is offered at your school and use the services that you need.

The writing center. These centers employ tutors to help you manage college writing assignments. They will not write or edit your paper for you, but they can help you through the stages of the writing process. (In some schools, the writing center is part of the academic resource center.)

The career resource center. Visit the career resource center for guidance in choosing a career path, developing a résumé, and finding and applying for jobs.

Counseling services. Many universities offer psychological counseling for free or for a low fee. Use these services if you need help coping with a difficult personal situation or managing depression, anxiety, or other problems.

Students sometimes don't use their resources because they are too busy or are embarrassed about needing help. But this usually makes it harder to cope with later on. Waiting until the end of the semester may also mean fewer resources are available, since many other students are also seeking last-minute help.

Exercise 2

Identify at least one college resource that you think could be helpful to you and you would like to investigate further. Schedule a time to visit this resource within the next week or two so you can use it throughout the semester.

Overview: College Writing Skills

You now have some strategies to succeed in college. The rest of this book will guide you on writing, ranging from grammar to style to writing a research paper.

For any college writing, use these strategies:

  • Plan ahead. Divide the work into smaller, manageable tasks, and set aside time to accomplish each task in turn.
  • Make sure you understand the assignment requirements, and if necessary, clarify them with your instructor.
  • Think carefully about the purpose of the writing, the intended audience, the topics you will need to address, and any specific requirements of the writing form.
  • Complete each step of the writing process. With practice, using this process will come automatically to you.
  • Use the resources available to you. Remember that most colleges have specific services to help students with their writing.

Here is an overview of the rest of the book:

Chapter 2 through Chapter 7 will ground you in writing basics: the grammar and paragraph-writing skills you will need to produce strong college writing.

  • Chapter 2 reviews the parts of speech and the parts of a sentence.
  • Chapter 3 explains how to use punctuation correctly.
  • Chapter 4 will help you use words correctly. It explains everything from commonly confused words to using context clues.
  • Chapter 5 provides guidance for students who have learned English as a second language.
  • Chapter 6 guides you through the process of developing a paragraph
  • Chapter 7 has tips to help you refine and improve your sentences.

Chapter 8 through Chapter 10 help you apply those basics to college writing assignments.

  • Chapter 8 shows the writing process in action with explanations and examples of techniques you can use during each step of the process.
  • Chapter 9 provides further discussion of the components of college essays---how to create and support a thesis and how to organize an essay effectively.
  • Chapter 10 discusses specific modes of writing you will encounter as a college student and explains how to approach these different assignments.

Chapter 11 through Chapter 14 focus on how to write a research paper.

  • Chapter 11 guides students through the process of conducting research, while
  • Chapter 12 explains how to transform that research into a finished paper.
  • Chapter 13 explains how to format your paper and use a standard system for documenting sources. Finally,
  • Chapter 14 discusses how to transform your paper into an effective presentation.
  • Many of the chapters in this book include sample student writing---not just the finished essays but also the preliminary steps that went into developing those essays. Chapter 15 of this book provides additional examples of different essay types.


  • Following the steps of the writing process helps students complete any writing assignment more successfully.

  • To manage writing assignments, it is best to work backward from the due date, allotting appropriate time to complete each step of the writing process.

  • Setting concrete long- and short-term goals helps students stay focused and motivated.

  • Various resources are available to help students with writing and with other aspects of college life.

1.4 Introduction To Writing: End-of-chapter Exercises


1. Apply the following comprehension and active reading strategies to an assigned reading:

  • Locate the writer's main idea and major supporting points. (Use text features to gather clues.)
  • Apply the SQ3R strategy: Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Record, and Review and Reflect.
  • Apply at least one other active reading strategy appropriate for the text, such as visualizing or connecting the text to personal experiences.

2. After reviewing your syllabus, map out a timeline of major assignments in the course. Describe the steps you anticipate needing to follow in order to complete these assignments.

3. Take a few minutes to skim through the remaining chapters of this book, whose contents are described in Section 1.3. Use self-stick notes or flags to mark any sections that you expect to consult frequently when you write, such as a grammar guide or guidelines for a particular essay format. You may wish to similarly make notes in other writing handbooks you own and any other reference books you will need to use frequently.

Chapter 2

Table of Contents

Writing Basics: What Makes A Good Sentence?

Language Change

Not everyone realizes it, but all human languages are always changing.

And in language, the only measure of what is "correct" is what people do.

Throughout this book, we will see some examples of ways language is changing. It used to be incorrect to use "singular they" in a sentence like, "The student said they loved math but hated English." Now, most authorities think it is fine.

The writing expert Bryan A. Garner splits language changes into five stages; at stage 1, a usage is rejected by nearly everyone. By stage 5, it is accepted by nearly everyone.

We don't need to discuss the details of his system except to recognize that language is always changing. What was wrong yesterday can be right today. What was right yesterday can be wrong today. (Imagine opening a cover letter with, "Thou wilt find I have excellent skills with Microsoft Office." This was correct grammar in the English of the 1600s, but sounds very strange today.)

For students, this can be tricky. Some instructors prefer old-fashioned usage, others prefer new-fashioned usage, and still others don't care either way.

So you must listen to what your instructor wants you to do.

If you would like to know the state of the art, you can't find a better book than Garner's Modern American Usage.

2.1 Sentence Writing

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the components of a basic sentence.
  2. Identify the four most serious writing errors.

Imagine you are reading a book for school. You need to find important details that you can use for an assignment. However, when you begin to read, you notice that the book has very little punctuation. Sentences fail to form complete paragraphs and instead form one block of text without clear organization. Most likely, this book would frustrate and confuse you. Without clear and concise sentences, it is difficult to find the information you need.

For both students and professionals, clear communication is important. Whether you are typing an email or writing a report, it is your responsibility to present your thoughts and ideas clearly and precisely. Writing in complete sentences is one way to ensure that you communicate well. This section covers how to recognize and write basic sentence structures and how to avoid some common writing errors.

What Makes A Sentence?

Many students have heard the saying that "a complete sentence must have a complete idea." In my opinion, this is a bad way to define a sentence, because it leaves students asking the wrong question: they ask "Do I feel like something is missing from this sentence?" That is a semantic question---a question about meaning.

But whether something is a sentence is a syntactic question: a question about parts. A sentence needs two parts: a subject and a particular kind of verb.

If it has those two parts, it is a complete sentence. This is a complete sentence:

It is.

If it doesn't have them, it is not a complete sentence. This is not a complete sentence:

Waiting by the train tracks, the snow falling softly.

If you ask yourself what's missing from the first example, you'll probably say, "everything!" All you have is questions.

If you ask yourself what's missing from the second sentence, you might say, "nothing." This sentence paints a clear picture in your mind. But "is something missing?" is the wrong question.

Peter Adams, a Professor Emeritus at Community College Baltimore County (CCBC), has the best test I know of for whether a group of words can be a complete sentence:

Does the group of words make sense if you put it after "It is the case that"?

For example, does it make sense to say, "It is the case that it is"? Yes. It's a weird thing to say, but it does not give a native speaker the sense that it is broken. So it is can be a complete sentence.

But does it make sense to say, "It is the case that waiting by the train tracks, the snow falling softly"? No. This feels wrong to nearly all native speakers. So waiting by the train tracks, the snow falling softly is not a complete sentence.

A group of words capable of being its own sentence can also be called an independent clause. A sentence must have at least one independent clause.

This sentence has three independent clauses. Each one is in bold.

We went to the store where we bought the ingredients on our list and then we went home.


As we just learned, every sentence must have at least one independent clause, and every independent clause must have at least one subject. So it is useful to know how to find the subject.

You will often hear people say "the subject is what does the action of the sentence" or "the subject is what the sentence is about." But those things are only true some of the time. Linguists (scientists who study language) define the subject differently. (The discussion below follows The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar by Bas Aarts et al.; see the Works Cited at the end of the book for a reference.)

In English, the subject typically comes first. It is the "grammatical boss" of the sentence: it controls what ending goes on the verb.

In the sentence below, the subject is John.

John visits the store.

John comes first, and is the "grammatical boss" of the sentence because it makes the -s go on the end of the verb visits.

What makes something the subject of a sentence is where is goes and how it affects the other words in the sentence.

In this case, John is also the thing that does the action. If I ask, "Who visits the store?" the answer is, "John does."

Doing the action is called being the agent in the sentence. (This is part of the layer of linguistics called semantics, the study of meaning. It is a different layer from syntax, the study of grammar.)

The subject and the agent are often the same thing, but not always. The subject does not always do the action. Look at this sentence:

The store was visited by John.

In this sentence, the subject is the store, because it comes first and controls the verb. But the agent is still John, because John does the action of visiting.

The question of "who or what the sentence is about" is even trickier. It is close to what linguists call a topic, "the part of a sentence about which something is said" (Aarts et al. 419).

What is the topic of this sentence?

I fled from deadly wildfires that swept through California last spring.

Because the wildfires are the reason for making the statement and are described in detail, you might say that the topic is wildfires.

But the word I is the subject here. (The word I is also the agent in this sentence. Do you see why?)

The takeaway is that finding the subject is tricky unless you already know what it is. Sometimes teachers don't realize this because they are so used to finding the subject quickly. Psychologists have a name for this: the curse of knowledge (Brown et al. 115). When you are an expert at something, it is hard for you to understand how a beginner will see it and what might confuse them. Because most teachers know how to find the subject without thinking about it, they don't realize how hard it can be to find.

In the following sentences, the subject is in bold.

Malik is the project manager for this project. He will give us our assignments.

In these sentences, the subject is a person: Malik. The pronoun He replaces and refers back to Malik. (See below for discussion of nouns and pronouns.)

The computer lab is where we will work. It will be open twenty-four hours a day.

In the first sentence, the subject is a place: computer lab. In the second sentence, the pronoun It substitutes for computer lab as the subject.

The project will run for three weeks. It will have a quick turnaround.

In the first sentence, the subject is a thing: project. In the second sentence, the pronoun It stands in for the project.

Grammar Key

In the examples below, subjects will in bold. Verbs will be in bold italics.

LV will indicate a linking verb, HV will indicate a helping verb, and V will indicate an action verb.

(Most verbs are action verbs, so we will label them with only V instead of AV.)

Compound Subjects

Some sentences combine two or more nouns into a single subject. We call this a compound subject.

Desmond and Maria have been working on that design for almost a year. Books, magazines, and online articles are all good resources.

Prepositional Phrases

Many sentences have more than one noun or pronoun. You may encounter a group of words that includes a preposition with a noun or a pronoun. Prepositions connect a noun, pronoun, or verb to another word that describes or modifies that noun, pronoun, or verb. Common prepositions include in, on, under, near, by, with, and about. A group of words that begin with a preposition is called a prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition and modifies or describes a word. It cannot act as the subject of a sentence. The following capitalized phrases are examples of prepositional phrases.


Exercise 1

Read these sentences. Underline the subjects and circle the prepositional phrases.

  1. The gym is open until nine o'clock tonight.
  2. We went to the store to get some ice.
  3. The student with the most extra credit will win a homework pass.
  4. Maya and Tia found an abandoned cat by the side of the road.
  5. The driver of that pickup truck skidded on the ice.
  6. Anita won the race with time to spare.
  7. The people who work for that company were surprised about the merger.
  8. Working in haste means that you are more likely to make mistakes.
  9. The soundtrack has over sixty songs in languages from around the world.
  10. His latest invention does not work, but it has inspired the rest of us.


The other part that every complete sentence needs is a verb.

A verb is often an action word that shows what the subject is doing. The verb in the sentence below is visits.

John visits the store.

A verb can also link the subject to a describing word. The verb in the sentence below is is.

John is energetic.

We can't really say there is an action in the sentence above; John is not doing anything in this sentence, he is just existing in the world as an energetic person. So is is not an action verb here; it is a linking verb.

Finally, a verb can help another verb, often by putting it in the past or future or making it a possibility instead of an actual thing. In the sentence below, the helping verb is can:

John can visit the store.

Here we are not describing what John is doing; we are describing what he is capable of doing. (Linguists call these modals.) The helping verb can changes the sentence so it describes a possibility.

So, there are three types of verbs: action verbs, linking verbs, and helping verbs.

Action Verbs

A verb that connects the subject to an action is called an action verb. An action verb answers the question what is the subject doing? In the following sentences, the action verbs are in bold italics.

The dog barked at the jogger.

He gave a short speech before we ate.

Linking Verbs

A verb can often connect the subject of the sentence to a describing word. This type of verb is called a linking verb because it links the subject to a describing word. In these sentences, the linking verbs are in bold italics.

The coat was old and dirty.

The clock is broken.

A few verbs can be used as either action verbs or linking verbs.

The boy looked for his glove.

The boy looked tired.

In the first sentence, looked is an action verb. It describes the boy's action.

In the second sentence, looked is a linking verb. It describes the boy's appearance.

Helping Verbs

A third type of verb you may use is a helping verb. Helping verbs are verbs that are used with the main verb to describe a mood or tense. Helping verbs are usually a form of be, do, or have. The word can is also used as a helping verb.

Mexico is known for its variety of dishes.

Jim does speak up when prompted in class.

Frank has seen that movie three times.

Sherry can tell when someone walks on her lawn.


Whenever you write, keep the subject and verb in mind. As you write, ask yourself these questions to keep yourself on track:

Subject: Look first at the start of the sentence. Ask which word, if you changed it, could change the verb.

  • Sometimes it will work to also ask what is doing the action (the agent) or what the sentence is about (the topic). A subject is often also the agent and the topic, but not always.

Verb: Which word(s) show(s) an action or links the subject to a description?

Exercise 2

  • Copy each sentence onto your own sheet of paper.
  • In each sentence, underline the verb(s).
  • Name each verb as an action verb, linking verb, or helping verb.
  1. The cat sounds ready to come back inside.
  2. We have not eaten dinner yet.
  3. It took four people to move the broken-down car.
  4. The book was filled with notes from class.
  5. We walked from room to room, inspecting for damages.
  6. Harold was expecting a package in the mail.
  7. The clothes still felt damp even though they had been through the dryer twice.
  8. The teacher who runs the studio is often praised for his restoration work on old masterpieces.

Sentence Structure, Including Fragments And Run-ons

Now that you know what makes a complete sentence---a subject and a verb---you can use other parts of speech to build on this basic structure. Good writers use various sentence structures to make their work more interesting. This section covers different sentence structures that you can use to make longer, more complex sentences.

Sentence Patterns

Six basic subject-verb patterns can enhance your writing. A sample sentence is provided for each pattern. As you read each sentence, take note of where each part of the sentence falls. Notice that some sentence patterns use action verbs and others use linking verbs.

Subject - Verb
Computers hum.
Subject - Linking Verb - Noun
Computers are tools.
Subject - Linking Verb - Adjective
S LV Adj
Computers are expensive.
Subject - Verb - Adverb
S V Adv
Computers calculate quickly.
Subject - Verb - Direct Object

When you write a sentence with a direct object (DO), make sure that the DO receives the action of the verb.

Sally rides a motorcycle.
Subject - Verb - Indirect Object - Direct Object

In this sentence structure, an indirect object explains to whom or to what the action is being done. The indirect object is a noun or pronoun, and it comes before the direct object in a sentence.

My coworker gave me the reports.

Exercise 3

Use what you have learned so far to bring variety in your writing. Use your own sheet of paper to write six sentences that practice each basic sentence pattern. When you have finished, label each part of the sentence (S, V, LV, N, Adj, Adv, DO, IO).

Find an article in a newspaper, a magazine, or online that interests you. Bring it to class or post it online. Then, looking at a classmate's article, identify one example of each part of a sentence (S, V, LV, N, Adj, Adv, DO, IO). Please share or post your results.


In your writing, you may notice that some of your "sentences" are not complete. A "sentence" that is missing a subject or a main verb is called a fragment.

Fragment: Children helping in the kitchen.

This fragment has a subject, children. And it has a verb, helping, but it is an -ing verb. An -ing verb cannot be the only verb in a sentence. We say that it is not a main verb.

Complete sentence: Children help in the kitchen.

The sentence above has a main verb, help.

Complete sentence: Children enjoy helping in the kitchen.

The sentence above also has a main verb, enjoy.

You can fix a fragment by adding the missing subject or verb.

See whether you can identify what is missing in the following fragments.

Fragment: Told her about the broken vase.

Complete sentence: I told her about the broken vase.

Fragment: The store down on Main Street.

Complete sentence: The store down on Main Street sells music.

Fragments often occur when you start a sentence with a preposition, a dependent word, an infinitive, or a gerund.

Prepositional Phrase Fragments

When you see a prepositional phrase, check to see that it is part of a sentence with a subject and a main verb. Here, the prepositional phrase After walking over two miles is not part of a sentence with a subject and a main verb, so it is a fragment.

Prepositional phrase fragment: After walking over two miles. John remembered his wallet.

You can fix it by attaching it to the front of its neighbor independent clause:

Fixed by adding to the front: After walking over two miles, John remembered his wallet.

Or you can fix it by attaching it to the back of its neighbor independent clause:

Fixed by adding to the back: John remembered his wallet after walking over two miles.

Prepositional Phrase Fragment Example 2

Prepositional phrase fragment: The dog growled at the vacuum cleaner. When it was switched on.

Fixed: When the vacuum cleaner was switched on, the dog growled.

Fixed: The dog growled at the vacuum cleaner when it was switched on.

Dependent Clause Fragments

Clauses that start with a dependent word---such as since, because, without, or unless---are similar to prepositional phrases. Like prepositional phrases, these dependent clauses are fragments if they are not connected to an independent clause.

Here, Because we lost power is a dependent clause fragment.

Dependent clause fragment: Because we lost power. The entire family overslept.

You can fix it by attaching it to the front of its neighbor independent clause:

Fixed: Because we lost power, the entire family overslept.

Or you can fix it by attaching it to the back of its neighbor independent clause:

Fixed: The entire family overslept because we lost power.

Dependent Clause Fragment Example 2

Dependent clause fragment: He has been seeing a physical therapist. Since his accident.

Fixed: Since his accident, he has been seeing a physical therapist.

Fixed: He has been seeing a physical therapist Since since his accident.

Gerund Fragments

When you encounter a word ending in -ing in a sentence, check whether it is being used as a verb. You may also look for a helping verb. If the word is not used as a verb or if no helping verb is used with the -ing verb form, the verb is being used as a noun. An -ing verb form used as a noun is called a gerund.

Verb: I was working on homework until midnight.

Noun (gerund): Working until midnight makes me tired the next morning.

Once you know whether the -ing word is acting as a noun or a verb, look at the rest of the sentence. Does the entire sentence make sense on its own? If not, what you are looking at is a fragment. You will need to either add the parts of speech that are missing or combine the fragment with a nearby sentence.

Taking deep breaths is a gerund fragment.

Gerund fragment: Taking deep breaths. Saul prepared for his presentation.

You can fix it by attaching it to the front of its neighbor independent clause:

Correct: Taking deep breaths, Saul prepared for his presentation.

Or you can turn it into its own sentence after its neighbor independent clause:

Correct: Saul prepared for his presentation by taking deep breaths.

Gerund Fragment Example 2

Gerund fragment: Congratulating the entire team. Sarah raised her glass to toast their success.

Fixed: Sarah raised her glass to toast their success, congratulating the entire team.

Fixed: Congratulating the entire team, Sarah raised her glass to toast their success.

Infinitive Fragments

Another error in sentence construction is a fragment that begins with an infinitive. An infinitive is a verb paired with the word to; for example, to run, to write, or to reach.

Although infinitives are verbs, they can be used as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. You can correct a fragment that begins with an infinitive by either combining it with another sentence or adding the parts of speech that are missing.

Infinitive fragment: We needed to make three hundred more paper cranes. To reach the one thousand mark.

Fixed: We needed to make three hundred more paper cranes to reach the one thousand mark.

Fixed: We needed to make three hundred more paper cranes. We wanted to reach the one thousand mark.

Exercise 4

Each numbered item below contains one fragment and one independent clause.

Copy each item onto your own sheet of paper and circle the fragment. Then combine the fragment with the independent clause to create a complete sentence.

  1. Working without taking a break. We try to get as much work done as we can in an hour.
  2. I needed to bring work home. In order to meet the deadline.
  3. Unless the ground thaws before spring break. We won't be planting any tulips this year.
  4. Turning the lights off after he was done in the kitchen. Robert tries to conserve energy whenever possible.
  5. You'll find what you need if you look. On the shelf next to the potted plant.
  6. To find the perfect apartment. Deidre scoured the classifieds each day.

Run-on Sentences

A run-on sentence is a sentence with too many parts. It is the opposite of a fragment.

Informally, we think of fragments as sentences that are too short, and run-ons as sentences that are too long. But that's not precise. A fragment is a sentence that is too short because it is missing a part. A run-on is a sentence that is too long because it has too many parts.

I can write a very short sentence that is a run on: "Bob eats Bob sleeps."

I can write a very long sentence that is not a run-on: "Walking slowly, chewing thoughtfully, the old poet rubbed the worn elbows of his Irish wool sweater as he looked wearily over the same hill he had regarded for each of the last thirty years of mornings, wondering whether this morning would finally be the one to bring his daughter walking over it."

Any sentence with two incorrectly joined independent clauses is a run-on.

Each run-on is either a fused sentence (independent clauses joined by nothing) or a comma splice (independent clauses joined by only a comma).

Fused sentence: A family of foxes lived under our shed young foxes played all over the yard.

Comma splice: We looked outside, the kids were hopping on the trampoline.


One way to fix a run-on sentence is to correct the punctuation. For example, adding a period will correct the run-on by creating two separate sentences.

Comma splice run-on: There were no seats left, we had to stand in the back.

Fixed: There were no seats left. We had to stand in the back.

Using a semicolon between the two complete sentences will also correct the error. A semicolon allows you to keep the two closely related ideas together in one sentence. When you punctuate with a semicolon, make sure that both parts of the sentence are independent clauses. For more information on semicolons, see Section 2.4.

Run-on: The accident closed both lanes of traffic we waited an hour for the wreckage to be cleared.

Complete sentence: The accident closed both lanes of traffic ; we waited an hour for the wreckage to be cleared.

When you use a semicolon to separate two independent clauses, you may wish to add a transition word to show the connection between the two thoughts. After the semicolon, add the transition word and follow it with a comma. For more information on transition words, see Chapter 8.

Run-on: The project was put on hold we didn't have time to slow down, so we kept working.

Complete sentence: The project was put on hold; however, we didn't have time to slow down, so we kept working.

Coordinating Conjunctions

You can also fix run-on sentences by adding a comma and a coordinating conjunction. A coordinating conjunction can link two independent clauses.


These are the seven coordinating conjunctions. The acronym FANBOYS will help you remember them:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

Run-on: The new printer was installed, no one knew how to use it.

Complete sentence: The new printer was installed but no one knew how to use it.

Dependent Words

Adding dependent words is another way to link independent clauses. Like the coordinating conjunctions, dependent words show a relationship between two independent clauses.

Run-on: We took the elevator, the others still got there before us.

Complete sentence: Although we took the elevator, the others got there before us.

Run-on: Cobwebs covered the furniture, the room hadn't been used in years.

Complete sentence: Cobwebs covered the furniture because the room hadn't been used in years.

Exercise 5

A reader can get lost in material that rambles. Use what you have learned about run-on sentences to correct these passages:

  1. The report is due on Wednesday but we're flying back from Miami that morning. I told the project manager that we would be able to get the report to her later that day she suggested that we come back a day early to get the report done and I told her we had meetings until our flight took off. We emailed our contact who said that they would check with his boss, she said that the project could afford a delay as long as they wouldn't have to make any edits or changes to the file our new deadline is next Friday.

  2. Anna tried getting a reservation at the restaurant, but when she called they said that there was a waiting list so she put our names down on the list when the day of our reservation arrived we only had to wait thirty minutes because a table opened up unexpectedly which was good because we were able to catch a movie after dinner in the time we'd expected to wait to be seated.

  3. Without a doubt, my favorite artist is Leonardo da Vinci, not because of his paintings but because of his fascinating designs, models, and sketches, including plans for scuba gear, a flying machine, and a life-size mechanical lion that actually walked and moved its head. His paintings are beautiful too, especially when you see the computer enhanced versions researchers use a variety of methods to discover and enhance the paintings' original colors, the result of which are stunningly vibrant and yet delicate displays of the man's genius.


  • A sentence is complete when it contains both a subject and verb. A complete sentence makes sense on its own.
  • Every sentence must have a subject, which usually appears at the beginning of the sentence. A subject may be a noun (a person, place, or thing) or a pronoun.
  • A compound subject contains more than one noun.
  • A prepositional phrase describes, or modifies, another word in the sentence but cannot be the subject of a sentence.
  • A verb is often an action word that indicates what the subject is doing. Verbs may be action verbs, linking verbs, or helping verbs.
  • Variety in sentence structure and length improves writing by making it more interesting and more complex.
  • Focusing on the six basic sentence patterns will enhance your writing.
  • Fragments and run-on sentences are two common errors in sentence construction.

Fragments can be corrected by adding a missing subject or verb. Fragments that begin with a preposition or a dependent word can be corrected by combining the fragment with another sentence.

Run-on sentences can be corrected by adding appropriate punctuation or adding a coordinating conjunction.


Using the six basic sentence structures, write one of the following:

  1. A work email to a coworker about a presentation.
  2. A business letter to a potential employer.
  3. A status report about your current project.
  4. A job description for your résumé.

2.2 Subject-verb Agreement

Learning Objectives

  1. Define subject-verb agreement.
  2. Identify common errors in subject-verb agreement.

When you're at work, it's important to look and sound professional. What you wear and how you write can affect what people think of you, even when you're not around. If you make grammar mistakes, like not matching your subjects and verbs, it can make people think poorly of you. It's important to understand subject-verb agreement so that you can make a good impression and communicate your ideas clearly.


Agreement in language refers to the grammatical match between words and phrases. Parts of sentences must agree (match with the other parts) in number, person, case, and gender.

Number. The parts must be all singular or all plural. Don't mix them.

Person. The parts must all use the same person.

Grammatical person

First person Second person Third person
I You He / she / it / they

Case. All parts must match by being subjective, objective, or possessive.

Case Meaning Instances Example
Subjective The actor I / you / he / she / it / they I run fast.
Objective The acted-on me / her / him / them / us The air conditioner hit us
Possessive Shows ownership my / mine / your / yours / his / hers / their / theirs / our / ours The money is ours.

For more information on pronoun case agreement, see Section 2.5.

Gender. All parts must match in male or female forms.

Subject-verb agreement describes the proper match between subjects and verbs.

Because subjects and verbs are either singular or plural, the subject of a sentence and the verb of a sentence must agree with each other in number. That is, a singular subject belongs with a singular verb form, and a plural subject belongs with a plural verb form. For more information on subjects and verbs, see Section 2.1.

Singular: The cat jumps over the fence.

Plural: The cats jump over the fence.

Regular Verbs

Regular verbs follow a predictable pattern. For example, in the third person singular, regular verbs always end in -s. Other forms of regular verbs do not end in -s. Study these regular verb forms in the present tense.

Person Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I live. We live.
Second Person You live. You live.
Third Person He/she/it lives. They live.


Add an -es to the third person singular form of regular verbs that end in -sh, -x, -ch, and -s.

I wish/He wishes,

I fix/She fixes

I watch/It watches,

I kiss/He kisses.

Singular: I read every day.

Plural: We read every day.

In the sentences above, the verb form stays the same for the first person singular and the first person plural.

Singular: You stretch before you go to bed.

Singular: You all stretch before every game.

In the sentences above, the verb form stays the same for the second person singular and the second person plural.

In the singular form, the pronoun you refers to one person. In the plural form, the pronoun you refers to a group of people, such as a team.

Singular: My mother walks to work every morning.

In the sentence above, the subject is mother. Because the sentence only refers to one mother, the subject is singular. The verb in this sentence must be in the third-person singular form.

Plural: My friends like the same music as I do.

In the sentence above, the subject is friends. Because this subject refers to more than one person, the subject is plural. The verb in this sentence must be in the third-person plural form.


Many singular subjects can be made plural by adding an -s. Most regular verbs in the present tense end with an -s in the third person singular. This does not make the verbs plural.

The cat races across the yard.

The cats race across the yard.

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, write the correct verb form for each of the following sentences.

  1. I (brush/brushes) my teeth twice a day.
  2. You (wear/wears) the same shoes every time we go out.
  3. He (kick/kicks) the soccer ball into the goal.
  4. She (watch/watches) foreign films.
  5. Catherine (hide/hides) behind the door.
  6. We (want/wants) to have dinner with you.
  7. You (work/works) together to finish the project.
  8. They (need/needs) to score another point to win the game.
  9. It (eat/eats) four times a day.
  10. David (fix/fixes) his own motorcycle.

Irregular Verbs

Not all verbs follow a predictable pattern. These verbs are called irregular verbs. Some of the most common irregular verbs are be, have, and do. Learn the forms of these verbs in the present tense to avoid errors in subject-verb agreement.


Study the different forms of the verb to be in the present tense.

Person Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I am. We are.
Second Person You are. You are.
Third Person He/She/It is. They are.


Study the different forms of the verb to have in the present tense.

Person Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I have. We have.
Second Person You have. You have.
Third Person He/She/It has. They have.


Study the different forms of the verb to do in the present tense.

Person Singular Form Plural Form
First Person I do. We do.
Second Person You do. You do.
Third person He/She/It does. They do.

Exercise 2

Complete these sentences by writing the correct present tense form of be, have, or do. Use your own sheet of paper to complete this exercise.

  1. I ________ sure that you will succeed.
  2. They ________ front-row tickets to the show.
  3. He ________ a great Elvis impersonation.
  4. We ________ so excited to meet you in person!
  5. She ________ a fever and a sore throat.
  6. You ________ not know what you are talking about.
  7. You ________ all going to pass this class.
  8. She ________ not going to like that.
  9. It ________ appear to be the right size.
  10. They ________ ready to take this job seriously.

Errors In Subject-verb Agreement

Errors in subject-verb agreement may occur when

  • a sentence contains a compound subject;
  • the subject of the sentence is separate from the verb;
  • the subject of the sentence is an indefinite pronoun, such as anyone or everyone;
  • the subject of the sentence is a collective noun, such as team or organization;
  • the subject appears after the verb.

Recognizing the sources of common errors in subject-verb One singular and one plural subject will help you avoid these errors in your writing. This section covers the subject-verb agreement errors in more detail.

Compound Subjects

A compound subject is formed by two or more nouns and the coordinating conjunctions and, or, or nor. A compound subject can be made of singular subjects, plural subjects, or a combination of singular and plural subjects.

Compound subjects combined with and take a plural verb form.

Two singular subjects: Alicia and Miguel ride their bikes to the beach.

Two plural subjects: The girls and the boys ride their bikes to the beach

One singular and one plural subject: Alicia and the boys ride their bikes to the beach

Compound subjects combined with or and nor are treated separately. The verb must agree with the subject that is nearest to the verb.

With neither . . . nor

Two singular subjects: Neither Alice nor Bob wants to eat at that restaurant.

Two plural subjects: Neither the kids nor the adults wants to eat at that restaurant.

Singular, then plural: Neither Alice nor the men want to eat at the restaurant.

Plural, then singular: Neither the men nor Alice wants to eat at the restaurant.

With either . . . or

Two singular subjects: Either you or Jason takes the furniture out of the garage.

Two plural subjects: Either you or the twins take the furniture out of the garage.

Singular, then plural: Either Jason or the twins take the furniture out of the garage.

Plural, then singular: Either the twins or Jason takes the furniture out of the garage.


If you can substitute the word they for the compound subject, then the sentence takes the third person plural verb form.

Separation Of Subjects And Verbs

As you read or write, you may come across a sentence that contains a phrase or clause that separates the subject from the verb. Often, prepositional phrases or dependent clauses add more information to the sentence and appear between the subject and the verb. However, the subject and the verb must still agree.

If you have trouble finding the subject and verb, cross out or ignore the phrases and clauses that begin with prepositions or dependent words. The subject of a sentence will never be in a prepositional phrase or dependent clause.

The following is an example of a subject and verb separated by a prepositional phrase:

The students with the best grades win the academic awards.

The puppy under the table is my favorite.

The following is an example of a subject and verb separated by a dependent clause:

The car that I bought has power steering and a sunroof.

The representatives who are courteous sell the most tickets.

Indefinite Pronouns

Indefinite pronouns refer to an unspecified person, thing, or number. When an indefinite pronoun serves as the subject of a sentence, you will often use a singular verb form.

Exceptions do arise. Some indefinite pronouns may require a plural verb form. To determine whether to use a singular or plural verb with an indefinite pronoun, consider the noun that the pronoun would refer to. If the noun is plural, then use a plural verb with the indefinite pronoun. View the chart to see a list of common indefinite pronouns and the verb forms they agree with.

Always Take A Singular Verb Can Take Singular or Plural Verb
anybody, anyone, anything all
each any
everybody, everyone, everything none
much some
nobody, no one, nothing
somebody, someone, something

Singular: Everybody in the kitchen sings along when that song comes on the radio.

The indefinite pronoun everybody takes a singular verb form because everybody refers to a group performing the same action as a single unit.

Plural: All the people in the kitchen sing along when that song comes on the radio.

The indefinite pronoun all takes a plural verb form because all refers to the plural noun people. Because people is plural, all is plural.

Singular: All the cake is on the floor.

In this sentence, the indefinite pronoun all takes a singular verb form because all refers to the singular noun cake. Because cake is singular, all is singular.

Collective Nouns

A collective noun is a noun that collects more than one person, place, or thing and considers them as one unit.

Some commonly used collective nouns are group, team, army, flock, family, and class.

Singular: The class is going on a field trip.

Collective nouns are treated as singular and require a singular verb form.

In the sentence above, class is a collective noun. Although the class has many students, the class is being treated as one unit, so the verb form must be singular.

The Subject Follows The Verb

You may encounter sentences in which the subject comes after the verb instead of before the verb. In other words, the subject of the sentence may not appear where you expect it to appear. To ensure proper subject-verb agreement, you must correctly identify the subject and the verb.

In sentences that begin with here or there, the subject follows the verb.

Here is my wallet!

There are thirty dolphins in the water.

If you have trouble identifying the subject and the verb in sentences that start with here or there; it may help to reverse the order of the sentence so the subject comes first.

My wallet is here!

Thirty dolphins are in the water.


When you ask questions, a question word (who, what, where, when, why, or how) appears first. The verb and then the subject follow.

Who are the people you are related to?

When am I going to go to the grocery store?


If you have trouble finding the subject and the verb in questions, try answering the question being asked.

When am I going to the grocery store? I am going to the grocery store tonight!

Exercise 3

Correct the errors in subject-verb agreement in these sentences. If there are no errors in subject-verb agreement, write OK. Copy the corrected sentence or the word OK on your own sheet of notebook paper.

  1. My dog and cats chases each other all the time.
  2. The books that are in my library is the best I have ever read.
  3. Everyone are going to the concert except me.
  4. My family are moving to California.
  5. Here is the lake I told you about.
  6. There is the newspapers I was supposed to deliver.
  7. Which room is bigger?
  8. When are the movie going to start?
  9. My sister and brother cleans up after themselves.
  10. Some of the clothes is packed away in the attic.

Exercise 4

Correct the errors in subject-verb agreement in the following paragraph. Copy the paragraph on a piece of notebook paper and make corrections.

Dear Hiring Manager,

I feels that I am the ideal candidate for the receptionist position at your company. I has three years of experience as a receptionist in a company that is similar to yours. My phone skills and written communication is excellent. These skills, and others that I have learned on the job, helps me understand that every person in a company helps make the business a success. At my current job, the team always say that I am very helpful. Everyone appreciate when I go the extra mile to get the job done right. My current employer and coworkers feels that I am an asset to the team. I is efficient and organized. Is there any other details about me that you would like to know? If so, please contact me. Here are my résumé. You can reach me by email or phone. I looks forward to speaking with you in person.


Felicia Fellini


  • Parts of sentences must agree in number, person, case, and gender.
  • A verb must always agree with its subject in number. A singular subject requires a singular verb; a plural subject requires a plural verb.
  • Irregular verbs do not follow a predictable pattern in their singular and plural forms. Common irregular verbs are to be, to have, and to do.
  • A compound subject is formed when two or more nouns are joined by the words and, or, or nor.
  • In some sentences, the subject and verb may be separated by a phrase or clause, but the verb must still agree with the subject.
  • Indefinite pronouns, such as anyone, each, everyone, many, no one, and something, refer to unspecified people or objects. Most indefinite pronouns are singular.
  • A collective noun is a noun that identifies more than one person, place, or thing and treats those people, places, or things one singular unit. Collective nouns require singular verbs.
  • In sentences that begin with here and there, the subject follows the verb.
  • In questions, the subject follows the verb.


Use your knowledge of subject-verb agreement to write one of the following:

  1. An advertisement for a potential company
  2. A memo to all employees of a particular company
  3. A cover letter describing your qualifications to a potential employer

Be sure to include at least these:

  • One collective noun
  • One irregular verb
  • One question

2.3 Verb Tense

Learning Objectives

  1. Use the correct regular verb tense in basic sentences.
  2. Use the correct irregular verb tense in basic sentences.

Suppose you must give an oral presentation about what you did last summer. How do you make it clear that you are talking about the past and not about the present or the future? Using the correct verb tense can help you do this.

It is important to use the proper verb tense. Otherwise, your listener might judge you harshly. Mistakes in tense often leave a listener or reader with a negative impression.

Regular Verbs

Verbs indicate actions or states of being in the past, present, or future using tenses. Regular verbs follow regular patterns when shifting from the present to past tense. For example, to form a past-tense or past-participle verb form, add -ed or -d to the end of a verb. You can avoid mistakes by understanding this basic pattern.

Verb tense identifies the time of action described in a sentence. Verbs take different forms to indicate different tenses. Verb tenses indicate

  • an action or state of being in the present,
  • an action or state of being in the past,
  • an action or state of being in the future.

Helping verbs, such as be and have, also work to create verb tenses, such as the future tense.

Present Tense: Tim walks to the store. (Singular subject) Present Tense: Sue and Kimmy walk to the store. (Plural subject) Past Tense: Yesterday, I walked to the store to buy some bread. (Singular subject)

Exercise 1

Complete these sentences by selecting the correct form of the verb in simple present, simple past, or simple future tenses. Write the corrected sentence on your own sheet of paper.

  1. The Dust Bowl (is, was, will be) a name given to a period of very destructive dust storms that occurred in the United States during the 1930s.
  2. Historians today (consider, considered, will consider) The Dust Bowl to be one of the worst weather of events in American history.
  3. The Dust Bowl mostly (affects, affected, will affect) the states of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.
  4. Dust storms (continue, continued, will continue) to occur in these dry regions, but not to the devastating degree of the 1930s.
  5. The dust storms during The Dust Bowl (cause, caused, will cause) irreparable damage to farms and the environment for a period of several years.
  6. When early settlers (move, moved, will move) into this area, they (remove, removed, will remove) the natural prairie grasses in order to plant crops and graze their cattle.
  7. They did not (realize, realized, will realize) that the grasses kept the soil in place.
  8. There (is, was, will be) also a severe drought that (affects, affected, will affect) the region.
  9. The worst dust storm (happens, happened, will happen) on April 14, 1935, a day called Black Sunday.
  10. The Dust Bowl era finally came to end in 1939 when the rains (arrive, arrived, will arrive).
  11. Dust storms (continue, continued, will continue) to affect the region, but hopefully they will not be as destructive as the storms of the 1930s.

Irregular Verbs

The past tense of irregular verbs is not formed using the patterns that regular verbs follow. Study the table below, which lists the most common irregular verbs.


The best way to learn irregular verbs is to memorize them. With the help of a classmate, create flashcards of irregular verbs and test yourselves until you master them.

Irregular Verbs

Simple Present Past Simple Present Past
be was, were lose lost
become became make made
begin began mean meant
blow blew meet met
break broke pay paid
bring brought put put
build built quit quit
burst burst read read
buy bought ride rode
catch caught ring rang
choose chose rise rose
come came run ran
cut cut say said
dive dove (dived) see saw
do did seek sought
draw drew sell sold
drink drank send sent
drive drove set set
eat ate shake shook
fall fell shine shone (shined)
feed fed shrink shrank (shrunk)
feel felt sing sang
fight fought sit sat
find found sleep slept
fly flew speak spoke
forget forgot spend spent
forgive forgave spring sprang
freeze froze stand stood
get got steal stole
give gave strike struck
go went swim swam
grow grew swing swung
have had take took
hear heard teach taught
hide hid tear tore
hold held tell told
hurt hurt think thought
keep kept throw threw
know knew understand understood
lay laid wake woke
lead led wear wore
leave left win won
let let wind wound

Here we consider using irregular verbs.

Present Tense: Lauren keeps all her letters. Past Tense: Lauren kept all her letters. Future Tense: Lauren will keep all her letters.

Exercise 2

Complete these sentences by selecting the correct form of the irregular verb in simple present, simple past, or simple future tense. Copy the corrected sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

  1. Marina finally (forgived, forgave, will forgive) her sister for snooping around her room.
  2. The house (shook, shaked, shakes) as the airplane rumbled overhead.
  3. I (buyed, bought, buy) several items of clothing at the thrift store on Wednesday.
  4. She (put, putted, puts) the lotion in her shopping basket and proceeded to the checkout line.
  5. The prized goose (layed, laid, lay) several golden eggs last night.
  6. Mr. Batista (teached, taught, taughted) the class how to use correct punctuation.
  7. I (drink, drank, will drink) several glasses of sparkling cider instead of champagne on New Year's Eve next year.
  8. Although Hector (growed, grew, grows) three inches in one year, we still called him "Little Hector."
  9. Yesterday our tour guide (lead, led, will lead) us through the maze of people in Times Square.
  10. The rock band (burst, bursted, bursts) onto the music scene with their catchy songs.

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, write a sentence using the correct form of the verb tense shown below.

  1. Throw (past)
  2. Paint (simple present)
  3. Smile (future)
  4. Tell (past)
  5. Share (simple present)

Keeping A Consistent Tense

Consistent tense means the same verb tense is used throughout a passage. As you write and revise, it is important to avoid shifting from one tense to another unless there is a good reason. In the following box, see whether you notice the difference between a sentence with consistent tense and one with inconsistent tense.

Inconsistent: The crowd starts cheering as Melina approached the finish line.

Consistent: The crowd is cheering as Melina crosses the finish line.

Consistent: The crowd was cheering as Melina crossed the finish line.


Clear communication may call for different tenses. Look at this example:

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a fire fighter, but now I am studying computer science.

If the time frame for each action or state is different, a tense shift is appropriate.

Exercise 4

Correct the inconsistent tenses. Copy the corrected paragraph onto your own sheet of paper.

In the Middle Ages, most people lived in villages and work as agricultural laborers, or peasants. Every village has a "lord," and the peasants worked on his land. Much of what they produce go to the lord and his family. What little food was leftover goes to support the peasants' families. In return for their labor, the lord offers them protection. A peasant's day usually began before sunrise and involves long hours of backbreaking work, which includes plowing the land, planting seeds, and cutting crops for harvesting. The working life of a peasant in the Middle Ages is usually demanding and exhausting.

Writing At Work

Read this excerpt from a work email:

I would like to highlight an important concern that comes up after our meeting last week. During the meeting, we agree to conduct a series of interviews over the next several months in which we hired new customer service representatives. Before we do that, however, I would like to review your experiences with the Customer Relationship Management Program. Please suggest a convenient time next week for us to meet so that we can discuss this important matter.

Using different tenses in an email can make it harder to understand. Your coworkers might not say anything about it, but it's important to avoid mistakes like this because they can have a small negative effect on how you're seen at work.


  • Verb tense helps you express when an event takes place.
  • Regular verbs follow regular patterns when shifting from present to past tense.
  • Irregular verbs do not follow regular, predictable patterns when shifting from present to past tense.
  • Using consistent verb tense is a key element to effective writing.


Tell a family story. You likely have several family stories to choose from but pick the one that you find most interesting to write about. Use as many details as you can in the telling. As you write and proofread, make sure your all your verbs are correct and the tenses are consistent.

2.4 Capitalization

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn the basic rules of capitalization.
  2. Identify common capitalization errors.

When we send messages quickly, like in text or email, we sometimes forget to use capital letters. But when we're writing something more important or serious, like a job application, it's important to use capital letters correctly. This shows the reader that we're careful about our writing and care about what we're saying.

The Letters Of English

capital (also called "uppercase") lowercase
A a
B b
C c
D d
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
O o
P p
Q q
R r
S s
T t
U u
V v
W w
X x
Y y
Z z

The terms "uppercase" and "lowercase" come from the history of printing: text used to be printed with small metal letters arranged into words and sentences. The letters were kept in a special case; the capital letters were kept on the upper shelf (the "uppercase") and the small letters were kept on the lower shelf (the "lowercase").

The history of letter cases in English is fascinating; you can read more here:

Capitalize The First Word Of A Sentence

The museum has a new butterfly exhibit.

Cooking can be therapeutic.

Capitalize Proper Nouns

Proper nouns---the names of specific people, places, objects, streets, buildings, events, or titles of individuals---are always capitalized.

He grew up in Harlem, New York.

Common nouns---the names people, places, things, streets, buildings, events, or titles when they are being used in general--are not capitalized.

He grew up in the largest city in his state.

Examples of common nouns and proper nouns:

Common noun (don't capitalize) Proper noun (capitalize)
museum The Art Institute of Chicago
theater Apollo Theater
country Malaysia
uncle Uncle Javier
doctor Dr. Jackson
book Pride and Prejudice
college Smith College
war the Spanish-American War
historical event The Renaissance


Always capitalize nationalities, races, languages, and religions. For example: American, African American, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on.

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, write five proper nouns for each common noun that is listed. The first one has been done for you.

Common noun: river

  1. Nile River

Common noun: musician

  1. Bob Dylan

Common noun: magazine

  1. The New Yorker

Capitalize Days Of The Week, Months Of The Year, And Holidays

On Wednesday, I will be traveling to Austin for a music festival.

The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday.

Capitalize Titles

Fences by August Wilson is one of my favorite plays.

The President of the United States will be speaking at my college

Exercise 2

Fix the capitalization of titles or names.

  1. The prince of england enjoys playing polo.
  2. "Ode to a nightingale" is a sad poem.
  3. My sister loves to read magazines such as the new yorker.
  4. The house on mango street is an excellent novel written by Sandra Cisneros.
  5. My physician, dr. alvarez, always makes me feel comfortable in her office.

Exercise 3

Correct the capitalization in these paragraphs.

david grann's the lost city of z mimics the snake-like winding of the amazon River. The three distinct Stories that are introduced are like twists in the River. First, the Author describes his own journey to the amazon in the present day, which is contrasted by an account of percy fawcett's voyage in 1925 and a depiction of James Lynch's expedition in 1996. Where does the river lead these explorers? the answer is one that both the Author and the reader are hungry to discover.

The first lines of the preface pull the reader in immediately because we know the author, david grann, is lost in the amazon. It is a compelling beginning not only because it's thrilling but also because this is a true account of grann's experience. grann has dropped the reader smack in the middle of his conflict by admitting the recklessness of his decision to come to this place. the suspense is further perpetuated by his unnerving observation that he always considered himself A Neutral Witness, never getting personally involved in his stories, a notion that is swiftly contradicted in the opening pages, as the reader can clearly perceive that he is in a dire predicament---and frighteningly involved.


  • Learning and applying the basic rules of capitalization is a fundamental aspect of good writing.
  • Identifying and correcting errors in capitalization is an important writing skill.


Write a one-page biography. Include people, places, and dates and make sure to capitalize them correctly.

2.5 Pronouns

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify pronouns and their antecedents.
  2. Use pronouns and their antecedents correctly.

If there were no pronouns, writing would be tedious to read. We would soon be frustrated by reading sentences like Bob said that Bob was tired or Christina told the class that Christina received an A. Pronouns help a writer avoid constant repetition. Knowing how pronouns work is an important aspect of clear and concise writing.

Pronoun Agreement

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of (or refers back to) a noun or another pronoun. The word or words a pronoun refers to is called the antecedent of the pronoun.

Lani complained that she was exhausted.

She is the pronoun. It refers back to Lani.

Lani is the antecedent of she.

Jeremy left the party early, so I did not see him until Monday at work.

Him is the pronoun. It refers back to Jeremy.

Jeremy is the antecedent of him.

Crina and Rosalie have been best friends ever since they were freshman in high school.

They refers to Crina and Rosalie.

Crina and Rosalie is the antecedent of they.

Pronoun agreement errors occur when the pronoun and the antecedent do not match or agree with each other. There are several types of pronoun agreement.

Agreement In Number

If the pronoun takes the place of or refers to a singular noun, the pronoun must also be singular.

There is a significant change happening in English since the year 2010 or so: the pronoun they is becoming singular as well as plural.

An excellent discussion of this comes from the linguist Anne Curzan:

This is exactly like what happened with the pronoun you several hundred years ago. In English, we used to use thou as the second-person singular and you as the second-person plural. Languages like French and Spanish still have both, but in English we only have you for the second person now.

The same is happening to they. It used to be an error to write "A student must study if they want a good grade." Instead, you had to write "A student must study if he or she wants a good grade."

But according to many linguists, singular they is now part of Standard English. The American Psychological Association has endorsed singular they in the latest (2019) version of its Publication Manual. (See Chapter 13 for more on the APA and its style rules.)

Correct (as of about ten years ago): If a student (sing.) wants to return a book to the bookstore, they (both sing. and plur.) must have a receipt.

Incorrect: If students (plur.) want to return a book to the bookstore, he or she (sing.) must have a receipt.

Agreement In Person

Singular subjective singular objective singular possessive Plural subjective plural objective plural possessive
First person I me my / mine we us our / ours
Second person you you your / yours you you your / your
Third person he / she / it / they him / her / it / them his / her / its / their / theirs they them their / theirs

If you use a consistent person, your reader is less likely to be confused.

Confusing: When a person (3rd) goes to a restaurant, you (2nd) should leave a tip.

Clear: When a person (3rd) goes to a restaurant, they (3rd) should leave a tip.

Clear: When you (2nd) go to a restaurant, you (2nd) should leave a tip.

Exercise 1

Correct pronoun agreement errors in this paragraph.

Over spring break I visited my older cousin, Diana, and they took me to a butterfly exhibit at a museum. Diana and I have been close ever since she was young. Our mothers are twin sisters, and she is inseparable! Diana knows how much I love butterflies, so it was their special present to me. I have a soft spot for caterpillars too. I love them because something about the way it transforms is so interesting to me. One summer my grandmother gave me a butterfly growing kit, and you got to see the entire life cycle of five Painted Lady butterflies. I even got to set it free. So when my cousin said they wanted to take me to the butterfly exhibit, I was really excited!

Indefinite Pronouns And Agreement

Indefinite pronouns do not refer to a specific person or thing and are usually singular. Note that a pronoun that refers to an indefinite singular pronoun should also be singular. These are some common indefinite pronouns.

Common Indefinite Pronouns
all each one few nothing several
any each other many one some
anybody either neither one another somebody
anything everybody nobody oneself someone
both everyone none other something
each everything no one others anyone

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns suggest more than one person but are usually considered singular. Look over the following examples of collective nouns.

Common Collective Nouns
audience faculty public
band family school
class government society
committee group team
company jury tribe

Exercise 2

Complete these sentences by selecting the correct pronoun. Copy the completed sentence onto your own sheet of paper. Then circle the noun the pronoun replaces.

  1. In the current economy, nobody wants to waste ________ money on frivolous things.
  2. If anybody chooses to go to medical school, ________ must be prepared to work long hours.
  3. The plumbing crew did ________ best to repair the broken pipes before the next ice storm.
  4. If someone is rude to you, try giving ________ a smile in return.
  5. My family has ________ faults, but I still love them no matter what.
  6. The school of education plans to train ________ students to be literacy tutors.
  7. The commencement speaker said that each student has a responsibility toward ________.
  8. My mother's singing group has ________ rehearsals on Thursday evenings.
  9. No one should suffer ________ pains alone.
  10. I thought the flock of birds lost ________ way in the storm.

Subject And Object Pronouns

Subject pronouns function as subjects in a sentence. Object pronouns function as the object of a verb or of a preposition.

Singular Pronouns Plural Pronouns
Subject Object Subject Object
I me we us
you you you you
he, she, it, they him, her, it, them they them

These sentences show pronouns as subjects:

  1. She loves the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall.
  2. Every summer, they picked up litter from national parks.

These sentences show pronouns as objects:

  1. Marie leaned over and kissed him.
  2. Jane moved it to the corner.


A pronoun can also be the object of a preposition.

Near them, the children played.

My mother stood between us.

The pronouns us and them are objects of the prepositions near and between. They answer the questions near whom? And between whom?

Compound subject pronouns are two or more pronouns joined by a conjunction or a preposition that function as the subject of the sentence.

These sentences show pronouns with compound subjects:

Incorrect: Me and Harriet visited the Grand Canyon last summer.

Correct: Harriet and I visited the Grand Canyon last summer.

Correct: Jenna accompanied Harriet and me on our trip.


Object pronouns are never used in the subject position. One way to remember this rule is to remove the other subject in a compound subject, leave only the pronoun, and see whether the sentence makes sense. For example, Me visited the Grand Canyon last summer sounds immediately incorrect.

Compound object pronouns are two or more pronouns joined by a conjunction or a preposition that function as the object of the sentence.

Incorrect: I have a good feeling about Janice and I.

Correct: I have a good feeling about Janice and me.


It is correct to write Janice and me, as opposed to me and Janice. Just remember it is more polite to refer to yourself last.

Writing At Work

In conversation, people sometimes mix up subject and object pronouns. For instance, you might say, "Me and Donnie went to a movie last night." However, when you are in a formal situation, you should remember the distinction between subject and object pronouns. Following the traditional rule will make you look polished and build your reputation.

Exercise 3

In some of these sentences, the subject and object pronouns are used incorrectly.

If there is a mistake, fix it and copy the new sentence onto your own sheet of paper. Write a C for each sentence that is already correct.

  1. Meera and me enjoy doing yoga together on Sundays.
  2. She and him have decided to sell their house.
  3. Between you and I, I do not think Jeffrey will win the election.
  4. Us and our friends have game night the first Thursday of every month.
  5. They and I met while on vacation in Mexico.
  6. Napping on the beach never gets boring for Alice and I.
  7. New Year's Eve is not a good time for she and I to have a serious talk.
  8. You exercise much more often than me.
  9. I am going to the comedy club with Yolanda and she.
  10. The cooking instructor taught her and me a lot.

who Versus whom

In traditional English usage, who (or whoever) is for a subject, while whom (or whomever) is for an object.

Who is taking over both roles. But if you want to be very correct and traditional, use whom in the object position.

who For A Subject

  • Who won the marathon last Tuesday?
  • I wonder who came up with that terrible idea!

whom For An Object

  • Whom did Frank marry the third time? (direct object of verb)
  • From whom did you buy that old record player? (object of preposition)


To decide when to use who and whom, try this trick. Take the following sentence:

Who/Whom do I consider my best friend?

Reorder the sentence in your head, using either he or him in place of who or whom.

I consider him my best friend.

I consider he my best friend.

Which sentence sounds better? The first one. The trick is, if you can use him, you should use whom.

Exercise 4

Complete these sentences by adding who or whom. Copy the completed sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

  1. ________ hit the home run?
  2. I remember ________ won the Academy Award for Best Actor last year.
  3. To ________ is the letter addressed?
  4. I have no idea ________ left the iron on, but I am going to find out.
  5. ________ are you going to recommend for the internship?
  6. With ________ are you going to Hawaii?
  7. No one knew ________ the famous actor was.
  8. ________ in the office knows how to fix the copy machine?
  9. From ________ did you get the concert tickets?
  10. No one knew ________ ate the cake mom was saving.


  • Pronouns and their antecedents need to agree in number and person.
  • Most indefinite pronouns are singular.
  • Collective nouns are usually singular.
  • Pronouns can function as subjects or objects.
  • Subject pronouns are never used as objects, and object pronouns are never used as subjects.
  • Who serves as a subject of a verb.
  • Whom serves as an object of a sentence or the object of a preposition.


Write about what makes an ideal marriage or long-term relationship. Provide specific details to back up your assertions. After you have written a few paragraphs, go back and proofread your paper for correct pronoun usage.

2.6 Adjectives And Adverbs

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify adjectives and adverbs.
  2. Use adjectives and adverbs correctly.

Adjectives and adverbs are descriptive words that bring your writing to life.

Adjectives And Adverbs

An adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun. It often answers questions such as which one, what kind, or how many?

The green sweater belongs to Iris.

She looks beautiful.

In sentence 1, the adjective green describes the noun sweater.

In sentence 2, the adjective beautiful describes the pronoun she.

An adverb is a word that describes a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Adverbs frequently end in -ly. They answer questions such as how, to what extent, why, when, and where.

Bertrand sings horribly.

My sociology instructor is extremely wise.

He threw the ball very accurately.

In sentence 3, horribly describes the verb sings. How does Bertrand sing? He sings horribly.

In sentence 4, extremely describes the adjective wise. How wise is the instructor? Extremely wise.

In sentence 5, very describes the adverb accurately. How accurately did he throw the ball? Very accurately.

Exercise 1

Complete these sentences by adding the correct adjective or adverb from the list in the previous section. Identify the word as an adjective or an adverb (Adj, Adv).

  1. Frederick ________ choked on the piece of chicken when he saw Margaret walk through the door.
  2. His ________ eyes looked at everyone and everything as if they were specimens in a biology lab.
  3. Despite her pessimistic views on life, Lauren believes that most people have ________ hearts.
  4. Although Stefan took the criticism ________, he remained calm.
  5. The child developed a ________ imagination because he read a lot of books.
  6. Madeleine spoke ________ while she was visiting her grandmother in the hospital.
  7. Hector's most ________ possession was his father's bass guitar from the 1970s.
  8. My definition of a ________ afternoon is walking to the park on a beautiful day, spreading out my blanket, and losing myself in a good book.
  9. She ________ eyed her new coworker and wondered if he was single.
  10. At the party, Denise ________ devoured two pieces of pepperoni pizza and a several slices of ripe watermelon.

Comparative Versus Superlative

Comparative adjectives and adverbs are used to compare two people or things.

Jorge is thin.

Steven is thinner than Jorge.

Sentence 1 describes Jorge with the adjective thin.

Sentence 2 compares Jorge to Steven, stating that Steven is thinner. So thinner is the comparative form of thin.

Form comparatives in one of these two ways:

  1. If the adjective or adverb is a one syllable word, add -er to it to form the comparative. For example, big, fast, and short would become bigger, faster, and shorter in the comparative form.

  2. If the adjective or adverb is a word of two or more syllables, place the word more in front of it to form the comparative. For example, happily, comfortable, and jealous would become more happily, more comfortable, and more jealous in the comparative.

Superlative adjectives and adverbs are used to compare more than two people or two things.

Jackie is the loudest cheerleader on the squad.

Kenyatta was voted the most confident student by her graduating class.

Sentence 1 shows that Jackie is not just louder than one other person, but she is the loudest of all the cheerleaders on the squad.

Sentence 2 shows that Kenyatta was voted the most confident student of all the students in her class.

Form superlatives in one of these two ways:

  1. If the adjective or adverb is a one-syllable word, add -est to form the superlative. For example, big, fast, and short would become biggest, fastest, and shortest in the superlative form.

  2. If the adjective or adverb is a word of two or more syllables, place the word most in front of it. For example, happily, comfortable, and jealous would become most happily, most comfortable, and most jealous in the superlative form.


Remember the following exception: If the word has two syllables and ends in -y, change the -y to an -i and add -est. For example, happy would change to happiest in the superlative form; healthy would change to healthiest.

Exercise 2

Edit the following paragraph by correcting the errors in comparative and superlative adjectives.

Our argument started on the most sunny afternoon that I have ever experienced. Max and I were sitting on my front stoop when I started it. I told him that my dog, Jacko, was more smart than his dog, Merlin. I could not help myself. Merlin never came when he was called, and he chased his tail and barked at rocks. I told Max that Merlin was the most dumbest dog on the block. I guess I was angrier about a bad grade that I received, so I decided to pick on poor little Merlin. Even though Max insulted Jacko too, I felt I had been more mean. The next day I apologized to Max and brought Merlin some of Jacko's treats. When Merlin placed his paw on my knee and licked my hand, I was the most sorry person on the block.

Share and compare your answers with a classmate.

Irregular Words: good, well, bad, And badly

Good, well, bad, and badly are often used incorrectly. Study the following chart to learn the correct usage of these words and their comparative and superlative forms.

Comparative Superlative
Adjective good better best
Adverb well better best
Adjective bad worse worst
Adverb badly worse worst

good Versus well

Good is always an adjective---that is, a word that describes a noun or a pronoun. The second sentence is correct because well is an adverb that tells how something is done.

Incorrect: Cecilia felt that she had never done so good on a test.

Correct: Cecilia felt that she had never done so well on a test.

Well is always an adverb that describes a verb, adverb, or adjective. The second sentence is correct because good is an adjective that describes the noun score.

Incorrect: Cecilia's team received a well score.

Correct: Cecilia's team received a good score.

Bad versus Badly

Bad is always an adjective. The second sentence is correct because badly is an adverb that tells how the speaker did on the test.

Incorrect: I did bad on my accounting test because I didn't study.

Correct: I did badly on my accounting test because I didn't study.

Badly is always an adverb. The second sentence is correct because bad is an adjective that describes the noun thunderstorm.

Incorrect: The coming thunderstorm looked badly.

Correct: The coming thunderstorm looked bad.

Better and Worse

These are examples of the use of better and worse:

Tyra likes sprinting better than long distance running.

The traffic is worse in Chicago than in Atlanta.

Best and Worst

These are examples of the use of best and worst:

Tyra sprints best of all the other competitors.

Peter finished worst of all the runners in the race.


Remember better and worse compare two persons or things. Best and worst compare three or more persons or things.

Exercise 3

Write good, well, bad, or badly to complete each sentence. Copy the completed sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

  1. Donna always felt ________ if she did not see the sun in the morning.
  2. The school board president gave a ________ speech for once.
  3. Although my dog, Comet, is mischievous, he always behaves ________ at the dog park.
  4. I thought my back injury was ________ at first, but it turned out to be minor.
  5. Steve was shaking ________ from the extreme cold.
  6. Apple crisp is a very ________ dessert that can be made using whole grains instead of white flour.
  7. The meeting with my son's math teacher went very ________.
  8. Juan has a ________ appetite, especially when it comes to dessert.
  9. Magritte thought the guests had a ________ time at the party because most people left early.
  10. She ________ wanted to win the writing contest prize, which included a trip to New York.

Exercise 4

Write the correct comparative or superlative form of the word in parentheses. Copy the completed sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

  1. This research paper is ________ (good) than my last one.
  2. Tanaya likes country music ________ (well) of all.
  3. My motorcycle rides ________ (bad) than it did last summer.
  4. That is the ________ (bad) joke my father ever told.
  5. The hockey team played ________ (badly) than it did last season.
  6. Tracey plays guitar ________ (well) than she plays the piano.
  7. It will go down as one of the ________ (bad) movies I have ever seen.
  8. The deforestation in the Amazon is ________ (bad) than it was last year.
  9. Movie ticket sales are ________ (good) this year than last.
  10. My husband says mystery novels are the ________ (good) types of books.

Writing At Work

The irregular words good, well, bad, and badly are often misused. So are their comparative and superlative forms better, best, worse, and worst.

It is hard to hear the difference between worse and worst, so people sometimes mix them up.

In a formal tone, use each of these words to write eight separate sentences. Assume these sentences will be judged by an employer.


  • Adjectives describe a noun or a pronoun.
  • Adverbs describe a verb, adjective, or another adverb.
  • Most adverbs are formed by adding -ly to an adjective.
  • Comparative adjectives and adverbs compare two persons or things.
  • Superlative adjectives or adverbs compare more than two persons or things.
  • The adjectives good and bad and the adverbs well and badly are unique in their comparative and superlative forms and require special attention.


Using the exercises as a guide, write your own ten-sentence quiz for your classmate(s) using the concepts covered in this section. Try to include two questions from each subsection in your quiz. Exchange papers and see whether you can get a perfect score.

2.7 Misplaced And Dangling Modifiers

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify modifiers.
  2. Learn how to correct misplaced and dangling modifiers.

A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that clarifies or describes another word, phrase, or clause. Sometimes writers use modifiers incorrectly, leading to strange and unintentionally humorous sentences. The two common types of modifier errors are called misplaced modifiers and dangling modifiers. If either of these errors occurs, readers can no longer read smoothly. Instead, they become stumped trying to figure out what the writer meant to say. A writer's goal must always be to communicate clearly and to avoid distracting the reader with strange sentences or awkward sentence constructions. The good news is that these errors can be easily overcome.

Misplaced Modifiers

A misplaced modifier is a modifier that is placed too far from the word or words it modifies. Misplaced modifiers make the sentence awkward and sometimes funny.

Incorrect: She wore a bicycle helmet on her head that was too large.

Correct: She wore a bicycle helmet that was too large on her head.

Notice in the incorrect sentence it sounds as if her head was too large! Of course, the writer is referring to the helmet, not to the person's head. The corrected sentence clarifies the writer's meaning.

Look at these two examples:

Incorrect: They bought a kitten for my brother they call Shadow.

Correct: They bought a kitten they call Shadow for my brother.

In the incorrect sentence, it seems that the brother's name is Shadow. That's because the modifier is too far from the word it modifies, which is kitten.

Incorrect: The patient was referred to the physician with stomach pains.

Correct: The patient with stomach pains was referred to the physician.

The incorrect sentence reads as if it is the physician who has stomach pains! What the writer means is that the patient has stomach pains.


Modifiers like only, almost, just, nearly, and barely often get used incorrectly because writers put them in the wrong place.

Confusing: Tyler almost found fifty cents under the sofa cushions.

Repaired: Tyler found almost fifty cents under the sofa cushions.

How do you almost find something? Either you find it or you do not. The repaired sentence is much clearer.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite these sentences to correct the misplaced modifiers.

  1. The young lady was walking the dog on the telephone.
  2. I heard that there was a robbery on the evening news.
  3. Uncle Louie bought a running stroller for the baby that he called "Speed Racer."
  4. Rolling down the mountain, the explorer stopped the boulder with his powerful foot.
  5. We are looking for a babysitter for our precious six-year-old who doesn't drink or smoke and owns a car.
  6. The teacher served cookies to the children wrapped in aluminum foil.
  7. The mysterious woman walked toward the car holding an umbrella.
  8. We returned the wine to the waiter that was sour.
  9. Charlie spotted a stray puppy driving home from work.
  10. I ate nothing but a cold bowl of noodles for dinner.

Dangling Modifiers

A dangling modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that describes something that has been left out of the sentence.

When there is nothing that the word, phrase, or clause can modify, the modifier is said to dangle as if it were hanging from nothing.

Note however that treating dangling modifiers as an error is changing. If you listen to news on the radio or read a newspaper, you will find that in 2023, more and more professional journalists are using dangling modifiers.

I believe this is a low-priority error. Fewer and fewer polished writers notice it. Still, below is some traditional coverage of dangling modifiers, to help you recognize them.

Incorrect: Riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.

Correct: As Jane was riding in the sports car, the world whizzed by rapidly.

In the incorrect sentence, riding in the sports car is dangling. The reader is left wondering who is riding in the sports car. The writer must tell the reader!

Incorrect: Walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.

Correct: As Jonas was walking home at night, the trees looked like spooky aliens.

Correct: The trees looked like spooky aliens as Jonas was walking home at night.

In the incorrect sentence walking home at night is dangling. Who is walking home at night? Jonas. Note that there are two different ways the dangling modifier can be corrected.

Incorrect: To win the spelling bee, Luis and Gerard should join our team.

Correct: If we want to win the spelling bee this year, Luis and Gerard should join our team.

In the incorrect sentence, to win the spelling bee is dangling. Who wants to win the spelling bee? We do!


These three steps will help you quickly spot a dangling modifier:

  1. Look for an -ing modifier at the beginning of your sentence or another modifying phrase: Painting for three hours at night, the kitchen was finally finished by Maggie. (Painting is the -ing modifier.)
  2. Underline the first noun that follows it: Painting for three hours at night, the kitchen was finally finished by Maggie.
  3. Make sure the modifier and noun go together logically. If they do not, it is very likely you have a dangling modifier.

After identifying the dangling modifier, rewrite the sentence.

Painting for three hours at night, Maggie finally finished the kitchen.

Exercise 2

Correct the dangling modifiers in these sentences. Rewrite the sentences on your own sheet of paper.

  1. Bent over backward, the posture was very challenging.
  2. Making discoveries about new creatures, this is an interesting time to be a biologist.
  3. Walking in the dark, the picture fell off the wall.
  4. Playing a guitar in the bedroom, the cat was seen under the bed.
  5. Packing for a trip, a cockroach scurried down the hallway.
  6. While looking in the mirror, the towel swayed in the breeze.
  7. While driving to the veterinarian's office, the dog nervously whined.
  8. The priceless painting drew large crowds when walking into the museum.
  9. Piled up next to the bookshelf, I chose a romance novel.
  10. Chewing furiously, the gum fell out of my mouth.

Exercise 3

Correct all the misplaced and dangling modifiers in this paragraph. Rewrite it on your own sheet.

I bought a fresh loaf of bread for my sandwich shopping in the grocery store. Wanting to make a delicious sandwich, the mayonnaise was thickly spread. Placing the cold cuts on the bread, the lettuce was placed on top. I cut the sandwich in half with a knife turning on the radio. Biting into the sandwich, my favorite song blared loudly in my ears. Humming and chewing, my sandwich went down smoothly. Smiling, my sandwich will be made again, but next time I will add cheese.


  • Misplaced and dangling modifiers make sentences difficult to understand.
  • Misplaced and dangling modifiers distract the reader.
  • There are several effective ways to identify and correct misplaced and dangling modifiers.


See how creative and humorous you can get by writing ten sentences with misplaced and dangling modifiers. This is a deceptively simple task but rise to the challenge. Your writing will be stronger for it. Exchange papers with a classmate and rewrite your classmate's sentences to correct any misplaced modifiers.

2.8 Writing Basics: End-of-chapter Exercises

Learning Objectives

  1. Use the skills you have learned in the chapter.
  2. Work collaboratively with other students.


  1. Each sentence contains an error in subject-verb agreement, irregular verb form, or consistent verb tense. Identify the type of error. Then, on your own sheet of paper, rewrite the sentence correctly.

    • Maria and Ty meets me at the community center for cooking classes on Tuesdays.
    • John's ability to laugh at almost anything amaze me.
    • Samantha and I were walking near the lake when the large, colorful bird appears.
    • I builded my own telescope using materials I bought at the hardware store.
    • My mother freezed the remaining tomatoes from her garden so that she could use them during the winter.
    • Bernard asked the stranger sitting next to him for the time, and she says it was past midnight.
    • My mother and brother wears glasses, but my father and sister do not.
    • We held our noses as the skunk runs away.
    • Neither Soren nor Andrew are excited about the early morning swim meet.
    • My hands hurted at the thought of transcribing all those notes.
    • The police questioned the suspect for hours but she gives them no useful information.
    • Terry takes short weekend trips because her job as a therapist was very emotionally draining.
    • She criticize delicately, making sure not to hurt anyone's feelings.
    • Davis winded the old clock and set it atop his nightstand.
    • Cherie losed four poker hands in a row before realizing that she was playing against professionals.
    • Janis and Joan describes their trip to the Amazon in vivid detail.
    • You should decides for yourself whether or not to reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet.
    • The oil rig exploded and spills millions of gallons of oil into the ocean.
    • The handsome vampire appeared out of nowhere and smiles at the smitten woman.
    • The batter swinged at the ball several times but never hit it.
  2. Choose the correct comparative or superlative adjective or adverb. Then copy the completed sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

    • Denise has a (cheerful) ________ outlook on life than her husband.
    • I don't mean to brag, but I think I am the (good) ______ cook in my family.
    • Lydia is the (thoughtful) ______ person I know.
    • Italy experienced the (bad) ______ heat wave in its history last year.
    • My teacher, Ms. Beckett, is the (strange) ______ person I know, and I like that.
    • Dorian's drawing skills are (good) ________ this semester than last.
    • My handwriting is the (sloppy) ________ of all my classmates.
    • Melvin's soccer team played (badly) ________ than it did last season.
    • Josie's pen writes (smooth) ________ than mine.
    • I felt (lucky) ________ than my sister because I got in to the college of my choice.

Chapter 3

Table of Contents


Name of punctuation mark Mark Example
Comma , Slowly, I went home.
Semicolon ; You go left; I will go right.
Colon : Two things make me happy: coffee and more coffee.
Quotation marks ("quotes") " " Bob said, "Give up and go home."
Apostrophe ' I can't stand any more.
Parentheses ( ) I wonder why (given what happened) he left.
Dash --- Without help---or at least a map---they were sure to get lost on the trail.
Hyphen - Give me the left-handed scissors.
Period . It is time to go. Tomorrow we can return.
Exclamation mark ! Stop right where you are!
Question mark ? Did he come home last night?

Text can also be written in different styles. Although these styles are not technically punctuation, students don't always know what they look like, so here is a chart of the most common ones.

Name of text style Example
Italics Italics are slanted letters that look like this
Bold Bold is strong letters that look like this
Underline Underlined text has a line drawn beneath it. You have probably seen it before, but the markdown language used to write this book can't display it.
Strikethrough Strikethrough text has a line through the middle of it like this

3.1 Commas

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of commas.
  2. Correctly use commas in sentences.

One of the most common punctuation marks is the comma.

A comma a pause in a sentence or a separation between things in a list. Commas are used in many ways. Here are some ways you might use a comma when writing a sentence.

Introductory word: Personally, I think the practice is helpful.

Lists: The barn, the tool shed, and the back porch were destroyed by the wind.

Coordinating adjectives: He was tired, hungry, and late.

Conjunctions in compound sentences: The bedroom door was closed, so the children knew their mother was asleep.

Interrupting words: I knew where it was hidden, of course, but I wanted them to find it themselves.

Dates, addresses, greetings, and letters: The letter was postmarked December 8, 1945.

Commas After An Introductory Word Or Phrase

You may notice a comma that appears near the beginning of the sentence, usually after a word or phrase. This comma lets the reader know where the introductory word or phrase ends and the main sentence begins.

Without spoiling the surprise, we need to tell her to save the date.

In this sentence, without spoiling the surprise is an introductory phrase, while we need to tell her to save the date is the main sentence. Notice how they are separated by a comma. When only an introductory word appears in the sentence, a comma also follows the introductory word.

Ironically, she already had plans for that day.

Exercise 1

Look for the introductory word or phrase. On your own sheet of paper, copy the sentence and add a comma to correct the sentence.

  1. Suddenly the dog ran into the house.
  2. In the blink of an eye the kids were ready to go to the movies.
  3. Confused he tried opening the box from the other end.
  4. Every year we go camping in the woods.
  5. Without a doubt green is my favorite color.
  6. Hesitating she looked back at the directions before proceeding.
  7. Fortunately the sleeping baby did not stir when the doorbell rang.
  8. Believe it or not the criminal was able to rob the same bank three times.

Commas In A List Of Nouns

When listing several nouns in a sentence, separate each noun with a comma. This allows the reader to mentally pause after each item.

When you list items in a sentence, put a comma after each noun, then add the word and before the last item. However, you do not need to include a comma after the last item.

We'll need to get flour, tomatoes, and cheese at the store.

The pizza will be topped with olives, peppers, and pineapple.


Writers actually disagree about the final comma in a series like this.

The final comma is known as the "serial comma" or the "Oxford comma." Most authorities, including Bryan A. Garner in his Garner's Modern American Usage as well as The Chicago Manual of Style, say that you should include it.

It is mostly newspapers that used to argue against it, through the Associated Press Stylebook. In physical newspapers, every character mattered, so it was a good idea to leave out the final comma if the meaning was clear without it.

These days, most writing is done online. The benefit to clarity is worth the extra character.

Commas In A List Of Adjectives

You can use commas to list adjectives too.

Unlike with a list of nouns, you do not always need the word and before the last item in the list.

It was a bright, windy, clear day.

Our kite glowed red, yellow, and blue in the morning sunlight.

Exercise 2

On your own sheet of paper, use what you have learned so far about comma use to add commas to the following sentences.

  1. Monday Tuesday and Wednesday are all booked with meetings.
  2. It was a quiet uneventful unproductive day.
  3. We'll need to prepare statements for the Franks Todds and Smiths before their portfolio reviews next week.
  4. Michael Nita and Desmond finished their report last Tuesday.
  5. With cold wet aching fingers he was able to secure the sails before the storm.
  6. He wrote his name on the board in clear precise delicate letters.

Commas Before Conjunctions In Compound Sentences

Commas are sometimes used to separate two independent clauses. The comma comes after the first independent clause and is followed by a conjunction, such as for, and, or but. For a full list of conjunctions, see Chapter 2.

He missed class today, and he thinks he will be out tomorrow, too.

He says his fever is gone, but he is still very tired.

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, create a compound sentence by combining the two independent clauses with a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

  1. The presentation was scheduled for Monday. The weather delayed the presentation for four days.
  2. He wanted a snack before bedtime. He ate some fruit.
  3. The patient is in the next room. I can hardly hear anything.
  4. We could go camping for vacation. We could go to the beach for vacation.
  5. I want to get a better job. I am taking courses at night.
  6. I cannot move forward on this project. I cannot afford to stop on this project.
  7. Patrice wants to stop for lunch. We will take the next exit to look for a restaurant.
  8. I've got to get this paper done. I have class in ten minutes.
  9. The weather was clear yesterday. We decided to go on a picnic.
  10. I have never dealt with this client before. I know Leonardo has worked with them. Let's ask Leonardo for his help.

Commas Before And After Interrupting Words

In a conversation, you might interrupt yourself to give more details about something you just said. In a sentence, you might do the same with interrupting words. Interrupting words can come at the beginning or middle of a sentence. When the interrupting words appear at the beginning of the sentence, a comma appears after the word or phrase.

If you can believe it, people once thought the sun and planets orbited around Earth.

Luckily, some people questioned that theory.

When interrupting words come in the middle of a sentence, they are separated from the rest of the sentence by commas. You can determine where the commas should go by looking for the part of the sentence that is not essential for the sentence to make sense.

An Italian astronomer, Galileo, proved that Earth orbited the sun.

Exercise 4

On your own sheet of paper, copy the sentence and insert commas to separate the interrupting words from the rest of the sentence.

  1. I asked my neighbors the retired couple from Florida to bring in my mail.
  2. Without a doubt his work has improved over the last few weeks.
  3. Our professor Mr. Alamut drilled the lessons into our heads.
  4. The meeting is at noon unfortunately which means I will be late for lunch.
  5. We came in time for the last part of dinner but most importantly we came in time for dessert.
  6. All of a sudden our network crashed and we lost our files.
  7. Alex hand the wrench to me before the pipe comes loose again.

Commas In Dates, Addresses, And The Greetings And Closings Of Letters

You also use commas when you write the date, such as in cover letters and emails. Commas are used when you write the date, when you include an address, and when you greet someone.

If you are writing out the full date, add a comma after the day and before the year. You do not need to add a comma when you write the month and day or when you write the month and the year. If you need to continue the sentence after you add a date that includes the day and year, add a comma after the end of the date.

The letter is postmarked May 4, 2001.

Her birthday is May 5.

He visited the country in July 2009.

I registered for the conference on March 7, 2010, so we should get our tickets soon.

You also use commas when you include addresses and locations. When you include an address in a sentence, be sure to place a comma after the street and after the city. Do not place a comma between the state and the zip code. Like a date, if you need to continue the sentence after adding the address, simply add a comma after the address.

We moved to 4542 Boxcutter Lane, Hope, Missouri 70832.

After moving to Boston, Massachusetts, Eric used public transportation to get to work.

Greetings are also separated by commas. When you write an email or a letter, you add a comma after the greeting word or the person's name. You also need to include a comma after the closing, which is the word or phrase you put before your signature.


I would like more information about your job posting.

Thank you,

Anita Al-Sayf

Exercise 5

On your own sheet of paper, use what you have learned about using commas to edit the following letter.

March 27 2010

Alexa Marché

14 Taylor Drive Apt. 6

New Castle Maine 90342

Dear Mr. Timmons

Thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I am available on Monday the fifth. I can stop by your office at any time. Is your address still 7309 Marcourt Circle #501? Please get back to me at your earliest convenience.

Thank you


Exercise 6

On your own sheet of paper, use what you have learned about comma usage to edit these paragraphs.

  1. My brother Nathaniel is a collector of many rare unusual things. He has collected lunch boxes limited edition books and hatpins at various points of his life. His current collection of unusual bottles has over fifty pieces. Usually he sells one collection before starting another.

  2. Our meeting is scheduled for Thursday March 20. In that time we need to gather all our documents together. Alice is in charge of the timetables and schedules. Tom is in charge of updating the guidelines. I am in charge of the presentation. To prepare for this meeting please print out any emails faxes or documents you have referred to when writing your sample.

  3. It was a cool crisp autumn day when the group set out. They needed to cover several miles before they made camp so they walked at a brisk pace. The leader of the group Garth kept checking his watch and their GPS location. Isabelle Raoul and Maggie took turns carrying the equipment while Carrie took notes about the wildlife they saw. As a result no one noticed the darkening sky until the first drops of rain splattered on their faces.

  4. Please have your report complete and filed by April 15 2010. In your submission letter please include your contact information the position you are applying for and two people we can contact as references. We will not be available for consultation after April 10 but you may contact the office if you have any questions. Thank you HR Department.


  • Punctuation marks provide visual cues to readers to tell them how to read a sentence. Punctuation marks convey meaning.
  • Commas indicate a pause or a list in a sentence.
  • A comma should be used after an introductory word to separate this word from the main sentence.
  • A comma comes after each noun in a list. The word and is added before the last noun, which is not followed by a comma.
  • A comma comes after every coordinating adjective except for the last adjective.
  • Commas can be used to separate the two independent clauses in compound sentences as long as a conjunction follows the comma.
  • Commas are used to separate interrupting words from the rest of the sentence.
  • When you write the date, you add a comma between the day and the year. You also add a comma after the year if the sentence continues after the date.
  • When they are used in a sentence, addresses have commas after the street address, and the city. If a sentence continues after the address, a comma comes after the zip code.
  • When you write a letter, you use commas in your greeting at the beginning and in your closing at the end of your letter.

3.2 Colons

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of colons.
  2. Properly use colons in sentences.

Another punctuation mark used to indicate a full stop is the colon: :

Use a colon to introduce lists, quotes, examples, and explanations.

Introducing A List

Use a colon to introduce a list of items. Introduce the list with an independent clause.

The team will tour three states: New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

I have to take four classes this semester: Composition, Statistics, Ethics, and Italian.

Introducing A Quote

You can use a colon to introduce a quote.

Mark Twain said it best: "When in doubt, tell the truth."

Especially long quotations are called block quotations. They get special formatting.

In APA style, a block quotation is any quote 40 words or longer (Publication Manual p. 270). In MLA style, a block quotation is any quote that "runs more than four lines in your prose" (MLA Handbook p. 306).

For details of formatting a block quote, check the MLA or APA style websites. For more information about block quotations, see Chapter 11

Introducing A Definition Or Examples

Use a colon to introduce an example or to further explain an idea presented in the first part of a sentence. The first part of the sentence must always be an independent clause; that is, it must stand alone as a complete thought with a subject and verb. Do not use a colon after phrases like such as or for example.

Correct: Our company offers many publishing services: writing, editing, and reviewing.

Incorrect: Our company offers many publishing services, such as: writing, editing, and reviewing.


Capitalize the first letter following a colon for a proper noun, the beginning of a quote, or the first letter of another independent clause. Do NOT capitalize if the information following the colon is not a complete sentence.

Proper noun: We visited three countries: Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Beginning of a quote: My mother loved this line from Hamlet: "To thine own self be true."

Two independent clauses: There are drawbacks to modern technology: My brother's cell phone died and he lost a lot of phone numbers.

Incorrect: The recipe is simple: Tomato, basil, and avocado.

In A Formal Greeting

We use a colon after a greeting in a formal business letter.

Dear Hiring Manager:

To Whom It May Concern:

However, we use a comma after the greeting in a less-formal letter.

Dear Mom,

To my beloved Janie,

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, correct each sentence by adding semicolons or colons as needed.

If the sentence does not need semicolons or colons added, write OK.

  1. Don't give up you never know what tomorrow brings.
  2. Our records show that the patient was admitted on March 9, 2010 January 13, 2010 and November 16, 2009.
  3. Allow me to introduce myself I am the greatest ice-carver in the world.
  4. Where I come from there are three ways to get to the grocery store by car, by bus, and by foot.
  5. Listen closely you will want to remember this speech.
  6. I have lived in Sedona, Arizona Baltimore, Maryland and Knoxville, Tennessee.
  7. The boss's message was clear Lateness would not be tolerated.
  8. Next semester, we will read some more contemporary authors, such as Vonnegut, Miller, and Orwell.
  9. My little sister said what we were all thinking "We should have stayed home."
  10. Trust me I have done this before.


  • Use a colon to introduce a list, quote, or example.
  • Use a colon after a greeting in formal letters.

3.3 Semicolons

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of semicolons.
  2. Properly use semicolons in sentences.

Another punctuation mark that you will encounter is the semicolon.

The prefix semi- means "partial" or "half". So a semicolon is a half-colon. At the top it looks like a colon; at the bottom it looks like a comma.

Like most punctuation marks, the semicolon can be used in various ways. The semicolon indicates a break in the flow of a sentence, but functions differently than a period or a comma. When you encounter a semicolon while reading aloud, this represents a good place to pause and take a breath.

Semicolons To Join Two Independent Clauses

Use a semicolon to combine two closely related independent clauses.

Correct: Be sure to wear clean, well-pressed clothes to the interview; appearances are important.

Using a period to separate closely related clauses is not a grammar error, but it sounds choppy.

Correct but choppy-sounding: Be sure to wear clean, well-pressed clothes to the interview. Appearances are important.

Using a comma does create an error: a run-on sentence.

Incorrect: Be sure to wear clean, well-pressed clothes to the interview, appearances are important.

Semicolons To Join Items In A List

You can also use a semicolon to join items in a list when the items in the list already require commas. Semicolons help the reader distinguish between items in the list.

Correct: The color combinations we can choose from are black, white, and grey; green, brown, and black; or red, green, and brown.

Incorrect: The color combinations we can choose from are black, white, and grey, green, brown, and black, or red, green, and brown.

By using semicolons in this sentence, the reader can easily distinguish between the three sets of colors.


Use semicolons to join two main clauses.

Do not use semicolons with coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, and but.

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, correct the following sentences by adding semicolons. If the sentence is correct as it is, write OK.

  1. I did not notice that you were in the office I was behind the front desk all day.
  2. Do you want turkey, spinach, and cheese roast beef, lettuce, and cheese or ham, tomato, and cheese?
  3. Please close the blinds there is a glare on the screen.
  4. Unbelievably, no one was hurt in the accident.
  5. I cannot decide if I want my room to be green, brown, and purple green, black, and brown or green, brown, and dark red.
  6. Let's go for a walk the air is so refreshing.


  • Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses.
  • Use a semicolon to separate items in a list when those items already require a comma.


Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of quotes.
  2. Correctly use quotes in sentences.

To set off a group of words from the rest of the text, use quotation marks, more informally known as quotes.

Quotation marks always appear in pairs.

The main use of quotation marks is to show that you are giving someone else's exact words. We also use them for formatting; we typically put the title of a short, non-stand-alone work like a poem, an article, or a single episode of a TV show in quotation marks.

Direct Quotations

A direct quotation is an exact account of what someone said or wrote. To include a direct quotation in your writing, enclose the words in quotation marks. An indirect quotation is a restatement of what someone said or wrote. An indirect quotation does not use the person's exact words. You do not need to use quotation marks for indirect quotations.

Direct quotation: Carly said, "I'm not ever going back there again."

Indirect quotation: Carly said that she would never go back there.

Writing At Work

Most word processing software is designed to catch errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation. While this can be a useful tool, it is better to be well acquainted with the rules of punctuation than to leave the thinking to the computer. Properly punctuated writing will convey your meaning clearly. Consider the subtle shifts in meaning in the following sentences:

The client said he thought our manuscript was garbage.

The client said, "He thought our manuscript was garbage."

The first sentence reads as an indirect quote in which the client does not like the manuscript. But did he actually use the word "garbage"? Or has the speaker paraphrased (and exaggerated) the client's words?

The second sentence reads as a direct quote from the client. But who is "he" in this sentence? Is it a third party?

Word processing software would not catch this because the sentences are not grammatically incorrect. However, the meanings of the sentences are not the same. Understanding punctuation will help you write what you mean, and in this case, could save a lot of confusion around the office!

Punctuating Direct Quotations

Quotation marks show readers another person's exact words. Often, you will want to identify who is speaking. You can do this at the beginning, middle, or end of the quote. Notice the use of commas and capitalized words.

Beginning: Madison said, "Let's stop at the farmers market to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner."

Middle: "Let's stop at the farmers market," Madison said, "to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner."

End: "Let's stop at the farmers market to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner," Madison said.

Speaker not identified: "Let's stop at the farmers market to buy some fresh vegetables for dinner."

Always capitalize the first letter of a quote even if it is not the beginning of the sentence. When using identifying words in the middle of the quote, the beginning of the second part of the quote does not need to be capitalized.

Use commas between identifying words and quotes. Quotation marks must be placed after commas and periods. Place quotation marks after question marks and exclamation points only if the question or exclamation is part of the quoted text.

Question is part of quoted text: The new employee asked, "When is lunch?"

Question is not part of quoted text: Did you hear her say you were "the next Picasso"?

Exclamation is part of quoted text: My supervisor beamed, "Thanks for all of your hard work!"

Exclamation is not part of quoted text: He said I "single-handedly saved the company thousands of dollars"!

Quotations Within Quotations

Use single quotation marks ' ' to show a quotation inside of another quotation.

Theresa said, "I wanted to take my dog to the festival, but the man at the gate said, 'No dogs allowed.'"

"When you say, 'I can't help it,' what exactly does that mean?"

"The instructions say, 'Tighten the screws one at a time.'"


Use quotation marks around titles of short works of writing, such as essays, songs, poems, short stories, and chapters in books.

(Titles of longer works, such as books, magazines, albums, newspapers, and novels, are italicized.)

"Annabelle Lee" is one of my favorite romantic poems.

The New York Times has been in publication since 1851.

Writing At Work

In many businesses, the difference a quote and a paraphrase is extremely important. It can be essential to know exactly what the client, customer, or supervisor said.

Sometimes, important details can be lost when you paraphrase. Use quotes to indicate exact words where needed, and let your coworkers know the source of the quotation (client, customer, peer, etc.).

Exercise 1

Copy the following sentences onto your own sheet of paper and correct them by adding quotation marks where necessary. If the sentence does not need any quotation marks, write OK.

  1. Yasmin said, I don't feel like cooking. Let's go out to eat.
  2. Where should we go? said Russell.
  3. Yasmin said it didn't matter to her.
  4. I know, said Russell, let's go to the Two Roads Juice Bar.
  5. Perfect! said Yasmin.
  6. Did you know that the name of the Juice Bar is a reference to a poem? asked Russell.
  7. I didn't! exclaimed Yasmin. Which poem?
  8. The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost Russell explained.
  9. Oh! said Yasmin, Is that the one that starts with the line, Two roads diverged in a yellow wood?
  10. That's the one said Russell.


  • Use quotation marks to enclose direct quotes and titles of short works.
  • Use single quotation marks to enclose a quote within a quote.
  • Do not use any quotation marks for indirect quotations.

3.5 Apostrophes

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of apostrophes.
  2. Correctly use apostrophes in sentences.

The apostrophe is used with a noun to show possession or to indicate where a letter has been left out to form a contraction.


An apostrophe and the letter s indicate who or what owns something. To show possession with a singular noun, add 's .

Jen's dance routine mesmerized everyone in the room.

The dog's leash is hanging on the hook beside the door.

Jess's sister is also coming to the party.

Notice that singular nouns that end in s still take the apostrophe s ('s) ending to show possession.

To show possession with a plural noun that ends in s, just add ' . If the plural noun does not end in s, add 's .

Plural noun that ends in s: The drummers' sticks all moved in the same rhythm, like a machine.

Plural noun that does not end ins: The people's votes clearly showed that no one supported the management decision.


A contraction is a word that is formed by combining two words. In a contraction, an apostrophe shows where one or more letters have been left out. Contractions are commonly used in informal writing but not in formal writing.

I do not like ice cream.

I don't like ice cream.

Notice how the words do and not have been combined to form the contraction don't. The apostrophe shows where the o in not has been left out.

We will see you later.

We'll see you later.

Look at the chart for some examples of commonly used contractions.

Contracted version Spelled-out version
aren't are not
can't cannot
doesn't does not
don't do not
isn't is not
he'll he will
I'll I will
she'll she will
they'll they will
you'll you will
it's it is, it has
let's let us
she's she is, she has
there's there is, there has
who's who is, who has


Be careful not to confuse it's with its. It's is a contraction of the words it and is. Its is a possessive pronoun.

It's cold and rainy outside. (It is cold and rainy outside.)

The cat was chasing its tail. (Shows that the tail belongs to the cat.)

When in doubt, substitute the words it is in a sentence. If sentence still makes sense, use the contraction it's.

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, correct the following sentences by adding apostrophes. If the sentence is correct as it is, write OK.

  1. "What a beautiful child! She has her mothers eyes."
  2. My brothers wife is one of my best friends.
  3. I couldnt believe it when I found out that I got the job!
  4. My supervisors informed me that I wouldnt be able to take the days off.
  5. Each of the students responses were unique.
  6. Wont you please join me for dinner tonight?


  • Use apostrophes to show possession. Add 's to singular nouns and plural nouns that do not end in s. Add ' to plural nouns that end in s.
  • Use apostrophes in contractions to show where a letter or letters have been left out.

3.6 Parentheses

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of parentheses.
  2. Properly use parentheses in sentences.

Parentheses are always used in pairs. They contain material that is secondary to the meaning of a sentence. A sentence should still make sense if you delete the portion in parentheses.

Attack of the Killer Potatoes has to be the worst movie I have seen (so far).

Your spinach and garlic salad is one of the most delicious (and nutritious) foods I have ever tasted!

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, clarify the following sentences by adding parentheses. If the sentence is clear as it is, write OK.

  1. Are you going to the seminar this weekend I am?
  2. I recommend that you try the sushi bar unless you don't like sushi.
  3. I was able to solve the puzzle after taking a few moments to think about it.
  4. Please complete the questionnaire at the end of this letter.
  5. Has anyone besides me read the assignment?
  6. Please be sure to circle not underline the correct answers.


  • Parentheses enclose information that is secondary to the meaning of a sentence.
  • Parentheses are always used in pairs.

3.7 Dashes

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of dashes.
  2. Correctly use dashes in sentences.

Dashes are used to set off information in a sentence for emphasis.

To create a dash in Microsoft Word, type two hyphens together. Do not put a space between dashes and text.

Arrive to the interview early---but not too early.

Any of the suits---except for the purple one---should be fine to wear.

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, clarify the following sentences by adding dashes. If the sentence is clear as it is, write OK.

  1. Which hairstyle do you prefer short or long?
  2. I don't know I hadn't even thought about that.
  3. Guess what I got the job!
  4. I will be happy to work over the weekend if I can have Monday off.
  5. You have all the qualities that we are looking for in a candidate intelligence, dedication, and a strong work ethic.


  • Dashes indicate a pause in text.
  • Dashes set off information in a sentence to show emphasis.

3.8 Hyphens

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the uses of hyphens.
  2. Properly use hyphens in sentences.

A hyphen looks like a dash but it is shorter.

Hyphens Between Two Adjectives That Work As One

Use a hyphen to combine words that work together to form a single description.

The fifty-five-year-old athlete was just as qualified for the marathon as his younger opponents.

My doctor recommended against taking the medication, since it can be habit-forming.

My study group focused on preparing for the mid-year review.

Hyphens When A Word Breaks At The End Of A Line

Use a hyphen to divide a word across two lines of text. You may notice that most word-processing programs will do this for you. If you have to manually insert a hyphen, place the hyphen between two syllables. If you are unsure of where to place the hyphen, consult a dictionary or move the entire word to the next line.

My supervisor was concerned that the team meet-

ing would conflict with the client meeting.


  • Hyphens join words that work as one adjective.
  • Hyphens break words across two lines of text.

3.9 Punctuation: End-of-chapter Exercises

Learning Objectives

  1. Use the skills you have learned in this chapter.
  2. Work collaboratively with other students.


  1. Most of the sentences below contain a punctuation error. On your own sheet of paper, correct the punctuation. If a sentence does not have a punctuation error, write OK.

The headings will let you know which error to look for in each sentence.


  • The wedding will be July 13 2012.
  • The date by the way is the anniversary of the day that they met.
  • The groom the bride and their parents are all planning the event.
  • Actually all of their friends and relatives are involved in the planning.
  • The bride is a baker so she will be making the wedding cake herself.
  • The photography the catering and the music will all be friends.


  • Some people spend a lot of money hiring people for wedding services they are lucky to have such talented friends.
  • The flowers will be either roses, daisies, and snapdragons orchids, tulips, and irises or peonies and lilies.


  • There will be three colors for the wedding: white, black, and gold.
  • They've finally narrowed down the dinner choices salmon, steak, and a vegan stew.
  • Their wedding invitations contained the following quote from the Roman poet Ovid If you want to be loved, be lovable.


  • The invitations said that the wedding would be "outdoor casual."
  • "What exactly does 'outdoor casual' mean?" I asked the bride.
  • She told me to dress comfortably and wear shoes that do not sink into the ground.


  • On the day of the wedding, were going to rent a limo.
  • My brothers wife will make the arrangements.
  • Shes a great party organizer.


  • On the day of the wedding, the bride looked more beautiful than ever and I've known her for fifteen years.
  • All the details were perfect in my opinion.


  • Everyone danced at the wedding except my mother.
  • It was to be expected she just had hip surgery.


  • The groom danced with his new mother in law.
  • It was a spectacular, fun filled day for everyone.
  1. Each sentence contains a punctuation error. On your own sheet of paper, correct each sentence by adding commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, parentheses, hyphens, and dashes as needed.
  • My mothers garden is full of beautiful flowers.
  • She has carefully planted several species of roses peonies and irises.
  • She is especially proud of her thirty year old Japanese maple tree.
  • I am especially proud of the sunflowers I planted them!
  • You should see the birds that are attracted to the garden hummingbirds, finches, robins, and sparrows.
  • I like to watch the hummingbirds they are my favorite.
  • We spend a lot of time in the garden planting weeding and just enjoying the view.
  • Each flower has its own personality some seem shy and others seem bold.
  • Arent gardens wonderful?
  • You should come visit sometime Do you like to garden?
  1. The following paragraph contains errors in punctuation. On your own sheet of paper, correct the paragraph by adding commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, parentheses, hyphens, and dashes as needed. There may be more than one way to correct the paragraph.

May 18 2011

Dear Hiring Manager

Allow me to introduce myself in my previous position I was known as the King of Sales. I hope to earn the same title within your company. My name is Frances Fortune. I have thirteen years experience in corporate sales and account management. I have been the top rated seller for two years in a row in my previous position. Clients recognize me as dependable honest and resourceful. I have a strong work ethic and great interpersonal skills. I excel at goal setting and time management. However you don't have to take my word for it I will be happy to provide personal and professional references upon request. Youre welcome to contact my previous employer to inquire about my work performance. I look forward to speaking with you in person in the near future.


Frances Fortune

  1. Read the following paragraph. Edit by adding apostrophes, parentheses, dashes, and hyphens where needed. There may be more than one correct way to edit some sentences. Consider how the punctuation you choose affects the meaning of the sentence.

I was a little nervous about the interview it was my first in years. I had to borrow my roommates suit, but it fit me well. A few days ago, I started to research the companys history and mission. I felt like I was well qualified for the job. When I arrived, I shook hands with the interviewer she had a strong grip! It nearly caught me off guard, but I did my best to smile and relax. I was a little distracted by all the books in the womans office she must have had a hundred books in that tiny room. However, I think my responses to her questions were good. Ill send her an email to thank her for her time. Hopefully shell call me soon about the position.


Review some of the recent or current assignments you have completed for school or work. Look through recent business and personal emails. Does your work contain any errors in punctuation? Correct the errors and compile a list of the types of errors you are correcting (commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, quotation marks, parentheses, dashes, hyphens, etc.). Use this list as a reference for the types of punctuation marks that you should review and practice.

If you do not find many errors---great! You can still look for ways to add interest to your writing by using dashes, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to create a variety of sentence lengths and structures.

Chapter 4

Table of Contents

Working With Words: Which Word Is Right?

4.1 Commonly Confused Words

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify commonly confused words.
  2. Use strategies to avoid commonly confused words.

Just as a mason uses bricks to build sturdy homes, writers use words to build successful documents. Consider the construction of a building. Builders need to use tough, reliable materials to build a solid and structurally sound skyscraper. From the foundation to the roof and every floor in between, every part is necessary. Writers need to use strong, meaningful words from the first sentence to the last and in every sentence in between.

You already know many words that you use every day. You probably also know that certain words fit better in certain situations. Letters, emails, and even grocery lists require the proper vocabulary. Imagine you are writing a grocery list for a recipe but accidentally write down cilantro when the recipe calls for parsley. Even though cilantro and parsley look alike, they taste very different. This small error could ruin your dish!

Having a solid everyday vocabulary will help you while writing but learning new words and avoiding common word errors will make a real impression on your readers. Experienced writers know that deliberate, careful word selection and usage can lead to more polished, more meaningful work. This chapter covers word choice and vocabulary-building strategies that will improve your writing.

Commonly Confused Words

Some words in English cause trouble because they sound or look the same as other words. These words are called commonly confused words. For example, read aloud the following sentences containing the commonly confused words new and knew:

I liked her new sweater.

I knew she would wear that sweater today.

These words may sound alike when spoken, but they carry entirely different usages and meanings. New is an adjective that describes the sweater and knew is the past tense of the verb to know. To read more about adjectives, verbs, and other parts of speech see Chapter 2.

Recognizing Commonly Confused Words

New and knew are just two of the words that can be confusing because of their similarities. Familiarize yourself with the following list of commonly confused words. Recognizing these words in your own writing and in other pieces of writing can help you choose the correct word.

Commonly Confused Words

A, An, And

A (article). Used before a word that begins with a consonant.

a key, a mouse, a screen

An (article). Used before a word that begins with a vowel.

an airplane, an ocean, an igloo

And (conjunction). Connects two or more words together.

peanut butter and jelly, pen and pencil, jump and shout

Accept, Except

Accept (verb). Means to take or agree to something offered.

They accepted our proposal for the conference.

Except (conjunction). Means only or but.

We could fly there except the tickets cost too much.

Affect, Effect

Affect (verb). Means to create a change.

Hurricane winds affect the amount of rainfall.

Effect (noun). Means an outcome or result.

The heavy rains will have an effect on the crop growth.

Are, Our

Are (verb). A conjugated form of the verb to be.

My cousins are all tall and blonde.

Our (pronoun). Indicates possession, usually follows the pronoun we.

We will bring our cameras to take pictures.

By, Buy

By (preposition). Means next to.

My glasses are by the bed.

Buy (verb). Means to purchase.

I will buy new glasses after the doctor's appointment.

Its, It's

Its (pronoun). A form of it that shows possession.

The butterfly flapped its wings.

It's (contraction). Joins the words it and is.

It's the most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen.

Know, No

Know (verb). Means to understand or possess knowledge.

I know the male peacock sports the brilliant feathers.

No. Used to make a negative.

I have no time to visit the zoo this weekend.

Loose, Lose

Loose (adjective). Describes something that is not tight or is detached.

Without a belt, her pants are loose on her waist.

Lose (verb). Means to forget, to give up, or to fail to earn something.

She will lose even more weight after finishing the marathon training.

Of, Have

Of (preposition). Means from or about.

I studied maps of the city to know where to rent a new apartment.

Have (verb). Means to possess something.

I have many friends to help me move.

Have (linking verb). Used to connect verbs.

I should have helped her with that heavy box.

Quite, Quiet, Quit

Quite (adverb). Means really or truly.

My work will require quite a lot of concentration.

Quiet (adjective). Means not loud.

I need a quiet room to complete the assignments.

Quit (verb). Means to stop or to end.

I will quit when I am hungry for dinner.

Right, Write

Right (adjective). Means proper or correct.

When bowling, she practices the right form.

Right (adjective). Also means the opposite of left.

The ball curved to the right and hit the last pin.

Write (verb). Means to communicate on paper.

After the team members bowl, I will write down their scores.

Set, Sit

Set (verb). Means to put an item down.

She set the mug on the saucer.

Set (noun). Means a group of similar objects.

All the mugs and saucers belonged in a set.

Sit (verb). Means to lower oneself down on a chair or another place

I'll sit on the sofa while she brews the tea.

Suppose, Supposed

Suppose (verb). Means to think or to consider

I suppose I will bake the bread, because no one else has the recipe.

Suppose (verb). Means to suggest.

Suppose we all split the cost of the dinner.

Supposed (verb). The past tense form of the verb suppose, meaning required or allowed.

She was supposed to create the menu.

Than, Then

Than (conjunction). Used to connect two or more items when comparing

Registered nurses require less schooling than doctors.

Then (adverb). Means next or at a specific time.

Doctors first complete medical school and then obtain a residency.

Their, They're, There

Their (pronoun). A form of they that shows possession.

The dog walker feeds their dogs everyday at two o'clock.

They're (contraction). Joins the words they and are.

They're the sweetest dogs in the neighborhood.

There (adverb). Indicates a particular place.

The dogs' bowls are over there, next to the pantry.

There (pronoun). Indicates the presence of something

There are more treats if the dogs behave.

To, Two, Too

To (preposition). Indicates movement.

Let's go to the circus.

To. A word that completes an infinitive verb.

to play, to ride, to watch.

Two. The number after one. It describes how many.

Two clowns squirted the elephants with water.

Too (adverb). Means also or very.

The tents were too loud, and we left.

Use, Used

Use (verb). Means to apply for some purpose.

We use a weed whacker to trim the hedges.

Used. The past tense form of the verb to use

He used the lawnmower last night before it rained.

Used to. Indicates something done in the past but not in the present

He used to hire a team to landscape, but now he landscapes alone.

Who's, Whose

Who's (contraction). Joins the words who and either is or has.

Who's the new student? Who's met him?

Whose (pronoun). A form of who that shows possession.

Whose schedule allows them to take the new student on a campus tour?

Your, You're

Your (pronoun). A form of you that shows possession.

Your book bag is unzipped.

You're (contraction). Joins the words you and are.

You're the girl with the unzipped book bag.

The English language contains a huge number of words; no one can say exactly how many. Many words in English are borrowed from other languages.

Even the words in the list above words may have more meanings than shown here---for example, there is more to affect and effect than we discussed here. When in doubt, consult an expert: the dictionary!

Exercise 1

Choose the correct word to complete each sentence.

  1. My little cousin turns ________ (to, too, two) years old tomorrow.
  2. The next-door neighbor's dog is ________ (quite, quiet, quit) loud. He barks constantly throughout the night.
  3. ________ (Your, You're) mother called this morning to talk about the party.
  4. I would rather eat a slice of chocolate cake ________ (than, then) eat a chocolate muffin.
  5. Before the meeting, he drank a cup of coffee and ________ (than, then) brushed his teeth.
  6. Do you have any ________ (loose, lose) change to pay the parking meter?
  7. Father must ________ (have, of) left his briefcase at the office.
  8. Before playing ice hockey, I was ________ (suppose, supposed) to read the contract, but I only skimmed it and signed my name quickly, which may ________ (affect, effect) my understanding of the rules.
  9. Tonight she will ________ (set, sit) down and ________ (right, write) a cover letter to accompany her résumé and job application.
  10. It must be fall, because the leaves ________ (are, our) changing, and ________ (it's, its) getting darker earlier.

Strategies To Avoid Commonly Confused Words

These strategies can help you avoid mixing up commonly confused words.

  1. Use a dictionary. Keep a dictionary at your desk while you write. Look up words when you are uncertain of their meanings or spellings. Many dictionaries are also available online, and the internet's easy access will not slow you down. Check out your cell phone or smartphone to see if a dictionary app is available.

  2. Keep a list of words you confuse. Be aware of the words that often confuse you. When you notice a pattern of confusing words, keep a list nearby, and consult the list as you write. Check the list again before you submit an assignment to your instructor.

  3. Study the list of commonly confused words. You may not yet know which words confuse you, but before you sit down to write, study the words on the list. Prepare your mind for working with words by reviewing the commonly confused words identified in this chapter.

Writing At Work

Employers value communication. From an application to an interview to the first month on the job, employers pay attention to your vocabulary. You do not need a large vocabulary to succeed, but you do need to be able to express yourself clearly and avoid commonly misused words.

When giving an important presentation on the effect of inflation on profit margins, you must know the difference between effect and affect and choose the correct word. When writing an email to confirm deliveries, you must know if the shipment will arrive in to days, too days, or two days. Confusion may arise if you choose the wrong word.

Using the proper words will improve your communication and make a positive impression on your boss and colleagues.

Exercise 2

The following paragraph contains eleven errors. Find each misused word and correct it by adding the proper word.

The original United States Declaration of Independence sets in a case at the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom as part of the National Archives in Washington, DC. Since 1952, over one million visitors each year of passed through the Rotunda too snap a photograph to capture they're experience. Although signs state, "No Flash Photography," forgetful tourists leave the flash on, an a bright light flickers for just a millisecond. This millisecond of light may not seem like enough to effect the precious document, but supposed how much light could be generated when all those milliseconds are added up. According to the National Archives administrators, its enough to significantly damage the historic document. So, now, the signs display quit a different message: "No Photography." Visitors continue to travel to see the Declaration that began are country, but know longer can personal pictures serve as mementos. The administrators' compromise, they say, is a visit to the gift shop for a preprinted photograph.


  • In order to write accurately, it is important for writers to be aware of commonly confused words.
  • Although commonly confused words may look alike or sound alike, their meanings are very different.
  • Consulting the dictionary is one way to make sure you are using the correct word in your writing. You may also keep a list of commonly confused words nearby when you write or study the chart in this book.
  • Choosing the proper words leaves a positive impression on your readers.


Review the latest assignment you completed for school or for work. Does it contain any commonly confused words? Circle each example and use the circled words to begin your own checklist of commonly confused words. Continue to add to your checklist each time you complete an assignment and find a misused word.

4.2 Spelling

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify common spelling rules.
  2. Identify commonly misused homonyms.
  3. Identify commonly misspelled words.

One essential aspect of good writing is accurate spelling. With computer spell checkers, spelling may seem simple, but these programs fail to catch every error. Spell checkers identify some errors, but writers still have to consider the flagged words and suggested replacements. Writers are still responsible for the errors that remain.

For example, if the spell checker highlights a word that is misspelled and gives you a list of alternative words, you may choose a word that you never intended even though it is spelled correctly. This can change the meaning of your sentence. It can also confuse readers, making them lose interest. Computer spell checkers are useful editing tools, but they can never replace human knowledge of spelling rules, homonyms, and commonly misspelled words.

Common Spelling Rules

The best way to master new words is to understand the key spelling rules. Keep in mind, however, that some spelling rules carry exceptions. A spell checker may catch these exceptions but knowing them yourself will prepare you to spell accurately on the first try. You may want to try memorizing each rule and its exception like you would memorize a rhyme or lyrics to a song.

Write i before e except after c, or when pronounced ay like "neighbor" or "weigh."

achieve, niece, alien

receive, deceive

When words end in a consonant plus y, drop the y and add an i before adding another ending.

happy + er = happier

cry + ed = cried

When words end in a vowel plus y, keep the y and add the ending.

delay + ed = delayed

Memorize the following exceptions to this rule: day, lay, say, pay = daily, laid, said, paid

When adding an ending that begins with a vowel, such as --able, --ence, --ing, or --ity, drop the last e in a word.

write + ing = writing

pure + ity = purity

When adding an ending that begins with a consonant, such as --less, --ment, or --ly, keep the last e in a word.

hope + less = hopeless

advertise + ment = advertisement

For many words ending in a consonant and an o, add --s when using the plural form.

photo + s = photos

soprano + s = sopranos

Add --es to words that end in s, ch, sh, and x.

church + es = churches

fax + es = faxes

Exercise 1

Identify and correct the nine misspelled words in the following paragraphs.

Sherman J. Alexie Jr. was born in October 1966. He is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian and an American writer, poet, and filmmaker. Alexie was born with hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. This condition led doctors to predict that he would likly suffer long-term brain damage and possibly mental retardation. Although Alexie survived with no mental disabilitys, he did suffer other serious side effects from his condition that plagud him throughout his childhood. Amazingly, Alexie learned to read by the age of three, and by age five he had read novels such as John Steinbeck's Tortilla Flats

Raised on an Indian reservation, Alexie often felt aleinated from his peers due to his avid love for reading and also from the long-term effects of his illness, which often kept him from socializeing with his peers on the reservation. The reading skills he displaid at such a young age foreshadowed what he would later become.

Today Alexie is a prolific and successful writer with several story anthologeis to his credit. Most of his fiction is about contemporary Native Americans who are influenced by pop culture and pow wows and everything in between. His work is sometimes funny but always thoughtful and full of richness and depth. Alexie also writes poetry, novels, and screenplays. His latest collection of storys came out in 2009.

Eight Tips To Improve Spelling

  1. Read carefully and avoid skimming. Focusing on your written assignment word by word will help you pay close attention to each word's spelling. Skimming quickly, you may overlook misspelled words.

  2. Use mnemonic devices (memory tricks) to remember spellings. Mnemonic devices, or memory techniques and learning aids, include inventive sayings or practices that help you remember. For example, the saying "It is important to be a beautiful person inside and out" may help you remember that beautiful begins with "be a." The practice of pronouncing the word Wednesday Wed-nes-day may help you remember how to spell the word correctly.

  3. Use a dictionary. Many professional writers rely on the dictionary---either in print or online. If you find it difficult to use a regular dictionary, ask your instructor to help you find a "poor speller's dictionary."

  4. Use your computer's spell checker. The spell checker will not solve all your spelling problems, but it is a useful tool. See the introduction to this section for cautions about spell checkers.

  5. Keep a list of misspelled words. You will often misspell the same words, but do not let this discourage you. All writers struggle with the spellings of certain words; they become aware of their spelling weaknesses and work to improve. Be aware of which words you commonly misspell, and you can add them to a list to learn to spell them correctly.

  6. Look over corrected papers for misspelled words. Add these words to your list and practice writing each word four to five times each. Writing teachers will especially notice which words you frequently misspell, and it will help you excel in your classes if they see your spelling improve.

  7. Test yourself with flashcards. Sometimes the old-fashioned methods are best, and for spelling, this tried-and-true technique has worked for many students. You can work with a peer or alone.

  8. Review the common spelling rules explained in this chapter. Take the necessary time to master the material; you may return to the rules in this chapter again and again, as needed.


Remember to focus on spelling during the editing and revising step of the writing process. Start with the big ideas such as organizing your piece of writing and developing effective paragraphs, and then work your way down toward the smaller---but equally important---details like spelling and punctuation. To read more about the writing process and editing and revising, see Chapter 8.


Homonyms are words that sound like one another but have different meanings.

Commonly Confused Homonyms

Principle, Principal

Principle (noun). A fundamental concept that is accepted as true.

The principle of human equality is an important foundation for all nations.

Principal (noun). The original amount of debt on which interest is calculated.

The payment plan allows me to pay back only the principal amount, not any compounded interest.

Principal (noun). A person who is the main authority of a school.

The principal held a conference for both parents and teachers.

Where, Wear, Ware

Where (adverb). The place in which something happens.

Where is the restaurant?

Wear (verb). To carry or have on the body.

I will wear my hiking shoes when go on a climb tomorrow morning.

Ware (noun). Articles of merchandise or manufacture (usually, wares).

When I return from shopping, I will show you my wares.

Lead, Led

Lead (noun). A type of metal used in pipes and batteries.

The lead pipes in my homes are old and need to be replaced.

Led (verb). The past tense of the verb lead.

After the garden, she led the patrons through the museum.

Which, Witch

Which (pronoun). Replaces one out of a group.

Which apartment is yours?

Witch (noun). A person who practices sorcery or who has supernatural powers.

She thinks she is a witch, but she does not seem to have any powers.

Peace, Piece

Peace (noun). A state of tranquility or quiet.

For once, there was peace between the argumentative brothers.

Piece (noun). A part of a whole.

I would like a large piece of cake, thank you.

Passed, Past

Passed (verb). To go away or move.

He passed the slower cars on the road using the left lane.

Past (noun). Having existed or taken place in a period before the present.

The argument happened in the past, so there is no use in dwelling on it.

Lessen, Lesson

Lessen (verb). To reduce in number, size, or degree.

My dentist gave me medicine to lessen the pain of my aching tooth.

Lesson (noun). A reading or exercise to be studied by a student.

Today's lesson was about mortgage interest rates.

Patience, Patients

Patience (noun). The capacity of being patient (waiting for a period of time or enduring pains and trials calmly).

The novice teacher's patience with the unruly class was astounding.

Patients (plural noun). Individuals under medical care.

The patients were tired of eating the hospital food, and they could not wait for a home-cooked meal.

Sees, Seas, Seize

Sees (verb). To perceive with the eye.

He sees a whale through his binoculars.

Seas (plural noun). The plural of sea, a great body of salt water.

The tidal fluctuation of the oceans and seas are influenced by the moon.

Seize (verb). To possess or take by force.

The king plans to seize all the peasants' land.

Threw, Through

Threw (verb). The past tense of throw.

She threw the football with perfect form.

Through (preposition). A word that indicates movement.

She walked through the door and out of his life.

Exercise 2

Complete the following sentences by selecting the correct homonym.

  1. Do you agree with the underlying ________ (principle, principal) that ensures copyrights are protected in the digital age?
  2. I like to ________ (where, wear, ware) unique clothing from thrift stores that do not have company logos on them.
  3. Marjorie felt like she was being ________ (led, lead) on a wild goose chase, and she did not like it one bit.
  4. Serina described ________ (witch, which) house was hers, but now that I am here, they all look the same.
  5. Seeing his friend without a lunch, Miguel gave her a ________ (peace, piece) of his apple.
  6. Do you think that it is healthy for mother to talk about the ________ (passed, past) all the time?
  7. Eating healthier foods will ________ (lessen, lesson) the risk of heart disease.
  8. I know it sounds cliché, but my father had the ________ (patients, patience) of a saint.
  9. Daniela ________ (sees, seas, seize) possibilities in the bleakest situations, and that it is why she is successful.
  10. Everyone goes ________ (through, threw) hardships in life regardless of who they are.

Commonly Misspelled Words

Below is a list of commonly misspelled words. You probably use these words every day in either speaking or writing. Each word has a segment in bold type, which indicates the problem area of the word that is often spelled incorrectly. If you can, use this list as a guide before, during, and after you write.


Use the following two tricks to help you master these troublesome words:

  1. Copy each word a few times and underline the problem area.
  2. Copy the words onto flash cards and have a friend test you.

Table 4.1 Commonly Misspelled Words

Commonly Misspelled Words
across disappoint integration particular separate
address disapprove intelligent perform similar
answer doesn't interest perhaps since
argument eighth interfere personnel speech
athlete embarrass jewelry possess strength
beginning environment judgment possible success
behavior exaggerate knowledge prefer surprise
calendar familiar maintain prejudice taught
career finally mathematics privilege temperature
conscience government meant probably thorough
crowded grammar necessary psychology thought
definite height nervous pursue tired
describe illegal occasion reference until
desperate immediately opinion rhythm weight
different important optimist ridiculous written

Exercise 3

Find and fix the commonly misspelled words in the following passage. There 4 in the first paragraph, 1 in the second paragraph, and 4 in the third paragraph.

Brooklyn is one of the five boroughs that make up New York City. It is located on the eastern shore of Long Island directly accross the East River from the island of Manhattan. Its beginings stretch back to the sixteenth century when it was founded by the Dutch who originally called it "Breuckelen." Immedietely after the Dutch settled Brooklyn, it came under British rule. However, neither the Dutch nor the British were Brooklyn's first inhabitants. When European settlers first arrived, Brooklyn was largely inhabited by the Lenape, a collective name for several organized bands of Native American people who settled a large area of land that extended from upstate New York through the entire state of New Jersey. They are sometimes referred to as the Delaware Indians. Over time, the Lenape succumbed to European diseases or conflicts between European settlers or other Native American enemies. Finalley they were pushed out of Brooklyn completely by the British.

In 1776, Brooklyn was the site of the first importent battle of the American Revolution known as the Battle of Brooklyn. The colonists lost this battle, which was led by George Washington, but over the next two years they would win the war, kicking the British out of the colonies once and for all.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Brooklyn grew to be a city in its own right. The completion of the Brooklyn Bridge was an ocasion for celebration; transportation and commerce between Brooklyn and Manhattan now became much easier. Eventually, in 1898, Brooklyn lost its seperate identity as an independent city and became one of five boroughs of New York City. However, in some people's opinien, the intagration into New York City should have never happened; they though Brooklyn should have remained an independent city.

Writing At Work

In today's job market, writing a good email can help you get a job. Emails to prospective employers require thoughtful word choice, accurate spelling, and perfect punctuation. Employers' inboxes are inundated with countless emails daily. If even the subject line of an email contains a spelling error, it will likely be overlooked and someone else's email will take priority.

The best thing to do after you proofread an email to an employer and run the spell checker is to have an additional set of eyes go over it with you; one of your teachers may be able to read the email and give you suggestions for improvement. Most colleges and universities have writing centers, which may also be able to assist you.


  • Accurate, error-free spelling enhances your credibility with the reader.
  • Mastering the rules of spelling may help you become a better speller.
  • Knowing the commonly misused homonyms may prevent spelling errors.
  • Studying the list of commonly misspelled words in this chapter, or studying a list of your own, is one way to improve your spelling skills.


What is your definition of a successful person? Is it based on a person's profession or is it based on his or her character? Perhaps success means a combination of both. In one paragraph, describe in detail what you think makes a person successful. When you are finished, proofread your work for spelling errors. Exchange papers with a partner and read each other's work. See if you catch any spelling errors that your partner missed.

4.3 Word Choice

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify why using a dictionary and thesaurus is important when writing.
  2. Identify how to use proper connotations.
  3. Identify how to avoid using slang, clichés, and overly general words in your writing.

Effective writing involves making conscious choices with words. When you prepare to sit down to write your first draft, you likely have already completed some freewriting exercises, chosen your topic, developed your thesis written an outline, and even selected your sources. When it is time to write your first draft, start to consider which words to use to best convey your ideas to the reader.

Some writers are picky about word choice as they start drafting. They may practice some specific strategies, such as using a dictionary and thesaurus, using words and phrases with proper connotations, and avoiding slang, clichés, and overly general words.

Once you understand these tricks of the trade, you can move ahead confidently in writing your assignment. Remember, the skill and accuracy of your word choice is a major factor in developing your writing style. Precise selection of your words will help you be more clearly understood---in both writing and speaking.

Using A Dictionary And Thesaurus

Even professional writers need help with the meanings, spellings, pronunciations, and uses of particular words. In fact, they rely on dictionaries to help them write better. No one knows every word in the English language and their multiple uses and meanings, so all writers, from novices to professionals, can benefit from the use of dictionaries.

Most dictionaries provide the following information:

Spelling. How the word and its different forms are spelled.

Pronunciation. How to say the word.

Part of speech. The function of the word.

Definition. The meaning of the word.

Synonyms. Words that have similar meanings.

Etymology. The history of the word.

Look at the following sample dictionary entry and see which of the preceding information you can identify:

myth, mith, n. [Gr. mythos, a word, a fable, a legend.] A fable or legend embodying the convictions of a people as to their gods or other divine beings, their own beginnings and early history and the heroes connected with it, or the origin of the world; any invented story; something or someone having no existence in fact.---myth • ic, myth • i • cal

Like a dictionary, a thesaurus is indispensable to any writer.

A thesaurus gives you a list of synonyms: words that have the same (or very close to the same) meaning as another word.

It also lists antonyms: words with the opposite meaning of the word.

A thesaurus will help you when you are looking for the perfect word with just the right meaning to convey your ideas. It will also help you learn more words and use the ones you already know more correctly.

Precocious adj, She's such a precocious little girl!: uncommonly smart, mature, advanced, smart, bright, brilliant, gifted, quick, clever, apt.

Ant. slow, backward, stupid.

Using Proper Connotations

A denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. A connotation, on the other hand, is the emotional or cultural meaning attached to a word. The connotation of a word can be positive, negative, or neutral. Keep in mind the connotative meaning when choosing a word.


Denotation: Exceptionally thin and slight or meager in body or size.

Word used in a sentence: Although he was a premature baby and a scrawny child, Martin has developed into a strong man.

Connotation: (Negative) In this sentence the word scrawny may have a negative connotation in the readers' minds. They might find it to mean a weakness or a personal flaw; however, the word fits into the sentence appropriately.


Denotation: Lacking sufficient flesh, very thin.

Word used in a sentence: Skinny jeans have become very fashionable in the past couple of years.

Connotation: (Positive) Based on cultural and personal impressions of what it means to be skinny, the reader may have positive connotations of the word skinny.


Denotation: Lacking or deficient in flesh; containing little or no fat.

Word used in a sentence: My brother has a lean figure, whereas I have a more muscular build.

Connotation: (Neutral) In this sentence, lean has a neutral connotation. It does not call to mind an overly skinny person like the word scrawny, nor does imply the positive cultural impressions of the word skinny. It is merely a neutral descriptive word.

Notice that all the words have a very similar denotation; however, the connotations of each word differ.

Exercise 1

In each of the following items, you will find words with similar denotations. Identify the words' connotations as positive, negative, or neutral by writing the word in the appropriate box. Copy the chart onto your own piece of paper.

  1. curious, nosy, interested
  2. lazy, relaxed, slow
  3. courageous, foolhardy, assured
  4. new, newfangled, modern
  5. mansion, shack, residence
  6. spinster, unmarried woman, career woman
  7. giggle, laugh, cackle
  8. boring, routine, prosaic
  9. noted, notorious, famous
  10. assertive, confident, pushy
Positive Negative Neutral

Avoiding Slang

Slang describes informal words that are considered nonstandard English. Slang often changes with passing fads and may be used by or familiar to only a specific group of people. Most people use slang when they speak and in personal correspondences, such as emails, text messages, and instant messages. Slang is appropriate between friends in an informal context but should be avoided in formal academic writing.

Writing At Work

Frequent exposure to media and popular culture has desensitized many of us to slang. In certain situations, using slang at work may not be problematic, but keep in mind that words can have a powerful effect. Slang in professional emails or during meetings may convey the wrong message or even mistakenly offend someone.

Exercise 2

Edit the following paragraph by replacing the slang words and phrases with more formal language. Rewrite the paragraph on your own sheet of paper.

I felt like such an airhead when I got up to give my speech. As I walked toward the podium, I banged my knee on a chair. Man, I felt like such a klutz. On top of that, I kept saying "like" and "um," and I could not stop fidgeting. I was so stressed out about being up there. I feel like I've been practicing this speech 24/7, and I still bombed. It was ten minutes of me going off about how we sometimes have to do things we don't enjoy doing. Wow, did I ever prove my point. My speech was so bad I'm surprised that people didn't boo. My teacher said not to sweat it, though. Everyone gets nervous his or her first time public speaking, and she said, with time, I would become a whiz at this speech giving stuff. I wonder if I have the guts to do it again.

Avoiding Clichés

Clichés are descriptive expressions that have lost their effectiveness because they are overused. Writing that uses clichés often suffers from a lack of originality and insight. Avoiding clichés in formal writing will help you write in original and fresh ways.

Clichéd: Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes my blood boil.

Plain: Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes me really angry.

Original: Whenever my brother and I get into an argument, he always says something that makes me want to go to the gym and punch the bag for a few hours.


Think about all the clichés you hear in songs or in conversation. What would happen if these clichés were transformed into something unique?

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, revise the following sentences by replacing the clichés with fresh, original descriptions.

  1. She is writing a memoir in which she will air her family's dirty laundry.
  2. Fran had an ax to grind with Benny, and she planned to confront him that night at the party.
  3. Mr. Muller was at his wit's end with the rowdy class of seventh graders.
  4. The bottom line is that Greg was fired because he missed too many days of work.
  5. Sometimes it is hard to make ends meet with just one paycheck.
  6. My brain is fried from pulling an all-nighter.
  7. Maria left the dishes in the sink all week to give Jeff a taste of his own medicine.
  8. While they were at the carnival Janice exclaimed, "Time sure does fly when you are having fun!"
  9. Jeremy became tongue-tied after the interviewer asked him where he saw himself in five years.
  10. Jordan was dressed to the nines that night.

Avoiding Overly General Words

Specific words and images make your writing more interesting to read. Whenever possible, avoid overly general words in your writing; instead, try to replace general language with particular nouns, verbs, and modifiers that convey details and that bring your words to life. Add words that provide color, texture, sound, and even smell to your writing.

General: My new puppy is cute.

Specific: My new puppy is a ball of white fuzz with the biggest black eyes I have ever seen.

General: My teacher told us that plagiarism is bad.

Specific: My teacher, Ms. Atwater, created a presentation detailing exactly how plagiarism is illegal and unethical.

Exercise 4

Revise the following sentences by replacing the overly general words with more precise and attractive language. Write the new sentences on your own sheet of paper.

  1. Reilly got into her car and drove off.
  2. I would like to travel to outer space because it would be amazing.
  3. Jane came home after a bad day at the office.
  4. I thought Milo's essay was fascinating.
  5. The dog walked up the street.
  6. The coal miners were tired after a long day.
  7. The tropical fish are pretty.
  8. I sweat a lot after running.
  9. The goalie blocked the shot.
  10. I enjoyed my Mexican meal.


  • Using a dictionary and thesaurus as you write will improve your writing by improving your word choice.
  • Connotations of words may be positive, neutral, or negative.
  • Slang, clichés, and overly general words should be avoided in academic writing.


Review a piece of writing that you have completed for school. Circle any sentences with slang, clichés, or overly general words and rewrite them using stronger language.

4.4 Prefixes And Suffixes

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the meanings of common prefixes.
  2. Become familiar with common suffix rules.

The English language contains an enormous number of words. You might be interested to know "that there is no exact count of the number of words in English", but rough estimates come in at about 1 million words---far more than in many other languages. See How many words are there in English? on the Merriam-Webster dictionary's website.

But even with all these words, if you know the common prefixes and suffixes of English, you will understand many more words all at once.

Mastering common prefixes and suffixes is like learning a code. Once you crack the code, you can not only spell words more correctly but also recognize and perhaps even define unfamiliar words.


A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word to create a new meaning. Study the common prefixes in Table 4.2 "Common Prefixes".


The main rule to remember when adding a prefix to a word is not to add letters or leave out any letters. See Table 4.2 "Common Prefixes" for examples of this rule.

Table 4.2 Common Prefixes

Prefix Meaning Example
dis not, opposite of dis + satisfied = dissatisfied
mis wrongly mis + spell = misspell
un not un + acceptable = unacceptable
re again re + election = reelection
inter between inter + related = interrelated
pre before pre + pay = prepay
non not non + sense = nonsense
super above super + script = superscript
sub under sub + merge = submerge
anti against, opposing anti + bacterial = antibacterial

Exercise 1

Identify the five words with prefixes in the following paragraph and write their meanings on a separate sheet of paper.

At first, I thought one of my fuzzy, orange socks disappeared in the dryer, but I could not find it in there. Because it was my favorite pair, nothing was going to prevent me from finding that sock. I looked all around my bedroom, under the bed, on top of the bed, and in my closet, but I still could not find it. I did not know that I would discover the answer just as I gave up my search. As I sat down on the couch in the family room, my Dad was reclining on his chair. I laughed when I saw that one of his feet was orange and the other blue! I forgot that he was color-blind. Next time he does laundry I will have to supervise him while he folds the socks so that he does not accidentally take one of mine!

Exercise 2

Add the correct prefix to the word to complete each sentence. Write the word on your own sheet of paper.

  1. I wanted to ease my stomach ________ comfort, so I drank some ginger root tea.
  2. Lenny looked funny in his ________ matched shirt and pants.
  3. Penelope felt ________ glamorous at the party because she was the only one not wearing a dress.
  4. My mother said those ________ aging creams do not work, so I should not waste my money on them.
  5. The child's ________ standard performance on the test alarmed his parents.
  6. When my sister first saw the meteor, she thought it was a ________ natural phenomenon.
  7. Even though she got an excellent job offer, Cherie did not want to ________ locate to a different country.
  8. With a small class size, the students get to ________ act with the teacher more frequently.
  9. I slipped on the ice because I did not heed the ________ cautions about watching my step.
  10. A ________ combatant is another word for civilian.


A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word to create a new meaning. Study the suffix rules in the following boxes.

Rule 1

When adding the suffixes --ness and --ly to a word, the spelling of the word does not change.

dark + ness = darkness

scholar + ly = scholarly

Exceptions to Rule 1

When the word ends in y, change the y to i before adding --ness and --ly.

ready + ly = readily

happy + ness = happiness

Rule 2

When the suffix begins with a vowel, drop the silent e in the root word.

care + ing = caring

use + able = usable

Exceptions to Rule 2

When the word ends in ce or ge, keep the silent e if the suffix begins with a or o.

replace + able = replaceable

courage + ous = courageous

Rule 3

When the suffix begins with a consonant, keep the silent e in the original word.

care + ful = careful

care + less = careless

Exceptions to Rule 3

true + ly = truly

argue + ment = argument

Rule 4

When the word ends in a consonant plus y, change the y to i before any suffix not beginning with i.

sunny + er = sunnier

hurry + ing = hurrying

Rule 5

When the suffix begins with a vowel, double the final consonant only if (1) the word has only one syllable or is accented on the last syllable and (2) the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.

tan + ing = tanning (one syllable word)

regret + ing = regretting (The accent is on the last syllable; the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.)

cancel + ed = canceled (The accent is not on the last syllable.)

prefer + ed = preferred

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, write the correct forms of the words with their suffixes.

  1. refer + ed
  2. refer + ence
  3. mope + ing
  4. approve + al
  5. green + ness
  6. benefit + ed
  7. resubmit + ing
  8. use + age
  9. greedy + ly
  10. excite + ment


  • A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word that changes the word's meaning.
  • A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word that changes the word's meaning.
  • Learning the meanings of prefixes and suffixes will help expand your vocabulary, which will help improve your writing.


Write a paragraph describing one of your life goals. Include five words with prefixes and five words with suffixes. Exchange papers with a classmate and circle the prefixes and suffixes in your classmate's paper. Correct each prefix or suffix that is spelled incorrectly.

4.5 Synonyms And Antonyms

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize how synonyms improve writing.
  2. Identify common antonyms to increase your vocabulary.

As you work with your draft, you will want to pay particular attention to the words you have chosen. Do they express exactly what you are trying to convey? Can you choose better, more effective words? Familiarity with synonyms and antonyms can be helpful in answering these questions.


Synonyms are words that have the same, or almost the same, meaning as another word. You can say an "easy task" or a "simple task" because easy and simple are synonyms. You can say Hong Kong is a "large city" or a "metropolis" because large city and metropolis are synonyms.


Some English professors use the word essay and the word paper to mean two different kinds of writing assignments. In this book, I use paper and essay as synonyms. They mean the same thing to me. But check with the instructor of your class to see whether they use them to mean different things.

However, not all pairs of words in the English language can be easily swapped. The slight but important differences in meaning between synonyms can make a big difference in your writing. For example, the words boring and insipid may have similar meanings, but the subtle differences between the two will affect the message your writing conveys. The word insipid evokes a scholarly and perhaps more pretentious message than boring.

The English language is full of pairs of words that have subtle distinctions between them. All writers face the challenge of choosing the most appropriate synonym to best convey their ideas. When you pay particular attention to synonyms in your writing, it comes across to your reader. The sentences become clearer and more meaningful.

Writing At Work

Any writing you do at work involves a careful choice of words. For example, if you are writing an email to your employer regarding your earnings, you can use the word pay, salary, or hourly wage. There are also other synonyms to choose from. Just keep in mind that the word you choose will have an effect on the reader, so you want to choose wisely to get the desired effect.

Exercise 1

Replace the bold words in the paragraph with appropriate synonyms. Write the new paragraph on your own sheet of paper.

When most people think of the Renaissance, they might think of artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, or Leonardo da Vinci, but they often overlook one of the best figures of the Renaissance: Filippo Brunelleschi. Brunelleschi was born in Florence, Italy in 1377. He is considered the best architect and engineer of the Renaissance. His big accomplishments are a testament to following one's dreams, persevering in the face of obstacles, and realizing one's vision.

The most difficult undertaking of Brunelleschi's career was the dome of Florence Cathedral, which took sixteen years to construct. A major blow to the progress of the construction happened in 1428. Brunelleschi had designed a special ship to carry the one hundred tons of marble needed for the dome. He felt this would be the best way to transport the marble, but the unthinkable happened. The ship sank, taking all the marble with it to the bottom of the river. Brunelleschi was sad. Nevertheless, he did not give up. He held true to his vision of the completed dome. Filippo Brunelleschi completed construction of the dome of Florence Cathedral in 1446. His influence on artists and architects alike was strong during his lifetime and can still be felt now.

Exercise 2

On your own sheet of paper, write a sentence with each of the following words that illustrates the specific meaning of each synonym.

  1. leave, abandon
  2. mad, insane
  3. outside, exterior
  4. poor, destitute
  5. quiet, peaceful
  6. riot, revolt
  7. rude, impolite
  8. talk, conversation
  9. hug, embrace
  10. home, residence


Antonyms are words that have the opposite meaning of a given word. The study of antonyms will not only help you choose the most appropriate word as you write; it will also sharpen your overall sense of language.

Table 4.3 Common Antonyms

Word Antonym Word Antonym
absence presence frequent seldom
accept refuse harmful harmless
accurate inaccurate horizontal vertical
advantage disadvantage imitation genuine
ancient modern inhabited uninhabited
abundant scarce inferior superior
artificial natural intentional accidental
attractive repulsive justice injustice
borrow lend knowledge ignorance
bravery cowardice landlord tenant
create destroy, demolish likely unlikely
bold timid, meek minority majority
capable incapable miser spendthrift
combine separate obedient disobedient
conceal reveal optimist pessimist
common rare permanent temporary
decrease increase plentiful scarce
definite indefinite private public
despair hope prudent imprudent
discourage encourage qualified unqualified
employer employee satisfactory unsatisfactory
expand contract tame wild
forget remember vacant occupied


Learning antonyms is an effective way to increase your vocabulary. Memorizing words in combination with or in relation to other words often helps us retain them.

Exercise 3

Correct the following sentences by replacing the underlined words with an antonym. Write the antonym on your own sheet of paper.

  1. The pilot who landed the plane was a coward because no one was injured.
  2. Even though the botany lecture was two hours long, Gerard found it incredibly dull.
  3. My mother says it is impolite to say thank you like you really mean it.
  4. Although I have learned a lot of information through textbooks, it is life experience that has given me ignorance.
  5. When our instructor said the final paper was compulsory, it was music to my ears!
  6. My only virtues are coffee, video games, and really loud music.
  7. Elvin was so bold when he walked in the classroom that he sat in the back row and did not participate.
  8. Maria thinks elephants who live in freedom have a sad look in their eyes.
  9. The teacher filled her students' minds with gloomy thoughts about their futures.
  10. The guest attended to every one of our needs.


  • Synonyms are words that have the same, or almost the same, meaning as another word.
  • Antonyms are words that have the opposite meaning of another word.
  • Choosing the right synonym refines your writing.
  • Learning common antonyms sharpens your sense of language and expands your vocabulary.


Write a paragraph that describes your favorite dish or food. Use as many synonyms as you can in the description, even if it seems too many. Be creative. Consult a thesaurus and take this opportunity to use words you have never used before. Be prepared to share your paragraph.

4.6 Using Context Clues

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the different types of context clues.
  2. Practice using context clues while reading.

Context clues are bits of information within a text that will assist you in deciphering the meaning of unknown words. Since most of your knowledge of vocabulary comes from reading, it is important that you recognize context clues. By becoming more aware of particular words and phrases surrounding a difficult word, you can make logical guesses about its meaning. The following are the different types of context clues:

  • Brief definition or restatement
  • Synonyms and antonyms
  • Examples

Brief Definition Or Restatement

Sometimes a text directly states the definition or a restatement of the unknown word. The brief definition or restatement is signaled by a word or a punctuation mark. Consider the following example:

If you visit Alaska, you will likely see many glaciers, or slow moving masses of ice.

In this sentence, the word glaciers is defined by the phrase that follows the signal word or, which is slow moving masses of ice.

In other instances, the text may restate the meaning of the word in a different way, by using punctuation as a signal. Look at the following example:

Marina was indignant---fuming mad---when she discovered her brother had left for the party without her.

Although fuming mad is not a formal definition of the word indignant, it does serve to define it. These two examples use signals---the word or and the punctuation dashes---to indicate the meaning of the unfamiliar word. Other signals to look for are the words is, as, means, known as, and refers to.

Synonyms And Antonyms

Sometimes a text gives a synonym of the unknown word to signal the meaning of the unfamiliar word:

When you interpret an image, you actively question and examine what the image connotes and suggests.

In this sentence the word suggests is a synonym of the word connotes. The word and sometimes signals synonyms.

Likewise, the word but may signal a contrast, which can help you define a word by its antonym.

I abhor clothes shopping, but I adore grocery shopping.

The word abhor is contrasted with its opposite: adore. From this context, the reader can guess that abhor means to dislike greatly.


Sometimes a text will give you an example of the word that sheds light on its meaning:

I knew Mark's ailurophobia was in full force because he began trembling and stuttering when he saw my cat, Ludwig, slink out from under the bed.

Although ailurophobia is an unknown word, the sentence gives an example of its effects. Based on this example, a reader could confidently surmise that the word means a fear of cats.


Look for signal words like such as, for instance, and for example. These words signal that a word's meaning may be revealed through an example.

Exercise 1

Identify the context clue that helps define the underlined words in each of the following sentences. Write the context clue on your own sheet of paper.

  1. Lucinda is very adroit on the balance beam, but Constance is rather clumsy.
  2. I saw the entomologist, a scientist who studies insects, cradle the giant dung beetle in her palm.
  3. Lance's comments about politics were irrelevant and meaningless to the botanist's lecture on plant reproduction.
  4. Before I left for my trip to the Czech Republic, I listened to my mother's sage advice and made a copy of my passport.
  5. His rancor, or hatred, for socializing resulted in a life of loneliness and boredom.
  6. Martin was mortified, way beyond embarrassment, when his friends teamed up to shove him into the pool.
  7. The petulant four-year-old had a baby sister who was, on the contrary, not grouchy at all.
  8. The philosophy teacher presented the students with several conundrums, or riddles, to solve.
  9. Most Americans are omnivores, people that eat both plants and animals.
  10. Elena is effervescent, as excited as a cheerleader, for example, when she meets someone for the first time.

Exercise 2

On your own sheet of paper, write the name of the context clue that helps to define the bolded words.

Maggie was a precocious child to say the least. She produced brilliant watercolor paintings by the age of three. At first, her parents were flabbergasted ---utterly blown away---by their daughter's ability, but soon they got used to their little painter. Her preschool teacher said that Maggie's dexterity, or ease with which she used her hands, was something she had never before seen in such a young child.

Little Maggie never gloated or took pride in her paintings; she just smiled contentedly when she finished one and requested her parents give it to someone as a gift. Whenever people met Maggie for the first time they often watched her paint with their mouths agape but her parents always kept their mouths closed and simply smiled.


In addition to context clues to help you figure out the meaning of a word, examine the following word parts: prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

Writing At Work

Jargon is the technical language of a special field. Imagine it is your first time working as a server in a restaurant and your manager tells you he is going to "eighty-six the roasted chicken." If you do not realize that eighty-six means to remove an item from the menu, you will be confused.

When you first start a job, you will likely encounter jargon that is unfamiliar. It can be baffling and make you feel like an outsider. If you cannot figure out the jargon from the context, it is a good idea to ask.


  • Context clues are words or phrases within a text that help clarify vocabulary that is unknown to you.
  • There are several types of context clues including brief definition and restatement, synonyms and antonyms, and example.


Write a paragraph describing your first job. In the paragraph, use five words previously unknown to you. These words could be jargon words or you may consult a dictionary or thesaurus to find a new word. Make sure to provide a specific context clue for understanding each word. Exchange papers with a classmate and try to decipher the meaning of the words in each other's paragraphs based on the context clues.

4.7 Working With Words: End-of-chapter Exercises

Learning Objectives

  1. Use the skills you have learned in the chapter.
  2. Work collaboratively with other students.


  1. Complete the following sentences by filling in the blank line with the correct homonym or frequently misspelled word.
  • Kevin asked me a serious question and ________ (then, than) interrupted me when I attempted to answer.
  • A hot compress will ________ (lessen, lesson) the pain of muscle cramps.
  • Jason was not a graceful ________ (looser, loser) because he knocked his chair over and stormed off the basketball court.
  • Please consider the ________ (effects, affects) of not getting enough green vegetables in your diet.
  • ________ (Except, Accept) for Ajay, we all had our tickets to the play.
  • I am ________ (threw, through) with this magazine, so you can read it if you like.
  • I don't care ________ (whose, who's) coming to the party and ________ (whose, who's) not.
  • Crystal could ________ (sea, see) the soaring hawk through her binoculars.
  • The ________ (principal, principle) gave the students a very long lecture about peer pressure.
  • Dr. Yalom nearly lost his ________ (patience, patients) with one of his ________ (patience, patients).
  1. Write the correct synonym for each word.
  • lenient ________ (relaxed, callous)
  • abandon ________ (vacate, deceive)
  • berate ________ (criticize, encourage)
  • experienced ________ (callow, matured)
  • spiteful ________ (malevolent, mellow)
  • tame ________ (subdued, wild)
  • tasty ________ (savory, bland)
  • banal ________ (common, interesting)
  • contradict ________ (deny, revolt)
  • vain ________ (boastful, simple)

Chapter 5

Table of Contents

Help For English Language Learners

5.1 Word Order

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the basic structures of sentences.
  2. Determine ways to turn sentences into questions.
  3. Define adjectives and how they are used.

If your first language is not English, you will most likely need help when writing in Standard English. New students of Standard English often make similar errors. Even if you have been speaking English for a long time, you may not feel as confident in your written English skills. This chapter covers the most common errors made by English language learners and helps you avoid similar mistakes in your writing.

Both teachers and students should look at the book Learner English , edited by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith. Published in a second edition by Cambridge University Press in 2001, it has chapters on the typical errors made in English by native speakers of various languages. For example, Russian "has no articles" (p. 155), so Russian speakers often make errors with articles in English.

Basic Sentence Structures

The simplest way to make a sentence in English is to have nothing but a subject and a verb.

subject + verb

Samantha sleeps.

The subject does the action, and the verb tells you what the action is. In other languages like Spanish and Italian, sometimes the subject doesn't do the action, but in English every sentence needs a subject and verb to make sense.

Sentences can be more complicated than just having a subject and a verb. Writers can make sentences more complex by adding extra words, like a prepositional phrase. A preposition is a word that shows how one noun or pronoun relates to another word in the sentence. When you see a preposition, you can find the prepositional phrase that goes with it.

subject + verb + prepositional phrase

Samantha sleeps on the couch.

On is the preposition. On the couch is the prepositional phrase.

Common Prepositions
about beside off
above between on
across by over
after during through
against except to
along for toward
among from under
around in until
at into up
before like with
behind of without

Exercise 1

Copy the following sentences onto your own sheet of paper and underline the prepositional phrases.

  1. Linda and Javier danced under the stars.
  2. Each person has an opinion about the topic.
  3. The fans walked through the gates.
  4. Jamyra ran around the track.
  5. Maria celebrated her birthday in January.

Another sentence structure that is important to understand is subject + verb + object. There are two types of objects: direct objects and indirect objects.

A direct object receives the action of the verb.

subject + verb + direct object

Janice writes a letter.

The letter directly receives the action of the verb writes.


A quick way to find the direct object is to ask what? or who?

Maurice kicked the ball.

What did Maurice kick? The direct object, ball.

Maurice kicked Tom by accident.

Who did Maurice kick? The direct object, Tom.

An indirect object does not receive the action of the verb.

subject + verb + indirect object

Janice writes me a letter

The action (writes) is performed for or to the indirect object (me).


Even though the indirect object is not found after a preposition in English, it can be discovered by asking to whom? or for whom? after the verb.

Dad baked the children some cookies.

For whom did Dad bake the cookies? The indirect object, children.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, identify the subject, verb, direct object, and indirect object in the following sentences.

  1. Captain Kirk told the crew a story.
  2. Jermaine gave his girlfriend a dozen yellow tulips.
  3. That hospital offers nurses better pay.
  4. Dad served Grandma a delicious dinner.
  5. Mom bought herself a new car.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite the sentences in the correct order. If the sentence is correct as it is, write OK.

  1. The pizza Jeannine burnt.
  2. To the Mexican restaurant we had to go for dinner.
  3. Jeannine loved the food.
  4. So full were we during the walk home.
  5. I will make the pizza next time.


English speakers rely on the following two common ways to turn sentences into questions:

  1. Move the helping verb and add a question mark.

Sierra can pack these boxes.

Question: Can Sierra pack these boxes?

  1. Add the verb do, does, or did, and add a question mark:

Jolene skated across the pond.

Question: Did Jolene skate across the pond?

Exercise 4

On a separate sheet of paper, create questions from the following sentences.

  1. Slumdog Millionaire is a film directed by Danny Boyle.
  2. The story centers on a character named Jamal Malik.
  3. He and his older brother find different ways to escape the slums.
  4. His brother, Salim, pursues a life of crime.
  5. Jamal ends up on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?


An adjective is a kind of descriptive word that describes a noun or a pronoun. It tells which one, what kind, and how many. Adjectives make your writing more lively and interesting.

A common error that English language learners make is misplacing the adjectives in a sentence. It is important to know where to place the adjective in a sentence so that readers are not confused.

Unlike many other rules, this is a rule that most native English speakers have never been taught explicitly. They have likely just absorbed it. As a native English speaker, the author of the 2023 revision of this book had never heard of this rule until he started working teaching English to non-native speakers.

If you are using more than one adjective to describe a noun, place the adjectives in the following order before the noun:

  1. Opinion: an interesting book, a boring movie, a fun ride
  2. Size: a large box, a tiny turtle, a tall woman
  3. Shape: a round ball, a long hose, a square field
  4. Age: a new day, an old horse, a modern building
  5. Color: an orange sunset, a green jacket, a red bug
  6. Ethnicity: Italian cheese, French wine, Chinese tea
  7. Material: silk shirt, wool socks, a cotton dress

To a native speaker, this phrase sounds fine:

an interesting silk shirt

But this phrase sounds bizarre:

a silk interesting shirt


Adjectives can also be placed at the end of a sentence if they describe the subject of a sentence and appear after the verb.

My English teacher is excellent.

Exercise 5

On a separate sheet of paper, place the following sets of adjectives in the correct order before the noun. The first one has been done for you.

  1. book: old, small, Spanish

a small old Spanish book (age, size, ethnicity)

  1. photograph: new, strange
  2. suit: wool, green, funny
  3. opinion: refreshing, new
  4. dress: fashionable, purple


  • The most basic sentence structure is a subject plus a verb.
  • Adding to a basic sentence makes it more complex. You might add a prepositional phrase or an object or both.
  • English speakers change a sentence into a question in one of the following two ways: moving the helping verb and adding a question mark or adding the verb do, does, or did and adding a question mark.
  • Adjectives come in a particular order before a noun:
    • opinion,
    • size,
    • shape,
    • age,
    • color,
    • ethnicity,
    • material.


Write a paragraph about a memorable family trip. Use at least two adjectives to describe each noun in your paragraph. Proofread your paragraph, and then exchange papers with a classmate. Check your classmate's use of adjectives to make sure they are correct.

5.2 Negative Statements

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify a negative statement.
  2. Write negative statements.

Negative statements are the opposite of positive statements and are necessary to express an opposing idea. The following charts list negative words and helping verbs that can be combined to form a negative statement.

Negative Words
never no hardly
nobody none scarcely
no one not barely
nowhere rarely
Common Helping Verbs
am is are
was were be
being been have
has had do
does did can
could may might
must will should
would ought to used to

The following examples show several ways to make a sentence negative in the present tense.

  1. A helping verb used with the negative word not.

My guests are arriving now.

Negative: My guests are not arriving now.

  1. The negative word no.

Jennie has money.

Negative: Jennie has no money.

  1. The contraction n't.

Janetta does miss her mom.

Negative: Janetta doesn't miss her mom.

  1. The negative adverb rarely.

I always go to the gym after work.

Negative: I rarely go to the gym after work.

  1. The negative subject nobody.

Everybody gets the day off.

Negative: Nobody gets the day off.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite the positive sentences as negative sentences. Be sure to keep the sentences in the present tense.

  1. Everybody is happy about the mandatory lunch.
  2. Deborah likes to visit online dating sites.
  3. Jordan donates blood every six months.
  4. Our writing instructor is very effective.
  5. That beautiful papaya is cheap.

The following sentences show you the ways to make a sentence negative in the past tense.

Paul called me yesterday

Negative: Paul did not call me yesterday.

Jamilee went to the grocery store.

Negative: Jamilee never went to the grocery store.

Gina laughed when she saw the huge pile of laundry.

Negative: Gina did not laugh when she saw the huge pile of laundry.

Notice that when forming a negative in the past tense, the helping verb did is what signals the past tense, and the main verb laugh does not have an -ed ending.

Exercise 2

Rewrite the following paragraph by correcting the errors in the past-tense negative sentences.

Celeste no did call me when she reached North Carolina. I was worried because she not drove alone before. She was going to meet her friend, Terry, who lived in a town called Asheville, North Carolina. I did never want to worry, but she said she was going to call when she reached there. Finally, four hours later, she called and said, "Mom, I'm sorry I did not call. I lost track of time because I was so happy to see Terry!" I was relieved.

Once you have found all the errors you can, please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Did your partner find an error you missed? Did you find an error your partner missed? Compare with your instructor's answers.

Double Negatives

A double negative is two negatives used in the same piece of language. I don't want to drink nothing is a double negative.

In many languages, double negatives are common and correct. In Spanish, for example, double negatives are used for emphasis.

Ordinary statement in Spanish:

No quiero beber

"I don't want to drink."

Emphasized statement in Spanish:

No quiero beber nada

"I don't want to drink nothing."

To emphasize the same statement in English, we would say something like, "I don't want to drink anything at all" or "I definitely don't want to drink."

People will understand you if you use double negatives in speech, but they may look down on you for it. In Standard English, double negatives are considered an error. Avoid them in college writing.

Double negative Single negative
I don't want none I don't want any
I am not never going there I am not ever going there


Ain't is a contraction of am not.

I ain't going home tonight.

Many dialects of English use ain't in everyday speech, but it is incorrect in Standard English. In fact, it is the incorrect word that native speakers probably notice most. It has become a marker that the speaker is uneducated. Avoid it in formal speaking or writing.

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, correct the double negatives.

  1. Jose didn't like none of the choices on the menu.
  2. Brittany can't make no friends with nobody.
  3. The Southwest hardly had no rain last summer.
  4. My kids never get into no trouble.
  5. I could not do nothing about the past.


  • Negatives are usually formed using a negative word plus a helping verb.
  • Double negatives are considered incorrect in Standard English.
  • Only one negative word is used to express a negative statement.


Write a paragraph describing your favorite meal. Use rich, colorful language to describe the meal. Exchange papers with a classmate and read their paragraph. Then rewrite each sentence of your classmate's paragraph using negatives. Be sure to avoid double negatives. Share your negative paragraphs with each other.

5.3 Count And Noncount Nouns And Articles

Learning Objectives

  1. Define and use count and noncount nouns.
  2. Recognize and use definite and indefinite articles.

What Is A Noun, Really?

Everyone who grew up in the U.S. school system has heard a "noun" defined as a word that names a person, place, or thing.

However, modern linguists don't define the parts of speech that way. The old-fashioned way defines parts of speech in terms of their meaning, which linguists call "semantics." In that old-fashioned way, a noun is a person, place, or thing---like a cop, New York City, or a grape.

But today, linguists define the parts of speech in terms of where they can appear in a sentence. They call the rules about where words can appear "syntax," which is a fancy word for "grammar."

According to linguists, a word is a noun if it "can function as the head of a noun phrase, can inflect for plural, and can be preceded by determinatives and adjectives." (This definition comes from page 274 of the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar by Bas Aarts, Sylvia Chalker, and Edmund Weiner; 2nd edition published 2014.)

This is not a linguistics course, but the takeaway for you as a developing reader and writer is that you should not think too hard about old-fashioned, "notional" definitions like "a noun is a person, place, or thing." If you push them too hard, they won't make sense.

What the "person, place, or thing" definition can do for you is to point out many examples of nouns. Over time, you will naturally generalize from them and come to recognize nouns automatically. You might never realize that what you are really doing is applying the syntactical definition. Most native speakers of English don't know it either.

Count And Noncount Nouns

Right now, you may be surrounded by desks, computers, and notebooks. These are called count nouns because you can count the exact number of desks, computers, and notebooks---three desks, one computer, and six notebooks, for example.

On the other hand, you may be carrying a small amount of money in your wallet and sitting on a piece of furniture. These are called noncount nouns. Although you can count the pieces of furniture or the amount of money, you cannot add a number in front of money or furniture and simply add --s to the end of the noun. Instead, you must use other words and phrases to indicate the quantity of money and furniture.

Incorrect: five moneys, two furnitures

Correct: some money, two pieces of furniture

By the end of this section, you will grasp the difference between the two types of nouns and be able to use them confidently in speaking and writing.

Count And Noncount Nouns

A count noun refers to people, places, and things that are separate units. You make count nouns plural by adding --s.

Table 5.1 Count Nouns

Count Noun Sentence
Quarter It takes six quarters to do my laundry.
Chair Make sure to push in your chairs before leaving class.
Candidate The two candidates debated the issue.
Adult The three adults in the room acted like children.
Comedian The two comedians made the audience laugh.

A noncount noun identifies a whole object that cannot separate and count individually. Noncount nouns may refer to concrete objects or abstract objects. A concrete noun identifies an object you can see, taste, touch, or count. An abstract noun identifies an object that you cannot see, touch, or count. There are some exceptions, but most abstract nouns cannot be made plural, so they are noncount nouns. Examples of abstract nouns include anger, education, melancholy, softness, violence, and conduct.

Table 5.2 Types Of Noncount Nouns

Type of Noncount Noun Examples Sentence
Food sugar, salt, pepper, Add more sugar to my coffee, please
Solids concrete, chocolate, silver, soap The ice cream was covered in chocolate
Abstract Nouns peace, warmth, information. I need more information about your insurance.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, label each of the following nouns as count or noncount.

  1. Electricity ________
  2. Water ________
  3. Book ________
  4. Sculpture ________
  5. Advice ________

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, identify whether the italicized noun in the sentence is a count or noncount noun by writing C or NC above the noun.

  1. The amount of traffic on the way home was terrible.
  2. Forgiveness is an important part of growing up.
  3. I made caramel sauce for the organic apples I bought.
  4. I prefer film cameras instead of digital ones.
  5. My favorite subject is history.

Definite And Indefinite Articles

The word the is a definite article. It refers to one or more specific things. For example, the woman refers to not any woman but a particular woman. The definite article the is used before singular and plural count nouns.

The words a and an are indefinite articles. They refer to one nonspecific thing. For example, a woman refers to any woman, not a specific, particular woman. The indefinite article a or an is used before a singular count noun.

Definite Articles (the) And Indefinite Articles (a/an) With Count


I saw the concert. (singular, refers to a specific concert)

I saw the concerts. (plural, refers to more than one specific concert)

I saw the Post Malone concert last night. (singular, refers to a specific concert)

I saw a concert. (singular, refers to any nonspecific concert)

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, write the correct article in the blank for each of the following sentences. Write OK if the sentence is correct.

  1. (A/An/The) camel can live for days without water. ________
  2. I enjoyed (a/an/the) pastries at the Bar Mitzvah. ________
  3. (A/An/The) politician spoke of many important issues. ________
  4. I really enjoyed (a/an/the) actor's performance in the play. ________
  5. (A/An/The) goal I have is to run a marathon this year. ________

Exercise 4

Correct the misused or missing articles and rewrite the paragraph.

Stars are large balls of spinning hot gas like our sun. The stars look tiny because they are far away. Many of them are much larger than sun. Did you know that a Milky Way galaxy has between two hundred billion and four hundred billion stars in it? Scientists estimate that there may be as many as five hundred billion galaxies in an entire universe! Just like a human being, the star has a life cycle from birth to death, but its lifespan is billions of years long. The star is born in a cloud of cosmic gas and dust called a nebula. Our sun was born in the nebula nearly five billion years ago. Photographs of the star-forming nebulas are astonishing.

Once you have found all the errors you can, share with a classmate and compare your answers. Did your partner find an error you missed? Did you find an error your partner missed? Compare with your instructor's answers.


You can make count nouns plural by adding -s.

Count nouns are individual people, places, or things that can be counted, such as politicians, deserts, or candles.

Noncount nouns refer to whole things that cannot be made plural, such as salt, peace, or happiness.

The is a definite article and is used to refer to a specific person, place, or thing, such as the Queen of England.

A and an are indefinite articles, and they refer to nonspecific people, places, or things, such as an apple or a bicycle.


Write five sentences using the definite article the. Write five sentences using the indefinite article a or an. Exchange papers with a classmate and check each other's work.

5.4 Pronouns

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize subject and object pronouns.
  2. Identify possessive pronouns.
  3. Determine common pronoun errors.

A pronoun is a word that can be used in place of the noun. We use pronouns so we do not have to repeat words. For example, imagine writing the following sentence:

Afrah put her scarf on because Afrah was cold.

The sentence sounds strange because Afrah is named twice. If you use a pronoun, the sentence will be shorter and less repetitive. You might rewrite the sentence to something similar to the following:

Afrah put her scarf on because she was cold.

She refers to Afrah, so you do not have to write the name twice.

Types Of Pronouns

Subject pronouns are often the subject of a sentence---"who" and "what" the sentence is about.

She loves the desserts in France.

She is the subject.

By lunch time, they were hungry.

They is the subject.

Object pronouns are often the object of the verb--- "who" or "what" was acted upon.

Melanie's thoughtfulness touched him.

Him is the object of the verb touched.

We lifted it.

It is the object of the verb lifted.

Subject Pronouns

  • The masculine subject pronoun is he
  • The feminine subject pronoun is she
  • Recently, English has seen an explosion in the use of "singular they." In this rising usage, the gender-neutral subject pronoun is they.

Object Pronouns

  • the masculine object pronoun is him
  • the feminine object pronoun is her
  • the gender-neutral object pronoun is them

Possessive Pronouns

A pronoun that shows possession or ownership is called a possessive pronoun.

The teacher took her apple and left.

The pronoun her shows the teacher owns the apple.

The hikers spotted their guide on the trail.

The pronoun their shows the hikers follow the guide who was assigned to the hikers.

Table 5.3 Pronouns

Category Members
Subject Pronouns I, you, he, she, it, we, they
Object Pronouns me, you, him, her, it, us, them
Possessive Pronouns my (mine), your(s), his, hers, its, our(s), their(s)

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by circling the correct pronoun.

  1. Unfortunately, the house was too expensive for (we, us, they).

  2. I completed (mine, my, your) research paper, and she completed (his, hers, theirs).

  3. My dog Buster is old, but (he, it, them) is very playful.

  4. That ring belongs to my father, so it is (hers, his, theirs).

  5. I cannot find my textbook, so I think (they, it, he) is lost.

Common Pronoun Errors

English language learners often make the same errors when using pronouns. The following examples illustrate common errors.

Incorrect: Me and Daniela went to the restaurant for lunch.

This sentence is incorrect because an object pronoun (me) is used instead of a subject pronoun.

Correct: Daniela and I went to the restaurant for lunch.

This sentence is now correct because a subject pronoun (I) is used.

Error: Pronoun Takes The Gender Of The Object Instead Of The Subject

Incorrect: Mark put her (Mark's) grocery bag on the counter.

This sentence is incorrect because the pronoun her refers to a female, and Mark is a male.

In many other languages, the object grocery bag may itself have a gender, and the pronoun takes the gender of the grocery bag.

In English, objects don't have genders, except for a very few unusual traditions like referring to a ship as she instead of it.

Correct: Mark put his grocery bag on the counter.

This sentence is now correct because the male pronoun his refers to the male person, Mark.

Error: Repeated Subject

Incorrect: The woman, she went to work earlier than usual.

This sentence is incorrect because the subject the woman is repeated by the pronoun she. Repeating the subject like this is very common in many other languages, but it is never done in English.

Correct: The woman went to work earlier than usual.

Also correct: She went to work earlier than usual.

These sentences are now correct because the repeated subject has been removed.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, correct the following sentences that have pronoun errors. If the sentence is correct as it is, write OK.

  1. Us are going to the county fair this weekend.
  2. Steven did not want to see a movie because she had a headache.
  3. The teacher congratulated Maria and me.
  4. The eighth grade students they were all behaving mysteriously well.
  5. Derrick and he received the best grade on the grammar test.

Relative Pronouns

A relative pronoun helps connect details to the subject of the sentence. It may often combine two shorter sentences. The relative pronouns are who, whom, whose, which or that.

A relative pronoun is a type of pronoun.

The subject of this sentence is a relative pronoun. The clause is a type of pronoun gives some information about the subject.

The relative pronoun that may be added to give more details to the subject.

Sentence using a relative pronoun: A relative pronoun is a type of pronoun that helps connect details to the subject of the sentence.


Remember the following uses of relative pronouns:

  • Who, whom, and whose refer only to people.
  • Which refers to things.
  • That refers to people or things.

The following examples show how a relative pronoun may be used to connect two sentences and to connect details to the subject.

Sentence 1: Gossip is a form of communication.

Sentence 2: It is a waste of time and energy.

Combination of 1 and 2: Gossip is a form of communication that is a waste of time and energy.

Notice how the relative pronoun that replaces the subject it in sentence 2.

That is called a relative pronoun because it connects the details (is a waste of time and energy) to the subject (Gossip).

Sentence 1: My grandmother is eighty years old.

Sentence 2: She collects seashells.

Combination of 1 and 2: My grandmother, who is eighty years old, collects seashells.

Notice how the relative pronoun who replaces the subject she in sentence 2.

Who is called a relative pronoun because it connects the details (is eighty years old) to the subject (My grandmother).

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by selecting the correct relative pronoun.

  1. He showed me a photo (who, that) upset me.
  2. Soccer is a fast moving game (who, that) has many fans worldwide.
  3. Juan is a man (which, who) has high standards for everything.
  4. Jamaica is a beautiful country (that, who) I would like to visit next year.
  5. My mother only eats bananas (who, that) are green.

Exercise 4

On a separate sheet of paper, combine the two sentences into one sentence using a relative pronoun.

  1. Jeff is a dependable person. He will never let you down.
  2. I rode a roller coaster. It was scary.
  3. At the beach, I always dig my feet into the sand. It protects them from the hot sun.
  4. Jackie is trying not to use so many plastic products. They are not good for the environment.
  5. My Aunt Sherry is teaching me how to drive. She has never been in accident or gotten a ticket.


  • A pronoun is used in place of a noun.
  • There are several types of pronouns, including subject and object pronouns, possessive pronouns, and relative pronouns.
  • Subject pronouns are the "who" and "what" the sentence is about.
  • Object pronouns are the "who" and "what" that receives the action.
  • A possessive pronoun is a pronoun showing ownership.
  • Common pronoun errors include mixing up subject, object, and gender pronouns, and repeating the subject of a sentence with a pronoun.
  • Relative pronouns help combine two separate sentences.


Proofread a piece of your writing for the pronoun errors discussed in this section. Correct any errors you come across.

5.5 Verb Tenses

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify simple verb tenses.
  2. Recognize to be, to have, and to do verbs.
  3. Use perfect verb tenses.
  4. Apply progressive verb tenses.
  5. Define gerunds and infinitives.

You must always use a verb in every sentence you write. Verbs are parts of speech that indicate actions or states of being. The most basic sentence structure is a subject followed by a verb.

Simple Verb Tenses

Verb tenses tell the reader when the action takes place. The action could be in the past, present, or future.

Past ← Present → Future
jumped jump will jump

Simple present verbs are used in the following situations:

When the action takes place now

I drink the water greedily.

When the action is something that happens regularly

I always cross my fingers for good luck.

When describing things that are generally true

College tuition is very costly.

Table 5.4 Regular Simple Present Tense Verbs

Verb I He/She/It You We They
ask ask asks ask ask ask
bake bake bakes bake bake bake
cook cook cooks cook cook cook
cough cough coughs cough cough cough
clap clap claps clap clap clap
dance dance dances dance dance dance
erase erase erases erase erase erase
kiss kiss kisses kiss kiss kiss
push push pushes push push push
wash wash washes wash wash wash

When it is he, she, or it doing the present tense action, remember to add --s, or --es to the end of the verb or to change the y to --ies.

Simple past verbs are used when the action has already taken place and is now finished:

I washed my uniform last night.

I asked for more pie.

I coughed loudly last night.

Table 5.5 Regular Simple Past Tense Verbs

Verb I He/She/It You We They
ask asked asked asked asked asked
bake baked baked baked baked baked
cook cooked cooked cooked cooked cooked
cough coughed coughed coughed coughed coughed
clap clapped clapped clapped clapped clapped
dance danced danced danced danced danced
erase erased erased erased erased erased
kiss kissed kissed kissed kissed kissed
push pushed pushed pushed pushed pushed
wash washed washed washed washed washed

When he, she, or it is doing the action in the past tense, remember to add --d or --ed to the end of regular verbs.

Simple future verbs are used when the action has not yet taken place:

I will work late tomorrow.

I will kiss my boyfriend when I see him.

I will erase the board after class.

Table 5.6 Regular Simple Future Tense Verbs

Verb I He/She/It You We They
ask will ask will ask will ask will ask will ask
bake will bake will bake will bake will bake will bake
cook will cook will cook will cook will cook will cook
cough will cough will cough will cough will cough will cough
clap will clap will clap will clap will clap will clap
dance will dance will dance will dance will dance will dance
erase will erase will erase will erase will erase will erase
kiss will kiss will kiss will kiss will kiss will kiss
push will push will push will push will push will push
wash will wash will wash will wash will wash will wash

Going to can also be added to the main verb to make it future tense:

I am going to go to work tomorrow.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by adding the verb in the correct simple tense.

  1. Please do not (erase, erased, will erase) what I have written on the board.
  2. They (dance, danced, will dance) for hours after the party was over.
  3. Harrison (wash, washed, will wash) his laundry after several weeks had passed.
  4. Yesterday Mom (ask, asked, will ask) me about my plans for college.
  5. I (bake, baked, will bake) several dozen cookies for tomorrow's bake sale.

Exercise 2

Correct the verb tense mistakes in the following paragraph.

Last summer, I walk around Walden Pond. Walden Pond is in Concord, Massachusetts. It is where the philosopher Henry David Thoreau will live during the mid-nineteenth century. During his time there, he wrote a book called Walden.

Walden is a book of Thoreau's reflections on the natural environment. It will be consider a classic in American literature. I did not know that Walden Pond is consider the birthplace of the environmental movement. It was very relaxing there. I will listen to birds, frogs, and crickets, not to mention the peaceful sound of the pond itself.

Once you have found all the errors you can, please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Did your partner find an error you missed? Did you find an error your partner missed? Compare with your instructor's answers.

to Be, to Do, And to Have

There are some irregular verbs in English that are formed in special ways. The most common of these are the verbs to be, to have, and to do.

Table 5.7 Verb Forms Of to Be, to Do, And to Have

Base Present Tense Past Tense Future Tense
be am/is/are was/were will be
do do/does did will do
have have/has had will have


Memorize the present tense forms of to be, to do, and to have. A song or rhythmic pattern will make them easier to memorize.

Verb Past ← Present → Future
to be was am will be
to do did do will do
to have had have will have

Remember the following uses of to be, to have and to do:

To Be

  • I → am/was/will be
  • you/we/they → are/were/will be
  • he/she/it → is/was/will be

To Have

  • I/you/we/they → have/had/will have
  • he/she/it → has/had/will have

To Do

  • I/you/we/they → do/did/will do
  • he/she/it → does/did/will do


Remember, if you have a compound subject like Marie and Jennifer, think of the subject as they to determine the correct verb form.

Marie and Jennifer (they) have a house on Bainbridge Island in Washington State.

Similarly, single names can be thought of as he, she, or it.

LeBron (he) has scored thirty points so far.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by circling the correct form of the verbs to be, to have, and to do in the three simple tenses.

  1. Stefan always (do, does, will do) his taxes the day before they are due.
  2. We (are, is, was) planning a surprise birthday party for my mother.
  3. Turtles (have, had, has) the most beautiful patterns on their shells.
  4. I always (do, did, will do) my homework before dinner, so I can eat in peace.
  5. You (is, are, was) so much smarter than you think!

Perfect Verb Tenses

Up to this point, we have studied the three simple verb tenses---simple present, simple past, and simple future. Now we will add three more tenses, which are called perfect tenses. They are present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect. These are the three basic tenses of English. A past participle is often called the --ed form of a verb because it is formed by adding --d or --ed to the base form of regular verbs. Past participles can also end in -t or -en. Keep in mind, however, the past participle is also formed in various other ways for irregular verbs. The past participle can be used to form the present perfect tense.

Review the following basic formula for the present perfect tense:

Subject has or have past participle
I have helped

The present perfect tense has a connection with the past and the present.

Use the present perfect tense to describe a continuing situation and to describe an action that has just happened.

I have worked as a caretaker since June.

This sentence tells us that the subject has worked as a caretaker in the past and is still working as a caretaker in the present.

Dmitri has just received an award from the Dean of Students.

This sentence tells us that Dmitri has very recently received the award. The word just emphasizes that the action happened very recently.

Study the following basic formula for the past perfect tense:

Subject had or have past participle
I had listened

The bus had left by the time Theo arrived at the station.

Notice that both actions occurred entirely in the past, but one action occurred before the other. At some time in the past, Theo arrived (simple past tense) at the station, but at some time before that, the bus had left (past perfect).

Look at the following basic formula for the future perfect tense:

Subject will have past participle
I will have graduated

The future perfect tense describes an action from the past in the future, as if the past event has already occurred. Use the future perfect tense when you anticipate completing an event in the future, but you have not completed it yet.

You will have forgotten me after you move to London.

Notice that both actions occur in the future, but one action will occur before the other. At some time in the future, the subject (you) will move (future tense) to London, and at some time after that, the subject will have forgotten (future perfect tense) the speaker, me.

Exercise 4

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by using the correct perfect verb tense for the verb in parentheses.

  1. I plan to start a compost bin because I ________ (to want) one for a long time now.

  2. My brother told me he ________ (to argue) with his friend about politics.

  3. By the time we reach the mountain top the sun ________ (to set).

  4. Denise ________ (to walk) several miles in the past three hours.

  5. His mother ________ (to offer) to pay him to work in her office.

Progressive Verb Tenses

Progressive verb tenses describe a continuing or unfinished action, such as I am going, I was going, or I will be going.

The present progressive tense describes an action or state of being that takes place in the present and that continues to take place.

To make verbs in the present progressive tense, combine these two parts:

Present-tense to be verb + -ing (present participle)
am/is/are helping

You should use the present progressive tense to describe a planned activity, to describe an activity that is recurring right now, and to describe an activity that is in progress, although not actually occurring at the time of speaking:

Preeti is starting school on Tuesday.

This sentence describes a planned activity.

Janetta is getting her teeth cleaned right now.

This sentence describes an activity that is occurring right now.

I am studying ballet at school.

This sentence describes an activity that is in progress but not actually occurring at the time of speaking.

The past progressive tense describes an action or state of being that took place in the past and that continues to take place.

To make verbs in the past progressive tense, combine these two parts:

Past-tense to be verb + -ing (past participle)
was/were helping

You should use the past progressive tense to describe a continuous action in the past, to describe a past activity in progress while another activity occurred, or to describe two past activities in progress at the same time:

Ella and I were planning a vacation.

This sentence describes a continuous action in the past.

I was helping a customer when I smelled delicious fried chicken.

This sentence describes a past activity in progress while another activity occurred.

While I was finishing my homework, my wife was talking on the phone.

This sentence describes two past activities in progress at the same time.

The future progressive tense describes an action or state of being that will take place in the future and that will continue to take place. The action will have started at that future moment, but it will not have finished at that moment.

To make verbs in the future progressive tense, combine these parts:

Future-tense to be verb + -ing (present participle)
will be helping

Use the future progressive tense to describe an activity that will be in progress in the future:

Samantha and I will be dancing in the school play next week.

Tomorrow Agnes will be reading two of her poems.

Exercise 5

On a separate sheet of paper, revise the following sentences, written in simple tenses, using the progressive tenses indicated in parentheses.

  1. He prepared the food while I watched. (past progressive tense)
  2. Jonathan will speak at the conference. (future progressive)
  3. Josie traveled to Egypt last July. (past progressive tense)
  4. My foot aches, so I know it will rain. (present progressive tense)
  5. Micah will talk a lot when I see him. (future progressive)
  6. I yawn a lot because I feel tired. (present progressive tense)

Similar to the present perfect tense, the present perfect progressive tense is used to indicate an action that was begun in the past and continues into the present. However, the present perfect progressive is used when you want to stress that the action is ongoing.

To make verbs in the present perfect progressive tense, combine the following parts:

Present-tense to have been verb + -ing (present participle)
has or have been helping

She has been talking for the last hour.

This sentence indicates that she started talking in the past and is continuing to talk in the present.

I have been feeling tired lately.

This sentence indicates that I started feeling tired in the past, and I continue to feel tired in the present. Instead of indicating time, as in the first sentence, the second sentence uses the adverb lately. You can also use the adverb recently when using the present perfect progressive tense.

Similar to the past perfect tense, the past perfect progressive tense is used to indicate an action that was begun in the past and continued until another time in the past. The past perfect progressive does not continue into the present but stops at a designated moment in the past.

To make verbs in the past perfect progressive tense, combine the following parts:

Past-tense to have been verb + -ing (present participle)
had been helping

The employees had been talking until their boss arrived.

This sentence indicates that the employees were talking in the past and they stopped talking when their boss arrived, which also happened in the past.

I had been working all day.

This sentence implies that I was working in the past. The action does not continue into the future, and the sentence implies that the subject stopped working for unstated reasons.

The future perfect progressive tense is rarely used. It is used to indicate an action that will begin in the future and will continue until another time in the future.

To make verbs in the future perfect progressive tense, combine the following parts:

Future-tense to have been verb + -ing (present participle)
will have been helping

By the end of the meeting, I will have been hearing about mortgages and taxes for eight hours.

This sentence indicates that in the future I will hear about mortgages and taxes for eight hours, but it has not happened yet. It also indicates the action of hearing will continue until the end of the meeting, something that is also in the future.


A gerund is a form of a verb that is used as a noun. All gerunds end in -ing. Since gerunds function as nouns, they occupy places in a sentence that a noun would, such as the subject, direct object, and object of a preposition.

You can use a gerund in the following ways:

  1. As a subject

Traveling is Cynthia's favorite pastime.

  1. As a direct object

I enjoy jogging.

  1. As an object of a proposition

The librarian scolded me for laughing.

Often verbs are followed by gerunds.

Table 5.8 Gerunds And Verbs

Gerund Verb Followed by a Gerund
moving considered moving
cleaning hate cleaning
winning imagines winning
worrying has stopped worrying
taking admitted taking


An infinitive is a form of a verb that comes after the word to and acts as a noun, adjective, or adverb.

to + verb = infinitive

Examples of infinitives include to move, to sleep, to look, to throw, to read, and to sneeze.

Often verbs are followed by infinitives. Study Table 5.9 "Infinitives and Verbs" for examples.

Table 5.9 Infinitives And Verbs

Infinitive Verb Followed by Infinitive
to help offered to help
to arrive expects to arrive
to win wants to win
to close forgot to close
to eat likes to eat

You may wonder which verbs can be followed by gerunds and which verbs can be followed by infinitives. With the following verbs, you can use either a gerund or an infinitive.

Table 5.10 Infinitives And Gerunds Verbs

Base Form Gerund Infinitive
begin began crying began to cry
hate hated talking hated to talk
forget forgot paying forgot to pay
like liked leaving liked to leave
continue continued listening continued to listen
start will start recycling will start to recycle
try will try climbing will try to climb
prefer prefer baking prefer to bake
love loves diving loves to dive

Exercise 6

On your own sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by choosing the correct infinitive or gerund.

  1. I meant ________ (to kiss, kissing) my kids before they left for school.
  2. The children hoped (to go, going) to a restaurant for dinner.
  3. Do you intend ________ (to eat, eating) the entire pie?
  4. Crystal postponed ________ (to get dressed, getting dressed) for the party.
  5. When we finish ________ (to play, playing) this game, we will go home.


  • Verb tenses tell the reader when the action takes place.
  • Actions could be in the past, present, or future.
  • There are some irregular verbs in English that are formed in special ways. The most common of these irregular verbs are the verbs to be, to have, and to do.
  • There are six main verb tenses in English: simple present, simple past, simple future, present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect.
  • Verbs can be followed by either gerunds or infinitives.


Write about a lively event that is either remembered or imagined. Ask yourself the following three questions: What happened during the event? What happened after the event? Looking back, what do you think of the event now? Answer each question in a separate paragraph to keep the present, past, and future tense verbs separate.

Learning Objectives

  1. Define and identify modal auxiliaries.
  2. Learn how and when to use modal auxiliaries.

We all need to express our moods and emotions, both in writing and in our everyday life. We do this by using modal auxiliaries.

Modal auxiliaries are a type of helping verb that are used only with a main verb to help express its mood.

The following is the basic formula for using a modal auxiliary:

Subject modal auxiliary past participle
I may call

There are ten main modal auxiliaries in English.

Table 5.11 Modal Auxiliaries

Modal Auxiliary Use Modal Auxiliary + Main Verb
can possibility can lift
could Ability in the past; possibility; permission could bake, could sleep
may uncertain future action; permission I may go. May she come with me?
might uncertain future action They might attend
shall intended future action I shall return
should obligation I should leave. Should you leave too?
will intended future action; asking a favor I will read more. Will you please turn on the light?
would States a preference; request a choice politely; explain an action; introduce habitual past actions I would go to sleep early. I would prefer not to.
must obligation must surrender
ought to obligation ought to leave


Use the following format to form a yes-no question with a modal auxiliary:

Modal auxiliary subject main verb
Should I drive?

Be aware of these four common errors when using modal auxiliaries:

  1. Using an infinitive instead of a base verb after a modal

Incorrect: I can to move this heavy table.

Correct: I can move this heavy table.

  1. Using a gerund instead of an infinitive or a base verb after a modal

Incorrect: I could moving to the United States.

Correct: I could move to the United States.

  1. Using two modals in a row

Incorrect: I should must renew my passport.

Correct: I must renew my passport.

Correct: I should renew my passport.

  1. Leaving out a modal

Incorrect: I renew my passport.

Correct: I must renew my passport.

Exercise 1

Edit the following paragraph by correcting the common modal auxiliary errors.

I may to go to France on vacation next summer. I shall might visit the Palace of Versailles. I would to drive around the countryside. I could imagining myself living there; however, I will not move to France because my family should miss me very much.

Modals And Present Perfect Verbs

In the previous section, we defined present perfect verb tense as describing a continuing situation or something that has just happened.

Remember, when a sentence contains a modal auxiliary before the verb, the helping verb is always have.

Be aware of the following common errors when using modal auxiliaries in the present perfect tense:

  1. Using had instead of have

Incorrect: Jamie would had attended the party, but he was sick.

Correct: Jamie would have attended the party, but he was sick.

  1. Leaving out have

Incorrect: Jamie would attended the party, but he was sick.

Correct: Jamie would have attended the party, but he was sick.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by changing the given verb form to a modal auxiliary in present perfect tense.

  1. The man ________ (laugh).
  2. The frogs ________ (croak).
  3. My writing teacher ________ (smile).
  4. The audience ________ (cheer) all night.
  5. My best friend ________ (giggled).


  • The basic formula for using a modal auxiliary is subject + modal auxiliary + main verb
  • There are ten main modal auxiliaries in English: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must, and ought to.
  • The four common types of errors when using modals include the following: using an infinitive instead of a base verb after a modal, using a gerund instead of an infinitive or a base verb after a modal, using two modals in a row, and leaving out a modal.
  • In the present perfect tense, when a sentence has a modal auxiliary before the verb, the helping verb is always have.
  • The two common errors when using modals in the present perfect tense include using had instead of have and leaving out have.


On a separate sheet of paper, write ten original sentences using modal auxiliaries.

5.7 Prepositions

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify prepositions.
  2. Learn how and when to use prepositions.

A preposition is a word that connects a noun or a pronoun to another word in a sentence. Most prepositions such as above, below, and behind usually indicate a location in the physical world, but some prepositions such as during, after, and until show location in time.

in, at, And on

The prepositions in, at, and on are used to indicate both location and time, but they are used in specific ways.


Used with dates, seasons, and places

in 1942

in the summer

in the afternoon

in California

in Chicago


Used with days and with supporting surfaces.

I met him on Monday

I will leave town on May 23

I like to hang out on the street

The book lay on the table

I ride on the bus (but I ride in a car)


Used with times and places.

I leave work at 5 pm

President Biden meets guests at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

I work at nighttime

I don't like to eat at McDonald's

### Exercise 1

Edit the following letter from a resident to her landlord by correcting errors with in, at, and on.

Dear Mrs. Salazar,

I am writing this letter to inform you that I will be vacating apartment 2A in 356 Maple Street at Wednesday, June 30, 2010. I will be cleaning the apartment at the Monday before I leave. I will return the keys to you on 5 p.m., sharp, at June 30. If you have any questions or specific instructions for me, please contact me in my office. I have enjoyed living at Austin, Texas, but I want to explore other parts of the country now.


Milani Davis

Prepositions After Verbs

Prepositions often follow verbs to create expressions with distinct meanings. These expressions are sometimes called prepositional verbs. Remember these expressions cannot be separated.

These verbs are commonly used with these prepositions. Prepositions are idiosyncratic across languages. You may just need to memorize which prepositions to use with which verbs in English.

Verb + Preposition
agree with
apologize for
apply for
believe in
care about
hear about


It is a good idea to memorize these combinations of verbs plus prepositions. Write them down in a notebook along with the definition and practice using them when you speak.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, complete the following sentences by writing the correct preposition after the verb.

  1. Charlotte does not ________ (apologize for, believe in) aliens or ghosts.
  2. It is impolite to ________ (hear about, talk about) people when they are not here.
  3. Herman said he was going to ________ (believe in, apply for) the internship.
  4. Jonas would not ________ (talk about, apologize for) eating the last piece of cake.
  5. I ________ (care about, agree with) the environment very much.

Prepositions After Adjectives

English verbs and adjectives can have special meanings when paired with specific prepositions. The preposition must follow the verb or adjective, and cannot be separated from it, to convey these meanings.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, write the correct preposition after the verb.

  1. Meera was deeply ________ (interested in, thankful for) marine biology.
  2. I was ________ (jealous of, disappointed in) the season finale of my favorite show.
  3. Jordan won the race, and I am ________ (happy for, interested in) him.
  4. The lawyer was ________ (thankful for, confused about) the details of the case.
  5. Chloe was ________ (dressed in, tired of) a comfortable blue tunic.


Good, excellent, and brilliant are always followed by the preposition at:

She is really good at chess.

Henry is excellent at drawing.

Mary Anne is brilliant at playing the violin.


  • The prepositions in, at, and on are used to indicate both location and time, but they are used in specific ways.
  • The preposition in is used when expressing the following: year, month, season, time of day (not with night), country, state, and city.
  • The preposition on is used to express day, date, and specific days or dates and surfaces, streets, and transportation modes.
  • The preposition at is used for expressions of time, with night, and with addresses and locations.
  • Prepositions often follow verbs to create expressions with distinct meanings that are unique to English.
  • Prepositions also follow adjectives to create expressions with distinct meanings that are unique to English.


Write about a happy childhood memory using as many prepositions followed by a verb or adjective as you can. Use at least ten. When you are finished, exchange papers with a classmate and correct any preposition errors you find.

5.8 Slang And Idioms

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize slang and idioms.
  2. Learn to avoid using slang and idioms in formal writing.

The words you use can affect how people think about you when you speak or write. When you are writing a school paper or talking during a job interview, you want to make sure you choose your words carefully. In everyday conversations, we often use words like "um," "like," or "yeah," but those filler words do not belong in business meetings or school papers. You should use different words and ways of talking depending on whether the situation is formal or not.


Hey guys, let's learn about slang and other cool stuff like that! It will be awesome, trust me. This section is off the hook!

Do you see anything different about the paragraph above? It might sound like how someone talks to a friend or family member, and it uses a lot of playful words called slang. Slang is a type of informal language that changes over time, and can be different in different places and cultures. But remember, slang is not good to use in serious situations. There are a lot of slang words, and the table below only shows a few of them.

Table 5.17 Slang Expressions

Slang Word or Phrase Meaning
check it out, check this out look at, watch, examine
chocoholic, workaholic, shopaholic a person who loves, is addicted to, chocolate/work/shopping
stuff things (used as a singular, noncount noun)
taking care of business doing things that need to be done
pro a person who is a professional
crack up laugh uncontrollably
veg relax and do nothing
dude, man person, man
all-nighter studying all night
cool good, fashionable
gross, nasty disgusting
pig out eat a lot, overeat
screw up make a mistake
awesome great

Exercise 1

Edit the business email by replacing any slang words and phrases with more formal language.

Dear Ms. O'Connor:

I am writing to follow up on my interview from last week. First of all, it was awesome to meet you. You are a really cool lady. I believe I would be a pro at all the stuff you mentioned that would be required of me in this job. I am not a workaholic, but I do work hard and "take care of business." Ha ha. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.


M. Ernest Anderson


Idioms are phrases that mean something different than what the individual words in the phrase would suggest. Since there are a lot of idioms in English, people who are not native English speakers might have trouble understanding them. But the more you hear English, the more you will learn about idioms. Until then, it might be helpful to memorize some of the more common idioms.

Table 5.18 Idioms

Idiom Definition
a blessing in disguise a good thing you do not recognize at first
a piece of cake easy to do
better late than never it is better to do something late than not at all
get over it recover from something (like a perceived insult)
I have no idea I don't know
not a chance it will definitely not happen
on pins and needles very nervous about something
on top of the world feeling great
pulling your leg making a joke by tricking another person
the sky is the limit the possibilities are endless

What if you come across an idiom that you do not understand? There are clues that can help you. They are called context clues. Context clues are words or phrases around the unknown word or phrase that may help you decipher its meaning.

Definition or explanation clue. An idiom may be explained immediately after its use.

I felt like I was sitting on pins and needles I was so nervous.

Restatement or synonym clues. An idiom may be simplified or restated.

The young girl felt as though she had been sent to the dog house when her mother punished her for fighting in school.

Contrast or Antonym clues. An idiom may be clarified by a contrasting phrase or antonym that is near it.

Chynna thought the 5k marathon would be a piece of cake, but it turned out to be very difficult.

Pay attention to the signal word but, which tells the reader that an opposite thought or concept is occurring.


  • Avoid informal language when you are writing for school or work contexts.
  • Slang and idioms can confuse to nonnative speakers of English.
  • Be aware of slang and idioms so they do not appear in your formal writing.


Write a short paragraph about yourself to a friend. Write another paragraph about yourself to an employer. Examine and discuss the differences in language between the two paragraphs.

5.9 Help For English Language Learners: End-of-chapter Exercises

Learning Objectives

  1. Use the skills you have learned in the chapter.
  2. Work collaboratively with other students.


  1. On a separate sheet of paper, create questions from the following sentences.
  • My daughter will have to think about her college options.
  • Otto is waiting in the car for his girlfriend.
  • The article talks about conserving energy.
  • We need to reduce our needs.
  • Rusha is always complaining about her work.
  1. Underline the prepositional phrase in each of the following sentences.
  • Monica told us about her trip.
  • I hope we have sunshine throughout the summer.
  • The panther climbed up the tree.
  • The little boy was standing behind his mother's legs.
  • We stayed awake until dawn.
  1. Place the following sets of adjectives in the correct order before the noun.
  • eyes: black, mesmerizing
  • jacket: vintage, orange, suede
  • pineapple: ripe, yellow, sweet
  • vacation: fun, skiing
  • movie: hilarious, independent
  1. On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite the positive sentences as negative sentences. Be sure to keep the sentences in the present tense.
  • Sometimes I work on Saturdays.
  • The garden attracts butterflies and bees.
  • He breathes loudly at night.
  • I chew on blades of grass in the summer time.
  • I communicate well with my husband.
  1. On a separate sheet of paper, rewrite the following paragraph by correcting the double negatives.

That morning it was so hot Forrest felt like he couldn't hardly breathe. Ain't nothing would get him out the door into that scorching heat. Then he remembered his dog, Zeus, who started whining right then. Zeus was whining and barking so much that Forrest didn't have no choice but to get off the couch and face the day. That dog didn't do nothing but sniff around the bushes and try to stay in the shade while Forrest was sweating in the sun holding the leash. He couldn't not wait for winter to come.

Once you have found all the errors you can, please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Did your partner find an error you missed? Did you find an error your partner missed? Compare with your instructor's answers.

Chapter 6

Table of Contents

Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas And Shaping Content

6.1 Purpose, Audience, Tone, And Content

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the four common academic purposes.
  2. Identify audience, tone, and content.
  3. Apply purpose, audience, tone, and content to a specific assignment.

Have you ever tried to read a long paragraph that goes on and on without stopping? It can be hard to stay interested in what the author is saying, even if it's a good story or news article. When you're writing, it helps to think like a reader and ask yourself if your ideas are easy to follow. One way to make your writing more manageable is to use paragraphs. Each paragraph should have one main idea with sentences that support it. That way, readers can understand each idea separately. To write longer pieces with multiple ideas, writers group paragraphs together.

Three elements shape the content of each paragraph:

  1. Purpose. The reason the writer composes the paragraph.
  2. Tone. The attitude the writer conveys about the paragraph's subject.
  3. Audience. The individual or group whom the writer intends to address.

The assignment's purpose, audience, and tone dictate what the paragraph covers and how it will support one main point. This section covers how purpose, audience, and tone affect reading and writing paragraphs.

Identifying Common Academic Purposes

The purpose for a piece of writing identifies the reason you write a particular document. Basically, the purpose of a piece of writing answers the question "Why?"

  • For example, why write a play? To entertain a packed theater.
  • Why write instructions to the babysitter? To inform him or her of your schedule and rules.
  • Why write a letter to your congressman? To persuade him to address your community's needs.
  • Why write a Yelp review of a restaurant? To evaluate its quality.

In college, writing usually has the same four main purposes: to summarize, to analyze, to synthesize, or to evaluate. Many assignments will require you to pursue several of these purposes.

Knowing your purpose will help you figure out what to write about and how to write it. For now, if you can identify these purposes by reading paragraphs, you'll be able to write good paragraphs and essays later on.


When you summarize something, you take a lot of information and make it shorter by only keeping the important parts. You might do this when you talk about a movie or book with a friend. You'll only say the main things that happened, and use your own words to explain it.

A summary paragraph makes a long piece of writing shorter by only keeping the important information. It uses the writer's own words. Just like when you summarize things in conversation, the goal of an academic summary paragraph is to keep all the important parts of a long document. Even though it's shorter than the original writing, the summary should still have all the main points and evidence. In other words, a summary paragraph should be short and clear.

Here is a sample three-paragraph report on alcohol and drug use among high school students:

A summary of the report should present all the main points but in fewer words. Here is a summary of the report above written by a student:

Notice how the summary keeps the key points from the original report but leaves out most of the numbers.

The key to writing a good summary is deciding which information is essential and which you can leave out.

There is another kind of writing called paraphrasing which we won't discuss in detail here. When you paraphrase, you rewrite an original in your own words, but you try to keep nearly all of the original's information.

A paraphrase will be about the same length as the original. A summary should be much shorter than the original.


Analysis breaks down complicated things into smaller parts and looks at how they relate to each other. For example, to understand table salt, scientists would take apart the two elements it's made of, sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl), and see how they work together to make NaCl, or salt.

Analysis isn't only for science. In school writing, you can have an analysis paragraph that takes apart a written work, like an essay or book. It examines each point and shows how they are related to each other, to help you understand the main points of the work.

Look at a student's analysis of the journal report.

At the beginning of their report, Brown et al. use specific data regarding the use of alcohol by high school students and college-aged students, which is supported by several studies. Later in the report, they consider how various socioeconomic factors influence problem drinking in adolescence. The latter part of the report is far less specific and does not provide statistics or examples.

The lack of specifics in the second part raises important questions. Why are teenagers in rural high schools more likely to drink than teenagers in urban areas? Where do they get alcohol? How do parental attitudes influence this pattern? A follow-up study could compare several high schools in rural and urban areas to consider these issues and perhaps find ways to reduce teenage drinking.

When you analyze something, like a report, you don't just repeat the same information that's already there. Instead, you look at how all the different points in the report fit together. By doing this, a student noticed that some points had statistics to back them up, but other points needed more information. Analyzing a document means looking carefully at each part and how they all fit together.


When you combine two or more things to make something new, that's called a synthesis. For example, the synthesizer is a musical instrument that can take the sounds of a piano, flute, or guitar and blend them together to make a new sound. The point of the synthesizer is to make new and unique sounds by combining individual instrument notes.

In school, when you write a synthesis, you take the main ideas from different pieces of writing and put them together to create a new idea that's not in any of the original writings. This is done in a synthesis paragraph.

Look at a student's synthesis of several sources about underage drinking.

In their 2009 report, Brown et al. consider the rates of alcohol consumption among high school and college-aged students and various demographic factors that affect these rates. However, this report is only assesses the rates of underage drinking, rather than considering how to decrease them. Several other studies, as well as original research among college students, provide insight into how to reduce these rates.

One study, by Spoth et al. (2009), considers the impact of different interventions for reducing alcohol consumption among minors. They conclude that although family-focused interventions for adolescents aged ten to fifteen have shown promise, there is a serious lack of interventions available for college-aged youth who do not attend college. These youth are among the highest risk for alcohol abuse.

I did my own research and interviewed eight college students: four men and four women. I asked them when they first tired alcohol and what encouraged them to drink. All four men had tried alcohol by the age of thirteen. Three of the women had also tried alcohol by thirteen and the fourth had tried it by fifteen. All eight students said that peer pressure, boredom, and the thrill of trying something illegal were motivating factors. These results support the research of Brown et al. However, they also raise an interesting point. If boredom is a motivating factor, maybe additional after-school programs could be introduced to dissuade teenagers from underage drinking. Based on my sources, further research is needed to show true preventative measures for teenage alcohol consumption.

Notice how the synthesis paragraphs consider each source and use information from each to create a new thesis. A good synthesis does not repeat information; the writer uses a variety of sources to create a new idea.


An evaluation is when you decide if something is valuable or not. Evaluations can be influenced by opinions and what you already know. For example, a boss might evaluate an employee based on how well they meet the company's goals, but the boss's opinion of the employee also matters. Evaluations help figure out how good someone is at their job.

In school, an evaluation is when you give your opinion about something you read or talked about. Your opinion is influenced by what you already know and what you think about the topic. You need to think carefully and use different skills to write an evaluation. Usually, you first summarize, then analyze, then combine everything together.

Here is the student's evaluation of their own three-paragraph synthesis from above.

Throughout their report, Brown et al. provide valuable statistics that highlight the frequency of alcohol use among high school and college students. They use several reputable sources to support their points. However, the report focuses solely on the frequency of alcohol use and ho it varies according to certain demographic factors. Other sources, such as Spoth et al. (2009) and the survey I conducted among college students, examine the reasons for alcohol use among young people and offer suggestions as to how to reduce the rates. Nonetheless, I think that Brown et al. offer a useful set of statistics on which to base further research into alcohol use among high school and college students.

Notice how the paragraph includes the student's personal judgment within the evaluation. Evaluating a document requires prior knowledge that is often based on additional research.


When reviewing directions for assignments, look for the verbs summarize, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate. Instructors often use these words to indicate the assignment's purpose. These words should cue you on how to complete the assignment.

Exercise 1

Read the following paragraphs about four films and then identify the purpose of each paragraph.

  1. This film could easily have been cut down to less than two hours. By the final scene, I noticed that most of my fellow moviegoers were snoozing in their seats and were barely paying attention to what was happening on screen. Although the director sticks diligently to the book, he tries too hard to cram in all the action, which is just too ambitious for such a detail-oriented story. If you want my advice, read the book and give the movie a miss.
  2. During the opening scene, we learn that the character Laura is adopted and that she has spent the past three years desperately trying to track down her real parents. Having exhausted all the usual options---adoption agencies, online searches, family trees, and so on---she is on the verge of giving up when she meets a stranger on a bus. The chance encounter leads to a complicated chain of events that ultimately result in Laura getting her lifelong wish. But is it really what she wants? Throughout the rest of the film, Laura discovers that sometimes the past is best left where it belongs.
  3. To create the feeling of being gripped in a vice, the director, May Lee, uses a variety of elements to gradually increase the tension. The creepy, haunting melody that subtly enhances the earlier scenes becomes ever more insistent, rising to a disturbing crescendo toward the end of the movie. The desperation of the actors, combined with the claustrophobic atmosphere and tight camera angles create a realistic firestorm, from which there is little hope of escape. Walking out of the theater at the end feels like staggering out of a Roman dungeon.
  4. The scene in which Campbell and his fellow prisoners assist the guards in shutting down the riot immediately strikes the viewer as unrealistic. Based on the recent reports on prison riots in both Detroit and California, it seems highly unlikely that a posse of hardened criminals will intentionally help their captors at the risk of inciting future revenge from other inmates. Instead, both news reports and psychological studies indicate that prisoners who do not actively participate in a riot will go back to their cells and avoid conflict altogether. Examples of this lack of attention to detail occur throughout the film, making it almost unbearable to watch.

Share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Writing At Work

Thinking about the purpose of writing a report at work can help focus and structure the document. A summary should provide colleagues with a factual overview of your findings without going into too much specific detail. In contrast, an evaluation should include your personal opinion, along with supporting evidence, research, or examples to back it up. Listen for words such as summarize, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate when your boss asks you to complete a report to help determine a purpose for writing.

Exercise 2

Consider the essay most recently assigned to you. Identify the most effective academic purpose for the assignment.

My assignment:

My purpose:

Identifying The Audience

Imagine you have to give a talk to some important people at work. You prepare carefully and think about how you'll speak and what you'll say. You need to decide if you'll use technology to show pictures, if you should explain words, and what you'll wear. These choices will help you connect with your audience and get them to listen.

Now imagine you have to explain the same ideas to a group of high school students. You'll need to change some things, like using simpler pictures and explaining more words. You might even dress differently to connect better with the students. The audience you're speaking to changes how you talk and what you say.

When you write, you need to think about who will read what you write, even if you never meet them in person. You need to know what they like and expect before you write. This is so important that you might not even realize you're doing it!

When you post something on social media, you think about who will see it. If you want to show off a good grade, you might write it so your family will be happy. If you want to share a funny moment, you might write it so your friends will think it's funny. Even at work, you send emails thinking about who might accidentally get the email.

In other words, you already know how to think about who will read what you write. You do it every day! Look at these paragraphs. Which one would the writer send to their parents? Which one would they send to their best friend?

Example A

Last Saturday, I volunteered at a local hospital. The visit was fun and rewarding. I even learned how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR. Unfortunately, I think caught a cold from one of the patients. This week, I will rest in bed and drink plenty of clear fluids. I hope I am well by next Saturday to volunteer again.

Example B

OMG! You won't believe this! My advisor forced me to do my community service hours at this hospital all weekend! We learned CPR but we did it on dummies, not even real peeps. And some kid sneezed on me and got me sick! I was so bored and sniffling all weekend; I hope I don't have to go back next week. I def do NOT want to miss the basketball tournament!

Most likely, you matched each paragraph to its audience easily.

When writing your own paragraphs, you must engage with your audience to build a relationship. Imagining your readers will help you make decisions about your writing. The people you imagine will affect what and how you write.


While giving a speech, you may deliver an inspiring message, but if you have messy hair and mismatched socks, your audience may not take you seriously. Having a polished appearance lets people look past how you look to what you are saying.

Similarly, polishing your grammar lets your readers focus on what you have to say.

Thinking about who will read what you write will help you write better. It's important to think about who your readers are: their demographics, education, knowledge, and expectations.

Demographics. Demographics include someone's age, their ethnicity, their religious beliefs, and their gender.

For example, if you were writing for an audience of 60-year-olds, you might have to explain what TikTok is. They might get frustrated if you didn't. But if you were writing for an audience of 20-year-olds, they will already know about TikTok. They might get annoyed if you did explain what it was.

Your goal is the same: don't annoy your readers. But you might need to do different things---even opposite things---for different demographics to achieve that goal.

Education. You may want to write differently depending on your audience's education. A doctorate is a degree that is more advanced than a master's degree; it usually takes about five years of study after your four-year bachelor's degree to get one. If your audience members have doctorates, you may need to elevate your writing style and use more formal language. But if your audience is in high school, you probably want a more relaxed style.

Prior knowledge. This refers to what the audience already knows about your topic. Although you cannot peer inside the brains of your readers to discover their knowledge, you can make reasonable assumptions.

For example, if you are writing for a group of nursing majors, you probably don't have to explain what the scapula is (it's a wing-like bone in your upper back). But if you are writing for a group of business majors, you probably do.

Expectations. These indicate what readers will look for while reading your assignment. Readers may expect consistencies in the assignment's appearance, such as correct grammar and traditional formatting like double-spaced lines and legible font.

Readers may also have content-based expectations given the assignment's purpose and organization. In an essay titled "The Economics of Enlightenment: The Effects of Rising Tuition," for example, audience members may expect to read about the economic repercussions of college tuition costs.

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, generate a list of characteristics under each category for each audience. This list will help you later when you read about tone and content.

Your Classmates



Prior knowledge


Your Instructor



Prior knowledge


Now think about your next writing assignment. Identify the purpose (you may use the same purpose listed in Exercise 2), and then identify the audience. Create a list of characteristics under each category.

My assignment:

My purpose:

My audience:



Prior knowledge


Keep in mind that as your topic shifts in the writing process, your audience may also shift. For more information about the writing process, see Chapter 8.

Also, remember that decisions about style depend on audience, purpose, and content. Identifying your audience's demographics, education, prior knowledge, and expectations will affect how you write, but purpose and content play an equally important role. The next subsection covers how to select an appropriate tone to match the audience and purpose.

Selecting An Appropriate Tone

Tone identifies a speaker's attitude toward a subject or another person. You may pick up a person's tone of voice fairly easily in conversation. A friend who tells you about her weekend may speak excitedly about a fun skiing trip. An instructor who means business may speak in a low, slow voice to emphasize her serious mood. Or, a coworker who needs to let off some steam after a long meeting may crack a sarcastic joke.

Just as speakers transmit emotion through voice, writers can transmit through writing a range of attitudes, from excited and humorous to somber and critical. These emotions create connections among the audience, the author, and the subject, ultimately building a relationship between the audience and the text. To stimulate these connections, writers intimate their attitudes and feelings with useful devices, such as sentence structure, word choice, punctuation, and formal or informal language. Keep in mind that the writer's attitude should always appropriately match the audience and the purpose.

Read the following paragraph and consider the writer's tone. How would you describe the writer's attitude toward wildlife conservation?

Many species of plants and animals are disappearing right before our eyes. If we don't act fast, it might be too late to save them. Human activities, including pollution, deforestation, hunting, and overpopulation, are devastating the natural environment. Without our help, many species will not survive long enough for our children to see them in the wild. Take the tiger, for example. Today, tigers occupy just 7 percent of their historical range, and many local populations are already extinct. Hunted for their beautiful pelt and other body parts, the tiger population has plummeted from one hundred thousand in 1920 to just a few thousand. Contact your local wildlife conservation society today to find out how you can stop this terrible destruction.

Exercise 4

Think about the assignment and purpose you selected in Exercise 2, and the audience you selected in Exercise 3. Now, identify the tone you would use in the assignment.

My assignment:

My purpose:

My audience:

My tone:

The Right Content And The Right Tone

Content is all the writing in a document. Before you write, you need to choose what information will be in the document, like examples, statistics, or stories. You need to make sure the information is interesting and right for the audience and purpose. For example, if you're writing for third graders, you need to use simple language and explain things well.

The tone you use is also important for the audience. If you match the tone to the content, your readers will be more interested, and you'll have a better relationship with them. For third graders, you would use an enthusiastic tone and simple language.

Choosing the best content and the best tone to go with it is important for all audiences and purposes.

Exercise 5

Match the content in the box to the appropriate audience and purpose. On your own sheet of paper, write the correct letter next to the number.

  1. Whereas economist Holmes contends that the financial crisis is far from over, the presidential advisor Jones points out that it is vital to catch the first wave of opportunity to increase market share. We can use elements of both experts' visions. Let me explain how.

  2. In 2000, foreign money flowed into the United States, contributing to easy credit conditions. People bought larger houses than they could afford, eventually defaulting on their loans as interest rates rose.

  3. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, known by most of us as the humongous government bailout, caused mixed reactions. Although supported by many political leaders, the statute provoked outrage among grassroots groups. In their opinion, the government was actually rewarding banks for their appalling behavior.

  4. Audience: An instructor

Purpose: To analyze the reasons behind the 2007 financial crisis


  1. Audience: Classmates

Purpose: To summarize the effects of the $700 billion government bailout


  1. Audience: An employer

Purpose: To synthesize two articles on preparing businesses for economic recovery


Exercise 6

Using the assignment, purpose, audience, and tone from Exercise 4, generate a list of content ideas. Remember that content consists of examples, statistics, facts, anecdotes, testimonies, and observations.

My assignment:

My purpose:

My audience:

My tone:

My content ideas:


  • Paragraphs separate ideas into logical, manageable chunks of information.
  • The content of each paragraph and document is shaped by purpose, audience, and tone.
  • The four common academic purposes are summary, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  • Identifying the audience's demographics, education, prior knowledge, and expectations will affect how and what you write.
  • Devices such as sentence structure, word choice, punctuation, and formal or informal language communicate tone and create a relationship between the writer and their audience.
  • Content may consist of examples, statistics, facts, anecdotes, testimonies, and observations. All content must be appropriate and interesting for the audience, purpose and tone.

6.2 Writing Effective Paragraphs

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify characteristics of a good topic sentence.
  2. Identify the three parts of a developed paragraph.
  3. Apply knowledge of topic sentences and parts of a developed paragraph in an assignment.

Now that you know why you write and how to choose what to write, you can learn how to make a good paragraph. A good paragraph is like a well-built house. You might have great ideas or materials, but if you don't put them in the right order, the paragraph won't work well.

A strong paragraph contains three distinct components:

  1. Topic sentence. The topic sentence is the main idea of the paragraph.
  2. Body. The body is composed of the supporting sentences that develop the main point.
  3. Conclusion. The conclusion is the final sentence that summarizes the main point.

The foundation of a good paragraph is the topic sentence, which expresses the main idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence relates to the thesis, or main point, of the essay (see Chapter 9 for more about theses) and guides the reader by signposting what the paragraph is about. All the sentences in the rest of the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

This section covers the parts of a paragraph and how to develop an effective topic sentence.

Developing A Topic Sentence

Pick up any newspaper or magazine and read the first sentence of an article. Are you fairly confident that you know what the rest of the article is about? If so, you have likely read the topic sentence.

An effective topic sentence combines a main idea with the writer's opinion. It serves to orient the reader and provides an indication of what will follow in the rest of the paragraph. Read the following example.

Creating a national set of standards for math and English education will improve student learning in many states.

This topic sentence argues that standardizing math and English education is a good idea. If you read this sentence, you will expect the writer to explain why standardizing both will be good for students in many states. If the essay is really about education in just one state, or about math or English only, then this topic sentence is a bad choice.


When writing a draft of an essay, let someone read the opening line of your first paragraph. Ask your reader to predict what your paper will be about. If he or she is unable to guess your topic accurately, you should consider revising your topic sentence so that it clearly defines your purpose in writing.

Main Idea Versus Controlling Idea

There is a school of thought that each paragraph should do in miniature what an essay does at full size.

The person most associated with this idea is the 19th-century Scottish philosopher Alexander Bain. (Not to be confused with the 19th-century Scottish inventor Alexander Bain, who is a different person.)

I (Jamie Martin, the author of the 2023 revision of this book) am skeptical about Bain's idea. I think it is too formulaic---it is inventing a structure where one doesn't really exist.

But if you take Bain's approach, you'll get parallels like this:

Essay Paragraph
Topic Main idea
Thesis Controlling idea
Introduction Topic sentence (usually)
Body Body
Conclusion Concluding sentence

In your author's opinion, many of these ideas fit more naturally in an essay than in a single paragraph. You will read more about them in Chapter 8. But it is still useful to point out that a topic sentence about the same topic (or "main idea") can express many different points (or "controlling ideas") about that topic.

Read the following examples.

Marijuana is a destructive influence on teens and causes long-term brain damage.

The antinausea properties in marijuana are a lifeline for many cancer patients.

Legalizing marijuana would create a higher demand for Class A and Class B drugs.

Although the main idea---marijuana---is the same in all three topic sentences, the controlling idea (or more simply, the point being made about marijuana) differs in each sentence. You can probably see that the first and the third sentences are negative towards marijuana while the second is positive.

Exercise 1

Circle the main idea and underline the controlling idea in each of the following topic sentences.

  1. Exercising three times a week is the only way to maintain good physical health.
  2. Sexism and racism are still rampant in today's workplace.
  3. Raising the legal driving age to twenty-one would decrease road traffic accidents.
  4. Owning a business is the only way to achieve financial success.
  5. Dog owners should be prohibited from taking their pets on public beaches.

Characteristics Of A Good Topic Sentence

Five characteristics define a good topic sentence:

  1. A good topic sentence provides an accurate indication of what will follow in the rest of the paragraph.

    1. Weak example. People rarely give firefighters the credit they deserve for such a physically and emotionally demanding job. (The paragraph is about a specific incident that involved firefighters; therefore, this topic sentence is too general.)

    2. Stronger example. During the October riots, Unit 3B went beyond the call of duty. (This topic sentence is more specific and indicates that the paragraph will contain information about a particular incident involving Unit 3B.)

  2. A good topic sentence contains both a topic and a controlling idea or opinion.

    1. Weak example. In this paper, I am going to discuss the rising suicide rate among young professionals. (This topic sentence provides a main idea, but it does not present a controlling idea, or thesis.)

    2. Stronger example. The rising suicide rate among young professionals is a cause for immediate concern. (This topic sentence presents the writer's opinion on the subject of rising suicide rates among young professionals.)

  3. A good topic sentence is clear and easy to follow. The most famous style guide of the 20th century, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White, told writers to "omit needless words!" This means that you should only use exactly as many words as you need to make your point---neither more nor fewer.

    1. Weak example. In general, writing an essay, thesis, or other academic or nonacademic document is considerably easier and of much higher quality if you first construct an outline, of which there are many different types. (This topic sentence includes a main idea and a controlling idea, but both are buried beneath the confusing sentence structure and unnecessary vocabulary. These obstacles make it difficult for the reader to follow.)

    2. Stronger example. Most forms of writing can be improved by first creating an outline. (This topic sentence omits needless words, making it easier for the reader to follow.)

  4. A good topic sentence does not include supporting details.

    1. Weak example. Salaries should be capped in baseball for many reasons, most importantly so we don't allow the same team to win year after year. (This topic sentence includes a supporting detail that should be included later in the paragraph to back up the main point.)

    2. Stronger example. Introducing a salary cap would improve the game of baseball for many reasons. (This topic sentence omits the additional supporting detail so that it can be expanded upon later in the paragraph.)

  5. A good topic sentence engages the reader by using interesting vocabulary.

    1. Weak example. The military deserves better equipment. (This topic sentence includes a main idea and a controlling idea, but the language is bland and unexciting.)

    2. Stronger example. The appalling lack of resources provided to the military is outrageous and requires our immediate attention. (This topic sentence has the same main idea and controlling idea, but adjectives such as appalling and immediate better engage the reader. These words also indicate the writer's tone.)

Exercise 2

Choose the most effective topic sentence from the following sentence pairs.

Pair 1
  • This paper will discuss the likelihood of the Democrats winning the next election.
  • To boost their chances of winning the next election, the Democrats need to listen to public opinion.
Pair 2
  • The unrealistic demands of union workers are crippling the economy for three main reasons.
  • Union workers are crippling the economy because companies are unable to remain competitive as a result of added financial pressure.
Pair 3
  • Authors are losing money as a result of technological advances.
  • The introduction of new technology will devastate the literary world.
Pair 4
  • Rap is produced by untalented people with oversized egos.
  • This essay will consider whether talent is required in the rap music industry.

Exercise 3

Using the tips on developing effective topic sentences in this section, create a topic sentence on each of the following subjects. Remember to include a controlling idea as well as a main idea. Write your responses on your own sheet of paper.

  1. An endangered species
  2. The cost of fuel
  3. The legal drinking age
  4. A controversial film or novel

Writing At Work

When creating a workplace document, use the "top-down" approach---keep the topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph so that readers immediately understand the gist of the message. This method saves busy colleagues precious time and effort trying to figure out the main points and relevant details.

Headings are another helpful tool. In a text-heavy document, break up each paragraph with individual headings. These serve as useful navigation aids, enabling colleagues to skim through the document and locate paragraphs that are relevant to them.

Using Topic Sentences, Supporting Ideas, And Transitions Effectively

Learning how to develop a good topic sentence is the first step toward writing a solid paragraph. Once you have composed your topic sentence, you have a guideline for the rest of the paragraph. To complete the paragraph, a writer must support the topic sentence with additional information and summarize the main point with a concluding sentence.

This section identifies the three major structural parts of a paragraph and covers how to develop a paragraph using transitional words and phrases.

Identifying Parts Of A Paragraph

An effective paragraph contains three main parts: a topic sentence, the body, and the concluding sentence. A topic sentence is often the first sentence of a paragraph. This chapter has already discussed its purpose---to express a main idea combined with the writer's attitude about the subject. The body of the paragraph usually follows, containing supporting details. Supporting sentences help explain, prove, or enhance the topic sentence. The concluding sentence is the last sentence in the paragraph. It reminds the reader of the main point by restating it in different words.

Read the following paragraph. The topic sentence is bolded for you.

After reading the new TV guide this week I had just one thought---why are we still being bombarded with reality shows? This season, the plague of reality television continues to darken our airwaves. Along with the return of viewer favorites, we are to be cursed with yet another mindless creation. Prisoner follows the daily lives of eight suburban housewives who have chosen to be put in jail for the purposes of this fake psychological experiment. A preview for the first episode shows the usual tears and tantrums associated with reality television. I dread to think what producers will come up with next season, but if any of them are reading this blog---stop it! We've had enough reality television to last us a lifetime!

The first sentence of this paragraph is the topic sentence. It tells the reader that the paragraph will be about reality television shows, and it expresses the writer's distaste for these shows through the use of the word bombarded.

Each of the following sentences in the paragraph supports the topic sentence by providing further information about a specific reality television show. The final sentence is the concluding sentence. It reiterates the main point that viewers are bored with reality television shows by using different words from the topic sentence.

Paragraphs that begin with the topic sentence move from the general to the specific. They open with a general statement about a subject (reality shows) and then discuss specific examples (the reality show Prisoner). Most academic essays contain the topic sentence at the beginning of the first paragraph.

Now look at the following paragraph. The topic sentence is bolded for you.

Last year, a cat traveled 130 miles to reach its family, who had moved to another state and had left their pet behind. Even though it had never been to their new home, the cat was able to track down its former owners. A dog in my neighborhood can predict when its master is about to have a seizure. It makes sure that he does not hurt himself during an epileptic fit. Compared to many animals, our own senses are almost dull.

The last sentence of this paragraph is the topic sentence. It draws on specific examples (a cat that tracked down its owners and a dog that can predict seizures) and then makes a general statement that draws a conclusion from these examples (animals' senses are better than humans'). In this case, the supporting sentences are placed before the topic sentence and the concluding sentence is the same as the topic sentence.

This technique is frequently used in persuasive writing. The writer produces detailed examples as evidence to back up his or her point, preparing the reader to accept the concluding topic sentence as the truth.

Sometimes, the topic sentence appears in the middle of a paragraph. Read the following example. The topic sentence is bolded for you.

For many years, I suffered from severe anxiety every time I took an exam. Hours before the exam, my heart would begin pounding, my legs would shake, and sometimes I would become physically unable to move. **Last year, I was referred to a specialist and finally found a way to ** control my anxiety---breathing exercises. It seems so simple, but by doing just a few breathing exercises a couple of hours before an exam, I gradually got my anxiety under control. The exercises help slow my heart rate and make me feel less anxious. Better yet, they require no pills, no equipment, and very little time. It's amazing how just breathing correctly has helped me learn to manage my anxiety symptoms.

In this paragraph, the bolded sentence is the topic sentence. It expresses the main idea---that breathing exercises can help control anxiety. The preceding sentences enable the writer to build up to his main point (breathing exercises can help control anxiety) by using a personal anecdote (how he used to suffer from anxiety). The supporting sentences then expand on how breathing exercises help the writer by providing additional information. The last sentence is the concluding sentence and restates how breathing can help manage anxiety.

Placing a topic sentence in the middle of a paragraph is often used in creative writing. If you notice that you have used a topic sentence in the middle of a paragraph in an academic essay, read through the paragraph carefully to make sure that it contains only one major topic. To read more about topic sentences and where they appear in paragraphs, see Chapter 8.

Implied Topic Sentences

Some well-organized paragraphs do not contain a topic sentence at all. Instead of being directly stated, the main idea is implied in the content of the paragraph. Read the following example:

Heaving herself up the stairs, Luella had to pause for breath several times. She let out a wheeze as she sat down heavily in the wooden rocking chair. Tao approached her cautiously, as if she might crumble at the slightest touch. He studied her face, like parchment; stretched across the bones so finely he could almost see right through the skin to the decaying muscle underneath. Luella smiled a toothless grin.

Although no single sentence in this paragraph states the main idea, the entire paragraph focuses on one concept---that Luella is extremely old. The topic sentence is thus implied rather than stated.

This technique is often used in descriptive or narrative writing. Implied topic sentences work well if the writer has a firm idea of what he or she intends to say in the paragraph and sticks to it. However, a paragraph loses its effectiveness if an implied topic sentence is too subtle or the writer loses focus.


Avoid using implied topic sentences in an informational document. Readers often lose patience if they are unable to quickly grasp what the writer is trying to say. The clearest and most efficient way to communicate in an informational document is to position the topic sentence at the beginning of the paragraph.

Exercise 4

Identify the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and concluding sentence in the following paragraph.

The desert is a harsh environment which few mammals can adapt to. Of these hardy creatures, the kangaroo rat is possibly the most fascinating. Able to live in some of the most arid parts of the southwest, the kangaroo rat neither sweats nor pants to keep cool. Its specialized kidneys enable it to survive on a minuscule amount of water. Unlike other desert creatures, the kangaroo rat does not store water in its body but instead is able to convert the dry seeds it eats into moisture. Its ability to adapt to such a hostile environment makes the kangaroo rat a truly amazing creature.

Supporting Sentences

If you think of a paragraph as a hamburger, the supporting sentences are the meat inside the bun. They make up the body of the paragraph by explaining, proving, or enhancing the controlling idea in the topic sentence. Most paragraphs contain three to six supporting sentences depending on the audience and purpose for writing. A supporting sentence usually offers one of the following:


The refusal of the baby boom generation to retire is contributing to the current lack of available jobs.


Many families now rely on older relatives to support them financially.


Nearly 10 percent of adults are currently unemployed in the United States.


"We will not allow this situation to continue," stated Senator Johns.


Last year, Bill was asked to retire at the age of fifty-five.

The type of supporting sentence you choose will depend on what you are writing and why you are writing. For example, if you are attempting to persuade your audience to take a particular position you should rely on facts, statistics, and concrete examples, rather than personal opinions. Read the following example:

There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car (topic sentence). First, they get 20 percent to 35 percent more miles to the gallon than a fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicle (supporting sentence 1: statistic). Second, they produce very few emissions during low speed city driving (supporting sentence 2: fact). Because they do not require gas, hybrid cars reduce dependency on fossil fuels, which helps lower prices at the pump (supporting sentence 3: reason). Alex bought a hybrid car two years ago and has been extremely impressed with its performance (supporting sentence 4: example). "It's the cheapest car I've ever had," she said. "The running costs are far lower than previous gas powered vehicles I've owned" (supporting sentence 5: quotation). Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex's example in the near future (concluding sentence).

To find information for your supporting sentences, you might consider using one of the following sources:

  • Reference book
  • Encyclopedia
  • Website
  • Biography/autobiography
  • Map
  • Dictionary
  • Newspaper/magazine
  • Interview
  • Previous experience
  • Personal research

To read more about sources and research, see Chapter 11.


When searching for information on the internet, remember that some websites are more reliable than others. websites ending in .gov or .edu are generally reliable.

Wikis (like Wikipedia) and blogs (less popular in 2023 than they were in 2010, but still around) are not as reliable.

Concluding Sentences

An effective concluding sentence draws together all the ideas you have raised in your paragraph. It reminds readers of the main point---the topic sentence---without restating it in exactly the same words.

Using the hamburger example, the top bun (the topic sentence) and the bottom bun (the concluding sentence) are similar. They frame the "meat" or body of the paragraph. Compare the topic sentence and concluding sentence from the previous example:

Topic sentence: There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car.

Concluding sentence: Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex's example in the near future.

Notice the use of the synonyms advantages and benefits. The concluding sentence reiterates the idea that owning a hybrid is advantageous without using the exact same words. It also summarizes two examples of the advantages covered in the supporting sentences: low running costs and environmental benefits.

You should avoid introducing any new ideas into your concluding sentence. A conclusion is intended to provide the reader with a sense of completion. Introducing a subject that is not covered in the paragraph will confuse the reader and weaken your writing.

A concluding sentence may do any of the following:

Restate the main idea.

Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the United States.

Summarize the key points in the paragraph.

A lack of healthy choices, poor parenting, and an addiction to video games are among the many things contributing to childhood obesity.

Draw a conclusion based on the information in the paragraph.

These statistics indicate that unless we take action, childhood obesity rates will continue to rise.

Make a prediction, suggestion, or recommendation about the information in the paragraph.

Based on this research, more than 60 percent of children in the United States will be morbidly obese by the year 2030 unless we take evasive action.

Offer an additional observation about the controlling idea.

Childhood obesity is an entirely preventable tragedy.

Exercise 5

On your own paper, write one example of each type of concluding sentence based on a topic of your choice.


A strong paragraph moves seamlessly from the topic sentence into the supporting sentences and on to the concluding sentence. To help organize a paragraph and ensure that ideas logically connect to one another, writers use transitional words and phrases. A transition is a connecting word that describes a relationship between ideas. Take another look at the earlier example:

There are numerous advantages to owning a hybrid car. First, they get 20 percent to 35 percent more miles to the gallon than a fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicle. Second, they produce very few emissions during low-speed city driving. Because they do not require gas, hybrid cars reduce dependency on fossil fuels, which helps lower prices at the pump. Alex bought a hybrid car two years ago and has been extremely impressed with its performance. "It's the cheapest car I've ever had," she said. "The running costs are far lower than previous gas-powered vehicles I've owned." Given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex's example in the near future.

Each of the bolded words is a transition.

Words such as first and second are show a sequence. They help organize the writer's ideas by showing that he or she has another point to make in support of the topic sentence. Other transition words that show sequence include third, also, and furthermore.

The transition word because shows a consequence---it shows that one thing is the result of another. In this sentence, the writer explains why hybrid cars will reduce dependency on fossil fuels (because they do not require gas). Other transition words of consequence include as a result, so that, since, or for this reason.

To include a summarizing transition in her concluding sentence, the writer could rewrite the final sentence as follows:

In conclusion, given the low running costs and environmental benefits of owning a hybrid car, it is likely that many more people will follow Alex's example in the near future.

The following chart provides some useful transition words to connect supporting sentences and concluding sentences. See Chapter 8 for a more comprehensive look at transitional words and phrases.

Useful Transitional Words And Phrases

For Supporting Sentences
  • above all
  • also
  • aside from
  • at the same time
  • but
  • conversely
  • correspondingly
  • for example
  • for instance
  • furthermore
  • however
  • in addition
  • in particular
  • later on
  • likewise
  • meanwhile
  • moreover
  • nevertheless
  • on one hand
  • on the contrary
  • subsequently
  • therefore
  • to begin with
For Concluding Sentences
  • after all
  • all in all
  • all things considered
  • finally
  • in brief
  • in conclusion
  • in summary
  • on balance
  • on the whole
  • to sum up
  • thus

Exercise 6

Using your own paper, write a paragraph on a topic of your choice. Be sure to include a topic sentence, supporting sentences, and a concluding sentence and to use transitional words and phrases to link your ideas together.

Writing At Work

Transitional words and phrases are useful in workplace documents. They guide the reader through the document, clarifying relationships between sentences and paragraphs so that the reader understands why they have been written in that particular order.

For example, when writing an instructional memo, consider the following transitions: before you begin, first, next, then, finally, after you have completed.

Using these transitions will provide readers with a clear order in which steps should be completed.


  • A good paragraph contains three distinct components: a topic sentence, body, and concluding sentence.
  • The topic sentence expresses the main idea of the paragraph combined with the writer's attitude or opinion about the topic.
  • Good topic sentences contain both a main idea and a controlling idea, are clear and easy to follow, use engaging vocabulary, and provide an accurate indication of what will follow in the rest of the paragraph.
  • Topic sentences may be placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a paragraph. In most academic essays, the topic sentence is placed at the beginning of a paragraph.
  • Supporting sentences help explain, prove, or enhance the topic sentence by offering facts, reasons, statistics, quotations, or examples.
  • Concluding sentences summarize the key points in a paragraph and reiterate the main idea without repeating it word for word.
  • Transitional words and phrases help organize ideas in a paragraph and show how these ideas relate to one another.

6.3 Writing Paragraphs: End-of-chapter Exercises


  1. Select one of the following topics or choose a topic of your choice:
  • Drilling for oil in Alaska
  • Health care reform
  • Introducing a four-day work week
  • Bringing pets to work
  • Charging airline passengers to use the in-flight bathroom

Create a topic sentence based on the topic you chose, remembering to include both a main idea and a controlling idea. Next, write an alternative topic sentence using the same main idea but a different controlling idea. Explain how each fully developed paragraph might differ in tone and content.

  1. At some point during your career, you may be asked to write a report or complete a presentation. Imagine that you have been asked to report on the issue of health and safety at work. Using the information in Section 6.1, complete an analysis of your intended audience---your fellow office workers. Consider how demographics, education, prior knowledge, and expectations will influence your report and explain how you will tailor it to your audience accordingly.

  2. Group activity. Working in a group of four or five, assign each group member the task of collecting one document each. These documents might include magazine or newspaper articles, workplace documents, academic essays, chapters from a reference book, film or book reviews, or any other type of writing. As a group, read through each document and discuss the author's purpose for writing. Use the information you have learned in this chapter to decide whether the main purpose is to summarize, analyze, synthesize, or evaluate. Write a brief report on the purpose of each document, using supporting evidence from the text.

  3. Group activity. Working in a small group, select a workplace document or academic essay that has a clear thesis. Examine each paragraph and identify the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and concluding sentence. Then, choose one particular paragraph and discuss the following questions:

  • Is the topic sentence clearly identifiable or is it implied?
  • Do all the supporting sentences relate to the topic sentence?
  • Does the writer use effective transitions to link his or her ideas?
  • Does the concluding sentence accurately summarize the main point of the paragraph?

As a group, identify the weakest areas of the paragraph and rewrite them. Focus on the relationship among the topic sentence, supporting sentences, and concluding sentence. Use transitions to illustrate the connection between each sentence in the paragraph.

  1. Peer activity. Using the information you have learned in this chapter, write a paragraph about a current event. Underline the topic sentence in your paragraph. Now, rewrite the paragraph, placing the topic sentence in a different part of the paragraph. Read the two paragraphs aloud to a peer and have him or her identify the topic sentence. Discuss which paragraph is more effective and why.

Please share with a classmate, compare your answers, and discuss.

Chapter 7

Table of Contents

Refining Your Writing: How Do I Improve My Writing Technique?

7.1 Sentence Variety

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify ways to vary sentence structure.
  2. Write and revise sentence structure at the beginning of sentences.
  3. Write and revise sentence structure by connecting ideas.

Have you ever ordered food in a restaurant and it wasn't very tasty even though it had all your favorite things in it? It's like that with writing too. Sometimes a paragraph has all the right parts, but it still doesn't sound good. This can happen when a writer uses the same kind of sentence over and over again. It gets boring to read sentences that are all the same length and structure. Good writers use different kinds of sentences with different rhythms and lengths.

In this chapter, you'll read about a student named Naomi who wrote an essay but needs to make it better. This section talks about how to make your writing more interesting by using different kinds of sentences: we call this sentence variety. You'll learn how to start sentences in different ways and connect your ideas using different sentence patterns. You can use these tricks when you're fixing your writing to make it more enjoyable to read.

Incorporating Sentence Variety

Experienced writers vary their sentence style and structure. Variety makes your writing more enjoyable to read and adds emphasis to important points.

Read the following not-very-enjoyable example:

During my time in office I have achieved several goals. I have helped increase funding for local schools. I have reduced crime rates in the neighborhood. I have encouraged young people to get involved in their community. My competitor argues that she is the better choice in the upcoming election. I argue that it is ridiculous to fix something that isn't broken. If you reelect me this year, I promise to continue to serve this community.

In this extract from an election campaign, the writer uses short, simple sentences of a similar length and style. Writers often mistakenly believe that this technique makes the text clearer for the reader, but the result is a choppy, unsophisticated paragraph that does not grab the audience's attention. Now read the revised paragraph with more sentence variety:

During my time in office, I have helped increase funding for local schools, reduced crime rates in the neighborhood, and encouraged young people to get involved in their community. Why fix what isn't broken? If you reelect me this year, I will continue to achieve great things for this community. Don't take a chance on an unknown contender; vote for the proven success.

Notice how introducing a short rhetorical question among the longer sentences in the paragraph is an effective means of keeping the reader's attention. In the revised version, the writer combines the choppy sentences at the beginning into one longer sentence, which adds rhythm and interest to the paragraph.


Effective writers often use the "rule of three." The idea is that lists with three elements are especially memorable and powerful.

Some famous examples:

Addressing the Roman Senate and describing a successful military campaign he had led in 47 BCE, Julius Caesar began, "I came, I saw, I conquered."

Abraham Lincoln said that "we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground" in his Gettysburg Address, the dedication of a Civil War cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Try to use a series of three when providing examples, grouping adjectives, or generating a list.

Exercise 1

Combine each set of simple sentences into a compound or a complex sentence. Write the combined sentence on your own sheet of paper.

  1. Heroin is an extremely addictive drug. Thousands of heroin addicts die each year.
  2. Shakespeare's writing is still relevant today. He wrote about timeless themes. These themes include love, hate, jealousy, death, and destiny.
  3. Prewriting is a vital stage of the writing process. Prewriting helps you organize your ideas. Types of prewriting include outlining, brainstorming, and idea mapping.
  4. Mitch Bancroft is a famous writer. He also serves as a governor on the local school board. Mitch's two children attend the school.

Using Sentence Variety At The Beginning Of Sentences

Read the following sentences and consider what they all have in common:

John and Amanda will be analyzing this week's financial report.

The car screeched to a halt just a few inches away from the young boy.

Students rarely come to the exam adequately prepared.

If you are having trouble figuring out why these sentences are similar, try underlining the subject in each. You will notice that the subject is positioned at the beginning of each sentence---John and Amanda, the car, students. Since the subject-verb-object pattern is the simplest sentence structure, many writers tend to overuse this technique, which can result in repetitive paragraphs with little sentence variety.

Naomi wrote an essay about the 2008 government bailout. Read this excerpt from Naomi's essay:

The subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. The government finally opted to bail out the banks. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. The government optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both banks and the government itself.

This section examines several ways to introduce sentence variety at the beginning of sentences, using Naomi's essay as an example.

Starting A Sentence With An Adverb

One technique you can use so as to avoid beginning a sentence with the subject is to use an adverb. An adverb is a word that describes a verb, adjective, or other adverb and often ends in --ly. Examples of adverbs include quickly, softly, quietly, angrily, and timidly. Read the following sentences:

She slowly turned the corner and peered into the murky basement.

Slowly, she turned the corner and peered into the murky basement.

In the second sentence, the adverb slowly is placed at the beginning of the sentence. If you read the two sentences aloud, you will notice that moving the adverb changes the rhythm of the sentence and slightly alters its meaning. The second sentence emphasizes how the subject moves---slowly---creating a buildup of tension. This technique is effective in fictional writing.

Note that an adverb used at the beginning of a sentence is usually followed by a comma. A comma indicates that the reader should pause briefly, which creates a useful rhetorical device. Read the following sentences aloud and consider the effect of pausing after the adverb:

  • Cautiously, he unlocked the kennel and waited for the dog's reaction.
  • Solemnly, the policeman approached the mayor and placed him under arrest.
  • Suddenly, he slammed the door shut and sprinted across the street.

In an academic essay, moving an adverb to the beginning of a sentence serves to vary the rhythm of a paragraph and increase sentence variety.

The subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. The government finally opted to bail out the banks. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. The government optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both banks and the government itself.

Naomi has used two adverbs in her essay that could be moved to the beginning of their respective sentences. Notice how the following revised version creates a more varied paragraph:

The subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. Finally, the government opted to bail out the banks. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in

  1. Optimistically, the government expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both banks and the government itself.


Adverbs of time---adverbs that indicate when an action takes place---do not always require a comma when used at the beginning of a sentence. Adverbs of time include words such as yesterday, today, later, sometimes, often, and now.

On your own sheet of paper, rewrite the following sentences by moving the adverbs to the beginning.

  1. The red truck sped furiously past the camper van, blaring its horn.
  2. Jeff snatched at the bread hungrily, polishing off three slices in under a minute.
  3. Underage drinking typically results from peer pressure and lack of parental attention.
  4. The firefighters bravely tackled the blaze, but they were beaten back by flames.
  5. Mayor Johnson privately acknowledged that the budget was excessive and that further discussion was needed.

Starting A Sentence With A Prepositional Phrase

A prepositional phrase is a group of words that behaves as an adjective or an adverb, modifying a noun or a verb. Prepositional phrases contain a preposition (a word that specifies place, direction, or time) and an object of the preposition (a noun phrase or pronoun that follows the preposition).

Table 7.1 Common Prepositions
above beneath into till
across beside like toward
against between near under
after beyond off underneath
among by on until
around despite over up
at except past with
before for since without
behind from through
below inside throughout

Read the following sentence:

The terrified child hid underneath the table.

In this sentence, the prepositional phrase is underneath the table. The preposition underneath relates to the object that follows the preposition---the table. Adjectives may be placed between the preposition and the object in a prepositional phrase.

The terrified child hid underneath the heavy wooden table.

Some prepositional phrases can be moved to the beginning of a sentence in order to create variety in a piece of writing. Look at the following revised sentence:

Underneath the heavy wooden table, the terrified child hid.

Notice that when the prepositional phrase is moved to the beginning of the sentence, the emphasis shifts from the subject---the terrified child---to the location in which the child is hiding. Words that are placed at the beginning or end of a sentence generally receive the greatest emphasis. Look at the following examples. The prepositional phrase is bolded in each:

The bandaged man waited in the doctor's office.

In the doctor's office, the bandaged man waited.

My train leaves the station at 6:45 a.m.

At 6:45 a.m., my train leaves the station.

Teenagers exchange drugs and money under the railway bridge.

Under the railway bridge, teenagers exchange drugs and money.

Prepositional phrases are useful in any type of writing. Take another look at Naomi's essay on the government bailout.

The subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. The government finally opted to bail out the banks. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. The government optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both banks and the government itself.

Now read the revised version.

Throughout 2007 and 2008, the subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. According to some economists, the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. Despite public objections, the government finally opted to bail out the banks. Since the 2008 bill passed, it has acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. The government optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both banks and the government itself.

The underlined words are all prepositional phrases. Notice how they add additional information to the text and provide a sense of flow to the essay, making it less choppy and more pleasurable to read.

Immovable Prepositional Phrases

Not all prepositional phrases can be placed at the beginning of a sentence.

I would like a chocolate sundae without whipped cream.

In this sentence, without whipped cream is the prepositional phrase. Because it describes the chocolate sundae, it cannot be moved to the beginning of the sentence. "Without whipped cream I would like a chocolate sundae" does not make sense.

To determine whether a prepositional phrase can be moved, we must determine the meaning of the sentence.

Overuse of Prepositional Phrases

You may include more than one prepositional phrase in a sentence, but do not overload your writing. Using too many modifiers in a paragraph may create an unintentionally comical effect as the following example shows:

The treasure lay buried under the old oak tree, behind the crumbling fifteenth-century wall, near the schoolyard, where children played merrily during their lunch hour, unaware of the riches that remained hidden beneath their feet.

A sentence is not effective just because it is long and complex. If your sentence appears cluttered with prepositional phrases, divide it into two shorter sentences. The previous sentence is far more effective when written as two simpler sentences:

The treasure lay buried under the old oak tree, behind the crumbling fifteenth-century wall. In the nearby schoolyard, children played merrily during their lunch hour, unaware of the riches that remained hidden beneath their feet.

Writing At Work

The overuse of prepositional phrases often occurs when our thoughts are jumbled and we are unsure how concepts or ideas relate to one another. If you are preparing a report or a proposal, take the time to organize your thoughts in an outline before writing a rough draft. Read the draft aloud, either to yourself or to a colleague, and identify areas that are rambling or unclear. If you notice that a particular part of your report contains several sentences longer than twenty words, you should double check that particular section to make certain that it is coherent and does not contain unnecessary prepositional phrases. Reading aloud sometimes helps detect unclear and wordy sentences. You can also ask a colleague to paraphrase your main points to ensure that the meaning is clear.

Starting A Sentence By Inverting Subject And Verb

As we noted earlier, most writers follow the subject-verb-object sentence structure. In an inverted sentence, the order is reversed so that the subject follows the verb. Read the following sentence pairs:

  1. A truck was parked in the driveway.

  2. Parked in the driveway was a truck.

  3. A copy of the file is attached.

  4. Attached is a copy of the file.

Notice how the second sentence in each pair places more emphasis on the subject---a truck in the first example and the file in the second. This technique is useful for drawing the reader's attention to your primary area of focus. We can apply this method to an academic essay. Take another look at Naomi's paragraph.

The subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. The government finally opted to bail out the banks. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. The government optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both banks and the government itself.

To emphasize the subject in certain sentences, Naomi can invert the traditional sentence structure. Read her revised paragraph:

The subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. The banks were too big to fail, argued some economists. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. The government finally opted to bail out the banks. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. These assets will rise in value, the government optimistically expects. This will profit both banks and the government itself.

Notice that in the first underlined sentence, the subject (some economists) is placed after the verb (argued). In the second underlined sentence, the subject (the government) is placed after the verb (expects).

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, rewrite the following sentences as inverted sentences.

  1. Teresa will never attempt to run another marathon.
  2. A detailed job description is enclosed with this letter.
  3. Bathroom facilities are across the hall to the left of the water cooler.
  4. The well-dressed stranger stumbled through the doorway.
  5. My colleagues remain unconvinced about the proposed merger.

Connecting Ideas To Increase Sentence Variety

Reviewing and rewriting the beginning of sentences is a good way of introducing sentence variety into your writing. Another useful technique is to connect two sentences using a modifier, a relative clause, or an appositive. This section examines how to connect ideas across several sentences in order to increase sentence variety and improve writing.

Joining Ideas Using an --ing Modifier

Sometimes it is possible to combine two sentences by converting one of them into a modifier using the --ing verb form---singing, dancing, swimming. A modifier is a word or phrase that qualifies the meaning of another element in the sentence. Read the following example:

Original sentences: Steve checked the computer system. He discovered a virus.

Revised sentence: Checking the computer system, Steve discovered a virus.

To connect two sentences using an --ing modifier, add --ing to one of the verbs in the sentences (checking) and delete the subject (Steve). Use a comma to separate the modifier from the subject of the sentence. It is important to make sure that the main idea in your revised sentence is contained in the main clause, not in the modifier. In this example, the main idea is that Steve discovered a virus, not that he checked the computer system.

In the following example, an --ing modifier indicates that two actions are occurring at the same time:

  1. Noticing the police car, she shifted gears and slowed down.

This means that she slowed down at the same time she noticed the police car.

  1. Barking loudly, the dog ran across the driveway.

This means that the dog barked as it ran across the driveway.

You can add an --ing modifier to the beginning or the end of a sentence, depending on which fits best.

Beginning: Conducting a survey among her friends, Amanda found that few were happy in their jobs.

End: Maria filed the final report, meeting her deadline.

Dangling Modifiers

A common mistake when combining sentences using the --ing verb form is to misplace the modifier so that it is not logically connected to the rest of the sentence. This creates a dangling modifier. Look at the following example:

Jogging across the parking lot, my breath grew ragged and shallow.

In this sentence, jogging across the parking lot seems to modify my breath. Since breath cannot jog, the sentence should be rewritten so that the subject is placed immediately after the modifier or added to the dangling phrase.

Jogging across the parking lot, I felt my breath grow ragged and shallow.

For more information on dangling modifiers, see Chapter 2.

Joining Ideas Using An --ed Modifier

Some sentences can be combined using an --ed verb form---stopped, finished, played. To use this method, one of the sentences must contain a form of be as a helping verb in addition to the --ed verb form. Look at the following example:

Original sentences: The Jones family was delayed by a traffic jam. They arrived several hours after the party started.

Revised sentence: Delayed by a traffic jam, the Jones family arrived several hours after the party started.

In the original version, was acts as a helping verb---it has no meaning by itself, but it serves a grammatical function by placing the main verb (delayed) in the perfect tense.

To connect two sentences using an --ed modifier, drop the helping verb (was) and the subject (the Jones family) from the sentence with an --ed verb form. This forms a modifying phrase (delayed by a traffic jam) that can be added to the beginning or end of the other sentence according to which fits best. As with the --ing modifier, be careful to place the word that the phrase modifies immediately after the phrase in order to avoid a dangling modifier.

Using --ing or --ed modifiers can help streamline your writing by drawing obvious connections between two sentences. Look at how Naomi might use modifiers in her paragraph.

The subprime mortgage crisis left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. Opting to bail out the banks, the government acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in

  1. It optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both banks and the government itself.

The revised version of the essay uses the --ing modifier opting to draw a connection between the government's decision to bail out the banks and the result of that decision---the acquisition of the mortgage-backed securities.

Joining Ideas Using A Relative Clause

Another technique that writers use to combine sentences is to join them using a relative clause. A relative clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and describes a noun. Relative clauses function as adjectives by answering questions such as which one? or what kind? Relative clauses begin with a relative pronoun, such as who, which, where, why, or when. Read the following examples:

Original sentences: The managing director is visiting the company next week. He lives in Seattle.

Revised sentence: The managing director, who lives in Seattle, is visiting the company next week.

To connect two sentences using a relative clause, substitute the subject of one of the sentences (he) for a relative pronoun (who). This gives you a relative clause (who lives in Seattle) that can be placed next to the noun it describes (the managing director). Make sure to keep the sentence you want to emphasize as the main clause. For example, reversing the main clause and subordinate clause in the preceding sentence emphasizes where the managing director lives, not the fact that he is visiting the company.

Revised sentence: The managing director, who is visiting the company next week, lives in Seattle.

Relative clauses are a useful way of providing additional information in a sentence. Look at how Naomi might add relative clauses to her paragraph.

The subprime mortgage crisis, WHICH HAD BEEN STEADILY BUILDING THROUGHOUT 2007 AND 2008, left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists, WHO FAVORED THE BAILOUT, argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists, WHO OPPOSED THE BAILOUT, argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. The government finally opted to bail out the banks. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. The government optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both the banks and the government itself.

Notice how the relative clauses can be removed from Naomi's essay without changing the meaning of the sentence.


To check the punctuation of relative clauses, ask whether the clause can be taken out without changing the basic meaning of the sentence.

If the relative clause can be taken out, it needs commas. If the relative clause is essential to the meaning, it does not need commas.

Joining Ideas Using An Appositive

An appositive is a word or group of words that describes or renames a noun or pronoun. Incorporating appositives into your writing is a useful way of combining sentences that are too short and choppy. Look at the following example:

Original sentences: Harland Sanders began serving food for hungry travelers in 1930. He is Colonel Sanders or "the Colonel."

Revised sentence: Harland Sanders, "the Colonel," began serving food for hungry travelers in 1930.

In the revised sentence, "the Colonel" is an appositive because it renames Harland Sanders. To combine two sentences using an appositive, drop the subject and verb from the sentence that renames the noun and turn it into a phrase. Note that in the previous example, the appositive is positioned immediately after the noun it describes. An appositive may be placed anywhere in a sentence, but it must come directly before or after the noun to which it refers:

Appositive after noun: Scott, a poorly trained athlete, was not expected to win the race.

Appositive before noun: A poorly trained athlete, Scott was not expected to win the race.

Unlike relative clauses, appositives are always punctuated by a comma or a set of commas. Look at the way Naomi uses appositives to include additional facts in her paragraph.

The subprime mortgage crisis, THE BIGGEST FINANCIAL DISASTER SINCE THE 1929 WALL STREET CRASH, left many financial institutions in jeopardy. Some economists argued that the banks were too big to fail. Other economists argued that an infusion of credit and debt would exacerbate the problem. The government, THE INSTITUTION THAT WOULD DECIDE THE FATE OF THE BANKS, finally opted to bail them out. It acquired $700 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities in 2008. The government optimistically expects these assets will rise in value. This will profit both the banks and the government itself.

Exercise 4

On your own sheet of paper, rewrite each sentence pair as a single sentence using the techniques from this section.

  1. Baby sharks are called pups. Pups can be born in one of three ways.
  2. The Pacific Ocean is the world's largest ocean. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south.
  3. Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics. He is a champion swimmer.
  4. Ashley introduced her colleague Dan to her husband, Jim. She speculated that the two of them would have a lot in common.
  5. Cacao is harvested by hand. It is then sold to chocolate-processing companies at the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange.

Writing At Work

In addition to varying sentence structure, consider varying the types of sentences you are using in a report or other workplace document. Most sentences are declarative, but a carefully placed question, exclamation, or command can pique colleagues' interest, even if the subject material is fairly dry. Imagine that you are writing a budget analysis. Beginning your report with a rhetorical question, such as "Where is our money going?" or "How can we increase sales?" encourages people to continue reading to find out the answers. Although they should be used sparingly in academic and professional writing, questions or commands are effective rhetorical devices.


  • Sentence variety reduces repetition in a piece of writing and adds emphasis to important points in the text.
  • Sentence variety can be introduced to the beginning of sentences by starting a sentence with an adverb, starting a sentence with a prepositional phrase, or by inverting the subject and verb.
  • Combine ideas, using modifiers, relative clauses, or appositives, to achieve sentence variety.

7.2 Coordination And Subordination

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify coordination and subordination in writing.
  2. Combine sentences and ideas using coordination.
  3. Combine sentences and ideas using subordination.

In the previous section, we learned how to use different patterns to create sentence variety and to add emphasis to important points in our writing. Next, we will examine two ways in which we can join sentences with related ideas:

  • Coordination. Joining two related ideas of equal importance.
  • Subordination. Joining two related ideas of unequal importance.

Connecting sentences with coordinate or subordinate clauses creates more coherent paragraphs, and in turn, produces more effective writing. In this section, you will read excerpts from Naomi's classmate named Joshua, who drafted an essay about wine production. Read this paragraph from Joshua's essay.

When the red grapes arrive at the winery, they are destemmed and crushed. The liquid that is left is made up of skins, seeds, and juice. The stems are removed. They contain harsh-tasting tannins. Once the grapes are destemmed and crushed, the liquid is pumped into a fermentation container. Here, sulfur dioxide is added. It prevents the liquid from becoming oxidized. It also destroys bacteria. Some winemakers carry out the fermenting process by using yeast that is naturally present on the grapes. Many add a yeast that is cultivated in a laboratory.

This section examines several ways to combine sentences with coordination and subordination, using Joshua's essay as an example.


Coordination joins two independent clauses that contain related ideas of equal importance.

Original sentences: I spent my entire paycheck last week. I am staying home this weekend.

In their current form, these sentences contain two separate ideas that may or may not be related. Am I staying home this week because I spent my paycheck, or is there another reason for my lack of enthusiasm to leave the house? To indicate a relationship between the two ideas, we can use the coordinating conjunction so:

Revised sentence: I spent my entire paycheck last week, so I am staying home this weekend.

The revised sentence illustrates that the two ideas are connected. Notice that the sentence retains two independent clauses (I spent my entire paycheck; I am staying home this weekend) because each can stand alone as a complete idea.

Coordinating Conjunctions

A coordinating conjunction is a word that joins two independent clauses. The most common coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Note that a comma precedes the coordinating conjunction when joining two clauses.

Independent Clause Coordinating Conjunction Independent Clause Revised Sentence
I will not be attending the dance. for (indicates cause) I have no one to go with. I will not be attending the dance, for I have no one to go with.
I plan to stay home and (joins two ideas) I will complete an essay for class I plan to stay home, and I will complete an essay for class.
Jessie won't be at the dance nor (indicates a negative) Tom won't be at the dance. Jessie won't be at the dance nor will Tom be at the dance.
The fundraisers hope for a record. but (indicates a contrast) I don't think many people are going. The fundraisers hope for a record but I don't think many people are going.
I might attend the fundraiser. or (offers an alternative) I might give money to the cause. I might attend the fundraiser or I might give money to the cause.
My parents worry I'm antisocial. yet (indicates a reason) I have many friends. My parents worry I'm antisocial, yet I have many friends.
Buying new shoes is expensive. so (indicates a result) I will save up my money. Buying new shoes is expensive, so I will save up my money.


To help you remember the seven coordinating conjunctions, think of the acronym FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. Remember that when you use a coordinating conjunction in a sentence, a comma should precede it.

Conjunctive Adverbs

Another method of joining two independent clauses with related and equal ideas is to use a conjunctive adverb and a semicolon (see Chapter 2 for information on semicolon usage). A conjunctive adverb is a linking word that demonstrates a relationship between two clauses. Read the following sentences:

Original sentences: Bridget wants to take part in the next Olympics. She trains every day.

Since these sentences contain two equal and related ideas, they may be joined using a conjunctive adverb. Now, read the revised sentence:

Revised sentence: Bridget wants to take part in the next Olympics; therefore, she trains every day.

The revised sentence explains the relationship between Bridget's desire to take part in the next Olympics and her daily training. Notice that the conjunctive adverb comes after a semicolon that separates the two clauses and is followed by a comma.

Review the following chart of some common conjunctive adverbs with examples of how they are used:

Function Conjunctive Adverb Example
Addition also Alicia was late for class and stuck in traffic; also, her shoe heel had broken and she had forgotten her lunch
furthermore Alicia was late for class and stuck in traffic; furthermore, her shoe heel had broken and she had forgotten her lunch
moreover Alicia was late for class and stuck in traffic; moreover, her shoe heel had broken and she had forgotten her lunch
besides Alicia was late for class and stuck in traffic; besides, her shoe heel had broken and she had forgotten her lunch
Comparison similarly Recycling aluminum cans is beneficial to the environment; similarly, reusing plastic bags and switching off lights reduces waste.
likewise Recycling aluminum cans is beneficial to the environment; likewise, reusing plastic bags and switching off lights reduces waste.
Contrast instead Most people do not walk to work; instead, they drive or take the train.
however Most people do not walk to work; however, some people choose to bike or walk to reduce their carbon footprint.
conversely Most people do not walk to work; conversely, some people choose to walk or bike to reduce their carbon footprint.
Emphasis namely The Siberian tiger is a rare creature; namely, there are fewer than five hundred left in the wild.
certainly The Siberian tiger is a rare creature; certainly, it is important to protect their habitat and prevent their extinction.
indeed The Siberian tiger is a rare creature; indeed, there are fewer than five hundred left in the wild.
Cause and Effect accordingly I missed my train this morning; accordingly, I was late for my meeting.
consequently I missed my train this morning; consequently, I was late for my meeting.
hence The weather was bad, hence the game was cancelled.
thus I spent all night studying, thus I aced the exam.
Time finally Tim crossed the barrier, jumped over the wall, and pushed through the hole in the fence; finally, he made it to the station.
next After finishing breakfast, we can go for a walk next.
subsequently She finished her work, and subsequently, she went to the gym.
then First, we need to get the supplies, then we can start the project.

Look again at the paragraph from Joshua's essay on wine production and identify some areas where he might use coordination.

When the red grapes arrive at the winery, they are destemmed and crushed. The liquid that is left is made up of skins, seeds, and juice. The stems are removed. They contain harsh-tasting tannins. Once the grapes are destemmed and crushed, the liquid is pumped into a fermentation container. Here, sulfur dioxide is added. It prevents the liquid from becoming oxidized. It also destroys bacteria. Some winemakers carry out the fermenting process by using yeast that is naturally present on the grapes. Many add a yeast that is cultivated in a laboratory.

Now look at Joshua's revised paragraph. Did you coordinate the same sentences? You may find that your answers are different because there are several ways to join two independent clauses.

When the red grapes arrive at the winery, they are destemmed and crushed. The liquid that is left is made up of skins, seeds, and juice. THE STEMS ARE REMOVED, FOR THEY CONTAIN HARSH-TASTING TANNINS. Once the grapes are destemmed and crushed, the liquid is pumped into a fermentation container. Here, sulfur dioxide is added. IT PREVENTS THE LIQUID FROM BECOMING OXIDIZED AND ALSO DESTROYS BACTERIA. SOME WINEMAKERS CARRY OUT THE FERMENTING PROCESS BY USING YEAST THAT IS NATURALLY PRESENT ON THE GRAPES; HOWEVER, MANY ADD A YEAST THAT IS CULTIVATED IN A LABORATORY.

Exercise 1

Combine each sentence pair into a single sentence using either a coordinating conjunction or a conjunctive adverb. Then copy the combined sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

  1. Pets are not allowed in Mr. Taylor's building. He owns several cats and a parrot.
  2. New legislation prevents drivers from sending or reading text messages while driving. Many people continue to use their phones illegally.
  3. The coroner concluded that the young man had taken a lethal concoction of drugs. By the time his relatives found him, nothing could be done.
  4. Amphibians are vertebrates that live on land and in the water. Flatworms are invertebrates that live only in water.
  5. Ashley carefully fed and watered her tomato plants all summer. The tomatoes grew juicy and ripe.
  6. When he lost his car key, Simon attempted to open the door with a wire hanger, a credit card, and a paper clip. He called the manufacturer for advice.

Writing At Work

When you write an essay or report, it's important to use coordination carefully. You should only join two ideas that make sense together and support your main point. If you use the same coordinating conjunction many times in a sentence, you might be putting too many ideas together. This can make it hard for readers to understand the most important information. So, keep your writing clear and concise by using coordination wisely.


Subordination joins two sentences with related ideas by merging them into a main clause (a complete sentence) and a dependent clause (a construction that relies on the main clause to complete its meaning). Coordination allows a writer to give equal weight to the two ideas that are being combined, and subordination enables a writer to emphasize one idea over the other. Look at the following sentences:

Original sentences: Tracy stopped to help the injured man. She would be late for work.

To illustrate that these two ideas are related, we can rewrite them as a single sentence using the subordinating conjunction even though.

Revised sentence: Even though Tracy would be late for work, she stopped to help the injured man.

In the revised version, we now have an independent clause (she stopped to help the injured man) that stands as a complete sentence and a dependent clause (even though Tracy would be late for work) that is subordinate to the main clause. Notice that the revised sentence emphasizes the fact that Tracy stopped to help the injured man, rather than the fact she would be late for work. We could also write the sentence this way:

Revised sentence: Tracy stopped to help the injured man even though she would be late for work.

The meaning remains the same in both sentences, with the subordinating conjunction even though introducing the dependent clause.


To punctuate sentences correctly, look at the position of the main clause and the subordinate clause. If a subordinate clause precedes the main clause, use a comma. If the subordinate clause follows the main cause, no punctuation is required.

Subordinating Conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction is a word that joins a subordinate (dependent) clause to a main (independent) clause. Review the following chart of some common subordinating conjunctions and examples of how they are used:

Function Subordinating Conjunction Example
Concession although, while, though, even though Sarah completed her report even though she had to work late for it.
Condition if, unless, until Until we know what is causing the problem, we won't be able to fix it.
Manner as if, as, though Everyone in the conference room stopped talking, as though they had been shocked.
Place where, wherever Rita is in San Jose where she has several important client meetings.
Reason because, since, so that Because the air conditioning was turned up so high, everyone wore a sweater.
Time after, before, while, once, when After the meeting had finished, we all went to lunch.

Look again at the original excerpt from Joshua's essay and identify some areas where he might use subordination.

When the red grapes arrive at the winery, they are destemmed and crushed. The liquid that is left is made up of skins, seeds, and juice. The stems are removed. They contain harsh-tasting tannins. Once the grapes are destemmed and crushed, the liquid is pumped into a fermentation container. Here, sulfur dioxide is added. It prevents the liquid from becoming oxidized. It also destroys bacteria. Some winemakers carry out the fermenting process by using yeast that is naturally present on the grapes. Many add a yeast that is cultivated in a laboratory.")

Now look at Joshua's revised paragraph and compare your answers. You will probably notice that there are many different ways to subordinate sentences.

When the red grapes arrive at the winery, they are destemmed and crushed. The liquid that is left is made up of skins, seeds, and juice. BECAUSE THE STEMS CONTAIN HARSH-TASTING TANNINS, THEY ARE REMOVED. Once the grapes are destemmed and crushed, the liquid is pumped into a fermentation container. HERE, SULFUR DIOXIDE IS ADDED IN ORDER TO PREVENT THE LIQUID FROM BECOMING OXIDIZED. Sulfur dioxide also destroys bacteria. ALTHOUGH SOME WINEMAKERS CARRY OUT THE FERMENTING PROCESS BY USING YEAST THAT IS NATURALLY PRESENT ON THE GRAPES, MANY ADD A YEAST THAT IS CULTIVATED IN A LABORATORY.

Exercise 2

Combine each sentence pair into a single sentence using a subordinating conjunction and then copy the combined sentence onto your own sheet of paper.

  1. Jake is going to Mexico. There are beautiful beaches in Mexico.
  2. A snowstorm disrupted traffic all over the east coast. There will be long delivery delays this week.
  3. My neighbor had his television volume turned up too high. I banged on his door and asked him to keep the noise down.
  4. Jessica prepared the potato salad and the sautéed vegetables. Ashley marinated the chicken.
  5. Romeo poisons himself. Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead and stabs herself with a dagger.

Exercise 3

Copy the paragraph from Joshua's essay onto your own sheet of paper. Then edit using the techniques you have learned in this section. Join the underlined sentences using coordination or subordination. Check your revised sentences for punctuation.

THE YEAST IS ADDED TO THE MUST. ALCOHOLIC FERMENTATION THEN BEGINS. Here, the red wind production process differs from the method used in white wine production. RED WINE IS FERMENTED FOR A SHORTER TIME. IT IS FERMENTED AT A HIGHER TEMPERATURE. Whereas white wines may ferment for over a month, red wines typically ferment for less than two weeks. DURING FERMENTATION, CONTACT BETWEEN THE SKINS AND THE JUICE RELEASES TANNINS AND FLAVOR COMPOUNDS INTO THE MUST. THIS PROCESS IS KNOWN AS MACERATION. Maceration may occur before, during, or after fermentation. THE FERMENTATION PROCESS IS COMPLETED. THE NEXT STAGE IS PRESSING. Many methods are used for pressing, the most common of which is basket pressing.


  • Coordination and subordination join two sentences with related ideas.
  • Coordination joins sentences with related and equal ideas, whereas subordination joins sentences with related but unequal ideas.
  • Sentences can be coordinated using either
    • a coordinating conjunction and a comma
    • a conjunctive adverb and a semicolon.
  • Subordinate sentences have a subordinate conjunction.
  • In a subordinate sentence, a comma is used to separate the main clause from the dependent clause if the dependent clause is placed at the beginning of the sentence.

7.3 Parallelism

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify sentences that are parallel and not parallel.
  2. Identify ways to create parallelism in writing.
  3. Write and revise sentences using parallelism.

Earlier in the chapter, we learned that making sentences different makes writing more interesting and fun to read. Using different lengths and styles of sentences is a useful way of writing. But, it's also essential to not mix up different styles within one sentence. A good sentence has parts that are balanced and have the same structure. In this part, we will learn how to make such balanced sentences by using parallelism.

Using Parallelism

Parallelism means using similar structures for related words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence. This makes the sentence sound balanced and rhythmic. When a sentence doesn't have parallel structure, it sounds weird and poorly put together. As readers, we can usually tell when a sentence isn't parallel without even knowing the grammar rules.

Read the following sentences aloud. Do they sound wrong to you? The more you read, the more you will hear that something is off with them.

Faulty parallelism: Kelly had to iron, wash, and shopping before her parents arrived.

Faulty parallelism: Driving a car requires coordination, patience, and to have good eyesight.

All of these sentences contain faulty parallelism.

In the first example, shopping is a different verb form from the others. The correct form would be shop.

In the second example, the writer begins each sentence by using a noun (coordination, jeans), but ends with a phrase (to have good eyesight).

Now read the same three sentences fixed so that they have correct parallelism.

Correct parallelism: Kelly had to do the ironing, washing, and shopping before her parents arrived.

Correct parallelism: Driving a car requires coordination, patience, and good eyesight.

If you make all the items in a list have the same structure, they sound better because they're balanced. It's also easier for readers to understand them when they don't have to work hard to figure out the grammar. They can focus on the main idea instead of how the sentence is written.


A simple way to check for parallelism in your writing is to make sure you have paired nouns with nouns, verbs with verbs, prepositional phrases with prepositional phrases, and so on. Underline each element in a sentence and check that the corresponding element uses the same grammatical form.

Creating Parallelism Using Coordinating Conjunctions

When you connect two clauses using a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), make sure that the same grammatical structure is used on each side of the conjunction. Take a look at the following example:

Faulty parallelism: When I walk the dog, I like to listen to music and talking to friends on the phone.

Correct parallelism: When I walk the dog, I like listening to music and talking to friends on the phone.

The first sentence uses two different verb forms (to listen, talking). In the second sentence, the grammatical construction on each side of the coordinating conjunction (and) is the same, creating a parallel sentence.

The same technique should be used for joining items or lists in a series:

Faulty parallelism: This committee needs to decide whether the company should reduce its workforce, cut its benefits, or lowering workers' wages.

Correct parallelism: This committee needs to decide whether the company should reduce its workforce, cut its benefits, or lower workers' wages.

The first sentence contains two items that use the same verb construction (reduce, cut) and a third item that uses a different verb form (lowering). The second sentence uses the same verb construction in all three items, creating a parallel structure.

Exercise 1

On your own sheet of paper, revise each of the following sentences to create parallel structure using coordinating conjunctions.

  1. Mr. Holloway enjoys reading and to play his guitar at weekends.
  2. The doctor told Mrs. Franklin that she should either eat less or should exercise more.
  3. Breaking out of the prison compound, the escapees moved carefully, quietly, and were quick on their feet.
  4. I have read the book, but I have not watched the movie version.
  5. Deal with a full inbox first thing in the morning, or by setting aside short periods of time in which to answer email queries.

Creating Parallelism Using than Or as

When you are making a comparison, the two items being compared should have a parallel structure. Comparing two items without using parallel structure can lead to confusion about what is being compared. Comparisons frequently use the words than or as, and the items on each side of these comparison words should be parallel. Look at the following example:

Faulty parallelism: Swimming in the ocean is much tougher than a pool.

Correct parallelism: Swimming in the ocean is much tougher than swimming in a pool.

In the first sentence, the elements before the comparison word (than) are not equal to the elements after the comparison word. It appears that the writer is comparing an action (swimming) with a noun (a pool). In the second sentence, the writer uses the same grammatical construction to create a parallel structure. This clarifies that an action is being compared with another action.

To correct some instances of faulty parallelism, it may be necessary to add or delete words in a sentence.

Faulty parallelism: A brisk walk is as beneficial to your health as going for a run.

Correct parallelism: Going for a brisk walk is as beneficial to your health as going for a run.

In this example, it is necessary to add the verb phrase going for to the sentence in order to clarify that the act of walking is being compared to the act of running.

Exercise 2

On your own sheet of paper, revise each of the following sentences to create parallel structure using than or as.

  1. I would rather work at a second job to pay for a new car than a loan.
  2. How you look at work is just as important as your behavior.
  3. The firefighter spoke more of his childhood than he talked about his job.
  4. Indian cuisine is far tastier than the food of Great Britain.
  5. Jim's opponent was as tall as Jim and he carried far more weight.

Creating Parallelism Using Correlative Conjunctions

A correlative conjunction is a paired conjunction that connects two equal parts of a sentence and shows the relationship between them. Common correlative conjunctions include the following:

  • either. . .or

  • not only. . .but also

  • neither. . .nor

  • whether. . .or

  • rather. . .than

  • both. . .and

Correlative conjunctions should follow the same grammatical structure to create a parallel sentence. Look at the following example:

Faulty parallelism: We can neither wait for something to happen nor can we take evasive action.

Correct parallelism: We can neither wait for something to happen nor take evasive action.

When using a correlative conjunction, the words, phrases, or clauses following each part should be parallel. In the first sentence, the construction of the second part of the sentence does not match the construction of the first part. In the second sentence, omitting needless words and matching verb constructions create a parallel structure. Sometimes, rearranging a sentence corrects faulty parallelism.

Faulty parallelism: It was both a long movie and poorly written.

Correct parallelism: The movie was both long and poorly written.


To see examples of parallelism in use, read some of the great historical speeches by rhetoricians such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Notice how they use parallel structures to emphasize important points and to create a smooth, easily understandable oration.

Writing At Work

Speechwriters use parallelism not only within sentences but also throughout paragraphs and beyond. Repeating particular key phrases throughout a speech is an effective way of tying a paragraph together as a cohesive whole and creating a sense of importance. This technique can be adapted to any piece of writing, but it may be especially useful for creating a proposal or other type of persuasive workplace document.

Note that the spelling and grammar checker on most word processors will not draw attention to faulty parallelism. When proofreading a document, read it aloud and listen for sentences that sound awkward or poorly phrased.

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, revise each of the following sentences to create parallel structure using correlative conjunctions.

  1. The cyclist owns both a mountain bike and has a racing bike.
  2. The movie not only contained lots of action, but also it offered an important lesson.
  3. My current job is neither exciting nor is it meaningful.
  4. Jason would rather listen to his father than be taking advice from me.
  5. We are neither interested in buying a vacuum cleaner nor do we want to utilize your carpet cleaning service.

Exercise 4

Read through the following excerpt from Alex's essay and revise any instances of faulty parallelism. Rewrite the sentences to create a parallel structure.

Owning a pet has proven to be extremely beneficial to people's health. Pets help lower blood pressure, boost immunity, and are lessening anxiety. Studies indicate that children who grow up in a household with cats or dogs are at a lower risk of developing allergies or suffer from asthma. Owning a dog offers an additional bonus; it makes people more sociable. Dogs are natural conversation starters and this not only helps to draw people out of social isolation but also they are more likely to find a romantic partner. Benefits of pet ownership for elderly people include less anxiety, lower insurance costs, and they also gain peace of mind. A study of Alzheimer's patients showed that patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Some doctors even keep dogs in the office to act as on-site therapists. In short, owning a pet keeps you healthy, happy, and is a great way to help you relax.


  • Parallelism creates a sense of rhythm and balance in writing by using the same grammatical structure to express equal ideas.
  • Faulty parallelism occurs when elements of a sentence are not balanced, causing the sentence to sound clunky and awkward.
  • Parallelism may be created by connecting two clauses or making a list using coordinating conjunctions; by comparing two items using than or as; or by connecting two parts of a sentence using correlative conjunctions.

7.4 Refining Your Writing: End-of-chapter Exercises

Learning Objectives

  1. Use the skills you have learned in the chapter.
  2. Work collaboratively with other students.
  3. Work with various academic and on-the-job, real-world examples.


Exercise 1

Children's stories are written in short, simple sentences. Most sentences use the standard subject-verb-object format. Choose a children's story that is suitable for eight- to ten-year-olds. Rewrite a chapter of the story so that it appeals to a slightly older age group, by adding more sentence variety.

Experiment with the techniques you learned in Section 7.1, including the three different ways to vary sentence structure at the beginning of a sentence and the three different ways to connect ideas between sentences. Compare the revised chapter with the original version and consider how sentence variety can be used to target a particular audience.

Exercise 2

Compile a selection of real-life writing samples. You might like to choose one of the following: email, junk mail, personal letter, company report, social networking page, local newspaper, bulletin-board posting, or public notice.

Choose two samples that lack sentence variety. Highlight areas of each writing sample that you would edit for sentence variety and explain why. Replace any recognizable name with a pseudonym, or a fictitious name.

Exercise 3, Group Activity.

Choose a well-known speech, such as Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Winston Churchill's "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech, or Barack Obama's inaugural address.

Make a copy of the speech and, as a group, underline examples of parallelism. Discuss the effects of using parallelism and consider whether it is always used to achieve the same result or whether the writer manipulates parallelism to create various responses among his or her audience.

Exercise 4, Group Activity.

Working in a small group, select a workplace document or academic essay. Examine each paragraph and identify examples of sentence variety, coordination and subordination, and parallelism. Then, choose one paragraph and discuss the following questions:

  • Does the writer use sentence variety effectively?
  • Does the writer connect his or her ideas effectively?
  • Does the writer use subordination and coordination correctly?
  • Does the writer use parallelism to emphasize his or her points?

As a group, identify the weaker areas of the paragraph and rewrite them. Focus on sentence structure and sentence variation. Use coordinating conjunctions and subordinating conjunctions to join sentences.

Exercise 5

Choose a college essay or a recent piece of writing from your work or everyday life. Use the techniques you have learned throughout this chapter to edit your writing for sentence variety, appropriate coordination and subordination, and parallelism.

When you have finished, compare the two versions and write a brief analysis of how sentence variety, coordination and subordination, and parallelism help refine a piece of writing.

Chapter 8

Table of Contents

The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?

Apply Prewriting Models

Learning Objective

  1. Use prewriting strategies to choose a topic and narrow the focus.

If you think that a blank sheet of paper or a blinking cursor on the computer screen is scary, you are not alone. Many writers, students, and employees find that beginning to write can be intimidating. When faced with a blank page, however, experienced writers remind themselves that writing, like other everyday activities, is a process. Every process, from writing to cooking, bike riding, and learning to use a new cell phone, will get significantly easier with practice.

Just as you need a recipe, ingredients, and proper tools to cook a delicious meal, you also need a plan, resources, and adequate time to create a good written composition. In other words, writing is a process that requires following steps and using strategies to accomplish your goals.

These are the five steps in the writing process:

  1. Prewriting
  2. Outlining the structure of ideas
  3. Writing a rough draft
  4. Revising
  5. Editing

Effective writing can be simply described as good ideas that are expressed well and arranged in the proper order. This chapter will give you the chance to work on all these important aspects of writing. Although many more prewriting strategies exist, this chapter covers six: using experience and observations, freewriting, asking questions, brainstorming, mapping, and searching the internet. Using the strategies in this chapter can help you overcome the fear of the blank page and confidently begin the writing process.


Prewriting is when you transfer your thoughts into words on paper or a screen. The following four strategies are helpful when you are deciding on a topic:

  1. Using experience and observations
  2. Reading
  3. Freewriting
  4. Asking questions

At this stage in the writing process, it is OK if you choose a general topic. Later you will learn more prewriting strategies that will narrow the focus of the topic.

Choosing A Topic

In addition to understanding that writing is a process, writers also understand that choosing a good general topic for an assignment is an essential step. Sometimes your instructor will give you an idea to begin an assignment, and other times your instructor will ask you to come up with a topic on your own. A good topic not only covers what an assignment will be about but also fits the assignment's purpose and its audience.

In this chapter, you will follow a writer named Mariah as she prepares a piece of writing. You will also be planning one of your own. The first important step is for you to tell yourself why you are writing (to inform, to explain, or some other purpose) and for whom you are writing. Write your purpose and your audience on your own sheet of paper and keep the paper close by as you read and complete exercises in this chapter.

My purpose:

My audience:

Using Experience And Observations

When selecting a topic, you may also want to consider something that interests you or something based on your own life and personal experiences. Even everyday observations can lead to interesting topics. After writers think about their experiences and observations, they often take notes on paper to better develop their thoughts. These notes help writers discover what they have to say about their topic.


Have you seen an attention-grabbing story on your local news channel? Many current issues appear on television, in magazines, and on the internet. These can all provide inspiration for your writing.


Reading is important for writing. When you are trying to come up with ideas for your writing, you can read different things to help you. For example, if you see a magazine talking about global warming, it might make you interested in writing about that topic. Or if you read a novel about a legal case, you might want to write about that too.

Once you choose a topic, reading is still important. You can learn a lot from reading and it can help you develop your ideas. When you read, you should think about what the author is trying to say and how they are supporting their point. This will help you form your own opinion about the topic. Even professional writers need to use strategies to help them come up with ideas.


The steps in the writing process may seem time consuming at first, but following these steps will save you time in the future. The more you plan in the beginning by reading and using prewriting strategies, the less time you may spend writing and editing later because your ideas will develop more swiftly.

Prewriting strategies depend on your critical reading skills. Reading prewriting exercises (and outlines and drafts later in the writing process) will further develop your topic and ideas. As you continue to follow the writing process, you will see how Mariah uses critical reading skills to assess her own prewriting exercises.


Freewriting is an exercise where you write whatever comes to mind for a few minutes without worrying about grammar, spelling or punctuation. Writing quickly can help you generate ideas. It's also easier to write when you have a personal connection with the topic.

Try not to doubt or question your ideas and let your thoughts flow. If you get stuck, repeat a word or phrase until you have a new thought.

Freewriting can help you discover what you think about a topic and may lead you to more ideas or another exciting topic.

Look at Mariah's example. The instructor allowed the members of the class to choose their own topics, and Mariah thought about her experiences as a communications major. She used this freewriting exercise to help her generate more concrete ideas from her own experience.


Some prewriting strategies can be used together. For example, you could use experience and observations to come up with a topic related to your course studies. Then you could use freewriting to describe your topic in more detail and figure out what you have to say about it.

Last semester my favorite class was about mass media. We got to study radio and television. People say we watch too much television, and even though I try not to, I end up watching a few reality shows just to relax. Everyone has to relax! It's too hard to relax when something like the news (my husband watches all the time) is on because it's too scary now. Too much bad news, not enough good news. News. Newspapers I don't read as much anymore. I can get the headlines on my homepage when I check my email. Email could be considered mass media too these days. I used to go to the video store a few times a week before I started school, but now the only way I know what movies are current is to listen for the Oscar nominations. We have cable but we can't afford the movie channels, so I sometimes look at older movies late at night. A few of them get played again and again until you're sick of them. My husband thinks I'm crazy, but sometimes there are old black-and-whites on from the 1930s and '40s. I could never live my life in black-and-white. I like the home decoration shows and love how people use color on their walls. Makes rooms look so bright. When we buy a home, if we ever can, I'll use lots of color. Some of those shows even show you how to do major renovations by yourself. Knock down walls and everything. Not for me - or my husband. I'm handier than he is. I wonder if they could make a reality show about us!

Exercise 1

Freewrite about one event you have recently experienced. With this event in mind, write without stopping for five minutes. After you finish, read over what you wrote. Does anything stand out to you as a good general topic to write about?

Asking Questions

Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

In everyday situations, you pose these kinds of questions to get more information. Who will be my partner for the project? When is the next meeting? Why is my car making that odd noise? Even the title of this chapter is "How do I begin?"

You seek the answers to these questions to gain knowledge, to better understand your daily experiences, and to plan for the future. Asking these types of questions will also help you with the writing process. As you choose your topic, answering these questions can help you revisit the ideas you already have and generate new ways to think about your topic. You may also discover aspects of the topic that are unfamiliar to you and that you would like to learn more about. All these idea-gathering techniques will help you plan for future work on your assignment.

When Mariah reread her freewriting notes, she found she had rambled and her thoughts were disjointed. She realized that the topic that interested her most was the one she started with, the media. She then decided to explore that topic by asking herself questions about it. Her purpose was to refine media into a topic she felt comfortable writing about. To see how asking questions can help you choose a topic, take a look at the following chart that Mariah completed to record her questions and answers. She asked herself the questions that reporters and journalists use to gather information for their stories. The questions are often called the 5WH questions, after their initial letters.

Asking Questions

Questions Answers
Who? I use media. Students, teachers, parents, employers and employees-almost everyone uses media.
What? The media can be a lot of things. Television, radio, email (I think), newspapers, magazines, books.
Where? The media is almost everywhere now. It's in homes, at work, in cars, even on cell phones!
When? Media has been around for a long time, but seems a lot more important now.
Why? Hmm. This is a good question. I don't know why there is mass media. Maybe we have it because we have the technology now.
How? Well, media is possible because of the technology inventions, but I don't know how they all work!


Prewriting is purpose driven; it does not follow a set of hard-and-fast rules. The purpose of prewriting is to find and explore ideas so that you will be prepared to write. A prewriting technique like asking questions can help you both find a topic and explore it. The key to effective prewriting is to use the techniques that work best for your thinking process. Freewriting may not seem to fit your thinking process, but keep an open mind. It may work better than you think. Perhaps brainstorming a list of topics might better fit your personal style. Mariah found freewriting and asking questions to be fruitful strategies to use. In your own prewriting, use the 5WH questions in any way that benefits your planning.

Exercise 2

Choose a general topic idea from the prewriting you completed in Exercise 1. Then read each question and use your own paper to answer the 5WH questions. As with Mariah when she explored her writing topic for more detail, it is OK if you do not know all the answers. If you do not know an answer, use your own opinion to speculate, or guess. You may also use factual information from books or articles you previously read on your topic. Later in the chapter, you will read about additional ways (like searching the internet) to answer your questions and explore your guesses.

5WH Questions

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. Where?
  4. When?
  5. Why?
  6. How?

Now that you have completed some of the prewriting exercises, you may feel less anxious about starting a paper from scratch. With some ideas down on paper (or saved on a computer), writers are often more comfortable continuing the writing process. After identifying a good general topic, you, too, are ready to continue the process.


Write your general topic on your own sheet of paper, under where you recorded your purpose and audience. Choose it from among the topics you listed or explored during the prewriting you have done so far. Make sure it is one you feel comfortable with and feel capable of writing about.

My general topic:


You may find that you need to adjust your topic as you move through the writing stages (and as you complete the exercises in this chapter). If the topic you have chosen is not working, you can repeat the prewriting activities until you find a better one.

More Prewriting Techniques

The prewriting techniques of freewriting and asking questions helped Mariah think more about her topic, but the following prewriting strategies can help her (and you) narrow the focus of the topic:

  • Brainstorming
  • Idea mapping
  • Searching the internet
  • Narrowing the Focus

Narrowing the focus means breaking up the topic into subtopics, or more specific points. Generating lots of subtopics will help you eventually select the ones that fit the assignment and appeal to you and your audience.

After rereading her syllabus, Mariah realized her general topic, mass media, is too broad for her class's short paper requirement. Three pages are not enough to cover all the concerns in media today. Mariah also realized that although her readers are other communications majors who are interested in the topic, they may want to read a paper about a particular issue in media.


Brainstorming is similar to list making. You can make a list on your own or in a group with your classmates. Start with a blank sheet of paper (or a blank computer document) and write your general topic across the top. Underneath your topic, make a list of more specific ideas. Think of your general topic as a broad category and the list items as things that fit in that category. Often you will find that one item can lead to the next, creating a flow of ideas that can help you narrow your focus to a more specific paper topic.

The following is Mariah's brainstorming list:

Mass Media

  • magazines,
  • newspapers,
  • broadcasting,
  • radio,
  • television,
  • DVD,
  • gaming/video games,
  • internet,
  • cell phones,
  • smartphones,
  • text messages,
  • tiny cameras,
  • GPS

From this list, Mariah could narrow her focus to a particular technology under the broad category of media.

Writing At Work

Imagine you have to write an email to your current boss explaining your prior work experience, but you do not know where to start. Before you begin the email, you can use the brainstorming technique to generate a list of employers, duties, and responsibilities that fall under the general topic "work experience."

Idea Mapping

Idea mapping allows you to visualize your ideas on paper using circles, lines, and arrows. This technique is also known as clustering because ideas are broken down and clustered or grouped together. Many writers like this method because the shapes show how the ideas relate or connect, and writers can find a focused topic from the connections mapped. Using idea mapping, you might discover interesting connections between topics that you had not thought of before.

To create an idea map, start with your general topic in a circle in the center of a blank sheet of paper. Then write specific ideas around it and use lines or arrows to connect them together. Add and cluster as many ideas as you can think of.

In addition to brainstorming, Mariah tried idea mapping.

Searching The Internet

Using search engines on the internet is a good way to see what kinds of websites are available on your topic. Writers use search engines not only to understand more about the topic's specific issues but also to get better acquainted with their audience.


Look back at the chart you completed in Exercise 2. Did you guess at any of the answers? Searching the internet may help you find answers to your questions and confirm your guesses. Be choosy about the websites you use. Make sure they are reliable sources for the kind of information you seek.

When you search the internet, type some key words from your broad topic or words from your narrowed focus into your browser's search engine (many good general and specialized search engines are available for you to try). Then look over the results for relevant and interesting articles.

Results from an internet search show writers the following information:

  • Who is talking about the topic?
  • How the topic is being discussed?
  • What specific points are being discussed?


If the search engine results are not what you are looking for, revise your key words and search again. Some search engines also offer suggestions for related searches that may give you better results.

Mariah typed the words music piracy from her idea map into Google.

Not all the results online search engines give you will be useful. Consider the reliability of an online source before selecting a topic based on it. Remember that information can be verified in other sources, both online and in print. If you have doubts about any information you find, either do not use it or identify it as potentially unreliable.

The results from Mariah's search included websites from college publications, personal blogs, online news sources, and lots of legal cases sponsored by the recording industry. Reading legal jargon made Mariah uncomfortable with the results, so she decided to look further. Reviewing her map, she realized that she was more interested in consumer aspects of media, so she refocused her search to media technology and the sometimes-confusing array of expensive products that fill electronics stores. Now, Mariah considers a paper topic on the products that have fed the media boom in everyday lives.

Exercise 3

In Exercise 2, you chose a possible topic and explored it by answering questions about it using the 5WH questions. However, this topic may still be too broad. Here, in Exercise 3, choose and complete one of the prewriting strategies to narrow the focus. Use either brainstorming, idea mapping, or searching the internet.

Please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Share what you found and what interests you about the possible topic(s).

Prewriting strategies are a vital first step in the writing process. First, they help you first choose a broad topic and then they help you narrow the focus of the topic to a more specific idea. An effective topic ensures that you are ready for the next step.

Developing A Good Topic: Checklist

The following checklist can help you decide if your narrowed topic is a good for your assignment.

  • Am I interested in this topic?
  • Would my audience be interested?
  • Do I have prior knowledge or experience with this topic? If so, would I be comfortable exploring this topic and sharing my experiences?
  • Do I want to learn more about this topic?
  • Does it fit the length of the assignment?

With your narrowed focus in mind, answer the bulleted questions in the checklist for developing a good topic. If you can answer "yes" to all the questions, write your topic on the line. If you answer "no" to any of the questions, think about another topic or adjust the one you have and try the prewriting strategies again.

My narrowed topic:


  • All writers rely on steps and strategies to begin the writing process.
  • The steps in the writing process are prewriting, outlining, writing a rough draft, revising, and editing.
  • Prewriting is the transfer of ideas from abstract thoughts into words, phrases, and sentences on paper.
  • A good topic interests the writer, appeals to the audience, and fits the purpose of the assignment.
  • Writers often choose a general topic first and then narrow the focus to a more specific topic.

8.2 Outlining

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the steps in constructing an outline.
  2. Construct a topic outline and a sentence outline.

Your prewriting activities and readings have helped you gather information for your assignment. The more you sort through the pieces of information you found, the more you will begin to see the connections between them. Patterns and gaps may begin to stand out. But only when you start to organize your ideas will you be able to translate your raw insights into a form that will communicate meaning to your audience.


Longer papers require more reading and planning than shorter papers do. Most writers discover that the more they know about a topic, the more they can write about it with intelligence and interest.

Organizing Ideas

When you write, you need to organize your ideas in an order that makes sense. The writing you complete in all your courses exposes how analytically and critically your mind works. In some courses, the only direct contact you may have with your instructor is through the assignments you write for the course. You can make a good impression by spending time ordering your ideas.

Order refers to your choice of what to present first, second, third, and so on in your writing. The order you pick closely relates to your purpose for writing that particular assignment. For example, when telling a story, it may be important to first describe the background for the action. Or you may need to first describe a 3-D movie projector or a television studio to help readers visualize the setting and scene. You may want to group your support effectively to convince readers that your point of view on an issue is well reasoned and worthy of belief.

In longer pieces of writing, you may organize different parts in different ways so that your purpose stands out clearly and all parts of the paper work together to consistently develop your main point.

Methods Of Organizing Writing

The three common methods of organizing writing are chronological order, spatial order, and order of importance. You will learn more about these in Chapter 9; however, you need to keep these methods of organization in mind as you plan how to arrange the information you have gathered in an outline. An outline is a written plan that serves as a skeleton for the paragraphs you write. Later, when you draft paragraphs in the next stage of the writing process, you will add support to create "flesh" and "muscle" for your assignment.

When you write, your goal is not only to complete an assignment but also to write for a specific purpose---perhaps to inform, to explain, to persuade, or for a combination of these purposes. Your purpose for writing should always be in the back of your mind, because it will help you decide which pieces of information belong together and how you will order them. In other words, choose the order that will most effectively fit your purpose and support your main point.

Table 8.1 "order Versus Purpose"

Order Purpose
Chronological Order To explain the history of an event or a topic
To tell a story or relate an experience
To explain how to do or make something
To explain the steps in a process
Spatial Order To help readers visualize something as you want them to see it
To create a main impression using the senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound)
Order of Importance To persuade or convince
To rank items by their importance, benefit, or significance

Writing A Thesis

One question readers always ask is, "What is the big idea?" Every essay needs a big idea as the spine for the work.

In a college essay, your big idea is called your thesis.

A thesis is usually one sentence long. It usually comes at the end of your first paragraph.

The plural of the word "thesis" is theses.

You will also sometimes see the term "thesis" This means the exact same thing as "thesis": they are synonyms.

In high school you have probably written "three reasons" theses, like this:

South Florida high schools should eliminate vending machines because they cost students too much money, make students too unhealthy, and cause too much litter on campus.

But for most college assignments, you will not be required to have three reasons. Instead, you may have more or fewer depending on your ideas. But be sure to ask your instructor about this.

Table 8.2 "Topics and Theses" compares topics and thesis statements.

Table 8.2 Topics And Theses

Topic Thesis
Music piracy The recording industry fears that piracy will destroy the music market, but it is wrong.
The many options for personal tech Everyone wants the latest personal tech, but the huge number of options is confusing and overwhelming.

A topic is what you are writing about. It can usually be stated as a phrase.

A thesis is what you have to say about your topic. It is usually stated as a sentence.

The same topic could give rise to many theses. If I think music piracy is a problem, I could write a thesis saying, "Piracy will make it impossible for even very famous musicians to make much money from their music."

The first thesis you write will a working thesis That means you might change it later. You will need it to plan your essay.

As you continue to work and research, you are likely to revise your thesis.

Exercise 1

Using the topic you selected in Section 8.1, develop a working thesis that states your controlling idea for the piece of writing you are doing. On a sheet of paper, write your working thesis


You will make several attempts before you devise a working thesis statement that you think is effective. Each draft of the thesis statement will bring you closer to the wording that expresses your meaning exactly.

Writing An Outline

For an essay question on a test or a brief oral presentation in class, all you may need to prepare is a short, informal outline in which you jot down key ideas in the order you will present them. This kind of outline reminds you to stay focused in a stressful situation and to include all the good ideas that help you explain or prove your point.

For a longer assignment, like an essay or a research paper, many college instructors require students to submit a formal outline before writing a major paper as a way to be sure you are on the right track and are working in an organized manner. A formal outline is a detailed guide that shows how all your supporting ideas relate to each other. It helps you distinguish between ideas that are of equal importance and ones that are of lesser importance. You build your paper based on the framework created by the outline.


Instructors may also require you to submit an outline with your final draft to check the direction of the assignment and the logic of your final draft. If you are required to submit an outline with the final draft of a paper, remember to revise the outline to reflect any changes you made while writing the paper.

There are two types of formal outlines: the topic outline and the sentence outline. You format both types of formal outlines in the same way.

  • Place your introduction and thesis at the beginning, under roman numeral I.
  • Use roman numerals (II, III, IV, V, etc.) to identify main points that develop the thesis
  • Use capital letters (A, B, C, D, etc.) to divide your main points into parts.
  • Use Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) if you need to subdivide any As, Bs, or Cs into smaller parts.
  • End with the final roman numeral expressing your idea for your conclusion.

Here is what the skeleton of a traditional formal outline looks like. The indention helps clarify how the ideas are related.

  • Introduction
  • Thesis
  • Main point 1 → becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 1
  • Main point 2 → becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 2
  • Main point 3 → becomes the topic sentence of body paragraph 3
  • Conclusion


Formal outlines are rigid in their organization.

If there is a roman numeral I for your first main, there must be a roman numeral II for a second main point. If you have only one main point, you don't need the roman numerals in the first place.

Similarly, for every letter A, there must be a letter B. If a main point has only one part, you don't need the letters in the first place.

For every Arabic numeral 1, there must be an Arabic numeral 2. If a larger part doesn't have separate smaller parts, you don't need the Arabic numerals in the first place.

In other words, only add a layer to your outline if you need it to keep two or more things separate.

Constructing Topic Outlines

A topic outline is the same as a sentence outline except you use words or phrases instead of complete sentences. Words and phrases keep the outline short and easier to comprehend. All the headings, however, must be written in parallel structure. (For more information on parallel structure, see Chapter 7.)

Here is the topic outline that Mariah constructed for the essay she is developing. Her purpose is to inform, and her audience is a general audience of her fellow college students. Notice how Mariah begins with her thesis She then arranges her main points and supporting details in outline form using short phrases in parallel grammatical structure.

Writing An Effective Topic Outline: Checklist

This checklist can help you write an effective topic outline for your assignment. It will also help you discover where you may need to do additional reading or prewriting.

  • Do I have a controlling idea that guides the development of the entire piece of writing?
  • Do I have three or more main points that I want to make in this piece of writing? Does each main point connect to my controlling idea?
  • Is my outline in the best order---chronological order, spatial order, or order of importance---for me to present my main points? Will this order help me get my main point across?
  • Do I have supporting details that will help me inform, explain, or prove my main points?
  • Do I need to add more support? If so, where?
  • Do I need to make any adjustments in my working thesis before I consider it the final version?

Writing At Work

Word processors generally have an automatic numbering feature that can be used to prepare outlines. This feature automatically sets indents and lets you use the tab key to arrange information just as you would in an outline. Although in business this style might be acceptable, in college your instructor might have different requirements. Teach yourself how to customize the levels of outline numbering in your word-processing program to fit your instructor's preferences.

Exercise 2

Using the working thesis you wrote in Exercise 1 and the reading you did in Section 8.1, construct a topic outline for your essay. Be sure to observe correct outline form, including correct indentations and the use of Roman and Arabic numerals and capital letters.

Please share with a classmate and compare your outline. Point out areas of interest from their outline and what you would like to learn more about.

Constructing Sentence Outlines

A sentence outline is the same as a topic outline except you use complete sentences instead of words or phrases. Complete sentences create clarity and can advance you one step closer to a draft in the writing process.

Here is the sentence outline that Mariah constructed for the essay she is developing.


The information under each roman numeral will become a paragraph in your paper. The outline above is for a standard five-paragraph essay, but a longer essay will need more paragraphs and so the outline for it will need more roman numerals.

Writing At Work

PowerPoint presentations, used both in schools and at work, are organized in a way similar to formal outlines. PowerPoint presentations often contain information in the form of talking points that the presenter develops with more details and examples than are contained on the PowerPoint slide.

Exercise 3

Expand the topic outline you prepared in Exercise 2 to make it a sentence outline. In this outline, be sure to include multiple supporting points for your main topic even if your topic outline does not contain them. Be sure to observe correct outline form, including correct indentations and the use of Roman and Arabic numerals and capital letters.


  • Writers must put their ideas in order so the assignment makes sense. The most common orders are chronological order, spatial order, and order of importance.
  • After gathering and evaluating the information you found for your essay, the next step is to write a working, or preliminary, thesis
  • The working thesis expresses the main idea that you want to develop in the entire piece of writing. It can be modified as you continue the writing process.
  • Effective writers prepare a formal outline to organize their main ideas and supporting details in the order they will be presented.
  • A topic outline uses words and phrases to express the ideas.
  • A sentence outline uses complete sentences to express the ideas.
  • The writer's thesis begins the outline, and the outline ends with suggestions for the concluding paragraph.

8.3 Drafting

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify drafting strategies that improve writing.
  2. Use drafting strategies to prepare the first draft of an essay.

Drafting is the stage of the writing process in which you develop a complete first version of a piece of writing.

Even professional writers admit that an empty page scares them because they feel they need to come up with something fresh and original every time they open a blank document on their computers. Because you have completed the first two steps in the writing process, you have already recovered from empty page syndrome. You have hours of prewriting and planning already done. You know what will go on that blank page: what you wrote in your outline.

Getting Started: Strategies For Drafting

Your objective for this portion of Chapter 8 is to draft the body paragraphs of a five-paragraph essay. A five-paragraph essay contains an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If you are more comfortable starting on paper than on the computer, you can start on paper and then type it before you revise. You can also use a voice recorder to get yourself started, dictating a paragraph or two to get you thinking. In this lesson, Mariah does all her work on the computer, but you may use pen and paper or the computer to write a rough draft.

Making The Writing Process Work For You

What makes the writing process so beneficial to writers is that it encourages alternatives to standard practices while motivating you to develop your best ideas. For instance, the following approaches, done alone or in combination with others, may improve your writing and help you move forward in the writing process:

Begin writing with the part you know the most about. You can start with the third paragraph in your outline if ideas come easily to mind. You can start with the second paragraph or the first paragraph, too. Although paragraphs may vary in length, keep in mind that short paragraphs may contain insufficient support. Readers may also think the writing is abrupt. Long paragraphs may be wordy and may lose your reader's interest. As a guideline, try to write paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than the length of an entire double-spaced page.

Write one paragraph at a time and then stop. As long as you complete the assignment on time, you may choose how many paragraphs you complete in one sitting. Pace yourself. On the other hand, try not to procrastinate. Writers should always meet their deadlines.

Take short breaks to refresh your mind. This tip might be most useful if you are writing a multi-page report or essay. Still, if you are antsy or cannot concentrate, take a break to let your mind rest. But do not let breaks extend too long. If you spend too much time away from your essay, you may have trouble starting again. You may forget key points or lose momentum. Try setting an alarm to limit your break, and when the time is up, return to your desk to write.

Be reasonable with your goals. If you decide to take ten-minute breaks, try to stick to that goal. If you told yourself that you need more facts, then commit to finding them. Holding yourself to your own goals will create successful writing assignments.

Keep your audience and purpose in mind as you write. These aspects of writing are just as important when you are writing a single paragraph for your essay as when you are considering the direction of the entire essay.

Of all of these considerations, keeping your purpose and your audience at the front of your mind is the most important key to writing success. If your purpose is to persuade, for example, you will present your facts and details in the most logical and convincing way you can.

Your purpose will guide your mind as you compose your sentences. Your audience will guide word choice. Are you writing for experts, for a general audience, for other college students, or for people who know little about your topic? Keep asking yourself what your readers, with their background and experience, need to be told in order to understand your ideas. How can you best express your ideas so they are totally clear and your communication is effective?


You may want to identify your purpose and audience on an index card that you clip to your paper (or keep next to your computer). On that card, you may want to write notes to yourself---perhaps about what that audience might not know or what it needs to know---so that you will be sure to address those issues when you write. It may be a good idea to also state exactly what you want to explain to that audience, or to inform them of, or to persuade them about.

Writing At Work

Many of the documents you produce at work target a particular audience for a particular purpose. You may find that it is highly advantageous to know as much as you can about your target audience and to prepare your message to reach that audience, even if the audience is a coworker or your boss. Menu language is a common example. Descriptions like "organic romaine" and "free-range chicken" are intended to appeal to a certain type of customer though perhaps not to the same customer who craves a thick steak. Similarly, mail-order companies research the demographics of the people who buy their merchandise. Successful vendors customize product descriptions in catalogs to appeal to their buyers' tastes. For example, the product descriptions in a skateboarder catalog will differ from the descriptions in a clothing catalog for mature adults.

Exercise 1

Using the topic for the essay that you outlined in Section 8.2, describe your purpose and your audience as specifically as you can. Use your own sheet of paper to record your responses. Then keep these responses near you during future stages of the writing process.

My purpose:

My audience:

Setting Goals For Your First Draft

A draft is a complete version of a piece of writing, but it is not the final version. The step in the writing process after drafting, as you may remember, is revising. During revising, you will have the opportunity to make changes to your first draft before you put the finishing touches on it during the editing and proofreading stage. A first draft gives you a working version that you can later improve.

Writing At Work

Workplace writing in certain environments is done by teams of writers who collaborate on the planning, writing, and revising of documents, such as long reports, technical manuals, and the results of scientific research. Collaborators do not need to be in the same room, the same building, or even the same city. Many collaborations are conducted over the internet.

In a perfect collaboration, each contributor has the right to add, edit, and delete text. Strong communication skills, in addition to strong writing skills, are important in this kind of writing situation because disagreements over style, content, process, emphasis, and other issues may arise.

The collaborative software, or document management systems, that groups use to work on common projects is sometimes called groupware or workgroup support systems.

The reviewing tool on some word-processing programs also gives you access to a collaborative tool that many smaller workgroups use when they exchange documents. You can also use it to leave comments to yourself.


If you invest some time now to investigate how the reviewing tool in your word processor works, you will be able to use it with confidence during the revision stage of the writing process. Then, when you start to revise, set your reviewing tool to track any changes you make, so you will be able to tinker with text and commit only those final changes you want to keep.

Discovering The Basic Elements Of A First Draft

If you have been using the information in this chapter step by step to help you develop an assignment, you already have both a formal topic outline and a formal sentence outline to direct your writing. Knowing what a first draft looks like will help you make the creative leap from the outline to the first draft. A first draft should include the following elements:

  • An introduction that piques the audience's interest, tells what the essay is about, and motivates readers to keep reading.
  • A thesis that presents the main point, or controlling idea, of the entire piece of writing.
  • A topic sentence in each paragraph that states the main idea of the paragraph and implies how that main idea connects to the thesis statement.
  • Supporting sentences in each paragraph that develop or explain the topic sentence. These can be specific facts, examples, anecdotes, or other details that elaborate on the topic sentence.
  • A conclusion that reinforces the thesis and leaves the audience with a feeling of completion.

These elements follow the standard five-paragraph essay format, which you probably encountered in high school. This basic format is valid for most essays you will write in college, even much longer ones. For now, however, Mariah focuses on writing the three body paragraphs from her outline. Chapter 9 covers writing introductions and conclusions, and you will read Mariah's introduction and conclusion in Chapter 9.

The Role Of Topic Sentences

Topic sentences make the structure of a text and the writer's basic arguments easy to locate and comprehend. In college writing, using a topic sentence in each paragraph of the essay is the standard rule. However, the topic sentence does not always have to be the first sentence in your paragraph even if it the first item in your formal outline.


When you begin to draft your paragraphs, you should follow your outline fairly closely. After all, you spent valuable time developing those ideas. However, as you begin to express your ideas in complete sentences, it might strike you that the topic sentence might work better at the end of the paragraph or in the middle. Try it. Writing a draft, by its nature, is a good time for experimentation.

The topic sentence can be the first, middle, or final sentence in a paragraph. The assignment's audience and purpose will often determine where a topic sentence belongs. When the purpose of the assignment is to persuade, for example, the topic sentence should be the first sentence in a paragraph. In a persuasive essay, the writer's point of view should be clearly expressed at the beginning of each paragraph.

Choosing where to position the topic sentence depends not only on your audience and purpose but also on the essay's arrangement, or order. When you organize information according to order of importance, the topic sentence may be the final sentence in a paragraph. All the supporting sentences build up to the topic sentence. Chronological order may also position the topic sentence as the final sentence because the controlling idea of the paragraph may make the most sense at the end of a sequence.

When you organize information according to spatial order, a topic sentence may appear as the middle sentence in a paragraph. An essay arranged by spatial order often contains paragraphs that begin with descriptions. A reader may first need a visual in his or her mind before understanding the development of the paragraph. When the topic sentence is in the middle, it unites the details that come before it with the ones that come after it.


As you read critically throughout the writing process, keep topic sentences in mind. You may discover topic sentences that are not always located at the beginning of a paragraph. For example, fiction writers customarily use topic ideas, either expressed or implied, to move readers through their texts. In nonfiction writing, such as popular magazines, topic sentences are often used when the author thinks it is appropriate (based on the audience and the purpose, of course). A single topic sentence might even control the development of a number of paragraphs. For more information on topic sentences, please see Chapter 6.

Developing topic sentences and thinking about their placement in a paragraph will prepare you to write the rest of the paragraph.


The paragraph is the main structural component of an essay as well as other forms of writing. Each paragraph of an essay adds another related main idea to support the writer's thesis or controlling idea. Each related main idea is supported and developed with facts, examples, and other details that explain it. By exploring and refining one main idea at a time, writers build a strong case for their thesis.

Paragraph Length

How long should a paragraph be?

The only real answer is "long enough"---long enough for you to address your points and explain your main idea. To grab attention or to present succinct supporting ideas, a paragraph can be short and consist of two to three sentences. A paragraph in a complex essay about some abstract point in philosophy or archaeology can be three-quarters of a page or more in length. As long as the writer maintains close focus on the topic and does not ramble, a long paragraph is acceptable in college writing. In general, try to keep the paragraphs longer than one sentence but shorter than one full page of double-spaced text.


Journalistic style often calls for brief two- or three-sentence paragraphs because of how people read the news.

Websites often adopt this style, too. Readers often skim the first paragraphs of many articles before choosing a few they want to read in detail.

You may find that a paragraph you write is too long to hold your audience's interest. In such cases, you should divide it into shorter paragraphs, adding a topic statement or a transition at the start of each new paragraph.

In all cases, however, be guided by what you instructor wants from your draft. Many instructors will expect you to develop a mature college style as you progress through the semester's assignments.

Exercise 2

To build your sense of appropriate paragraph length, use the internet to find examples of the following items. Copy them into a file, identify your sources, and present them to your instructor with your annotations, or notes.

  • A news article written in short paragraphs. Take notes on, or annotate, your selection with your observations about the effect of combining paragraphs that develop the same topic idea. Explain how effective those paragraphs would be.
  • A long paragraph from a scholarly work that you identify through an academic search engine. Annotate it with your observations about the author's paragraphing style.

Starting Your First Draft

We are ready to look over Mariah's shoulder as she begins her essay about digital technology and the confusing choices that consumers face. As she does, you should have in front of you your outline, with its thesis and topic sentences, and the notes you wrote earlier in this lesson on your purpose and audience. Reviewing these will put both you and Mariah in the proper mind-set to start.

The following is Mariah's thesis:

Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology ,but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing

Here are the notes that Mariah wrote to herself to characterize her purpose and audience.

Purpose: My purpose is to inform readers about the wide variety of consumer digital technology available in stores and to explain why the specifications for these products, expressed in numbers that average consumers don't understand, often cause bad or misinformed buying decisions.

Audience: My audience is my instructor and members of this class. Most of them are not heavy into technology except for the usual laptops, cell phones, and MP3 players, which are not topics I'm writing about. I'll have to be as exact and precise as I can be when I explain possibly unfamiliar product specifications. At the same time, they're more with it electronically than my grandparents' VCR-flummoxed generation, so I won't have to explain ever last detail.")

Mariah chose to begin by writing a quick introduction based on her thesis She knew that she would want to improve her introduction significantly when she revised. Right now, she just wanted to give herself a starting point. You will read her introduction again in Section 8.4 when she revises it.


Remember Mariah's other options. She could have started directly with any of the body paragraphs.

You will learn more about writing attention-getting introductions and effective conclusions in Chapter 9.

With her thesis and her purpose and audience notes in front of her, Mariah then looked at her sentence outline. She chose to use that outline because it includes the topic sentences. The following is the portion of her outline for the first body paragraph. The roman numeral II identifies the topic sentence for the paragraph, capital letters indicate supporting details, and Arabic numerals label subpoints.

II. Ebook readers are changing the way people read
    A. Ebook readers make books easy to access and carry
        1. Books can be downloaded
        2. Readers can store hundreds of books
    B. The market expands as companies enter it
        1. Booksellers sell their own readers
        2. Electronics companies and computer companies also sell readers
    C. Current ebook readers have serious limits
        1. The devices are owned by different companies and are not always compatible
        2. Few programs have been made to fit the other way Americans read: by borrowing from libraries

Mariah then began to expand the ideas in her outline into a paragraph. Notice how the outline helped her guarantee that all her sentences in the body of the paragraph develop the topic sentence.

Ebook readers are changing the way people read. The main selling point for these devices, which are the size of a paperback book, is that they make it easy to access and carry multiple books. Electronic versions of printed books can be downloaded for a few bucks. These devices can store hundreds of books and, with text-to-speech, can even read them. The market for ebooks and ereaders keeps expanding as new companies enter it. Online and traditional booksellers have been the first to market ebook readers to the public, but computer companies have also entered the market. The problem for consumers is which ereader to choose. Incompatibility is the norm. An ebook can only be read on the device it was intended for. Use is restricted by a DRM (digital rights management) system. As a result, book buyers are often unable to lend an ebook to another reader as they could with a physical book. Few accommodations have been made to fit the other way Americans read: by borrowing from libraries. What is a buyer to do?


If you write your first draft on the computer, consider creating a new file folder for each course with a set of subfolders inside the course folders for each assignment you are given. Label the folders clearly with the course names, and label each assignment folder and word processing document with a title that you will easily recognize. The assignment name is a good choice for the document. Then use that subfolder to store all the drafts you create. When you start each new draft, do not just write over the last one. Instead, save the draft with a new tag after the title---draft 1, draft 2, and so on---so that you will have a complete history of drafts in case your instructor wishes you to submit them.

In your documents, observe any formatting requirements---for margins, headers, placement of page numbers, and other layout matters---that your instructor requires.

Exercise 3

Study how Mariah made the transition from her sentence outline to her first draft. First, copy her outline onto your own sheet of paper. Leave a few spaces between each part of the outline. Then copy sentences from Mariah's paragraph to align each sentence with its corresponding entry in her outline.

Continuing The First Draft

Mariah continued writing her essay, moving to the second and third body paragraphs. She had supporting details but no numbered subpoints in her outline, so she had to consult her prewriting notes for specific information to include.


If you decide to take a break between finishing your first body paragraph and starting the next one, do not start writing immediately when you return to your work. Put yourself back in context and in the mood by rereading what you have already written. This is what Mariah did. If she had stopped writing in the middle of writing the paragraph, she could have jotted down some quick notes to herself about what she would write next.

Preceding each body paragraph that Mariah wrote is the appropriate section of her sentence outline. Notice how she expanded roman numeral III from her outline into a first draft of the second body paragraph. As you read, ask yourself how closely she stayed on purpose and how well she paid attention to the needs of her audience.

III. Digital cameras have almost replaced film cameras
    A. The first major choice is the type of digital camera
        1. Compact digital cameras are light but lack the megapixels
        2. Single lens reflex cameras, or SLRs, may be large but can be used for many functions
        3. Some cameras combine the best features of compacts and SLRs
    B. Choosing the camera type involves the confusing "megapixel wars"
    C. The zoom lens battle also determines the camera you will buy

Mariah then began her third and final body paragraph using roman numeral IV from her outline.

IV. Nothing is more confusing to me that choosing among televisions
    A. In the resolution wars, what are the benefits of 1080p and 768p?
    B. In the screen-size wars, what do plasma screens and LCD screens offer?
    C. Does every home really need a media center?

Exercise 4

Reread body paragraphs two and three of the essay that Mariah is writing. Then answer the questions on your own sheet of paper.

  1. In body paragraph two, Mariah decided to develop her paragraph as a nonfiction narrative. Do you agree with her decision? Explain. How else could she have chosen to develop the paragraph? Why is that better?
  2. Compare the writing styles of paragraphs two and three. What evidence do you have that Mariah was getting tired or running out of steam? What advice would you give her? Why?
  3. Choose one of these two body paragraphs. Write a version of your own that you think better fits Mariah's audience and purpose.

Writing A Title

A writer's best choice for a title is one that alludes to the main point of the entire essay. Like the headline in a newspaper or the big, bold title in a magazine, an essay's title gives the audience a first peek at the content. If readers like the title, they are likely to keep reading.

Following her outline, Mariah wrote each paragraph of her essay. Moving step by step in the writing process, Mariah finished the draft and even included a brief conclusion, which you will read in Chapter 9.

Finally, she added an engaging title.

Thesis statement: Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology, but the choices are many, and the specifications are often confusing.

Working Title: Digital Technology: The Newest and the Best at What Price?

Writing Your Own First Draft

Now you may begin your own first draft, if you have not already done so. Follow the suggestions and the guidelines presented in this section.


  • Make the writing process work for you. Use any and all of the strategies that help you move forward in the writing process.
  • Always be aware of your purpose for writing and the needs of your audience. Cater to those needs in every sensible way.
  • Remember to include all the key structural parts of an essay: a thesis statement that is part of your introductory paragraph, three or more body paragraphs as described in your outline, and a concluding paragraph. Then add an engaging title to draw in readers.
  • Write paragraphs of an appropriate length for your writing assignment. Paragraphs in college writing can be a page long, as long as they cover the main topics in your outline.
  • Use your topic outline or your sentence outline to guide the development of your paragraphs and the elaboration of your ideas. Each main idea, indicated by a roman numeral in your outline, becomes the topic of a new paragraph. Develop it with the supporting details and the subpoints of those details that you included in your outline.
  • Generally speaking, write your introduction and conclusion last, after you have fleshed out the body paragraphs.

8.4 Revising And Editing

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify major areas of concern in the draft essay during revising and editing.
  2. Use peer reviews and editing checklists to assist revising and editing.
  3. Revise and edit the first draft of your essay and produce a final draft.

Once you have written a draft of an essay, you will want to make changes.

Writing teachers find it useful to distinguish between big changes and small changes.

Revising is the term we use for making major changes to an essay: changing your ideas or moving major parts of the essay around.

Editing is the term we use for making minor changes to an essay: fixing the spelling or the formatting, or polishing your sentences to make them more clear.

When you are rewriting a paper, first you revise and then you edit.

Why Revise? Why Edit?

You may think that finishing a draft means you are done. However, even experienced writers need to improve their drafts and rely on peers during revising and editing.

Athletes miss catches, fumble balls, or overshoot goals. Dancers forget steps, turn too slowly, or miss beats. The more you practice, the better you will be.

When you revise, you take a second look at your ideas. You might add, cut, move, or change information to make your ideas clearer, more interesting, or more convincing.

When you edit, you take a second look at how you expressed your ideas. You add or change words. You fix grammar, punctuation, or sentence structure. You polish your formatting. You make your essay into a polished, mature piece of writing.


How do you get the best out of your revisions and editing? Here are some strategies that writers have developed to look at their first drafts from a fresh perspective. Try them over the course of this semester; then keep using the ones that bring results.

  • Take a break. You are proud of what you wrote, but you might be too close to it to make changes. Set aside your writing for a few hours or even a day until you can look at it objectively.
  • Ask someone you trust for feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Pretend you are one of your readers. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied? Why?
  • Use the resources that your college provides. Find out where your school's writing lab is located and ask about the assistance they provide online and in person.

Many people hear the words critic, critical, and criticism and feel defensive. But part of becoming a great student is learning to take criticism positively, as long as it is offered constructively. You also need to train your eye and trust your ability to fix what needs fixing. For this, you need to teach yourself where to look.

Creating Unity And Coherence

Following your outline closely helps your writing to stay on track. However, when writers are rushed or frustrated, their writing may become less than they want it to be. Their writing may no longer be clear and concise.

To have "unity" means to fit into a single whole. When a piece of writing has unity, all the ideas clearly belong there---the reader can tell how they relate to your discussion.

To have "coherence" means to stick together. When the writing has coherence, the ideas flow smoothly. The reader can easily follow you from from one idea to another through the piece.

Both of these terms are associated with an ancient Greek and Roman tradition of rhetoric, the study of persuasion. You may see them mentioned in many writing guides.


Reading your writing aloud will often help you find problems with unity and coherence. Listen for the clarity and flow of your ideas. Identify places where you find yourself confused and write a note to yourself about possible fixes.

Creating Unity

Sometimes writers get caught up in the moment and cannot resist a digression. These usually harm a piece of writing.

Mariah stayed close to her outline when she drafted the three body paragraphs of "Digital Technology: The Newest and the Best at What Price?" But a recent shopping trip for an HDTV upset her enough that she put angry comments about the sales staff at the electronics store she visited into her third paragraph. When she revised her essay, she deleted the off-topic sentences. This improved the unity of the paragraph.

Read the following paragraph twice. The second time through, skip the off-topic sentences in bold. Do you see how leaving out these sentences improves the paragraph's unity?

Nothing is more confusing to me than choosing among televisions. It confuses lots of people who want a new high-definition digital television (HDTV) with a large screen to watch sports and DVDs on. You could listen to the guys in the electronics store, but word has it they know little more than you do. They want to sell what they have in stock, not what best fits your needs. You face decisions you never had to make with the old, bulky picture-tube televisions. Screen resolution means the number of horizontal scan lines the screen can show. This resolution is often 1080p, or full HD, or 768p. The trouble is that if you have a smaller screen, 32 inches or 37 inches diagonal, you won't be able to tell the difference with the naked eye. The 1080p televisions cost more, though, so those are what the salespeople want you to buy. They get bigger commissions. The other important decision you face as you walk around the sales floor is whether to get a plasma screen or an LCD screen. Now here the salespeople may finally give you decent info. Plasma flat-panel television screens can be much larger in diameter than their LCD rivals. Plasma screens show truer blacks and can be viewed at a wider angle than current LCD screens. But be careful and tell the salesperson you have budget constraints. Large flat-panel plasma screens are much more expensive than flat-screen LCD models. Don't let someone make you buy more television than you need!

Exercise 1

Start to revise the first draft of the essay you wrote in Section 8. Reread it to find any statements that affect the unity of your writing. Decide how best to revise.


When you reread your writing to find revisions, look for each type of problem in a separate sweep. Read it straight through once to locate any problems with unity. Read it straight through a second time to find problems with coherence. You may follow this same practice during many stages of the writing process.

Writing At Work

Many companies hire copyeditors and proofreaders to help them produce the cleanest possible writing. Copyeditors are responsible for suggesting revisions and style changes. Proofreaders check documents for errors in capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. Many times, these tasks are done on a freelance basis, with one freelancer working for various clients.

Creating Coherence

Careful writers use transitions to clarify how their ideas are related. Transitions help the writing flow smoothly. Adding transitions is not the only way to improve coherence, but it is often useful. Below are some transitions grouped by their purpose.

Table 8.3 Common Transitions

Transitions That Show Sequence or Time
after before later
afterward before long meanwhile
as soon as finally next
at first first, second, third soon
at last in the first place then
Transitions That Show Position
above across at the bottom
at the top behind below
beside beyond inside
near next to opposite
Transitions That Show a Conclusion
indeed hence in conclusion
in the final analysis therefore thus
Transitions That Continue a Line of Thought
consequently furthermore additionally
because besides the fact following this idea further
in addition in the same way moreover
looking further considering. . ., it is clear that
Transitions That Change a Line of Thought
but yet however
nevertheless on the contrary on the other hand
Transitions That Show Importance
above all best especially
in fact more important most important
most worst
Transitions That Introduce Final Thoughts
finally last in conclusion
most of all least of all last of all
All-Purpose Transitions
admittedly at this point certainly
granted it is true generally speaking
in general in this situation no doubt
no one denies obviously of course
to be sure undoubtedly unquestionably
Transitions That Introduce Examples
for instance for example
Transitions That Clarify the Order of Events
first, second, third generally, furthermore, finally in the first place, also, last
in the first place, furthermore, finally in the first place, likewise, lastly

After Mariah revised for unity, she next examined her paragraph about televisions to check for coherence. She looked for places where she needed to add a transition or perhaps reword the text to make the flow of ideas clear. In the version that follows, she has already deleted the sentences that were off topic.


Many writers make their revisions on a printed copy and then transfer them to the version on-screen. They use a small arrow called a caret (^) to show where to insert an addition or correction.

Exercise 2

Return to the first draft of the essay you wrote in and revise it for coherence. Add transitions or make any other changes to improve the flow and connection between ideas.

Being Clear And Concise

The first draft of almost every piece of writing can be made clearer and more concise.

Being clear means using specific words that create a sharp picture.

My pet is beautiful is not very clear.

My cat has beautiful long fur is more clear.

Being concise means using no more words than you need. You can be concise and use a lot of words! But you are not being concise if you use 20 words when 5 words will give the exact same information.

Sometimes students are not concise because they are trying to hit a required word count. That's a bad idea! Find another way to reach the word count.

Many people have different and various thoughts about the topic and concern of abortion which is an extremely important and crucial issue is not concise.

People differ about the crucial issue of abortion is concise.

Identifying Wordiness

Sometimes writers use too many words when fewer words will work better. Here are some common examples of wordiness to look for. Eliminating wordiness helps readers because it makes your ideas easier to grasp.

Sentences That Begin With there Is Or there Are.

Wordy: There are two major experiments that are sponsored by the Biology Department.

Revised: The Biology Department sponsors two major experiments.

Sentences With Unnecessary Modifiers.

Wordy: Two extremely famous and well-known consumer advocates spoke eloquently in favor of the proposed important legislation.

Revised: Two well-known consumer advocates spoke in favor of the proposed legislation.

Sentences With Deadwood Phrases That Add Little To The Meaning.

Avoid phrases such as in terms of, with a mind to, on the subject of, as to whether or not, more or less, as far as. . .is concerned, and similar expressions. You can usually find a more straightforward way to state your point.

Wordy: As a world leader in the field of green technology, the company plans to focus its efforts in the area of geothermal energy.

Revised: As a world leader in green technology, the company plans to focus on geothermal energy.

Sentences In The Passive Voice

Sentences in the passive voice are harder to understand, most of the time, even do not always have more words than the active-voice versions.

Less good: People are helped by doctors.

Revised: Doctors help people.

Less good: Mistakes were made.

Revised: I made mistakes.

Sentences With Constructions That Can Be Shortened.

Wordy: My over-sixty uncle bought a Kindle, and his wife bought a Kindle too.

Revised: My over-sixty uncle and his wife both bought Kindles.

Exercise 3

Now return once more to the first draft of the essay you have been revising. Check it for unnecessary words. Try making your sentences as concise as they can be.

Choosing The Best Words

Most college essays should be written in formal English. For more information about word choice, see Chapter 4.

Avoid Slang

Slang is informal language. Groups regularly invent their own slang, and slang is always changing. There are always new slang terms for good and bad, for example.

Prefer words that everyone knows and that have been around for a long time. Say good instead of groovy (from the 1960s) or rad (from the 1980s) or any more recent slang term for good.

Avoid Casual Language

The term cool has been around so long that it can't be considered slang. Everyone knows what it means. But it is too relaxed for college writing. Don't say "The article we read was cool." Try "The article we read was impressive" instead.

Avoid Contractions

This is one that English teachers disagree about. Your 2023 reviser, Jamie Martin, thinks this rule is silly. But many English teachers dislike contractions and may even mark you off for them.

So to be safe, use do not in place of don't, I am in place of I'm, have not in place of haven't, and so on.

Avoid Clichés

Avoid clichés such as green with envy, face the music, and better late than never.

The classic essay on the danger of clichés is "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell, from 1946. Google it for a vivid argument against clichés.

Be Careful With Words That Sound Alike

Some examples are allusion/illusion, complement/compliment, council/counsel, concurrent/consecutive, founder/flounder, and historic/historical. When in doubt, check a dictionary.

Choose Words With The Emotional Impact You Want

Two words may have the same meaning ("denotation") but a different emotion ("connotation" or "valence").

Word Meaning (denotation) Emotion (connotation) Explanation
proud a person who thinks they are good at something positive If I say "you are proud of your gymnastics," I am praising you
arrogant a person who thinks they are good at something negative If I say "you are arrogant about your gymnastics," I am criticizing you

Often as a teacher, my students have confused me when they choose a word with the wrong connotation. I had a student who wrote, "Florida is making a hasty move to legalize marijuana." Hasty means "fast, but with a bad connotation." It means Florida is moving too fast to legalize marijuana.

The student didn't realize this. They thought that "hasty" just meant "fast." In fact, they thought Florida wasn't moving fast enough: they wanted Florida to legalize marijuana as fast as possible. But because they chose the one wrong word "hasty," I misunderstood their point for nearly their entire essay.

Use Specific Words

Find synonyms for thing, people, nice, good, bad, interesting, and other vague words. Or use specific details to make your exact meaning clear.

Now read the revisions Mariah made to make her third paragraph clearer and more concise. She has already included the changes she made to improve unity and coherence.

Exercise 4

Return once more to your essay in progress. Read carefully for problems with word choice. Be sure that your draft is written in formal language and that your word choice is specific and appropriate.

Completing A Peer Review

After working so closely with a piece of writing, writers often need to step back and ask for a more objective reader. What writers most need is feedback from readers who can respond only to the words on the page. When they are ready, writers show their drafts to someone they respect and who can give an honest response about its strengths and weaknesses.

You, too, can ask a peer to read your draft when it is ready. After evaluating the feedback and assessing what is most helpful, the reader's feedback will help you when you revise your draft. This process is called peer review.

You can work with a partner in your class and identify specific ways to strengthen each other's essays. Although you may be uncomfortable sharing your writing at first, remember that each writer is working toward the same goal: a final draft that fits the audience and the purpose. Maintaining a positive attitude when providing feedback will put you and your partner at ease. The box that follows provides a useful framework for the peer review session.

Peer Review Worksheet


Title of essay:


Writer's name:

Peer reviewer's name:

Peer Reviewer's Feedback
  1. This essay is about

  2. Your main points in this essay are

  3. What I most liked about this essay is:

  4. This point struck me as your strongest:

    • Point:
    • Reason why it's so strong:
  5. This is a place in your essay that is not clear to me:

    • Where:
    • Reason why it's not clear:
  6. One additional change you could make to improve is:

Writing At Work

Word processors like Microsoft Word often have a built-in way for someone to comment on a document. The reason why is that working in a team is common in many businesses. Team members and their supervisors often send drafts to each other and respond with critiques. Learning to give and receive feedback on writing leads to a better final product.

Exercise 5

Exchange essays with a classmate and complete a peer review of each other's draft in progress. Remember to give positive feedback and to be courteous in your responses. Focus on providing one positive comment and one question for more information to the author.

Using Feedback Objectively

The purpose of peer feedback is to receive constructive criticism of your essay. Your peer reviewer is your first real audience, and you have the opportunity to learn what confuses and delights a reader so that you can improve your work before sharing the final draft with a wider audience (or your intended audience).

It may not be necessary to include every recommendation your peer reviewer makes. However, if you start to observe a pattern in the responses you receive from peer reviewers, you might want to take that feedback into consideration in future assignments. For example, if you read consistent comments about a need for more research, then you may want to consider including more research in future assignments.

Using Feedback From Multiple Sources

You might get feedback from more than one reader as you share different stages of your revised draft. In this situation, you may receive feedback from readers who do not understand the assignment or who lack your involvement with and enthusiasm for it.

You need to evaluate the responses you receive according to two important criteria:

  1. Determine if the feedback supports the purpose of the assignment.
  2. Determine if the suggested revisions are appropriate to the audience.

Using these standards, accept or reject revision feedback.

Exercise 6

Work with two partners. Go back to Exercise 4 in this lesson and compare your responses to Activity A, about Mariah's paragraph, with your partners'. Recall Mariah's purpose for writing and her audience. Then, working individually, list where you agree and where you disagree about revision needs.

Editing Your Draft

If you have been incorporating each set of revisions as Mariah has, you have produced multiple drafts of your writing. So far, all your changes have been content changes. Perhaps with the help of peer feedback, you have made sure that you sufficiently supported your ideas. You have checked for problems with unity and coherence. You have examined your essay for word choice, revising to cut unnecessary words and to replace weak wording with specific and appropriate wording.

The next step after revising the content is editing. When you edit, you examine the surface features of your text. You examine your spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation. You also make sure you use the proper format when creating your finished assignment.


Editing often takes time. Budgeting time into the writing process allows you to complete additional edits after revising. Editing and proofreading your writing helps you create a finished work that represents your best efforts. Here are a few more tips to remember about your readers:

  • Readers do not notice correct spelling, but they do notice misspellings.
  • Readers look past your sentences to get to your ideas---unless the sentences are awkward, poorly constructed, and frustrating to read.
  • Readers notice when every sentence has the same rhythm as every other sentence, with no variety.
  • Readers do not cheer when you use there, their, and they're correctly, but they notice when you do not.
  • Readers will notice the care with which you handled your assignment and your attention to detail in the delivery of an error-free document.

The first section of this book reviews grammar, mechanics, and usage. Use it to help you eliminate mistakes in your writing. Do not hesitate to ask for help, too, from peer tutors in your academic department or in the college's writing lab. In the meantime, use the checklist to help you edit your writing.

Editing Your Writing: Checklist


  • Are some sentences actually sentence fragments?
  • Are some sentences run-on sentences? How can I correct them?
  • Do some sentences need conjunctions between independent clauses?
  • Does every verb agree with its subject?
  • Is every verb in the correct tense?
  • Are tense forms, especially for irregular verbs, written correctly?
  • Have I used subject, object, and possessive personal pronouns correctly?
  • Have I used who and whom correctly?
  • Is the antecedent of every pronoun clear?
  • Do all personal pronouns agree with their antecedents?
  • Have I used the correct comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs?
  • Is it clear which word a participial phrase modifies, or is it a dangling modifier?

Sentence Structure

  • Are all my sentences simple sentences, or do I vary my sentence structure?
  • Have I chosen the best coordinating or subordinating conjunctions to join clauses?
  • Have I created long, over-packed sentences that should be shortened for clarity?
  • Do I see any mistakes in parallel structure?


  • Does every sentence end with the correct end punctuation?
  • Can I justify the use of every exclamation point?
  • Have I used apostrophes correctly to write all singular and plural possessive forms?
  • Have I used quotation marks correctly?

Mechanics and Usage

  • Can I find any spelling errors? How can I correct them?
  • Have I used capital letters where they are needed?
  • Have I written abbreviations, where allowed, correctly?
  • Can I find any errors in the use of commonly confused words, such as to/too/two?


Be careful about relying too much on spelling checkers and grammar checkers. A spelling checker cannot recognize that you meant to write principle but wrote principal instead. A grammar checker often queries constructions that are perfectly correct. The program does not understand your meaning; it makes its check against a general set of formulas that might not apply in each instance. If you use a grammar checker, accept the suggestions that make sense, but consider why the suggestions came up.


Proofreading requires patience; it is easy to read past a mistake. Set your paper aside for at least a few hours, if not a day or more, so your mind will rest. Some professional proofreaders read a text backward so they can concentrate on spelling and punctuation. Another helpful technique is to slowly read a paper aloud, paying attention to every word, letter, and punctuation mark.

If you need additional proofreading help, ask a reliable friend, a classmate, or a peer tutor to make a final pass on your paper to look for anything you missed.


Remember to use proper format for your assignments.

The most important person to check with is always the instructor for your class. Sometimes they will have specific rules they set themselves; other times, their department or their college will have specific rules.

In general, many assignments will need to follow either APA or MLA format, which are discussed in detail in Chapter 13. But your instructor is always the best person to check with.

Exercise 7

With the help of the checklist, edit and proofread your essay.


  • Revising and editing are the stages of the writing process in which you improve your work before producing a final draft.
  • During revising, you add, cut, move, or change information to improve content.
  • During editing, you take a second look at the words and sentences you used to express your ideas and fix any problems in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
  • Unity in writing means that all the ideas in each paragraph and in the entire essay clearly belong together and are arranged in an order that makes logical sense.
  • Coherence in writing means that the writer's wording clearly indicates how one idea leads to another within a paragraph and between paragraphs.
  • Transitional words and phrases effectively make writing more coherent.
  • Writing should be clear and concise, with no unnecessary words.
  • Effective formal writing uses specific, appropriate words and avoids slang, contractions, clichés, and overly general words.
  • Peer reviews, done properly, can give writers objective feedback about their writing. It is the writer's responsibility to evaluate the results of peer reviews and include only useful feedback.
  • Remember to budget time for careful editing and proofreading. Use all available resources, including editing checklists, peer editing, and your institution's writing lab, to improve your editing skills.

8.5 The Writing Process: End-of-chapter Exercises

Learning Objectives

  1. Use the skills you have learned in the chapter.
  2. Work collaboratively with other students.
  3. Work with various academic and on-the-job, real-world examples.


  1. In this chapter, you have thought and read about the topic of mass media. Starting with the title "The Future of Information: How It Will Be Created, Transmitted, and Consumed," narrow the focus of the topic until it is suitable for a two- to three-page paper. Then narrow your topic with the help of brainstorming, idea mapping, and searching the internet until you select a final topic to explore. Keep a journal or diary in which you record and comment on everything you did to choose a final topic. Then record what you will do next to explore the idea and create a thesis

  2. Write a thesis and a formal sentence outline for an essay about the writing process. Include separate paragraphs for prewriting, drafting, and revising and editing. Your audience will be a general audience of educated adults who are unfamiliar with how writing is taught at the college level. Your purpose is to explain the stages of the writing process so that readers will understand its benefits.

  3. Much writing from daily life and from work would benefit from revising and editing. Consider these kinds of writing: emails, greeting card messages, junk mail, late-night television commercials, social networking pages, local newspapers, bulletin-board postings, and public notices. Find and submit at least two examples of writing that needs revision. Explain what changes you would make. Replace any recognizable names with pseudonyms.

  4. Group activity. At work, an employer might someday ask you to contribute to the research base for an essay such as the one Mariah wrote or the one you wrote while working through this chapter. Choosing either her topic or your own, compile a list of at least five sources. Then, working in a group of four students, bring in printouts or PDF files of internet sources or paper copies of non-internet sources for the other group members to examine. In a group report, rate the reliability of each other's sources.

  5. Group activity. Working in a peer-review group of four, go to Section 8.3 and reread the draft of the first two body paragraphs of Mariah's essay, "Digital Technology: The Newest and the Best at What Price?" Review those two paragraphs using the same level of inspection given to the essay's third paragraph in Section 8.4. Suggest and agree on changes to improve unity and coherence, eliminate unneeded words, and refine word choice. Your purpose is to help Mariah produce two effective paragraphs for a formal college essay about her topic.

Chapter 9

Table of Contents

Writing Essays: From Start To Finish

9.1 Developing A Strong Thesis

Learning Objectives

  1. Develop a strong thesis
  2. Revise your thesis

Have you ever known a person who was not very good at telling stories? You probably had trouble following his train of thought as he jumped around from point to point, either being too brief in places that needed further explanation or providing too many details on a meaningless element. Maybe he told the end of the story first, then moved to the beginning and later added details to the middle. His ideas were probably scattered, and the story did not flow very well. When the story was over, you probably had many questions.

Just as a personal anecdote can be a disorganized mess, an essay can fall into the same trap of being out of order and confusing. That is why writers need a thesis to provide a specific focus for their essay and to organize what they are about to discuss in the body.

Just like a topic sentence summarizes a single paragraph, the thesis statement summarizes an entire essay. It tells the reader the point you want to make in your essay, while the essay itself supports that point. It is like a signpost that signals the essay's destination. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.

Elements Of A Thesis

For every essay you write, you must focus on a central idea. This idea stems from a topic you have chosen or been assigned or from a question your teacher has asked. It is not enough merely to discuss a general topic or simply answer a question with a yes or no. You have to form a specific opinion, and then articulate that into a controlling idea---the main idea upon which you build your thesis.

Remember that a thesis is not the topic, but rather your interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic your professor gives you, you must ask yourself, "What do I want to say about it?" Asking and then answering this question is vital to forming a thesis that is precise, forceful and confident.

A thesis is one sentence long and appears toward the end of your introduction. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea---points that are able to be demonstrated in the body. It forecasts the content of the essay and suggests how you will organize your information. Remember that a thesis does not summarize an issue but rather dissects it.

A Strong Thesis

A strong thesis should have all of these qualities.

Specific topic. A thesis must concentrate on a specific area of a general topic. In writing a paper, you generally begin by choosing a broad topic and then narrow it until you pinpoint a specific aspect. For example, health care is a broad topic, but a strong thesis would focus a specific aspect of health care such as options for people without health care.

Precise claim. If your specific focus is options for individuals without health care, then your thesis must make a precise claim about it, such as, in the United States in the 2020s, there are no good health care options unless you are covered by an employer.

Arguable. A thesis must be arguable: that is, you must have a strong claim that you can support with evidence and persuasion, but it cannot be something that is simply a true fact, because then you have nothing to argue about. The moon orbits the Earth has a specific topic (the Earth has only one moon) and makes a precise claim about it ("orbiting" has a precise meaning in astronomy), but it is not arguable, because no reasonable person could disagree with you about it.

Demonstrable. You need to back your thesis with evidence, reasoning, and/or examples. The United States should legalize marijuana in all 50 states because that's just how I feel is specific, precise, and arguable, but you have not demonstrated why a reader should agree with you. If you say "that's just how I feel," someone who feels different will respond, "But that's not how I feel." If you say instead ...because it is useful in the treatment of pain and does far less harm than alcohol or tobacco, then you have given a demonstration of why someone else should agree.

Confident. A thesis should make a claim. Don't second-guess yourself by saying "maybe" or "I could be wrong." This does not mean you should bully or insult your readers. And many professors will ask you to consider (later in your paper) why a smart person might disagree with you (this is sometimes called an antithesis or a counterargument). But in your thesis itself, you should be firm in what you believe.


Even in a personal essay that allows the use of first person, your thesis should not contain phrases such as in my opinion or I believe. These statements reduce your credibility and weaken your argument. Your opinion is more convincing when you use a firm attitude.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, write a thesis for each of the following topics. Remember to make each statement specific, precise, demonstrable, forceful and confident.


  • Texting while driving
  • The legal drinking age in the United States
  • Steroid use among professional athletes
  • Abortion
  • Racism

Examples Of Strong Theses

Each of the following theses meets the following requirements:

  • Specific topic
  • Precise claim
  • Arguable
  • Demonstrable
  • Confident
  1. The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxon in the play Fences symbolize the challenge of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.
  2. Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
  3. Shakespeare's use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet spoils the outcome for the audience and weakens the plot.
  4. J. D. Salinger's character in Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is a confused rebel who voices his disgust with phonies, yet in an effort to protect himself, he acts like a phony on many occasions.
  5. Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
  6. Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
  7. In today's crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not enough to land a stable, lucrative job.


You can find theses in many places, such as in the news; in the opinions of friends, coworkers or teachers; and even in songs you hear on the radio. Become aware of theses in everyday life by paying attention to people's opinions and their reasons for those opinions. Pay attention to your own everyday theses as well, as these can become material for future essays.

Now that you have read about what makes a good thesis, look at some examples of a bad thesis:

A thesis is weak when it just declares what you will discuss in your essay.

Weak thesis: declares topic: My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.

Students usually write a thesis like the one above when they don't know what their thesis will be yet and hope to figure it out as they go. You can start a paper like this, but you can't finish it like this. Once you are done, your thesis must contain a precise claim. So you can't write a really good thesis until your paper is complete!

A thesis is weak when it makes an unreasonable claim or insults the opposing side. This thesis is too opinionated--no one one the other side will be persuaded if you start by insulting them.

Weak thesis: insulting: Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.

A thesis is weak when it states a fact that no one could disagree with.

Weak thesis: no one could disagree: Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.

A thesis is weak when it is too broad.

Weak thesis: too broad: The life of Abraham Lincoln was long and challenging.

Exercise 2

Read the following theses. On a separate piece of paper, identify each as weak or strong. For those that are weak, list the reasons why. Then revise the weak statements so that they conform to the requirements of a strong thesis.

  1. The subject of this paper is my experience with ferrets as pets.
  2. The government must expand its funding for research on renewable energy resources in order to prepare for the impending end of oil.
  3. Edgar Allan Poe was a poet who lived in Baltimore during the nineteenth century.
  4. In this essay, I will give you lots of reasons why slot machines should not be legalized in Baltimore.
  5. Despite his promises during his campaign, President Kennedy took few executive measures to support civil rights legislation.
  6. Because many children's toys have potential safety hazards that could lead to injury, it is clear that not all children's toys are safe.
  7. My experience with young children has taught me that I want to be a disciplinary parent because I believe that a child without discipline can be a parent's worst nightmare.

Writing At Work

Often in your career, you will need to ask your boss for something through an email. Just as a thesis organizes an essay, it can also organize your email request. While your email will be shorter than an essay, using a thesis in your first paragraph quickly lets your boss know what you are asking for, why it is necessary, and what the benefits are. In short body paragraphs, you can provide the essential information needed to expand upon your request.

Thesis Revision

Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Remember from Chapter 8 that your thesis statement begins as a working thesis: an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing.

Working theses often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.


The best way to revise your thesis is to ask questions about it and then examine the answers to those questions. By challenging your own ideas and forming definite reasons for those ideas, you grow closer to a more precise point of view, which you can then include into your thesis

Ways To Revise Your Thesis

You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:

  1. Pinpoint and replace all nonspecific words, such as people, everything, society, or life, with more precise words in order to reduce any vagueness.

Working thesis: Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.

Revised thesis: Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use and be appreciated for their talents.

The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard. The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like people and work hard, the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing.

  1. Clarify ideas that need explanation by asking yourself questions that narrow your thesis.

Working thesis: The welfare system is a joke.

Revised thesis: The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.

A joke means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for joke. The writer should ask himself or herself questions similar to the 5WH questions. (See Chapter 8 for more information on the 5WH questions.) By incorporating the answers to these questions into a thesis the writer more accurately defines his or her stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.

  1. Replace any linking verbs with action verbs. Linking verbs are forms of the verb to be, a verb that simply states that a situation exists.

Working thesis: Kansas City schoolteachers are not paid enough.

Revised thesis: The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.

The linking verb in this working thesis is the word are. Linking verbs often make theses weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, "Why are they not paid enough?" But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions. The writer should ask himself or herself questions in order to replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis one that takes a more definitive stance on the issue:

  • Who is not paying the teachers enough?
  • What is considered "enough"?
  • What is the problem?
  • What are the results?
  1. Omit any general claims that are hard to support.

Working thesis: Today's teenage girls are too sexualized.

Revised thesis: Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual posts on Instagram or TikTox are conditioned to believe that their worth depends on their sexuality, a belief that damages their self-esteem.

It is true that some teenage girls today are more sexualized than in the past, but this is not true for all girls.

Also, when does being more sexualized become being too sexualized? Saying that many girls today are more sexualized states a fact; saying that they are too sexualized adds a judgement of that fact: it is a bad thing.

The writer of this thesis should ask themself questions like these:

  • Which teenage girls are becoming more sexualized?
  • What is the line where they become too sexualized?
  • Why are they changing in this way?
  • Where does this change show up?
  • What are the repercussions?

Exercise 3

In the first section of Chapter 8, you determined your purpose and your audience. You then freewrote about a recent experience and chose a general topic to write about.

Next, you narrowed your general topic by answering the 5WH questions. Then you chose a prewriting method and gathered supporting points for your working thesis.

Now, on a separate sheet of paper, write down your working thesis. Identify any weaknesses and revise the thesis.

Make sure it is has a specific topic, has a precise claim, and is arguable, demonstrable, and confident.

Writing At Work

Sometimes in your job, you might need to write a plan to fix a problem in your company, like making sure people are not late. This plan is called a proposal and should have a clear statement that explains what the problem is and what you want to achieve--in other words, a thesis. After writing the proposal, you might need to change the statement to better match what you wrote in the plan. You can use the methods from this chapter to make those changes.


  • Proper essays require a thesis to provide a specific focus and suggest how the essay will be organized.
  • A thesis is your interpretation of the subject, not the topic itself.
  • A strong thesis has a specific topic, makes a precise claim, and is arguable, demonstrable, and confident.
  • A strong thesis challenges readers with a point of view that can be debated and can be supported with evidence.
  • A weak thesis is simply a declaration of your topic or contains an obvious fact that cannot be argued.
  • Depending on your topic, it may or may not be appropriate to use first person (the word I).
  • Revise your thesis by ensuring all words are specific, all ideas are exact, and all verbs express action.

9.2 Writing Body Paragraphs

Learning Objectives

  1. Select primary support related to your thesis.
  2. Support your topic sentences.

If your thesis gives the reader a roadmap to your essay, then body paragraphs should closely follow that map. The reader should be able to predict what follows your introductory paragraph by simply reading the thesis

The body paragraphs present the evidence you have gathered to confirm your thesis. Before you begin to support your thesis in the body, you must find information from a variety of sources that support and give credit to what you are trying to prove.

Select Primary Support For Your Thesis

Without primary support, your argument is not likely to be convincing. Primary support can be described as the major points you choose to expand on your thesis. It is the most important information you select to argue for your point of view. Each point you choose will be included into the topic sentence for each body paragraph you write. Your primary supporting points are further supported by supporting details within the paragraphs.


Remember that a worthy argument is backed by examples. In order to construct a valid argument, good writers conduct lots of background research and take careful notes. They also talk to people knowledgeable about a topic in order to understand its implications before writing about it.

Identify The Characteristics Of Good Primary Support

To fulfill the requirements of good primary support, the information you choose must meet the following standards:

Be specific. The main points you make about your thesis and the examples you use to expand on those points need to be specific. Use specific examples to provide the evidence and to build upon your general ideas. These types of examples give your reader something narrow to focus on, and if used properly, they leave little doubt about your claim. General examples, while they convey the necessary information, are not nearly as compelling or useful in writing because they are too obvious and typical.

Be relevant to the thesis. Primary support is considered strong when it relates directly to the thesis. Primary support should show, explain, or prove your main argument without delving into irrelevant details. When faced with lots of information that could be used to prove your thesis, you may think you need to include it all in your body paragraphs. But effective writers resist the temptation to lose focus. Choose your examples wisely by making sure they directly connect to your thesis.

Be detailed. Remember that your thesis, while specific, should not be very detailed. The body paragraphs are where you develop the discussion that a thorough essay requires. Using detailed support shows readers that you have considered all the facts and chosen only the most precise details to enhance your point of view.

Prewrite to Identify Primary Supporting Points for a Thesis

Recall that when you prewrite you essentially make a list of examples or reasons why you support your stance. Stemming from each point, you further provide details to support those reasons. After prewriting, you are then able to look back at the information and choose the most compelling pieces you will use in your body paragraphs.

Exercise 1

Choose one of the following working theses. On a separate sheet of paper, write for at least five minutes using one of the prewriting techniques you learned in Chapter 8.

  1. Unleashed dogs on city streets are a dangerous nuisance.
  2. Students cheat for many different reasons.
  3. Drug use among teens and young adults is a problem.
  4. The most important change that should occur at my college is:

Select The Most Effective Primary Supporting Points For A Thesis

After you have prewritten about your working thesis you may have generated a lot of information, which may be edited out later. Remember that your primary support must be relevant to your thesis. Remind yourself of your argument and delete any ideas that do not directly relate to it. Omitting unrelated ideas ensures that you will use only the most convincing information in your body paragraphs. Choose at least three of only the most compelling points. These will serve as the topic sentences for your body paragraphs.

Exercise 2

Refer to the previous exercise and select three of your most compelling reasons to support the thesis Remember that the points you choose must be specific and relevant to the thesis. The statements you choose will be your primary support points, and you will later include them into the topic sentences for the body paragraphs.

When you support your thesis, you are revealing evidence. Evidence includes anything that can help support your stance. The following are the kinds of evidence you will encounter as you conduct your research:

  1. Facts. Facts are the best kind of evidence to use because they often cannot be disputed. They can support your stance by providing background information on or a solid foundation for your point of view. However, some facts may still need explanation. For example, the sentence "The most populated state in the United States is California" is a pure fact, but it may require some explanation to make it relevant to your specific argument.
  2. Judgments. Judgments are conclusions drawn from the given facts. Judgments are more credible than opinions because they are founded upon careful reasoning and examination of a topic.
  3. Testimony. Testimony consists of direct quotations from either an eyewitness or an expert witness. An eyewitness is someone who has direct experience with a subject; he adds authenticity to an argument based on facts. An expert witness is a person who has extensive experience with a topic. This person studies the facts and provides commentary based on either facts or judgments, or both. An expert witness adds authority and credibility to an argument.
  4. Personal observation. Personal observation is like testimony, but personal observation consists of your testimony. It reflects what you know to be true because you have experiences and have formed either opinions or judgments about them. For instance, if you are one of five children and your thesis states that being part of a large family is beneficial to a child's social development, you could use your own experience to support your thesis.

Writing At Work

In any job where you make a plan, you will need to support the steps that you lay out. This is where primary support is important. Choosing only the most specific and relevant information for support will ensure that your plan appears well thought-out.


You can consult many kinds of resources to support your stance. Citing relevant and reliable information ensures that your reader will take you seriously. Good sources may include newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, and scholarly journals.

Choose Supporting Topic Sentences

Each body paragraph contains a topic sentence that states one aspect of your thesis and then expands upon it. Like the thesis each topic sentence should be specific and supported by concrete details, facts, or explanations.

Each body paragraph should comprise the following elements.

topic sentence + supporting details (examples, reasons, or arguments)

As you read in Chapter 8, topic sentences indicate the location and main points of the basic arguments of your essay. These sentences are vital to writing your body paragraphs because they always refer to and support your thesis Topic sentences are linked to the ideas you have introduced in your thesis, thus reminding readers what your essay is about. A paragraph without a clearly identified topic sentence may be unclear and scattered, just like an essay without a thesis


Unless your teacher instructs otherwise, you should include at least three body paragraphs in your essay. A five-paragraph essay, including the introduction and conclusion, is commonly the standard for exams and essay assignments.

Consider this thesis:

Author J.D. Salinger relied primarily on his personal life and belief system as the foundation for the themes in most of his works.

The following topic sentence is a primary support point for the thesis. The topic sentence states exactly what the controlling idea of the paragraph is. Later, you will see the writer immediately provide support for the sentence.

Salinger, a World War II veteran, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a disorder that influenced themes in many of his works.

Exercise 3

In Exercise 2, you chose three of your most convincing points to support the thesis you selected from the list. Take each point and include it into a topic sentence for each body paragraph.

Supporting point 1:

Topic sentence:

Supporting point 2:

Topic sentence:

Supporting point 3:

Topic sentence:

Draft Supporting Detail Sentences For Each Primary Support Sentence

After deciding which primary support points you will use as your topic sentences, you must add details to clarify and demonstrate each of those points. These supporting details provide examples, facts, or evidence that support the topic sentence.

The writer drafts possible supporting detail sentences for each primary support sentence based on the thesis

Thesis: Dogs On City Streets Without Leashes Are Dangerous.

Supporting Point 1: Loose Dogs Can Scare Cyclists Or Pedestrians.

Supporting Details
  1. Cyclists are forced to zigzag on the road.
  2. School children panic and turn wildly on their bikes.
  3. People who are walking at night freeze in fear.

Supporting Point 2: Loose Dogs Are Traffic Hazards.

Supporting Details
  1. Dogs in the street make people swerve their cars.
  2. To avoid dogs, drivers run into other cars or pedestrians.
  3. Children coaxing dogs across busy streets create danger.

Supporting Point 3: Loose Dogs Damage Gardens.

Supporting Details
  1. They step on flowers and vegetables.
  2. They destroy hedges by urinating on them.
  3. They mess up lawns by digging holes.

The following paragraph contains supporting detail sentences for the primary support sentence (the topic sentence), which is bolded.

Salinger, a World War II veteran, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which influenced many of his works. He did not hide his mental anguish over the horrors of war and once told his daughter, "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose, no matter how long you live." His short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" details a day in the life of a WWII veteran who was recently released from an army hospital for psychiatric problems. The man acts questionably with a little girl he meets on the beach before he returns to his hotel room and commits suicide. Another short story, "For Esmé -- with Love and Squalor," is narrated by a traumatized soldier who sparks an unusual relationship with a young girl he meets before he departs to partake in D-Day. Finally, in Salinger's only novel, The Catcher in the Rye, he continues with the theme of post-traumatic stress, though not directly related to war. From a rest home for the mentally ill, sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield narrates the story of his nervous breakdown following the death of his younger brother.

Exercise 4

Using the three topic sentences you composed for the thesis in Exercise 1, draft at least three supporting details for each point.


Primary supporting point 1:

Supporting details:

Primary supporting point 2:

Supporting details:

Primary supporting point 3:

Supporting details:


You can place your topic sentence in three ways.

  1. Put it at the beginning of the body paragraph
  2. Put it at the end of the paragraph,
  3. Don't put it in at all.

If you don't put your topic sentence in at all---just hold it in your mind---then you have what we call an implied topic sentence. An implied topic sentence lets readers form the main idea for themselves. For beginning writers, it is best not to use implied topic sentences because it makes it harder to focus your writing. Your instructor may also want to clearly identify the sentences that support your thesis. For more information on the placement of theses and implied topic statements, see Chapter 8.


Print out the first draft of your essay and use a highlighter to mark your topic sentences in the body paragraphs. Make sure they are clearly stated and accurately present your paragraphs, as well as accurately reflect your thesis. If your topic sentence contains information that does not exist in the rest of the paragraph, rewrite it to more accurately match the rest of the paragraph.


  • Your body paragraphs should follow the path laid out by your thesis
  • Strong body paragraphs contain evidence that supports your thesis.
  • Primary support comprises the most important points you use to support your thesis.
  • Strong primary support is specific, detailed, and relevant to the thesis.
  • Prewriting helps you determine your most compelling primary support.
  • Evidence includes facts, judgments, testimony, and personal observation.
  • Reliable sources may include newspapers, magazines, academic journals, books, encyclopedias, and firsthand testimony.
  • A topic sentence presents one point of your thesis while the information in the rest of the paragraph supports that point.
  • A body paragraph comprises a topic sentence plus supporting details.

9.3 Organizing Your Writing

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand how and why organizational techniques help writers and readers stay focused.
  2. Assess how and when to use chronological order to organize an essay.
  3. Recognize how and when to use order of importance to organize an essay.
  4. Determine how and when to use spatial order to organize an essay.

The method of organization you choose for your essay is just as important as its content. Without a clear organizational pattern, your reader could become confused and lose interest. The way you structure your essay helps your readers draw connections between the body and the thesis, and the structure also keeps you focused as you plan and write the essay. Choosing your organizational pattern before you outline ensures that each body paragraph works to support and develop your thesis.

This section covers three ways to organize body paragraphs:

  1. Chronological order (order in time)
  2. Order of importance
  3. Spatial order (order in space)

When you begin to draft your essay, your ideas may seem to flow from your mind in a seemingly random manner. Your readers, who bring to the table different backgrounds, viewpoints, and ideas, need you to clearly organize these ideas to help process and accept them.

A solid organizational pattern gives your ideas a path that you can follow as you develop your draft. Knowing how you will organize your paragraphs allows you to better express and analyze your thoughts. Planning the structure of your essay before you choose supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and targeted research.

Chronological Order

In Chapter 8, you learned that chronological arrangement has the following purposes:

  • To explain the history of an event or a topic
  • To tell a story or relate an experience
  • To explain how to do or to make something
  • To explain the steps in a process

Chronological order is mostly used in expository writing, which is a form of writing that narrates, describes, informs, or explains a process. When using chronological order, arrange the events in the order that they happened, or will happen if you are giving instructions. This method requires you to use words such as first, second, then, after that, later, and finally. These transition words guide you and your reader through the paper as you expand your thesis.

For example, if you are writing an essay about the history of the airline industry, you would begin with its conception and detail the essential timeline events up until present day. You would follow the chain of events using words such as first, then, next, and so on.

Writing At Work

At some point in your career you may have to file a complaint with your human resources department. Using chronological order is a useful tool in describing the events that led up to your filing the grievance. You would logically lay out the events in the order that they occurred using the key transition words. The more logical your complaint, the more likely you will be well received and helped.

Exercise 1

Choose an accomplishment you have achieved in your life. The important moment could be in sports, schooling, or extracurricular activities. On your own sheet of paper, list the steps you took to reach your goal. Try to be as specific as possible with the steps you took. Pay attention to using transition words to focus your writing.

Keep in mind that chronological order is most appropriate for the following purposes:

  • Writing essays containing heavy research
  • Writing essays with the aim of listing, explaining, or narrating
  • Writing essays that analyze literary works such as poems, plays, or books


When using chronological order, your introduction should indicate the information you will cover and in what order, and the introduction should also establish the relevance of the information. Your body paragraphs should then provide clear divisions or steps in chronology. You can divide your paragraphs by time (such as decades, wars, or other historical events) or by the same structure of the work you are examining (such as a line-by-line explication of a poem).

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph that describes a process you are familiar with and can do well. Assume that your reader is unfamiliar with the procedure. Remember to use the chronological key words, such as first, second, then, and finally.

Order Of Importance

Recall from Chapter 8 that order of importance is best used for the following purposes:

  • Persuading and convincing
  • Ranking items by their importance, benefit, or significance
  • Illustrating a situation, problem, or solution

Most essays move from the least to the most important point, and the paragraphs are arranged to build the essay's strength. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to begin with your most important supporting point, such as in an essay that contains a thesis that is highly debatable. When writing a persuasive essay, it is best to begin with the most important point because it immediately captivates your readers and compels them to continue reading.

For example, if you were supporting your thesis that homework damages the education of high school students, you would want to present your most convincing argument first, and then move on to the less important points for your case.

Some key transitional words you should use with this method of organization are most importantly, almost as importantly, just as importantly, and finally.

Writing At Work

During your career, you may be required to work on a team that devises a strategy for a specific goal of your company, such as increasing profits. When planning your strategy you should organize your steps in order of importance. This demonstrates the ability to prioritize and plan. Using the order of importance technique also shows that you can create a resolution with logical steps for accomplishing a common goal.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph that discusses a passion of yours. Your passion could be music, a particular sport, filmmaking, and so on. Your paragraph should be built upon the reasons why you feel so strongly. Briefly discuss your reasons in the order of least to greatest importance.

Spatial Order

As stated in Chapter 8, spatial order is best used for the following purposes:

  • Helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it
  • Evoking a scene using the senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound)
  • Writing a descriptive essay

Spatial order means that you explain or describe objects as they are arranged around you in your space, for example in a bedroom. As the writer, you create a picture for your reader, and their perspective is the viewpoint from which you describe what is around you.

The view must move in an orderly, logical progression, giving the reader clear directional signals to follow from place to place. The key to using this method is to choose a specific starting point and then guide the reader to follow your eye as it moves in an orderly trajectory from your starting point.

Pay attention to the following student's description of her bedroom and how she guides the reader through the viewing process, foot by foot.

Attached to my bedroom wall is a small wooden rack dangling with red and rack is my window, framed by billowy white curtains. The peace of such an image is a stark contrast to my desk, which sits to the right of the window, layered in textbooks, crumpled papers, coffee cups, and an overflowing ashtray. Turning my head to the right, I see a set of two bare windows that frame the trees outside the glass like a 3D painting. Below the windows is an oak chest from which blankets and scarves are protruding. Against the wall opposite the billowy curtains is an antique dresser, on top of which sits a jewelry box and a few picture frames. A tall mirror attached to the dresser takes up most of the wall, which is the color of lavender.

The paragraph includes two objectives you have learned in this chapter: using an implied topic sentence and applying spatial order. Often in a descriptive essay, the two work together.

The following are possible transition words to include when using spatial order:

Just to the left or just to the right



On the left or on the right

Across from

A little further down

To the south, to the east, and so on

A few yards away

Turning left or turning right

Exercise 4

On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph using spatial order that describes your commute to work, school, or another location you visit often.


  • The way you organize your body paragraphs ensures you and your readers stay focused on and draw connections to, your thesis
  • A strong organizational pattern allows you to articulate, analyze, and clarify your thoughts.
  • Planning the organizational structure for your essay before you begin to search for supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and directed research.
  • Chronological order is most used in expository writing. It is useful for explaining the history of your subject, for telling a story, or for explaining a process.
  • Order of importance is most appropriate in a persuasion paper as well as for essays in which you rank things, people, or events by their significance.
  • Spatial order describes things as they are arranged in space and is best for helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it; it creates a dominant impression.

9.4 Writing Introductory And Concluding Paragraphs

Learning Objectives

  1. Recognize the importance of strong introductory and concluding paragraphs.
  2. Learn to engage the reader immediately with the introductory paragraph.
  3. Practice concluding your essays in a more memorable way.

Picture your introduction as a storefront window: You have a certain amount of space to attract your customers (readers) to your goods (subject) and bring them inside your store (discussion). Once you have enticed them with something intriguing, you then point them in a specific direction and try to make the sale (convince them to accept your thesis).

Your introduction is an invitation to your readers to consider what you have to say and then to follow your train of thought as you expand upon your thesis

An introduction serves the following purposes:

  1. Establishes your voice and tone, or your attitude, toward the subject
  2. Introduces the general topic of the essay
  3. States the thesis that will be supported in the body paragraphs

First impressions are crucial and can leave lasting effects in your reader's mind, which is why the introduction is so important to your essay. If your introductory paragraph is dull or disjointed, your reader probably will not have much interest in continuing with the essay.

Attracting Interest In Your Introductory Paragraph

Your introduction should begin with an engaging statement devised to provoke your readers' interest. In the next few sentences, introduce them to your topic by stating general facts or ideas about the subject. As you move deeper into your introduction, you gradually narrow the focus, moving closer to your thesis. Moving smoothly and logically from your introductory remarks to your thesis can be achieved using a funnel technique

General introductory remarks -> Thesis

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, jot down a few general remarks that you can make about the topic for which you formed a thesis in Section 9.1.

Immediately capturing your readers' interest increases the chances of having them read what you are about to discuss. You can garner curiosity for your essay in several ways. Try to g your readers personally involved by doing any of the following:

  • Appealing to their emotions
  • Using logic
  • Beginning with a provocative question or opinion
  • Opening with a startling statistic or surprising fact
  • Raising a question or series of questions
  • Presenting an explanation or rationalization for your essay
  • Opening with a relevant quotation or incident
  • Opening with a striking image
  • Including a personal anecdote


Remember that your diction, or word choice, while always important, is most crucial in your introductory paragraph. Boring diction could extinguish any desire a person might have to read through your discussion. Choose words that create images or express action. For more information on diction, see Chapter 4.

In Chapter 8, you followed Mariah as she moved through the writing process. In this chapter, Mariah writes her introduction and conclusion for the same essay. Mariah includes some of the introductory elements into her introductory paragraph, which she previously outlined in Chapter 8. Her thesis statement is underlined.

Play Atari on a General Electric brand television set? Maybe watch Dynasty? Or read old newspaper articles on microfiche at the library? Twenty-five years ago, the average college student did not have many options when it came to entertainment in the form of technology. Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and the digital age has digital technology, consumers are bombarded with endless options for how they do most everything-from buying and reading books to taking and developing photographs. In a society that is obsessed with digital means of entertainment, it is easy for the average person to become baffled.


If you have trouble coming up with a provocative statement for your opening, it is a good idea to use a relevant, attention-grabbing quote about your topic. Use a search engine to find statements made by historical or significant figures about your subject.

Writing At Work

In your job field, you may be required to write a speech for an event, such as an awards banquet or a dedication ceremony. The introduction of a speech is like an essay because you have a limited amount of space to attract your audience's attention. Using the same techniques, such as a provocative quote or an interesting statistic, is an effective way to engage your listeners. Using the funnel approach also introduces your audience to your topic and then presents your main idea in a logical manner.

Exercise 2

Reread each sentence in Mariah's introductory paragraph. Indicate which techniques she used and comment on how each sentence is designed to attract her readers' interest.

Writing A Conclusion

It is not unusual to want to rush when you approach your conclusion, and even experienced writers may fade. But what good writers remember is that it is vital to put just as much attention into the conclusion as in the rest of the essay. After all, a hasty ending can undermine an otherwise strong essay.

A conclusion that does not correspond to the rest of your essay, has loose ends, or is unorganized can unsettle your readers and raise doubts about the entire essay. However, if you have worked hard to write the introduction and body, your conclusion can often be the most logical part to compose.

The Anatomy Of A Strong Conclusion

Keep in mind that the ideas in your conclusion must conform to the rest of your essay. To tie these components together, restate your thesis at the beginning of your conclusion. This helps you assemble, in an orderly fashion, all the information you have explained in the body. Repeating your thesis reminds your readers of the major arguments you have been trying to prove and also indicates that your essay is drawing to a close. A strong conclusion also reviews your main points and emphasizes the importance of the topic.

The construction of the conclusion is like the introduction, in which you make general introductory statements and then present your thesis. The difference is that in the conclusion you first paraphrase, or state in different words, your thesis and then follow up with general concluding remarks. These sentences should progressively broaden the focus of your thesis and maneuver your readers out of the essay.

Many writers like to end their essays with a final emphatic statement. This strong closing statement will cause your readers to continue thinking about the implications of your essay; it will make your conclusion, and thus your essay, more memorable. Another powerful technique is to challenge your readers to make a change in either their thoughts or their actions. Challenging your readers to see the subject through new eyes is a powerful way to ease yourself and your readers out of the essay.


When closing your essay, do not expressly state that you are ending. Relying on statements such as in conclusion, it is clear that, as you can see, or in summation is unnecessary.


Don't do any of these things in your conclusion:

  • Introduce new material
  • Contradict your thesis
  • Change your thesis
  • Apologize or put yourself down

Introducing new material in your conclusion has an unsettling effect on your reader. When you raise new points, you make your reader want more information, which you could not possibly provide in the limited space of your final paragraph.

Contradicting or changing your thesis causes your readers to think that you do not actually have a conviction about your topic. After all, you have spent several paragraphs adhering to a singular point of view. When you change sides or open up your point of view in the conclusion, your reader becomes less inclined to believe your original argument.

By apologizing for your opinion or stating that you know it is tough to digest, you are in fact admitting that even you know what you have discussed is irrelevant or unconvincing. You do not want your readers to feel this way. Effective writers stand by their thesis and do not stray from it.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of a paper, restate your thesis from Exercise 2 of this section and then make some general concluding remarks. Next, compose a final emphatic statement. Finally, include what you have written into a strong conclusion paragraph for your essay.

Please share with a classmate and compare your answers

Mariah includes some of these pointers into her conclusion. She has paraphrased her thesis in the first sentence.


Make sure your essay is balanced by not having an excessively long or short introduction or conclusion. Check that they match each other in length as closely as possible and try to mirror the formula you used in each. Parallelism strengthens the message of your essay.

Writing At Work

On the job you will sometimes give oral presentations based on research you have conducted. The conclusion of an oral report should be similar to a written conclusion. You should wrap up your presentation by restating the purpose of the presentation, reviewing its main points, and emphasizing the importance of what you presented. A strong conclusion will leave a lasting impression on your audience.


  • A strong opening captures your readers' interest and introduces them to your topic before you present your thesis
  • An introduction should restate your thesis, review your main points, and emphasize the importance of the topic.
  • The funnel technique to writing the introduction begins with generalities and gradually narrows your focus until you present your thesis.
  • A good introduction engages people's emotions or logic, questions or explains the subject, or provides a striking image or quotation.
  • Carefully chosen diction in both the introduction and conclusion prevents any confusing or boring ideas.
  • A conclusion that does not connect to the rest of the essay can diminish the effect of your paper.
  • The conclusion should remain true to your thesis It is best to avoid changing your tone or your main idea and avoid introducing any new material.
  • Closing with a final emphatic statement provides closure for your readers and makes your essay more memorable.

9.5 Writing Essays: End-of-chapter Exercises


  1. On a separate sheet of paper, choose one of the examples of a proper thesis from this chapter (one that interests you) and form three supporting points for that statement. After you have formed your three points, write a topic sentence for each body paragraph. Make sure that your topic sentences can be backed up with examples and details.

  2. Group activity. Choose one of the topics from Exercise 1 in Section 9.1 and form a yes-or-no question about that topic. Then, take a survey of the people in your class to find out how they feel about the subject. Using the majority vote, ask those people to write on slips of paper the reasons for their opinion. Using the data you collect, form a thesis based on your classmates' perspectives on the topic and their reasons.

  3. On a separate sheet of a paper, write an introduction for an essay based on the thesis from the group activity using the techniques for introductory paragraphs that you learned in this chapter.

  4. Start a journal in which you record "spoken" theses. Start listening closely to the opinions expressed by your teachers, classmates, friends, and family members. Ask them to provide at least three reasons for their opinion and record them in the journal. Use this as material for future essays.

  5. Open a magazine and read a lengthy article. See if you can pinpoint the thesis as well as the topic sentence for each paragraph and its supporting details.

Chapter 10

Table of Contents

Rhetorical Modes

10.1 Narration

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of narrative writing.
  2. Understand how to write a narrative essay.

Rhetorical modes simply mean the ways in which we can effectively communicate through language. This chapter covers nine common rhetorical modes. As you read about these nine modes, keep in mind that the rhetorical mode a writer chooses depends on his or her purpose for writing. Sometimes writers include a variety of modes in any one essay. In covering the nine modes, this chapter also emphasizes the rhetorical modes as a set of tools that will allow you greater flexibility and effectiveness in communicating with your audience and expressing your ideas.

The Purpose Of Narrative Writing

Narration means the art of storytelling, and the purpose of narrative writing is to tell stories. Any time you tell a story to a friend or family member about an event or incident in your day, you engage in a form of narration. In addition, a narrative can be factual or fictional. A factual story is one that is based on, and tries to be faithful to, actual events as they unfolded in real life. A fictional story is a made-up, or imagined, story; the writer of a fictional story can create characters and events as he or she sees fit.

The big distinction between factual and fictional narratives is based on a writer's purpose. The writers of factual stories try to recount events as they actually happened, but writers of fictional stories can depart from real people and events because the writers' intents are not to retell a real-life event. Biographies and memoirs are examples of factual stories, whereas novels and short stories are examples of fictional stories.


Because the line between fact and fiction can often blur, it is helpful to understand what your purpose is from the beginning. Is it important that you recount history, either your own or someone else's? Or does your interest lie in reshaping the world in your own image---either how you would like to see it or how you imagine it could be? Your answers will go a long way in shaping the stories you tell.

Ultimately, whether the story is fact or fiction, narrative writing tries to relay a series of events in an emotionally engaging way. You want your audience to be moved by your story, which could mean through laughter, sympathy, fear, anger, and so on. The more clearly you tell your story, the more emotionally engaged your audience is likely to be.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, start brainstorming ideas for a narrative. First, decide whether you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then, freewrite for five minutes. Be sure to use all five minutes and keep writing the entire time. Do not stop and think about what to write.

The following are some topics to consider as you get going:

  1. Childhood
  2. School
  3. Adventure
  4. Work
  5. Love
  6. Family
  7. Friends
  8. Vacation
  9. Nature
  10. Space

The Structure Of A Narrative Essay

Major narrative events are most often conveyed in chronological order, the order in which events unfold from first to last. Stories typically have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and these events are typically organized by time. Certain transitional words and phrases aid in keeping the reader oriented in the sequencing of a story. Some of these phrases are listed in the table below.

Table 10.1 Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time
after/afterward as soon as at last before
currently during eventually meanwhile
next now since soon
finally later still then
until when/whenever while first, second, third

The following are the other basic components of a narrative:

  • Plot. The events as they unfold in sequence.
  • Characters. The people who inhabit the story and move it forward. Typically, there are minor characters and main characters. The minor characters generally play supporting roles to the main character, or the protagonist.
  • Conflict. The primary problem or obstacle that unfolds in the plot that the protagonist must solve or overcome by the end of the narrative. The way in which the protagonist resolves the conflict of the plot results in the theme of the narrative.
  • Theme. The ultimate message the narrative is trying to express; it can be either explicit or implicit.

Writing At Work

When interviewing candidates for jobs, employers often ask about conflicts or problems a potential employee has had to overcome. They are asking for a compelling personal narrative. To prepare for this question in a job interview, write out a scenario using the narrative mode structure. This will allow you to troubleshoot rough spots, as well as better understand your own personal history. Both processes will make your story better and your self-presentation better, too.

Exercise 2

Take your freewriting exercise from the last section and start crafting it chronologically into a rough plot summary. To read more about a summary, see Chapter 6. Be sure to use the time transition words and phrases listed in Table 10.1 "Transition Words and Phrases for Expressing Time" to sequence the events.

Please share with a classmate and compare your rough plot summary.

Writing A Narrative Essay

When writing a narrative essay, start by asking yourself if you want to write a factual or fictional story. Then freewrite about topics that are of general interest to you. For more information about freewriting, see Chapter 8.

Once you have a general idea of what you will be writing about, you should sketch out the major events of the story that will compose your plot. Typically, these events will be revealed chronologically and climax at a central conflict that must be resolved by the end of the story. The use of strong details is crucial as you describe the events and characters in your narrative. You want the reader to emotionally engage with the world that you create in writing.


To create strong details, keep the human senses in mind. You want your reader to be immersed in the world that you create, so focus on details related to sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as you describe people, places, and events in your narrative.

As always, it is important to start with a strong introduction to hook your reader into wanting to read more. Try opening the essay with an event that is interesting to introduce the story and get it going. Finally, your conclusion should help resolve the central conflict of the story and impress upon your reader the ultimate theme of the piece. See Chapter 15 to read a sample narrative essay.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, add two or three paragraphs to the plot summary you started in the last section. Describe in detail the main character and the setting of the first scene. Try to use all five senses in your descriptions.


  • Narration is the art of storytelling.
  • Narratives can be either factual or fictional. In either case, narratives should emotionally engage the reader.
  • Most narratives are composed of major events sequenced in chronological order.
  • Time transition words and phrases are used to orient the reader in the sequence of a narrative.
  • The four basic components to all narratives are plot, character, conflict, and theme.
  • The use of sensory details is crucial to emotionally engaging the reader.
  • A strong introduction is important to hook the reader. A strong conclusion should add resolution to the conflict and evoke the narrative's theme.

10.2 Illustration

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of the illustration essay.
  2. Understand how to write an illustration essay.

The Purpose Of Illustration In Writing

To illustrate means to show or demonstrate something clearly. An effective illustration essay clearly demonstrates and supports a point through the use of evidence.

As you learned in Chapter 9, the controlling idea of an essay is called a thesis. A writer can use different types of evidence to support his or her thesis. Using scientific studies, experts in a particular field, statistics, historical events, current events, analogies, and personal anecdotes are all ways in which a writer can illustrate a thesis. Ultimately, you want the evidence to help the reader "see" your point, as one would see a good illustration in a magazine or on a website. The stronger your evidence is, the more clearly the reader will consider your point.

Using evidence effectively can be challenging, though. The evidence you choose will usually depend on your subject and who your reader is (your audience). When writing an illustration essay, keep in mind the following:

Use evidence that is appropriate to your topic as well as appropriate for your audience.

Assess how much evidence you need to adequately explain your point depending on the complexity of the subject and the knowledge of your audience regarding that subject.

For example, if you were writing about a new communication software and your audience was a group of English-major undergrads, you might want to use an analogy or a personal story to illustrate how the software worked. You might also choose to add a few more pieces of evidence to make sure the audience understands your point. However, if you were writing about the same subject and you audience members were information technology (IT) specialists, you would likely use more technical evidence because they would be familiar with the subject.

Keeping in mind your subject in relation to your audience will increase your chances of effectively illustrating your point.


You never want to insult your readers' intelligence by over-explaining concepts the audience members may already be familiar with, but it may be necessary to clearly articulate your point. When in doubt, add an extra example to illustrate your idea.

Exercise 1

On a separate piece of paper, form a thesis based on each of the following three topics. Then list the types of evidence that would best explain your point for each of the two audiences.

  1. Topic: Combat and mental health

Audience: family members of veterans, doctors

  1. Topic: Video games and teen violence

Audience: parents, children

  1. Topic: Architecture and earthquakes

Audience: engineers, local townspeople

The Structure Of An Illustration Essay

The controlling idea, or thesis, belongs at the beginning of the essay. Evidence is then presented in the essay's body paragraphs to support the thesis. You can start supporting your main point with your strongest evidence first, or you can start with evidence of lesser importance and have the essay build to increasingly stronger evidence. This type of organization---order of importance---you learned about in Chapter 8 and Chapter 9.

The time transition words listed in Table 10.1 are also helpful in ordering the presentation of evidence. Words like first, second, third, currently, next, and finally all help orient the reader and sequence evidence clearly. Because an illustration essay uses so many examples, it is also helpful to have a list of words and phrases to present each piece of evidence. Table 10.2 "Phrases of Illustration" provides a list of phrases for illustration.

Table 10.2 Phrases Of Illustration

case in point for example
for instance in particular
in this case one example/another example
specifically to illustrate


Vary the phrases of illustration you use. Do not rely on just one. Variety in choice of words and phrasing is critical when trying to keep readers engaged in your writing and your ideas.

Writing At Work

At work, it is often helpful to keep the phrases of illustration in mind to include them whenever you can. Whether you are writing out directives that colleagues will have to follow or requesting a new product or service from another company, making a conscious effort to include a phrase of illustration will force you to provide examples of what you mean.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, form a thesis based on one of the following topics. Then support that thesis with three pieces of evidence. Make sure to use a different phrase of illustration to introduce each piece of evidence you choose.

  1. Cooking
  2. Baseball
  3. Work hours
  4. Exercise
  5. Traffic

Please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Discuss which topic you like the best or would like to learn more about. Indicate which thesis you perceive as the most effective.

Writing An Illustration Essay

First, decide on a topic that you feel interested in writing about. Then create an interesting introduction to engage the reader. The main point, or thesis, should be stated at the end of the introduction.

Gather evidence that is appropriate to both your subject and your audience. You can order the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important. Be sure to fully explain all of your examples using strong, clear supporting details. See Chapter 15 to read a sample illustration essay.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, write a five-paragraph illustration essay. You can choose one of the topics from Exercise 1 or Exercise 2, or you can choose your own.


  • An illustration essay clearly explains a main point using evidence.
  • When choosing evidence, always gauge whether the evidence is appropriate for the subject as well as the audience.
  • Organize the evidence in terms of importance, either from least important to most important or from most important to least important.
  • Use time transitions to order evidence.
  • Use phrases of illustration to call out examples.

10.3 Description

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of the description essay.
  2. Understand how to write a description essay.

The Purpose Of Description In Writing

Writers use description in writing to make sure that their audience is fully immersed in the words on the page. This requires a concerted effort by the writer to describe his or her world using sensory details.

As mentioned earlier in this chapter, sensory details are descriptions that appeal to our sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Your descriptions should try to focus on the five senses because we all rely on these senses to experience the world. The use of sensory details, then, provides you the greatest possibility of relating to your audience and thus engaging them in your writing, making descriptive writing important not only during your education but also during everyday situations.


Avoid empty descriptors if possible. Empty descriptors are adjectives that can mean different things to different people. Good, beautiful, terrific, and nice are examples. The use of such words in descriptions can lead to misreads and confusion. A good day, for instance, can mean far different things depending on one's age, personality, or tastes.

Writing At Work

Whether you are presenting a new product or service to a client, training new employees, or brainstorming ideas with colleagues, the use of clear, evocative detail is crucial. Try to use details that express your thoughts in a way that will register with others. Sharp, concise details are always impressive.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, describe the following five items in a short paragraph. Use at least three of the five senses for each description.

  1. Night
  2. Beach
  3. City
  4. Dinner
  5. Stranger

The Structure Of A Description Essay

Description essays typically describe a person, a place, or an object using sensory details. The structure of a descriptive essay is more flexible than in some of the other rhetorical modes. The introduction of a description essay should set up the tone and point of the essay. The thesis should convey the writer's overall impression of the person, place, or object described in the body paragraphs.

The organization of the essay may best follow spatial order, an arrangement of ideas according to physical characteristics or appearance. Depending on what the writer describes, the organization could move from top to bottom, left to right, near to far, warm to cold, frightening to inviting, and so on.

For example, if the subject were a client's kitchen during renovation, you might start at one side of the room and move slowly across to the other end, describing appliances, cabinetry, and so on. Or you might choose to start with older remnants of the kitchen and progress to the new installations. Maybe start with the floor and move up toward the ceiling.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, choose an organizing strategy and then execute it in a short paragraph for three of the following six items:

  1. Train station
  2. Your office
  3. Your car
  4. A coffee shop
  5. Lobby of a movie theater
  6. Mystery option (Choose an object to describe but do not indicate it. Describe it but preserve the mystery.)

Writing A Description Essay

Choosing a subject is the first step in writing a description essay. Once you have chosen the person, place, or object you want to describe, your challenge is to write an effective thesis to guide your essay.

The remainder of your essay describes your subject in a way that best expresses your thesis. Remember, you should have a strong sense of how you will organize your essay. Choose a strategy and stick to it.

Every part of your essay should use vivid sensory details. The more you can appeal to your readers' senses, the more they will be engaged in your essay. See Chapter 15 to read a sample description essay.

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, choose one of the topics that you started in Exercise 2, and expand it into a five-paragraph essay. Expanding on ideas in greater detail can be difficult. Sometimes it is helpful to look closely at each of the sentences in a summary paragraph. Those sentences can often serve as topic sentences to larger paragraphs.

Mystery Option: Here is an opportunity to collaborate. Please share with a classmate and compare your thoughts on the mystery descriptions. Did your classmate correctly guess your mystery topic? If not, how could you provide more detail to describe it and lead them to the correct conclusion?


  • Description essays should describe something vividly to the reader using strong sensory details.
  • Sensory details appeal to the five human senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • A description essay should start with the writer's main impression of a person, a place, or an object.
  • Use spatial order to organize your descriptive writing.

10.4 Classification

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of the classification essay.
  2. Understand how to write a classification essay.

The Purpose Of Classification In Writing

The purpose of classification is to break down broad subjects into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts. We classify things in our daily lives all the time, often without even thinking about it. Cell phones, for example, have now become part of a broad category. They can be classified as feature phones, media phones, and smartphones.

Smaller categories, and the way in which these categories are created, help us make sense of the world. Keep both of these elements in mind when writing a classification essay.


Choose topics that you know well when writing classification essays. The more you know about a topic, the more you can break it into smaller, more interesting parts. Adding interest and insight will enhance your classification essays.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, break the following categories into smaller classifications.

  1. The United States
  2. Colleges and universities
  3. Beverages
  4. Fashion

The Structure Of A Classification Essay

The classification essay opens with an introductory paragraph that introduces the broader topic. The thesis should then explain how that topic is divided into subgroups and why. Take the following introductory paragraph, for example:

When people think of New York, they often think of only New York City. But New York is a diverse state with a full range of activities to do, sights to see, and cultures to explore. To better understand the diversity of New York state, it is helpful to break it into these five separate regions: Long Island, New York City, Western New York, Central New York, and Northern New York.

The underlined thesis explains not only the category and subcategory but also the rationale for breaking it into those categories. Through this classification essay, the writer hopes to show his or her readers a different way of considering the state.

Each body paragraph of a classification essay is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subcategories. In the previous example, then, each region of New York would have its own paragraph.

The conclusion should bring all the categories and subcategories back together again to show the reader the big picture. In the previous example, the conclusion might explain how the various sights and activities of each region of New York add to its diversity and complexity.


To avoid settling for an overly simplistic classification, make sure you break down any given topic at least three different ways. This will help you think outside the box and perhaps even learn something entirely new about a subject.

Exercise 2

Using your classifications from Exercise 1, write a brief paragraph explaining why you chose to organize each main category in the way that you did.

Writing A Classification Essay

Start with an engaging opening that will adequately introduce the general topic that you will be dividing into smaller subcategories. Your thesis should come at the end of your introduction. It should include the topic, your subtopics, and the reason you are choosing to break down the topic in the way that you are. Use the following classification thesis equation:

topic + subtopics + rationale for the subtopics = thesis.

The organizing strategy of a classification essay is dictated by the initial topic and the subsequent subtopics. Each body paragraph is dedicated to fully illustrating each of the subtopics. In a way, coming up with a strong topic pays double rewards in a classification essay. Not only do you have a good topic, but you also have a solid organizational structure within which to write.

Be sure you use strong details and explanations for each subcategory paragraph that help explain and support your thesis. Also, be sure to give examples to illustrate your points. Finally, write a conclusion that links all the subgroups together again. The conclusion should successfully wrap up your essay by connecting it to your topic initially discussed in the introduction. See Chapter 15 to read a sample classification essay.

Exercise 3

Building on Exercise 1 and Exercise 2, write a five-paragraph classification essay about one of the four original topics. In your thesis, make sure to include the topic, subtopics, and rationale for your breakdown. And make sure that your essay is organized into paragraphs that each describes a subtopic.


  • The purpose of classification is to break a subject into smaller, more manageable, more specific parts.
  • Smaller subcategories help us make sense of the world, and the way in which these subcategories are created also helps us make sense of the world.
  • A classification essay is organized by its subcategories.

10.5 Process Analysis

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of the process analysis essay.
  2. Understand how to write a process analysis essay.

The Purpose Of Process Analysis In Writing

The purpose of a process analysis essay is to explain how to do something or how something works. In either case, the formula for a process analysis essay remains the same. The process is articulated into clear, definitive steps.

Almost everything we do involves following a step-by-step process. From riding a bike as children to learning various jobs as adults, we initially needed instructions to effectively execute the task. Likewise, we have likely had to instruct others, so we know how important good directions are---and how frustrating it is when they are poorly put together.

Writing At Work

The next time you have to explain a process to someone at work, be mindful of how clearly you articulate each step. Strong communication skills are critical for workplace satisfaction and advancement. Effective process analysis plays a critical role in developing that skill set.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, make a bulleted list of all the steps that you feel would be required to clearly illustrate three of the following four processes:

  1. Tying a shoelace
  2. Parallel parking
  3. Planning a successful first date
  4. Being an effective communicator

The Structure Of A Process Analysis Essay

The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis that states the goal of the process.

The organization of a process analysis essay typically follows chronological order. The steps of the process are conveyed in the order in which they usually occur. Body paragraphs will be constructed based on these steps. If a particular step is complicated and needs a lot of explaining, then it will likely take up a paragraph on its own. But if a series of simple steps is easier to understand, then the steps can be grouped into a single paragraph.

The time transition phrases covered in the Narration and Illustration sections are also helpful in organizing process analysis essays (see Table 10.1 and Table 10.2). Words such as first, second, third, next, and finally are helpful cues to orient reader and organize the content of essay.


Always have someone else read your process analysis to make sure it makes sense. Once we get too close to a subject, it is difficult to determine how clearly an idea is coming across. Having a friend or coworker read it over will serve as a good way to troubleshoot any confusing spots.

Exercise 2

Choose two of the lists you created in Exercise 1 and start writing out the processes in paragraph form. Try to construct paragraphs based on the complexity of each step. For complicated steps, dedicate an entire paragraph. If less complicated steps fall in succession, group them into a single paragraph.

Writing A Process Analysis Essay

Choose a topic that is interesting, is relatively complex, and can be explained in a series of steps. As with other rhetorical writing modes, choose a process that you know well so that you can more easily describe the finer details about each step in the process. Your thesis should come at the end of your introduction, and it should state the final outcome of the process you are describing.

Body paragraphs are composed of the steps in the process. Each step should be expressed using strong details and clear examples. Use time transition phrases to help organize steps in the process and to orient readers. The conclusion should thoroughly describe the result of the process described in the body paragraphs. See Chapter 15 to read an example of a process analysis essay.

Exercise 3

Choose one of the expanded lists from Exercise 2. Construct a full process analysis essay from the work you have already done. That means adding an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, time transition phrases, body paragraphs, and a solid conclusion.


  • A process analysis essay explains how to do something, how something works, or both.
  • The process analysis essay opens with a discussion of the process and a thesis that states the outcome of the process.
  • The organization of a process analysis essay typically follows a chronological sequence.
  • Time transition phrases are particularly helpful in process analysis essays to organize steps and orient reader.

10.6 Definition

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of the definition essay.
  2. Understand how to write a definition essay.

The Purpose Of Definition In Writing

The purpose of a definition essay may seem self-explanatory: the purpose of the definition essay is to simply define something. But defining terms in writing is often more complicated than just consulting a dictionary. In fact, the way we define terms can have far-reaching consequences for individuals as well as collective groups.

Take, for example, a word like alcoholism. The way in which one defines alcoholism depends on its legal, moral, and medical contexts. Lawyers may define alcoholism in terms of its legality; parents may define alcoholism in terms of its morality; and doctors will define alcoholism in terms of symptoms and diagnostic criteria. Think also of terms that people tend to debate in our broader culture. How we define words, such as marriage and climate change, has enormous impact on policy decisions and even on daily decisions. Think about conversations couples may have in which words like commitment, respect, or love need clarification.

Defining terms within a relationship, or any other context, can at first be difficult, but once a definition is established between two people or a group of people, it is easier to have productive dialogues. Definitions, then, establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse, which is why they are so important.


When writing definition essays, avoid terms that are too simple, that lack complexity. Think in terms of concepts, such as hero, immigration, or loyalty, rather than physical objects. Definitions of concepts, rather than objects, are often fluid and contentious, making for a more effective definition essay.

Writing At Work

Definitions play a critical role in all workplace environments. Take the term sexual harassment, for example. Sexual harassment is broadly defined on the federal level, but each company may have additional criteria that define it further. Knowing how your workplace defines and treats all sexual harassment allegations is important. Think, too, about how your company defines lateness, productivity, or contributions.

Exercise 1

On a separate sheet of paper, write about a time in your own life in which the definition of a word, or the lack of a definition, caused an argument. Your term could be something as simple as the category of an all-star in sports or how to define a good movie. Or it could be something with higher stakes and wider impact, such as a political argument. Explain how the conversation began, how the argument hinged on the definition of the word, and how the incident was finally resolved.

Please share with a classmate and compare your responses.

The Structure Of A Definition Essay

The definition essay opens with a general discussion of the term to be defined. You then state as your thesis your definition of the term.

The rest of the essay should explain the rationale for your definition. Remember that a dictionary's definition is limiting, and you should not rely strictly on the dictionary entry. Instead, consider the context in which you are using the word. Context identifies the circumstances, conditions, or setting in which something exists or occurs. Often words take on different meanings depending on the context in which they are used. For example, the ideal leader in a battlefield setting could likely be very different than a leader in an elementary school setting. If a context is missing from the essay, the essay may be too short or the main points could be confusing or misunderstood.

The remainder of the essay should explain different aspects of the term's definition. For example, if you were defining a good leader in an elementary classroom setting, you might define such a leader according to personality traits: patience, consistency, and flexibility. Each attribute would be explained in its own paragraph.


For definition essays, try to think of concepts that you have a personal stake in. You are more likely to write a more engaging definition essay if you are writing about an idea that has personal value and importance.

Writing At Work

It is a good idea to occasionally assess your role at work. You can do this through the process of definition. Identify your role at work by defining not only the routine tasks but also those gray areas where your responsibilities might overlap with those of others. Coming up with a clear definition of roles and responsibilities can add value to your résumé and even increase productivity at work.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, define each of the following items in your own terms. If you can, establish a context for your definition.

  1. Bravery
  2. Adulthood
  3. Consumer culture
  4. Violence
  5. Art

Writing A Definition Essay

Choose a topic that will be complex enough to be discussed at length. Choosing a word or phrase of personal relevance often leads to a more interesting and engaging essay.

After you have chosen your word or phrase, start your essay with an introduction that establishes the relevancy of the term in the chosen specific context. Your thesis comes at the end of the introduction, and it should clearly state your definition of the term in the specific context. Establishing a functional context from the beginning will orient readers and minimize misunderstandings.

The body paragraphs should each be dedicated to explaining a different facet of your definition. Make sure to use clear examples and strong details to illustrate your points. Your concluding paragraph should pull together all the different elements of your definition to ultimately reinforce your thesis. See Chapter 15 to read a sample definition essay.

Exercise 3

Create a full definition essay from one of the items you already defined in Exercise 2. Be sure to include an interesting introduction, a clear thesis, a well-explained context, distinct body paragraphs, and a conclusion that pulls everything together.


  • Definitions establish the way in which people communicate ideas. They set parameters for a given discourse.
  • Context affects the meaning and usage of words.
  • The thesis of a definition essay should clearly state the writer's definition of the term in the specific context.
  • Body paragraphs should explain the various facets of the definition stated in the thesis.
  • The conclusion should pull all the elements of the definition together at the end and reinforce the thesis.

10.7 Compare-and-contrast

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of compare-and-contrast in writing.
  2. Explain organizational methods used when comparing and contrasting.
  3. Understand how to write a compare-and-contrast essay.

The Purpose Of Compare-and-contrast In Writing

Comparison in writing discusses elements that are similar, while contrast in writing discusses elements that are different. A compare-and-contrast essay, then, analyzes two subjects by comparing them, contrasting them, or both.


The paragraph above is an example of a "pedagogical fiction," something we make up to make teaching easier. In the dictionary, "compare" can mean both saying how two things are the same and saying how they are different.

Because that was too confusing for teaching about this mode where we always want to be clear when we are talking about same and when we are talking about different, we pretend that "compare" only means same when we are teaching compare-and-contrast.

The key to a good compare-and-contrast essay is to choose two things to compare and/or contrast that work well together. Don't point out the obvious. Instead, find surprising or interesting distinctions.

For example, if you are contrasting, choose two things that seem similar. Instead of contrasting apples and oranges, you might contrast two types of apples.

Red Delicious apples are sweet, while Granny Smiths are tart and acidic.

Similarly, if you are comparing, choose two things that seem different. Instead of comparing two apples, you might compare apples and oranges.

Both apples and oranges are grown on a fruit tree, unlike some other fruits.

Choosing subjects like this will lead to a much more interesting paper than if you just write a contrast essay that says "Apples are red but oranges are orange."

Writing At Work

Comparing and contrasting helps you evaluate things by looking at how they are similar and different. This is important for things like workplace assessments, where you might compare yourself to your colleagues to see how you're doing. It's also used for employee advancements, pay raises, hiring, and firing. You can use it to evaluate companies, departments, or individuals too.

Exercise 1

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward contrast. Choose one of the following three categories. Pick two examples from each. Then come up with one similarity and three differences between the examples.

  1. Romantic comedies
  2. Internet search engines
  3. Cell phones

Exercise 2

Brainstorm an essay that leans toward comparison. Choose one of the following three items. Then come up with one difference and three similarities.

  1. Department stores and discount retail stores
  2. Fast food chains and fine dining restaurants
  3. Dogs and cats

The Structure Of A Compare-and-contrast Essay

The compare-and-contrast essay starts with a thesis that clearly states the two subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both and the reason for doing so. The thesis could lean more toward comparing, contrasting, or both. Remember, the point of comparing and contrasting is to provide useful knowledge to the reader. Take the following thesis as an example that leans more toward contrasting.

Thesis Organic vegetables may cost more than those that are conventionally grown, but when put to the test, they are definitely worth every extra penny.

Here the thesis sets up the two subjects to be compared and contrasted (organic versus conventional vegetables), and it makes a claim about the results that might prove useful to the reader.

You may organize compare-and-contrast essays in one of the following two ways:

  1. According to the subjects themselves, discussing one then the other
  2. According to individual points, discussing each subject in relation to each point

The organizational structure you choose depends on the nature of the topic, your purpose, and your audience.

Given that compare-and-contrast essays analyze the relationship between two subjects, it is helpful to have some phrases on hand that will cue the reader to such analysis. See Table 10.3 "Phrases of Comparison and Contrast" for examples.

Table 10.3 Phrases Of Compare-and-contrast

Comparison Contrast
one similarity one difference
another similarity another difference
both conversely
like in contrast
likewise unlike
similarly while
in a similar fashion whereas

Exercise 3

Create an outline for each of the items you chose in Exercise 1 and Exercise 2. Use the point-by-point organizing strategy for one of them and use the subject organizing strategy for the other.

Writing A Compare-and-contrast Essay

First choose whether you want to compare seemingly disparate subjects, contrast seemingly similar subjects, or compare-and-contrast subjects. Once you have decided on a topic, introduce it with an engaging opening paragraph. Your thesis should come at the end of the introduction, and it should establish the subjects you will compare, contrast, or both as well as state what can be learned from doing so.

The body of the essay can be organized in one of two ways: by subject or by individual points. The organizing strategy that you choose will depend on, as always, your audience and your purpose. You may also consider your particular approach to the subjects as well as the nature of the subjects themselves; some subjects might better lend themselves to one structure or the other. Make sure to use compare-and-contrast phrases to cue the reader to the ways in which you are analyzing the relationship between the subjects.

After you finish analyzing the subjects, write a conclusion that summarizes the main points of the essay and reinforces your thesis. See Chapter 15 to read a sample compare-and-contrast essay.

Writing At Work

Many business presentations are conducted using compare-and-contrast. The organizing strategies---by subject or individual points---could also be used for organizing a presentation. Keep this in mind as a way of organizing your content the next time you or a colleague have to present something at work.

Exercise 4

Choose one of the outlines you created in Exercise 3 and write a full compare-and-contrast essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, well-defined and detailed paragraphs, and a fitting conclusion that ties everything together.


  • A compare-and-contrast essay analyzes two subjects by either comparing them, contrasting them, or both.
  • The purpose of writing a comparison or contrast essay is not to state the obvious but rather to illuminate subtle differences or unexpected similarities between two subjects.
  • The thesis should clearly state the subjects that are to be compared, contrasted, or both, and it should state what is to be learned from doing so.
  • There are two main organizing strategies for compare-and-contrast essays.
  1. Organize by the subjects themselves, one then the other.
  2. Organize by individual points, in which you discuss each subject in relation to each point.

Use phrases of comparison or phrases of contrast to signal to readers how exactly the two subjects are being analyzed.

10.8 Cause-and-effect

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of cause-and-effect in writing.
  2. Understand how to write a cause-and-effect essay.

The Purpose Of Cause-and-effect In Writing

It is often considered human nature to ask, "why?" and "how?" We want to know how our child got sick so we can better prevent it from happening in the future, or why our colleague a pay raise because we want one as well. We want to know how much money we will save over the long term if we buy a hybrid car. These examples identify only a few of the relationships we think about in our lives, but each shows the importance of understanding cause-and-effect.

A cause is something that produces an event or condition; an effect is what results from an event or condition. The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various things relate in terms of origins and results. Sometimes the connection between cause and effect is clear, but often determining the exact relationship between the two is very difficult. For example, the following effects of a cold may be easily identifiable: a sore throat, runny nose, and a cough. But determining the cause of the sickness can be far more difficult. A number of causes are possible, and to complicate matters, these possible causes could have combined to cause the sickness. That is, more than one cause may be responsible for any given effect. Therefore, cause-and-effect discussions are often complicated and frequently lead to debates and arguments.


Use the complex nature of cause-and-effect to your advantage. Often it is not necessary, or even possible, to find the exact cause of an event or to name the exact effect. So, when formulating a thesis, you can claim one of a number of causes or effects to be the primary, or main, cause or effect. As soon as you claim that one cause or one effect is more crucial than the others, you have developed a thesis.

Exercise 1

Consider the causes and effects in the following theses. List a cause-and-effect for each one on your own sheet of paper.

  1. The growing childhood obesity epidemic is a result of technology.
  2. Much of the wildlife is dying because of the oil spill.
  3. The town continued programs that it could no longer afford, so it went bankrupt.
  4. More young people became politically active as use of the internet spread throughout society.
  5. While many experts believed the rise in violence was due to the poor economy, it was really due to the summer-long heat wave.

Exercise 2

Write three cause-and-effect theses of your own for each of the following five broad topics.

  1. Health and nutrition
  2. Sports
  3. Media
  4. Politics
  5. History

The Structure Of A Cause-and-effect Essay

The cause-and-effect essay opens with a general introduction to the topic, which then leads to a thesis that states the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.

The cause-and-effect essay can be organized in one of the following two primary ways:

  1. Start with the cause and then talk about the effects.
  2. Start with the effect and then talk about the causes.

For example, if your essay were on childhood obesity, you could start by talking about the effect of childhood obesity and then discuss the cause or you could start the same essay by talking about the cause of childhood obesity and then move to the effect.

Regardless of which structure you choose, be sure to explain each element of the essay fully and completely. Explaining complex relationships requires the full use of evidence, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and anecdotes.

Because cause-and-effect essays determine how things are linked, they make frequent use of certain words and phrases that denote linkage.

Phrases Of Causation

as a result consequently
because due to
hence since
thus therefore

The conclusion should wrap up the discussion and reinforce the thesis, leaving the reader with a clear understanding of the relationship that was analyzed.


Don't just guess about causes and effects. It is hard to figure out causes and effects for certain; we rarely know them for sure. But always be sure to have clear evidence to support your claims.

Exercise 3

Look at some of the cause-and-effect relationships from Exercise 2. Outline the links you listed. Outline one using a cause-then-effect structure. Outline the other using the effect-then-cause structure.

Writing A Cause-and-effect Essay

Choose something that you think has an interesting cause-and-effect relationship. Introduce your topic in an engaging way. End your introduction with a thesis that states the main cause, the main effect, or both.

Organize your essay by starting with either the cause-then-effect structure or the effect-then-cause structure. Within each section, you should clearly explain and support the causes and effects using a full range of evidence. If you are writing about multiple causes or multiple effects, you may choose to sequence either in terms of order of importance. In other words, order the causes from least to most important (or vice versa), or order the effects from least important to most important (or vice versa).

Use the phrases of causation when trying to forge connections between various events or conditions. This will help organize your ideas and orient the reader. End your essay with a conclusion that summarizes your main points and reinforces your thesis. See Chapter 15 to read a sample cause-and-effect essay.

Exercise 4

Choose one of the ideas you outlined in Exercise 3 and write a full cause-and-effect essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, a clear thesis, strong evidence and examples, and a thoughtful conclusion.


  • The purpose of the cause-and-effect essay is to determine how various things are related.
  • The thesis states what the writer sees as the main cause, main effect, or various causes and effects of a condition or event.
  • The cause-and-effect essay can be organized in one of these two primary ways:
  1. Start with the cause and then talk about the effect.
  2. Start with the effect and then talk about the cause.

Strong evidence is particularly important in the cause-and-effect essay due to the complexity of determining connections between things.

Phrases of causation are helpful in signaling links between various elements in the essay.

10.9 Persuasion

Learning Objectives

  1. Determine the purpose and structure of persuasion in writing.
  2. Identify bias in writing.
  3. Assess various rhetorical devices.
  4. Distinguish between fact and opinion.
  5. Understand the importance of visuals to strengthen arguments.
  6. Write a persuasive essay.

The Purpose Of Persuasive Writing

The purpose of persuasion in writing is to convince, motivate, or move readers toward a certain point of view, or opinion. The act of trying to persuade automatically implies more than one opinion on the subject can be argued.

The idea of an argument often conjures up images of two people yelling and screaming in anger. In writing, however, an argument is very different. An argument is a reasoned opinion supported and explained by evidence. To argue in writing is to advance knowledge and ideas in a positive way. Written arguments often fail when they employ ranting rather than reasoning.


Most of us feel inclined to try to win the arguments we engage in. On some level, we all want to be right, and we want others to see the error of their ways. More times than not, however, arguments in which both sides try to win end up producing losers all around. The more productive approach is to persuade your audience to consider your opinion as a valid one, not simply the right one.

The Structure Of A Persuasive Essay

The following five features make up the structure of a persuasive essay:

  1. Introduction and thesis
  2. Opposing and qualifying ideas
  3. Strong evidence in support of claim
  4. Style and tone of language
  5. A compelling conclusion

Creating An Introduction And Thesis

The persuasive essay begins with an engaging introduction that presents the general topic. The thesis typically appears somewhere in the introduction and states the writer's point of view.


Avoid forming a thesis based on a negative claim. For example, "The hourly minimum wage is not high enough for the average worker to live on." This is probably a true statement, but persuasive arguments should make a positive case. That is, the thesis should focus on how the hourly minimum wage is low or insufficient.

Acknowledging Opposing Ideas And Limits To Your Argument

Because an argument implies differing points of view on the subject, you must be sure to acknowledge those opposing ideas. Avoiding ideas that conflict with your own gives the reader the impression that you may be uncertain, fearful, or unaware of opposing ideas. Thus it is essential that you not only address counterarguments but also do so respectfully.

Try to address opposing arguments earlier rather than later in your essay. Rhetorically speaking, ordering your positive arguments last allows you to better address ideas that conflict with your own, so you can spend the rest of the essay countering those arguments. This way, you leave your reader thinking about your argument rather than someone else's. You have the last word.

Acknowledging points of view different from your own also has the effect of fostering more credibility between you and the audience. They know from the outset that you are aware of opposing ideas and that you are not afraid to give them space.

It is also helpful to establish the limits of your argument and what you are trying to accomplish. In effect, you are conceding early on that your argument is not the ultimate authority on a given topic. Such humility can go a long way toward earning credibility and trust with an audience. Audience members will know from the beginning that you are a reasonable writer, and audience members will trust your argument as a result. For example, in the following concessionary statement, the writer advocates for stricter gun control laws, but she admits it will not solve all of our problems with crime:

Although tougher gun control laws are a powerful first step in decreasing violence in our streets, such legislation alone cannot end these problems since guns are not the only problem we face.

Such a concession will be welcome by those who might disagree with this writer's argument in the first place. To effectively persuade their readers, writers need to be modest in their goals and humble in their approach to get readers to listen to the ideas. See Table 10.5 "Phrases of Concession" for some useful phrases of concession.

Phrases Of Concession

  • although
  • granted that
  • of course
  • still
  • though
  • yet

Exercise 1

Try to form a thesis for each of the following topics. Remember the more specific your thesis, the better.

  1. Foreign policy
  2. Television and advertising
  3. Stereotypes and prejudice
  4. Gender roles and the workplace
  5. Driving and cell phones

Please share with a classmate and compare your answers. Choose the thesis that most interests you and discuss why.

Bias In Writing

Everyone has various biases on any number of topics. For example, you might have a bias toward wearing black instead of brightly colored clothes or wearing jeans rather than formal wear. You might have a bias toward working at night rather than in the morning, or working by deadlines rather than getting tasks done in advance. These examples identify minor biases, of course, but they still indicate preferences and opinions.

Handling bias in writing and in daily life can be a useful skill. It will allow you to articulate your own points of view while also defending yourself against unreasonable points of view. The ideal in persuasive writing is to let your reader know your bias, but do not let that bias blind you to the primary components of good argumentation: sound, thoughtful evidence and a respectful and reasonable address of opposing sides.

The strength of a personal bias is that it can motivate you to construct a strong argument. If you are invested in the topic, you are more likely to care about the piece of writing. Similarly, the more you care, the more time and effort you are apt to put forth and the better the final product will be.

The weakness of bias is when the bias begins to take over the essay---when you neglect opposing ideas, exaggerate your points, or put yourself ahead of the subject by using I too often. Being aware of these pitfalls will help you avoid them.

The Use Of i In Writing

Instructors disagree about whether you should use I in your writing.

Instructors who think you shouldn't worry that you will slip into personal feelings with no support: "I think marijuana should be legalized because that's just how I feel."

Instructors who think you can worry that avoiding I will warp your grammar without improving your thinking. The author of the 2023 revision of this book takes that side.

Developing Sound Arguments: Checklist

Does my essay contain the following elements?

  • An engaging introduction
  • A reasonable, specific thesis that is able to be supported by evidence
  • A varied range of evidence from credible sources
  • Respectful acknowledgement and explanation of opposing ideas
  • A style and tone of language that is appropriate for the subject and audience
  • Acknowledgement of the argument's limits
  • A conclusion that will adequately summarize the essay and reinforce the thesis

Fact And Opinion

A fact is a true statement about reality.

The equation below is true:

2 + 2 = 4.

In everyday speech, we would say it is a fact that 2 + 2 = 4.

An opinion is a personal view. The statement below is an opinion:

Pulp Fiction is my favorite move by Quentin Tarantino.

An opinion like that cannot be argued with. No one can tell me Pulp Fiction is not my favorite.

But this is an opinion that can be argued with:

Pulp Fiction is the best movie by Quentin Tarantino.

This statement is very different. Now you can ask me why I think it is the best. I need to support my view. (I might say, "Because it is the most inventive" or "Because it had the most effect on other filmmakers.")

You can disagree with me, and you might even change my mind.

Students sometimes think that "Facts are good, opinions are bad." But that's not true. Nearly everything we believe about the world and our lives is an opinion. We could not live without them.

But there is a huge difference between thoughtful, well-supported opinions and opinions we hold "just because."

What makes an opinion well-supported? One simple answer is that it is usually better to listen to an expert. You ask your dentist about the health of your gums, and you ask your mechanic when it comes to the engine in your car.

That usually makes more sense than to ask your mechanic about your gums and your dentist about your engine.

In writing, you want to draw on accurate facts and authoritative opinions. You need both, but you also need to check both. Don't assume the first "fact" you see when you Google is true. Don't assume that everyone who says they are an expert really is one.

Look for quality sources that are likely to have correct facts. Look for genuine authorities. Learning to do this is a key part of learning to be a good researcher.


We often say you need to prove your argument to be persuasive. It is rarely possible to truly prove an argument about a debatable position. Otherwise it wouldn't be debatable. Facts can be proved, but opinions can only be supported.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, take three of the theses you formed in Exercise 1, and list the types of evidence you might use in support of that thesis.

Exercise 3

Using the evidence you provided in support of the three theses in Exercise 2, come up with at least one counterargument to each. Then write a concession statement, expressing the limits to each of your three arguments.

Using Visuals To Strengthen Arguments

Adding visuals to a persuasive argument can often strengthen its persuasive effect. There are two main types of visuals: quantitative visuals and qualitative visuals.

Quantitative visuals present data graphically. They allow the audience to see statistics spatially. The purpose of using quantitative visuals is to make logical appeals to the audience. For example, sometimes it is easier to understand the disparity in certain statistics if you can see how the disparity looks graphically. Bar graphs, pie charts, Venn diagrams, histograms, and line graphs are all ways of presenting quantitative data in spatial dimensions.

Qualitative visuals present images that appeal to the audience's emotions. Photographs and pictorial images are examples of qualitative visuals. Such images often try to convey a story and seeing an actual example can carry more power than hearing or reading about the example. For example, one image of a child suffering from malnutrition will likely have more of an emotional impact than pages dedicated to describing that same condition in writing.

Writing At Work

When making a business presentation, you typically have limited time to get across your idea. Providing visuals for your audience can be an effective time-saving tool. Quantitative visuals in business presentations serve the same purpose as they do in persuasive writing. They should make logical appeals by showing numerical data in a spatial design. Quantitative visuals should be pictures that might appeal to your audience's emotions. You will find that many of the rhetorical devices used in writing are the same ones used at work. For more information about visuals in presentations, see Chapter 14.

Writing A Persuasive Essay

Choose a topic that you feel passionate about. If your instructor requires you to write about a specific topic, approach the subject from an angle that interests you. Begin your essay with an engaging introduction. Your thesis should typically appear somewhere in your introduction.

Start by acknowledging and explaining points of view that may conflict with your own to build credibility and trust with your audience. Also state the limits of your argument. This too helps you sound more reasonable and honest to those who may naturally be inclined to disagree with your view. By respectfully acknowledging opposing arguments and conceding limitations to your own view, you set a measured and responsible tone for the essay.

Make your appeals in support of your thesis by using sound, credible evidence. Use a balance of facts and opinions from a wide range of sources, such as scientific studies, expert testimony, statistics, and personal anecdotes. Each piece of evidence should be fully explained and clearly stated.

Make sure that your style and tone are appropriate for your subject and audience. Tailor your language and word choice to these two things, while still being true to your own voice.

Finally, write a conclusion that effectively summarizes the main argument and reinforces your thesis. See Chapter 15 to read a sample persuasive essay.

Exercise 4

Choose one of the topics you have been working on throughout this section. Use the thesis, evidence, opposing argument, and concessionary statement as the basis for writing a full persuasive essay. Be sure to include an engaging introduction, clear explanations of all the evidence you present, and a strong conclusion.


  • The purpose of persuasion in writing is to convince or move readers toward a certain point of view, or opinion.
  • An argument is a reasoned opinion supported and explained by evidence. To argue, in writing, is to advance knowledge and ideas in a positive way.
  • A thesis that expresses the opinion of the writer in more specific terms is better than one that is vague.
  • It is essential that you not only address counterarguments but also do so respectfully.
  • It is also helpful to establish the limits of your argument and what you are trying to accomplish through a concession statement.
  • To persuade a skeptical audience, you will need to use a wide range of evidence. Scientific studies, opinions from experts, historical precedent, statistics, personal anecdotes, and current events are all types of evidence that you might use in explaining your point.
  • Make sure that your word choice and writing style is appropriate for both your subject and your audience.
  • You should let your reader know your bias, but do not let that bias blind you to the primary components of good argumentation: sound, thoughtful evidence and respectfully and reasonably addressing opposing ideas.
  • You should be mindful of the use of I in your writing because it can make your argument sound more biased than it needs to.
  • Facts are statements that can be proven using objective data.
  • Opinions are personal views, or judgments, that cannot be proven.
  • In writing, you want to strike a balance between credible facts and authoritative opinions.
  • Quantitative visuals present data graphically. The purpose of using quantitative visuals is to make logical appeals to the audience.
  • Qualitative visuals present images that appeal to the audience's emotions.

10.10 Rhetorical Modes: End-of-chapter Exercises


  1. The thesis is a fundamental element of writing regardless of what rhetorical mode you are writing in. Formulate one more thesis for each of the modes discussed in this chapter.
  2. Which rhetorical mode seems most aligned with who you are as a person? That is, which mode seems most useful to you? Explain why in a paragraph.
  3. Over the next week, look closely at the texts and articles you read. Document in a journal exactly what type of rhetorical mode is being used. Sometimes it might be for an entire article, but sometimes you might see different modes within one article. The more you can detect various ways of communicating ideas, the easier it will be to do yourself.

Chapter 11

Table of Contents

Writing From Research: What Will I Learn?

11.1 The Purpose Of Research Writing

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify reasons to research writing projects.
  2. Outline the steps of the research writing process.
  • Why was the Great Wall of China built?
  • What have scientists learned about the possibility of life on Mars?
  • What roles did women play in the American Revolution?
  • How does the human brain create, store, and retrieve memories?
  • Who invented football, and how has it changed over the years?

You may know the answers to these questions off the top of your head. If you are like most people, however, you find answers to tough questions like these by searching the internet, visiting the library, or asking others for information. To put it simply, you perform research.

Whether you are a scientist, an artist, a paralegal, or a parent, you probably perform research in your everyday life. When your boss, your instructor, or a family member asks you a question that you do not know the answer to, you locate relevant information, analyze your findings, and share your results. Locating, analyzing, and sharing information are key steps in the research process, and in this chapter, you will learn more about each step. By developing your research writing skills, you will prepare yourself to answer any question no matter how challenging.

Reasons For Research

When you perform research, you are essentially trying to solve a mystery---you want to know how something works or why something happened. In other words, you want to answer a question that you (and other people) have about the world. This is one of the most basic reasons for performing research.

But the research process does not end when you have solved your mystery. Imagine what would happen if a detective collected enough evidence to solve a criminal case, but she never shared her solution with the authorities. Presenting what you have learned from research can be just as important as performing the research. Research results can be presented in a variety of ways, but one of the most popular---and effective---presentation forms is the research paper. A research paper presents an original thesis, or purpose statement, about a topic and develops that thesis with information gathered from a variety of sources.

If you are curious about the possibility of life on Mars, for example, you might choose to research the topic. What will you do, though, when your research is complete? You will need a way to put your thoughts together in logical, coherent manner. You may want to use the facts you have learned to create a narrative or to support an argument. And you may want to show the results of your research to your friends, your teachers, or even the editors of magazines and journals. Writing a research paper is an ideal way to organize thoughts, craft narratives or make arguments based on research, and share your newfound knowledge with the world.

Exercise 1

Write a paragraph about a time when you used research in your everyday life. Did you look for the cheapest way to travel from Houston to Denver? Did you search for a way to remove gum from the bottom of your shoe? In your paragraph, explain what you wanted to research, how you performed the research, and what you learned as a result.

Research Writing And The Academic Paper

No matter what field of study you are interested in, you will most likely be asked to write a research paper during your academic career. For example, a student in an art history course might write a research paper about an artist's work. Similarly, a student in a psychology course might write a research paper about current findings in childhood development.

Having to write a research paper may feel intimidating at first. After all, researching and writing a long paper requires a lot of time, effort, and organization. However, writing a research paper can also be a great opportunity to explore a topic that is particularly interesting to you. The research process allows you to gain expertise on a topic of your choice, and the writing process helps you remember what you have learned and understand it on a deeper level.

Research Writing At Work

Knowing how to write a good research paper is a valuable skill that will serve you well throughout your career. Whether you are developing a new product, studying the best way to perform a procedure, or learning about challenges and opportunities in your field of employment, you will use research techniques to guide your exploration. You may even need to create a written report of your findings. And because effective communication is essential to any company, employers seek to hire people who can write clearly and professionally.

Writing At Work

Take a few minutes to think about each of the following careers. How might each of these professionals use researching and research writing skills on the job?

  • Medical laboratory technician
  • Small business owner
  • Information technology professional
  • Freelance magazine writer

A medical laboratory technician or information technology professional might do research to learn about the latest technological developments in either of these fields. A small business owner might conduct research to learn about the latest trends in his or her industry. A freelance magazine writer may need to research a given topic to write an informed, up-to-date article.

Exercise 2

Think about the job of your dreams. How might you use research writing skills to perform that job? Create a list of ways in which strong researching, organizing, writing, and critical thinking skills could help you succeed at your dream job. How might these skills help you obtain that job?

Steps Of The Research Writing Process

How does a research paper grow from a folder of brainstormed notes to a polished final draft? No two projects are identical, but most projects follow a series of six basic steps.

These are the steps in the research writing process:

  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Plan and schedule time to research and write.
  3. Conduct research.
  4. Organize research and ideas.
  5. Draft your paper.
  6. Revise and edit your paper.

Each of these steps will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter. For now, though, we will take a brief look at what each step involves.

Step 1: Choosing A Topic

As you may recall from Chapter 8, to narrow the focus of your topic, you may try freewriting exercises, such as brainstorming. You may also need to ask a specific research question---a broad, open-ended question that will guide your research---as well as propose a possible answer, or a working thesis. You may use your research question and your working thesis to create a research proposal. In a research proposal, you present your main research question, any related sub-questions you plan to explore, and your working thesis.

Step 2: Planning And Scheduling

Before you start researching your topic, take time to plan your researching and writing schedule. Research projects can take days, weeks, or even months to complete. Creating a schedule is a good way to ensure that you do not end up being overwhelmed by all the work you have to do as the deadline approaches.

During this step of the process, it is also a good idea to plan the resources and organizational tools you will use to keep yourself on track throughout the project. Flowcharts, calendars, and checklists can all help you stick to your schedule. See [Section 11.2] for an example of a research schedule.

Step 3: Conducting Research

When going about your research, you will likely use a variety of sources---anything from books and periodicals to video presentations and in-person interviews.

Your sources will include both primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources provide firsthand information or raw data. For example, surveys, in-person interviews, and historical documents are primary sources. Secondary sources, such as biographies, literary reviews, or magazine articles, include some analysis or interpretation of the information presented. As you conduct research, you will take detailed, careful notes about your discoveries. You will also evaluate the reliability of each source you find.

Step 4: Organizing Research And The Writer's Ideas

When your research is complete, you will organize your findings and decide which sources to cite in your paper. You will also have an opportunity to evaluate the evidence you have collected and determine whether it supports your thesis, or the focus of your paper. You may decide to adjust your thesis or conduct additional research to ensure that your thesis is well supported.


Remember, your working thesis is not set in stone. You should change your working thesis throughout the research writing process if the evidence you find does not support your original thesis. Never try to force evidence to fit your argument.

For example, your working thesis might be "Mars cannot support life." A week into researching, you might read in the New York Times that scientists found bacteria on Mars. Instead of trying to argue that the article is wrong or that bacteria are not alive, you could change your thesis to "Mars cannot support complex life."

Step 5: Drafting Your Paper

Now you are ready to combine your research findings with your critical analysis of the results in a rough draft. You will include source materials into your paper and discuss each source thoughtfully in relation to your thesis or purpose statement.

When you cite your reference sources, it is important to pay close attention to standard conventions for citing sources in order to avoid plagiarism, or the practice of using someone else's words without acknowledging the source. Later in this chapter, you will learn how to include sources in your paper and avoid some of the most common pitfalls of attributing information.

Step 6: Revising And Editing Your Paper

In the final step of the research writing process, you will revise and polish your paper. You might reorganize your paper's structure or revise for unity and cohesion, ensuring that each element in your paper flows into the next logically and naturally. You will also make sure that your paper uses an appropriate and consistent tone.

Once you feel confident in the strength of your writing, you will edit your paper for proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and formatting. When you complete this final step, you will have transformed a simple idea or question into a thoroughly researched and well-written paper you can be proud of!

Exercise 3

Review the steps of the research writing process. Then answer the questions on your own sheet of paper.

  1. In which steps of the research writing process are you allowed to change your thesis?
  2. In step 2, which types of information should you include in your project schedule?
  3. What might happen if you eliminated step 4 from the research writing process?


People undertake research projects throughout their academic and professional careers in order to answer specific questions, share their findings with others, increase their understanding of challenging topics, and strengthen their researching, writing, and analytical skills.

The research writing process generally comprises six steps: choosing a topic, scheduling and planning time for research and writing, conducting research, organizing research and ideas, drafting a paper, and revising and editing the paper.

11.2 Steps In Developing A Research Proposal

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the steps in developing a research proposal.
  2. Choose a topic and formulate a research question and working thesis.
  3. Develop a research proposal.

Writing a good research paper takes time, thought, and effort. Although this assignment is challenging, it is manageable. Focusing on one step at a time will help you develop a thoughtful, informative, well-supported research paper.

Your first step is to choose a topic and then to develop research questions, a working thesis, and a written research proposal. Set aside adequate time for this part of the process. Fully exploring ideas will help you build a solid foundation for your paper.

Choosing A Topic

When you choose a topic for a research paper, you are making a major commitment. Your choice will help determine whether you enjoy the lengthy process of research and writing---and whether your final paper fulfills the assignment requirements. If you choose your topic hastily, you may later find it difficult to work with your topic. By taking your time and choosing carefully, you can ensure that this assignment is not only challenging but also rewarding.

Writers understand the importance of choosing a topic that suits the assignment's purpose and audience. (For more information about purpose and audience, see Chapter 6.) Choosing a topic that interests you is also crucial.

You instructor may provide a list of suggested topics or ask that you develop a topic on your own. In either case, try to identify topics that genuinely interest you.

After identifying potential topics, you will need to choose one topic to pursue. Will you be able to find enough information about the topic? Can you develop a paper about this topic that presents and supports your original ideas? Is the topic too broad or too narrow for this assignment? If so, can you modify it so it is more manageable? You will ask these questions during this early phase of the research process.

Identifying Potential Topics

Your teacher might give you a list of topics to choose from. Before you pick one, it's helpful to consider a few of them before you choose. You want to make sure you will be able to come up with a strong thesis on that topic.

If you teacher's list is only a suggestion, you can also use the list to think of other topics. Talking to your teacher can help you pick a good topic that meets the assignment requirements.

In this chapter, you will follow a writer named Jorge, who is studying health care administration, as he works on a research paper. You will also plan, research, and draft your own research paper.

Jorge had to write a research paper on health and the media. Jorge had to decide on a specific topic. He brainstormed this list of possibilities:

  1. Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) in the news
  2. Sexual education programs
  3. Hollywood and eating disorders
  4. Americans' access to public health information
  5. Media portrayal of health care reform bill
  6. Depictions of drugs on television
  7. The effect of the internet on mental health
  8. Popularized diets (such as low-carbohydrate diets)
  9. Fear of pandemics (bird flu, HINI, SARS)
  10. Electronic entertainment and obesity
  11. Advertisements for prescription drugs
  12. Public education and disease prevention


If you are writing a research paper for a specific class (not just a general class like English Composition), look back through your notes. Think about readings or discussions that interested you. This can help you find a good topic.

Exercise 1

Set a timer for five minutes. Brainstorm a list of topics for a paper about the influence of social media.

Do you closely follow the news on a site like Twitter? Would you like to learn more about a particular social media industry, like online dating? Which social media do you and your friends use? List as many ideas related to this topic as you can.

Narrowing Your Topic

After you make a list of possible topics for your essay, you need to choose one that you will write about. Many writers find that the topics they came up with are too broad for the assignment. For example, talking about everything related to sexual education or popular diets can be overwhelming. Instead, it's better to choose a more specific topic that you can write about in depth, like the effects of a specific diet or the pros and cons of teaching sexual education in TV shows for kids.

It's important to have a focused research paper with detailed information and analysis. If your topic is too broad, you won't be able to go into enough detail in your research and writing. Narrowing down your topic is important so that it's manageable. To do this, you can write about your topic, do some initial research, and talk to others about your topic and research.

Exploring Your Topic In Writing

You might wonder, "How am I supposed to narrow my topic when I haven't even begun researching yet?" In fact, you may already know more than you realize. Review your list and pick your top two or three topics. Explore each one through freewriting. Simply taking the time to focus on your topic may yield fresh angles.

Jorge knew that he was especially interested in the topic of diet fads, but he also knew that it was too broad to cover in one research paper. He used freewriting to explore his thoughts so he could narrow his topic.

Conducting Preliminary Research

Another way writers may focus a topic is to conduct preliminary research. Like freewriting, exploratory reading can help you identify interesting angles. Surfing the web and browsing through newspaper and magazine articles are good ways to start. Find out what people are saying about your topic on blogs and online discussion groups. Discussing your topic with others can also inspire you. Talk about your ideas with your classmates, your friends, or your instructor.

Jorge's freewriting exercise helped him realize that the assigned topic of health and the media intersected with a few of his interests---diet, nutrition, and obesity. Preliminary online research and discussions with his classmates strengthened his impression that many people are confused or misled by media coverage of these subjects.

Jorge decided to focus his paper on a topic that had garnered a great deal of media attention---low-carbohydrate diets. He wanted to find out whether low-carbohydrate diets were as effective as their proponents claimed.

Writing At Work

At work, you may need to research a topic quickly to find general information. This information can be useful in understanding trends in a industry or generating competition. For example, a company may research a competitor's prices and use the information when pricing their own product. You may find it useful to skim a variety of reliable sources and take notes on your findings.


The reliability of online sources varies greatly. In this exploratory phase of your research, you do not need to evaluate sources as closely as you will later. However, use common sense as you refine your paper topic. If you read a fascinating blog comment that gives you a new idea for your paper, be sure to check out other, more reliable sources as well to make sure the idea is worth pursuing.

Exercise 2

Review the list of topics you created in Exercise 1 and identify two or three topics you would like to explore further. For each of these topics, spend five to ten minutes writing about the topic without stopping. Then review your writing to identify possible areas of focus.

Set aside time to conduct preliminary research about your potential topics. Then choose a topic to pursue for your research paper.

Please share your topic list with a classmate. Select one or two topics on his or her list that you would like to learn more about and return it to him or her. Discuss why you found the topics interesting and learn which of your topics your classmate selected and why.

A Plan For Research

Your freewriting and preliminary research have helped you choose a focused, manageable topic for your research paper. To work with your topic successfully, you will need to determine what exactly you want to learn about it---and later, what you want to say about it. Before you begin conducting in-depth research, you will further define your focus by developing a research question, a working thesis, and a research proposal.

Formulating A Research Question

In forming a research question, you are setting a goal for your research. Your main research question should be substantial enough to form the guiding principle of your paper---but focused enough to guide your research. A strong research question requires you not only to find information but also to put together different pieces of information, interpret and analyze them, and figure out what you think. As you consider potential research questions, ask yourself whether they would be too hard or too easy to answer.

To determine your research question, review the freewriting you completed earlier. Skim through books, articles, and websites and list the questions you have. (You may wish to use the 5WH strategy to help you formulate questions. See Chapter 8 for more information about 5WH questions.) Include simple, factual questions and more complex questions that would require analysis and interpretation. Determine your main question---the primary focus of your paper---and several subquestions that you will need to research to answer your main question.

Here are the research questions Jorge will use to focus his research. Notice that his main research question has no obvious, straightforward answer. Jorge will need to research his subquestions, which address narrower topics, to answer his main question.

  1. Main question
  • Are low-carbohydrate diets as effective as they have been portrayed to be by media sources?
  1. Subquestions
  • Who can benefit from following a low-carbohydrate diet?
  • What are the supposed advantages to following a low-carbohydrate diet?
  • When did low-carb diets become a "hot" topic in the media?
  • Where do average consumers get information about diet and nutrition?
  • Why has the low-carb approach received so much media attention?
  • How do low-carb diets work?

Exercise 3

Using the topic you selected in Exercise 2, write your main research question and at least four to five subquestions. Check that your main research question is appropriately complex for your assignment.

Constructing A Working Thesis

A working thesis concisely states a writer's initial answer to the main research question. It does not merely state a fact or present a subjective opinion. Instead, it expresses a debatable idea or claim that you hope to prove through additional research. Your working thesis is called a working thesis for a reason---it is subject to change. As you learn more about your topic, you may change your thinking in light of your research findings. Let your working thesis serve as a guide to your research, but do not be afraid to modify it based on what you learn.

Jorge began his research with a strong point of view based on his preliminary writing and research. Read his working thesis which presents the point he will argue. Notice how it states Jorge's tentative answer to his research question.

Are low-carb diets as effective as they have sometimes been portrayed to be by the media? Low-carb diets do not live up to the media hype surrounding them.


One way to determine your working thesis is to consider how you would complete sentences such as I believe or My opinion is. However, keep in mind that academic writing generally does not use first-person pronouns. These statements are useful starting points, but formal research papers use an objective voice.

Exercise 4

Write a working thesis that presents your preliminary answer to the research question you wrote in Exercise 3. Check that your working thesis presents an idea or claim that could be supported or refuted by evidence from research.

Creating A Research Proposal

A research proposal is a brief document---no more than one typed page---that summarizes the preliminary work you have completed. Your purpose in writing it is to formalize your plan for research and present it to your instructor for feedback. In your research proposal, you will present your main research question, related subquestions, and working thesis. You will also briefly discuss the value of researching this topic and indicate how you plan to gather information.

When Jorge began drafting his research proposal, he realized that he had already created most of the pieces he needed. However, he knew he also had to explain how his research would be relevant to other future health care professionals. In addition, he wanted to form a general plan for doing the research and identifying potentially useful sources. Read Jorge's research proposal.

Writing At Work

Before you begin a new project at work, you may have to develop a project summary document that states the purpose of the project, explains why it would be a wise use of company resources, and briefly outlines the steps involved in completing the project. This type of document is similar to a research proposal. Both documents define and limit a project, explain its value, discuss how to proceed, and identify what resources you will use.

Writing Your Own Research Proposal

Now you may write your own research proposal, if you have not done so already. Follow the guidelines provided in this lesson.


  • Developing a research proposal involves the following preliminary steps: identifying potential ideas, choosing ideas to explore further, choosing and narrowing a topic, formulating a research question, and developing a working thesis. -A good topic for a research paper interests the writer and fulfills the requirements of the assignment.
  • Defining and narrowing a topic helps writers conduct focused, in-depth research.
  • Writers conduct preliminary research to identify possible topics and research questions and to develop a working thesis.
  • A good research question interests readers, is neither too broad nor too narrow, and has no obvious answer.
  • A good working thesis expresses a debatable idea or claim that can be supported with evidence from research.
  • Writers create a research proposal to present their topic, main research question, subquestions, and working thesis to an instructor for approval or feedback.

11.3 Managing Your Research Project

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify reasons for outlining the scope and sequence of a research project.
  2. Recognize the steps of the research writing process.
  3. Develop a plan for managing time and resources to complete the research project on time.
  4. Identify organizational tools and strategies to use in managing the project.

The prewriting you have completed so far has helped you begin to plan the content of your research paper---your topic, research questions, and preliminary thesis. It is equally important to plan out the process of researching and writing the paper. Although some types of writing assignments can be completed relatively quickly, developing a good research paper is a complex process that takes time. Breaking it into manageable steps is crucial. Review the steps outlined at the beginning of this chapter.

Steps To Writing A Research Paper

  1. Choose a topic.
  2. Schedule and plan time for research and writing.
  3. Conduct research.
  4. Organize research
  5. Draft your paper.
  6. Revise and edit your paper.

You have already completed step 1. In this section, you will complete step 2. The remaining steps fall under two broad categories---the research phase of the project (steps 3 and 4) and the writing phase (steps 5 and 6). Both phases present challenges. Understanding the tasks involved and allowing enough time to complete each task will help you complete your research paper on time with a minimal amount of stress.

Planning Your Project

Each step of a research project requires time and attention. Careful planning helps ensure that you will keep your project running smoothly and produce your best work. Set up a project schedule that shows when you will complete each step. Think about how you will complete each step and what project resources you will use. Resources may include anything from library databases and word-processing software to interview subjects and writing tutors.

To develop your schedule, use a calendar and work backward from the date your final draft is due. Generally, it is wise to divide half of the available time on the research phase of the project and half on the writing phase. For example, if you have a month to work, plan for two weeks for each phase. If you have a full semester, plan to begin research early and to start writing by the middle of the term. You might think that no one really works that far ahead, but try it. You will probably be pleased with the quality of your work and with the reduction in your stress level.

As you plan, break down major steps into smaller tasks if necessary. For example, step 3, conducting research, involves locating potential sources, evaluating their usefulness and reliability, reading, and taking notes. Defining these smaller tasks makes the project more manageable by giving you concrete goals to achieve.

Jorge had six weeks to complete his research project. Working backward from a due date of May 2, he mapped out a schedule for completing his research by early April so that he would have ample time to write. Jorge chose to write his schedule in his weekly planner to help keep himself on track.

Review Jorge's schedule. Key target dates are shaded. Note that Jorge planned times to use available resources by visiting the library and writing center and by meeting with his instructor.

Exercise 1

  1. Working backward from the date your final draft is due, create a project schedule. You may choose to write a sequential list of tasks or record tasks on a calendar.
  2. Check your schedule to be sure that you have broken each step into smaller tasks and assigned a target completion date to each key task.
  3. Review your target dates to make sure they are realistic. Always allow a little more time than you think you will actually need.


When you plan your schedule for your research project, think about your other responsibilities. You might need to take a break if you have a work trip or family visit. Use the time you have wisely and be ready for unexpected interruptions. Taking a short break can help you feel more excited when you start working again. It's also a good idea to stop working each day at a point where it's easy to start again the next day.

Writing At Work

When you create a project schedule at work, you set target dates for completing certain tasks and identify the resources you plan to use on the project. It is important to build in some flexibility. Materials may not be received on time because of a shipping delay. An employee on your team may be called away to work on a higher-priority project. Essential equipment may malfunction. You should always plan for the unexpected.

Staying Organized

Although setting up a schedule is easy, sticking to one is challenging. Even if you are the rare person who never procrastinates, unforeseen events may interfere with your ability to complete tasks on time. A self-imposed deadline may slip your mind despite your best intentions. Organizational tools---calendars, checklists, note cards, software, and so forth---can help you stay on track.

Throughout your project, organize both your time and your resources systematically. Review your schedule frequently and check your progress. It helps to post your schedule in a place where you will see it every day. Both personal and workplace email systems usually include a calendar feature where you can record tasks, arrange to receive daily reminders, and check off completed tasks. Electronic devices such as smartphones have similar features.

Organize project documents in a binder or electronic folder, and label project documents and folders clearly. Use note cards or an electronic document to record bibliographical information for each source you plan to use in your paper. Tracking this information throughout the research process can save you hours of time when you create your References page.

Exercise 2

Revisit the schedule you created in Exercise 1. Transfer it into a format that will help you stay on track from day to day. You may wish to input it into your smartphone, write it in a weekly planner, post it by your desk, or have your email account send you daily reminders. Consider setting up a buddy system with a classmate that will help you both stay on track.


Some people enjoy using the most up-to-date technology to help them stay organized. Other people prefer simple methods, such as crossing off items on a checklist. The key to staying organized is finding a system you like enough to use daily. The particulars of the method are not important as long as you are consistent.

Anticipating Challenges

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? You have identified a book that would be a great resource for your project, but it is currently checked out of the library. You planned to interview a subject matter expert on your topic, but she calls to reschedule your meeting. You have begun writing your draft, but now you realize that you will need to modify your thesis and conduct additional research. Or you have finally completed your draft when your computer crashes, and days of hard work disappear in an instant.

These troubling situations are all too common. No matter how carefully you plan your schedule, you may encounter a glitch or setback. Managing your project effectively means anticipating potential problems, taking steps to minimize them where possible, and allowing time in your schedule to handle any setbacks.

Many times a situation becomes a problem due only to lack of planning. For example, if a book is checked out of your local library, it might be available through interlibrary loan, which usually takes a few days for the library staff to process. Alternatively, you might locate another, equally useful source. If you have allowed enough time for research, a brief delay will not become a major setback.

You can manage other potential problems by staying organized and maintaining a take-charge attitude. Take a minute each day to save a backup copy of your work on a portable hard drive. Maintain detailed note cards and source cards as you conduct research---doing so will make citing sources in your draft infinitely easier. If you run into difficulties with your research or your writing, ask your instructor for help, or make an appointment with a writing tutor.

Exercise 3

Identify five potential problems you might encounter in the process of researching and writing your paper. Write them on a separate sheet of paper. For each problem, write at least one strategy for solving the problem or minimizing its effect on your project.

Writing At Work

At work, documents prepared at the beginning of a project often include a detailed plan for risk management. When you manage a project, it makes sense to anticipate and prepare for potential setbacks. For example, to roll out a new product line, a software development company must strive to complete tasks on a schedule in order to meet the new product release date. The project manager may need to adjust the project plan if one or more tasks fall behind schedule.


  • To complete a research project successfully, a writer must carefully manage each phase of the process and break major steps into smaller tasks.

  • Writers can plan a research project by setting up a schedule based on the deadline and by identifying useful project resources.

  • Writers stay focused by using organizational tools that suit their needs.

  • Anticipating and planning for potential setbacks can help writers avoid those setbacks or minimize their effect on the project schedule.

11.4 Strategies For Gathering Reliable Information

Learning Objectives

  1. Distinguish between primary and secondary sources.
  2. Identify strategies for locating relevant print and electronic resources efficiently.
  3. Identify instances when it is appropriate to use human sources, such as interviews or eyewitness testimony.
  4. Identify criteria for evaluating research resources.
  5. Understand why many electronic resources are not reliable.

Now that you have planned your research project, you are ready to begin the research. This phase can be both exciting and challenging. As you read this section, you will learn ways to locate sources efficiently, so you have enough time to read the sources, take notes, and think about how to use the information.

Of course, the technological advances of the past few decades---particularly the rise of online media---mean that, as a twenty-first-century student, you have countless sources of information available at your fingertips. But how can you tell whether a source is reliable? This section will discuss strategies for evaluating sources critically so that you can be a media-savvy researcher.

In this section, you will locate and evaluate resources for your paper and begin taking notes. As you read, begin gathering print and electronic resources, identify at least eight to ten sources by the time you finish the chapter, and begin taking notes on your research findings.

Locating Useful Resources

When you chose a paper topic and determined your research questions, you conducted preliminary research to stimulate your thinking. Your research proposal included some general ideas for how to go about your research---for instance, interviewing an expert in the field or analyzing the content of popular magazines. You may even have identified a few potential sources. Now it is time to conduct a more focused, systematic search for informative primary and secondary sources.

Using Primary And Secondary Sources

Writers classify research resources in two categories: primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are direct, firsthand sources of information or data. For example, if you were writing a paper about the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the text of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights would be a primary source.

Other primary sources include the following:

  • Research articles
  • Literary texts
  • Historical documents such as diaries or letters
  • Autobiographies or other personal accounts

Secondary sources discuss, interpret, analyze, consolidate, or otherwise rework information from primary sources. In researching a paper about the First Amendment, you might read articles about legal cases that involved First Amendment rights, or editorials expressing commentary on the First Amendment. These sources would be considered secondary sources because they are one step removed from the primary source of information.

The following are examples of secondary sources:

  • Magazine articles
  • Biographical books
  • Literary and scientific reviews
  • Television documentaries

Your topic and purpose determine whether you must cite both primary and secondary sources in your paper. Ask yourself which sources are most likely to provide the information that will answer your research questions. If you are writing a research paper about reality television shows, you will need to use some reality shows as a primary source, but secondary sources, such as a reviewer's critique, are also important. If you are writing about the health effects of nicotine, you will probably want to read the published results of scientific studies, but secondary sources, such as magazine articles discussing the outcome of a recent study, may also be helpful.

Once you have thought about what kinds of sources are most likely to help you answer your research questions, you may begin your search for print and electronic resources. The challenge here is to conduct your search efficiently. Writers use strategies to help them find the sources that are most relevant and reliable while steering clear of sources that will not be useful.

Finding Print Resources

Print resources include a vast array of documents and publications. Regardless of your topic, you will consult some print resources as part of your research. (You will use electronic sources as well, but it is not wise to limit yourself to electronic sources only, because some potentially useful sources may be available only in print form.) Here are some different types of print resources available at libraries.

Library Print Resources

Nonfiction Books

Nonfiction books provide in-depth coverage of a topic. Trade books, biographies, and how-to guides are written for general audience. Scholarly books and scientific studies are written for an audience that has specialized knowledge of a topic.


These sources are published at regular intervals---daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Newspapers, magazines, and academic journals are examples. Some periodicals provide articles on subjects of general interest, while others are more specialized.

Government Publications

Federal, state, and local government agencies publish information on a variety of topics. Government publications include reports, legislation, court documents, public records, statistics, studies, guides, programs, and forms.

Business Or Nonprofit Publications

Businesses and nonprofit organizations produce publications designed to market a product, provide background about the organization, provide information on topics connected to the organization, or promote a cause. These publications include reports, newsletters, advertisements, manuals, brochures, and other print documents.

Some of these resources are also widely available in electronic format. In addition to the resources noted in the table, library holdings may include primary texts such as historical documents, letters, and diaries.

Writing At Work

Businesses, government organizations, and nonprofit organizations produce published materials that range from brief advertisements and brochures to lengthy, detailed reports. In many cases, producing these publications requires research. A corporation's annual report may include research about economic or industry trends. A charitable organization may use information from research in materials sent to potential donors.

Regardless of the industry you work in, you may be asked to assist in developing materials for publication. Often, incorporating research in these documents can make them more effective in informing or persuading readers.


As you gather information, strive for a balance of accessible, easy-to-read sources and more specialized, challenging sources. Relying solely on lightweight books and articles written for a general audience will drastically limit the range of useful, substantial information. On the other hand, restricting oneself to dense, scholarly works could make the process of researching extremely time-consuming and frustrating.

Exercise 1

Make a list of five types of print resources you could use to find information about your research topic. Include at least one primary source. Be as specific as possible---if you have a particular resource or type of resource in mind, describe it.

To find print resources efficiently, first identify the major concepts and terms you will use to conduct your search---that is, your keywords. These, along with the research questions you identified in Section 11.2, will help you find sources using any of the following methods:

  • Using the library's online catalog or card catalog

  • Using periodicals indexes and databases

  • Consulting a reference librarian

You probably already have some keywords in mind based on your preliminary research and writing. Another way to identify useful keywords is to visit the website of the Library of Congress. This site allows you to search for a topic and see the related subject headings used by the Library of Congress, including broader terms, narrower terms, and related terms. Other libraries use these terms to classify materials. Knowing the most-used terms will help you speed up your keyword search.

Jorge used the Library of Congress site to identify general terms he could use to find resources about low-carb dieting. His search helped him identify potentially useful keywords and related topics, such as carbohydrates in human nutrition, glycemic index, and carbohydrates---metabolism. These terms helped Jorge refine his search.


Knowing the right keywords can sometimes make all the difference in conducting a successful search. If you have trouble finding sources on a topic, consult a librarian to see whether you need to modify your search terms.

Exercise 2

Visit the website of the Library of Congress.

Conduct searches on a few terms related to your topic.

  1. Review your search results and identify six to eight additional terms you might use when you conduct your research.
  2. Print out the search results or save the results to your research folder on your computer or portable storage device.

Using Periodicals, Indexes, And Databases

Library catalogs can help you locate book-length sources, as well as some types of nonprint holdings, such as CDs, DVDs, and audio books. To locate shorter sources, such as magazine and journal articles, you will need to use a periodical index or an online periodical database. These tools index the articles that appear in newspapers, magazines, and journals. Like catalogs, they provide publication information about an article and often allow users to access a summary or even the full text of the article.

Print indexes may be available in the periodicals section of your library. Increasingly, libraries use databases that users can access through the library website. A single library may provide access to multiple periodical databases. These can range from general news databases to specialized databases.

Table 11.2 Commonly Used Indexes And Databases

Resource Format Contents
New York Times Index Print New York Times
ProQuest Online Database that archives content from newspapers, magazines, and dissertations
PsychLIT, PsycINFO Online Databases that archive content from journals in psychology and psychiatry
Business Source Complete Online Database that archives business-related content from magazines and journals
MEDLINE, PubMed Online Databases that archive articles in medicine and health
EBSCOhost Online General database that provides access to articles on a wide variety of topics

When you search for periodicals, be sure to distinguish among different types. Mass-market publications, such as newspapers and popular magazines, differ from scholarly publications in their accessibility, audience, and purpose.

Newspapers and magazines are written for a broader audience than scholarly journals. Their content is usually quite accessible and easy to read. Trade magazines that target readers within a particular industry may presume the reader has background knowledge, but these publications are still reader-friendly for a broader audience. Their purpose is to inform and, often, to entertain or persuade readers as well.

Scholarly or academic journals are written for a much smaller and more expert audience. The creators of these publications assume that most of their readers are already familiar with the main topic of the journal. The target audience is also highly educated. Informing is the primary purpose of a scholarly journal. While a journal article may advance an agenda or advocate a position, the content will still be presented in an objective style and formal tone. Entertaining readers with breezy comments and splashy graphics is not a priority.

Because of these differences, scholarly journals are more challenging to read. That doesn't mean you should avoid them. On the contrary, they can provide in-depth information unavailable elsewhere. Because knowledgeable professionals carefully review the content before publication, scholarly journals are far more reliable than much of the information available in popular media. Seek out academic journals along with other resources. Just be prepared to spend a little more time processing the information.

Writing At Work

Periodicals databases are not just for students writing research papers. They also provide a valuable service to workers in various fields. The owner of a small business might use a database such as Business Source Premiere to find articles on management, finance, or trends within a particular industry. Health care professionals might consult databases such as MedLine to research a particular disease or medication. Regardless of what career path you plan to pursue, periodicals databases can be a useful tool for researching specific topics and identifying periodicals that will help you keep up with the latest news in your industry.

Consulting A Reference Librarian

Sifting through library stacks and database search results to find the information you need can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. If you are not sure how you should begin your search, or if it is yielding too many or too few results, you are not alone. Many students find this process challenging, although it does get easier with experience. One way to learn better search strategies is to consult a reference librarian.

Reference librarians are intimately familiar with the systems libraries use to organize and classify information. They can help you locate a particular book in the library stacks, steer you toward useful reference works, and provide tips on how to use databases and other electronic research tools. Take the time to see what resources you can find on your own, but if you encounter difficulties, ask for help. Many college librarians hold virtual office hours and are available for online chatting.

Exercise 3

Visit your library's website or consult with a reference librarian to determine what periodicals indexes or databases would be useful for your research. Depending on your topic, you may rely on a general news index, a specialized index for a particular subject area, or both. Search the catalog for your topic and related keywords. Print out or bookmark your search results.

  1. Identify at least one to two relevant periodicals, indexes, or databases.

  2. Conduct a keyword search to find potentially relevant articles on your topic.

  3. Save your search results. If the index you are using provides article summaries, read these to determine how useful the articles are likely to be.

  4. Identify at least three to five articles to review more closely. If the full article is available online, set aside time to read it. If not, plan to visit our library within the next few days to locate the articles you need.


One way to refine your keyword search is to use Boolean operators. These operators allow you to combine keywords, find variations on a word, and otherwise expand or limit your results. Here are some of the ways you can use Boolean operators:

Combine keywords with and or + to limit results to citations that include both keywords---for example, diet + nutrition.

Combine keywords with not or -- to search for the first word without the second. This can help you eliminate irrelevant results based on words that are similar to your search term. For example, searching for obesity not childhood locates materials on obesity but excludes materials on childhood obesity.

Enclose a phrase in quotation marks to search for an exact phrase, such as "morbid obesity."

Use parentheses to direct the order of operations in a search string. For example, since Type II diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes, you could search (Type II or adult-onset) and diabetes to limit your search results to articles on this form of the disease.

Use a wildcard symbol such as #, ?, or $ after a word to search for variations on a term. For instance, you might type diabet# to search for information on diabetes and diabetics. The specific symbol used varies with different databases.

Finding And Using Electronic Resources

With the expansion of technology and media over the past few decades, a wealth of information is available to you in electronic format. Some types of resources, such as a television documentary, may only be available electronically. Other resources---for instance, many newspapers and magazines---may be available in both print and electronic form. The following are some of the electronic sources you might consult:

  • Databases
  • CD-ROMs
  • Popular web search engines
  • Websites maintained by businesses, universities, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies
  • Newspapers, magazines, and journals published on the web
  • Ebooks
  • Audio books
  • Industry blogs
  • Radio and television programs and other audio and video recordings
  • Online discussion groups

The techniques you use to locate print resources can also help you find electronic resources efficiently. Libraries usually include CD-ROMs, audio books, and audio and video recordings among their holdings. You can locate these materials in the catalog using a keyword search. The same Boolean operators used to refine database searches can help you filter your results in popular search engines.

Using Search Engines Efficiently

When faced with the challenge of writing a research paper, some students rely on popular search engines as their first source of information. Typing a keyword or phrase into a search engine instantly pulls up links to dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of related websites---what could be easier? Unfortunately, despite its apparent convenience, this research strategy has the following drawbacks to consider:

Results do not always appear in order of reliability. The first few hits that appear in search results may include sites whose content is not always reliable, such as online encyclopedias that can be edited by any user. Because websites are created by third parties, the search engine cannot tell you which sites have accurate information.

Results may be too numerous for you to use. The amount of information available on the web is far greater than the amount of information housed within a particular library or database. Realistically, if your web search pulls up thousands of hits, you will not be able to visit every site---and the most useful sites may be buried deep within your search results.

Search engines are not connected to the results of the search. Search engines find websites that people visit often and list the results in order of popularity. The search engine, then, is not connected to any of the results. When you cite a source found through a search engine, you do not need to cite the search engine. Only cite the source.

A general web search can provide a helpful overview of a topic and may pull up genuinely useful resources. To get the most out of a search engine, however, use strategies to make your search more efficient. Use multiple keywords and Boolean operators to limit your results. Click on the Advanced Search link on the homepage to find additional options for streamlining your search. Depending on the specific search engine you use, the following options may be available:

  • Limit results to websites that have been updated within a particular time frame.
  • Limit results by language or country.
  • Limit results to scholarly works available online.
  • Limit results by file type.
  • Limit results to a particular domain type, such as .edu (school and college sites) or .gov (government sites). This is a quick way to filter out commercial sites, which can often lead to more objective results.

Use the Bookmarks or Favorites feature of your web browser to save and organize sites that look promising.

Using Other Information Sources: Interviews

With so many print and electronic media readily available, it is easy to overlook another valuable information resource: other people. Consider whether you could use a person or group as a primary source. For instance, you might interview a professor who has expertise in a particular subject, a worker within a particular industry, or a representative from a political organization. Interviews can be a great way to get firsthand information.

To get the most out of an interview, you will need to plan ahead. Contact your subject early in the research process and explain your purpose for requesting an interview. Prepare detailed questions. Open-ended questions, rather than questions with simple yes-or-no answers, are more likely to lead to an in-depth discussion. Schedule a time to meet, and be sure to obtain your subject's permission to record the interview. Take careful notes and be ready to ask follow-up questions based on what you learn.


If scheduling an in-person meeting is difficult, consider arranging a telephone interview or asking your subject to respond to your questions via email. Recognize that any of these formats takes time and effort. Be prompt and courteous, avoid going over the allotted interview time, and be flexible if your subject needs to reschedule.

Evaluating Research Resources

As you gather sources, you will need to examine them with a critical eye. Smart researchers continually ask themselves two questions: "Is this source relevant to my purpose?" and "Is this source reliable?" The first question will help you avoid wasting valuable time reading sources that stray too far from your specific topic and research questions. The second question will help you find accurate, trustworthy sources.

Is Your Source Relevant?

At this point in your research process, you may have identified dozens of potential sources. It is easy for writers to get so caught up in checking out books and printing out articles that they forget to ask themselves how they will use these resources in their research. Now is a good time to get a little ruthless. Reading and taking notes takes time and energy, so you will want to focus on the most relevant sources.

To weed through your stack of books and articles, skim their contents. Read quickly with your research questions and subtopics in mind. If a book or article is not especially relevant, put it aside. You can always come back to it later if you need to.

Is Your Source Reliable?

All information sources are not created equal. Sources can vary greatly in terms of how carefully they are researched, written, edited, and reviewed for accuracy. Common sense will help you identify obviously questionable sources, such as tabloids that feature tales of alien abductions, or personal websites with glaring typos. Sometimes, however, a source's reliability---or lack of it---is not so obvious. For more information about source reliability, see Chapter 12.

To evaluate your research sources, you will use critical thinking skills consciously and deliberately. You will consider criteria such as the type of source, its intended purpose and audience, the author's (or authors') qualifications, the publication's reputation, any indications of bias or hidden agendas, how current the source is, and the overall quality of the writing, thinking, and design.

Evaluating Types Of Sources

The different types of sources you will consult are written for distinct purposes and with different audiences in mind. This accounts for other differences, such as the following:

  • How thoroughly the writers cover a given topic
  • How carefully the writers research and document facts
  • How editors review the work
  • What biases or agendas affect the content

A journal article written for an academic audience for the purpose of expanding scholarship in a field will take an approach quite different from a magazine feature written to inform a general audience. Textbooks, hard news articles, and websites approach a subject from different angles as well. To some extent, the type of source provides clues about its overall depth and reliability.

Source Rankings

High-Quality Sources

These sources provide the most in-depth information. They are researched and written by subject matter experts and are carefully reviewed.

Varied-Quality Sources

These sources are often useful. However, they do not cover subjects in as much depth as high-quality sources, and they are not always rigorously researched and reviewed. Some, such as popular magazine articles or company brochures, may be written to market a product or a cause. Use them with caution.

Questionable Sources

These sources should be avoided. They are often written primarily to attract a large readership or present the author's opinions and are not subject to careful review.


Free online encyclopedias and wikis may seem like a great source of information. They usually appear among the first few results of a web search. They cover thousands of topics, and many articles use an informal, straightforward writing style. Unfortunately, these sites have no control system for researching, writing, and reviewing articles. Instead, they rely on a community of users to police themselves. At best, these sites can be a starting point for finding other, more trustworthy sources. Never use them as final sources.

Evaluating Credibility And Reputability

Even when you are using a type of source that is generally reliable, you will still need to evaluate the author's credibility and the publication itself on an individual basis. To examine the author's credibility---that is, how much you can believe of what the author has to say---examine his or her credentials. What career experience or academic study shows that the author has the expertise to write about this topic?

Keep in mind that expertise in one field is no guarantee of expertise in another, unrelated area. For instance, an author may have an advanced degree in physiology, but this credential is not a valid qualification for writing about psychology. Check credentials carefully.

Just as important as the author's credibility is the publication's reputability. Reputability refers to a source's standing and reputation as a respectable, reliable source of information. A well-known newspaper, such as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, is more reputable than a college newspaper put out by students, who are less-experienced. A website that is maintained by a well-known, respected organization and regularly updated is more reputable than one created by an unknown author or group.

If you are using articles from scholarly journals, you can check databases that keep count of how many times each article has been cited in other articles. This can be a rough indication of the article's quality or, at the very least, of its influence and reputation among other scholars.

Checking For Biases And Hidden Agendas

Whenever you consult a source, always think carefully about the author's or authors' purpose in presenting the information. Few sources present facts completely objectively. In some cases, the source's content and tone are significantly influenced by biases or hidden agendas.

Bias refers to favoritism or prejudice toward a particular person or group. For instance, an author may be biased against a certain political party and present information in a way that subtly---or not so subtly---makes that organization look bad. Bias can lead an author to present facts selectively, edit quotations to misrepresent someone's words, and distort information.

Hidden agendas are goals that are not immediately obvious but influence how an author presents the facts. For instance, an article about the role of beef in a healthy diet would be questionable if it were written by a representative of the beef industry---or by the president of an animal-rights organization. In both cases, the author would likely have a hidden agenda.

As Jorge conducted his research, he read several research studies in which scientists found significant benefits to following a low-carbohydrate diet. He also noticed that many studies were sponsored by a foundation associated with the author of a popular series of low-carbohydrate diet books. Jorge read these studies with a critical eye, knowing that a hidden agenda might be shaping the researchers' conclusions.

Using Current Sources

Be sure to seek out sources that are current, or up to date. Depending on the topic, sources may become outdated relatively soon after publication, or they may remain useful for years. For instance, online social networking sites have evolved rapidly over the past few years. An article published in 2002 about this topic will not provide current information. On the other hand, a research paper on elementary education practices might refer to studies published decades ago by influential child psychologists.

When using websites for research, check to see when the site was last updated. Many sites publish this information on the homepage, and some, such as news sites, are updated daily or weekly. Many broken links are a sign that a website is not regularly updated. Do not be afraid to ask your professor for suggestions if you find that many of your most relevant sources are not especially reliable---or that the most reliable sources are not relevant.

Evaluating Overall Quality By Asking Questions

When you evaluate a source, you will consider the criteria previously discussed as well as your overall impressions of its quality. Read carefully, and notice how well the author presents and supports his or her statements. Stay actively engaged---do not simply accept an author's words as truth. Ask questions to determine each source's value. The checklist below lists ten questions to ask yourself as a critical reader.

Source Evaluation Checklist

  • Is the type of source appropriate for my purpose? Is it a high-quality source or one that needs to be looked at more critically?
  • Can I establish that the author is credible and the publication is reputable?
  • Does the author support ideas with specific facts and details that are carefully documented? Is the source of the author's information clear? (When you use secondary sources, look for sources that are not too removed from primary research.)
  • Does the source include any factual errors or instances of faulty logic?
  • Does the author leave out any information that I would expect to see in a discussion of this topic?
  • Do the author's conclusions logically follow from the evidence that is presented? Can I see how the author got from one point to another?
  • Is the writing clear and organized, and is it free from errors, clichés, and empty buzzwords? Is the tone objective, balanced, and reasonable? (Be on the lookout for extreme, emotionally charged language.)
  • Are there any obvious biases or agendas? Based on what I know about the author, are there likely to be any hidden agendas?
  • Are graphics informative, useful, and easy to understand? Are websites organized, easy to navigate, and free of clutter like flashing ads and unnecessary sound effects?
  • Is the source contradicted by information found in other sources? (If so, it is possible that your sources are presenting similar information but taking different perspectives, which requires you to think carefully about which sources you find more convincing and why. Be suspicious, however, of any source that presents facts that you cannot confirm elsewhere.)

Writing At Work

The critical thinking skills you use to evaluate research sources as a student are equally valuable when you conduct research on the job. If you follow certain periodicals or websites, you have probably identified publications that consistently provide reliable information. Reading blogs and online discussion groups is a great way to identify new trends and hot topics in a particular field, but these sources should not be used for substantial research.

Exercise 4

Use a search engine to conduct a web search on your topic. Refer to the tips provided earlier to help you streamline your search. Evaluate your search results critically based on the criteria you have learned. Identify and bookmark one or more websites that are reliable, reputable, and likely to be useful in your research.

Managing Source Information

As you determine which sources you will rely on most, it is important to establish a system for keeping track of your sources and taking notes. There are several ways to go about it, and no one system is necessarily superior. What matters is that you keep materials in order; record bibliographical information you will need later; and take detailed, organized notes.

Keeping Track Of Your Sources

Think ahead to a moment a few weeks from now, when you've written your research paper and are almost ready to submit it for a grade. There is just one task left---writing your list of sources.

As you begin typing your list, you realize you need to include the publication information for a book you cited frequently. Unfortunately, you already returned it to the library several days ago. You do not remember the URLs for some of the websites you used or the dates you accessed them. With a sinking feeling, you realize that finding this information and preparing your bibliography will require hours of work.

This stressS can be avoided. Organizing source information now will ensure that you are not scrambling to find it at the last minute. Throughout your research, record bibliographical information for each source as soon as you begin using it. You may use a notebook, note cards, or a Word document But increasingly, you may want to consider a citation manager.

Citation Managers

In the last ten years, citation managers have become popular.

The best-known is probably Zotero. Zotero is a "free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, annotate, cite, and share research" (

The author of the 2023 revision of this book used Zotero to complete his PhD. He was able to keep track of 600 references over five years. As references moved in and out of his dissertation, the Works Cited list was automatically updated.

There is some learning curve in learning a citation manager. Roughly speaking, if you plan to go on and get a bachelor's degree in a field where you will write papers, then a citation manager will probably save you a lot of time. On the other hand, if you are in a certificate program that requires very few writing courses, a citation manager might not be worth it.

What To Record

This table shows the details you should record for commonly used sources. Use these details to develop a working bibliography---a preliminary list of sources that you will later use to develop the References section of your paper.

It is a good idea to record these details in the same style you will use for your paper. This will save a step later on.

Your completed paper is most likely to be in either APA (American Psychological Association) or MLA (Modern Language Association) format. For more on APA and MLA, see Chapter 13

Details To Record For Common Sources

Source Information
Book Author(s), title and subtitle, publisher, city of publication, year of publication.
Separate portion of a book (chapter or article) Include all the info for the book. Also record the portion's title, author(s), pages, and name of the book's editor(s).
Periodical Author(s), article title, publication title, date of publication, volume and issue number, and page numbers
Online source Author(s) (if available), article or document title, group that sponsors the site, database name (if applicable), date of publication, date you accessed the site, and URL
Interview Name of person interviewed, method of communication, date of interview

Your research may involve less-common types of sources not listed in Table 11.5. For additional information on citing different sources, see Chapter 13.

Exercise 5

Create a working bibliography using the format that is most convenient for you. List at least five sources you plan to use. Continue to add sources to your working bibliography throughout the research process.


To make your working bibliography even more complete, you may wish to record additional details, such as a book's call number or contact information for a person you interviewed. That way, if you need to locate a source again, you have all the information you need right at your fingertips. You may also wish to assign each source a code number to use when taking notes (1, 2, 3, or a similar system).

Taking Notes Efficiently

Good researchers stay focused and organized as they gather information from sources. Before you begin taking notes, take a moment to step back and think about your goal as a researcher---to find information that will help you answer your research question. When you write your paper, you will present your conclusions about the topic supported by research. That goal will determine what information you record and how you organize it.

Writers sometimes get caught up in taking extensive notes, so much so that they lose sight of how their notes relate to the questions and ideas they started out with. Remember that you do not need to write down every detail from your reading. Focus on finding and recording details that will help you answer your research questions. The following strategies will help you take notes efficiently.

Use Headings To Organize Ideas

Whether you use index cards or a word-processor, record just one major point from each source at a time, and use a heading to summarize the information covered. Keep all your notes in one file, digital or otherwise. Doing so will help you identify connections among different pieces of information. It will also help you make connections between your notes and the research questions and subtopics you identified earlier.

Know When To Summarize, Paraphrase, Or Quote

Your notes will fall under three categories---summary notes, paraphrased information, and direct quotations from your sources. Effective researchers make choices about which type of notes is most appropriate for their purpose.

Summary notes sum up the main ideas in a source in a few sentences or a short paragraph. A summary is considerably shorter than the original text and captures only the major ideas. Use summary notes when you do not need to record specific details but you intend to refer to broad concepts the author discusses.

Paraphrased notes restate a fact or idea from a source using your own words and sentence structure.

Direct quotations use the exact wording used by the original source and enclose the quoted material in quotation marks. It is a good strategy to copy direct quotations when an author expresses an idea in an especially lively or memorable way. However, do not rely exclusively on direct quotations in your note taking.

Most of your notes should be paraphrased from the original source. Paraphrasing as you take notes is usually a better strategy than copying direct quotations, because it forces you to think through the information in your source and understand it well enough to restate it. In short, it helps you stay engaged with the material instead of simply copying and pasting. Synthesizing will help you later when you begin planning and drafting your paper. (For detailed guidelines on summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting, see [Section 11.6].)

Maintain Complete, Accurate Notes

Regardless of the format used, any notes you take should include enough information to help you organize ideas and locate them instantly in the original text if you need to review them. Make sure your notes include the following elements:

  • Heading summing up the main topic covered
  • Author's name, a source code, or an abbreviated source title
  • Page number
  • Full URL of any pages buried deep in a website

Throughout the process of taking notes, be scrupulous about making sure you have correctly attributed each idea to its source. Always include source information so you know exactly which ideas came from which sources. Use quotation marks to set off any words for phrases taken directly from the original text. If you add your own responses and ideas, make sure they are distinct from ideas you quoted or paraphrased.

Finally, make sure your notes accurately reflect the content of the original text. Make sure quoted material is copied verbatim. If you omit words from a quotation, use ellipses to show the omission and make sure the omission does not change the author's meaning. Paraphrase ideas carefully and check your paraphrased notes against the original text to make sure that you have restated the author's ideas accurately in your own words.

Use A System That Works For You

There are several formats you can use to take notes. No technique is necessarily better than the others---it is more important to choose a format you are comfortable using. Choosing the format that works best for you will ensure your notes are organized, complete, and accurate. Consider implementing one of these formats when you begin taking notes:

Use index cards. This traditional format involves writing each note on a separate index card. It takes more time than copying and pasting into an electronic document, which encourages you to be selective in choosing which ideas to record. Recording notes on separate cards makes it easy to later organize your notes according to major topics. Some writers color-code their cards to make them still more organized.

Use note-taking software. Word-processing and office software packages often include different types of note-taking software. Although you may need to set aside some time to learn the software, this method combines the speed of typing with the same degree of organization associated with handwritten note cards.

Maintain a research notebook. Instead of using index cards or electronic note cards, you may wish to keep a notebook or electronic folder, allotting a few pages (or one file) for each of your sources. This method makes it easy to create a separate column or section of the document where you add your responses to the information you encounter in your research.

Annotate your sources. This method involves making handwritten notes in the margins of sources that you have printed or photocopied. If using electronic sources, you can make comments within the source document. For example, you might add comment boxes to a PDF version of an article. This method works best for experienced researchers who have already thought a great deal about the topic because it can be difficult to organize your notes later when starting your draft.

Choose one of the methods from the list to use for taking notes. Continue gathering sources and taking notes. In the next section, you will learn strategies for organizing and synthesizing the information you have found.


A writer's use of primary and secondary sources is determined by the topic and purpose of the research. Sources used may include print sources, such as books and journals; electronic sources, such as websites and articles retrieved from databases; and human sources of information, such as interviews.

Strategies that help writers locate sources efficiently include conducting effective keyword searches, understanding how to use online catalogs and databases, using strategies to narrow web search results, and consulting reference librarians.

Writers evaluate sources based on how relevant they are to the research question and how reliable their content is.

Skimming sources can help writers determine their relevance efficiently.

Writers evaluate a source's reliability by asking questions about the type of source (including its audience and purpose); the author's credibility, the publication's reputability, the source's currency, and the overall quality of the writing, research, logic, and design in the source.

In their notes, effective writers record organized, complete, accurate information. This includes bibliographic information about each source as well as summarized, paraphrased, or quoted information from the source.

11.5 Critical Thinking And Research Applications

Learning Objectives

  1. Analyze source materials to determine how they support or refute the working thesis.
  2. Identify connections between source materials and eliminate redundant or irrelevant source materials.
  3. Identify instances when it is appropriate to use human sources, such as interviews or eyewitness testimony.
  4. Select information from sources to begin answering the research questions.
  5. Determine an appropriate organizational structure for the research paper that uses critical analysis to connect the writer's ideas and information taken from sources.

At this point in your project, you are preparing to move from the research phase to the writing phase. You have gathered much of the information you will use, and soon you will be ready to begin writing your draft. This section helps you transition smoothly from one phase to the next.

Beginning writers sometimes attempt to transform a pile of note cards into a formal research paper without any intermediary step. This approach presents problems. The writer's original question and thesis may be buried in a flood of disconnected details taken from research sources. The first draft may present redundant or contradictory information. Worst of all, the writer's ideas and voice may be lost.

An effective research paper focuses on the writer's ideas---from the question that sparked the research process to how the writer answers that question based on the research findings. Before beginning a draft, or even an outline, good writers pause and reflect. They ask themselves questions such as the following:

  • How has my thinking changed based on my research? What have I learned?
  • Was my working thesis on target? Do I need to rework my thesis based on what I have learned?
  • How does the information in my sources mesh with my research questions and help me answer those questions? Have any additional important questions or subtopics come up that I will need to address in my paper?
  • How do my sources complement each other? What ideas or facts recur in multiple sources?
  • Where do my sources disagree with each other, and why?

In this section, you will reflect on your research and review the information you have gathered. You will determine what you now think about your topic. You will synthesize, or put together, different pieces of information that help you answer your research questions. Finally, you will determine the organizational structure that works best for your paper and begin planning your outline.

Exercise 1

Review the research questions and working thesis you developed in Section 11.2. Set a timer for ten minutes and write about your topic, using your questions and thesis to guide your writing. Complete this exercise without looking over your notes or sources. Base your writing on the overall impressions and concepts you have absorbed while conducting research. If additional, related questions come to mind, jot them down.

Selecting Useful Information

At this point in the research process, you have gathered information from a wide variety of sources. Now it is time to think about how you will use this information as a writer.

When you conduct research, you keep an open mind and seek out many promising sources. You take notes on any information that looks like it might help you answer your research questions. Often, new ideas and terms come up in your reading, and these, too, find their way into your notes. You may record facts or quotations that catch your attention even if they did not seem immediately relevant to your research question. By now, you have probably amassed an impressively detailed collection of notes.

You will not use all of your notes in your paper.

Good researchers are thorough. They look at multiple perspectives, facts, and ideas related to their topic, and they gather a great deal of information. Effective writers, however, are selective. They determine which information is most relevant and appropriate for their purpose. They include details that develop or explain their ideas---and they leave out details that do not. The writer, not the pile of notes, is the controlling force. The writer shapes the content of the research paper.

While working through Section 11.4, you used strategies to filter out unreliable or irrelevant sources and details. Now you will apply your critical-thinking skills to the information you recorded---analyzing how it is relevant, determining how it meshes with your ideas, and finding how it forms connections and patterns.

Writing At Work

When you create workplace documents based on research, selectivity remains important. A project team may spend months conducting market surveys to prepare for rolling out a new product, but few managers have time to read the research in its entirety. Most employees want the research distilled into a few well-supported points. Focused, concise writing is highly valued at work.

Identify Information That Supports Your Thesis

In Exercise 1, you revisited your research questions and working thesis. The process of writing informally helped you see how you might begin to pull together what you have learned from your research. Do not feel anxious, however, if you still have trouble seeing the big picture. Systematically looking through your notes will help you.

Begin by identifying the notes that clearly support your thesis. Mark or group these, either physically or using the cut-and-paste function in your word-processing program. As you identify the crucial details that support your thesis, make sure you analyze them critically. Ask the following questions to focus your thinking:

Is this detail from a reliable, high-quality source? Is it appropriate for me to cite this source in an academic paper? The bulk of the support for your thesis should come from reliable, reputable sources. If most of the details that support your thesis are from less-reliable sources, you may need to do additional research or modify your thesis.

Is the link between this information and my thesis obvious---or will I need to explain it to my readers? Remember, you have spent more time thinking and reading about this topic than your audience. Some connections might be obvious to both you and your readers. More often, however, you will need to provide the analysis or explanation that shows how the information supports your thesis. As you read through your notes, jot down ideas you have for making those connections clear.

What personal biases or experiences might affect the way I interpret this information? No researcher is 100 percent objective. We all have personal opinions and experiences that influence our reactions to what we read and learn. Good researchers are aware of this human tendency. They keep an open mind when they read opinions or facts that contradict their beliefs.


It can be tempting to ignore information that does not support your thesis or that contradicts it outright. However, such information is important. At the very least, it gives you a sense of what has been written about the issue. More importantly, it can help you question and refine your own thinking so that writing your research paper is a true learning process.

Find Connections Between Your Sources

As you find connections between your ideas and information in your sources, also look for information that connects your sources. Do most sources seem to agree on a particular idea? Are some facts mentioned repeatedly in many different sources? What key terms or major concepts come up in most of your sources regardless of whether the sources agree on the finer points? Identifying these connections will help you identify important ideas to discuss in your paper.

Look for subtler ways your sources complement one another, too. Does one author refer to another's book or article? How do sources that are more recent build upon the ideas developed in earlier sources?

Be aware of any redundancies in your sources. If you have amassed solid support from a reputable source, such as a scholarly journal, there is no need to cite the same facts from an online encyclopedia article that is many steps removed from any primary research. If a given source adds nothing new to your discussion and you can cite a stronger source for the same information, use the stronger source.

Determine how you will address any contradictions found among different sources. For instance, if one source cites a startling fact that you cannot confirm anywhere else, it is safe to dismiss the information as unreliable. However, if you find significant disagreements among reliable sources, you will need to review them and evaluate each source. Which source presents a sounder argument or more solid evidence? It is up to you to determine which source is the most credible and why.

Finally, do not ignore any information simply because it does not support your thesis. Carefully consider how that information fits into the big picture of your research. You may decide that the source is unreliable or the information is not relevant, or you may decide that it is an important point you need to bring up. What matters is that you give it careful consideration.

As Jorge reviewed his research, he realized that some of the information was not especially useful for his purpose. His notes included several statements about the relationship between soft drinks that are high in sugar and childhood obesity---a subtopic that was too far outside of the main focus of the paper. Jorge decided to cut this material.

Reevaluate Your Working Thesis

A careful analysis of your notes will help you reevaluate your working thesis and determine whether you need to revise it. Remember that your working thesis was the starting point---not necessarily the end point---of your research. You should revise your working thesis if your ideas changed based on what you read. Even if your sources generally confirmed your preliminary thinking on the topic, it is still a good idea to tweak the wording of your thesis to include the specific details you learned from research.

Jorge realized that his working thesis oversimplified the issues. He still believed that the media was exaggerating the benefits of low-carb diets. However, his research led him to conclude that these diets did have some advantages. Read Jorge's revised thesis.

Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Synthesizing And Organizing Information

By now your thinking on your topic is taking shape. You have a sense of what major ideas to address in your paper, what points you can easily support, and what questions or subtopics might need a little more thought. In short, you have begun the process of synthesizing information---that is, of putting the pieces together into a coherent whole.

It is normal to find this part of the process a little difficult. Some questions or concepts may still be unclear to you. You may not yet know how you will tie all of your research together. Synthesizing information is a complex, demanding mental task, and even experienced researchers struggle with it at times. A little uncertainty is often a good sign! It means you are challenging yourself to work thoughtfully with your topic instead of simply restating the same information.

Use Your Research Questions To Synthesize Information

You have already considered how your notes fit with your working thesis. Now, take your synthesis a step further. Analyze how your notes relate to your major research question and the subquestions you identified in Section 11.2. Organize your notes with headings that correspond to those questions. As you proceed, you might identify some important subtopics that were not part of your original plan, or you might decide that some questions are not relevant to your paper.

Categorize information carefully and continue to think critically about the material. Ask yourself whether the sources are reliable and whether the connections between ideas are clear.

Remember, your ideas and conclusions will shape the paper. They are the glue that holds the rest of the content together. As you work, begin jotting down the big ideas you will use to connect the dots for your reader. (If you are not sure where to begin, try answering your major research question and subquestions. Add and answer new questions as appropriate.) You might record these big ideas on sticky notes or type and highlight them within an electronic document.

Jorge looked back on the list of research questions that he had written down earlier. He changed a few to match his new thesis, and he began a rough outline for his paper.

Exercise 2

Review your research questions and working thesis again. This time, keep them nearby as you review your research notes.

  1. Identify information that supports your working thesis.
  2. Identify details that call your thesis into question. Determine whether you need to modify your thesis.
  3. Use your research questions to identify key ideas in your paper. Begin categorizing your notes according to which topics are addressed. (You may find yourself adding important topics or deleting unimportant ones as you proceed.)
  4. Write out your revised thesis and at least two or three big ideas.

You may be wondering how your ideas are supposed to shape the paper, especially since you are writing a research paper based on your research. Integrating your ideas and your information from research is a complex process, and sometimes it can be difficult to separate the two.

Some paragraphs in your paper will consist mostly of details from your research. That is fine, as long as you explain what those details mean or how they are linked. You should also include sentences and transitions that show the relationship between different facts from your research by grouping related ideas or pointing out connections or contrasts. The result is that you are not simply presenting information; you are synthesizing, analyzing, and interpreting it.

Plan How To Organize Your Paper

The final step to complete before beginning your draft is to choose an organizational structure. For some assignments, this may be determined by the instructor's requirements. For instance, if you are asked to explore the impact of a new communications device, a cause-and-effect structure is obviously appropriate. In other cases, you will need to determine the structure based on what suits your topic and purpose. For more information about the structures used in writing, see Chapter 10.

The purpose of Jorge's paper was primarily to persuade. With that in mind, he planned the following outline.

I. Introduction
    A. Background
    B. Thesis
II. Purported Benefits of Low-Carbohydrate Diets
    A. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition guidelines
    B. Potential flaws in USDA nutrition guidelines
        1. Effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar, insulin
        2. Relationship to metabolism and obesity
III. Research on Low-Carbohydrate Diets and Weight Loss
    A. Short-term effectiveness for weight loss
    B. Long-term effectiveness not established
IV. Other Long-Term Health Outcomes
    A. Cholesterol and heart disease
    B. Blood pressure
    C. Diabetes
V. Conclusion

Exercise 3

Review the organizational structures discussed in this section and Chapter 10. Working with the notes you organized earlier, follow these steps to begin planning how to organize your paper.

  1. Create an outline that includes your thesis, major subtopics, and supporting points.
  2. The major headings in your outline will become sections or paragraphs in your paper. Remember that your ideas should form the backbone of the paper. For each major section of your outline, write out a topic sentence stating the main point you will make in that section.
  3. As you complete step 2, you may find that some points are too complex to explain in a sentence. Consider whether any major sections of your outline need to be broken up and jot down additional topic sentences as needed.
  4. Review your notes and determine how the different pieces of information fit into your outline as supporting points.

Please share the outline you created with a classmate. Examine your classmate's outline and see if any questions come to mind or if you see any area that would benefit from an additional point or clarification. Return the outlines to each other and compare observations.

Writing At Work

The structures described in this section and Chapter 10 can also help you organize information in different types of workplace documents. For instance, medical incident reports and police reports follow a chronological structure. If the company must choose between two vendors to provide a service, you might write an email to your supervisor comparing and contrasting the choices. Understanding when and how to use each organizational structure can help you write workplace documents efficiently and effectively.


  • An effective research paper focuses on presenting the writer's ideas using information from research as support.
  • Effective writers spend time reviewing, synthesizing, and organizing their research notes before they begin drafting a research paper.
  • It is important for writers to revisit their research questions and working thesis as they transition from the research phase to the writing phrase of a project. Usually, the working thesis will need at least minor adjustments.
  • To organize a research paper, writers choose a structure that is appropriate for the topic and purpose. Longer papers may make use of more than one structure.

11.6 Writing From Research: End-of-chapter Exercises


  1. In this chapter, you learned strategies for generating and narrowing a topic for a research paper. Review the following list of five general topics. Use freewriting and preliminary research to narrow three of these topics to manageable size for a five- to seven-page research paper. Save your list of topics in a print or electronic file, and add to it periodically as you identify additional areas of interest.
  • Illegal immigration in the United States
  • Bias in the media
  • The role of religion in educational systems
  • The possibility of life in outer space
  • Modern-day slavery around the world
  1. Working with one of the topics you have identified, use the research skills you learned in this chapter to locate three to five potentially useful print or electronic sources of information about the topic. Create a list that includes the following:
  • One subject-specific periodicals database likely to include relevant articles on your topic
  • Two articles about your topic written for an educated general audience
  • At least one article about your topic written for an audience with specialized knowledge
  1. Organize your list of resources into primary and secondary sources. What makes them such? Pick one primary source and one secondary source and write a sentence or two summarizing the information that they provide. Then answer these questions:
  • What type of primary source did you choose?
  • Who wrote it, and why?
  • Do you think this source provides accurate information, or is it biased in some way?
  • Where did the information in the secondary source come from?
  • Was the author citing an initial study, piece of literature, or work of art?
  • If so, where could you find the primary source?

Chapter 12

Table of Contents

Writing A Research Paper

12.1 Creating A Rough Draft For A Research Paper

Learning Objectives

  1. Apply strategies for drafting an effective introduction and conclusion.
  2. Identify when and how to summarize, paraphrase, and directly quote information from research sources.
  3. Apply guidelines for citing sources within the body of the paper and the bibliography.
  4. Use primary and secondary research to support ideas.
  5. Identify the purposes for which writers use each type of research.

Now you are ready to begin the rough draft of your research paper. Putting your work into words is exciting, but it can also be challenging.

In this section, you will learn to handle the challenges of a research paper, especially integrating your sources, citing correctly, and avoiding misuse of sources.

The Structure Of A Research Paper

Most research papers have a three-part structure:

  • an introduction that presents the thesis
  • a body that develops the thesis with supporting points and evidence
  • a conclusion that revisits the thesis and gives more insight or suggests what to investigate next

Your voice will come across most strongly in your introduction and conclusion, as you work to attract your readers' interest. These sections usually do not cite sources at length. They focus on the big picture, not specific details.

In contrast, your body will cite sources a lot. Here is where you must support your ideas with details from your research.

Writing Your Introduction

There many ways to write an introduction, but they all share the same goals: The introduction should get readers' attention, give background, and present the writer's thesis.

Many writers like to begin with one of these openers:

  • A surprising fact
  • A thought-provoking question
  • An attention-getting quote
  • A brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept
  • A connection between your topic and your readers' experiences

The next few sentences place the opening in context by presenting background information. From there, the writer builds toward a thesis, which is traditionally placed at the end of the introduction. Think of your thesis as a signpost that lets readers know where the paper is headed.

Jorge decided to begin his research paper by connecting his topic to readers' daily experiences. Read the first draft of his introduction. The thesis is underlined. Note how Jorge progresses from the opening sentences to background information to his thesis.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carb Diets

I. Introduction

Over the past decade, increasing numbers of Americans have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. Some studies estimate that approximately 40 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the population, are attempting to restrict their intake of food high in carbohydrates (Sanders and Katz, 2004; Hirsch, 2004). Proponents of low-carb diets say they are not only the most effective way to lose weight, but they also yield health benefits such as lower blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels. Meanwhile, some doctors claim that low-carb diets are overrated and caution that their long-term effects are unknown. Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, these diets are not necessarily the best option for everyone who wants to lose weight or improve their health.

Exercise 1

Write the introduction of your research paper. Try using one of the techniques listed in this section to write an engaging introduction. Be sure to include background information about the topic that leads to your thesis.


Many writers like to write the thesis and the body of their papers first, and only write the intro and conclusion later. Think about a tour guide: when a guide tells you what will be coming up, they need to already know the route ahead.

Writing Your Conclusion

In your introduction, you tell readers where they are headed. In your conclusion, you tell them where they have been.

For this reason, some writers prefer to write the conclusion and the introduction at the same time.

Others write straight through, from the start to the end.

You will learn which process works best for you. There is no one right way: it is a personal preference.

A conclusion should sum up your main ideas and revisit your thesis. The conclusion should not just say exactly what the introduction said: you need to add some further point or reflection.

You should also avoid bland summary statements, such as "In this paper, I have demonstrated that. . .."

An effective writer might conclude a paper by asking a new question the research inspired, revisiting an anecdote presented earlier, or reminding readers of how the topic relates to their lives.

Writing At Work

If you work in the sciences, you will find the papers you read have a very specific structure that scientists hold to.

In a scientific paper, the introduction explains the purpose of the research, summarizes previous research, and presents the researchers' hypothesis. The body provides details about the study, such as who participated in it, what the researchers measured, and what results they recorded. The conclusion presents the researchers' interpretation of the data, or what they learned.

Using Source Material In Your Paper

One of the challenges of writing a research paper is successfully integrating your ideas with material from your sources. Your paper must explain what you think, or it will read like a disconnected string of facts and quotations. However, you also need to support your ideas with research, or they will seem insubstantial. How do you strike the right balance?

You have already taken a step in the right direction by writing your introduction. The introduction and conclusion function like the frame around a picture. They define and limit your topic and place your research in context.

In the body paragraphs of your paper, you will need to integrate ideas carefully. You will use topic sentences in your paragraphs to make sure readers understand the significance of any facts, details, or quotations you cite. You will also include sentences that transition between ideas from your research, either within a paragraph or between paragraphs. At the sentence level, you will need to think carefully about how you introduce paraphrased and quoted material.

Earlier you learned about summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting when taking notes. In the next few sections, you will learn how to use these techniques in the body of your paper to weave in source material to support your ideas.

Summarizing Sources

When you summarize material from a source, you zero in on the main points and restate them concisely in your own words. This technique is appropriate when only the major ideas are relevant to your paper or when you need to simplify complex information into a few key points for your readers.

Be sure to review the source material as you summarize it. Identify the main idea and restate it as concisely as you can---preferably in one sentence. Depending on your purpose, you may also add another sentence or two condensing any important details or examples. Check your summary to make sure it is accurate and complete.

In his draft, Jorge summarized research materials that presented scientists' findings about low-carbohydrate diets. Read the following passage from a trade magazine article and Jorge's summary of the article.

Assessing the Efficacy of Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Adrienne Howell, PhD

Over the past few years, a number of clinical studies have explored whether high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss than other frequently recommended diet plans, such as diets that drastically curtail fat intake (Pritikin) or that emphasize consuming lean meats, grains, vegetables, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats (the Mediterranean diet). A 2009 study found that obese teenagers who followed a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 15.6 kilograms over a six-month period, whereas teenagers following a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet lost an average of 11.1 kilograms and 9.3 kilograms respectively. Two 2010 studies that measured weight loss for obese adults following these same three diet plans found similar results. Over three months, subjects on the low-carbohydrate diet plan lost anywhere from four to six kilograms more than subjects who followed other diet plans.


In three recent studies, researchers compared outcomes for obese subjects who followed either a low-carbohydrate diet, a low-fat diet, or a Mediterranean diet and found that subjects following a low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight in the same time (Howell, 2010).


A summary restates ideas in your own words---but for specialized or clinical terms, you may need to use terms that appear in the original source. For instance, Jorge used the term obese in his summary because related words such as heavy or overweight have a different clinical meaning.

Exercise 2

On a separate sheet of paper, practice summarizing by writing a one-sentence summary of the same passage that Jorge already summarized.

Paraphrasing Sources

When you paraphrase material from a source, restate the information from an entire sentence or passage in your own words, using your own original sentence structure. A paraphrased source differs from a summarized source in that you focus on restating the ideas, not condensing them.

Again, it is important to check your paraphrase against the source material to make sure it is both accurate and original. Inexperienced writers sometimes use the thesaurus method of paraphrasing---that is, they simply rewrite the source material, replacing most of the words with synonyms. This constitutes a misuse of sources. A true paraphrase restates ideas using the writer's own language and style.

In his draft, Jorge frequently paraphrased details from sources. At times, he needed to rewrite a sentence more than once to ensure he was paraphrasing ideas correctly. Read the passage from a website. Then read Jorge's initial attempt at paraphrasing it, followed by the final version of his paraphrase.


Dieters nearly always get great results soon after they begin following a low-carbohydrate diet, but these results tend to taper off after the first few months, particularly because many dieters find it difficult to follow a low-carbohydrate diet plan consistently.


People usually see encouraging outcomes shortly after they go on a low-carbohydrate diet, but their progress slows down after a short while, especially because most discover that it is a challenge to adhere to the diet strictly (Heinz, 2009).

After reviewing the paraphrased sentence, Jorge realized he was following the original source too closely. He did not want to quote the full passage verbatim, so he again attempted to restate the idea in his own style.

Updated Paraphrase

Because it is hard for dieters to stick to a low-carbohydrate eating plan, the initial success of these diets is short-lived (Heinz, 2009).

Exercise 3

On a separate sheet of paper, follow these steps to practice paraphrasing.

  1. Choose an important idea or detail from your notes.
  2. Without looking at the original source, restate the idea in your own words.
  3. Check your paraphrase against the original text in the source. Make sure both your language and your sentence structure are original.
  4. Revise your paraphrase if necessary.

Quoting Sources

Most of the time, you will summarize or paraphrase source material instead of quoting directly. Doing so shows that you understand your research well enough to write about it confidently in your own words. However, direct quotes can be powerful when used sparingly and with purpose.

Quoting directly can sometimes help you make a point in a colorful way. If an author's words are especially vivid, memorable, or well phrased, quoting them may help hold your reader's interest. Direct quotations from an interviewee or an eyewitness may help you personalize an issue for readers. And when you analyze primary sources, such as a historical speech or a work of literature, quoting extensively is often necessary to illustrate your points. These are valid reasons to use quotations.

Less experienced writers, however, sometimes overuse direct quotations in a research paper because it seems easier than paraphrasing. At best, this reduces the effectiveness of the quotations. At worst, it results in a paper that seems haphazardly pasted together from outside sources. Use quotations sparingly for greater impact.

When you do choose to quote directly from a source, follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure you have transcribed the original statement accurately.
  • Represent the author's ideas honestly. Quote enough of the original text to reflect the author's point accurately.
  • Never use a stand-alone quotation. Always integrate the quoted material into your own sentence.
  • Use ellipses (. . .) if you need to omit a word or phrase. Use brackets [ ] if you need to replace a word or phrase.

Make sure any omissions or changed words do not alter the meaning of the original text. Omit or replace words only when absolutely necessary to shorten the text or to make it grammatically correct within your sentence.

Remember to include citations that follow the style guide your class is using (usually APA style or MLA style).

Jorge interviewed a dietician as part of his research, and he decided to quote her words in his paper. Read an excerpt from the interview and Jorge's use of it, which follows.


Personally, I don't really buy into all of the hype about low-carbohydrate miracle diets like Atkins and so on. Sure, for some people, they are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well.


Registered dietician Dana Kwon (2010) admits, "Personally, I don't really buy into all of the hype. . ..Sure, for some people, [low-carbohydrate diets] are great, but for most, any sensible eating and exercise plan would work just as well."

Notice how Jorge smoothly integrated the quote by starting with an introductory phrase. (The MLA calls this kind of introductory phrase a "signal phrase"; the APA does not appear to have a specific term for it.) His use of ellipses and brackets did not change the source's meaning.

Documenting Source Material

Carefully document information taken from sources. There are two reasons for this:

  1. To give credit to other writers or researchers for their ideas
  2. To allow your reader to follow up and learn more about the topic if desired

You will cite sources within the body of your paper and at the end of the paper in your bibliography. For this assignment, you will use the citation format used by the American Psychological Association (also known as APA style). For information on the format used by the Modern Language Association (MLA style), see Chapter 13.

Citing Sources In The Body Of Your Paper

In-text citations document your sources within the body of your paper. These include two vital pieces of information: the author's name and the year the source material was published. When quoting a print source, also include in the citation the page number where the quoted material originally appears. The page number will follow the year in the in-text citation. Page numbers are necessary only when content has been directly quoted, not when it has been summarized or paraphrased.

Within a paragraph, this information may appear inside your sentence:

Leibowitz (2008) found that low-carbohydrate diets often helped subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels.

Or it may appear at the end of your sentence:

Low-carbohydrate diets often help subjects with Type II diabetes maintain a healthy weight and control blood-sugar levels (Leibowitz, 2008).

Both of these are in-text citations. APA style calls the first kind a narrative citation and the second kind a parenthetical citation. MLA style calls both just in-text citations.

For more information on APA and MLA styles, see Chapter 13.

Creating A List Of Sources

Each and every source you cite in the body will appear in a bibliography (a "book list") at the end of your paper.

In-text citations give only basic information---the author and the date or page number. A bibliography gives more information---enough for your reader to find each source.

The two styles we will discuss later in this book are APA (American Psychological Association) style and MLA (Modern Language Association) style. In APA style your bibliography gets called References. In MLA style, it gets called Works Cited. See Chapter 13 for more information.

In general, an entry in a bibliography will include this information:

  • The author's last name followed by his or her first name (MLA) or first initial (APA)
  • The year the source was published
  • The source title
  • For articles in periodicals, the full name of the periodical, along with the volume and issue number and the pages where the article appeared

For a detailed guide to APA or MLA citations, see Chapter 13.

A sample reference list is provided with the final draft of Jorge's paper later in this chapter.

Using Primary And Secondary Research

As you write your draft, be mindful of how you are using primary and secondary source material to support your points. Recall that primary sources present firsthand information. Secondary sources are one step removed from primary sources. They present a writer's analysis or interpretation of primary source materials. How you balance primary and secondary source material in your paper will depend on the topic and assignment.

Using Primary Sources Effectively

Some types of research papers must use primary sources extensively to achieve their purpose. Any paper that analyzes a primary text or presents the writer's own experimental research falls in this category. Here are a few examples:

  • A paper for a literature course analyzing several poems by Emily Dickinson
  • A paper for a political science course comparing televised speeches delivered by two presidential candidates
  • A paper for a communications course discussing gender biases in television commercials
  • A paper for a business administration course that discusses the results of a survey the writer conducted with local businesses to gather information about their work-from-home and flextime policies
  • A paper for an elementary education course that discusses the results of an experiment the writer conducted to compare the effectiveness of two different methods of mathematics instruction

For these types of papers, primary research is the main focus. If you are writing about a work (including nonprint works, such as a movie or a painting), it is crucial to gather information and ideas from the original work, rather than relying solely on others' interpretations. And, of course, if you take the time to design and conduct your own field research, such as a survey, a series of interviews, or an experiment, you will want to discuss it in detail. For example, the interviews may provide interesting responses that you want to share with your reader.

Using Secondary Sources Effectively

For some assignments, it makes sense to rely more on secondary sources than primary sources. If you are not analyzing a text or conducting your own field research, you will need to use secondary sources extensively.

As much as possible, use secondary sources that are closely linked to primary research, such as a journal article presenting the results of the authors' scientific study or a book that cites interviews and case studies. These sources are more reliable and add more value to your paper than sources that are further removed from primary research. For instance, a popular magazine article on junk-food addiction might be several steps removed from the original scientific study on which it is loosely based. As a result, the article may distort, sensationalize, or misinterpret the scientists' findings.

Even if your paper is largely based on primary sources, you may use secondary sources to develop your ideas. For instance, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's films would focus on the films themselves as a primary source, but might also cite commentary from critics. A paper that presents an original experiment would include some discussion of similar prior research in the field.

Jorge knew he could not conduct an original experiment for his paper. Because he was relying on secondary sources to support his ideas, he made a point of citing sources that were not far removed from primary research.


Some sources could be considered primary or secondary sources, depending on the writer's purpose for using them. For instance, if a writer's purpose is to inform readers about how the No Child Left Behind legislation has affected elementary education, a Time magazine article on the subject would be a secondary source. However, suppose the writer's purpose is to analyze how the news media has portrayed the effects of the No Child Left Behind legislation. In that case, articles about the legislation in news magazines like Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report would be primary sources. They provide firsthand examples of the media coverage the writer is analyzing.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Your research paper presents your thinking about a topic, supported and developed by other people's ideas and information. It is crucial to always distinguish between the two---as you conduct research, as you plan your paper, and as you write. Failure to do so can lead to plagiarism.

Intentional And Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is the act of misrepresenting someone else's work as your own. Sometimes a writer plagiarizes work on purpose---for instance, by purchasing an essay from a website and submitting it as original course work. In other cases, a writer may commit accidental plagiarism due to carelessness, haste, or misunderstanding. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, follow these guidelines:

  • Understand what types of information must be cited.
  • Understand what constitutes fair use of a source.
  • Keep source materials and notes carefully organized.
  • Follow guidelines for summarizing, paraphrasing, and quoting sources.

When To Cite

Any idea or fact taken from an outside source must be cited, in both the body of your paper and the references list. The only exceptions are facts or general statements that are common knowledge. Common-knowledge facts or general statements are commonly supported by and found in multiple sources. For example, a writer would not need to cite the statement that most breads, pastas, and cereals are high in carbohydrates; this is well known and well documented. However, if a writer explained in detail the differences among the chemical structures of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, a citation would be necessary. When in doubt, cite.

Fair Use

In recent years, issues related to the fair use of sources have been prevalent in popular culture. Recording artists, for example, may disagree about the extent to which one has the right to sample another's music. For academic purposes, however, the guidelines for fair use are reasonably straightforward.

Writers may quote from or paraphrase material from previously published works without formally obtaining the copyright holder's permission. Fair use means that the writer legitimately uses brief excerpts from source material to support and develop his or her own ideas. For instance, a columnist may excerpt a few sentences from a novel when writing a book review. However, quoting or paraphrasing another's work at excessive length, to the extent that large sections of the writing are unoriginal, is not fair use.

As he worked on his draft, Jorge was careful to cite his sources correctly and not to rely excessively on any one source. Occasionally, however, he caught himself quoting a source at great length. In those instances, he highlighted the paragraph in question so that he could go back to it later and revise. Read the example, along with Jorge's revision.

Example With Too Much Quotation

Heinz (2009) found that "subjects in the low-carbohydrate group (30% carbohydrates; 40% protein, 30% fat) had a mean weight loss of 10 kg (22 lbs) over a 4-month period." These results were "noticeably better than results for subjects on a low-fat diet (45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 20% fat)" whose average weight loss was only "7 kg (15.4 lbs) in the same period." From this, it can be concluded that "low-carbohydrate diets obtain more rapid results." Other researchers agree that "at least in the short term, patients following low-carbohydrate diets enjoy greater success" than those who follow alternative plans (Johnson & Crowe, 2010).

After reviewing the paragraph, Jorge realized that he had drifted into unoriginal writing. Most of the paragraph was taken verbatim from a single article. Although Jorge had enclosed the material in quotation marks, he knew it was not an appropriate way to use the research in his paper.

Improved Example With More Paraphrase

Low-carbohydrate diets may indeed be superior to other diet plans for short-term weight loss. In a study comparing low-carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets, Heinz (2009) found that subjects who followed a low-carbohydrate plan (30% of total calories) for 4 months lost, on average, about 3 kilograms more than subjects who followed a low-fat diet for the same time. Heinz concluded that these plans yield quick results, an idea supported by a similar study conducted by Johnson and Crowe (2010). What remains to be seen, however, is whether this initial success can be sustained for longer periods.

As Jorge revised the paragraph, he realized he did not need to quote these sources directly. Instead, he paraphrased their most important findings. He also made sure to include a topic sentence stating the main idea of the paragraph and a concluding sentence that transitioned to the next major topic in his essay.

Working With Sources Carefully

Disorganization and carelessness sometimes lead to plagiarism. For instance, a writer may be unable to provide a complete, accurate citation if he didn't record bibliographical information. A writer may cut and paste a passage from a website into her paper and later forget where the material came from. A writer who procrastinates may rush through a draft, which easily leads to sloppy paraphrasing and inaccurate quotations. Any of these actions can create the appearance of plagiarism and lead to negative consequences.

Carefully organizing your time and notes is the best guard against these forms of plagiarism. Maintain a detailed working bibliography and thorough notes throughout the research process. Check original sources again to clear up any uncertainties. Allow plenty of time for writing your draft so there is no temptation to cut corners.

Writing At Work

Citing other people's work appropriately is just as important in the workplace as it is in school. If you need to consult outside sources to research a document you are creating, follow the general guidelines already discussed, as well as any industry-specific citation guidelines. For more extensive use of others' work---for instance, requesting permission to link to another company's website on your own corporate website---always follow your employer's established procedures.

Academic Integrity

The concepts and strategies discussed in this section of Chapter 12 connect to a larger issue---academic integrity. You maintain your integrity as a member of an academic community by representing your work and others' work honestly and by using other people's work only in legitimately accepted ways. It is a point of honor taken seriously in every academic discipline and career field.

Academic integrity violations have serious educational and professional consequences. Even when cheating and plagiarism go undetected, they still result in a student's failure to learn necessary research and writing skills. Students who are found guilty of academic integrity violations face consequences ranging from a failing grade to expulsion from the college. Employees may be fired for plagiarism and do irreparable damage to their professional reputation. In short, it is never worth the risk.


  • An effective research paper focuses on the writer's ideas. The introduction and conclusion present and revisit the writer's thesis. The body of the paper develops the thesis and related points with information from research.
  • Ideas and information taken from outside sources must be cited in the body of the paper and in the references section.
  • Material taken from sources should be used to develop the writer's ideas. Summarizing and paraphrasing are most effective for this purpose.
  • A summary concisely restates the main ideas of a source in the writer's own words.
  • A paraphrase restates ideas from a source using the writer's own words and sentence structures.
  • Direct quotations should be used sparingly. Ellipses and brackets must be used to indicate words that were omitted or changed for conciseness or grammatical correctness.
  • Always represent material from outside sources accurately.
  • Plagiarism has serious academic and professional consequences. To avoid accidental plagiarism, keep research materials organized, understand guidelines for fair use and appropriate citation of sources, and review the paper to make sure these guidelines are followed.

12.2 Developing A Final Draft Of A Research Paper

Learning Objectives

  1. Revise your paper to improve organization and cohesion.
  2. Determine an appropriate style and tone for your paper.
  3. Revise to ensure that your tone is consistent.
  4. Edit your paper to ensure that language, citations, and formatting are correct.

Given all the time and effort you have put into your research project, you will want to make sure that your final draft represents your best work. This requires taking the time to revise and edit your paper carefully.

You may feel like you need a break from your paper before you revise and edit it. That is understandable---but leave yourself with enough time to complete this important stage of the writing process. In this section, you will learn the following specific strategies that are useful for revising and editing a research paper:

  • How to evaluate and improve the overall organization and cohesion
  • How to maintain an appropriate style and tone
  • How to use checklists to identify and correct any errors in language, citations, and formatting

Revising Your Paper: Organization And Cohesion

When writing a research paper, it is easy to become overly focused on editorial details, such as the proper format for bibliographical entries. These details do matter. However, before you begin to address them, it is important to spend time reviewing and revising the content of the paper.

A good research paper is both organized and cohesive. Organization means that your argument flows logically from one point to the next. Cohesion means that the elements of your paper work together smoothly and naturally. In a cohesive research paper, information from research is seamlessly integrated with the writer's ideas.

Revise To Improve Organization

When you revise to improve organization, you look at the flow of ideas throughout the essay as a whole and within individual paragraphs. You check to see that your essay moves logically from the introduction to the body paragraphs to the conclusion, and that each section reinforces your thesis. Use the checklist below to help you.

Revision: Organization Checklist

At the essay level

  • Does my introduction proceed clearly from the opening to the thesis?
  • Does each body paragraph have a clear main idea that relates to the thesis?
  • Do the main ideas in the body paragraphs flow in a logical order? Is each paragraph connected to the one before it?
  • Do I need to add or revise topic sentences or transitions to make the overall flow of ideas clearer?
  • Does my conclusion summarize my main ideas and revisit my thesis?

At the paragraph level

  • Does the topic sentence clearly state the main idea?
  • Do the details in the paragraph relate to the main idea?
  • Do I need to recast any sentences or add transitions to improve the flow of sentences?

Jorge reread his draft paragraph by paragraph. As he read, he highlighted the main idea of each paragraph so he could see whether his ideas proceeded in a logical order. For the most part, the flow of ideas was clear. However, he did notice that one paragraph did not have a clear main idea. It interrupted the flow of the writing. During revision, Jorge added a topic sentence that clearly connected the paragraph to the one that had preceded it. He also added transitions to improve the flow of ideas from sentence to sentence.

Read the following paragraph twice, the first time without Jorge's changes, and the second time with them.

Exercise 1

Follow these steps to begin revising your paper's overall organization.

  1. Print out a hard copy of your paper.

  2. Read your paper paragraph by paragraph. Highlight your thesis and the topic sentence of each paragraph.

  3. Using the thesis and topic sentences as starting points, outline the ideas you presented---just as you would do if you were outlining a chapter in a textbook. Do not look at the outline you created during prewriting. You may write in the margins of your draft or create a formal outline on a separate sheet of paper.

  4. Next, reread your paper more slowly, looking for how ideas flow from sentence to sentence. Identify places where adding a transition or recasting a sentence would make the ideas flow more logically.

  5. Review the topics on your outline. Is there a logical flow of ideas? Identify any places where you may need to reorganize ideas.

  6. Begin to revise your paper to improve organization. Start with any major issues, such as needing to move an entire paragraph. Then proceed to minor revisions, such as adding a transitional phrase or tweaking a topic sentence so it connects ideas more clearly.

Please share your paper with a classmate. Repeat the six steps and take notes on a separate piece of paper. Share and compare notes.


Writers choose transitions carefully to show the relationships between ideas---for instance, to make a comparison or elaborate on a point with examples. Make sure your transitions suit your purpose and avoid overusing the same ones. For an extensive list of transitions, see Section 8.4.

Revise To Improve Cohesion

When you revise to improve cohesion, you analyze how the parts of your paper work together. You look for anything that seems awkward or out of place. Revision may involve deleting unnecessary material or rewriting parts of the paper so that the out-of-place material fits in smoothly.

In a research paper, problems with cohesion usually occur when a writer has trouble integrating source material. If facts or quotations have been awkwardly dropped into a paragraph, they distract or confuse the reader instead of working to support the writer's point. Overusing paraphrased and quoted material has the same effect. Use the checklist below to review your essay for cohesion.

Revision: Cohesion Checklist

  • Does the opening of the paper clearly connect to the broader topic and thesis? Make sure entertaining quotes or anecdotes serve a purpose.
  • Have I included support from research for each main point in the body of my paper?
  • Have I included introductory material before any quotations? Quotations should never stand alone in a paragraph.
  • Does paraphrased and quoted material clearly serve to develop my own points?
  • Do I need to add to or revise parts of the paper to help the reader understand how certain information from a source is relevant?
  • Are there any places where I have overused material from sources?
  • Does my conclusion make sense based on the rest of the paper? Make sure any new questions or suggestions in the conclusion are clearly linked to earlier material.

As Jorge reread his draft, he looked to see how the different pieces fit together to prove his thesis. He realized that some of his supporting information needed to be integrated more carefully and decided to omit some details entirely. Read the following paragraph, first without Jorge's revisions and then with them.

Jorge decided that his comment about pizza and birthday cake came across as subjective and was not necessary to make his point, so he deleted it. He also realized that the quotation at the end of the paragraph was awkward and ineffective. How would his readers know who Kwon was or why her opinion should be taken seriously? Adding an introductory phrase helped Jorge integrate this quotation smoothly and establish the credibility of his source.

Exercise 2

Follow these steps to begin revising your paper to improve cohesion.

  1. Print out a hard copy of your paper, or work with your printout from Exercise 1.
  2. Read the body paragraphs of your paper first. Each time you come to a place that cites information from sources, ask yourself what purpose this information serves. Check that it helps support a point and that it is clearly related to the other sentences in the paragraph.
  3. Identify unnecessary information from sources that you can delete.
  4. Identify places where you need to revise your writing so that readers understand the significance of the details cited from sources.
  5. Skim the body paragraphs once more, looking for any paragraphs that seem packed with citations. Review these paragraphs carefully for cohesion.
  6. Review your introduction and conclusion. Make sure the information presented works with ideas in the body of the paper.
  7. Revise the places you identified in your paper to improve cohesion.

Please exchange papers with a classmate. Complete step four. On a separate piece of paper, note any areas that would benefit from clarification. Return and compare notes.

Writing At Work

Understanding cohesion can also benefit you at work, especially when you have to write and deliver a presentation. Speakers sometimes rely on cute graphics or funny quotations to hold their audience's attention. If you choose to use these elements, make sure they work well with the substantive content of your presentation. For example, if you are asked to give a financial presentation, and the financial report shows that the company lost money, funny illustrations would not be relevant or appropriate for the presentation.

Using A Consistent Style And Tone

Once you are certain that the content of your paper fulfills your purpose, you can begin revising to improve style and tone. Together, your style and tone create the voice of your paper, or how you come across to readers. Style refers to the way you use language as a writer---the sentence structures you use and the word choices you make. Tone is the attitude toward your subject and audience that you convey through your word choice.

Determining An Appropriate Style And Tone

When you write about research, you want to sound like you know what you're talking about. It's like being a tour guide and showing people around a topic. But you don't want to sound too fancy or too casual. You also don't want to use extreme or emotional language. To avoid these problems, think about your topic and your audience and choose a style and tone that fits. A paper on serious medical research should sound more formal than a paper on tips for sleeping better. It's also a good idea to avoid using "I" or talking about your personal opinions. Use the Style Checklist below to check your writing for other style issues, and make sure everything is consistent when you're done.

Style Checklist

  • My paper avoids excessive wordiness.
  • My sentences are varied in length and structure.
  • I have avoided using first-person pronouns such as I and we.
  • I have used the active voice whenever possible.
  • I have defined specialized terms that might be unfamiliar to readers.
  • I have used clear, straightforward language whenever possible and avoided unnecessary jargon.
  • My paper states my point of view using a balanced tone---neither too indecisive nor too forceful.

Word Choice

Word choice is an especially important aspect of style.

Here are some word choices to avoid:

  • Vague terms
  • Slang
  • The same signal phrase used over and over ("Smith states. . .", "Jones states. . .") (For a list of verbs to use with in-text citations, see Chapter 13.)
  • Only the pronoun he instead of they or he or she
  • Judgmentally negative language, such as haughty or ridiculous
  • Biased or offensive language for ethnic, racial, or religious groups

Keeping Your Style Consistent

As you revise your paper, make sure your style is consistent throughout. Look for instances where a word, phrase, or sentence just does not seem to fit with the rest of the writing. It is best to reread for style after you have completed the other revisions so that you are not distracted by any larger content issues. Revising strategies you can use include the following:

  • Read your paper aloud. Sometimes your ears catch inconsistencies that your eyes miss.
  • Share your paper with another reader whom you trust to give you honest feedback. It is often difficult to evaluate one's own style objectively---especially in the final phase of a challenging writing project. Another reader may be more likely to notice instances of wordiness, confusing language, or other issues that affect style and tone.
  • Line-edit your paper slowly, sentence by sentence. You may even wish to use a sheet of paper to cover everything on the page except the paragraph you are editing---that forces you to read slowly and carefully. Mark any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.

Jorge looked over his paper and thought it sounded pretty academic, except for the first part. He saw that some of the words he used were too casual and might make people think he wasn't taking the topic seriously. He fixed this by changing some words and taking out a joke, so that his writing sounded the same all the way through. You can read his changes.

Exercise 3

Using the Style Checklist, line-edit your paper. You may use either of these techniques:

  1. Print out a hard copy of your paper, or work with your printout from Exercise 1. Read it line by line. Check for the issues noted on Checklist 12.3, as well as any other aspects of your writing style you have previously identified as areas for improvement. Mark any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.

  2. If you prefer to work with an electronic document, use the menu options in your word-processing program to enlarge the text to 150 or 200 percent of the original size. Make sure the type is large enough that you can focus on only one paragraph at a time. Read the paper line by line as described in step 1. Highlight any areas where you notice problems in style or tone, and then take time to rework those sections.

Exchange papers with a classmate. On a separate piece of paper, note places where the essay does not seem to flow or you have questions about what was written. Return the essay and compare notes.

Editing Your Paper

After revising your paper to address problems in content or style, you will complete one final editorial review. Perhaps you already have caught and corrected minor mistakes during previous revisions. Nevertheless, give your draft a final edit to make sure it is error-free. Your final edit should focus on two broad areas:

  1. Errors in grammar, mechanics, usage, and spelling
  2. Errors in citing and formatting sources

For in-depth information on these two topics, see Chapter 2 and Chapter 13.

Correcting Errors

Given how much work you have put into your research paper, you will want to check for any errors that could distract or confuse your readers. Using the spell-checking feature in your word-processing program can be helpful---but this should not replace a full, careful review of your document. Be sure to check for any errors that may have come up frequently for you in the past. Use the checklist below to help you as you edit:

Mechanics Checklist

  • My paper is free of grammatical errors, such as errors in subject-verb agreement and sentence fragments. (For additional guidance on grammar, see Chapter 2
  • My paper is free of errors in punctuation and mechanics, such as misplaced commas or incorrectly formatted source titles.
  • My paper is free of common usage errors, such as alot and alright.
  • My paper is free of spelling errors. I have proofread my paper for spelling and run a spellcheck.
  • I have checked my paper for any editing errors that I know I tend to make frequently.

Checking Citations And Formatting

When editing a research paper, it is also important to check that you have cited sources properly and formatted your document according to the specified guidelines. There are two reasons for this. First and foremost, citing sources correctly ensures that you have given proper credit to other people for ideas and information that helped you in your work. Second, using correct formatting establishes your paper as one student's contribution to the work developed by and for a larger academic community. Increasingly, American Psychological Association (APA) style guidelines are the standard for many academic fields. Modern Language Association (MLA) is also a standard style in many fields. Use the Citations and Format Checklist to help you check citations and formatting.

Citations And Format Checklist

  • Within the text of my paper, each fact or idea taken from a source is credited to the correct source.
  • Each in-text citation includes the author's name and year of publication.
  • Each source cited in my text has a matching entry in the references.
  • My references section includes a heading and double-spaced, alphabetized entries.
  • Each entry in my references section is indented on the second line and all subsequent lines.
  • Each entry in my references section includes all the necessary information for that source type, in the correct sequence and format.
  • My paper includes a title page.
  • The margins of my paper are set at one inch.
  • Text is double-spaced and set in a standard font.

For detailed guidelines on APA and MLA citation and formatting, see Chapter 13.

Writing At Work

Following APA or MLA citation and formatting guidelines may require time and effort. However, it is good practice for learning how to follow accepted conventions in any professional field. Many large corporations create a style manual with guidelines for editing and formatting documents produced by that corporation. Employees follow the style manual when creating internal documents and documents for publication.

During the process of revising and editing, Jorge made changes in the content and style of his paper. He also gave the paper a final review to check for overall correctness and, particularly, correct APA or MLA citations and formatting. Read the final draft of his paper.


  • Organization in a research paper means that the argument proceeds logically from the introduction to the body to the conclusion. It flows logically from one point to the next. When revising a research paper, evaluate the organization of the paper as a whole and the organization of individual paragraphs.
  • In a cohesive research paper, the elements of the paper work together smoothly and naturally. When revising a research paper, evaluate its cohesion. In particular, check that information from research is smoothly integrated with your ideas.
  • An effective research paper uses a style and tone that are appropriately academic and serious. When revising a research paper, check that the style and tone are consistent throughout.
  • Editing a research paper involves checking for errors in grammar, mechanics, punctuation, usage, spelling, citations, and formatting.

12.3 Writing A Research Paper: End-of-chapter Exercises


  1. In this chapter, you learned strategies for generating and narrowing a topic for a research paper. Brainstorm to create a list of five general topics of personal or professional interest to you that you would like to research. Then use freewriting and preliminary research to narrow three of these topics to manageable size for a five- to seven-page research paper. Save your list of topics in a print or electronic file and add to it periodically as you identify additional areas of interest. Use your topic list as a starting point the next time a research paper is assigned.

  2. Working with one of the topics you just identified, use the research skills you learned in this chapter to locate three to five potentially useful print or electronic sources of information about the topic. Create a list that includes the following:

  • One subject-specific periodicals database likely to include relevant articles on your topic
  • Two articles about your topic written for an educated general audience
  • At least one article about your topic written for an audience with specialized knowledge
  1. In real-life and work-related contexts, people consult a wide range of different information sources every day, without always making conscious judgments about whether the source is reliable and why. Identify one media source of information you use at least once a week---for instance, a website you visit regularly, or a newspaper or magazine to which you subscribe. Write two paragraphs explaining the following:
  • What topics you learn about by reading or viewing this source
  • Whether you consider this source reliable and why
  • In addressing the latter point, be sure to consider details that help you evaluate the source's credibility and reputability, as well as the presence or absence of bias.
  1. Different professional communities develop their own standards about the writing style people in that community use when creating documents to share with others. These standards may apply to a very broad group of professionals---for example, researchers in many different social sciences use APA style in academic writing. MLA style is commonly used in the humanities, including English classes. In other cases, style guidelines are specific to a particular company or organization. Find a document, such as a newsletter or brochure, that was produced by an organization to which you belong. (Make sure it is a document you have permission to share.) Review the document and answer the following questions:
  • What are the purpose, intended audience, and message of this document?
  • How does the writing style function to fulfill the purpose, appeal to a particular audience, and convey a message? Consider elements of style, such as word choice, the use of active or passive voice, sentence length, and sentence structure. If your document includes graphics, consider their effectiveness as well.
  • Are there any places where the style is inconsistent?
  • Is the writing style of this document effective for achieving the document's purpose? Why or why not? If it is not effective, explain why.

Chapter 13

Table of Contents

APA And MLA Styles

13.1 Formatting A Research Paper

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn the major parts of a research paper written in American Psychological Association (APA) style.

  2. Begin applying APA style to a research paper.

In this chapter, you will learn about the two most popular styles for research papers: APA style and MLA style.

In their excellent book The Craft of Research (3rd edition 2008), professors Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams explain that styles for academic writing can be divided into two categories:

  • author-date styles
  • author-page styles

Author-date styles ask you to cite research by the year it was published. They are common in fields where more recent information is preferred. The most popular author-date style is APA style, named for the American Psychological Association, a group of psychologists. It will be the main focus of this chapter.

Author-page styles ask you to cite research by the page it appears on. They are common in fields where examining an author's exact words is important. The most popular author-page style is MLA style, named for the Modern Language Association, a group of literature professors. We will discuss it in the final section.

Here are some other popular styles:

Style Fields that use it
AMA (American Medical Association) medicine, health, biology
APA (American Psychological Association) education, psychology, social science
Chicago (named for the University of Chicago) used in magazines, newspapers, books
MLA (Modern Language Association) English, literature, arts
Turabian (named for its author, Kate Turabian) used across various disciplines
AP (Associated Press) Used by professional journalists

Style rules can be challenging! But with patience, you can follow them: Unlike with many aspects of an argumentative research paper, style rules do offer correct answers. There is no one answer to whether marijuana should be legal, but there is one answer to how you should format the headers in your APA-style paper.

There are three benefits of following a style:

  • it builds your credibility by making your paper look polished
  • it gives credit to those whose ideas you are using
  • it lets your readers find the sources you used for themselves

The process requires attention. Keep these guidelines in mind:

  1. Work ahead. Chapter 11 has tips for keeping track of your sources early in your research, which will save time later on.
  2. Get it right the first time. Apply APA guidelines as you write, so you will not have much to correct later.
  3. Use the resources available to you.
    1. The APA's style website is at
    2. The MLA's style website is at
    3. The Purdue University OWL (Online Writing Lab) is a wonderful resource at

Paper Format

As of 2023, the latest version of APA style is version 7. It is officially documented in the APA Publication Manual, 7th edition (October 2019).

Starting with the 7th edition, the APA began to have different rules for professional papers and student papers. Some of the rules for professional papers seemed unnecessary for students.

If you find references to older versions of APA style, they may look different from this. Features like the "abstract" and the "running header" are no longer required in student papers as of APA 7.

These are the major components of an APA-style paper (Publication Manual p. 30):

  1. Title page
  2. Text
  3. References

All these components must be saved as one document, not separately.

Title Page

The title page of a student APA paper should include (Publication Manual p. 30):

  • Title of the paper
  • Author's name (also called the byline)
  • Affiliation (name of the school you study at)
  • Course number and name
  • Instructor name
  • Assignment due date
  • Page number (included on all pages)

Your title page should look like the following example.

Margins, Page Numbering, And Headings

Use these general guidelines to format the paper:

  1. Double-space all the text.
  2. Use a standard font in a standard size. Common fonts include Times New Roman, Arial, and Calibri. Common sizes are 10-, 11-, or 12-point.
  3. Number every page of your paper, starting with the number 1 on the title page and going right through to the last page of your References section. (We specify this because some rules use different kinds of numbers for different sections, or restart the numbering when you get to a new section. APA doesn't.)
  4. In a student paper, you will probably use only one level of heading. But APA allows up to five levels. See below for formatting of each level of heading.

Also, the margins for your paper should be 1 inch on all four sides. However, nearly every word processor should do this by default.

Exercise 1

Set up an APA-style title page. Include page numbers.


The APA believes strongly in the importance of headings. The headings make sure that your ideas appear in layers, just as we discussed in Chapter 1 when we talked about taking notes in layers and outlining your papers in layers. MLA style is very different: an English paper in MLA format is likely to have no headings at all. This represents a significant difference in culture between the disciplines.

APA style uses five levels of headings. You usually won't need all five levels in a paper.

These heading formats are current as of the 7th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, published in 2020.

Level Format of heading Format of text following the heading
1 Centered, Bold, Title Case Heading Text begins as a new paragraph.
2 Flush Left, Bold, Title Case Heading Text begins as a new paragraph.
3 Flush Left, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading Text begins as a new paragraph.
4 Indented, Bold, Title Case Heading, Ending With a Period. Text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.
5 Indented, Bold Italic, Title Case Heading, Ending With a Period. Text begins on the same line and continues as a regular paragraph.

Citation Guidelines

In-text Citations

Include an in-text citation whenever you quote, paraphrase, or summarize a source. In-text means that it appears in the body of your paper; your reader will see it as they are reading along.

Your in-text citations provide only basic information about your source. Each source you cite will have a longer entry later on in the References section.

In-text citations give the name(s) of the author(s) and the year the source was published. If you are quoting the source, you must also include the page number.

The in-text citation may appear either within the sentence or at the end of the sentence. When it is in the sentence, APA calls it a narrative citation. When it is at the end of the sentence, APA calls it a parenthetical citation.

The Two Kinds Of In-text Citation

Narrative citation Parenthetical citation
Epstein (2010) points out that junk food is not addictive in the same way that drugs are. Addiction researchers caution that junk food is not addictive in the same way that drugs are (Epstein, 2010).

In APA style, we often care about the idea we take from a source more than the exact words of the source. The APA's Publication Manual says, "It is best to paraphrase sources . . . rather than directly quoting them because paraphrasing allows you to fit material to the context of your paper and writing style" (p. 270).

MLA style takes the opposite view and prefers quotations for precision. This makes sense. Remember that the MLA is a group of English professors. They study poems and novels where the authors chose each word very carefully.

However, even in APA style, you will still sometimes use quotes from sources. When you do, you must include a page number.

Narrative citation with a quote Parenthetical citation with a quote
Epstein (2010) points out that "we cannot call junk food addictive in the same way that psychoactive drugs are" (p. 137). Addiction researchers caution that "we cannot call junk food addictive in the same way that psychoactive drugs are" (Epstein, 2010, p. 137).

There are many ways to format in-text citations to make them work best with your sentence. For more details, see the Publication Manual or

Your Bibliography: The References Section

Your in-text citations connect to a special section at the end of your paper.

This special section is is what is known as a bibliography. It is a list of all the sources you used in your paper.

In APA style, the bibliography is called References. In MLA style, the bibliography is called Works Cited.

A reference entry is intended to provide enough information about a source for your reader to find it if they want to learn more. It will always be longer than the in-text citation for the same source.

Reference entries include the following four elements:

  • Author
  • Date
  • Title
  • Source

The details for each of the parts depend on the kind of source. For example, dates in APA style often include only the year, but sometimes will be more specific.

Entries should be in alphabetical order by author's last name. If there is no author, use the title instead.

Entries should have a hanging indent, which is the opposite of a typical indent: instead of the first line being pushed to the right by .5 inches, the first line should be pushed left by .5 inches.

The reason for this is that it is much easier to find a source in a long list when the first lines stick out to the left. MLA also requires hanging indents.

From long experience working with students, I can affirm that it is hard to create a hanging indent manually. Nearly every word processing program (a program like Microsoft Word or Google Docs) will be able to create hanging indents for you.

Review the following example of a References section. Notice the hanging indents.


  • Proper citation and formatting helps a writer ensure they are taken seriously, gives credit to others for their work, and helps a reader learn more.
  • Working ahead and recording citations early are good ways to save time when writing a research paper.
  • APA papers use headings to show layers of information.
  • APA in-text citations usually the name(s) of the author(s), the year of publication, and sometimes the page number.
  • Every in-text citation connects to a reference entry, which gives information about the source.

Section 13.2: Citing And Referencing Techniques

Learning Objective

  1. Apply American Psychological Association (APA) style to citations.

This section covers the details of in-text citations. You will learn how to format citations for different types of source materials, whether you are citing brief quotations, paraphrasing ideas, or quoting longer passages. You will also learn techniques you can use to introduce quoted and paraphrased material effectively. Keep this section handy as a reference to consult while writing the body of your paper.

In-text Citations: The Basics

As noted in previous sections of this book, in-text citations usually provide the name of the author(s) and the year the source was published. For direct quotations, the page number must also be included. Use past-tense verbs when introducing a quote---"Smith found. . ." and not "Smith finds. . .".

Brief Quotations

In APA format, a brief quotation is a quote fewer than 40 words long. In MLA format, a brief quotation is a quote that takes up four or fewer lines.

For brief quotations,

  • use quotation marks to indicate where the quote begins and ends
  • give the name of the author(s)
  • give the year of publication, and
  • give the page number

Here are some examples:

Chang (2008) emphasized that "engaging in weight-bearing exercise consistently is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health" (p. 49).

The author's name can be included in the body of the sentence or in the citation.

Note that when a citation appears at the end of the sentence, it comes after the closing quotation marks and before the period.

In APA format, the elements within parentheses are separated by commas.

Weight Training for Women (Chang, 2008) claimed that "engaging in weight-bearing exercise consistently is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health" (p. 49).

Weight Training for Women claimed that "engaging in weight-bearing exercise consistently is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health" (Chang, 2008, p. 49).

Including the title of a source is optional.

In Chang's 2008 text Weight Training for Women, she asserts, "Engaging in weight-bearing exercise is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health" (p. 49).

The author's name, the date, and the title may appear in the body of the text. Include the page number in the parenthetical citation. Also, notice the use of the verb asserts to introduce the direct quotation.

"Engaging in weight-bearing exercise," Chang asserts, "is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health" (2008, p. 49).

You may begin a sentence with the direct quotation and add the author's name and a strong verb before continuing the quotation.

Paraphrases Or Summaries

When you paraphrase or summarize ideas from a source, you do not need to give the page number.

Read the following examples.

Chang (2008) pointed out that weight-bearing exercise has many potential benefits for women.

Here, the writer is summarizing a major idea that recurs throughout the source material. No page reference is needed.

Chang (2008) found that weight-bearing exercise could help women maintain or even increase bone density through middle age and beyond, reducing the likelihood that they will develop osteoporosis in later life (p. 86).

Although the writer is not directly quoting the source, this passage paraphrases a specific detail, so the writer chose to include the page number where the information is located.


Although APA style does not require a page number for a paraphrase or a summary, your instructor may wish you to include one. Check with your instructor for their preference.

Block Quotations

A longer quote is called a block quotation. For APA, a block quote is any quote of 40 words or more.

Block quotes look different from brief quotes:

  • start them on a new line
  • indent each line by .5 inches (the same distance you indent the first line of an ordinary paragraph)
  • if (part of) your citation appears at the end, it should come after the period

Exercise 1

Review the places in your paper where you cited, quoted, and paraphrased material from a source with a single author. Edit your citations to ensure that

  • each citation includes the author's name, the date of publication, and, where appropriate, a page reference;
  • parenthetical citations are correctly formatted;
  • longer quotations use the block-quotation format.

If you are quoting a passage that continues into a second paragraph, indent five spaces again in the first line of the second paragraph.


Don't quote too much. Your ideas and your words should drive the paper.

Generally, no more than 10 to 15 percent of a paper should consist of quoted material. Some professors will give you a specific maximum percentage of quotes to use.

Introducing Cited Material

Including an introductory phrase in your text, such as "Jackson wrote" or "Copeland found," often helps you integrate source material smoothly.

Unfortunately, during the process of writing your research paper, it is easy to fall into a rut and use the same few dull verbs repeatedly, such as "Jones said," "Smith stated," and so on.

Punch up your writing by using strong verbs that help your reader understand how the source material presents ideas. There is a world of difference between an author who "suggests" and one who "claims," one who "questions" and one who "criticizes."

The following chart shows some possibilities.

Strong Verbs for Introducing Cited Material
ask suggest question
explain assert claim
recommend compare contrast
propose hypothesize believe
insist argue find
determine measure assess
evaluate conclude study
warn point out sum up

Exercise 2

Review the citations in your paper once again. This time, look for places where you introduced source material using a signal phrase in your sentence.

  1. Highlight the verbs used in your signal phrases, and make note of any that seem to be overused throughout the paper.
  2. Identify at least three places where a stronger verb could be used.
  3. Make the edits to your draft.

Writing At Work

It is important to accurately represent a colleague's ideas or communications at work. When writing professional or academic papers, be mindful of how the words you use to describe someone's tone or ideas carry certain connotations. Do not say a source argues a particular point unless an argument is, in fact, presented. Use lively language, but avoid language that is emotionally charged. Doing so will ensure you have represented your colleague's words in an authentic and accurate way.

Formatting In-text Citations For Other Source Types

These sections discuss the correct format for various types of in-text citations. Read them through quickly to get a sense of what is covered, and then refer to them again as needed.

This section covers books, articles, and other print sources with one or more authors.

A Work By One Author

For a print work with one author, follow the guidelines provided in Section 13.1. Always include the author's name and year of publication. Include a page reference whenever you quote a source directly.

Chang (2008) emphasized that "engaging in weight-bearing exercise consistently is one of the single best things women can do to maintain good health" (p. 49).

Chang (2008) pointed out that weight-bearing exercise has many potential benefits for women.

Multiple Works By The Same Author

Your research may include multiple works by the same author. If they were published in different years, the distinction will be clear:

(Yang, 2015)

(Yang, 2019)

If they were published in the same year, include a lowercase letter immediately after the year.

(Yang, 2009a)

(Yang, 2009b)

Assign the letters in the same order that the sources appear in your References section.

Here is a longer example:

Rodriguez (2009a) criticized the nutrition-supplement industry for making unsubstantiated and sometimes misleading claims about the benefits of taking supplements. Additionally, he warned that consumers frequently do not realize the potential harmful effects of some popular supplements (Rodriguez, 2009b).

Works By Authors With The Same Last Name

If you are citing works by different authors with the same last name, include each author's initials in your citation. Do this even if the publication years are different.

J. S. Williams (2007) believes nutritional supplements can be a useful part of some diet and fitness regimens. C. D. Williams (2008), however, believes these supplements are overrated.

According to two leading researchers, the rate of childhood obesity exceeds the rate of adult obesity (K. Connelley, 2010; O. Connelley, 2010).

Studies from both A. Wright (2007) and C. A. Wright (2008) confirm the benefits of diet and exercise on weight loss.

A Work By Two Authors

When a work has two authors, include both authors' names.

In a narrative citation, use the word and between the two authors' names:

As Garrison and Gould (2010) pointed out, "It is never too late to quit smoking. The health risks associated with this habit begin to decrease soon after a smoker quits" (p. 101).

In a parenthetical citation, use the character & (an "ampersand") between the two authors' names:

As doctors continue to point out, "It is never too late to quit smoking. The health risks associated with this habit begin to decrease soon after a smoker quits" (Garrison & Gould, 2010, p. 101).

A Work By Three Or More Authors

If the work you are citing has three or more authors, include only the first author's name followed by the Latin phrase et al., unless this is not enough to distinguish one source from another.

Et al. is short for et alia, the Latin phrase for "and others." Typically, we put foreign phrases in italics, but APA uses et al. so often that we leave it in regular font.

This rule for three or more authors is an update in APA 7; version 6 and earlier had different rules for 3-5 authors and 6 or more authors.

Henderson et al. (2010) surveyed 350 smokers aged 18 to 30.

One survey, conducted among 350 smokers aged 18 to 30, included a questionnaire about participants' motivations for smoking (Henderson et al., 2010).

Note how the phrase et al. is punctuated. No period comes after et, but al. gets a period because it is an abbreviation.

In parenthetical references, include a comma after et al. but not before. Remember this rule by mentally translating the citation to English: "Henderson and others, 2010."

A Work By A Group

Some works do not name a person as they author; instead, they only give the name of the group that published them.

One example is the APA Publication Manual. The names of the authors do not appear on the cover, although they are included in an introduction to give them credit.

Government reports are often the same: they will usually be credited to the agency that put them out, not to the individual people who worked on them.

When citing a work like this, use the group's name for the author.

If the group's name is long, give it in full the first time and follow it with an abbreviation. Later citations may use the abbreviation only.

First citation to a pamphlet by the American Heart Association:

It is possible for a patient to have a small stroke without even realizing it (American Heart Association [AHA], 2010).

Second citation to the pamphlet:

Another cause for concern is that even if patients realize that they have had a stroke and need medical attention, they may not know which nearby facilities are best equipped to treat them (AHA, 2010).

Exercise 3

  1. Review the places in your paper where you cited material from a source with multiple authors or with a group as the author. Ensure that each citation follows APA guidelines for the inclusion of the authors' names, the use of ampersands and et al., the date of publication, and, where appropriate, a page reference.

  2. Mark any remaining citations within your paper that you are not sure how to format yet. You will revisit them after reading the next few sections.

A Work With No Known Author

If no author is listed---neither a person nor a group---use the title in place of the author's name.

Use the full title if you give it in your sentence:

"Living With Diabetes: Managing Your Health" (2009) recommends regular exercise for patients with diabetes.

You may use only the first few words if you are using a parenthetical reference.

Regular exercise can benefit patients with diabetes ("Living with Diabetes," 2009).

A Work You Only Found Mentioned In Another Work

It is always best to find the actual source you want to cite from. But sometimes you can't; sometimes you will only be able to find a source that quotes another source, and it's the other, quoted source that you want to use.

For example, say you want to write about a study by Rosenhan called "On Being Sane in Insane Places," but you can only find it discussed in a book by Spitzer from 1975.

In that case, name the source you want to write about (Rosenhan). Then, in parentheses, write as cited in and the second source (Spitzer).

Rosenhan's study "On Being Sane in Insane Places" (as cited in Spitzer, 1975) found that psychiatrists diagnosed schizophrenia in people who said they were having hallucinations and wanted treatment---even though these patients were actors who were only faking it.

Multiple Works In One Reference

You may provide more than one citation in a parenthetical reference, such as when you are discussing related works or studies with similar results. List the citations in the same order they appear in your references section, and separate the citations with a semicolon.

Some researchers have found serious flaws in the way Rosenhan's study was conducted (Dawes, 2001; Spitzer, 1975).

Both of these researchers authored works that support the point being made in this sentence, so it makes sense to include both in the same citation.

A Famous Text With Many Editions

You may need to cite an extremely well-known work with many editions. An example would be the Bible, the Odyssey, or the works of Sigmund Freud.

Some of these, like the Bible or the Odyssey, have no known first year of publication.

Often, you will be asked to cite them by part rather than by page; the reason is that the parts stay the same through all editions while the pages may change.

In New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Freud explains that the "manifest content" of a dream---what literally takes place---is separate from its "latent content," or hidden meaning (trans. 1965, lecture XXIX).

Here, the student is citing a lecture by Freud that was written in German; the particular version the student is using was translated to English in 1965.

Since the book is a collection of Freud's lectures, the student cites the lecture number rather than a page number. They use the Roman numeral XXIX, equivalent to the Arabic numeral 29.

An Introduction, Foreword, Preface, Or Afterword

To cite an introduction, foreword, preface, or afterword, follow the same format used for other print materials.

Sources Without Page Numbers

If an online source has no page numbers but you want to refer to a specific portion of the source, try to locate other information you can use to direct your reader to the information cited. Some websites number paragraphs within published articles; if so, include the paragraph number in your citation. Precede the paragraph number with the abbreviation for the word paragraph and the number of the paragraph (e.g., para. 4).

As researchers have explained, "Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables into one's diet can be a challenge for residents of areas where there are few or no easily accessible supermarkets" (Smith & Jones, 2006, para. 4).

Even if a source does not have numbered paragraphs, it is likely to have headings that organize the content. In your citation, name the section where your cited information appears, followed by a paragraph number.

The American Lung Association (2010) noted, "After smoking, radon exposure is the second most common cause of lung cancer" (What Causes Lung Cancer? section, para. 2).

This student cited the appropriate section heading from the website and then counted paragraphs to find which paragraph the citation was from.

If an online source has no listed author and no date, use the source title and the abbreviation n.d. in your parenthetical reference.

It has been suggested that electromagnetic radiation from cellular telephones may pose a risk for developing certain cancers ("Cell Phones and Cancer," n.d.).

Personal Communication

For a "personal communications" like an interview, letter, or email, cite the name and the specific date. Include the phrase "personal communication."

J. H. Yardley, M.D., believes that available information on the relationship between cell phone use and cancer is inconclusive (personal communication, May 1, 2009).

In APA style, personal communications are cited only in-text. They do not appear in the References section. (In MLA format, such communications do appear in the Works Cited section.)

Writing At Work

Sometimes at work, you might share information with your coworkers by making a copy of an article or sharing a website link. This is also true when you write a research paper. Your goal is to give enough information so that others can find the information you used. Try to include as many details as possible to make it easier for them. If you're not sure what to do, ask your professor for guidance.

Exercise 4

Revisit the problem citations you identified in Exercise 3---for instance, sources with no listed author or other oddities. Review the guidelines provided in this section and edit your citations for these kinds of sources according to APA guidelines.


  • In APA papers, in-text citations include the name of the author(s) and the year of publication.
  • Page numbers are included when quoting. Page numbers are optional when summarizing or paraphrasing; however, you should include them when citing a specific portion of a work.
  • When citing online sources, provide the same information used for print sources if it is available.
  • When a source does not provide information that usually appears in a citation, in-text citations should provide readers with alternative information that would help them locate the source material. This may include the title of the source, section headings and paragraph numbers for websites, and so forth.
  • Ask your professor whether they have particular standards they want you to follow.

13.3 Creating A References Section

Learning Objective

  1. Apply American Psychological Association (APA) style to create a References section.

This section describes how to create the References section of your paper.

Starting The References Section

With your cursor at the end of your paper, use the Insert Page Break command to start a new page. Do not hit Enter multiple times. If you do that, your References section will end up in the wrong place if you add or subtract text from the body of your paper.

With Insert Page Break, your References section will always start at the top of a new page.

Center your cursor, type "References," and bold it.

Move to the next line. Left-align your cursor. Add a "hanging indent." This is the reverse of an ordinary indent: rather than pushing the first line of a paragraph in, it pushes the first line of the paragraph out.

Your layout should look like this:

Formatting Reference Entries

Reference entries should include the following information:

  • Author
  • Date
  • Title
  • Source

What these four entries look like depends on the kind of entry.

For example, most academic articles written by professors appear in a special scholarly journal called a "peer-reviewed journal". The idea is that only another professor of (for example) electronic engineering can decide whether your article about electronic engineering is good enough to be published. So your article must pass a "peer review" before it can appear.

Scholarly journals are published (usually) in one volume per year. So if you are reading an article in Electronic Engineering volume 30, you know that it was most likely published in the 30th year the journal has been in operation.

Within each volume, a journal will have several issues. Most journals publish 3 or 4 issues per year/volume.

Journals also have page numbers. Often a journal will number all its pages for a single volume straight through. So if you are reading the 4th issue of Electronic Engineering volume 30, the first page of that issue might start with the number 750.

This is why page numbers in journal article entries are sometimes very high. With a regular book, the page number 2092 would probably be a typo, but for the article by Ebbeling et al. on our sample References page above, it is correct.

Here is a sample journal article entry for an article called "Fraud in the lunchroom?". It was written by an author named D. N. Bass in 2010. It was from volume 10, issue 1 of a journal called Education Next. It appeared on pages 67-71 of that issue.

Here is a sample entry for a book:

Atkins, R. C. (2002). Dr. Atkins' diet revolution. M. Evans and Company.

Here is how to organize and capitalize your reference entries:

The References Page(s)

  1. List entries in alphabetical order by the author's last name.
  2. List author's name with the last name first, a comma, and the author's initial(s): Smith, J. C.
  3. For a work with no known human author(s), use the name of the group that produced the work. If there is no known group author either, use the title of the work instead of an author name.
  4. For works with up to 20 authors, give the surname and initials for each author. Put an ampersand before the final author. (This is a change from APA 6.)
  5. Put titles in "sentence case," capitalizing only the first word of the title (or the first word after a colon).
  6. Italicize titles of works that stand alone (like books); use no special format for titles of works that are part of a larger whole (like an article from a journal).

Example References

Because there are so many different kinds of references, the Publication Manual now organizes them into three layers:

  • group: a large category (text, data, audiovisual, or online)
  • category: a smaller category (online contains social media, webpages, and websites)
  • type: a still smaller category (social media category contains tweets, Instagram posts, etc.)

We will follow this organization.

As general notes:

  • APA 6 asked for the city of publication for books, but APA 7 no longer does.
  • APA 6 also asked for the words "Retrieved from" before URLs, but APA 7 no longer does.

These days, nearly all sources are online. The older way to give a link to an online source uses a "URL." The newer way, which APA 7 prefers, uses a "DOI." A URL (uniform resource locator) is the official name for a "link": what you type in your browser to go to a webpage. Because URLs often change, groups like the APA now prefer you to include something called a DOI: a "digital object identifier."

A DOI is designed to never change. If you enter it ten years from now, it should take you to the exact same article. Some people think that most of the hard work of creating a References section will be unnecessary if DOIs really take off: the DOI will be all you need. (A DOI is similar to what we used to call a "permalink," but the DOI system has been carefully built from the ground up to be comprehensive in a way that permalinks are not.)

In APA format, you should always use the DOI instead of the URL if you can. Not every source will have a DOI, but more and more do.

If you are using a source type not covered here, speak with a writing tutor, check the Publication Manual, or try one of these websites: - the style page of the APA's website at
- the APA section of the Purdue University Online Writing lab at

Text References

Periodicals (articles, magazines, newspapers, etc.)

Journal Article

Include the following information:

  • Author(s) name(s)
  • Publication year
  • Article title (sentence case, no quotes or italics)
  • Journal title (title case, italics)
  • Volume number (italics)
  • Issue number (parentheses, no italics)
  • Page number(s) where the article appears

DeMarco, R. F. (2010). Palliative care and African American women living with HIV. Journal of Nursing Education, 49(5), 1--4.

Bell, J. R. (2006). Low-carb beats low-fat diet for early losses but not long term. OBGYN News, 41(12), 32.

Journal Article With Up To Twenty Authors

List all the authors' names in the order they appear in the article. Use an ampersand before the last name listed.

Barker, E. T., & Bornstein, M. H. (2010). Global self-esteem, appearance satisfaction, and self-reported dieting in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 30(2), 205--224.

Tremblay, M. S., Shields, M., Laviolette, M., Craig, C. L., Janssen, I., & Gorber, S. C. (2010). Fitness of Canadian children and youth: Results from the 2007--2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Health Reports, 21(1), 7--20.

Journal Article With More Than Twenty Authors

Include the first 19 authors' names, add an ellipsis (but no ampersand), and then give the final author's name.

An eight-page article with twenty-one authors may seem strange to you---especially if you are currently writing a ten-page research paper by yourself. Who are all these authors?

But in the sciences in the 20th century, more and more research began to be done by large teams. This long-term trend began with the military funding of research in World War II; it is sometimes called "big science."

In the humanities (for example, English, history, or philosophy) it is still much more common to have an article written by a single person.

Magazine Article

The date should include the date of the specific issue (sometimes just a month, other times a particular month and day).

Give the volume and issue number if available; not all magazines have them.

Marano, H. E. (2010, March/April). Keen cuisine: Dairy queen. Psychology Today, 43(2), 58.

Newspaper Article

Same as a magazine article. Here the article appears on pages A1 and A2 (newspapers are often divided into different sections, with each section having a letter).

Corwin, C. (2009, January 24). School board votes to remove soda machines from county schools. Rockwood Gazette, A1--A2.

McNeil, D. G. (2010, May 3). Maternal health: A new study challenges benefits of vitamin A for women and babies. The New York Times.


After the title, indicate in brackets that the work is a review and give details about the work being reviewed.

Some publications give a review the same name as the book it is reviewing. That is what happened in this example: the name of the review comes first, followed by the name of the book in brackets. As it happens for this publication, those two names are almost exactly the same.

Martin, J. C. (2020). Love and depth in the American novel: From Stowe to James by Ashley C. Barnes [Review of the book Love and depth in the American novel: From Stowe to James, by A. C. Barnes]. The Henry James Review, 41(3).

Books (including book chapters)

Book By Two Or More Authors

List the authors' names in the order they appear on the book's title page. Use an ampersand before the last author's name.

Campbell, D. T., & Stanley, J. C. (1963). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for research. Houghton Mifflin.

Edited Book With No Author

List the editor(s) names in place of the author's name, followed by Ed. or Eds. in parentheses.

Myers, C., & Reamer, D. (Eds.). (2009). 2009 nutrition index. HealthSource, Inc.

Edited Book With An Author

For an edited book, list the author's name first, followed by the title and the editor or editors. Note that when the editor is listed after the title, you list the initials before the last name.

Dickinson, E. (1959). Selected poems & letters of Emily Dickinson. R. N. Linscott (Ed.). Doubleday.

An edited book means a book with one author and a separate editor. This is different from an anthology, which is a collection of articles or essays written by different people. If you need to cite a work from an anthology, see the next entry.

Work In An Anthology

Follow the same process you would use to cite a book chapter, substituting the article or essay title for the chapter title.

Beck, A. T., & Young, J. (1986). College blues. In D. Goleman & D. Heller (Eds.), The pleasures of psychology (pp. 309-323). New American Library.

Chapter In An Edited Book

List the name of the author(s) who wrote the chapter, followed by the chapter title. Then list the names of the book editor(s) and the title of the book, followed by the page numbers for the chapter and the usual information about the book's publisher.

Hughes, J. R., & Pierattini, R. A. (1992). An introduction to pharmacotherapy for mental disorders. In J. Grabowski & G. VandenBos (Eds.), Psychopharmacology (pp. 97-125). American Psychological Association.

The difference between an anthology and an edited book of chapters by different authors is subtle. Generally, the chapters in an edited book were written for that book. By contrast, the works in an anthology---such as the Norton Anthology of American Literature---were collected by an editor after the fact. The contributors did not write the works for the anthology, and in the case of literature anthologies, most of the authors represented may have died long before the anthology even existed.

Translated Book

Include the translator's name after the title. At the end of the citation, list the date the original work was published. Note that for the translator's name, you list the initials before the last name.

Freud, S. (1965). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis (J. Strachey, Trans.). W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1933).

Book Published In Multiple Editions

If you are using any edition other than the first edition, include the edition number in parentheses after the title.

Berk, L. (2001). Development through the lifespan (2nd ed.). Allyn & Bacon.

Two Or More Books By The Same Author

List the entries in order of publication, oldest first.

Swedan, N. (2001). Women's sports medicine and rehabilitation. Aspen Publishers.

Swedan, N. (2003). The active woman's health and fitness handbook. Perigee.

If two books have the same first author but different second authors, alphabetize by the second author's last name.

Carroll, D., & Aaronson, F. (2008). Managing type II diabetes. Southwick Press.

Carroll, D., & Zuckerman, N. (2008). Gestational diabetes. Southwick Press.

Books By Different Authors With The Same Last Name

Alphabetize entries by the authors' first initial. "Smith, I. T." comes before "Smith, S."

Smith, I. T. (2008) The 4-day diet. St. Martin's Press.

Smith, S. The complete guide to Navy Seal fitness: Updated for today's warrior elite (3rd ed.). Hatherleight Press.

Book By A Group

Treat the group name as you would an author's name.

For alphabetizing, ignore the words "a", "an", or "the" at the start of a group author's name.

Notice that "The American Heart Association" is listed before "American Psychiatric Association" in the example.

The American Heart Association. (1990). A sample publication (2nd ed.). AHA Publishers.

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders DSM-IV (4th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing.

Dissertation Or Thesis

A dissertation is the long document you typically write to get a doctorate. A thesis is the less-long document you typically write to get a master's degree.

If the thesis/dissertation is unpublished, this is all you need:

Martin, J. C. (2023). Self-touch in Henry James's major phase [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Florida Atlantic University.

If it has been published in a database or archive, the format looks a little different:

Martin, J. C. (2023). Self-touch in Henry James's major phase [Doctoral dissertation, Florida Atlantic University]. ProQuest, https://sample.blahblah/test.html

Data Sets, Software, and Tests

Data Sets

If you cite raw data compiled by a group, give the URL where you retrieved the information. Give the name of the group that sponsors the site.

US Food and Drug Administration. (2009). Nationwide evaluation of X-ray trends: NEXT surveys performed [Data set].

Audiovisual Media


When citing an infographic---such as a map, chart, or graph---include the name of the group that created it and the publication date.

Provide the URL where you retrieved the information.

US Food and Drug Administration. (2009). [Infographic]. 2005 FDA budget summary.

Television Series

Under APA guidelines, treat the executive producer(s) as the author when citing an entire TV series.

Bradbeer, H., Hampson, L., Lewis, J., Waller-Bridge, P., Williams, H., & Williams, J. (Executive Producers). (2016--2019). Fleabag [TV series]. Two Brothers Pictures; BBC Three.

Television Episode

To cite one episode of a TV series, treat the writer(s) and director(s) as the author.

Bradbeer, H. (Director) & Waller-Bridge, P. (Writer). (2019, May 17). Episode #2.6 (Season 2, Episode 6) [TV series episode]. In H. Bradbeer, L. Hampson, J. Lewis, P. Waller-Bridge, H. Williams & J. Williams (Executive Producers), Fleabag. Two Brothers Pictures; BBC Three.

Motion Picture

Name the director or producer (or both), year of release, title, country of origin, and studio.

Spurlock, M. (Director/producer), Morley, J. (Executive producer), & Winters. H. M. (Executive producer). (2004). Super size me. United States: Kathbur Pictures in association with Studio on Hudson.


Name the primary contributors and list their role. Include the recording medium in brackets after the title. Then list the label.

Smith, L. W. (Speaker). (1999). Meditation and relaxation [CD]. New York, NY: Earth, Wind, & Sky Productions.

Székely, I. (Pianist), Budapest Symphony Orchestra (Performers), & Németh, G. (Conductor). (1988). Chopin piano concertos no. 1 and 2 [CD]. Naxos.


Provide as much information as possible about the writer, director, and producer; the date the podcast aired; its title; any group or series with which it is associated; and where you retrieved the podcast.

Kelsey, A. R. (Writer), Garcia, J. (Director), & Kim, S. C. (Producer). (2010, May 7). Lies food labels tell us. Savvy consumer podcasts [Audio podcast].

Online Media


APA Education [@APAEducation]. (2018, June 29). College students are forming mental-health clubs--and they're making a difference [Tweet]. Twitter.

Online forum post

Harrelson, Woody [iamwoodyharrelson]. (2012, February 3). I'm Woody Harrelson, AMA [Online forum post]. Reddit.

After the author's name, put the username in brackets.

Be careful when using information from a discussion site like Reddit, Quora, or other forums because the information is not always checked for accuracy. It's not a good idea to rely solely on these sources for important information. However, you can still use them for some types of research.


If your source does not fit into another category, then you can use a general "webpage" category, though this should be your last choice.

American Heart Association. (2010). Heart attack, stroke, and cardiac arrest warning signs.

13.4 Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Style

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the components of a MLA-style paper
  2. Apply Modern Language Association (MLA) style and formatting to a paper.

The MLA (Modern Language Association) is the biggest organization of literature professors. They created a format that works especially well for humanities papers. As of 2023, MLA style is in its 9th edition.


MLA style is often used in the liberal arts and humanities.

Some major differences from APA:

  • MLA does not use a separate title page
  • MLA does not use an abstract
  • MLA in-text citations use author-page, not author-date
  • The MLA list of sources is called Works Cited, not References

The table gives more details:

Major Differences Between APA 7 And MLA 9

element APA 7 MLA 9
in-text citation format uses a comma: (Jones, 2020) uses no comma: (Jones 103)
in-text citation with a direct quote uses p. or pp. for page number: (Jones, 2020, p. 103) gives bare page number: (Jones 103)
title page has a separate title page has no separate title page
title format paper title is bold paper title is in ordinary font
date format "4 May 2023" is one allowable format "4 May 2023" is required
name of bibliography References Works Cited
block quote a block quote is 40 words or more a block quote is 4 lines or more
in-text for a source cited in another as cited in qtd. in
referring to a private communication called a "personal communication"; doesn't appear in References cited normally (as an interview, email, etc.)

As a general rule, author-date styles like APA care more about the ideas of your sources. As a result, an APA paper typically uses more summary. Author-page styles like MLA care more about the exact words of your sources. As a result, an MLA paper typically uses more quotation.

Remember that the MLA is an organization of literature professors, and when we study literature (like a Shakespeare sonnet), the exact words used are very important.

If you are taking an English, art history, or music appreciation class, you may be asked to write an essay in MLA format.

Like APA style, MLA style uses in-text citations in the body of the essay that link to the bibliography at the end. It has the same goals as APA style---giving credit to others' ideas, allowing your reader to learn more---but documents them in a different way.

General MLA List

  1. Double-space everything.
  2. Use a standard font. MLA used to require 12-point Times New Roman, and some professors still will.
  3. Indent the first line of each paragraph by .5 inches. The easiest way to do this is to press the Tab key.
  4. Include page numbers in the upper right corner.
  5. On the first page in the upper left, put
    1. your name,
    2. the course
    3. the date
    4. the instructor's name
  6. On the next line, write your title. Center it and capitalize all major words.

Use standard white paper (8.5 x 11 inches) and standard one-inch margins. Nearly every word processing program will give you one-inch margins by default.

Dates In MLA Style

MLA date format is unusual. It looks like this:

5 February 2023

I think MLA made this choice to avoid ambiguity between US style and European style. In US style, February 5, 2023, would be written with the month first:

2/5/2023 (month, day, year)

In European style, February 5, 2023, would be written with the day first:

5/2/2023 (day, month, year)

By spelling out the month like this, MLA removes ambiguity.

In-text Citations

You must cite your sources as you use them. Right after using someone's idea, say where you found it with a citation. Because you do this inside the text of your paper, we call it an in-text citation.

Because you put the citation inside parentheses, you may also see the term parenthetical citation. (APA divides in-text citations into two kinds: narrative citations and parenthetical citations. MLA uses the terms "in-text citation" and/or "parenthetical citation" for all in-text citations.)

If someone else wrote it, said it, drew it, or otherwise expressed it, you need to cite it.

What you don't need to cite is common knowledge. "Common knowledge" means "things most people can be expected to know." But this requires judgment. What people know depends on who they are. If you quote the most famous poem by Emily Dickinson in a newspaper article, you should cite her. On the other hand, if you quote it in a paper for English professors, you probably don't need to cite her. The professors might even feel insulted if you cite her, because they might think, "of course we know that poem!"

Here are some things that are common knowledge to most people in the United States in 2023:

  • The President of the United States in 2023 is Joe Biden
  • The moon orbits the Earth
  • The two most common pets in United States homes are cats and dogs
  • Families in the United States typically eat three major meals per day

You would not need to cite these facts. If you wrote for an audience of U.S. residents about a different schedule of daily meals in Papua, New Guinea, you would need to cite that information for them (but not for residents of Papua, New Guinea).

When in doubt, cite! You might look slightly silly if you cite that the moon orbits the Earth. But you could get a zero if you don't cite when you need to.

Your in-text citations should do the following:

  • Clearly indicate the specific sources also referenced in the Works Cited
  • Specifically identify the location of the information that you used
  • Keep the citation clear and concise, always confirming its accuracy

Works Cited Page

In MLA format, the bibliography (book list) is called the Works Cited page. (In APA format, it is called References.)

The purpose of the Works Cited page is to give enough information on each of your sources for your reader to find it if they want to learn more.

List the Works Cited entries alphabetically by the author's last name. List them by title if the author is unknown.

Here is Jorge's same paper on low-carb diets reformatted in MLA style.

Exercise 1

Earlier in Chapter 13, you created a sample essay in APA style. After looking over this section, convert your paper to MLA style.

Exercise 2

Convert these APA-style titles to MLA-style titles. Many websites can help, even though you must double-check them.

Consider these two sites:

Sample Student Reference List in APA Style

APA format for title MLA format for title ........................
Treating depressed and suicidal adolescents: A clinician's guide
Psychology Today.
No talk therapy for children and adolescents
The New York Times.
Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 24
Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health, 22
Darkness to light: Confronting child abuse with courage.

Examples Of MLA Style

Arizona State University Libraries offers clear examples.

Purdue Online Writing Lab includes sample Works Cited pages and entries.

California State University--Sacramento's Online Writing Lab has an excellent visual description and example of an MLA paper.

SUNY offers an excellent, brief, side-by-side comparison of MLA and APA citations.

Cornell University Library provides comprehensive MLA information on its Citation Management website.

The University of Kansas Writing Center is an excellent resource.

13.5 APA And MLA Documentation And Formatting: End-of-chapter Exercises


  1. In this chapter, you learned strategies for using APA and MLA style documentation and formatting in a research paper. Locate a source that uses APA or MLA style, such as an article in a professional journal in the sciences or social sciences. Identify these key components of an APA or MLA paper in your example: the abstract, section heads, in-text citations, and references list.

  2. Check one of your assignments for correct APA or MLA formatting and citations. (You may wish to conduct this activity in two sessions---one to edit the body of the paper and one to edit the References section.) Check for the following:

    • All components of the paper are included.
    • The title and body of the paper have the correct format.
    • In-text citations are complete and have the correct format.
    • Every in-text citation is in the bibliography.
    • Every entry in the bibliography is cited in-text.
    • The bibliography lists entries in alphabetical order.
  3. As new online spaces emerge, guidelines for citing online sources are continually updated. Identify three emerging online sources not listed in this book---for instance, a meeting held in the metaverse as offered by the company Meta (formerly Facebook), or a TikTok video. Ask yourself:

    • When would this medium be a useful source for a research paper today?
    • What information would a student need to provide to cite this source? Develop brief guidelines for citing the three sources you came up with.

Chapter 14

Table of Contents

Creating Presentations: Sharing Your Ideas

14.1 Organizing A Visual Presentation

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify key ideas and details to create a concise, engaging presentation.

  2. Identify the steps involved in planning a comprehensive presentation.

Until now, you have interacted with your audience on the page. You have tried to anticipate their reactions and questions. Anticipating the audience's needs can be tough, especially when you are sitting alone in front of your computer.

When you give a presentation, you connect directly with your audience. For most people, making a presentation is both exciting and stressful. The excitement comes from engaging in a two-way interaction about your ideas. The stress comes from the pressure of presenting your ideas without having a delete button to undo mistakes. Outside the classroom, you may be asked to give a presentation, often at the last minute, and the show must go on. Presentations can be stressful, but planning and preparation, when the time and opportunity are available, can make all the difference.

This chapter covers how to plan and deliver an effective, engaging presentation. By planning carefully, applying some time-honored presentation strategies, and practicing, you can make sure that your presentation comes across as confident, knowledgeable, and interesting---and that your audience actually learns from it. The specific tasks involved in creating a presentation may vary slightly depending on your purpose and your assignment. However, these are the general steps.

Follow these steps to create a presentation based on your ideas:

  1. Determine your purpose and identify the key ideas to present.
  2. Organize your ideas in an outline.
  3. Identify opportunities to include visual or audio media, and create or locate these media aids.
  4. Rehearse your presentation in advance.
  5. Deliver your presentation to your audience.

Getting Started: Identifying And Organizing Key Ideas

To deliver a successful presentation, you need to develop content suitable for an effective presentation. Your ideas make up your presentation, but to deliver them effectively, you will need to identify key ideas and organize them carefully. Read the following considerations, which will help you first identify and then organize key ideas:

Be concise. You will include the most important ideas and leave out others. Some concepts may need to be simplified.

Employ more than one medium of expression. You should include other media, such as charts, graphs, photographs, video or audio recordings, or websites.

Prepare for a face-to-face presentation. If you must deliver a face-to-face presentation, it is important to project yourself as a serious and well-informed speaker. You will often speak extemporaneously, or in a rehearsed but not memorized manner, which allows for flexibility given the context or audience. You will need to know your points and keep your audience engaged.

Determine Your Purpose

As with a writing assignment, determining the purpose of your presentation early on is crucial. You want to inform your readers about the topic, but think about what else you hope to achieve.

Are you presenting information intended to move your audience to adopt certain beliefs or take action on a particular issue? If so, you are speaking not only to inform but also to persuade your listeners. Do you want your audience to come away from your presentation knowing how to do something they that they did not know before? In that case, you are not only informing them but also explaining or teaching a process.

Writing At Work

Schoolteachers are trained to structure lessons around one or more lesson objectives. Usually the objective, the mission or purpose, states what students should know or be able to do after they complete the lesson. For example, an objective might state, "Students will understand the specific freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment" or "Students will be able to add two three-digit numbers correctly."

As a manager, mentor, or supervisor, you may sometimes be required to teach or train other employees as part of your job. Determining the desired outcome of a training session will help you plan effectively. Identify your teaching objectives. What, specifically, do you want your audience to know (for instance, details of a new workplace policy) or be able to do (for instance, use a new software program)? Plan your teaching or training session to meet your objectives.

Identify Key Ideas

To plan your presentation, think in terms of three or four key points you want to get across. In a paper, you have the space to develop ideas at length and delve into complex details. In a presentation, however, you must convey your ideas more concisely.

One strategy you might try is to create an outline. What is your main idea? Would your main idea work well as key points for a brief presentation? How would you condense topics that might be too lengthy, or should you eliminate topics that may be too complicated to address in your presentation?

Exercise 1

  1. Revisit your presentation assignment, or think of a topic for your presentation. On your own sheet of notebook paper, write a list of at least three to five key ideas. Keep the following questions in mind when listing your key ideas:
  • What is your purpose?
  • Who is your audience?
  • How will you engage your audience?
  1. On the same paper, identify the steps you must complete before you begin creating your presentation.

Use An Outline To Organize Ideas

After you determine which ideas are most appropriate for your presentation, you will create an outline of those ideas. Your presentation, like a written assignment, should include an introduction, body, and conclusion. These components serve much the same purpose as they do in a written assignment.

The introduction engages the audience's attention, introduces the topic, and sets the tone for what is to come.

The body develops your point of view with supporting ideas, details, and examples presented in a logical order.

The conclusion restates your point of view, sums up your main points, and leaves your audience with something to think about.

Jorge, who wrote the research paper featured in Chapter 11, developed the following outline. Jorge relied heavily on this outline to plan his presentation, but he adjusted it to suit the new format.

Planning Your Introduction

In Chapter 12, you learned techniques for writing an interesting introduction, such as beginning with a surprising fact or statistic, a thought-provoking question or quotation, a brief anecdote that illustrates a larger concept or connects your topic to your audience's experiences. You can use these techniques effectively in presentations as well. You might also consider actively engaging your audience by having members respond to questions or complete a brief activity related to your topic. For example, you may have your audience respond to a survey or tell about an experience related to your topic.

Incorporating media can also be an effective way to get your audience's attention. Visual images such as a photograph or a cartoon can invoke an immediate emotional response. A graph or chart can highlight startling findings in research data or statistical information. Brief video or audio clips that clearly reinforce your message and do not distract or overwhelm your audience can provide a sense of immediacy when you plan to discuss an event or a current issue. A PowerPoint presentation allows you to integrate many of these different media sources into one presentation.


With the accessibility provided by the internet, you can find interesting and appropriate audio and video with little difficulty. However, the clip alone will not sustain the presentation. To keep the audience interested and engaged, you must frame the beginning and end of the clip with your own words.

Jorge completed the introduction part of his outline by listing the key points he would use to open his presentation. He also planned to show various web links early on to illustrate the popularity of the low-carbohydrate diet trend.

Beyond the Hype: Evaluating Low-Carbohydrate Diets
I. Introduction
    A. Background---popularity of low-carbohydrate dieting (show websites)
    B. Thesis/point of view---Although following a low-carbohydrate diet can benefit some people, 
    these diets are not the best option for all dieters, whether they want to lose weight 
    or improve their health

Planning The Body Of Your Presentation

The next step is to work with the key ideas you identified earlier. Determine the order in which you want to present these ideas, and flesh them out with important details. Chapter 10 discusses several organizational structures you might work with, such as chronological order, comparison-and-contrast structure, or cause-and-effect structure.

How much detail you include will depend on the time allotted for your presentation. Your instructor will most likely give you a specific time limit or a specific slide limit, such as eight to ten slides. If the time limit is very brief (two to three minutes, for instance), you will need to focus on communicating your point of view, main supporting points, and only the most relevant details. Three minutes can feel like an eternity if you are speaking before a group, but the time will pass very quickly. It is important to use it well.

If you have more time to work with---ten minutes or half an hour---you will be able to discuss your topic in greater detail. More time also means you must devote more thought into how you will hold your audience's interest. If your presentation is longer than five minutes, introduce some variety so the audience is not bored. Include multimedia, invite the audience to complete an activity, or set aside time for a question-and-answer session.

Jorge was required to limit his presentation to five to seven minutes. In his outline, he made a note about where he would need to condense some complicated material to stay within his time limit. He also decided to focus only on cholesterol and heart disease in his discussion of long-term health outcomes. The research on other issues was inconclusive, so Jorge decided to omit this material. Jorge's notes on his outline show the revisions he has made to his presentation.


You are responsible for using your presentation time effectively to inform your audience. You show respect for your audience by following the expected time limit. However, that does not mean you must fill all of that time with talk if you are giving a face-to-face presentation. Involving your audience can take some of the pressure off you while also keeping them engaged. Have them respond to a few brief questions to get them thinking. Display a relevant photograph, document, or object and ask your classmates to comment. In some presentations, if time allows, you may choose to have your classmates complete an individual or group activity.

Planning Your Conclusion

The conclusion should briefly sum up your main idea and leave your audience with something to think about. As in a written paper, you are essentially revisiting your thesis. Depending on your topic, you may also ask the audience to reconsider their thinking about an issue, to take action, or to think about a related issue. If you presented an attention-getting fact or anecdote in your introduction, consider revisiting it in your conclusion. Just as you have learned about an essay's conclusion, do not add new content to the presentation's conclusion.

No matter how you choose to structure your conclusion, make sure it is well planned so that you are not tempted to wrap up your presentation too quickly. Inexperienced speakers, in a face-to-face presentation, sometimes rush through the end of a presentation to avoid exceeding the allotted time or to end the stressful experience of presenting in public. Unfortunately, a hurried conclusion makes the presentation as a whole less memorable.


Time management is the key to delivering an effective presentation whether it is face-to-face or in PowerPoint. As you develop your outline, think about the amount of time you will devote to each section. For instance, in a five-minute face-to-face presentation, you might plan to spend one minute on the introduction, three minutes on the body, and one minute on the conclusion. Later, when you rehearse, you can time yourself to determine whether you need to adjust your content or delivery.

In a PowerPoint presentation, it is important that your presentation is visually stimulating, avoids information overload by limiting the text per slide, uses speaker notes effectively, and uses a font that is visible on the background (e.g., avoid white letters on a light background or black letters on a dark background).

Exercise 2

Work with the list you created in Exercise 1 to develop a more complete outline for your presentation. Make sure your outline includes the following:

  • An introduction that uses strategies to capture your audience's attention
  • A body section that summarizes your main points and supporting details
  • A conclusion that will help you end on a memorable note
  • Brief notes about how much time you plan to spend on each part of the presentation (you may adjust the timing later as needed)

Identifying Opportunities To Include Visuals And Audio

You may already have some ideas for how to include visuals and audio in your presentation. If not, review your outline and begin thinking about where to include media. Presenting information in a variety of formats will help you keep your audience's interest.

Use Presentation Software

Delivering your presentation as a slideshow is one way to use media to your advantage. As you speak, you use a computer and an attached projector to display a slideshow of text and graphics that complement the speech. Your audience will follow your ideas more easily because you are communicating with them through more than one sense. The audience hears your words and also sees the corresponding visuals. A listener who momentarily loses track of what you are saying can rely on the slide to cue his or her memory.

To set up your presentation, you will need to work with the content of your outline to develop individual slides. Each slide should focus on just a few bullet points (or a similar amount of content presented in a graphic). Remember that your audience must be able to read the slides easily, whether the members sit in the front or the back of the room. Do not crowd the slides with too much text.

Using presentation software, such as PowerPoint, allows you to include graphics, sounds, and even web links directly into your slides. You can also work with available styles, color schemes, and fonts to give your presentation a polished, consistent appearance. Different slide templates make it easy to organize information to suit your purpose. Be sure your font is visible to you audience. Avoid using small font or colored font that is not visible against your background.

Use PowerPoint as a Visual Aid

PowerPoint and similar visual representation programs can be effective tools to help audiences remember your message, but they can also be an annoying distraction to your speech. How you prepare your slides and use the tool will determine your effectiveness.

PowerPoint is a slideshow program that you have no doubt seen used in class, seen in a presentation at work, or perhaps used yourself to support a presentation. PowerPoint and similar slideshow programs provide templates for creating electronic slides to present visual information to the audience, reinforcing the verbal message. You will be able to import or cut and paste words from text files, images, or video clips to create slides to represent your ideas. You can even include web links. When using any software program, it is always a good idea to experiment with it long before you intend to use it; explore its many options and functions and see how it can be an effective tool for you.

At first, you might be overwhelmed by the possibilities, and you might be tempted to use all the bells, whistles, and sound effects, not to mention the tumbling, flying, and animated graphics. If used wisely, a dissolve or key transition can be like a well-executed scene from a major motion picture and lead your audience to the next point. But if used indiscriminately, it can annoy the audience to the point where they cringe in anticipation of the sound effect at the start of each slide. This danger is inherent in the tool, but you are in charge of it and can make wise choices that enhance the understanding and retention of your information.

The first point to consider is which visual is the most important. The answer is you, the speaker. You will facilitate the discussion, give life to the information, and help the audience correlate the content to your goal or purpose. You do not want to be in a position where the PowerPoint presentation is the focus and you are on the side of the stage simply helping the audience follow along. Slides should support you in your presentation, rather than the other way around. Just as there is a number one rule for handouts (do not pass them out at the start of your presentation), there is also one for PowerPoint presentations: do not use PowerPoint slides as a read-aloud script for your speech. The PowerPoint slides should amplify and illustrate your main points, not reproduce everything you are going to say.

Your pictures are the second area of emphasis you will want to consider. The tool will allow you to show graphs, charts and illustrate relationships that words may only approach in terms of communication, but your verbal support of the visual images will make all the difference. Dense pictures or complicated graphics will confuse more than they clarify. Choose clear images t