Exclamation points (!)

Even rarer than question marks, exclamation points are almost never used in academic or formal writing. They owe their rarity in academic writing to the spirit of dispassionate discussion that formal writing usually requires.

The excitability communicated by an exclamation disqualifies the exclamation mark from acceptable use.

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Question marks (?)

Considering the numbers of questions we try to answer in academics, we use question marks infrequently. You might use them to state your research question, to clarify an issue that requires future research, or once in a while to pose a question to for your reader to consider as you proceed with your discussion.

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The descriptive and narrative essay styles

The essay  is a flexible form of writing, and although the most common essays assigned in the academy are argumentative in nature, you might also be asked to write a narrative or descriptive essay. These two kinds of essay differ from argumentative essays chiefly in approach and style, and the two are similar in that both draw more explicitly on the resources of creative writers, and both are often less formal than argumentative essays. Finally, narrative and descriptive essays rely on emotional appeal more heavily than argumentative essays. You might use these techniques in your personal statement when applying for college or graduate school.

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Forging good titles in academic writing

The title is the first thing your reader will see, and most readers will make their first judgements of your work based on it. For this reason, it’s important to think about your titles carefully.

The most basic things to remember are that your title should be informative, striking, and appropriate. This article briefly discusses these titular qualities, turns to some title templates and examples, and then offers some tips and common title-pitfalls.

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Essay damage control: Managing a broken argument

If you write enough papers, eventually you find yourself looking at a mostly-written essay with the conviction that it’s a complete disaster. I’ve certainly been there, and I know plenty of grad students and academics can say the same. When you find yourself mired in the despair that comes from watching a seemingly brilliant idea crash and burn in your hands, resist the temptation to delete the file and start from scratch. Your best course of action before you abandon ship is to begin salvaging what you can from the sinking wreck that was your essay.

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Myth: It’s an error to split infinitives

An infinitive is one uninflected form of a verb, and it’s easy to spot. To go, to say, to wonder, to ride, to share—these are all examples of infinitives, and you will recognize plenty of them in your own writing, no doubt. Usually (though not always), and infinitive verb is preceded by “to.”

To split an infinitive is to put a word or words between “to” and the verb in order to modify that verb. Again, the myth of this error comes to us as dogmatic prescriptive advice, gaining a foothold in mid-nineteenth century England’s insistence that English should emulate Latin (in Latin, infinitives are a single word and cannot be split).

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Myth: It’s a stylistic mistake to end a sentence with a preposition

Prepositions (e.g. in, on, to, about, as, of, ) show the relationships between things, and the notion that no self-respecting writer ends a sentence with a preposition has been discussed at length. You will get this advice only in the form of prescriptive advice, and it presents an instance in which dogma, rather than careful consideration, seems to be the foundation of the rule.

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Myth: Paragraph transitions should be placed at the ends of paragraphs

We might guess that this common misconception comes from a desire for students to be forward-looking. As such, we can hazard a guess that the rule, “paragraph transitions should always happen at the ends of paragraphs,” is a provisional one taught when students are introduced to essay structure.

This desire for students to be forward-looking is well founded, since good writers constantly anticipate where and how they will move their discussion as their texts progress.

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