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.
Continue reading: Exclamation points (!)
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.
Continue reading: Question marks (?)
Punctuation signals the structure of a text, telling us not only where one idea ends and another begins, but also which idea is more important and how it relates to other ideas. The wrong punctuation, then, signals the wrong relationship between ideas, confusing your reader.
Continue reading: Common punctuation mistakes in academic writing
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.
Continue reading: The descriptive and narrative essay styles
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.
Continue reading: Forging good titles in academic writing
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.
Continue reading: Essay damage control: Managing a broken argument
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).
Continue reading: Myth: It’s an error to split infinitives
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.
Continue reading: Myth: It’s a stylistic mistake to end a sentence with a preposition
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.
Continue reading: Myth: Paragraph transitions should be placed at the ends of paragraphs
Another provisional rule, the maxim that no sentence should begin with “because” is likely the result of a teacher’s frustration with sentence fragments.
Continue reading: Myth: It’s incorrect to start a sentence with “because”