Here is a set of tips that may help you with your writing. These tips address a number of common mistakes that students make. Since many of these errors will not be detected with grammar or spell check, you will need to be vigilant and pay attention to details.
A common question is when to capitalize proper nouns like “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandmother, “Aunt,” “Uncle,” etc. If you can substitute the person’s name and have the sentence make sense, then capitalize. If it doesn’t make sense, then don’t capitalize. “My mom and I went to the store,” because you wouldn’t say, “My Lori and I went to the store.” But it is correct to write “Dad and Mom went to the store,” because you could say “Bob and Lori went to the store.”
When to use “Me” or “Myself”
“Myself” is a reflexive pronoun and is not used as a subject, object, or an object of a preposition. Thus, you would write, “Mom and I went to the store,” not “Mom and myself went to the store.” Another example is, “Dad took Mom and me to the store,” NOT “Dad took Mom and myself to the store.” Also, saying “On behalf of Tom and myself…” is incorrect. Instead, say, “On Tom’s and my behalf…” Correct use of the word would be something like, “I went to the store myself,” “I did it myself,” or “I scratched myself with my watch.”
When to use “I” or “Me”
When to use I or me is more confusing if there are other people in the sentence. The tip is to determine which would be used without the other person’s name. So, “Tony and I went to the store,” because you would say, “I went to the store,” not “Me went to the store.” Similarly, “Mom drove Tony and me to the store,” because you would say, “Mom drove me to the store,” not “Mom drove I to the store.”
When there are multiple people in the sentence besides you, put yourself last. So, “John and I went to the store” is correct, “not “I and John went to the store,” neither is “Me and John went to the store” correct. Another correct example is, “Trish, Sandy, Joe and I studied together for the big exam.”
Their/There; Affect/Effect; Whether/Weather; Then/Than
“Their” and “there” seem to be confused frequently. “Their” is possessive, “That is their car.” “There” is directional, “The car is over there.” Another related thing to remember is “they’re,” the contraction of “they are.”
“Either” is always used with “or,” and “neither” is always used with “nor.”
Make sure you are careful to double check other words that are easy to confuse, such as “whether” and “weather,” “effect” and “affect.” Another pair, “then” and “than,” is a very commonly mixed-up pair. “Then” refers to a point in time, whereas “than” suggests a contrast. “I wrote the note then,” but “I would rather write than draw.” Another pair of words students often confuse is “defiantly” and “definitely.” These words should be used like this: “The child defiantly ignored his mother’s instruction”; “The ball definitely bounced outside the line.”
Check your subject/verb agreement, for example, “He goes to the store,” or “We go to the store,” not “He go to the store,” or “We goes to the store.” When there is a prepositional phrase, make sure your verb agrees with the noun BEFORE the preposition, such as, “The box of Cracker Jacks is on the table,” and “The boxes of tissue are on the table.”
When to use apostrophes
Use your apostrophes on words with “s” carefully. Remember, simple plurals do not have apostrophes, but possessives do, “The friends went to the game,” but “Her friend’s mother called” (singular), and “The friends’ trip was enjoyable” (plural). Pay close attention to “its” (possessive – “The dog licked its paw”) and “it’s” (contraction of it is, e.g. “It’s good to see you again”).
Watch incomplete and run-on sentences. When putting two complete sentences together, separate them with a semi-colon; use a comma between clauses when using conjunctions like “and,” “but,” etc. The previous sentence illustrates the proper use of a semi-colon since both parts are complete sentences.
People commonly make mistakes about whether or not to use a comma when “and” is used in a sentence. A comma is used if there is a subject and verb in both parts of the sentence. A comma is NOT used if either a subject or verb is missing in one part. For example, “We bought lunchmeat, and had a picnic” is incorrect since there is no subject in the second part of the sentence. “We bought lunchmeat, and we had a picnic” is correct because there is a subject in both parts.
Another correct way to write the above sentence is, “We bought lunchmeat and had a picnic.”
Other Writing Tips
- To help you organize your thoughts for writing, outline your ideas first. Main topics should have at least two subpoints, or none at all. When you write, paragraphs should have at least three sentences including the topic sentence and two subpoints related to the main topic.
- Most often for academic writing, unless you are writing to persuade or intentionally bringing in your reader into the discussion, write in third person (he, she, they). Avoid second person (you). First person may be used, but sparingly and only if you are writing specifically about something from your own perspective. It is usually best to stick with third person.
- Remember to use spell check AND proofread your paper (or have someone else read it). Check for errors missed by spell check (like “tow” for “two”). Double-check grammar. Take care of incomplete and run-on sentences. Reading it carefully and slowly out loud may help you hear the problems in your writing and see other errors.
- Pay attention to format. This includes correct punctuation, proper use of paragraphs, headings, margins, citations, etc. Refer to the appropriate citation manual, and do not rely on citation formatting programs as they may mess up your writing in the process.
- Take advantage of the school’s writing assistance office. Southwestern College Professional Studies provides assistance through the Online Writing Center.
- Check out these websites for information and links to other websites that address specific writing issues.