Sentence-level and paragraph concerns

  • Active vs. passive voice

    The verb form “was leaving” and the verb form “left” are both past tense, but the difference is that one is passive and one is active.

    Active vs. passive voice

  • Adjectives vs. adverbs


    An adjective modifies only words that are nouns. It can come before the noun, or can come after a verb, but it modifies the noun.


    An adverb modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. It does not modify a noun. Many times, adverbs end in “ly.” 

    Adjectives vs. adverbs

  • Basic sentence pattern in English

    In English, our sentences usually operate using a similar pattern: subject, verb, then object. The nice part about this type of structure is that it lets your reader easily know who is doing the action and what the outcome of the action is.

    Basic sentence pattern in English

  • Brief guidelines for article usage

    In English, articles (a, an, the) are like adjectives. They come before and modify nouns. However, articles do not have clearly defined meanings, like adjectives. Instead, articles simply provide information about the status of the nouns they modify (Lynch, Brizee, & Angeli, 2011).

    Brief guidelines for article usage

  • British vs. American English

    There are many differences between British and American punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Neither version is more correct than the other; which version you should use just depends on who your primary audience is. Here are some of the most common differences between British and American academic English.

    British vs. American English

  • Capitalization guide

    Sometimes it can be hard to tell when to capitalize words. As this guide shows, the difference between capitalization and lowercase is often whether a specific place or person is referenced.

    Capitalization guide

  • Clauses & sentences

    Sentences can be multiple clauses or just one, depending on the type. Learn more about how independent and dependent clauses can be used to form grammatical sentences in English.

    Clauses & sentences

  • Cohesion: The known-new contract

    When we say writing is cohesive, we mean that relationships between ideas are easy for a reader to follow. Cohesion is often a component of what many students call “flow,” meaning that ideas are smoothly strung together to create a clear discussion, exposition, or argument. Writers may use several methods to create cohesion in their writing, one of which is the “known-new contract.”

    cohesion: the known-new contract

  • Comma usage

    Comma usage is a skill and an art. Learn some general guidelines about when to use commas in your writing. 

    Comma usage

  • Contractions

    While contractions are used in everyday speech, there are certain situations where you can use them effectively and other situations where you may choose not to. For example, using contractions in academic writing, such as a research paper, is usually not encouraged because it can make your writing sound informal. In writing situations that are informal, such as blog posts or personal narratives, using contractions is acceptable, unless your professor states otherwise. 


  • Dialogue punctuation

    With dialogue, specific punctuation is needed. Most often, commas and periods go within the quotation marks, but there are some forms of punctuation and examples that go outside of the quotation marks. Utilize these tips to make sure that the punctuation of your dialogue is correct.

    Dialogue punctuation

  • Guidelines for clarity & concision

    Many people believe academic writing is confusing and dense, that it suffers from a lack of clarity and concision. Clear and concise writing does not always come easy; it takes practice and plenty of revision. The following guidelines can help you get started.

    Guidelines for clarity & concision

  • It's vs. its

    The difference between “its” and “it’s” can be confusing because they are said exactly the same way. However, in writing, it is important to make the distinction.

    It's vs. its

  • Nonessential elements

    Nonessential words and phrases are elements of a sentence which do not contain information essential to the meaning of the sentence as a whole.

    Nonessential elements

  • Paragraph transitions

    Paragraph transition is the movement between paragraphs, specifically how effectively logical order and transitions/transitional devices are used.

    Paragraph transitions

  • Parenthetical phrases

    Parenthetical phrases, also known simply as parentheticals, can be a great way to add flow and concision to an essay. In essence, a parenthetical is just a phrase that is not essential to the rest of the sentence. However, just because it isn’t essential does not mean that it isn’t important. When used correctly, a parenthetical can add crucial new information to a sentence without disrupting the flow. 

    Parenthetical phrases

  • Possessives

    The apostrophe is largely used to show possession, but when it comes to words with an “s” at the end, sometimes the placement gets confusing.


  • Prepositions

    Prepositions are grammatical words that have no inherent meaning like a noun or verb would.  Instead, they contribute to the grammatical meaning of the sentence. What preposition a writer should use depends upon the context of the sentence. The prepositions at, on, and in are the most common, but, of, for, and about are also discussed in the following pages.


  • Punctuation guide

    Learn how to correctly use the major types of punctuation in the English language. 

    Punctuation guide

  • Relative clauses, pronouns & adverbs

    An essential relative clause provides necessary, defining information about the noun. On the other hand, non‐ essential relative clauses provide additional, non‐necessary information about the noun. Think of non‐ essential relative clauses as adjectives describing the noun; you can remove adjectives without changing the meaning of the sentence. A relative clause can be introduced by either a relative pronoun or a relative adverb.

    Relative clauses, pronouns & adverbs

  • Run-on sentences

    A run‐on sentence is two or more independent clauses joined together with insufficient punctuation. This means that there are two or more complete sentences fused into one sentence ...

    Run-on sentences

  • Semicolon cheat sheet

    Semicolons are often used to join parts of a sentence together to establish variety and link related ideas. Unlike a colon, which separates an independent clause from descriptive information, a semicolon links independent clauses of equal standing. Below are some helpful tips on how to use semicolons effectively and appropriately to strengthen sentence structure and variety.

    semicolon cheat  sheet

  • Sentence variety

    What is sentence variety and what can it do for your writing? The following quotes are great examples of how balancing long and short sentences can make your writing more engaging. Several short sentences in a row make writing seem choppy and boring. Several very long sentences make the writing drone on.

    Sentence Variety

  • Subject-verb agreement

    Learn what subject verb agreement is and how to conjugate basic English verbs.

    Subject-verb agreement

  • Types of sentences

    Learn more about the types of sentences that make up the English language and how to use them. 

    Types of sentences

  • Verb tenses

    View a quick guide to verb tenses in the English language and how to form them. 

    Verb tenses

  • Why isn't this plural? Mass nouns

    Sometimes a noun looks like it should be plural when it isn’t. Chances are that this noun is called a mass noun. Mass nouns are nouns that, by their very nature, are plural. These are also called uncountable nouns or noncount nouns.

    Why isn't this plural? Mass nouns

  • Word choice

    Improving your writing skills does not require you to be a walking dictionary or have an extensive knowledge of English grammar rules and concepts. Get comfortable with getting outside suggestions and critiques. The best way to improve your writing is to read and write often.

    Word choice