Grammar and punctuation rules describe the essential structural elements of writing.
Written academic assignments are opportunities to communicate your ideas and understanding. Incorrect grammar can cause the message of the text to be lost or confused, and will undoubtedly result in a deduction of marks. Poor grammar might force the reader to reframe sentences in their mind or work hard to sort through confusing grammar. This extra effort on the reader's part will detract from the power of your ideas.
A characteristic of good writing is that it makes it easy for the reader to understand what you intend to say.
These explain not what the word is, but how it is used.
The below example shows how the same word could be a noun in one sentence and a verb in the next:
Deborah likes reading books.
Deborah books the tickets for the concert.
Simple sentence – contains one statement (main or independent clause).
Compound sentence – contains at least two independent clauses, often joined by a conjunction such as and or but.
Complex sentence – contains at least one independent clause and one dependent clause.
A common issue in academic writing is when sentences are not completely formed. This makes the reading difficult to read an impacts on the clarity of ideas or logic being presented. Sentence fragments are pieces of sentences that lack components to make them complete. For a simple sentence to be complete, it must have a subject and a verb; and express a complete idea. Consider the following examples:
1. The subject is not included.
Argues that this practice is unsustainable.
Add a subject to correct this fragment.
The author argues that this practice is unsustainable.
2. The verb is not included.
The resulting performance not a clear improvement on previous attempts.
Add a verb to correct this fragment.
The resulting performance was not a clear improvement on previous attempts.
3. Both the subject and verb are not included.
Near the university campus.
Add a subject and a verb to correct this fragment.
The retail precinct is near the university campus.
4. The subject and verb are present, but a complete idea is not expressed.
The new students appear.
Add the word or words required to complete the idea.
The new students appear to have settled in well.
Run-on sentences occur when independent clauses are incorrectly joined with punctuation, or lack a conjunction.
1. A fused run-on sentence. Two or more independent clauses are joined with no conjunction or punctuation.
Beginning teachers have identified that student management can be challenging even experienced teachers acknowledge need to work hard at maintaining effective systems in their classrooms.
This sentence can be revised with a comma and conjunction of coordination that demonstrates the relationship between the two clauses.
Beginning teachers have identified that student management can be challenging, but even experienced teachers acknowledge need to work hard at maintaining effective systems in their classrooms.
2. A comma-slice run-on. Two or more independent clauses are joined with just a comma.
Dr Hansen began his career in Perth in 1982, he retired after setting up the pandemic response team in 2022.
A full stop can be used to seperate the clauses.
Dr Hansen began his career in Perth in 1982. He retired after setting up the pandemic response team in 2022.
A semi-colon can also be used to seperate the clauses.
Dr Hansen began his career in Perth in 1982; he retired after setting up the pandemic response team in 2022.
A comma and conjunction of coordination can be used, demonstrating a relationship between the two clauses.
Dr Hansen began his career in Perth in 1982, and he retired after setting up the pandemic response team in 2022.
A paragraph is a group of sentences that develop one single idea.
The topic of a paragraph is stated in a single sentence, at the beginning of each new paragraph, and is called the topic sentence. It introduces the topic and tells what the paragraph is going to be about.
The rest of the paragraph consists of sentences that develop or explain the main idea.
One way to help construct paragraphs in this way is the PEEL Paragraph technique.
Introduce and make the point (topic sentence).
Support it with evidence, research, references, an example, a quote.
Analyse and comment on the reference/example. Explain why it works within the context of the essay question and the argument you are currently making.
Link this point to the next point (next paragraph) and to the essay question (main topic).
Punctuation marks are used to define and emphasise tone, pacing, and meaning in words and sentences. Here are a few of the most common types:
Question marks [?] are used at the end of questions.
Apostrophes ['] are used for contracted words (e.g., I’m = I am), and possessives or ownership (e.g., Lucy’s glasses).
Colons [:] are usually used to precede lists or quotes (e.g., I had my bag packed for the beach: sunglasses, hat, towel, and sunscreen). Can also be used to further expand upon or explain a point (e.g., I felt nervous about the diving board: I was terrified of heights).
Important tip: When using lists introduced by a colon, the part that comes before the colon must be a complete clause.
Semi-colons [;] separate two elements of a sentence while indicating a relationship (e.g., I wasn't sure if the shape moving below me was a shark; I had never been in the ocean before). Semi-colons can also indicate elements in a series (e.g., the team included Bill, an architect; Lisa, a teacher; and Lawrence, an anthropologist.).
Quotation marks ["..."] are used to show that you are repeating someone else's words.