Let's will look at how different types of sentences are constructed and how to use punctuation correctly. A sentence provides the framework for the clear written expression of our ideas. They always begin with a capital letter and end with one of the following:
A complete sentence always contains a verb and expresses a complete idea. It makes sense on its own. To check that you are writing complete sentences, try reading them out loud. Pause when you come to a comma or full stop. Can each sentence stand alone as a complete thought? If you need more information to complete the idea, the sentence is not right.
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Below are some examples of good and bad sentences with explanations.
Good: Andy reads quickly.
This is a complete sentence. It contains a verb, which is reads. It expresses a complete idea because you don’t need any more information to understand it.
Bad: When Andy reads.
This is an incomplete sentence because we need more information to complete the idea of what happens when Andy reads.
Good: When Andy reads, he reads quickly.
This is a complete sentence because it expresses a full idea.
Bad:There is another theory. Which should not be ignored.
The second sentence doesn’t stand alone as a complete thought.
Good: There is another theory which should not be ignored.
The sentence makes sense.
Bad: The proposal was finally rejected. Although they considered it.
The second sentence doesn’t stand alone as a complete thought.
Good: Although they considered the proposal, it was finally rejected.
The sentence makes complete sense.
Sentences are made up of clauses, which are groups of words that express a single idea. There are two types of clauses:
A dependent clause always needs to be combined with an independent clause to complete an idea. Clauses make up different types of sentences - simple, compound, complex and compound-complex.
Simple sentences: They are made of just one independent clause and need only one punctuation mark at the end. eg The assignment was late.
Compound sentence: They are made by joining simple sentences. Joining closely related sentences makes the writing flow. Joins are made by using a comma or the words and, but, so, or yet Example: The essay was late, so he lost marks. Example: The essay was late; he lost marks.
Complex sentence: This is a sentence that is made by joining an independent clause with a dependent clause. Example: Because his assignment was late, he lost marks.
The comma separates the dependent from the independent clause because the dependent clause comes first. Common words that start a dependent clause include although, as, because, even though, if, instead, through, when whenever, where, and while.
Example: He lost marks because the assignment was late.
The independent clause comes before the dependent clause so it doesn't need a comma.
This is a sentence in three parts. A dependent clause begins the sentence, it is separated from the central clause by a comma and then the end of the sentence is an independent clause. Example: When considering owning a pet, you must calculate the cost, or the animal may suffer.
Use different types of sentence structures to make your writing flow. Below is an example of writing that contains correct sentences but the writing doesn’t flow:
The writing flows better if you combine some of the sentences that are closely related:
Below is a sentence that is long and complicated:
This sentence should be shortened so the writing flows, but you must to avoid confusing the reader:
Paragraphs divide writing into a number of points or stages. Each paragraph should deal with one idea or one aspect of an idea. It should be clear to the reader what the main idea is.
If used correctly, paragraphs create a clear written structure. A paragraph is a chunk of writing of any length. As a general rule they should not be less than 2 or 3 sentences, and there should be 2 or 3 on an A4 page.
Paragraphs are separated by a blank line or they are indented a few spaces. The end of a paragraph creates a pause in the flow of your writing. This pause tells the reader that the writing is about to move on to a different idea or a different aspect of an idea.
When you begin a new paragraph you should be clear about the main idea you are covering. Check that you don’t go off on a tangent, discuss details that would work better in a different paragraph, or discuss details that need a paragraph of their own.
Paragraphs often have a brief introduction and conclusion. The introduction of a paragraph makes the purpose of the paragraph clear to the reader. It often explains how that idea is relevant to the main topic. The main body of a paragraph should develop this idea. An idea can be defined, examples provided, commentary can be given, opposing ideas can be discussed, and implications and consequences can be shown. The conclusion of a paragraph links back to the introduction and comments on the implications of the point as a whole or makes a link to the next paragraph. Don’t end the paragraph with brand new or irrelevant detail.
Contractions: They replace one or more letters, which creates a shorter word:
As you progress through your studies you should use them less and less in assignments.
Ownership: This is when an apostrophe is used to show ownership and make a word possessive. There are 3 ways to do this.
1. If the word is singular you add: ’s
2. If the word is a plural but does not end with a “s” you add: ’s
3. If the word is a plural that ends with an “s” you add: ’
Common problems with apostrophes
Some words frequently cause problems and confusion. They are its / it’s and whose / who’s.
Its - belongs to a group of words that are already possessive. Others include his, hers and yours. Because they are already possessive they don’t need an added apostrophe. This means that the sentences below indicates ownership even though it doesn’t contain an apostrophe:
It’s - contains an apostrophe because doesn’t indicate ownership. The apostrophe tells us that the words it and is have been shortened into the one word it’s.
Whose - is another word that is already possessive. This means that you don’t need to add an apostrophe to indicate ownership.
Who’s - contains an apostrophe because doesn’t indicate ownership. The apostrophe tells us that who is has been shortened to who’s.
Commas can be used to separate words or phrases that together make up a list.
Commas can be used to separate an introductory word or phrase in a sentence.
A comma can separate a word or phrase that briefly interrupts the flow of a sentence.
A comma can separate an afterthought or a final phrase that contrasts with the main part of a sentence.
Commas can link short and simple sentences if you add a coordinating conjunction or word such as and, but, so, or , nor and yet. A comma cannot join two sentences on its own because a comma only indicates a pause. You need to add a comma and a coordinating conjunction to join sentences properly.
A semi-colon looks like this ; It has two uses- It can link sentences or separate items in a list.
Linking: A semi-colon can mark a break which is stronger than a comma but less final than a full stop. Using a semi-colon to link related or closely linked sentences emphasis their relationship and varies the pace of the writing.
A semi-colon can also be used to link sentences that include connecting words such as otherwise, however, therefore, moreover, nevertheless, thus, besides, accordingly, instead and consequently.
Lists: A semi-colon is used to separate items in a list, when that list contains one or more commas. It reduces confusion.
A colon looks like this : They create a pause and indicates that the reader should look forward to information that follows on from the last statement. It can be used to introduce a list or introduce an explanation.
Lists: A colon can indicate that a list is about to follow.
Explanations: A colon can be used to introduce a conclusion, a clarification of an earlier statement or an explanation. The colon separates and highlights the second statement, showing that it follows on from the first.
The colon and the semi-colon are often underused because many people aren’t sure how to use them correctly. Both can make your writing easier to understand and prevent an overuse of commas and full stops.
[The text above is based on that provided by the University of Leicester]
When you write critically you will:
Be clear and confident about whether you agree or disagree with the arguments and evidence contained in the information sources that you include in your writing.
Be able to give a balanced presentation of the reasons why the views of others should be accepted or treated with caution.
Give a clear presentation of your own evidence, arguments and conclusions.
Recognise your own limitations.
Your assignments and essays need to balance the use of critical and descriptive writing. Descriptive writing refers to writing that describes an object or a theory, background history, biographical details about a person’s life or research.
When you write descriptively you are not developing your own argument – you are merely setting the background within which an argument can be developed. You are presenting ideas but not transforming information. You are presenting a situation and not an analysis or discussion. This type of writing is easy to do, so many students fail to balance descriptive with critical writing.
When you write critically you are participating in a debate and weighing up the evidence and arguments of others, and then you are contributing your own. You are not writing critically if you are putting together a string of quotes from other people to support your argument. A large number of quotes won’t make your argument stronger. You need to balance the quotes you use with your own interpretation of the material. Explain to the reader how the quote, idea or argument is relevant or irrelevant. Show how they relate to the topic and discuss whether they are valid.
Planning your paragraphs can help you to write critically. You can use paragraphs to make a clear and visual separation by switching to a new paragraph when you move between descriptive and critical writing. This can help:
Emphasise to the reader that you are including both types of writing and analysis.
Force you to produce critical writing and counter balance your descriptive writing.
A good rule is: If it’s worth including, it’s worth telling the reader why you did so. A certain amount of descriptive writing is necessary but it is easy to include too much. After you have described something, get into the habit of explaining why that description is relevant. A sentence or two might describe something, but then the next few sentences can explain what this information contributes to the argument you are making. This may feel like duplication at first, or that you are explaining something that is obvious, but it is your responsibility to explain things to the reader. Don’t assume the reader will follow the same logic you do.
Remember not to lose sight of your line of argument as your write several paragraphs. You need to ensure that each paragraph has a beginning, middle and end, but you also need to consider their placement in the overall structure. The aim is to lead the reader through the thread of your argument to a well supported conclusion.
When you read back over your critical writing, ask yourself:
Why should the reader be convinced by what I’ve just written?
Are their gaps in my logic or arguments?
Is there a balance between descriptive and critical writing?
Is my conclusion well supported? Do I lead the reader to my conclusions via the evidence or do I spring them suddenly on the reader?
Have I made general and sweeping statements which I haven’t backed up with evidence?
[The text above is based on that provided by the University of Leicester]
Support your essay with evidence
Use evidence to illustrate and support your points. Evidence may be the opinion of an expert or the results of a study. It might be written words, facts or diagrams. Use evidence to add authority, credibility and interest to your argument. Don’t forget to acknowledge and reference the information you include.
Give a brief recap in the conclusion. Make a reference to the larger issues, evaluate your main arguments and highlight the most important points.
When you've finished writing
When you finish writing, have a break and then go back and edit it, if you have time. Remember to make the question your focus so you stay on track and only include material that directly relates to it. It can be difficult to edit your own work so it might be easier to read it aloud, carefully adhering to the pauses in the punctuation you have used. This will help you identify problems and make the writing easier to understand. Spell checks on computers are useful, but they don’t always identify the appropriate spelling of words.
It is better to write something that is imperfect and spend time revising it, than to waste time trying to produce something that is perfect first time round. Editing improves the standard of a piece of writing. It is an interactive process where you critique and revise.
Typically, editing looks at:
It is more than proof reading. Proof reading refers to the specific job of checking the spelling, grammar and formatting. This is best done in the last stage of the editing process.
If you plan to have editing time you will get a better result because your teacher will find it easier to read your writing. Some students don’t like editing because they prefer the creative process of writing and don’t like critiquing their own work. Others like editing because it improves the quality of their writing.
It is a good idea to write and edit in a different location. Print out your writing so you can work on a paper copy away from your computer. Make clear notes on your paper copy and don’t rely on your memory. Read your writing several times from start to finish. If you only concentrate on specific paragraphs you may lose sight of the overall flow of your argument and miss where you repeat ideas or information.
Ask yourself two questions when you are editing:
Add signposts for the reader. These are sentences that provide clarity eg
Link different sections to guide the reader through the writing by using sentences like:
Links can look forward and back, reviewing what has been said and introducing what is about to be said.