Strong research and a well-organized set of arguments will put you well on your way to a top-grade paper. But there’s one thing that many of us find unexpectedly challenging: grammar and mechanics. Using proper grammar isn’t just a finishing touch—it’s a crucial component to making sure that your writing is clear, understandable, and polished.
Here are three of the grammar errors that your professors see the most often, and how to avoid them.
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1. Run-on Sentences
The problem: Long sentences with multiple clauses. These start out with the good intention of writing a complex or compound sentence, but sometimes these turn into grammatically incorrect run-on sentences.
The novel has lengthy descriptions of the passionate emotions or confusion a character feels internally, while that is great for readers of the story, the screenwriter is going to have to come up with a way to explain those emotions in a visual manner without the extra prose description to help the audience follow along.
Did you get all that? The reader shouldn’t have to go over a single sentence slowly, multiple times in order to understand it.
The solution: Use conjunctions correctly and/or split a run-on sentence into multiple related sentences.
The first thing to do with a run-on sentence is to check and see where each individual “thought” ends. In the above example, the individual thoughts are:
1. The novel has lengthy descriptions of the passionate emotions or confusion a character feels internally.
2. That is great for readers of the story.
3. The screenwriter is going to have to come up with a way to explain those emotions in a visual manner without the extra prose description to help the audience follow along.
A writer could just split it into three sentences, but that would probably be very choppy. Instead, the best bet would be to split it into two sentences: one simple, one complex, and bring “while” back to introduce a dependent clause, because the second and third segments go together.
The novel has lengthy descriptions of the passionate emotions or confusion a character feels internally. While that is great for readers of the story, the screenwriter is going to have to come up with a way to explain those emotions in a visual manner without the extra prose description to help the audience follow along.
Technically, it would be also be correct to just insert “, and” before “while,” but that would create a very long and unwieldy compound sentence.
2. Problems With Prepositions
The problem: Because of outdated conventions, it’s easy to end up with awkward prepositional phrases (subsections of a sentence built around a preposition, e.g., “to the boss” or “of happiness.”)
James is the person who I gave the invoices to.
There’s nothing of which to be scared.
The solution: Familiarize yourself with object pronouns and with updated grammar conventions. An object pronoun is a word that replaces a noun and serves as the object of some verb—that is, the person or thing that an action is done to.
In the first example, there are a couple of solutions. If you want to keep the sentence structured as it is, replace “who” with “whom.” However, you can restructure the sentence in more convenient ways:
I gave the invoices to James.
The person to whom I gave the invoices is James.
The second sentence is structured oddly because of an older rule that many of us probably learned in elementary or middle school: to never end sentences with a preposition. Unless you’re writing in an extremely formal manner or in a class that requires a specific style of grammar, many professors will be just fine with a more colloquial structure—which is, also, grammatically correct.
There’s nothing to be scared of.
3. Convoluted Sentences
The problem: There’s a misconception that academic writing means convoluted writing, and essays end up obscuring the point underneath layers of questionable or too-formal grammar.
When, in situations like this, the communication requires a degree of formality, it only requires such a style to the degree in which it is requested; otherwise, one runs the risk of writing in a manner that requires excessive concentration from any given reader and thus obscures the original intent.
The solution: Remember that professors are people too. While you’ll want to avoid slang and incomplete sentences (unless the paper calls for them), you don’t have to write like an English textbook. Using big words or nested sentence structures isn’t the mark of a successful paper: a truly successful paper is one that conveys its ideas clearly and persuasively.
It’s sometimes necessary to use formal communication styles, but only to a certain degree. Otherwise, the writing might distract from the actual point of the writing.
Professors won’t necessarily be impressed by your mastery of four-syllable jargon-y words, especially as undergrads who aren’t likely to be writing at a highly technical level. In fact, that kind of writing is often used by inexperienced writers who are trying to conceal a lack of depth in their content by the use of complex writing.
Master these grammar tips and your papers—and professors will thank you!
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