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Library Guides

Academic English: Grammar and Punctuation

Advice on grammar and punctuation, the type of language used in academic writing, and importance of finding your academic voice

Overview

This page provides the basic foundations of English grammar and punctuation, which are necessary to all academic writing. Here you will find a review of punctuation, details on common mistakes, such as sentence fragments, run-ons and comma splices, along with useful resources to further your skills in written English. 

Punctuation

Common problematic sentences

Fragment sentences

A sentence fragment consists of a group of words that appear to be a sentence but are in fact not. In order to be a sentence, there needs to be at least one independent clause - a group of words that contain both a subject and a finite verb and can therefore stand on their own.  

Example:

"Gone to the supermarket to buy apples." → "I went to the supermarket to buy apples."

Run-on sentences

A run-on sentence, also known as a fused sentence, occurs when you put two complete sentences (a subject and its predicate and another subject and its predicate) together in one sentence without connecting them properly, such as with a conjunction (and, but, if). 

Example:

"The football match was cancelled however many fans turned up to the stadium" → "The football match was cancelled; however, many fans turned up to the stadium", or "The football match was cancelled. However, many fans turned up to the stadium."

Comma splice

A comma splice is a particular type of run-on sentence in which two independent sentences are connected by only a comma. When you use a comma to connect two independent sentences, it must be followed by a conjunction (connecting word), such as "and", "or", "yet", "so", and "but". Alternatively, you can separate the independent clauses using a full stop "." or semi-colon ";". The comma splice is a common mistake in English writing. It has to be noted that commas can join independent clauses in many other languages, and this can lead non-native English speakers to make this mistake.

Example:

"The desk needs cleaning, the computer needs updating" → "The desk needs cleaning, and the computer needs updating", or "The desk needs cleaning. The computer needs updating". 

Rambling sentences

Unlike the types of problematic sentences discussed above in this box, rambling sentences are not grammatically wrong; nonetheless, they are highly undesirable, and should be avoided. Always try to write short and clear sentences. 

"Writing long sentences can impair the clarity of your writing, therefore rendering your text unaccessible and difficult to follow, which is not a desirable thing as you should aim at helping the assessor engage with the text, or s/he may mark you down, while all you need is to write shorter sentences, although it can be difficult if the ideas relating to your text are confused, and you should therefore first work to clarify them."

"Short sentences contribute to make a text accessible, easy to follow and engaging. Failure to do so in an assignment may compromise its mark. In order to write short and clear sentences you need to first clarify your ideas."

Proofreading

Proofreading is a valuable part of the writing process and time should be put aside to ensure this stage is effectively undertaken. It is best to proofread a few times, focusing on a particular aspect each time, such as critical analysis, then coherency and fluidity of the essay structure, and lastly grammar and punctuation. 

Here is a handout out to help in proofreading for common grammatical errors:

Confusing Words

The English language can be a difficult one when certain words can sound the same but have very different spellings and in turn different meanings.

The link below helps to demystify a few of the most common confusing words that you may mistakenly use in your assignments. 

Grammar foundations and advanced grammar videos

For full access, log in with your University of Westminster  username and password

Resources: websites and apps

Websites

English Grammar for Second Language Learners: comprehensive guide to a wide range of grammatical concepts including articles, prepositions, pronouns and much more. Provided by the University of Wisconsin at Madison (US).

Guide to articles in English ('the', 'a', 'an') : detailed guide with exercises

Better Writing, Oxford Dictionaries: In this comprehensive website you can find resources on grammar; spelling; punctuation; practical writing; how to improve your English; and abbreviations.

English Sentence Structure, Frankfurt International School: This page contains information about sentence structure and types of sentences, as well as examples of common sentence problems in written English. Useful exercises are also provided.

Guide to Punctuation, University of Essex: Includes thorough explanations on the following topics: why learn to punctuate; the full stop, the question mark and the exclamation mark; the comma; the colon and the semicolon; the apostrophe; the hyphen and the dash; capital letters and abbreviations; quotations; miscellaneous (includes font styles; brackets; slashes; numbers); and punctuating essays and letters. 

Improve Your Writing, University of Bristol: Includes explanations and exercises on the following: why you should improve your understanding of grammar and punctuation; the colon; the semicolon; the comma; the comma splice; the hyphen; the dash; the apostrophe; common confusions; using quoted material; other pitfalls and problems; and style.

Learn English by British Council: If English is not your first language, you may find the resources and activities on the British Council's website Learn English useful. 

Prepositions, English Grammar Online: The use of prepositions (e.g. in, at, on) can be confusing, especially for non-native speakers. This website provides examples and exercises on the use of prepositions. 

Verb Tenses, Englishpage.com: Clear explanations of verb tenses, accompanied by diagrams and exercises.

Apps

The Interactive Grammar of English

Vocabulary Builder

Exam Vocabulary Builder

Book Resources

  • Cottrell. S. (2003). The Study Skills Handbook, 2nd Edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
  • King G. (2009). Improve Your Grammar, Glasgow: Harper Collins
  • Metcalfe J. E. and Astle C. (1993). Correct English, Clarion
  • Osmond, A. (2013). Academic Writing and Grammar for Students. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
  • Thomson A. J. and Martinet A. V. (1986). Practical English Grammar: A Classic Grammar Reference with Clear Explanations of Grammatical Structures and Forms, 4th Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Truss L. (2009). Eats, Shoots and Leaves, London: Fourth Estate

Workshop Slides