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Language and Writing Center: Improving Your Writing

Tips and Techniques from Grammar Girl

Understanding the mechanics of what makes a strong written assignment can be intimidating. Grammar Girl, a Writer's Digest's 101 best website, offers a host of useful short tutorials.  In the articles below, she provides that insight into the individual components of what goes into the kind of written assignments you will be asked to complete at CTS.

The Importance of Proofreading

Getting into the habit of proofreading your own work is essential not only for graduate school but life after. Doing so helps to identify areas of improvement. In particular, try to:

  • Proofread your work as you are writing it.
  • Proofread your work one last time before you submit it.
  • If possible, read your work out loud—you will be more likely to catch mistakes that way.
  • Don't just proofread for grammar, proofread for ideas.  Ask yourself:
    • Do my arguments make sense?
    • Does my evidence (the quotes, data, and logic that I use) support my arguments?
    • Does my thesis statement really reflect what is in the rest of my paper?
    • Does my paper flow well?
  • Ask someone else to read over your work.  Sometimes another pair of eyes will catch problems you might miss.  Even writing tutors and professional writers ask others to review important works!

Here are articles and resources that provide insight into self-proofreading methods.

Fun Reads to Improve Your Writing

John's Other General Tips for Improving Your Academic Writing Style

  • Be careful not to turn long sentences into run-on sentences.  Long sentences are not always bad: when well-written, a long sentence can read better and help convey complex ideas better than a series of short sentences.  A run-on sentence, on the other hand, occurs when multiple sentences are inappropriately lumped into a single sentence. Therefore, when reading your paper over, keep an eye out for any sentence that you can break into multiple sentences.
  • Relatively longer paragraphs are generally better than short ones.  If a paragraph represents one idea, then a longer paragraph typically shows that you have better considered and flushed out that idea.  So, if your paragraph is short—in particular, if it is three sentences or less—consider if you can write more about that paragraph's topic or incorporate it into another paragraph.  That said, if your paragraph is longer than a page, then you can probably shorten it or break it into two paragraphs.
  • Use repetition of words carefully.  When done well, repeating words can sound good and emphasize ideas.  When done poorly, repetition sounds monotonous.  Avoid, for example, starting too many sentences or paragraphs with the same word, or overutilizing the same verb.  If you need help in bringing variety to your word choices, purchase a thesaurus or check out thesaurus.com.
  • Make sure your paper flows well from one idea to the next.  Does your third paragraph make sense following your second paragraph?  Do you drop ideas and only pick them up much later?  Cut and paste sentences and paragraphs around as necessary.
  • When possible, avoid using the passive voice.  This can be tricky!  The passive voice is when you use the verb “to be” next to and in conjunction with another verb to make the object of the sentence into the subject.  For example, compare the active sentence: “Kate Turabian wrote the book” to its passive equivalent: “The book was written by Kate Turabian.”  Writers consider passive sentences not as good because, like in the above example, they can be wordier than necessary and take the focus off the real subject. There are exceptions in which it is good to use the passive voice.  For example, if you were writing an article about Kate Turabian, it would be better to write: “Kate Turabian was born in 1893” instead of “Kate Turabian’s mother gave birth to her in 1893.”  The former sentence keeps Kate Turabian, the focus of the paper, as the subject, while the latter sounds a little weird (maybe English speakers are too squeamish, but we typically do not recount someone's birth in that way).