Theology and Spirituality Course

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Basic Writing Mechanics


By Dr. Brian Campbell


All written assignments are evaluated for grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling.  Please review the following editing comments that Dr. Campbell utilizes when grading papers/posts.  Study any weak areas.  Many of the topics link to the LU writing lab.  Simply use “CTRL-Left Click,” to access important information/tutorials on Liberty’s website. 

Active vs. Passive:   Try to write more in the active voice, versus passive.  The passive voice is a "weak" style of writing.  In the active voice, the subject performs the action (John threw the stone.).  In the passive voice, the subject is the recipient of the action (The stone was thrown by John.).  See:  Active Voice


Ambiguous Pronoun:  There are two or more possible meanings of this pronoun.  This error often occurs when pronouns (e.g., he, she, it, they) are used and it is not clear to whom, or to what, the pronoun is referring.  When in doubt, repeat the subject, especially if you change paragraphs.  Here is an example of  an ambiguous sentence:  John and his brother went to town.  When they got there, he bought some bread.  Obviously, it is not clear who bought the bread--John, or his brother.


Basic Organization and Structure Problems:  It is difficult to follow the organization and structure of your paper.  There are places where the reader "gets lost," because of lack of direction and clarity.  Your paper should resemble a tightly constructed argument.  You should lead the reader along a logical progression with a strong sense of focus and direction.  As you develop the "argument" of your paper, paragraphs should link together (with proper transitions) as you guide the reader along the path of your argument to its final destination, or conclusion.  See:  Organizing A Paper


Apostrophe Error:  Apostrophes are used to indicate possession, for the omission of one or more letters, or for some plural numbers.  See:  Apostrophes  Or: Apostrophes


Capitalization Error:  Please check the rules for capitalization.  See:  Capitalization


Citation Format Error:  Your citation is not properly formatted.  The proper format for citations within the body of the paper is provided in the APA Style Manual, 6e, on pages 174-179.  The table on page 177 is especially helpful.


Colon Error:  You need to use a colon here; or, the colon you have used is not the correct punctuation.  See: Colons.  Also, see:  APA Style Manual, p. 90.


Comma missing.  Commas


Comma Errors:  More work is needed on the proper use of commas.  Commas are used to set off clauses, phrases, or words that come before the main clause.  For example, "Overall, a comma is a great tool to help provide clarity in writing."  Commas are also used to set off clauses, phrases, or words in the middle of a sentence that are not essential to its meaning.  For example, "Dr. Campbell, who is new to the faculty, is a real stickler when it comes to proper grammar and punctuation."  There are other rules for the proper use of commas.  See:  Commas


Direct Quote Error:  If you copy any portion of a source word-for-word, you must put the information in quotation marks and provide a citation which includes the author, year, and page number (or paragraph number for nonpaginated material) on which the information appears in the original.  You must also provide a complete reference for the original source in the reference list.  If your quotation is less than 40 words, enclose the text in double quotation marks and incorporate it into your text; if your quotation is more than 40 words, place the information in a freestanding block of text and omit the quotation marks.  See APA Style Manual, (pp. 170-171).  Also, see:  Writing With Integrity  Also: Punctuation Errors


End Punctuation Error:  In American English, commas and periods ALWAYS come inside the ending quotation marks.  (,")  (.")  Put other punctuation marks inside quotation marks only when they are part of the original quoted material.


Colloquialism:  Avoid colloquial words or expressions; they typically lack precision and clarity.  Colloquialisms are words or phrases that are common in "every day" speech but are not acceptable in formal writing, for example:  "kid" for "child"; "grub" for "food"; "write up" for "report"; etc.


Extreme Words:  Avoid using words like: all; always; every; everyone; none'; no one; etc.


Hyperbole:  Avoid exaggeration, for example:  "I told him a thousand times!"; "This research was unbelievable!"


Hyphen Error:  A hyphen is required here; or, a hyphen was used when none was required.  See:  Hyphen Rules   Also, see:  APA Style Manual, pp. 97-100


Jargon:  Avoid using jargon or highly technical terms where they not necessary or relevant.  Ask yourself whether the use of technical jargon is absolutely necessary.  Substitute more easily understood words where possible.  See: APA Style Manual, p. 68


Non Sequitur:  A non sequitur is a statement that comes "out of the blue" and does not follow clearly from what has gone before it.  A non sequitur typically occurs when the author just "throws a word, idea, or thought into a paragraph" that has little or no relationship to the content, context, or logical flow of the discourse.


Paragraph Structure:  More work is needed on the basic structure of your paragraph.  Your paragraph should contain only one main idea or topic.  Your paragraph should be focused and organized.  It should be at least three sentences long and should include:  1) A topical, or controlling sentence, 2) One or more supporting sentences--examples, illustrations of the topic, and 3) A concluding sentence, and/or a sentence that introduces the reader to the next paragraph.  Each sentence within the paragraph should relate in some clear way to the topic of the paragraph.  See:  Paragraph Construction


Possible Plagiarism:  These ideas (and/or writing style) appear to have originated from some other source.  You must properly cite any ideas that you have gleaned from other sources.  Even if you are just paraphrasing the work of someone else, you must provide a citation to the source.  The only exception to this rule is if the information is considered to be "common knowledge."  Failure to properly cite the source of your information may constitute plagiarism.  If you directly quote another source, word-for-word, you must put the copied material in quotation marks, and include a page number (together with author and date).  See:  Plagiarism


Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement:  Pronouns are words that substitute for nouns.  The antecedent of a pronoun is the word to which the pronoun refers.  A pronoun must agree with its antecedent in number (both singular or both plural) and, where applicable, gender (both male or both female).  See:  Pronoun-Antecedent; Pronoun-Antecedent; or, Pronoun-Antecedent


Reference Format Error:  The format of your reference is incorrect for one or more reasons.  Please consult Chapter 7 of the APA Style Manual. 


Run-On Sentence:  This sentence is confusing.  Work is needed on punctuation.  A run-on sentence consists of two independent clauses, or word groups, that have not been joined together correctly.  This can occur when commas, or other punctuation marks, are not used properly.  See: Run-On Sentences  Also:  Run-On Sentences


Semicolon Error:  A semicolon is used to link two independent clauses that are closely related in meaning.  Independent clauses (on either side of the semicolon) must "stand alone," and make sense independently.  Semicolons are also used when listing items following a colon.  See:  Semicolons  Also:  Semicolons


Sentence Fragment:  This is not a complete sentence.  A sentence consists of a subject and a predicate (with at least one finite verb that indicates what the subject is doing).  You must learn to write in complete sentences and avoid sentence fragments.  See:  Sentence Construction


Spacing Double:  This is a special macro that puts two spaces after the final punctuation at the end of a sentence.  Be careful; if there are already two spaces after the punctuation mark, this macro will add another one.


Spelling Error:  Please check your spelling.


Subject-Verb Agreement Error:  The subject and verb in the sentence must agree in number (singular or plural) and in person (first, second, or third).  If the subject is singular, then the verb must be singular; if the subject is plural, then the verb must be plural.  In addition, there are many other rules for subject-verb agreement.  See:  Subject-Verb Agreement


Syntax Error:  There is an error in the basic structure of your sentence.  These errors make it difficult to understand the meaning of your sentence.  Try to write clearly and concisely.


Transition Needed:  A transition is necessary here.  A paragraph should contain one major topic.  Each paragraph in a document should link together in a logical fashion to the paragraph that preceded it and the one that follows it.  There should be a clear and logical flow of ideas from the beginning of your document to the end; this process is aided by proper transitions.  See:  Transitions  Also:  Transitions


Word Choice Error:  Make sure every word you use means exactly what you intend it to mean.  The word you have chosen is not appropriate/correct.  It is either:  weak; awkward; ambiguous; slang; an exaggeration; a colloquialism, etc.  See:  Word Choice