TO:                ALL STUDENTS



Use this checklist to correct and polish your writing before you submit any term paper or exam.  

  1. Make sure that the pronoun "their" refers to a plural noun in all cases.


A company and their employees


A parent and their children


A company and its employees


Parents and their children

  1. Avoid "he/she" and other awkward constructions by pluralizing. 


Under these circumstances, a student at UMASS Lowell may find it hard to meet his or her responsibilities.


Under these circumstances, students at UMASS Lowell may find it hard to meet their responsibilities.

  1. Avoid overly abstract constructions by using the term "you" only as a form of address.  For example, right now, I am addressing you, a member of a specific readership.  In contrast, if I use constructions such as "You can't fight City Hall," the pronoun refers to nobody in particular.  While this construction is common, it tends to send academic writing off track.

  2. Make sure that you have inserted only one subject into each sentence.  You can usually avoid this redundancy by putting the doer (subject) next to the deed (verb).


In "My Last Stand," by Malcolm Hardly, he argued…


In  "My Last Stand," Malcolm Hardly argued…

  1. Maximize accuracy by choosing the most specific verbs.  Possible alternatives to "state," a popular but vague and often confusing verb, include explain, argue, contend, assert, describe, discuss, insist, emphasize, stress, observe, claim, maintain, recount... 

    There are many more verbs that might make sense depending on the context.  Before you choose one, consider the action that you are trying to describe, then insert the verb that describes that action most accurately.

  2.  Make sure that each point leads to the next by inserting structural language.

Structural phrases:  In light of  this… Therefore…Accordingly…Consequently…As a result… Moreover…In addition… In the first place… In contrast…Similarly…Likewise…In other words… More importantly… Clearly… On one hand… On the other hand… Finally…

  1. Use quotations only when absolutely necessary and always explain what the quoted text means.

  2. Qualify your statements.

Terms of qualification: Many…For the most part… Sometimes…To a great extent… To a considerable degree… In many cases…some…often…frequently…most...almost none...virtually...

  1. Whenever you use the pronoun "this," ask yourself, "this what?," then insert a specific term. 

  2. Avoid confusing "its" (possessive) and "it's" ("it is") by avoiding contractions altogether.

  3. In academic writing, terms such as "and so forth," and "etc." usually indicate that you are too lazy find accurate words.  Rather than relying on these shortcuts, insert a more complete description.

  4. Always try to find alternatives to "things," a virtually useless word in descriptive texts.

  5. Note the difference between what is countable (people; items; students) and what is measurable (love, glue, compassion).  Anything that is countable must be described with words that refer to quantities, while that which is measurable must be described in terms that refer to amounts.

Wrong: An amount of people

Right: A number of people

Wrong: Twelve items or less

Right: Twelve or fewer items

  1. Use the past tense when describing past events, especially when you are dealing with historical documents.

Problematic: In The German Ideology, Karl Marx observes...

Better: In The German Ideology, Karl Marx observed... 

  1. Avoid sentences that you might have written in third grade: "This story made me sad."  Also, keep in mind that personalizing observations can often weaken rather than strengthen your argument.  Phrases such as "I was raised to believe," "My father taught me to think," and "I have always felt" tend to decrease the credibility of what follows because they do not draw on evidence or expertise.

  2. Avoid vague and illogical constructions such as "This article talks about" and "The book believes." 

  3. Omit honorifics and titles ("Miss," "Mr.," "Dr.") in academic writing.

  4. Refer to people by their last names after you've provided their full names.

  5. When you use quotations, provide the name of the author or speaker, as well as the title of the source you are using, in the body of your text. 

  6. Run Spell Check and Grammar Check.  Be careful! Suggestions can be incorrect.

Internet resources:

Guide to Grammar and Style by Jack Lynch.

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