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Writing Mechanics

Writing is frequently an area that can be improved upon.

5 things you need to know...

Intelligent people recognise their strengths and weakness.  Often getting started with your writing is a great motivator.  Getting your ideas down helps to develop your writing but your skill in proofreading enhances it further.  You need to learn to check all the following areas:

  • Sentence structure - Do not let your sentences become overly long as the reader will find them confusing.  Good sentence construction reduces your word count and makes your sentences precise and concise.
  • Vocabulary - Your subject vocabulary will develop over the course of your degree and it is important that you can define any new words you write and use them appropriately.   Use vocabulary you are comfortable with and fully understand.   If you do not understand what you have written don’t expect anyone else to.  To keep your writing precise and concise remove ‘fluffy’ words which are not easily defined such as: good,  very, really, main, important, paramount and so on.
  • Spelling - Poor spelling shows that you do not pay attention to detail.  If you are word processing make sure you have English (UK) set as your default for spell checking and you will find a red squiggle under a spelling errorMany employers reject job applications if spelling is incorrect so find ways to develop your ability to spell. 
  • Punctuation - You know what you want to say and your punctuation helps you to do this.  It helps the reader to understand your writing when you are not present to ask.  If your punctuation is incorrect then the reader may become confused.
  • Grammar - When using an English(UK) grammar checker a blue squiggle under your words denotes a grammatical error.  Sometimes errors may occur if you are using an academic style of writing which uses a ‘passive voice’ rather than an ‘active voice’.  You need to learn to recognise these two styles of writing.  A common error is incorrect subject verb agreement.  You need to be able to recognise the subject’ and ‘verb’ in a sentence and check that these are in agreement. 

A singular subject should be aligned with a singular verb.
Spelling is / was tricky.(Singular subject – spelling – one thing - therefore use a singular verb ‘is / was'.)

A plural subject has a plural verb.
Grammar and spelling are / were tricky.  (Plural subject - grammar and spelling - two things - so use a plural verb ‘are / were’.)

Need to know more ...

Cutts, M. (2013) Oxford Guide to Plain English. 4th Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Harrison, M.,Jakeman, V., & Paterson, K. (2012) Improve Your Grammar. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmilllan
Sinclair, C. (2010) Grammar: a friendly approach. 2nd Ed. Maidenhead: Open University Press
Swann, M. (2005) Practical English Usage. 3rd Ed. Oxford:Oxford University Press
Truss, L. (2003) Eats, shoots and leaves:  the zero tolerance approach to punctuation. London: Profile
Ward, L.J. & Woods, G (2007) English for Dummies. Chichester: John Willey
Also see library books on shelves 420 - 428


12 Common Errors in Academic English - 7:43 mins

Personalising your device and using assistive tools

There are many assistive technology tools which can help you choose how you want to access material and these can really improve your productivity.

The University has made some applications available on the student PCs within the library and IT Centres; others are free for you to download and use on your own devices (phone, tablet, laptop or computer) .  Find out more on our personalising standard software guide and our assistive tools and software guide.