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Basic language rules

We take it for granted that academic papers should be impeccably literate and readable. However, many face problems with grammar, punctuation, and style when it comes to write an essay. Get the ducks in a row and deal with the common writing pitfalls.


Thanks to the proper punctuation, the papers are well-structured and understandable. And we are talking not only about comas.

To emphasize the idea and shades of the language, you can choose one of the fourteen punctuation marks in English:

  • the period
  • the question mark
  • the exclamation point
  • the comma
  • the semicolon
  • the colon
  • the dash
  • the hyphen
  • the parentheses
  • the brackets
  • the braces apostrophe
  • the quotation marks
  • the ellipsis

Let's figure out how to use each of the marks!

Punctuation mark We use this punctuation mark... Example
Period At the end of declarative sentences or abbreviation Mary comes to the party. David Jones Jr. comes to the party.
Question mark At the end of the question Question mark At the end of the question Have you ever been to London?
Exclamation point At the end of the sentences, when it’s needed to express the idea. Be careful! You can’t use exclamation marks in formal writing, except for situations when they are part of the quote. I’m so glad to see you!
Comma When we address the speech to someone.
When we need to separate clauses.
Give me a pen, Mary! The sun was shining, and the weather was great! We need to invite Tom, Kate, Susan.
Semicolon To emphasize the link between two independent clauses. Mary was angry; she was also exhausted.
Colon Before the list, quotation or examples.
Before the part of the sentence that explains the previous part.
There are three reasons to order a paper online: quality, support, flexible price policy. He couldn’t phone her: the police arrested him.
Dash En dash (-) is used to show the connection or difference between elements. Em dash (–) is usually used to emphasize the conclusion or particular idea of the sentence. Dash En dash (-) is used to show the connection or difference between elements. Em dash (–) is usually used to emphasize the conclusion or particular idea of the sentence. Our working hours: 9.00-19.00. He gave her the most significant thing – his time.
Hyphen To connect 2 words together. well-being
Parentheses To separate the remarks. Henry hoped (deep in his mind) that Mary was still waiting for him.
Brackets To clarify meaning in official or technical resources. They [board of directors] were arrested because of fraud.
Apostrophe To indicate the possession or the place where the letter was omitted. Be careful! Do not use omissions in formal writing. I’ve turned to the main office. It is Susan's dress, isn’t it?
Quotation mark For quotes He said: "To be or not to be."
Ellipse To emphasize that word is omitted or particular idea is not finished You should count: one, two, tree… An so on!

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Everyone knows some well-known capitalization rules: we capitalize the first word in the sentence, the word "I", the proper nouns (the name of streets, books, countries, etc.). However, some specific nuances are related to academic writing and confuse the students.

Moreover, the way you use capitalization depends on style. APA and MLA are the most popular.

Punctuation mark APA MLA
Titles/Subtitles Capitalize the first word, as well as significant words Capitalize the first and the last word, as well as significant words
Heading All the major words in the level of the heading 1 and 2 are capitalized. Only the first word is capitalized starting from level 3. No formatting requirements
Reference list: Capitalize the first letter of the sources (books, articles, etc.). Capitalize all major words in the name of journals. Capitalize all words in the titles sources (but make exceptions for the words "the", "a", prepositions and conjunctions).

As for proper nouns, remember that you should capitalize the trade names, names of organizations, places, but you shouldn't capitalize the specific theories or approaches.

Sentence structure

To develop well-structured sentences, you should be a pro in punctuation rules. However, even if your knowledge is far from perfect, you can avoid mistakes with a simple checklist.

Check the word order Put the subject first, then – verb and object. Remember that on some occasions, for example, while using passive voice, the structure is different.
Remove the unnecessary commas The general rule – don't use them to combine two independent parts of the sentence.
Put the commas in the right places Use them always before the words for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
Remove sentence fragments Don't represent dependent clauses as sentences, and be sure that you always use both subject and predicate.
Check the length Don't use too long or too short sentences.


While using verbs, you should pay special attention to the tenses. There are particular tenses for facts, temporary actions, and future events. The more careful you are with the choice, the more understandable will be your work.

It will help if you are also careful with phrasal verbs too. Usually, they are inappropriate in formal writing. Find the alternative way to represent your thoughts or turn to the experienced editor for help.

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Word choice

It's surprising, but the most well-known rules in English are also the most confusing for students! That is why you should focus on the suitable usage of articles, pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions.

A or The?

There are no special rules for propositions in academic writing. Just improve the knowledge of basic rules.

Mine or Yours?

Remember that you can't use second-person pronouns (you, yours) in academic papers. We also recommend you replace the pronoun if it makes the sentence less understandable.

IN difficult times or AT difficult times?

The prepositions can be very confusing. Be sure that you well-versed on this subject before starting your paper.

But, because, for?

Put conjunctions to combine clauses of the sentence. Their usage is strongly connected with the punctuation rules. In general, there are three types of conjunctions:

  • coordinating;
  • subordinating;
  • correlative.
  • Each type is supported by the rules you have to know.

    What else?

    There are also plenty of words that students mistake for another. For example, the words "assure" and "ensure". Learn the list of the most confusing words by heart to avoid troubles.

    More to discover