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Helpful Tips on the Use of Grammar, Style and Punctuation

How and when to use commas (,) and semi-colons (;): If you found it difficult to understand some of the essay grammar rules you were taught, such as using commas and/or semi-colons, do not worry. Here is a technique you can try. Take a sentence and read it out loud. Where would you pause naturally for a breather? Most likely, you will need to use a comma if the pause is short. If the pause is longer but not the length of a full stop (or period) most likely, you will need to use a semi-colon. However, do not forget that the words you place after a semi-colon must be capable of standing on their own just as a complete sentence would.

You should not place a comma at any juncture where you do not want your readers to stop. Using punctuation incorrectly can make it hard or even impossible to understand what is being said. Your readers should not be left hyperventilating by an excessive use of punctuation. Neither should they be left short of breath from reading long sentences that are not adequately punctuated. Undertake a thorough grammar check at the end of the writing phase – think of yourself as being responsible for the heart health of your readers!

The use of dashes and hyphenation: Use the m-dash (the longer-style dash) when you want to divide a sentence. You can use two regular hyphens to create this type of dash if your computer keyboard does not have an m-dash key or function. You should ensure that both sections of the sentence (the parts before and after the dash) read sensibly even if the dashes were removed. The m-dash can also be used instead of a colon if you want to place greater emphasis on the words that come after it. For example – “he covered the walls with photos of his loved ones – his mother, father and grandparents.” Alternatively, the same sentence could be written with an unexpected element e.g. “He displayed photographs of his family all over the walls; there were photos of his parents and grandparents – and of Caesar, his beloved dog.” While m-dashes are used for setting off the different parts of sentences, hyphens are generally used to combine two words e.g. half-hearted, step-brother, three-quarters and so on. Carry out a thorough essay grammar check at the end using the read-aloud technique to see how your punctuation sounds.

Here is an essay grammar tip about abbreviations. You should write abbreviations in full when you first use them unless you are sure that your readers will identify the abbreviated term or acronym. In some cases, acronyms are used more widely than the full term it represents e.g. AIDS, NATO, NASA, etc. Do keep the audience you are addressing in mind. If you are addressing people who are experts in a certain field, they may not need or want certain terms spelt out in full for them.

Try not to use split infinitives: These days, no strict rule applies, and sometimes not splitting an infinitive can make it sound more awkward than splitting it. However, often, the split can read inelegantly. The most important thing to remember is to do a spelling and grammar check once you have written your essay.

Essay check that any referents you use are clear: If you use such words as “it” or “this point” or “that concept,” make sure the points or concepts you are referring to are clear. If you say “she,” “he” or “they,” will your readers know who you are talking about? This is just another essay grammar point you need to be careful about.

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