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La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

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Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Language

Achieve@Uni
La Trobe University Library La Trobe Library

Language

Achieve@Uni

10 Common Mistakes in Student Writing

Mistake 1. Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. There are two main reasons for sentence fragments:

  • a) The sentence is incomplete in meaning (a dependent clause)
  • b) The sentence is missing a subject or a verb.

You will also learn c) how to test for a sentence fragment.

a) The sentence is incomplete in meaning (a dependent clause)

One common fragment error occurs when a writer thinks that a dependent part of a sentence (dependent clause) is a complete sentence. The dependent clause may contain a subject and a verb but the meaning is incomplete. Often the connecting word that begins the sentence fragment can only be used to join a dependent clause to an independent clause to make a complete sentence.

Connecting words such as those below are called subordinators because they introduce only the dependent part of the sentence not the whole sentence.

  because

  since

  although

  if

  whereas

  while

  unless

  when

 

Example of a sentence fragment (a dependent clause only):

because the ruling party refused to hand over power

The given example is a sentence fragment since we have the reason for something (introduced by ‘because’), but we do not have the “something”.

To correct the sentence fragment we need another clause - the independent clause - to which the dependent clause will be attached. Then the sentence will be complete in meaning.

The election failed because the ruling party refused to hand over power.

or

Because the ruling party refused to hand over power, the election failed

Note: The independent clause can come at the beginning or the end. If it is at the end, a comma is needed.

b) The sentence fragments is missing a subject or a verb

Another common fragment error occurs when the writer has failed to include a subject or a verb or both.

 

Example 1: A sentence fragment with no subject or verb

In polling stations with adequate security.

In this example, we do not know who or what is doing the action (the subject of the sentence), nor do we know what the action or process is (the verb).

  • The fragment only tells us the “where” part of the sentence.
  • We need another part with subject (who or what) and verb (action/process) to make a complete sentence, for example:

✔ In polling stations with adequate security, voter turnout was high.

 

Example 2: A sentence fragment with no subject or verb

Seeing police and security forces inside polling stations.

Example 2 does not contain a subject or a verb.

  • The word “seeing” at the beginning of the sentence looks like a verb, but it is only a participle (part of a verb).
  • To function as a verb the  “ ing” word (participle) needs an auxiliary such as am, was, is, or were.
  • To fix the fragment in the above example, an independent clause with a subject and verb needs to be added to complete the meaning of the sentence.

✔ Seeing police and security forces inside polling stations, many voters felt intimidated

c) How to test for a sentence fragment

One way of testing whether or not a sentence is complete or a fragment is to put the words “It is true that” at the beginning of the sentence:

It is true that because the ruling party refused to hand over power.

When this test is applied, it is often easier to see that something is needed to complete the sentence (and the meaning).

The tables below indicate how dependent clauses are attached to independent clauses to form complete sentences. In the first table, the independent clause is in the initial – first – position; in the second table the dependent clause is in the initial position. Note the use of the comma if the dependent clause is placed before the independent one.

Subordinate connector

Independent clause

Dependent clause

  Because/

  since

   The election failed

because the ruling party clung to power. 

  Although/

  Whereas/

  despite

   The prime minister denies wrong doing    

 

despite corruption allegations that have left him fighting for his political life. 

 

  Unless

    Democracy will not prevail

unless free elections can be guaranteed.

 

Subordinate connector

Dependent clause

Independent clause

  Because/

  since

Because the ruling party clung to power,

      the election failed.

  Although/

  Whereas/

  while

Despite corruption allegations that have left him fighting for his political life,

      the prime minister denies wrong doing. 

  Unless

Unless free elections can be guaranteed,

       democracy will not prevail.

 

Activity 1.1 Identify sentence fragments

Identify any sentence fragments in the following excerpts:

Highlight a sentence fragment then click next.

1. Of more concern from the Indigenous perspective are the opportunity costs of student attrition to the Indigenous community when Indigenous engagement with higher education, seen as a key to improve Indigenous well-being and futures, does not achieve desired outcomes. Despite the tremendous efforts in the Indigenous higher education sector to close the gap between the retention, completion and graduation rates. (adapted from Nakata, Nakata & Chin, 2008)
Next
1. Of more concern from the Indigenous perspective are the opportunity costs of student attrition to the Indigenous community when Indigenous engagement with higher education, seen as a key to improve Indigenous well-being and futures, does not achieve desired outcomes. Despite the tremendous efforts in the Indigenous higher education sector to close the gap between the retention, completion and graduation rates. (adapted from Nakata, Nakata & Chin, 2008)

You selected:

Correct answer:
Despite the tremendous efforts in the Indigenous higher education sector to close the gap between the retention, completion and graduation rates. (adapted from Nakata, Nakata & Chin, 2008)
Next

Highlight a sentence fragment then click next.

2. Māori make up nearly 15% of Aotearoa/New Zealand's population, but present realities for Māori linked to past practices under colonisation include educational, economic and social disparities in comparison with the non-Māori population. (adapted from McMurchy-Pilkington, 2013)
Next
2. Māori make up nearly 15% of Aotearoa/New Zealand's population, but present realities for Māori linked to past practices under colonisation include educational, economic and social disparities in comparison with the non-Māori population. (adapted from McMurchy-Pilkington, 2013)

You selected:

Correct answer:

There were no sentence fragments in this excerpt.
Next

Highlight a sentence fragment then click next.

3. For students who must access and engage with the meanings of knowledge within Western disciplines. However, in many cases, special academic programs and support measures have been designed by or in conjunction with Indigenous people, to be culturally affirming and to recognise Indigenous students' starting points; and indeed, their particular purposes for pursuing higher education. This has provided a more positive framework for Indigenous student support. (adapted from Nakata, Nakata & Chin, 2008)
Next
3. For students who must access and engage with the meanings of knowledge within Western disciplines. However, in many cases, special academic programs and support measures have been designed by or in conjunction with Indigenous people, to be culturally affirming and to recognise Indigenous students' starting points; and indeed, their particular purposes for pursuing higher education. This has provided a more positive framework for Indigenous student support. (adapted from Nakata, Nakata & Chin, 2008)

You selected:

Correct answer:
For students who must access and engage with the meanings of knowledge within Western disciplines.
Next

Highlight a sentence fragment then click next.

4. If culture can be seen as beliefs, values and practices that are passed on from one generation to another through socialisation in the home, then culturally relevant pedagogy must link to the learner's home environment. (adapted from McMurchy-Pilkington, 2013)
Next
4. If culture can be seen as beliefs, values and practices that are passed on from one generation to another through socialisation in the home, then culturally relevant pedagogy must link to the learner's home environment. (adapted from McMurchy-Pilkington, 2013)

You selected:

Correct answer:
There were no sentence fragments in this excerpt.
Next

Highlight a sentence fragment then click next.

5. In order to address the students' needs more directly. The website included text, graphics, audio, and video sequences to illustrate how to communicate in the workplace and what type language (vocabulary and expressions) in the nine vocational areas offered at the school.
Next
5. In order to address the students' needs more directly. The website included text, graphics, audio, and video sequences to illustrate how to communicate in the workplace and what type language (vocabulary and expressions) in the nine vocational areas offered at the school.

You selected:

Correct answer:
In order to address the students' needs more directly.
Finish

Activity 1.2. Repair sentence fragments

Repair the sentence fragments by linking them to a main part or by completing them

Make changes to the sentence to fix the fragment issue.

1.
Check

The majority believes that the proposed amendment should be passed because the current city policy on housing is incomplete.
OR
Because the current city policy on housing is incomplete, the majority believes that the proposed amendment should be passed.

2.
Check

The cross-campus tournament will take place next week unless it rains.
OR
Unless it rains, the cross-campus tournament will take place next week.

3.
Check

Although he had better arguments and was by far the more powerful speaker, he did not convince the jury.
OR
He did not convince the jury although he had better arguments and was by far the more powerful speaker.

Re-start

Activity 1.3.  Correct these more challenging fragments

Repair the sentence fragments by linking them to a main part or by completing them

Make changes to the sentence to fix the fragment issue.

1.
Check

In class today we discussed Byron’s poem Don Juan as well as Byron’s own life.

2.
Check

Working in Professor Bootle’s laboratory was a good training for students.
OR
It was a good training for students to work in Professor Bootle’s laboratory.

3.

During the Second World War millions of Jews lost their lives.
OR
Millions of Jews lost their lives during the Second World War.

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Mistake 2. Apostrophes

In this section we talk about how apostrophes should be used in your writing.

 

a) Contractions: when an apostrophe replaces one or two omitted letters

When we put two short words together, we use an apostrophe to show that one or two letters are omitted, e.g.,

do not ► don't

is not ► isn't

it is ► it's

 

It is not common to use these shortened forms in academic writing.

These shortened forms are used primarily in speech and informal writing.

 

Acronyms do not need apostrophes eg:

INCORRECT

CORRECT

USB’s

USBs

1960’s

1960s

90’s

90s

 

b) Possession – ‘owning’ something

In your writing you will often use apostrophes with reporting verbs, there may be one author:

Sanderson’s (1988) seminal work on protozoa…

Or there maybe two authors:

Chapman and Grieg’s (2005) research results are quite contrary to those of Graham (1999)

In this example, two authors own one research activity. Note the use of “those of Graham" instead of "Graham’s’" which would look strange as just "Graham’s’" with no noun, but would add redundant information if there were repetition, e.g., "Graham’s results"

Or there maybe be two separate papers.

Chapman’s (2004) and Grieg’s (2006) studies both support the work of Graham (1999)

 

Words ending with "s":

If the name or word ends in ‘s’ , then generally just a simple apostrophe is used:

When studying Ancient Greek I learnt about Socrates philosophy.

 

c) When to use ITS and IT’S

Unlike other possessive nouns, “it’s” IS NOT a possessive form. It is a CONTRACTION of ‘it is’. Contractions (can’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t) are generally NOT used in formal writing, so this means you don’t use “it’s” but “it is” instead.

“Its” is a POSSESSIVE form. But you might say, Why hasn’t it got an apostrophe like “the university’s courses” or  “the student’s book”? In fact “its” is just like every other possessive pronoun (your, her, his, their) and they don’t have apostrophes either!

For your biology project you can use the photo of this cat. Its fur gives indications as to which species it belongs to.

Activity 2. Apostrophes

Tick the correct form (it's or its or 'it is') for the following sentences:

    its it's it is
1. The lecturer said that ...... best to start research on our assignment this week.
2. Scholars reading our paper were concerned about ...... contribution to the field.
3. Under the in vitro conditions, ...... clear that antibiotic has a profound effect.
4. I think ...... fine to use the internet to get basic information about theories.
5. The participants tested the questionnaire and considered ...... content to be culturally appropriate for the sample population.
6. Our classes are in the evening and go until 9pm, ...... far too late for me.
7. The journal editorial team has decided that ...... inappropriate to use personal reference.
8. Academic writing is quite conservative in ...... adherence to grammatical rules.
9. ...... not acceptable to use contractions in formal academic writing.
10. Conversational English however is much less rigid with regard to ...... use of correct grammar.
Next
    its it's it is  
1. The lecturer said that it's best to start research on our assignment this week. This is reported informal speech so "it's" instead of "it is" can be used.
2. Scholars reading our paper were concerned about its contribution to the field. This is a possessive so needs "its".
3. Under the in vitro conditions, it is clear that antibiotic has a profound effect. This is formal academic writing so "it is" must be used.
4. I think it's fine to use the internet to get basic information about theories. Conversational speech, so the contracted form "it's" can be used.
5. The participants tested the questionnaire and considered its content to be culturally appropriate for the sample population. This is a possessive so needs "its".
6. Our classes are in the evening and go until 9pm, it's far too late for me. Conversational speech, so the contracted form "it's" can be used.
7. The journal editorial team has decided that it is inappropriate to use personal reference. Formal academic writing so "it is" is appropriate.
8. Academic writing is quite conservative in its adherence to grammatical rules. This is a possessive so needs "its".
9. It is not acceptable to use contractions in formal academic writing. Formal academic writing so "it is" is appropriate.
10. Conversational English however is much less rigid with regard to its use of correct grammar. This is a possessive so needs "its".
Re-start

d) Apostrophe masterclass

To find out more about apostrophes and practice their use, go to the Grammar section

Mistake 3. Comma Splice

In this section you will learn:

  • What a comma splice is; and
  • How to correct comma splice errors.

A comma splice is an error that often happens when writers try to avoid writing short sentences. The word 'splice' refers to the joining of two separate parts.

A comma splice occurs when one sentence is two complete sentences joined together by a comma. This is an error because the function of a comma is not to link two complete sentences.

There are a number of ways to avoid the comma splice error.

 

a) The easiest way to correct a comma splice is to replace the comma with a full-stop.

NO: Protesters intimidated voters, the election failed.

YES: Protesters intimidated voters. The election failed.

In this way we have two separate sentences that are complete in meaning.

 

Testing for Comma Splice Errors in your writing:

When you replace the comma by a full-stop, you will be getting separate simple sentences, and the meaning of each sentence will be complete.

 

A full-stop is a suitable solution when we have 2 long sentences separated by a comma splice as below.

 

NO: Protesters intimidated voters, therefore the election failed despite the efforts of observers to ensure a free and fair polling process.

 

YES: Protesters intimidated voters. Therefore, the election failed despite the efforts of observers to ensure a free and fair polling process.

 

b) An alternative to the full-stop is the semi-colon (;)

A semi-colon is weaker than the full-stop. The semi-colon is often used when the ideas in 2 sentences that follow each other are closely related.

 

NO: Travelling to that country is easy,getting a visa is a different matter.

YES: Travelling to that country is easy; getting a visa is a different matter.

 

c) Two sentences separated by a comma splice can also be corrected by adding a coordinating conjunction.

Coordinating conjunctions are words used to link two separate sentences

The following are coordinating conjunctions:

For; And; Nor; But; Or; Yet; So

One easy way to remember all the conjunctions is to use the acronym ‘FANBOYS’:

F or

A nd

N or

B ut

O r

Y et

S o

 

NO: Travelling to that country is easy, getting a visa is a different matter.

YES: Travelling to that country is easy, but getting a visa is a different matter.

Activity 3. Comma splices

Choose an alternative to the full-stop to correct the following comma splices:

1.
Check

Some people believe that the Government should play a bigger role in establishing a housing policy for the homeless; many others disagree.
OR
Some people believe that the Government should play a bigger role in establishing a housing policy for the homeless, but many others disagree.

2.
Check

The chairperson described the major differences on the issue, and he also suggested a possible course of action.
OR
The chairperson described the major differences on the issue; he also suggested a possible course of action.

3.
Check

According to the Senator's chief of staff, the biggest challenge remained: the constituents had to be convinced of the benefits of the plan.

Re-start

Mistake 4. Run-On Sentences

In this section you will learn:

  • What Run-on sentences are; and
  • How to correct Run-on sentence errors.

Run-on sentence errors are less frequent than comma splice errors. A run-on sentence occurs when two complete sentences are fused together.

The situation is similar to comma splice errors, except that there is no comma placed between the two sentences. We correct run-on sentences in the same manner as we do for comma splice errors: by using a full stop, a semi-colon or a coordinating conjunction.

Example:

NO: The patient was poorly treated he died of shock.

YES: The patient was poorly treated; he died of shock.

Activity 4. Run-on sentences

Rewrite the following with the appropriate punctuation or coordinating conjunction

1.
Check

Nurses can build their professional career in two different ways: they may choose to become clinical specialists or consultant nurses.

2.
Check

The policy analysis that was put forward impressed the committee, and it also convinced them to reconsider their action.
OR
The policy analysis that was put forward impressed the committee; it also convinced them to reconsider their action.

3.
Check

The council members were exhausted; they had debated for two hours.

Re-start

Mistake 5. Parallel Structure

Here you will learn:

  • What parallel structure is
  • Where parallel forms occur; and
  • How to correct problems of parallel structure.

 

Parallel structure is the repetition of similar form for equal ideas within a sentence. This is a way to make the sentence look grammatically balanced.

Problems with maintaining parallel structure most often occur when constructing lists. To be balanced the list must repeat the same grammatical form.

 

a) Compare the following pairs. You will see that the first examples have unbalanced parallel structures compared to the second ones where the parallel structure has been re-established.

 

NO: Australians like sun, the sand, and the sea.

YES: Australians like the sun, the sand, and the sea.

 

 

NO: The security officer stopped, listened for a moment, then he locked the door of the classroom.

YES: The security officer stopped, listened for a moment, then locked the door of the classroom.

b) Problems with parallel structures can also occur when constructing lists as dot points.

Compare the unbalanced structure caused by different grammatical forms in the first example with the balanced parallel structure in the second example.

The objectives of this analysis are:

  • Identifying the main categories of cultural difference;
  • To give an account of the dangers of stereotyping;
  • The different ways to conceptualise difference.

The objectives of this analysis are to:

  • Identify the main categories of cultural difference;
  • Give an account of the dangers of stereotyping;
  • Describe the different ways to conceptualise the difference.

or

The objectives of this analysis are:

  • Identifying the main categories of cultural difference;
  • Giving an account of the dangers of stereotyping;
  • Describing the different ways to conceptualise the difference

Activity 5. Parallel structure

Re-establish the parallel structure in the following sentences.

1.
Check

The mayor promises not only to reform the police department, but also to give salary increments to all city employees.

2.
Check

The cost of not doing anything is greater than the cost of renovating the town-hall.

3.
Check

The items on the agenda are: to discuss the new property tax; to finalise the city charter; and to vote on the city manager's request for an assistant.

Re-start

Mistake 6. Misplaced Modifiers

We will learn:

  • What modifiers are, and
  • How to correct problems of misplaced modifiers.

 

Modifiers are descriptions. They need to be placed near the word or subject they describe for clarity in the sentence.

Problems can arise when what we call Verbals, that is, -ing and -ed (e.g., words like ‘running’, ‘standing’ and ‘frightened’) act as modifiers or descriptions, and it is not clear in the sentence who or what the description is related to.

To correct such errors, we have to look at the logical sequence of the sentence again, and rework it so as to place the modifier next to the word that is being described.

 

Example:

NO: The onlooker will first see the palace of Versailles walking down the alley.

YES: Walking down the alley, the onlooker will first see the palace of Versailles.

 

NO: The prisoners kept walking for hours under the orders of the enemy frightened.

YES: Frightened, the prisoners kept walking for hours under the orders of the enemy.

 

At times, other small alterations make the sentence sound better.

NO: You will see the insect looking in the microscope.

YES: If you look in the microscope, you will see the insect.

Activity 6. Misplaced modifiers

Correct the following sentences with misplaced modifiers

1.
Check

The television network broadcast the stunned senator's concession speech.

2.
Check
Flying low over Washington, the group saw the White House.
3.
Check
Worried about the cost of the program, the committee removed some secondary items.
Re-start

Mistake 7. Poor Cohesion

Cohesion is about how our texts “stick together”. A text that is loosely cohesive is vague and unfocussed. There are three main ways to make your text cohesive:

  1. Using the same words or a synonym;
  2. Using a conjunction (and, but, because, therefore, etc);
  3. Using pronouns (he, she, they) or demonstrative articles (this/these, that/ those).

 

a) Using the same words or a synonym

The most obvious type of cohesion is using the same words:

The oldest known form of writing dates from 5000 years ago. This writing is called Cuneiform, from the Latin word cuneus 'a wedge' which was used to press the characters into soft clay.

Alternatively words with similar meanings might be used to link sentences:

The first books to be produced were mainly religious texts written in Latin. This meant that only Latin scholars access to literature.

 

A common mistake in student writing is to think that all words need synonyms.

But key words in your essay are best left identical.

The reader wants to know when you are writing about the key ideas so if you change the name of key concepts, the reader no longer recognises them.

 

b) Using a conjunction

Another way in which texts are linked together is with conjunctions or joining words. Conjunctions are very powerful and do more than just link text together. Different conjunctions demonstrate different relationships between sentences, so students need to take care that the correct relationship is being expressed.

In the early days of universities, students would hire texts from booksellers and copy them out themselves. But by the end in the mid 15th century the printing press was invented.

Note that some conjunctions do not have to come at the beginning of a sentence:

The QWERTY keyboard was designed to slow typists down. This also stopped the keys from jamming on early typewriters.

 

c) Using personal pronouns or demonstrative pronouns

The role of a personal pronoun is to replace a noun (‘pro’ is the Latin word for ‘in the place of’) rather than repeat it:

The Vice-Chancellor gave several reasons for his decision.

Several students have withdrawn their support for the protest.

That girl is a postgraduate student. She is writing a thesis on hydrodynamics.

 

There are constraints on how far a pronoun can be from its reference (its full noun). If too much information is between the full noun and its pronoun, the reader loses track of the link. Pronouns must also agree in number and gender with their full nouns.

Demonstrative pronouns are used in the same way as personal pronouns. They must agree in number.

Several findings are presented here: those relating to the impact of alcohol and cigarettes, and those relating to anxiety and depression.

The lecture given by Dr Anderson was good, but that by Professor Collins was fantastic.

 

Pronouns can add variety to our writing. However, it becomes a problem when we use them too much, or when it is difficult to tell what or whom the pronoun is referring back to.

Look what happens when too many pronouns are used!

The majority of people in the town opposed to the new parking restrictions when they were first introduced by the town council. However, a follow-up survey shows that, when they had experienced their operation, the majority was in favour of them.

But if we don’t use them our writing is boring and repetitive. Look what happens when pronouns are not used!

Pelicans are large aquatic birds. Pelicans can be recognised by having large expandable beaks. Pelicans are to be found on open water either on the coast or on inland lakes.

Activity 7.1 Pronouns can be ambiguous

Pronouns can also be ambiguous!

The bosses told the workers that they were getting a pay rise.

What is wrong with this sentence?

Next
The bosses told the workers that they were getting a pay rise.

What is wrong with this sentence?

Answer - Who is getting the pay rise - the bosses or the workers? There are two possible antecedents (nouns to refer back to) and they are both plural and require a 'they' pronoun. Such a sentence needs to be rewritten:

The bosses said that the workers would get a pay rise.
The bosses told the workers that they were giving themselves a pay rise.

Finish

Activity 7.2. Use of pronouns

Choose the correct pronouns to insert into these sentences:

1. At the beginning of both I his they her career, Albert Einstein had already lost confidence in Newtonian mechanics.

2. These are books by Professor Robertson. Both I His They Her are all about both I his they her research.

3. My tutor asked me to use more pronouns but to make sure that both I his they her checked that the nouns and the pronouns agreed in gender and number.

4. American keyboards are different from British ones and both I his they her are different from European ones.

Some people believe that the Government should play a bigger role in establishing a housing policy for the homeless; many others disagree.

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Mistake 8. Existential sentences

These are sentences where the subject doesn’t really exist. “It” and “there” take the place of the subject – they are like “dummy subjects”:

It is currently thought that students benefit from the inclusion of ICT in their tutorial activities.

There is considerable research that suggests that students benefit from access to ICT.

Although you might think that these forms establish the level of objectivity expected in formal academic writing, a common error is to use them as generalisations for a number of unreferenced sources. Make sure that such generalisations are followed by referenced sources:

It is currently thought that students benefit from the inclusion of ICT in their tutorial activities (see further Curry & Thompson 2013).

There is considerable research that suggests that students benefit from access to ICT (for example Martins 2004; Keaton 2009; and Davies 2012).

Activity 8. Dummy subjects

Identify the "dummy subjects" in the following passage.

Click on each word to highlight your choice. Click next to compare your answers.

It is generally acknowledged that the literacy and communicative needs of future workplace environments and students' current capacity to achieve these do not match. Hence a needs analysis of the future working environment should be conducted to enhance instruction. There are several approaches to designing a needs analysis for a particular workplace. Firstly it has been found from in-depth interviews with students to gather their perceptions of the vocational environment, and the realities as seen by prospective employers, that views are rarely similar. Secondly, there is research showing that many graduates are ill-prepared for the future employment in the engineering sector in particular.

It is generally acknowledged that the literacy and communicative needs of future workplace environments and students' current capacity to achieve these do not match. Hence a needs analysis of the future working environment should be conducted to enhance instruction. There are several approaches to designing a needs analysis for a particular workplace. Firstly it has been found from in-depth interviews with students to gather their perceptions of the vocational environment, and the realities as seen by prospective employers, that views are rarely similar. Secondly, there is research showing that many graduates are ill-prepared for the future employment in the engineering sector in particular.

Re-start

What else is wrong with this passage of text?

It is generally acknowledged that the literacy and communicative needs of future workplace environments and students' current capacity to achieve these do not match. Hence a needs analysis of the future working environment should be conducted to enhance instruction. There are several approaches to designing a needs analysis for a particular workplace. Firstly it has been found from in-depth interviews with students to gather their perceptions of the vocational environment, and the realities as seen by prospective employers, that views are rarely similar. Secondly, there is research showing that many graduates are ill-prepared for the future employment in the engineering sector in particular.

ANSWER: There are no references to the research generalised in the use of 'it' and 'there'.

Re-start

Mistake 9. Compound and complex sentences

Because writing is a much slower process and allows time for editing, idea units tend to be larger in writing than in speech. Therefore, writing has highly integrated idea units (that is, there can be a lot of information in one sentence). Much academic writing contains long and complex sentences. However, this is not necessarily a sign of good writing:

The audience, which contained several well-known academics, claimed that the presenters, who were mainly postgraduate students, were very impressive.

The above sentence is not really wrong, but it is definitely hard to read with not one, but two, relative clauses!

 

There are a number of other ways  to successfully integrate more information into a sentence. Here we will introduce you to five different ones:

  1. Nominalisation
  2. Adjectives
  3. Preposed participles (preposed means “in front”)
  4. Postposed participles (postposed means “behind/after”)
  5. Adverbial phrases

 

a) Nominalisation

Nominalisation is a textual feature that is common in academic writing. This happens when a chunk of information is made into a noun phrase that acts as the subject so more information can be added, for example,

The sentence “Wars affect the economy unfavourably” can become the subject of a more complex sentence:

The unfavourable effect of wars on the economy is that industries focus on providing arms and ammunition, rather the goods that benefit society.

 

b) Adjectives

Adjectives are words which provide more information about a noun. Although emotive adjectives are not suitable for academic writing, there is still a place for adjectives that commend or quantify:

An extensive study by Holmes and Andrews (2005) has changed many opinions about drug abuse.

A considerable amount of research has addressed the issue of cyber crime.

Gray’s (2011) excellent review of prior research addressing Crohn’s disease has informed this study.

 

 

c) Preposed participial phrases

Parts of the verb, called participles (many ending in – ing) can also be to introduce more information. We call them 'preposed' when they come before the noun:

Being a postgraduate student now, Brian quickly realised that he had to improve his writing.

Having won a scholarship, Andrea was keen to start her studies.

 

d) Postposed participial phrases

Participles ending in –ing or –ed (or –n) can introduce a ‘postposed’ phrase, that is, they come after the noun.

Brian, being a postgraduate student now, quickly realised that he had to improve his writing.

Andrea, having won a scholarship, was keen to start her studies.

Pi is a number, represented by the Greek letter of the same name, which is used in calculating the circumference of a circle.

The Hydrangea plant, known as Hortenisa in France - a name derived from the Latin hortus meaning garden – is originally from China and Japan.

Note: The last example actually has two postposed participial phrases – one describing the hydrangea and the second describing the name (Hortenisa)

 

e) Adverbial phrases

Adverbial phrases frequently add information about time or manner (i.e., how things are done). As with adverbs themselves, they produce more information about the verb:

Some claim that moveable printing type was invented in Europe quite independently of the developments in the East.

However, 600 years before Gutenberg, Chinese monks were using block printing whereby wooden blocks were coated with ink and pressed onto paper.

Next to the overhead projector, there is a pile of handouts for students to collect on their way in.

 

Activity 9. Nominalisations

Identify the nominalisations in the following sentences:

Highlight nominalisations within the text then select the 'Check Answers' button.

1. The editing of exam papers is a highly confidential process.

2. The invention of the printing press meant that ordinary people could have books.

3. During the 18th century, the collecting of exotic plants was extremely popular among the British upper classes.

4. In early Australian architecture, the popular building of verandas stemmed from observation of their functionality in India.

5. The unequal distribution of wealth is problematic in many countries, including Australia.

Correct answers below:

  1. The editing of exam papers is a highly confidential process.
  2. The invention of the printing press meant that ordinary people could have books.
  3. During the 18th century, the collecting of exotic plants was extremely popular among the British upper classes.
  4. In early Australian architecture, the popular building of verandas stemmed from observation of their functionality in India.
  5. The unequal distribution of wealth is problematic in many countries, including Australia.

Re-start

Mistake 10. Clauses

Subordinate clauses are a useful way to integrate more information into your writing, however it is important to know how they should be used. There are two types which you will learn about here:

  1. Relative clauses
  2. Complement clauses

 

a) Relative clauses

There are two types of relative clauses and the difference between them is important. They are:

  • Defining relative clauses (sometimes called ‘restrictive clauses) and
  • Non-defining relative clauses (sometimes called non-restrictive clauses)

Defining relative clauses tell us which particular noun we are talking about

I like the lectures which our professor gives about genetics. (i.e., those lectures and no others)

Non-defining relative clauses give us a bit of extra information. Notice that we don’t really need this information because without it we still have a grammatical sentence.

Our campus, which is surrounded by woodlands, has a great atmosphere.

Our campus has a great atmosphere.

 

Notice also that the non-defining relative clause is separated with commas but the defining one is not. This is important – just because you have used a word like “which”, it doesn’t mean you need a comma!

 

More about relative clauses

Relative clauses are introduced by relative pronounswho, whom, whose, which and nowadays that.

 

i) Who is used when the noun defined is the subject of the relative clause and a human:

I saw the man who runs the bookshop (i.e, the man [subject] runs the bookshop)

The woman who wore large earrings was the head of the department (the woman [subject] wore large earrings)

 

ii) Whom is used when the noun defined is the object of the relative clause and a human:

The student whom we contacted was living on the streets.

Note that whom is optional but who (above is not):>

The student (whom) we contacted was living on the streets.

(Whom is often replaced by who these days, but why not make you writing stylish and use the correct form – whom?)

 

iii) When the noun defined is an indirect object in the relative clause, ‘to’ is required:

The student to whom they gave money was living on the streets.

but nowadays this is more often:

The boy (who) Gail gave money to was living on the streets.

(But why not make you writing stylish and use the correct form – to whom!)

 

iv) If the noun is not a person then the relative pronoun is ‘which’:

The books which are in the reserve collection are getting very tatty.

The book which she stole was mine.

 

Which is used regardless of whether it is a subject or object of the relative clause. However if the defined noun is the object of the relative clause then the relative pronoun is optional:

The book (which) she stole was mine.

This is not the case if the defined noun is the subject:

* The books are in the reserve collection are getting very tatty.

Note however that ‘that’ is often used instead of ‘which’ now:

The books that are in the reserve collection are getting very tatty.

The book she stole was mine.

The book (that) she stole was mine.

 

v) When a relative clause indicates possession then the relative pronoun is ‘whose’:

The person whose keys were stolen should go to the Lost Property office

 

vi) Where, when and why are also used as relative pronouns:

Show me the shop where you bought it.

It was raining on the day (when) the Wallabies played the Springboks.

The reason (why) they argued was money.

'Why'and ‘when’ are optional but not ‘where’:

*Show me the shop you bought it.

Show me the shop where you bought it.

 

b) Complement ‘that’ clauses

These types of clauses are very common in academic writing, especially when using reporting verbs (see Achieve Using Sources). Whereas a relative clause provides more information about a noun, a complement clause provides more information about a verb. In formal writing these clauses are introduce by “that” (called the complementiser):

Several scholars claim that our study has not used valid data.

Several scholars claim (verb) that (complementiser) our study has not used valid data.

 

Anderson et al (2012) have suggested that the rock fragments are inadequate for analysis.

Anderson et al (2012) have suggested (verb) that (complementiser) the rock fragments are unsuitable for analysis.

 

Very often, and especially in journalism where space is highly relevant, the “that” is left out:

Several scholars claim (that) our study has not used valid data.

This is even happening in academic journal articles now! But including “that” will make your writing clear and precise.

 

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