Using Commas Correctly: Punctuating with Confidence

Correct comma usage is an art, not a science. Writers will sometimes disagree on when to use a comma or omit one; to help you as you write, here are a few general rules for using commas. These examples and the rules they’re based upon are drawn from the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, one of the core texts on proper language usage and formatting.

Subject-Verb Agreement

Number matters

When writing sentences, the verb conjugates according to the subject. The general rule of thumb for conjugating verbs is that if there's one person, place, or thing as the subject (not just one noun), then the verb is conjugated in the singular. If there are multiple people, places, or things, then the verb is conjugated in the plural. In other words, the verb and subject agree in number.

Advice for Completing a Thesis or Dissertation

Research on graduate students' experiences with writing a thesis or dissertation suggests many students aren’t always sure what to expect when they begin the process. Dr. Ken Oldfield, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, Springfield, offers these strategies along with some tips on how to manage the process. We’ve included advice from three UNL graduate students who’ve recently completed a thesis or dissertation.

The Ethics of Authorship

You've spent the last year researchingand writing an article you’re hoping to publish. As you start the task of editing your work, you should also ask yourself, “who deserves authorship credit?” Authorship, especially for a graduate student, can be a difficult issue. Should your adviser receive credit? What about the other graduate students in your lab who helped run your research experiment?

Think and Act Like a Writer

by Jan Allen, Associate Dean for Ph.D. Programs, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Columbia University (reprinted with permission)

Do you think of yourself as a writer? Or are you just a graduate student who must write to complete the requirements for your degree, to get published, to get a job? Are you a faculty member who must write to keep your job, to get tenured, to get promoted in your job? It might help if you start to think and act like a writer. Here’s how:

Tips for Publishing in Graduate School

One skill that can be critical to the success of a graduate student is the ability to publish. We collected the following tips from experienced faculty who have guided students successfully into the publishing world. If getting published is one of your goals, these bits of advice will give you some insight on how to reach it.

Writing About Your Research: Verb Tense

Consistency of verb tense helps ensure smooth expression in your writing. The practice of the discipline for which you write typically determines which verb tenses to use in various parts of a scientific document. In general, however, the following guidelines may help you know when to use past and present tense. If you have questions about tense or other writing concerns specific to your discipline, check with your adviser.

Latin Terms Used in Writing

Even though Latin is considered a dead language (no country officially speaks it), its influence on other languages is significant. Latin words and expressions are present in virtually all languages around the world, as well as in different scientific and academic fields. While writers of dissertations and other formal papers are cautioned to avoid foreign words or phrases unless there really is no natural English equivalent, a number of Latin words and phrases are standard in academic writing.

Choose Words with Care

Choose words with care and economy. Academic writers should take a lesson from Dr. Seuss' Horton the Elephant—say what you mean and mean what you say. Every sentence you write should mean something. Every word should contribute to the reader’s understanding of your article or research report. Beware of filler and filter it out. Next time you edit your work, keep these tips in mind and you may be surprised at the effect.

Concrete Tips for Writing Abstracts

As a graduate student, you’ll quickly become familiar with the informative abstract, an integral component of many of the things you’ll write in your academic career—journal articles, research grants, theses and dissertations, or proposals for books and conference papers. An abstract is a self-contained capsule—a short and powerful statement that describes a larger work. It shouldn’t force the reader to flip through the rest of the document seeking an explanation of some vague statement. It must make sense all by itself.

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