Academics are often accused of being pedantic about grammar, spelling and punctuation, but all these seemingly endless rules are actually about effective communication – expressing yourself clearly, accurately and precisely.
It is true that language is dynamic, so conventional rules about grammar and punctuation change all the time. It is also true that experts often disagree amongst themselves about correct spelling and punctuation. The fact is that there are different conventions about some things, and some academics will tell you one thing, and others will tell you something completely different….
Many of the errors found in student assignments are usually straightforward, however. Students may be criticised, or even lose marks, because they have neglected some basic rules. Effective academic writing requires good grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
The sentence is the basic unit of academic writing. This may seem obvious, but in informal spoken English, people often use incomplete sentences. Sentences in essays and assignments must always be complete.
The doctor saw the patient.
Seeing the patient.
‘Seeing the patient’ is a sentence fragment. These are extremely common in spoken English, so they sound okay. But watch out for sentence fragments in formal written academic assignments.
A complete sentence is a complete thought and always has (at least) two components: a subject and a predicate. The subject is the person or thing at the centre of attention; the predicate tells the reader something about the subject:
saw the patient.
Often, though not always, the predicate can be further divided into a verb and an object. The verb is the ‘doing or being’ word, and describes the action. The object (if there is one) tells you who is on the receiving end: