If you have 1. Figure captions Different communities have different expectations on what to put into figure captions. Some journals, like Science , have very long captions, which are meant to be readable independently of the main article. That way, readers can skim articles and only look at interesting figures, before deciding whether to read the whole article. In such cases, you must ensure that all of the main points of the figure are also mentioned in the text of the article, so that someone reading the article straight through will not miss them.
Other journals and other publications like books, theses, and proposals tend to have very little in the caption, with the figures being understandable only when reading the main text. Even in such cases, I myself prefer to put all the graphical details like "the dotted line represents" in the caption, plus enough context so that the import of the figure is clear. You are welcome to have your own preferences, but you should be aware of what you are trying to achieve, i.
Word-level issues Try hard to avoid ambiguous references Conversation is replete with ambiguous words like "this", "these", "his", "it", "they", etc. These words have no meaning in themselves, but in conversation the meaning is usually clear from the context. In written text, however, the intended meaning is quite often not evident to the reader, because there are e. It is a good idea to read over anything you write, searching for this sort of word.
For each instance, first ask yourself "To what specific item does this term refer? For such a reference to make sense, the object, person, or concept must have been explicitly mentioned just prior to your reference.
Often you will find that "it" or "they" refers to something vague that was not even discussed explicitly in your paper, in which case you should reword your text entirely. Even if the item to which you refer is explicitly mentioned in your paper, ask yourself whether there is any chance that the reader might not know to which of several items you might be referring.
If so then state the actual name of each; "he" would be ambiguous. Often an ambiguous "this" or "these" can be disambiguated by adding a noun that specifies precisely the type of object or concept to which you are referring.
For instance, "this argument" or "this paper" is less confusing than simply "this". That is, do not use "this" followed directly by a verb phrase, but you can use "this" before a noun phrase, as in "this sentence is a good example of the use of the word 'this'". Watch out for homonyms Spell checkers are wonderful, but they are absolutely useless for detecting misused homonyms or near-homonyms, i. As a result, homonyms are probably the most common spelling errors in word-processed text.
Even if you are lazy and let the spell checker fix all of your other words, make certain that you know the differences between words like: Yet because the spell checker takes care of all the other words you may misspell, learning to use these few words correctly is surely not much of a burden, and is crucial for convincing your readers that you are competent and trustworthy.
Avoid "comprise" Apparently the word " comprise " has now been used incorrectly so many times to mean " compose " that this usage is now becoming acceptable. But it is much safer simply to avoid "comprise" altogether, as anyone who does know what it started out meaning will be annoyed when you use it to mean "compose". If you take a grammatically correct sentence containing "but" and replace it with "however", or vice versa, the result will almost always be incorrect, mainly because of comma punctuation.
However, I do not like tangerines. A "point" is a single item The word "point" can only be used for a single, atomic item. Thus it is not appropriate to discuss a "sub-point", "part of a point", the "first half" of a point, etc.
Instead use "topic" or "section", etc. Use "a study" or just "research", never "a research". Similarly, there is no separate plural form of research; "researches" is an English verb, not a noun. Avoid capitalization When in doubt, use lower case. Capitalization is appropriate only for specific, named, individual items or people. For example, capitalize school subjects only when you are referring to a specific course at a specific school: Department of Computer Sciences vs.
When in doubt, use lower case. Avoid contractions Contractions are appropriate only for conversational use and for informal writing, never for technical or formal writing. Hyphenate phrases only when otherwise ambiguous In English phrases groups of several words forming a unit , hyphens are used to group pairs of words when the meaning might otherwise be ambiguous.
That is, they act like the parentheses in a mathematical expression. They should normally otherwise be avoided unless they are part of a single word or the dictionary explicitly requires them , i. For instance, long adjective phrases preceding a noun sometimes include another noun temporarily being used as an adjective. Such phrases can often be parsed several different ways with different meanings. For example, the phrase "English language learners" as written means "language learners from England", because, by default, "language" modifies "learners", and "English" modifies "language learners".
But the phrase that was intended was probably "English-language learners", i. Note that there would never be a hyphen if the same phrase were used after the noun it modifies, because in that case there would be absolutely no chance of ambiguity: Note that hyphens are used only in adjective phrases; they are not needed after an adverb and are therefore incorrect.
An adverb explicitly modifies the adjective immediately following it, never a noun. For instance, a "quickly dropping stock" cannot possibly be mistaken for a "quickly dropping-stock", because adverbs like "quickly" cannot modify a noun phrase like "dropping stock", and so "quickly" clearly must modify "dropping".
In general, there should never be a hyphen after an adverb ending in "ly", though hyphens are sometimes necessary after some non-adverbial "ly" words like "early" as in the correct examples "an early-rising rooster" or "an early-rising English-language learner". You may want to search through your finished document for "ly-"; nearly all examples of those three characters in a row will be mistakes.
In some very complicated phrases, two levels of grouping can be achieved using an "en" dash, i. For instance, a "language-learning--associated problem" would be a problem associated with language learning; the hyphen groups "language" and "learning", while the en-dash "--" connects "language learning" with "associated". Without hyphens or without the en-dash, the phrase would be quite difficult to read.
But in such cases it is often clearer just to reword the sentence to avoid the ambiguity, as in "a problem associated with language learning". In cases where the word grouping is quite obvious because the pair of words are so often used together, the hyphen can be omitted even when it would strictly be required to avoid ambiguity.
For instance "chocolate chip cookies" is unlikely to be misread as "chocolate chip-cookies", despite that being the literal interpretation, and so the hyphen can usually be omitted from "chocolate-chip cookies". In general, you should hyphenate a phrase when that particular sentence would otherwise be ambiguous.
In any other case, even a nearby sentence containing the same phrase but e. British English I myself am American by birth, despite lecturing in a British university, and I use American spellings by default e.
Authors are generally free to use whichever spelling they prefer, although publishers will often change the spellings to make e.
Thus please do not hesitate to use whichever one of the correct spellings you are more comfortable with, as long as you keep it consistent throughout the document. Additional guidelines specific to academic writing Academic writing includes texts like original research papers, research proposals, and literature reviews, whether published or not.
Formatting and grammar rules When in doubt about grammar or page format, researchers in psychology and computer science generally follow the APA style guide ; biological fields use similar standards. Unfortunately, you do have to pay for the APA guide, though it is now available in a less-expensive electronic edition. Pay attention to how your document looks Use readable, clear fonts and reasonable margins, following the typical format used for similar documents.
If your word processor cannot make the spacing regular between words e. Poor spacing makes the page look jumbled and seem incoherent, even if the writing is not. Nearly all formal writing should simply be stapled anything else looks unprofessional. For instance, using a fancy cover and binding for a short paper or report is distracting and makes it difficult to photocopy the paper; such binding is necessary only for long papers that a staple would have trouble keeping together.
At the opposite extreme, it should be obvious that folding one corner is not an acceptable substitute for a staple. Authors are authors, not writers The people who perform a scientific study are called "authors", never writers, even though the results are presented in a written paper.
Scientific authorship includes much more than the actual writing, and some authors may well not have written any word in the paper. Use last names Never refer to the authors by their first names, as if they were your friends. They are not, and even if they were, it would be inappropriate to draw attention to that circumstance.
Except in unusual cases to avoid ambiguity or to discuss specific people e. Author names are keys -- spell them properly In academic writing, an author's last name is like the key in a database lookup -- if the name is misspelled e.
Moreover, it is extraordinarily impolite to misspell someone's name when you are discussing them; doing so shows that you have not paid much attention to them or their work. So you should make a special effort to spell author names correctly, double and triple checking them against the original source, and ensuring that you spell them the same way each time. Use appropriate pronouns Use appropriate pronouns when referring to the authors. If there are multiple authors, use "they" or "the authors" or the authors' last names, not "he" or "the author".
If there is only one author and you can determine the gender with great confidence, you may use "he" or "she"; otherwise use "the author" or the author's last name.
Referring to other texts Use double quotes around the title of an article when you refer to it in the text.
Italics are reserved for books or other works of similar length. Avoid underlining altogether underlining is just a way of indicating that handwritten or typewritten text should be typeset in italics, and is thus inappropriate when italics are available as they are on any modern word processor. Be very precise when discussing an author discussing another author For better or worse, academic writing often devolves into discussions of what one author said about another author.
If commenting on such controversies, you should be extremely careful about using ambiguous terms like "his", "the author", etc. Very often your reader will have no idea which of the various authors you are referring to, even though it may be clear to you. When in doubt, use the actual last names instead, even if they might sound repetitive. Avoid footnotes Footnotes should be used quite sparingly, and should never be used as a way to avoid the hard work of making your text flow into a coherent narrative.
Only when something genuinely cannot be made to fit into the main flow of the text, yet is somehow still so important that it must be mentioned, does it go into a footnote. Avoid direct quotes In scientific as opposed to literary or historical writing, direct quotes should be used only when the precise wording of the original sentences is important, e.
In nearly every other case, paraphrasing is more appropriate, because it lets you formulate the idea in the terms suitable for your particular paper, focusing on the underlying issue rather than the way one author expressed it.
Be careful with arguments about grammar If you are going to criticize the grammar or spelling of an author in writing, you should be extraordinarily careful to verify that you are correct. Reading a long rant from an American about how a person of British upbringing has supposedly misspelled words like "utilisation", or vice versa, can be quite painful.
There is no need to mention explicitly reading the paper A lot of students use phrases like "while reading this paper, I Try to avoid this redundancy. If you use the word "author" you need not also use "paper", and vice versa. Similarly, it is clear that whatever you discovered about the paper, you discovered while reading the paper; we do not need to be reminded of this. Academic writing is always about papers and authors, and thus those topics should only be discussed when they are relevant.
Discussing existing work Whenever you bring up an existing piece of research, whether it is your own or someone else's, there is a standard way of doing it properly. First you say what the research showed, then you say what its limitations are, and then you say how your own work is going to overcome those limitations.
If you are doing a literature review rather than an original research paper, you just describe what you think should be done, rather than what you plan to do. Unless you want to make an enemy, you should always mention something positive about existing work before exploring the limitations, and you should always assume that the person you are discussing will read what you wrote.
Of course, sometimes there is a good reason to make an enemy, e. Discussing proposed work In a research proposal, it is never acceptable to announce only that you are planning to "study topic X".
In the context of research, studying is a vague and unbounded task, with no criterion for success and no way to tell if you are getting anywhere. Studying is something you do in a course, where someone can tell you what to focus on and can test you to see if you got the right answer; research is not like that. In research, you need to spell out the specific questions you are going to try to answer, the specific phenomena that need explanations, and so on -- it's up to you to define the question and the methods, and until you've done so, it's not research, just idle speculation.
The reader is more likely to assume that you have been sloppy about your literature review than to assume you knew about the work but believed it not to be relevant. Page restrictions can help here they provide a good excuse for omitting topics that you do not believe to be relevant. In a longer article or thesis without page limits you have no choice but to address the issue and explicitly state why the topic is not relevant despite the common belief that it is.
Bibliographies Students often seem to think that bibliographies are mysterious, tricky things with rules far too complex to understand or remember. Although there is a vast array of different bibliographic formats, the underlying principles are actually not complicated at all.
Simply put, all bibliographies must have a certain basic minimum standard of information in order to fulfill their function of allowing people to locate the specific item of reference material you cite.
In particular, every bibliography entry needs an author, date, and title, every journal article absolutely must have a volume and page numbers, and every conference paper must have the title of the conference proceedings, the page numbers, and some indication of who published it.
Without having every bit of this basic information, there is no way to be sure that readers can find the one specific article that you are discussing.
Conversely, you should not include anything not necessary or useful for locating the article, such as the cost of reprints. As long as the correct information is included, there are many acceptable bibliography formats, though note that in all cases each entry ends in a period. Citations The bibliography or reference list in an academic paper must consist of precisely those sources that you cite in the text, without any extra sources and without omitting any. Each citation must provide enough information for the reader to find the correct source in the bibliography; beyond that, any number of citation formats will do unless there is some specific standard you are told to follow.
One common approach is to use author-date citations like " Smith, Wu, and Tong ", but other approaches such as numbering the bibliography entries and then using bracketed or superscript numbers are also fine.
If using numeric citations with brackets, note that there must always be a space before the first bracket, as in " If using author-date citations, you must remember that any item in parentheses does not exist , as far as the grammar of the sentence is concerned, and thus it cannot be used as part of the sentence.
Thus the rule is simply to put the parentheses around the part that would be acceptable to omit when reading aloud, as in "Carlin showed that It is usually best to have only a single level of parentheses, because multiple parentheses start to distract from the main text. Thus I would prefer "has been established but for a counterexample see Johnson, " to "has been established but for a counterexample see Johnson ".
Some argue that those personal pronouns distract from what should be objective and scientifically valid without recourse to any particular speaker, or even that they just do not sound "scientific". Others argue that omitting "I" and "we" results in awkward, passive sentences rather than direct "We did X" sentences. Personally, I believe that academic writing should use personal pronouns whenever what is being reported was an arbitrary and specific choice made by a human being, or for opinions or personal judgment, precisely because these pronouns emphasize that a human was involved in the work.
Clear, concise and conventional writing are key elements in an excellent formal essay. The best formal essays also have an obvious purpose. They develop a concise thesis or subject and are free of irrelevant discussion. To write an excellent formal essay, follow conventional practices and discuss arguments or subjects thoroughly.
An excellent formal essay will have a clear structure. Such an essay will typically start with a broad discussion of real-world phenomena and move quickly to the thesis -- its main argument -- or the subject.
Body paragraphs connect clearly with the thesis or subject and build an overarching discussion. Transitions between paragraphs connect the ideas without relying on obvious summaries of what came before and what will come next. Conclusions in the best formal essays tie together all elements of the argument through summary or by provoking further thought on the thesis or subject.
Developing an excellent structure in a formal essay also allows you to think more clearly and ultimately demonstrates your careful thought. Writing an excellent formal essay demands that you follow and understand many conventions.
Understanding why conventions exist can give you more control over your formal writing and help you create excellent essays. For example, avoiding "I" in formal essays will allow you to write sentences that are more focused on a topic. The phrase "I thought the movie was long" is about the author's opinion, while the phrase "The movie was long" is about the movie's characteristics; the first phrase is an informally written opinion, while the second is a formally written observation.
Formal essays favor objective language and concise sentences.
A formal essay is more objective than the narrative or personal essay because it is usually based on provable facts and examples. Format of the Formal Essay. In general, a formal essay is at least five paragraphs long and contains an introduction, body paragraphs, and a .
Informal essays have no set structure and they are typically shorter than formal essays. Informal essays also use first and second person, and often include thoughts and opinions. The subject matter of informal essays is brief and a .
When writing a college essay, formal writing must be observed. This is to leave a good impression to your reader. This is to leave a good impression to your reader. In business, written communication is essential in several ways. Mastering formal essays enables you to use this kind of writing for many different purposes, such as job searching and professional correspondence. Clear, concise and conventional writing are key elements in an excellent formal essay. The best formal essays also have an obvious purpose.
When writing your extended essay you should use language that is formal and academic in tone. The chart below gives you some idea of the differences between informal and formal essays. See the box below for examples of the differences in tone in informal and formal essays written on identical topics. The key ingredient to a formal essay is the thesis. A thesis is a statement that expresses the main idea of your paper. It explains the goal or purpose of your formal essay so that your readers know what to expect. A strong thesis should state the main idea of your essay and some points for discussion.