All college students can use some tips on English grammar rules and word usage for those research papers they’ll be writing this coming semester. Your research paper can benefit from some writing tips.
Don’t think that proper grammar is old fashioned and that hip college students these days, proficient in texting and using urban slang, are exempt from stuffy proper English. “Mind your grammar. Nothing says sloppy and careless like an essay [or term paper] that uses poor grammar. So check—and double check—each sentence for structure, clarity, word choice, spelling, and punctuation,” suggested in “8 Essential Essay Tips: Do You Have Essay Anxiety?” in Careers & Colleges Fall 2008.
Everyone can do a spell check, but you need to know if you have the correct word to begin with. Many words may sound the same but have different meanings. Other common words and phrases are often used incorrectly. Here are some examples of word usage to watch out for in your writing.
1. Affect vs. effect
According to Vocabulary.com: “Choosing between affect and effect can be scary. Think of Edgar Allen Poe and his RAVEN: Remember Affect Verb Effect Noun. You can’t affect the creepy poem by reading it, but you can enjoy the effect of a talking bird.”
Affect is a verb that means to influence something. (Bad grades affect your GPA.)
Effect is used as a noun meaning the result or impact of something. (An effect of climate change is drought.) Effect can also be a verb meaning to produce or cause something into being. (The prime minister effected policy changes.)
2. Complement vs. compliment
Complement means to complete, supplement, enhance or make whole. (Your red scarf complements your white and blue sweater.) Complementary also means free. (You get a complementary download for signing up.) Compliment is praise. (Compliment your date on how nice she looks.)
3. Lay vs. lie
To lay (past tense: laid) means to put or to place. “I will lay the books on the table. To lie (past tense: lay) means to recline in a prone position. (I will lie down on the couch. Yesterday, he lay down for a nap.)
4. Due to
“Word Usage Tips” at Word-mart.com explains: “‘Due to’ means caused by and NOT because of. Hence, ‘The game was postponed due to rain’ is incorrect. ‘The game was postponed because of rain’ is correct. But, ‘The game’s postponement was due to rain’ is correct. In short, use ‘due to’ only if it can be substituted with ‘caused by’.”
5. Years’ experience
This one is tricky. The apostrophe indicates possession, meaning the experience belongs to the years. (The scientist has twenty years’ experience. OR The scientist has twenty years of experience.)
6. Word choice
You should write a first draft of your research paper to get your first thoughts down on paper. Then you must revise. When you write your second draft, think about the words you chose and if you can make improvements. Usually, after you’ve had time to think about what you’ve written, you can make better word choices.
Don’t use clichés, overly complicated words just to look impressive, slang, too many adjectives and flowery language if it’s for a science paper (flowery is okay if it’s for history or literature class). Do be specific and descriptive, choose the right words to explain your point, replace generic words with specific words, and use strong and descriptive verbs. Make sure you know the correct way to spell and use language specific to your topic (such as complex medical terminology).
7. Some commonly misspelled words
Acquit, bellwether, committed, discipline, gauge, hierarchy, liaison, maneuver, millennium, misspell, occasionally, occurrence, perseverance, playwright, privilege, pronunciation, rhyme, supersede.
For more information, check out Questia’s library on Grammar and Word Usage.
What are some other writing tips for research papers?