Writing Tips

Find guidance on a few grammar rules that are often a source of confusion.

Nouns Denoting Group

Nouns such as family, faculty, jury, class, staff, committee, etc., that denote a group can take either a singular or plural verb. The choice depends on whether one is referring to individuals of the group or to the group as a whole.

The faculty is represented by two unions.
The faculty have divided opinions on that issue.

Parallel Structure

A frequent problem in writing is shifts in tense and voice, especially in sentences introducing a series of phrases.

For example: Underachieving students are: distractible, anxious, unable to schedule and have poor test strategies.
The writer has forgotten the verb is already stated before the colon.

System-level activities could facilitate the process through the dissemination of information, sponsorship of symposia and develop new textbooks.
Here the writer shifts from nouns to verb form.

A Noun Is a Noun Is a Noun

Use nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs.

Instead of: Use:
The book impacted me.
The book had an impact on me.
Let's get together and dialogue. Can we have a dialogue about that?
The program transitioned. The program changed.
Verbs ending in ing that are used as nouns (gerunds) are preceded by possessive nouns or pronouns. (Do you mind my asking? I hate John's taking that attitude.)

Active and Passive Voice

When a verb is in the active voice, the subject acts; in the passive voice, the subject is acted upon. It is easy to fall into the habit of using the passive voice. Obviously, there are times when it is necessary (performer of the action is unknown) or preferable, but, in general, use the active voice. It gives writing more clarity and force.
Passive Active
The award was presented by Dick Jones. Dick Jones presented the award.
It was reported by the director… The director reported…

Excessive Wordiness

Some phrases to avoid:
Instead of: Try:
at this point in time
due to the fact that
during the time thatwhile
have the ability tocan
in order toto
in the event thatif
at the conclusion ofafter
in the course ofduring
deadline datedeadline
viable alternativealternative
important essentialsessentials
in the state of Californiain California
all of theall (or every)