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Basic Grammar and Punctuation

An AARC writing resource


Q: Why don't you correct all of my mistakes?

A: Writing tutors at the AARC want to help you become a great writer. To accomplish this goal, we strive to be more than copyeditors for our clients. We could point out every error you make and tell you how to fix it, but doing so would not develop your writing ability. 

What we will do is help you recognize common writing mistakes by pointing to one or two examples of an error in your paper. We will ask you for your suggestions  Along the way, we provide ample writing and grammar resources to reference. Through this process, you will learn how to spot regular mistakes and develop your own writing style. We believe in your ability to succeed and become great writers!

Q: I don't know where to begin writing my paper. How do I start?

A: First, what type of paper are you writing? Is it a persuasive essay, a personal narrative, or a research paper? Second, have you decided on a topic that fits with the assignment?

Once you know the type of paper and the topic, you can begin forming a rough outline for your paper. Come up with ideas that support your main topic and consider which ideas deserve a paragraph of their own.Group related ideas together under one topic, perhaps in one paragraph.

Outlines let you look at the overall structure and flow of your paper. Do your ideas make sense in the order you've presented them? Would moving your information around in a different order be more effective?

Some people wait to write their introduction and conclusion after they write the body paragraphs. This strategy can be helpful because introductions and conclusions often summarize information presented in the body.

Before you finish, make sure you proofread for spelling and grammar errors. Submit your paper to the OWL through d2l to have a writing tutor review your paper and give helpful feedback on how to improve. 

Q: How do I form a strong thesis statement?

A: A thesis statement can make or break an essay. A thesis statement is one sentence that captures the main point of your entire paper and includes a few reasons that support your main point.

For example, if I were writing a paper on why I love my cat, here is a possible thesis statement:

                I love my cat because she is fluffy, playful, and always keeps me company.

Notice I provided the main point of my paper along with three supports to back it up. These three supports can then be topics for body paragraphs.

For more detail on crafting a thesis statement, see the following link:​

Q: Where do I put commas?

A: Commas have four main uses. Learn all about commas here.

Q: How do I cite my sources?

A: Remember that every sentence containing information, ideas, or words that are not your own must have a citation to a source. 

How you cite depends on the style you're using: MLA, APA, or Chicago. See the appropriate page below:

Websites like EasyBib can be a helpful resource for forming your references or works cites page, but sites like that can get it wrong sometimes, so always check with your instructor or with a writing tutor if you're unsure.

Q: What is a run-on sentence?

A: A run-on sentence is when two or more sentences are joined together without the correct punctuation. If you have a lot of actions happening in one sentence, this could indicate a run-on.

See this page for examples and more information.

Q: When do I capitalize a word?

A: Always capitalize the following:

  • first word of every sentence
  • first word of full sentences within quotations
  • every proper noun

Proper nouns are different from regular nouns because proper nouns usually refer to one specific thing, place, or person.

For example, if a family lives in a white-painted building, you might refer to it as "the white house they live in." But the white-colored building inhabited by the leader of the U.S. is called the White House. There's only one White House; the use of capitalization shows we're trying to refer specifically to the house of the U.S. president, not any generic white-painted house.

Other words to capitalize include names, such as the names of countries or companies. Days of the week, months, and holidays also get capitalized, but names of seasons (summer, fall) do not take capitals. 

Do not capitalize a word if it doesn't refer to a unique thing. A common mistake is capitalizing nouns that directly relate to your topic, but the word can be used generically. If you're unsure whether a word should be capitalized, consult your professor, a writing tutor, or even the internet!

Q: How do I use apostrophes correctly?

A: Apostrophes have two major uses in English writing: to show possession and form contractions.

English uses an apostrophe and an s to show possession: Mary's lamb, the bird's song.

Plural nouns handle possession slightly differently: begin by forming the plural (e.g., the dancers); if the word ends in an s, add only an apostrophe after the word to make it possessive (the dancers' movement).

Do not use apostrophes on any pronouns (hers, its, yours) to show possession. (for example: the lion licks its paws)

Contractions combine two words together in a shortened form: do and not become don'tit is becomes it's. Contractions always use apostrophes.

See our full page on apostrophes here.