A run-on sentence is two sentences that are merged incorrectly without a joining word or linked by too weak a form of punctuation. This examples shows a form known as a comma splice: Run-on sentences are grammatically incorrect, they are one of the most frequent errors in text even though they read badly.
There are easy ways to correct a run-on sentence:
Take care to match the subject with the verb: A group of new buildings including the Departments of Computer Science and Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media opens in October not A group of new buildings including the Departments of Computer Science and Theatre, Film, Television and Interactive Media open in October.
Collective nouns, such as team, crew, tribe, group, none, should be followed by a singular verb or pronoun when thought of as a single unit, but they take a plural verb or pronoun when thought of as a collection of individuals:
The committee gave its unanimous approval to the plans.
The committee enjoyed biscuits with their tea.
Number can be either singular or plural depending on how it is used: A number are without a loan but The number is slowly decreasing.
Sometimes split infinitives make a sentence easier to understand: Enrolment in distance learning courses is expected to more than double in the next five years. However, a sentence is easier to understand if you don't split the verb with a lengthy phrase. As a rule, choose the version that sounds the least stuffy.
Some general points:
Apostrophes are used to indicate abbreviation, possession or contraction.
Belonging to just one person: the lecturer's notes. Belonging to more than one person: the lecturers' notes.
Posessive plurals of nouns omit the s after the apostrophe: The classes' timetables were confused.
Some plural nouns have no s: children. These take apostrophe s in the possessive: children's games not childrens' games.
Use 's for the possessive case in English names and surnames wherever possible: Hargreaves's, Dickens's. It is customary, though, to leave out the 's when the last syllable of the name is pronounced iz, as in Bridges' as long as you are consistent.
Use apostrophes in phrases such as in two days' time and six weeks' holiday but no apostrophe in adverbial phrases: three weeks old.
Use apostrophes in:
Overseas Students' Association
Graduate Students' Association
Colons are used to:
Never follow a colon with a dash or hyphen. Always follow a colon with a l/c unless the next word is a proper name or title.
We do not normally use 'serial' (or 'Oxford') commas. Use them only if it is necessary for clarity: for the Departments of Biology, Computer Science, and Theatre, Film and Television.
In general, don't add commas just because you might pause when speaking a sentence, but do add them if the meaning might be misconstrued without them.
The en dash (also known as en rule) is used as a dash. It is longer than a hyphen and has different functions. In most software, it can be found under 'Symbol/Special characters'.
En dashes are used:
There is no space before an ellipsis, but there should be one space after one: '... an important date.'
Do not add a full point after an ellipsis at the end of a sentence: 'There is a problem...'
Hyphens are used:
Use semi-colons to separate:
Do not use a semi-colon to introduce a list (use a colon for this).
Punctuate quotations as follows:
Keeping your style simple by using plain English is important because it makes your text more readable. This guide, and the suggestions here, are designed to make text and images in University publications easy to understand, enjoyable to read and accessible to all. The guide is not intended to make publications simplistic, or to crush individual writing styles.
Try not to use the same sentence construction throughout your prose. For example, if you are writing about a particular person, do not begin every sentence with their name or the personal pronoun.
Fred Bloggs was professor of glass studies at Harrogate University for six years before moving to Australia to examine the effects of tropical weather on modern glass manufacturing. This in turn led him to write about glass performance in typhoons in the South Pacific. The book was a surprise best-seller.
Sounds more interesting than...
Professor Fred Bloggs was appointed to a chair in glass studies at Harrogate University in 1977. He moved to Australia in 1983 to study glass manufacturing. He spent a great deal of time in the South Pacific islands and wrote a book about typhoons and glass.
Text is often more readable if you vary the length of sentences. This gives a more interesting rhythm to the words.
Any text can come across as turgid if it is written using passive language. You can engage the reader's attention by using active verbs. It's usually better to say The committee decided to..., than A decision was made by the committee to...
The procedure will be implemented next week is better than. The implementation of the procedure will take place next week.
We discussed the matter is better than We had a discussion about the matter.
Any writer should be clear who they are writing for before they begin to write. Is your audience young, well-educated, familiar with the subject? Are you writing important information which they are expecting and need to have for their job? Or are you writing for strangers, trying to engage their interest in something?
When you are writing for the web, remember that your text must make sense out of context since readers will have come to it from different routes. Keep your sentences concise. Use bulleted lists, descriptive headings and emphasise keywords by using bold. For further information see Writing for the web.
Avoid using verbs which have been made, for convenience, from nouns. There is an increasing trend in journalism to do this and they tend to make writing heavy-handed.
|Noun||Example of 'verbing'||What to use instead|
|action||We must action these items.||carry out|
|access||Please access the file to find out.||find; look in|
|impact||The weather will impact the event.||have an impact on|
|author||Who will author the report?||write|
|source||Who will source the material?||search for|
|progress||The minutes were progressed straightaway.||produced|
|task||We have been tasked to...||asked; given the job of|