Whether this will be your first college-level essay or your very last before you complete your degree, chances are, a few grammar, punctuation and style tips won’t hurt. Here are a handful of tips to make your paper as technically perfect as it can be.
First, it’s always a good idea to spell out the acronyms and abbreviations in your paper, at least the first time they’re used. Some very common acronyms, such as NATO and CEO, may not require explanation, though it’s wise to consider your audience when making this choice. If, for example, your audience is technical professionals, you may not need to spell out API or BPM, but if they’re laymen, the first time the abbreviation appears in your paper, spell it out, adding the abbreviation in parenthesis, then feel free to use the acronym on its own for the rest of the essay.
Italics or Underline?
Did you know that copy-editors used to underline text they wanted printed in italics, and underline italics they wanted removed? This is why you should choose either italics or underlining, never both, to add emphasis.
To Whom or to Who?
This is an easy rule of thumb if you’re unsure whether to use “who” or “whom” in a sentence. Remember that “who” is the subject (doing the action) and that “whom” is the object (something is being done to it).
Pause for a Comma, or Semi-Colon
Unsure where to add a comma? Read your sentence aloud, and where you pause for breath, add a comma. Do you need a longer pause? Add a semi-colon instead, but remember that both parts of the sentence (before and after the semi-colon) ought to be able to stand as sentences of their own. If it feels unnatural to pause in a particular spot, remove the comma.
Hyphen vs. M-dash
A hyphen is used to connect parts of the same word, such as father-in-law, one-up, and double-jointed. An m-dash (which looks about as long as two hyphens stuck together) is used to set off a clause. The m-dashes — like these — are an excellent way to add in an extra thought, but remember that without the clause between the m-dashes, the sentence should still make sense.
Check Your Tense
It’s easy to accidentally mix your tenses while writing. Be on the lookout for a change in tense as you’re writing, as they can confuse the reader and lead to a lower grade on your essay.
Possessive vs. Plural
This is another simple rule to keep in mind: an apostrophe ess is never used to form a plural; for example, “chicken’s” shows ownership, while “chickens” means “more than one chicken.” The apostrophe ess is only ever used to show possession.
The Oxford Comma
While the debate over whether or not to use an Oxford comma (or series comma) rages on, it’s a good idea for the sake of continuity and uniformity within your paper to decide from the start whether or not you’ll use one, then carry that decision throughout your essay.