Three Easy Changes to Improve Your Essay

Ever feel totally lost/confused/frustrated when attempting to write a paper? Or even worse, when you finally get the graded version back? Although the majority of the time your paper quality depends on the amount of time you’re willing to put into it, a few small adjustments can go a long way. Here are three easy tips and tricks anyone can use from your friendly neighborhood English major:

Dangling Participles

When I say everyone is guilty of this – I mean everyone. You can even spot these sneaky guys in scholarly, peer-reviewed texts so I wouldn’t stress it too much. They can, however, make a huge difference when aiming for a more polished and professional style. In the most basic sense, a dangling participle is a participle intended to modify a noun which is absent in the clause. Luckily, there’s plenty of substitutes available to fix the problem:

Wrong:

Robert began to look at the woman, shifting his attention from his work.

Right:

Shifting his attention from his work, Robert began to look at the woman. OR

Robert began to look at the woman and shifted his attention from his work. OR

Robert began to look at the woman, which shifted his attention from his work.

However

As dangerous as she is compelling, ‘however’ is the femme fatale of conjunctive adverbs. While its versatility makes it a popular addition, ‘however’ should never come at the beginning of a sentence. When it appears between two complete sentences, it acts as an adverbial conjunction, and demands punctuation as such (a semi-colon before “however,” comma after).  An alternative (and it depends on the given sentences): bury “however” at a natural point in the sentence it has just begun, with a comma on either side.

Wrong:

Lisa wanted to go out. However, Michael did not want to do that.

Right:

Lisa wanted to go out; however, Michael did not. OR

Michael, however, did not want to do that.

Passive Voice

This is definitely the hardest mistake to catch; however, it’s useful to keep it in mind when writing in order to avoid excessive passivity. Passive voice can take many forms. In a passive voice construction, the grammatical subject of the clause receives the action of the verb. Passive voice tends to come across as indirect and anticlimactic, which can be particularly harmful in academic writing where the goal is to present a concise argument.

Wrong:

John is depicted by the novel as evil.

Right:

The novel depicts John as evil.

***Note: John is the subject and depicted is the verb; John is receiving the action of the verb rather than the novel.

For more tips from more qualified individuals check out McGill’s Writing Center! Rock on.

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