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Walden University Writing Center

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Live Webinar Events for October 2019

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Here's the schedule for another month of exciting and enlightening Live Webinar Events designed specifically for Walden University writers. Also, we're excited to present a brand new webinar session. Check it out below. To view each of our recorded session, check out our archive page here.

Title:NEW Webinar: Before You Write: Critical Reading Strategies for Academic Writers
Date:Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Time (Eastern):2:00PM - 3:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:Welcome to the Writing Center
Date:Thursday, October 10, 2019
Time (Eastern):1:00PM - 2:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:Prewriting Techniques: Taking the First Steps
Date:Tuesday, October 15, 2019
Time (Eastern):12:00PM - 1:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:APA Citations Part 2: Nontraditional Sources
Date:Monday, October 21, 2019
Time (Eastern):7:00PM - 8:00PM
Audience:All Students
Title:Introduce, Conclude, and Write the Abstract of Your Study
Date:Tuesday, October 29, 2019
Time (Eastern):2:00PM - 3:00PM
Audience:Doctoral Students Working on Final Capstone Draft

Walden University Writing Center

The Walden University Writing Center is home to a staff of trained, professional Writing Instructors and Dissertation Editors. The Writing Center's staff works with Walden University students' writing in one on one sessions, but also creates resources that can be used by students to enhance their own scholarly writing skills. As students come to the Writing Center with a variety of learning styles and preferences, the Writing Center's staff supports these students with a resources that appeal to the diversity of Walden U's body of students. 

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Grammar for Academic Writers: Can I Begin a Sentence with "And"?

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During my 7th grade year, my English teacher conducted a multi-month unit on sentence structure. We learned patterns of sentences with acronyms like SV, SSVV, DC, IC, and the list goes on. These acronyms explained the different structures a “correct” sentence could take, with S standing for subject, V standing for verb, DC standing for dependent clause, and IC standing for independent clause. (There were many more acronyms and structures, but I’ll stop there for now.) The approach was a continual drill practice of sentence construction, which at the time seemed terribly tedious, but all these years later these patterns stuck with me.

Grammar for Academic Writers

When I say “correct” sentence construction, I’m referring to more formal, academic writing and what is deemed correct in that context. I clarify because in our day-to-day use of language, whether it is spoken or written, we often don’t follow these formal, academic patterns. Some of us might think we do, but it’s a rare person who speaks with the same grammatical accuracy and formality with which they write. Additionally, in different genres of writing, a broader range of sentence structures are often used and considered appropriate. 

Here are a couple of ways I wrote sentences this week that didn’t follow one of correct structures I learned in my 7th grade English class:

  • I gave my daughter a strawberry. But she said didn’t like it even though she loved them yesterday. So I gave her a peach slice instead. And then she asked for a strawberry.
  • I cleaned our front windows in preparation for the party. But then my toddler woke up from her nap. Needless to say, I cleaned them again. (Can anyone else relate?)

The “problem” in these sentences, from an academic writing perspective, is that some of the sentences begin with the words and, but, or so. These words (and other coordinating conjunctions) should typically be used within sentences to connect ideas rather than used to begin a sentence. Beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction can lend an informal tone to the writing, therefore impacting scholarly voice. Additionally, these sentences would be deemed incorrect by my 7th grade English teacher.

The best fix for a sentence beginning with a coordinating conjunction is to either make a compound sentence, using the coordinating conjunction to connect the ideas, or to use a different connecting or transition word that is more suitable to begin a sentence. 

Here’s what each situation might look like:

Using a compound sentence instead of starting with a coordinating conjunction 

I gave my daughter a strawberry, but she said didn’t like it even though she loved them yesterday, so I gave her a peach slice instead. Then, she asked for a strawberry.

Using an alternative connecting word

I cleaned our front windows in preparation for the party. However, my toddler woke up from her nap. Needless to say, I cleaned them again.

While I imagine not all of us can remember back to middle school English class, especially if the teacher didn’t use the drill method, there’s plenty of hope to be had. You’re already on the right track to learn about and be on the lookout for sentences that begin with and, but, or so. For a more comprehensive explanation of sentence structures in scholarly writing, including compound sentences, view our Mastering the Mechanics 2 and 3 webinars.   

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Amy Bakke is a senior writing instructor and multilingual writing specialist at the Walden Writing Center. She enjoys researching cultural differences in education and considering how students with different educational perspectives and histories experience writing at Walden. In her non-work time, she’s outside (as much as possible in the Midwest) with her husband, toddler, and dog.  

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Grammar for Academic Writers: Essential Clauses

Whether you are a native or non-native English speaker, you may come across situations where you are unsure where to place commas in a sentence. Today, I’ll cover those phrases where you should not use a comma to surround supporting information—essential clauses—and discuss the difference between these and nonessential clauses. The decision to add a comma in these cases often depends on the meaning of the sentence, so it can require some reflection and detective work.

Grammar for Academic Writers

Here’s an example of an essential clause (bolded for emphasis):

The students who visited the writing center enhanced their confidence.

Here, we have an essential clause because we are explaining a specific group of students. Which students? The ones who visit the writing center.

You might be tempted in this example to use commas instead for something like this:

The students, who visited the writing center, enhanced their confidence.

Here’s where it gets tricky because both of these sentences are grammatically correct—they just have different meaning depending on if we use commas or not.

In the first example we mean specifically that the students who visited the writing center enhanced their confidence. This implies that there are other students who did not visit the writing center. In the second example, we mean that all the students visited the writing center and therefore their visit is not essential information to understanding our meaning—it’s nonessential, meaning we should surround it with commas.

Another way to think of this is if you are considering surrounding a clause with commas, try writing out the sentence without the information in the commas. If that sentences still conveys the meaning you intended, then you have a nonessential clause. However, if the sentence makes sense but doesn’t convey the meaning you intended, then it’s likely an essential clause and shouldn’t use commas.

An example will be helpful to illustrate this situation.

The assignment due Thursday was very difficult.

Let’s try the comma test:

The assignment, due Thursday, was very difficult à The assignment was very difficult.

So now we have a decision to make: Do we want to emphasize that it’s this specific assignment? In that case, we’ll keep it without commas. But if the date it’s due doesn’t impact the meaning we intend, we’ll add those commas.

Next time you’re wondering about comma placement and essential or nonessential information, consider your meaning and try this simple test!

Note that essential clauses can also be called restrictive clauses, whereas nonessential clauses can be called nonrestrictive clauses. Read more on our grammar page on this topic as well!

Claire Helakoski author image

Claire Helakoski is a writing instructor at the Walden Writing Center. Claire also co-hosts WriteCast, the Writing Center's podcast. Through these multi-modal avenues, Claire delivers innovative and inspiring writing instruction to Walden students around the world.

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Grammar for Academic Writers: Conjunction Functions

The overarching expectation of scholarly writing is that scholars provide readers with unique and complex arguments based on their synthesis and analysis of previous scholarship while also writing clear, sophisticated sentences in relation to those complex arguments. If that sounds easy to you, count yourself lucky! Whether English is your native language or not, once you begin to write about complex topics, writing itself can become more difficult because the ideas are more complex.

Scrabble board with Polish letters

In the Writing Center, I often work with students on clarifying their complex ideas by providing sentence structure revision recommendations. Some sentence structure issues I find students struggle with are conjunctions and, subsequently, semi-colon and comma use. In this blog post, I hope to help demystify conjunctions and related semi-colon and comma use.

As parts of speech, conjunctions serve to connect words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. The three types of conjunctions are coordinating conjunctions, paired conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions. Let’s take a look at each of these conjunctions!

Coordinating Conjunctions
Coordinating conjunctions are part of compound sentences which are sentences that have two independent clauses—independent clauses are complete sentences that have a subject, verb, and object. Since compound sentences have two independent clauses, if a writer wants to bring them together, they can do so in three ways: with a coordinating conjunction and a comma, with a coordinating conjunction and a semi-colon and a comma, and with semi-colon.

In the examples below, the highlighting and font correspond to the parts of the sentence: yellow highlighting in bold type is the subject of the sentence; green highlighting in underlined type is the verb of the sentence; blue highlighting in italicized type is the object of the sentence; grey highlighting in bold, underlined type is the coordinating conjunction of the sentence.

Coordinating Conjunction and a Comma
When two independent clauses—complete sentences with a subject, verb, and object—are brought together with a coordinating conjunction (such as “but” here), a comma is included before the coordinating conjunction.

Example: I like cinnamon lattes, but he prefers straight espresso.

Coordinating Conjunction and a Semi-colon and a Comma
Transition words, such as “however,” or “therefore,” might also serve as a coordinating conjunction in a sentence. When they do, they would be set off with both a semi-colon and a comma.

Example: I like cinnamon lattes; however, he prefers straight espresso.

No Coordinating Conjunction and a Semi-colon 
If two independent clauses are brought together without a coordinating conjunction or a transition word, then a semi-colon would be used.

Example: I like cinnamon lattes; he prefers straight espresso.

Paired Conjunctions
Now let’s take a look at paired conjunctions. Paired conjunctions are two words or phrases brought together to assist with making a point or to express alternatives. Note that paired conjunctions can create wordy sentences, so they shouldn’t be used often. Here are some examples of pared conjunctions:

both / and: Example: I like both cinnamon lattes and straight espresso.

either / or: Example: I could either have a cinnamon latte or a straight espresso.

not only / but also: Example: Not only do I like cinnamon lattes, but I also like straight espresso.

Subordinating Conjunctions
Finally, there are subordinating conjunctions. Subordinating conjunctions bring together a main clause and a subordinate clause to express the relationship between the two. There are two main ways subordinating conjunctions might be placed in a sentence—they might come after the main clause or before the main clause. There are many subordinating conjunctions, such as “until” and “while.”

Main Clause + Subordinate Clause  
I am cranky in the morning until I have my cinnamon latte.
I want a cinnamon latte while I wait for you.

Subordinate Clause + [comma] + Main Clause 
Note that when the subordinate clause comes before the main clause, a comma is used after the subordinate clause.

Until I have my cinnamon latte, I am cranky in the morning.
While I wait for you, I want a cinnamon latte.

Knowing how to use conjunctions, and subsequently, semi-colons and commas, can help ensure that readers are able to follow your arguments. The Writing Center has many resources on sentence structure and grammar to include our Mastering the Mechanics archived webinar series and our grammar modules where you can practice and test your knowledge of sentence structure and grammar.

What sentence structure, grammar, and or mechanics parts of speech do you struggle with? Also, let us know what tips you have for revising and proofreading for sentences for structure and clarity! 

Veronica Oliver author pic

Veronica Oliver is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.

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