At times, writing an academic paper feels a great deal like a warrior going into battle. The preparation for the task helps keep you focus and ensures that you are well prepared. The task itself promises, what seem to the writer, as two possible outcome success or failure. It might seem that the process and writing is the true foe, however it’s not. The real battle begins when you are on the ground facing your biggest adversary. For the writer, the enemy can easily be writer’s block, a weak thesis, and an unorganized structure. These rivals severely damage the writer’s point by undoing the foundation of the argument. Similarly, warriors must arm themselves with a trusted weapon. For the writer this means our words that pierce the hearts of our readers. Wiser warriors protect themselves from injuries with a strong shield. Parallel to this idea, the writer must protect himself or herself with grammar.
As writers we often feel like grammar is a secondary to content. In a more idealistic world this could be the case, the content would be strong enough to stand on it’s own but one can also argue that unicorns would also inhabit this magical realm. Content of an academic paper needs the assistance of grammar to ensure your argument is unquestioned by the audience. Grammatical flaws are apparent to the readers like cracks on a wall, the foundation of the structure can be sound; however, the slightest crack will instill doubts upon the viewer.
Understandable you don’t have to be a grammar wizard in order to check your work. Truthfully speaking, many great writers such as T.S. Elliot, Robert Penn Warren, and F. Scott Fitzgerald had editors or friends that would look over their work. If these great writers needed another pair of eyes to check over their literary pieces, then you are justified in asking a friend to check your grammar.
Another option you have is coming to the Writing Center and setting up an appointment to meet with a tutor. The tutors at the Writing Center are not grammar fairies that will wave a wand and make all your grammatical errors disappear. Writing Center tutors look for structure, content, and grammatical patterns of errors.
What is a grammatical pattern of errors? Grammatical pattern of errors is a series of grammar mistakes that occur throughout your paper. Why on earth would we do that instead of fixing all grammatical errors in your paper? The reason as to why we search for grammatical patterns is to help you as a writer, to identify the error, understand the rule, and actively notice the error in your writing. This approach to grammatical error strengthens your ability as a writer by helping you to become an active editor in your own paper.
There are moments that I too find myself guilty of making a grammatical error repetitively within my paper. Once I have identified the error, I go to my copy of The Elements of Style; also known as ‘the little book’ of grammar rules. Next, I identify the rule I am breaking, then read the section, and examples that follow. Afterwards, I actively edit my paper by correcting that mistake and learning from it for future papers. Preferably, I would ask everyone to own a copy of The Elements of Style, as their one-stop guide on grammar rules, and ask that they carry it around like it is a love letter from Hugh Jackman. However, I am well aware that this might not be the case for some. For this reason, I strongly recommend the website, www.crockford.com/wrrld/style.html, it is a website version of the little book of grammar rules.
The website gives you hyperlinks to each grammatical rule for easy access to a direct section. For instances, let’s say your professor and writing tutors keep telling you to use active voice and you don’t have the slightest clue what they are talking about. All you would have to do is go to that website. On the main page it says The Elements of Style, scroll down and poof! You can see a hyperlink to a page called active voice. Once you click the link for active voice you will see a definition followed by examples. The website is exactly like the sections in the book without the pretty pictures.
My parting word, for my fellow writers out there, is to never forget your grammar shield when you are in battle. It is essential for your academic paper and will protect you when your content is in dire need. Just remember, “winter [final papers] is coming.”
This post was originally published on October 27, 2013.