Dr. Judith M. Newman

FAQs About Writing

When do you use a semi-colon to separate two independent clauses instead of a colon?

You use a semi-colon to separate two independent clauses when they are closely related in meaning. You use a colon to separate two independent clauses when the second explains or summarizes the first.

What is a comma splice? How can I correct one?

A comma splice error occurs when you use a comma to separate two independent clauses. This type of error can be corrected in several ways. First you could add a coordinating conjunction after the comma. Second, you could replace the comma with a semi-colon. Third, you could use a conjunctive adverb or transitional expression to join the two independent clauses.

Do I really need an engaging title?

Having an engaging (thought provoking) title isn't mandatory, but it certainly helps to get a reader's attention. Remember that a title can be informative, it can reveal your attitude toward the subject, and it can be used to introduce humour and/or irony.

When do I use "Works Cited" instead of "References" or "Bibliography" for my documentation page?

"Works Cited" is the title given to the page that contains all the cited sources when using MLA Style. "References" is the term used by many different documentation systems, including the APA system, as the heading for the list of sources cited. "Bibliography" is the broadest of the three terms, referring to a general list of information about sources.

My sentence is not grammatically parallel?

This means that two or more related items in your sentence are not in the same grammatical form. Parallelism is important because it creates rhythm in your writing.

ex. My brother Mike is handsome, intelligent, and has wealth.
revised: My brother Mike is handsome, intelligent, and wealthy.

What is a misplaced modifier?

A misplaced modifier means that that the modifier in the sentence is too far away from the word it modifies, leading to confusion.

ex. The teacher gave us advice about studying in his office.
[Was the teacher just giving advice about studying in general, or about where to study in particular?]

What is a dangling modifier?

A dangling modifier occurs when the modifier is not clearly linked to any other word in the sentence. The modifier is often left "dangling" at the beginning of the sentence.

ex. Sprinting after the taxi, my head began to ache.
[Was your head sprinting after the taxi?]

When I use quotation marks in a sentence, does my punctuation go inside or outside the quotation marks?

A general rule to follow is to put your punctuation inside the quotation marks if you are not using a citation. Put them outside the quotes and after the in-text parenthetical reference if, indeed, you are citing the source.

What is a sentence fragment?

A sentence fragment is a piece of a sentence punctuated as if it were a complete sentence. It is literally a "fragment" of a sentence.

Do I capitalize the first word after a colon?

It is acceptable to use an upper or lower case letter to begin a complete sentence after a colon. Simply be consistent with your technique throughout your writing.

If I'm using sources in my writing, and I find an interesting quote by John Smith in a book by Nancy Woo, who do I cite as my source? Should I cite Smith or Woo?

When quoting an indirect source like this, indicate either in your sentence that the quote is found in Woo or use "qtd. in" at the beginning of your parenthetical citation to indicate that you're relating Smith's words as he is quoted in Woo.