Helpful Terms

Here are some terms that it is useful to know as a writing tutor. You should be able to recognize these terms when you see them in written feedback from professors or in the prompt for the assignment, and you should be able to define them for writers when needed.

Active voice: Places the emphasis on the person who is doing the action, rather than the object that is being acted on. Usually preferred by professors. Example: “The children ate the candy.” Also see Passive voice.

Adjective: “a word that describes a noun or a pronoun.”

Adverb: “a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree.” Many adverbs end in “ly,” so that can be an easy way to identify them.

Conjunction: “a word that joins together sentences, clauses, phrases, or words.” Examples include “and,” “but,” “or,” etc.

Comma splice: Joining two sentences with a comma but not a conjunction. To correct this, you can replace the comma with a period or semicolon, or you can add a conjunction.

Direct object:  “a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase which indicates the person or thing that receives the action of a verb.”

Dropped quotation: A quotation that has been introduced suddenly into a paper with no context. To correct this, you can incorporate phrases from the quotation into your sentence structure, use a Signal phrase, or Paraphrase.

Inclusive language: Language that includes and affirms all people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. It also avoids stereotypes. A common issue is failing to use gender-neutral language; don’t use “he” to refer to people in general. Instead, use “he or she” or make it plural to avoid the problem. Other words and phrases to avoid: “mankind” or “all men” when referring to humanity.

Noun: “a word that is the name of something (such as a person, animal, place, thing, quality, idea, or action).”

Parallel structure: Using the same types of grammatical units in a list. Example: “I like going to the beach, playing the violin, and eating Mexican food” not “I like going to the beach, playing the violin, and Mexican food.”

Paraphrase: The action of restating someone else’s ideas in your own words. Avoid using the same sentence structure as the original, and make sure to give credit to the original author.

Passive voice: Places the emphasis on the action or the object being acted upon rather than on the person who is doing the action. Example: “The candy was eaten by the children.” Try to avoid this construction in most circumstances. Also see Active voice.

Past tense: “a verb tense that is used to refer to the past.” Example: “Smith wrote.” Not to be confused with Passive voice.

Present tense: “a verb tense that is used to refer to the present.” Example: “Smith writes.”

Pronoun: A word such as “it,” “she,” or “we,” used to replace a noun or noun phrase.

Quote: The action of including someone else’s exact words in a paper. Quotations should always be enclosed in quotation marks. Only quote when someone expresses something so well that you cannot possibly put it better, or if you need to represent an opposing view accurately. Otherwise, Paraphrase.

Signal phrase: Phrases such as “According to Smith” or “As Rogers notes” which indicate you are going to introduce someone else’s words into your paper. See also Dropped quotation.

Subject/verb disagreement: When the subject of a sentence is plural but the verb is referring to a singular noun, or when the subject of the sentence is singular but the verb is referring to a plural noun. This is incorrect and should be avoided.

Summarize: The action of “using few words to give the most important information about something.” Similar to Paraphrasing but fits more information into less space.

Topic sentence: A sentence in a paragraph (usually the first sentence) which lets the reader know what the main point of the paragraph will be.

Transitions: Transitions from one idea, paragraph, or section, to another. The key to good transitions is showing the reader how your ideas are logically connected. An alternate way of thinking about transitions is that they “hook” onto some previous word, phrase, or idea to connect two paragraphs or sections.

Verb: “a word … that expresses an action, an occurrence, or a state of being.”


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