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Concise explanations for writing and communicating in the English language. No advertising. Mobile-friendly. Feedback welcome! Enjoy!

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Pronouns

Pronouns are words that are used in place of nouns. Example: The most common pronoun error involves placing the pronoun too far away from the noun that it is replacing (the antecedent). Example: The room spun and she had to prop herself against the wall to stay...

Know your audience – presentation skills

Presentation skills culture varies widely from industry to industry, organization to organization. In the absence of specific guidelines or expectations use our concrete guidelines to design and give great presentations. If possible, review examples of previous presentations given at your organization and adjust accordingly.

Three Keys for Better Slide Design

Create presentations that will impress your audience, not put them to sleep. These three simple tips will be useful for beginners and skilled presenters alike.

Adverbs of Place

Adverbs of place describe where something happens or is located. They can be used to answer the question "Where?" in a sentence. Here are some common adverbs of place: Here: in or at this place Example: I left my keys here on the table. (Here describes the location of...

Verb Usage: Present simple vs. present progressive

In English, we use the present perfect to describe things that are happening currently. We use the present simple for habits and actions that are repeated frequently, and for states. These two tenses can be used together.

Em-Dash

The em-dash (which is different from a hyphen), ironically, has a hyphen in its name. Em-dashes are used in place of parentheses or as an alternative to a comma, semicolon, or colon. If that sounds confusing, that’s okay—you’re not alone. The OED recommends avoiding...

Modal Verbs – An Overview for ESL Learners

Modal verbs are special verbs that are used to express various meanings like possibility, ability, permission, obligation, and necessity. They are different from other verbs because they do not have a past tense form and they do not take "-s" in the third person...

Lying With Charts

Mark Twain popularized the saying that, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Numbers seem objective. A chart seems authoritative. But most people’s numeracy and statistical knowledge is quite low. Which unscrupulous communicators can...

Designing Sentences Using the Mighty Colon (:)

When do you use the two dots vs. the dot and the comma? All answers: here.

“To Be” – An Overview for ESL Learners

The verb "to be" is one of the most versatile and important verbs in the English language. It is used as a main verb to describe the existence or presence of something or someone, and it can also function as an auxiliary verb to form various tenses, passive voice, and...

Balancing Repetition and Variety

As you learn to write in English, you will learn how to balance repetition and variety, to ensure cohesion. One strategy to accomplish this purpose is to vary the way you refer to people and things. After the first reference to a noun form, you can refer to it with pronouns and demonstratives until the topic changes.

Sentence Structure: Tag Questions

Tag questions are statements with questions attached at the end of them. Tag questions can be either real questions or confirmations of known information. These questions are used more frequently in spoken English, but they can be effective in writing as well.

Punctuation: The Basics

Punctuation doesn’t have to be complicated. If you can put periods at the ends of declarative sentences, question marks at the ends of questions, and the occasional comma between dependent and independent clauses, then you’ll be fine. If you’re a professional writer...

Started

You can start an engine, you can start a diet, and you can start a race, but try to avoid using words like “started,” “began,” or “almost” when describing simple activities. It can be confusing to the reader because it might not be clear if the activity was ever...

Article Use (a, an, the…)

Using articles appropriately is one of the most difficult grammatical points in English to master. It is not necessarily essential in speech, but it’s something that should be checked for when writing.

Commas

A writer can get by in most circumstances with only the most basic punctuation. Periods need to follow declarative sentences, question marks follow questions, exclamation points follow excited or shouted sentences, and quotation marks go around quotes and dialogue....

APA Paper Formatting with Sample & Comments

Summary of APA document formatting basics with a sample paper you can download from the Online Writing Lab at Purdue. The sample includes annotations explaining the various rules (PDF).

Homophones

Because English is a hybrid language of Old German, Latin (via French), some Greek, and a smattering of others, there are a few words that have different meanings, but sound the same. We call these words “homophones” and they can be very confusing for people learning...

Common vs Proper Nouns

Common nouns are words that refer to general things or ideas. They are not specific to any one particular thing and can be used to describe many different things of the same kind. Examples of common nouns include "dog," "book," and "table." Proper nouns, on the other...

Verb Usage: Future Verb Options

There are different purposes for writing about the future, and different verb types are used for these different purposes. Be careful to think about the reason behind your writing about the future, and choose the tense which both effectively communicates that reason.

ARGUMENT

ARGUMENT AND RHETORIC - THE KEY TO MOST ACADEMIC WRITING!

One of the largest challenges to moving from high school writing to more advanced work is the challenge to write something original. This doesn’t mean you have to invent some whole new theory of life, the universe, and everything. Rather, it means you have to make your reader think.

You can’t just regurgitate a bunch of facts from the internet or your class notes. So how do you turn the general idea of “Holden Caulfield is alienated from his community” into something original? Something that hasn’t been written about hundreds of times already?

Read on Macduff…

USING EVIDENCE

Using Evidence to Win the Day

After developing an original, argumentative thesis, using evidence well is the key to academic writing. Dirty secret: many readers (yes, including teachers) will forgive grammatical errors if you’ve got a compelling argument, have thought deeply about the right evidence to use, and analyze that evidence.

The two are inseparable, really. If you think deeply about evidence – whether key quotes from the novel you are reading or statistics on the subject of your research paper – chances are an interesting, original angle will dawn on you…

style

Write with Style

What does it mean to write with style? Particularly in an academic environment?

It doesn’t mean:

  • Using big words
  • Padding your writing to reach word/page minimums
  • Picking the right font

Writing teachers joke that “flow” is the “other four-letter ‘F’ word” because students use it as such a grab bag catch-all…

Writing style is difficult to articulate. If you’ve ever listened to a master comedian parse what makes something funny you’re in the right ball park.

The good news? Style in academic writing has some pretty concrete and, honestly, low barriers to entry.

Research & documentation

MLA, APA, Rules Rules Rules...

Presentation Skills

Presentation Skills

Presentation skills are crucial to success in today’s business world. While details change a lot from company to company and culture to culture, many skills are consistent: eye contact, slide design, handling questions.

Resumes & Cover Letters

Get a great gig with a differentiated resume

Fantastic tips and insights on writing modern, relevant resumes from 11trees’ partner Let’s Eat, Grandma – a resume writing and career coaching startup based in Austin, TX.