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Writing & Study Skills: Writing Skills

Introduction

Visit The JIBC Writing Centre for information on drop-in sessions, peer tutor appointments, email service and workshop dates!

 

Check Out These Key JIBC Writing Centre Tip Sheets:

More information & tip sheets are in the boxes below!  From grammar and punctuation to writing critiques or literature reviews, a wealth of information awaits you. 

Tips

  • Buddy system – before submitting a paper, find someone who will look over your written work and suggest improvements

Guides (the information in this box is the same as that provided above)

Annotated Bibliographies

As a student, you are usually required to include a bibliography with every essay you write. But what is an Annotated Bibliography? How do I write one?

A bibliography is “a list of the books and articles that have been used by someone when writing a particular book or article” (Cambridge Dictionary). An annotated bibliography is a little different. It requires a list of cited sources, but also requires a short (about 150 words) explanation or opinion of the text you have included in the list.

Check the handy TIP SHEET below from the JIBC Writing Centre:

Read below for lots more help:

What Do I Include?

This will be determined by your instructor, but the following aspects will be included:

  • A citation – at JIBC, the standard citation method is APA, or American Psychological Association style
  • An annotation:
    • A short description of the content of the source
    • A reason why the source is relevant to the topic
    • Any strengths or weaknesses of the source
    • An evaluation of the reliability of the source
    • A description of your opinion of the source

There are different types of annotations to be aware of:

  • informative/descriptive annotation – description of the source without evaluating or judging the content
  • analytical/critical annotation – evaluation of the source’s content. To learn more about the evaluation process, check Critically Analyzing Information Sources (Cornell University).

One of the main reasons for doing an annotated bibliography is to show why a particular book or article is relevant to the topic you’re researching. Choosing articles or books to include is more than picking the first few that come up in a library or web search; evaluating the content before including it in your annotated bibliography is a huge part of the process.

Steps In Writing An Annotated Bibliography
  1. Choose sources that have a different perspectives on your topic
  2. Read the book(s) and/or article(s) related to your topic
  3. Summarize or evaluate the source, according to assignment requirements
  4. Cite your sources in APA format
General Guidelines
  • Write as an objective third person
  • Be specific and succinct; don’t write long sentences or unnecessary words.
  • Use direct language; avoid vague statements like “the book is good” or “the article is helpful” – explain why it is good or helpful.
  • Unless the author is well known, list his/ her qualifications and point of view.
An Example Of APA-Style Annotated Bibliography Entry

O’Connor, B. N., & Cordova, R. (2010). Learning: The experiences of adults who work full-time while attending graduate
      school part-time.  Journal of Education for Business, 85(6), 359-368. DOI: 10.1080/08832320903449618

In this study, the researchers examined how employed adults dealt with the addition of part-time graduate studies to work schedules and life demands. This study is distinct because very little research has been done about part-time graduate students. Using a modified phenomenological research approach, the researchers gathered qualitative data through both face-to-face interviews and phone interviews. The major finding was that, despite pursuing degrees relevant to their professional lives, all students found their workplaces resistant to proposals learned in school. However, the researchers surveyed only 6 individuals; therefore, these results may not be statistically significant. However, this study is relevant because it provides future researchers with a methodology for determining the impact of adding part-time graduate studies to the schedule of fully-employed adults.

More Examples:

Book Reviews

"A book review is a critical assessment of a book. It describes and evaluates the quality and significance of a book and does not merely summarise the content." Massey University, New Zealand 

Critiques

A critique is a paper that gives a critical assessment of a book, article, or other medium. It combines both a summary and critical comment (requiring analysis and evaluation) on the content.

Organizing Your Critique

A critique should have an introductionbody and conclusion.

 Introduction  
  • Identify the article you are reviewing, including the title of the text, the author’s name and their expertise in the field being addressed in the article.
  • Identify the purpose and context (background information or shared knowledge) in which the article was written.
    • Background material might include: an explanation of why the subject is of current interest; a reference to a possible controversy surrounding the subject of the passage or the passage itself; biographical information about the author; an account of the circumstances under which the passage was written; or a reference to the intended audience of the passage.
  • Summarize the author’s purpose and main points/evidence cited that are used for back up.
  • Write a statement that asserts your main point–your evaluation of the article–and shows the direction you will pursue in your discussion (your thesis statement).
Body
  • Identy and analyze the key points made in the text.
  • Evaluate the validity of the evidence used to support each point. Decide whether the conclusions which are reached are convincing when applied in a general sense as well as in the specific situations described in text. This should include both the strengths and weaknesses of the claims made in the article.
  • Use about three to five points to support your thesis statement depending on the length of the assignment.  The criteria below should serve as a guide to help you select your points.
 Conclusion 
  • State your conclusions about the overall validity of the piece—your assessment of the author’s success at achieving his or her aims and your reactions to the author’s views.
  • Remind the reader of the weaknesses and strengths of the passage.

Recommended site to visit:

What Criteria Can Be Used For Evaluating?

The following questions provide some ideas to help you evaluate the text:

Background:

 
What is the nature of the article? Who wrote it and what are her/his qualifications for writing it?

Purpose:


 

Why was the article written?

What is its purpose?

What are the objectives of the article?    

Who is the intended audience?           

How well does the article suit its audience/purpose?

What kind of material is presented to achieve those objectives?

What is the significance of the article?

How does it relate to other materials on the same subject?

Thesis:

 

What is the writer’s position?

Is it stated directly and clearly?

What are the writer’s key assumptions?

Are they explicit or implicit?

Do you detect biases?

Are the assumptions and biases obvious, or are they hidden behind a stance of neutrality and objectivity?
(An assumption is a belief about something. It is often not stated by a writer. Assumptions underlie all human behavior. For example, when you go to your classroom, you assume your teacher will show up. You should critically examine all assumptions, even those in sync with your own.)

Evidence:                   

 

What does the writer provide to support her/his position?

What are the writer’s specific arguments?

Is the evidence believable? Authoritative? Sufficient? Logical or emotional? Are you convinced?

Refutation:

 
Does the writer present her/his thesis as the only reasonable position?
Or has the writer clearly and fairly presented any opposing sides?

Has the writer shown the opposing arguments to be invalid?

Has the writer overlooked any possible opposition?

Are there any potential points for/against the argument that the author has omitted? 

Appeal:

 

What is the appeal of the article?        

What are some of its most striking or illuminating qualities?

What new insights does the text provide?

What, if any, are its striking deficiencies?

Where do I agree/disagree with the author?

What is the writer’s style or tone? Authoritative? Speculative? Reasonable? Suggestive?

What kind of language does the writer use? Does it add to her/his credibility?

What, if any, new problems has the text presented?

What personal values/beliefs does the text challenge or reinforce?

 

Two Common Structures Used For Critiques

The following are a couple suggested structures for your critique:

Example 1

Example 2

Introduction Overview of the text

Evaluation of the text

  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
  • Point 4…(continue as necessary)

Conclusion

Introduction (with thesis)

Point 1: Explanation and evaluation

Point 2: Explanation and evaluation

Point 3: Explanation and evaluation(continue elaborating as many points as necessary)

Conclusion

Essays

Essay writing for college involves a few steps. Each step is equally important and skipping steps or not allowing yourself enough time to complete each step will result in a less impressive paper.

If you don’t have a lot of experience writing essays, get used to following these steps each time you write an essay until you develop a system that works best for you. You should remember that starting an essay the night before it is due is not enough time to write an excellent paper.

Step 1: Preparing to Write

This may seem like common sense, but preparation before you actually start writing is a key part of writing a paper. Read over your assignment and make sure you know exactly what your instructor wants from you. If there’s anything you’re unsure of, this is the time to ask for clarification. Things to be aware of:

  • how many pages or words are required?
  • how many sources are required?
  • what types of sources are acceptable?
  • when is the assignment due?
  • how much is the assignment worth?

This is the stage to start mapping out your ideas for your paper. Your instructor may have a very specific topic to write about or may allow you to choose your own topic. Make sure you’re clear about what you’re hoping to prove and write some notes for yourself about the topic. You don’t need to do a lot of writing; this is just the stage where you’re deciding your topic. Write a very short outline of what you think you may find or to keep track of what you already know about your topic. The next step will help you narrow your topic even more and see if your thesis statement or the main point you’re hoping to prove can be supported.

Step 2: Researching

Usually your instructor wants you to include certain types of information sources to support your thesis. If you’re used to finding all your information from Google, you may find this step more challenging in college. Most instructors expect more thorough research for academic courses and the JIBC Library should be your first stop for research. Besides books specific to your courses, the Library has subscriptions to academic journals and article databases that will meet the requirements from your instructor and help you write a stronger paper. There may also be a subject guide for your course that will give tips on researching. Librarians can help you if you’re not sure how to get started, or check through the Research Help page.

Choosing the best search terms is the hardest part of researching. Books and articles are described by people who organise information, so they use standard descriptions to make finding materials easier. A few tips:

  1. avoid using a, an, the, of, and other short linking words. These are not useful in searches and can make your results less accurate
  2. avoid verbs like “describe,” “discuss,” “compare,” or others. Concentrate on descriptive keywords for more accuracy
  3. put two or more keywords together by using “and” and “or” to narrow or broaden your search (e.g. leadership AND Canada)
  4. think of synonyms for your keywords so you can try different combinations of search terms. Keep track of the words and combinations in case you have to do your research over a few days

Once you’ve found some information sources, skim through each to figure out if they will be useful for your essay. Is it related to your topic? Is this source reliable? How current is this information? Does the information fall in one of the areas of your outline? Even if the information contradicts your thesis, make a note of it in case you decide to change your point of view during the writing step.

Make sure you’ve kept excellent notes on where all your information came from so you can more easily put your bibliography together. See the JIBC’s APA Guide if you’re not sure how to cite your sources. At the very least, make sure to write down the following pieces of information about each source you look at, even if you don’t use it in your first draft:

  • author
  • title
  • date of publication
  • page numbers
  • edition number, for journal articles
  • publisher
  • place of publication
  • where you found it, for journal articles
Step 3: Writing

This is the time to synthesize or combine all the information you found and the ideas that you’ve developed from your research into written form. Start with a first draft of your essay, adding in everything you listed on your outline. Make sure you’ve stated your thesis, or the main point you’re trying to prove in your paper, in the opening paragraph or the introduction.

Arrange your ideas into separate paragraphs and your paragraphs into a logical order. Include your introduction, the body of the essay that supports your thesis statement, and a conclusion to summarise your findings or research.

When you’ve completed your first draft, read through your paper critically or have someone else read your paper and give feedback. Often a tutor, a friend, or even an instructor will agree to read a first draft and let you know how to improve on it. The second draft should fix all the issues or changes from the first draft review. Ask yourself the following questions during this review:

  • Have you included everything your instructor required?
  • Did you answer what you stated you would in the Introduction?
  • Does the flow of information support your argument in a clear way for the reader?
  • Is there a balance between analysis and facts?
  • Is your thesis or argument clearly supported by your research?
  • Have you made grammar or spelling errors?
  • Is the writing style clear?
  • Did you answer the thesis statement in the Conclusion?
  • Have you forgotten anything?
  •  

Executive Summaries

Executive writing is different than academic writing! An executive summary is a “quick preview” of a report’s contents. It is often the only source of information used by decision-makers to reach significant decisions.

Executive summaries are literally written for an executive, or decision-maker, who most likely DOES NOT have the time or inclination to read the original document.  They will be reviewing your findings and looking at your recommendations. 

So, make sure your executive summary includes all the pertinent information. Think about what an executive would need to know in order to make a decision about changing a policy, undertaking an action, or spending money and then provide that information as specifically and concisely as you can.

Purpose

An Executive Summary aims to:

  • Provide a brief overview of the whole document so that executives or managers could read the executive summary alone without the accompanying document
  • Allow the reader to quickly understand the information contained in the document
  • Help readers draw conclusions and make decisions based on the data
  • Persuade the reader that the document is worthy of being read
Simple Rules
  • Give readers the essential contents of your document in a small quantity of pages (typically 5-10% of the total document). Check with your instructor concerning the word length.
  • The summary should be original: don’t copy and paste sentences from the full report
  • Use bullet points, subtitles, or selective bolding to improve clarity and to make it easier for the reader to skim
  • Use active verbs, “we will do it” not “it will be done by us”
  • Be concise: remove all unnecessary words; omit lengthy transitions and examples
  • The summary should not have reference citations
  • The language should be for the general, educated reader, not for the technical expert
    • Avoid highly technical language, and briefly define any technical terms you must use
    • Spell out any uncommon symbols, abbreviations, or acronyms
    • Avoid jargon, legalistic words, and bureaucratic language
  • The summary should communicate independently of the report. Ask someone not familiar with the report to read your executive summary to see if it makes sense.
Format

Executive Summaries are provided on a separate page at the beginning of the report before the Table of Contents.  They should cover in brief statements the aim of the report, methods used, major findings and conclusions/recommendations.

1. State the purpose/aim of the report. For example:

The main purpose of this report is to…
The main objectives of this report are … 
It is the purpose of this document to …

Make sure you present the main message of the document.

2. Describe the procedure that you used. Outline the methods you used to analyse the situation.

3. Provide the results of the study. The major findings may include a number of sentences.  What did you observe, discover or understand?

4. Conclusions and recommendations should also be provided.  This is the most important part of your Executive Summary.  Provide a concise statement of the conclusion you reached after conducting your analysis and/or research.  Provide a specific recommendation for action geared toward your audience.

Examples and Additional Resources

Literature Reviews

A good literature review shows the reader (your instructor) that you have done the background reading around your topic and that you've understood the important issues around your topic.

Check the handy TIP SHEETS below:

Read below for lots more help:

What Is A Literature Review?

A literature review:  A literature review is NOT:
  • Focuses on a specific topic – your argument or problem as stated in your thesis
  • Compiles the research that has been published on the topic by recognized scholars and researchers
  • Informs the reader about the current concepts and state of research on the topic and any controversies
  • Describes the pros and cons of particular studies and may suggest areas for further research
  • Organizes the citations thematically into a narrative that can serve as the introduction to your report or that can be an individual essay
  •  A literary review describing and evaluating a specific book, poem, play, etc.
  • An exhaustive, alphabetical list of every work consulted in your research, nor a list of references cited
  • An annotated bibliography listing references and adding a brief notes about the value of each source
Resources: 
Content Of The Review

A literature review should contain an introduction, a body and a conclusion, and should be centered on a main idea or argument about the literature you are reviewing. Section headers are useful to highlight the main points for the reader; however the different sections should flow together.

Section:  
Introduction Your introduction (usually approx. ½ – ¾ page) will not only present the main topic, but will also make a statement about the status of knowledge in this area of research. This usually involves reporting what is known about a topic and what is problematic about it. Knowledge deficits are crucial to literature reviews—such deficits are usually spoken about in terms of effects on particular populations, gaps in the research, and other contexts where the research could be useful. Additionally, your introduction will include a statement that outlines what issues within the broader topic (main ideas and subtopics) will be presented and in what order. Sources are often identified in this section but don’t have to be.
Body
In order for your reader to move through your information with ease while keeping the big picture in view, order your body paragraphs in the same way that you did in the statement about how your literature review will proceed. Order the main ideas from general to specific, deciding which sources have contributions to make to which concepts. You will then present more specific information from the sources, using in-text citation, to discuss the main ideas in more detail and to point out areas of agreement or debate among sources. Your body paragraphs should work to not only summarize what sources have said, but to demonstrate relationships between them.
Conclusion You should conclude (about ¾ to 1 page) by reminding readers of the main topics and sub topics by identifying points of consensus and debate that have been presented in your literature review. Identify new possibilities for knowledge making, new gaps in knowledge—what else could be looked at now that scholars know this information? Are there other contexts that need to be examined? Gaps in the research so far? You also want to include statements about what communities are best served by this knowledge—where and for whom is the information most relevant?
Resources:
Some Possible Ways Of Structuring A Literature Review
OPTION 1 OPTION 2
I. Introduction
II. Article X
a) Summarize the article (when and how was the study done, what was
its key focus, etc.).
b) Describe in detail what the article says about:
    a) Sub-issue #1 (e.g., gender)
    b) Sub-issue #2 (e.g., lifestyle)
    c) Sub-issue #3 (e.g., diet)
Article Y
(Same procedure)
Article Z
(Same procedure)
III. Compare, Contrast and Critique
a) What all three say about sub-issue #1
b) What all three say about sub-issue #2
c) What all three say about sub-issue #3
IV. Draw Conclusions, by answering these questions:
    So what?
    Where do I stand now?
    Where does this leave us?
    What next? 
I. Introduction
II. Brief Summaries (perhaps one paragraph for each of the articles, X, Y
and Z)
III. Compare, Contrast and Critique what the three articles say about:
    Sub-issue #1 (e.g., gender)
    Sub-issue #2 (e.g., lifestyle)
    Sub-issue #3 (e.g., diet)
IV. Draw Conclusions
Resources:
Sample Literature Reviews:

Note-taking

As your instructor speaks, you need to figure out what’s important and what isn’t in a very short timeframe. Studies have shown that students who take notes do significantly better on exams, even if they don’t review.

It takes practice writing useful notes in class, but there are a few steps you can follow to take notes well.

How to Organize
  • Read the course syllabus for the day so you know generally what the lecture will be about
  • Write the course name, the day’s topic and the date and number your pages
  • Listen for the main idea, topic or rule
  • Listen for supporting information, such as examples or explanations to give a clearer understanding of the topic
  • Check the lecture against the course readings. Is your instructor reviewing the textbook or are the ideas completely new to you? If the lecture is largely based on the textbook or other readings, try to read ahead so you’ll be able to add to the notes you’ve already written. If the information in class is not covered in the readings, you’ll want to take fuller notes.
  • Develop a way of organizing your notes. One suggestion is to include the main topic; take brief notes related to ideas, statements and conclusions on that topic; and fill in any details that support the topic, such as examples and explanations.
  • Don’t write notes about something you already know unless new information is included.
  • Re-read your notes at the end of the class and fill in any additional information that you recall. The sooner the better, as your memory will fade in less than 24 hours.
  • Design shorthand. This means using shortened words or symbols for common words. For example, using ‘~4′ could mean ‘around 4′ or ‘*’ could mean ‘ing’.
  • Attach handouts to your lecture notes. This will give context or meaning to what you’ve written.
Symbols for note-taking

& and
= equals/is equal to/is the same as
≠ is not equal to/is not the same as
∴ therefore, thus, so, because
+ and, more, plus
> more than, greater than
< less than
— less, minus
→ gives, causes, leads to, results in,
is given by, is produced by, results from
! surprising fact

Resources:

Paragraph Structure (PEEL)

Use the PEEL technique to structure your paragraphs.

Check the handy TIP SHEET below from the JIBC Writing Centre.

Proofreading & Editing

Imagine this – your instructor reading your assignment out loud:

Simple mistakes can make you lose valuable marks on an assignment or essay, mistakes that can be easily prevented by proofreading your work. Proofreading is “to read and mark corrections” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Basically, it’s reading through your paper to catch any careless mistakes in spelling or grammar.

Proofreading is relatively easy: read your paper or assignment out loud. Does it sound right? Does everything make sense? Do you notice any spelling mistakes while you’re reading? Are you missing any punctuation? Reading through your paper will catch any errors the spellcheck didn’t catch. You may also want to leave the paper overnight and re-read it in the morning to have fresh eyes looking at it, or have someone else read it.

Editing is a little different from proofreading. With proofreading, you’re mainly looking at basic grammar and spelling errors; with editing, you’re looking at the paper in a broader sense to make sure it meets your assignment requirements and is properly structured. The editing process should begin right after you complete your first draft.

During the editing process, ask yourself:

Structure

Does the essay have an introduction and conclusion? Is my thesis clearly stated in the introduction? Do all paragraphs relate to the thesis? Are the paragraphs organized logically? Does each paragraph have a point? Am I within my word/page limit?

Content

Have I met all the assignment requirements? Do I support my thesis or argument? Is my argument complete? Is my argument consistent? Have I provided evidence to support my claims? Are there any points missing? Have I checked all my facts?

Style

Have I added my own voice/analysis to the information I’m using? Am I using the correct tense (past, present, future)? Am I writing in a passive voice too much? Have I added unnecessary words? Have I avoided run-on sentences? Do I repeat the same word (verb or adjective) constantly? Does the phrasing make sense?

Citations/References

Have I referenced my sources in APA style? Does each fact have an in-text citation? Does each citation have a corresponding entry on the References page? 

Colons and Semi-Colons

Familiarize yourself with how to use both colons ( : ) and semicolons ( ; ) in academic writing.

Colons

Colons may be followed by a phrase, a list, a quotation, or even another independent clause.

1. Lists

The colon is used to introduce a list after a complete sentence.

We have three levels of government: municipal, provincial and national.

The biscuit recipe calls for these ingredients: flour, butter, baking powder, and milk.

Although the battle at Dieppe was a disaster, it served some useful purposes: it distracted the enemy from the Eastern front, it taught the Allies about the importance of reconnaissance, and it gave the inactive Canadian troops in Britain something to do.

2. Long Quotations

Colons are also used to introduce long quotations.

Bettelheim (1975) explains the importance of fairy tales to children’s development:

Today, as in the past, the minds of both creative and average children can be opened to an appreciation of all the higher things in life by fairy tales, from which they can move easily to enjoying the greatest works of literature and art. (p. 23)

Note: Colons should be used sparingly, especially as a means of introducing single sentence quotations. Rather, try to integrate the quotation into the syntax of your sentence.

3. Connect two sentences if the second is a restatement or further explanation of the first.

Minds are like parachutes: they only work when they are open.

I devised a new exercise plan: I would get up early and jog every morning.

4. Other Uses of the Colon

The other uses of the colon are very specific.

 i) Colons are used to follow salutations in formal and business letters.

 Dear Dr. Jones:

 ii) Colons are used between the hour and the minutes in time expressions.

 6:45 p.m.

He ran the marathon in 4:27:53.

 iii)  Colons are used between main titles and sub-titles.

A book I found very useful for writing my paper was Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.

Common Errors in Colon Use

1.  A colon should not come after a verb like is or are. This is wrong because a complete sentence is needed before a colon.

This is wrong:

The causes of Cathy’s success are: her intelligence, her hard-working approach, and her high level of motivation.

Explanation: “The causes of Cathy’s success are” is not a complete sentence.

This is fine:

Cathy is successful for a number of reasons: her intelligence, her hard-working approach, and her high level of motivation.

Explanation: “Cathy is successful for a number of reasons” is a complete sentence.

You may see examples of colons being used after incomplete sentences in novels, newspapers and magazines, but in formal academic writing, you must have a complete sentence before a colon.

2. A colon cannot be used to introduce a list in the middle of a sentence, only at the end of a sentence.

This is wrong:

John bought some groceries: tea, eggs and lettuce, for his mother.

This is fine:

John bought his mother some groceries: tea, eggs and lettuce.

3.  A colon cannot be used to separate complete sentences. A semi-colon (;) is used for that.

This is wrongHe loves her: she loves him.

This is fineHe loves her; she loves him.


Semicolon

The semicolon is the most misused and misunderstood piece of punctuation. Essentially, semicolons exist only to join independent clauses (i.e., complete sentences). Picture it as a period sitting on top of a comma. The period signals that the semicolon must be preceded by an independent clause; the comma indicates that the semicolon intends to link related elements into a single sentence.

In order to use a semicolon, the sentences must not only be short but also have an obvious connection in meaning.

Anna loves figure skating; she hates hockey.

He loves her; she loves him.

Frank burnt himself; he still has the scar.

 1.   Between two complete thoughts before a transition word or phrase

When a conjunctive adverb (e.g., however, nevertheless, therefore, thus) or a transitional phrase (e.g., for instance or in fact) appears between two independent clauses, it must be preceded by a semicolon, and is usually followed by a comma.

Bring your I.D. card; otherwise, you won’t be allowed in.

She does a lot of traveling between semesters; for example, on the last semester break, she went to Mexico.

Princess Leia senses a mystic connection with Luke Skywalker; in fact, she is his sister.

Subordinators (e.g. because, when) and coordinators (e.g. and, or, but, so, for, yet) cannot be used with a semi-colon. However, a semicolon may take the place of one of these joining words.

 2.    Between items in a list

Usually commas are used to separate items in a list. However, sometimes commas are needed within items in a list; in those cases, semicolons are used to separate the listed items.

I am struggling to decide what university to attend: U.B.C., which has a big beautiful campus; S.F.U., which is close to my home; or U.C.F.V., which is smaller and more personal.

Commas 

A general rule of thumb – when a pause is needed in a sentence for the meaning to be clear, you probably need a comma. Many people rely on this rule of thumb entirely. However, the rule of thumb method does not always work.

Check the handy TIP SHEET below from the JIBC Writing Centre:

Read below for lots more help:

The 6 Rules For Using Commas 

1. Commas separate introductory parts of sentences from the main sentence.

A comma is used after introductory words, phrases or clauses. Another way to look at it is that commas come before the main subject of a sentence. In this way, the comma is a sign to the reader that the main subject is coming.

WordsUnfortunately, our picnic was rained out.
PhrasesLaughing to himself, he drew a cartoon. 
At 6:00, the family sat down to dinner.  
In conclusion, the law needs to be changed. 
ClausesAfter she finished her paper, she fell into bed and slept. 
If I won the lottery, I would travel. 
Because we had never met, we felt awkward at first.

2. Commas separate items in a list of 3 or more items. (optional commas before the coordinator/item)

She invited AmandaAmyNick and Claire to her party. 
Strawberrieswatermelon and apricots are my favorite fruits. 
A student has to go to classtake notesread textbooks and write exams
The shift changes at midnighteight in the morning and four in the afternoon.

Note: In these lists, a comma has not been used before the and. However, some people prefer to use commas before the and.

For example:

She invited Amanda, Amy, Nick, and Claire to her party.
Although either with or without the comma is acceptable, it is good to be consistent.

3. Commas are used with coordinators (and, so, but, for, yet, or, nor) to separate two complete ideas.

A comma is used before a coordinator which joins two independent clauses. An independent clause expresses a complete thought, like a simple sentence. The only coordinators are forandnorbutoryet, and so.

A good way to remember these coordinators is to remember the phrase FAN BOYS.

For They went to a fancy restaurant, for it was his birthday. 
And He ordered salmon, and she ordered pasta. 
Nor He didn’t have soup, nor did he order anything to drink. 
But She wanted to have oysters, but the restaurant had run out of them. 
OWould you like dessert, or would you prefer to get your bill? 
Yet They loved the chocolate cake, yet the pieces were too big to finish.
SThe service was excellent, so they left a big tip.

Note: The comma is optional when both independent clauses are short.

Remember that commas are used only when the coordinator joins two separate subject/verb combinations. If a sentence has one subject with two verbs, you should not use a comma.

For example, She sat down and ordered a coffee.

This does not need a comma as there is only one subject.

Similarly, if the sentence has two subjects but only one verb, no comma is used.

For example, The angry woman and her crying children left the store without any groceries.

4. Commas separate words that interrupt the flow of a sentence.

When information is added to a sentence and that information interrupts the flow of ideas of the sentence, commas are used to separate the interruption from the rest of the sentence.

Here are some examples:

Julie Payette, for example, is an excellent role model for girls. 
Marc Garneau, on the other hand, is famous because he was Canada’s first astronaut. 
John A. McDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, had a drinking problem. 
Justice Institute of British Columbia is in New Westminster, B.C.’s first capital
A salmon, its sides gleaming, struggled up the river. 
Nick, who struggled with grades in high school, is doing quite well in college. 
Many downtown eastside residents use the Carnegie Centre, which sits at Hastings and Main.

To decide whether something is an interrupter, you should try taking those words out of the sentence. If you can take them out and the meaning of the sentence is still clear, you have an interrupter. However, if you take the words out and the meaning is no longer clear, there is no interrupter, and you don’t need commas.

For example:

Sir Wilfred Laurier, who was a past prime minister of Canada, is pictured on our five dollar bill.

Notice that if you take out who was a past prime minister of Canada, the meaning of the main sentence is still clear. Who was a past prime minister of Canada is extra information, not essential to understanding the main sentence. Even without it, we know whose picture is on the five dollar bill.

However, look at this sentence:
The man who lives down the street got arrested.

Notice if you take who lives down the street out of this sentence, you don’t know anymore who was arrested. Who lives down the street is needed to identify the man. For this reason, who lives down the street is essential information, and no commas are used.

5. Commas separate a direct quotation from the rest of a sentence.

Commas separate direct quotes from your own writing.

She said, “Pasteur really made a difference.” 
Expect snow overnight,” predicted the TV weather reporter. 
Hockey,” explained Sam, “is my favorite winter sport.”

Commas are used when you directly quote a complete idea. When only a word or phrase is quoted, you don’t need commas.

She described the television as an “idiot box."

Commas are also not used when you report what someone said using indirect speech.

Sam explained that hockey was his favorite winter sport.

6. Commas separate components of dates, numbers and addresses.

Time: September, 1980
January 1, 2000
Monday, June 14, 1999
4:30, December 31
6:42 a.m., July 27, 1985
Numbers: 1, 364
23,900,000

Note that commas with numbers have become optional in science and mathematics.

Place: Paris, France
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan
3652 Main Street, Vancouver
700 Royal Ave., New Westminster, BC, V3L 5B2, Canada

Proofreading For Commas

The most straightforward way to proofread for commas is to read your writing out loud. When you need to pause slightly to make the writing make sense, you probably need a comma. However, be cautious because over-use of commas is a more common problem than under-use. Whenever you are in doubt about whether a comma is needed, refer back to the rules in this handout to help you make your decision.  Remember that when you have a list of two items in a list, there is not a comma before the second item.

 

For Further Practice:

Fragments/Run-ons/Comma Splices

Some writers may write sentences that contain two complete ideas, punctuated only with a comma or with no punctuation at all. Both are wrong.

complete sentence (also known as an independent clause) is a sentence that can stand on its own.

run-on sentence, or a comma splice, occurs when two complete sentences are written together with no punctuation or with only a comma to separate them.

Look at the sentences below. They are examples of run-on sentences and comma splices.

  1.  She walked the dog he fed the cat.
  2. She walked the dog, he fed the cat. [comma splice]
  3. I’ve always wanted to go to Reno it’s wonderful there.
  4. I’ve always wanted to go to Reno, it’s wonderful there. [comma splice]
  5. My father designs and installs wind turbines he travels all over the Saudi Arabia as an energy consultant

    Notice that we have two ideas in two independent clauses: 
    My father installs and designs wind turbines
    He travels all over Saudi Arabia as an energy consultant.
To fix a run-on sentence, determine where one MAIN IDEA ends and another one begins. Run-on sentences can be corrected in 3 ways:

1. You can insert a period to make the two complete sentences separate.

Example:

She walked the dog. He fed the cat.

2. You can insert a semi-colon. Only use a semi-colon if the two sentences are closely related.

Example:

I’ve always wanted to go to Reno; it’s wonderful there.

3. You can add a word such as and or therefore after inserting a comma or a semi-colon.

These words will need a comma before the word: and, but, for, or, nor, yet, so.

Words such as however, nevertheless, therefore, finally, etc. will need a semi-colon and a comma.

Example:

She walked the dog, and he fed the cat.

I’ve always wanted to go to Reno; however, I haven’t gone yet.

Try some practice exercises:
 

Research Questions: How to Write

A research question takes you beyond simple facts about a given topic; it is an inquiry into a specific issue or problem. Once you have an idea of what you want to study, your first step in the research process is to articulate your research question. The research question guides you continuously as you write a paper, forms the basis of your research activities, and underlies your hypothesis or thesis statement.

A research question should be:
  • Clear – recognizable and explicit; there is little chance of misunderstanding or ambiguity
  • Focused – a central purpose or interest, rather than a topic that is too broad
  • Concise – the question is briefly stated; the question is phrased with precise language
  • Complex – requires analysis and thinking. If it’s easy to answer, it’s not a research question
  • Arguable – why does this question matter? What evidence will support or refute your claim?
Thanks to Mount Saint Vincent University for sharing this information
 
Excellent sites to visit:

Systematic Reviews

According to Chandler et al. (2020), "systematic reviews seek to collate evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. They aim to minimize bias by using explicit, systematic methods documented in advance with a protocol" (Key Points section).

Chandler, J., Cumpston, M., Thomas, J., Higgins, J. P. T., Deeks, J. J., Clarke, M. J. (2020, September).  Chapter 1: Introduction.  In J. P. T.

Higgins, J. Thomas, J. Chandler, M. Cumpston, T. Li, J. J. Page, & V. A. Welch (Eds.),  Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of

interventions (version 6.1).  Cochrane.

Take a few minutes and view this video [Time: 3:26]

Thesis Statements

Many papers you write require developing a thesis statement. Here you'll learn what a thesis statement is and how to write one.

Check the handy TIP SHEET below from the JIBC Writing Centre:

Read below for lots more help:

What Is A Thesis Statement?

The thesis is a key sentence in your paper; it tells your reader about the paper’s focus. Because thesis statements should be short and focused, they should usually only be one sentence long.

The thesis almost always comes as the final sentence of the first paragraph (the introduction).

The thesis idea usually appears again in the first sentence of the conclusion (although in different words). This reminds the reader of your point and allows the reader to evaluate how well you have developed and supported your point-of-view.

Two Types Of Thesis Statements

There are two general types of thesis statements:

  1. the “Point-of-View” thesis, which presents an argument or case to be made.
  2. the “Scope” thesis, which simply outlines the scope of the paper.
The “Point-of-view” Thesis

This type of thesis makes one main point which can also be described as the key insight you are explaining, the central argument you are putting forward, the case you are arguing, or the claim you are making. The purpose of your entire paper is to provide evidence and explanation that back up the thesis. 

A “point-of-view” thesis should be:

Suitable

  • Make sure your topic and thesis stem directly from the assignment instructions for the paper.
  • Make sure it connects to key concepts you are learning in the course.

Specific/focused/limited:

  • The thesis needs to focus your paper on a specific piece, aspect, or side of a general topic.
  • Limiting the topic to one specific group of people, to one time period, to one geographical location, to one specific character, to only the problem or to only the solution. Any number of these limiting factors can be combined to make the thesis specific.

Feasible:

  • You need to have enough material to fully support the thesis you have chosen. If you are not able to find enough research, or you don’t have enough examples, reasons, expert opinions/quotations, facts, and explanations to fill up the size of the paper that you need to write, then you might have chosen the wrong topic.
  • At the same time, if you have too much material for the size of the paper you were assigned, you need to further limit your thesis (see #2 above) so that the paper doesn’t turn into a book.

Insightful:

  • Have a point to make that is worth making. Your main point or central idea should not be so obvious that most readers will already know what you are going to discuss or explain in the paper. Instructors do not want to read through points that are already common knowledge.

Significant:

  • It needs to be about what the audience (instructor or maybe classmates) will take seriously or care about. If your audience can say “So what?” or “Why does that matter to us?” you might not have a significant case to make.
The “Scope Thesis”

For some assignments, students are not expected to take a point of view. Instead, they are expected to answer a series of questions or give information about a topic. For these types of assignments, the thesis simply states what the paper is about.  Sometimes it may even include a short list of sub-topics included in the paper.

For example, “This paper explores the challenges faced by people with bipolar disorder and suggests strategies communities can take to assist them.”

Similar to the point-of-view thesis, the scope thesis should:

  •  Be short and clear.
  •  Be suitable to the assignment instructions.
  •  Identify a scope that is feasible considering the length of paper assigned.
What Makes A Good Thesis Statement?
What Should You Avoid When Writing A Thesis Statement?
  • A question:
    Instructors do not want you to raise questions in your thesis; they want you to provide answers. Instructors especially do not want to see rhetorical questions (questions that either have no answer or have implied answers and are made only to argue a point, not to provide insightful analysis that leads to answers). 
  • Statements of fact that need no further support or proof.
  • A detailed list of everything that you will try to include in the paper

Tips For Writing A Thesis Statement

Don’t attempt writing your thesis statement until you have explored your topic through research and brainstorming. You can’t take a position until you’ve done your research!

Write a thesis using these four steps:

  • Re-state the assignment or topic.
  •  Take a position on the issue.
  •  Briefly state your reasons why/how.
  •  Revise: take out any wordiness or vague ideas, and make sure the thesis relates to the topic.
How Your Thesis Statement Fits Into The Essay

Remember:

Your thesis statement articulates your position.

Your essay supports your thesis.

The paragraphs in the body of your essay must connect with each other as well as with your thesis statement.

Revise and/or refocus as necessary (thesis, body paragraphs or both) if further research causes your position to change, or to maintain coordination between thesis statement and body.

Thesis Statement - How it Fits in Your Essay
From Characteristics of a Strong and Effective Thesis Statement (UofT) 

Additional Resources:

Thanks to the following two Universities for providing information on thesis statements.

Transitional Words and Phrases

Learn how to connect your words and phrases.

Check the handy TIP SHEET below from the JIBC Writing Centre: