title validation - how not to write a title

We cleverly wrote our blog post title in all lowercase to highlight the fact that our PaperRater service now includes title validation. 
[loud clapping] 

What does this mean?

In the past, anyone could submit a paper with a terrible title -- too short, too long, not properly capitalized, etc. And yet there would be no word of advice from us.  Today, all this has changed, so beware if you plan on submitting papers with shoddy titles.  We've got our eye on you!

Automated Grading has Arrived

Automated grading of papers has been one of the most requested features and certainly the one that has had our engineers working the most hours.  Consider the difficulty in attempting to grade a paper when...

1) You do not know the assignment topic
2) You do not know the recommended length
3) You are a computer with limited knowledge of the meaning of words

Nevertheless, we've found the Auto Grader to be nearly as accurate as human graders for most papers.  We do note that this grade should be considered a partial grade as it incorporates grammar correction, spelling, word choice, and style, but not the author's arguments, logic, organization, and ideas.  The latter will still need to be examined by a human.

We do hope some day to provide information into the technical side of this service.  However, for now we are busy adding more features that we hope you will love.  If you would like to suggest a feature, please click here.

New: Speedy Plagiarism Checker

Plagiarism detection has been included in the Paper Rater service from Day 1, but we recognize that some users would like to use the plagiarism checker by itself -- separate from the automated proofreading.  So, yesterday we quietly launched the standalone Plagiarism Checker as our response.  This tool quickly delivers an originality report without the other information provided by the grammar checker tool.

Why would someone want ONLY plagiarism detection?

 Most students prefer to run a complete check of their papers including plagiarism, grammar, spelling, word choice, and style.  However, teachers are often interested in checking only the originality of the document.  The snappy response offered by the Plagiarism Checker gives them exactly what they need.

Comments are welcome...

Improved Plagiarism Detection

We are pleased to announce that significant progress has been made on our most requested feature -- improved plagiarism detection.  Our originality detection service now utilizes improved matching and displays a list of matching sources (if any are found).  This will allow users to see which websites contain information that matches the content from their submitted paper.

How Does Your Plagiarism Detection Work?
We get this question a lot.  First, let me say that papers submitted to our service are NOT used as part of future originality checks.  Sites like TurnItIn collect and store documents as part of their plagiarism detection service.  Instead, Paper Rater searches the Internet to find documents that match the paper that you submitted to us for review.  If the paper that you submit already exists publicly on the Internet, then the Paper Rater plagiarism detection will most likely find it.  And, due to our recent update, any matches will be accompanied by links to the sources, so that you can see for yourself the page(s) that triggered the low originality score.

Shorter Text Submissions

Prior to now, Paper Rater has considered it bad policy to allow shorter documents to be processed.  This is due to the fact that the tips you receive after submitting your paper are the result of statistical analysis of the text.  Many of these analyses require a large enough sample size (in words) to truly be effective.

Nevertheless, our users told us (more than once) that we should be allowing shorter pieces of text to be submitted.  We are listening.  As of this writing PaperRater.com will process pieces of text under 500 characters similarly to larger text with the following caveats:
  • Originality detection will be disabled
  • Vocabulary analysis will be disabled
  • Transitional phrases will not be analyzed
  • Raw statistics will not be displayed
Spelling, free grammar correction, and word choice tips will still be given.

Thanks for the valuable feedback!

Tips to Avoid Clichés in Writing

Updated September 7, 2017
We need to get our ducks in a row and avoid using slang terminology in our writing! In other words, we need to take the bull by the horns and avoid clichés and any sayings that can have more than one meaning.

It can be difficult to locate sayings in your own paper, which is why it is important to have someone else proofread your paper before you turn it in. A fresh look at the paper will be helpful in catching common mistakes and the use of clichés.

A cliché is defined as a trite or obvious remark. This definition can be misleading because the remarks are not always obvious. Sometimes there are sayings that we use with our friends and family so often that they seem to make perfect sense. However, if you were to say the same thing to a stranger or someone from a different country, it may not make any sense at all!

Avoid slang terminology. Imagine writing a paper for someone from a different country. That person may not be familiar with slang terms that are used in conversational language.

Example 1: Mark knew how hard it was to get clean after being addicted to drugs for 5 years.

Example 2: Julie was a typical girl next door, and everyone loved being around her.

Example 3: My grandfather was out there, so we didn’t stay very long, in case he was going to do something crazy.

Get clean should have been exchanged with become sober so that it was clear for the reader.

Instead of using girl next door to describe Julie, her personality traits should have been listed or defined. Not everyone understands what this slang term means, and people could have different definitions for it. Also, using the phrase out there to describe someone that is mentally unstable would be confusing for a reader that was unfamiliar with this terminology. Be sure to make your writing more formal to the point that it could be translated into another language and still be understood.

Take into consideration that clichés are commonly used because they are so well at describing situations. It can be difficult to come up with a different word or phrase to get your description across because you're so used to using the clichés. That's why it is important to be very close to your thesaurus and have it handy when you're going over your first draft to eliminate the clichés.

Example 1: When it rains, it pours, which is why you have to be prepared for difficult times in life.

Example 2: It's not rocket science to figure out that our country's leaders are struggling to manage the economy.

Example 3: Since our camera broke, the bottom line is this: We need to hire a professional photographer because when life gives you lemons, you have to make lemonade.

These examples make it clear that overusing clichés in writing can be tiresome for the reader, and they won't make your essay stand out from the rest. Professors will be impressed when they read a paper that doesn't use clichés, especially when the authors goes the extra mile to think outside the box and come up with new descriptions as alternatives to these obvious remarks.

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Commonly Misspelled Words

Updated September 4, 2017
There are some words that sound very similar but have very different meanings. When reading papers, I sometimes find the wrong word used in a sentence over and over again, and it is obvious that the writer did not trouble herself to find out the correct spelling.

If you are unsure about which word to use, consult a dictionary, and always use our automatic spellchecker to find the mistakes. By misspelling these words, you could change the meaning of your sentence. Use this post as a guide to remember which spelling goes with which meaning.

1. Lead/Led. Probably, the most troubling for me to see is the mistake between the words lead and led. So, I will start with these by giving you three different examples.

Example 1: I will lead the students to the correct classroom on the first day of school.

Example 2: Robert led the marching band in the parade last Saturday.

Example 3: Some of the lead pipes, used as drains for the ancient Roman baths, are still in service today.

The problem is that writers often confuse the 82nd element on the periodic table (lead) with the past-tense verb (led), because they sound the same. Lead can be either a present-tense verb or a metallic element, but only led can be used as a past-tense verb.

2. Their/There/They’re. These words are usually always brought to attention when the subject is commonly misspelled words. However, it is inevitable that their, there, and they’re will each be consistently misused throughout writing assignments. Correct spelling is one of the marks of a truly excellent paper, so make it a point to use the right word when you are writing.

Their = possessive pronoun
Example 1: Their private business was booming in sales last month.

There = in or at that place
Example 2: There are many different ways to brainstorm.

They’re = a contraction of they are
Example 3: They’re going to the movies tonight.

The best way to catch these words being used incorrectly is to re-read the sentence slowly to capture the true meaning of the word. Remember these definitions to help you next time you are determining between their, there, and they’re. Trust me, professors are impressed when the correct spelling is used, but they are highly disappointed when the words are used incorrectly.

3. Affect/Effect. These words are easy to remember once you learn which parts of speech they are.

Affect = verb, to influence
Example 1: Rising tuition rates might affect the number of college graduates in the upcoming years.

Effect = noun, result or consequence
Example 2: I am interested to know the effect that rising tuition rates have had on the number of college graduates in the U.S.

Note: Effect can be used as a verb, meaning to bring about or to accomplish. However, I recommend using a different word or phrase and only using effect as a noun. If you choose to use this word as a verb, here is an example of how it is properly used.

Example: Many charity organizations have effected changes in relief efforts since the earthquake in Haiti.

Instead of using effected, I would recommend the following sentence.

Example: Many charity organizations have brought about changes in relief efforts since the earthquake in Haiti.

Remembering that affect is always a verb and effect is always a noun is a good method to keep from confusing the two words.

4. Conscious/Conscience/Cautious. These three words are hard to say, and it’s even harder to remember which spelling goes with which meaning. I try to remember that conscience has the word science in it, which helps me remember that it has to do with your mind and your internal reasoning to do good or bad. Cautious looks a lot like caution which reminds me that it means to be careful.

Conscious = awake or perceiving
Example: I regained consciousness shortly after falling and hitting my head on the pavement. I was unconscious for 2 minutes.

Conscience = sense of obligation to be good
Example: Frank cheated on the test last week, but Cameron couldn’t because his conscience wouldn’t let him.

Cautious = careful
Example: Jane is very cautious when she lets her daughter play at the park.

5. Then/Than. These two words are extremely similar and are mixed up too frequently. The best way to tackle this confusion is to memorize the meanings of these two words. Here are some examples to help clarify their meanings.

Than is always used in a sentence with a comparison, a preference, or a quantity beyond a specified amount. Anytime you are comparing two objects, use than.

Example 1: I would rather see Iron Man 2 than any other movie at the theatre.

Example 2: Danielle always received better grades in Chemistry than I did.

Example 3: The recipe calls for less salt than I thought.

Then describes a time in space or in order.

Example 1: The sales department will have a meeting on Monday. Then, a new incentive program will be in place.

Example 2: Years ago, we would ride our bikes by the lake. Do you remember back then?

Logically, then represents a conclusion. Whenever you use the word if, you should always use then to represent the conclusion.

Example 3: If Thomas shows up to the game, then he will be the pitcher.

6. Your/You’re. You're is a contraction. It is the combination of you and are. We say it all the time, but when it's written, it's usually spelled incorrectly. Your is an adjective describing a noun (Whose dog is it? It's your dog, not you're dog).

Example: Your dog just ate my food, and now you're going to have to buy another meal for me.

If you're ever unsure of which spelling is correct, try saying the sentence using you are in place of the word each time. If it fits, then use the contraction you're. If not, use the adjective your.

Example: You are dog just ate my food, and now you are going to have to buy another meal for me.

It doesn't fit in the first clause (so we use your), but it does fit the second time (so we use you’re).

7. Accept/Except. Read the following sentence for clarification about these two spellings.

Example: Everyone in the room accepted the fact that there would be no air conditioning except Connie, who started crying.

Accept = to receive or to agree
Except = all but, other than

Remember that the word exception means that something or someone has been exempt from the group. This helps me when I’m determining between accept and except, because the latter singles out an object.

These words (that sound alike but are spelled differently) are called homophones. At least be aware of possibly confusing some of these words with the wrong meaning. Always use a dictionary if you are unsure of the spelling, and double-check your work with our free spellchecker that is excellent at catching these errors.

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Subject/Verb Agreement

Updated September 12, 2017
A common grammatical error found in writing is that of incorrect subject and verb agreement. In order to understand how these two parts correlate, we need to know how to find them in a sentence.

The subject is the main topic of the sentence. Sometimes the easiest way to figure the subject out is to find the verb and then ask what noun correlates with it.

Example: The blond girl in my history class is beautiful.

If you find the verb (is) and then ask “Who is beautiful?” then you will find the subject (the blond girl).

Example: The tutors in the math help center are math majors.

If you find the verb (are) and then ask “Who are math majors?” then you will find the subject (the tutors). There can be more than one noun involved in a subject.

Example: Gary and his sister are vegetarians.

Are is the verb and Gary and his sister is the subject. Note: There aren’t two subjects in this sentence, but there are two nouns that make up the subject. This is called a compound subject.

In a compound sentence, finding the subject can be more tricky, because there can be more than one. Remember, a compound sentence is comprised of two independent clauses that are combined with a conjunction.

Example: Gary went to the gas station, and his sister stayed home.

Complex sentences can be even trickier because they are generally longer and contain both dependent and independent clauses. Great essays will have complex sentences, so it is important to understand how to find a subject in these sentences.

Example: Maria and I went to the library so that we could write our papers, which were assigned the day before.

The last part of the sentence is a dependent clause used to describe the noun papers, but should not be confused with the subject/verb agreement.

Sometimes, there will be phrases that come between the subject and the verb. It is important to be aware of these phrases so that you do not confuse them with the noun that should agree with the verb.

Example: The man that lives in the house with the green shutters is outside right now.

In this example, lives in the house with the green shutters is just used to describe the subject but should not be confused with the verb.

If you can find the subject, then you will be able to make sure that the verb agrees with it, and that is very important if you want to have a grammatically correct essay. Below are some guidelines to follow when choosing the correct verb for your subject.

When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by or or nor, use a singular verb. When two or more singular nouns or pronouns are connected by and, use a plural verb.

Example 1: Sally or Kevin has the secret password.

Example 2: Sally and Kevin have the secret password.

When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun or pronoun joined by or or nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is closest to the verb.

Example 1: Sally or the other employees have the secret password.

Example 2: The other employees or Sally has the secret password.

The following subjects should be used with a singular verb.

Each one
No one

When a sentence begins with There or There are, then the subject follows the verb.

Example 1: There are hundreds of birds on the beach this morning.

Example 2: There is a bird on my windowsill this morning.

Below is a list of collective nouns that imply more than one person are considered singular and should be used with a singular verb.


For an exercise to improve your subject/verb agreement skills, visit this site.

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How to Overcome Writer's Block

Updated September 8, 2017
If you are reading this article, then chances are you many be suffering from writer's block. Don't set your computer on fire out of frustration! It is important to understand that writing is not like mathematics. You won’t be able to sit down, figure the problem out, and move on with your day. It is a process that can take days and even weeks to complete (depending on the class and the assignment). Allow yourself plenty of time to spend on writing your paper. Keep track of when it’s due, and begin as early as you possibly can. Overcoming writer’s block is a skill that is worth your time and effort. Telling yourself that you still have a week to do it (and ultimately not taking the time to work through your writer’s block) will result in last minute cramming and probably not a very good essay. The more breaks you take, the less likely it is that you will miss a mistake and the better your paper will be.

One of the most common causes of writer’s block is the lack of knowledge about the topic that you have been assigned. The first step to deal with this issue is to do some research! Even if the assignment is not to write a research paper, doing research and reading about the topic that you are writing about will help give you confidence to write a clear and informative essay.

I don’t know much about insects. If I were assigned an essay in my biology class about the life of ants, I would have a major case of writer’s block. It would be necessary for me to learn about them and their everyday activities in order for me to even know what to begin writing. So, if your problem is unfamiliarity of the assigned topic, visit Google and spend a few minutes learning about it. Take notes while you’re reading, and then use those notes as an outline for your essay. You can then decide what is worth mentioning and what parts of your research are irrelevant to the paper.

Read someone else’s paper on the same topic.
Sometimes reading the views of someone else will help you understand how you feel about a certain issue (whether you agree or disagree). Talking to a friend or family member can also be a great way to grab ideas for your writing. Sometimes it’s easy to think of things in a conversational form rather than with pen and paper. The most important thing to remember is not to copy anyone else’s work. If you consult another paper for ideas, come up with your own original paper to submit in class. Plagiarism is never tolerable.

Another possible cure to writer’s block is to detach your mind from the format of the paper. Sometimes it is best to just begin writing, without worrying about spelling, grammar check, and punctuation. After your thoughts are down on paper, you can go back and correct your mistakes. It is much easier to proofread a paper that is too long (because you can omit words or phrases that don’t make sense) than to try to come up with a perfect, logical essay on the first try.

Most likely, when you begin writing, ideas will flow one after another. It is best to write them down as soon as they come to you (even if you are in the middle of sentence) because by the time you finish the sentence you may forget the new idea that you wanted to add.

Make short-term goals for yourself to help you get the paper finished, especially if it is on a subject that doesn’t necessarily strike your interest. We, as students, will inevitably be assigned writing assignments that aren’t particularly exciting for us. Of course, you will have to write papers in subjects which interest you, but writer’s block will play more of a role in classes that don’t excite you. Unfortunately, you will still be required to turn something in to be graded.

When boredom is the cause of your writer’s block, setting goals can help you overcome the lack of motivation. We often will set time out of our day to begin writing the paper, and then tell ourselves that we have to do something else before we want to start writing. After making a sandwich, calling a friend, and updating our Facebook statuses, we end up wasting an hour or two and ultimately aren’t productive at all. Instead of immediately becoming distracted, make a personal goal to finish three or four paragraphs (or even one page) of work before you let yourself leave the area. Even if it isn’t the best thing you’ve ever written, at least you will have something accomplished when you return to finish the paper. Basically, you want to limit all possible distractions, so you should reward yourself after you write a certain amount of paragraphs with 30 minutes of doing something that you enjoy.

Writing should be a growing skill for you. There is no right or wrong way to write a paper; there are only guidelines to help you write effectively. It is certainly possible to sit down at your computer, type a paper, and have it finished when you stand up two hours later. However, if you want an essay that makes sense, is free of grammatical mistakes, and will be more likely to get a good grade, then you need to spend more than one sitting on writing it. Try one or more of these techniques the next time you have writer’s block and see if they make the writing process a little easier for you!

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Formatting Titles of Texts

Updated August 31, 2017
One of the most important parts of any essay is the title. It is generally the first thing an audience will notice about the paper. Therefore, it usually determines whether or not someone will be interested in reading what you have written. Titles do not always have to be catchy. For instance, the main purpose of the title in a research paper is to inform the reader what the paper is about, so that they don’t waste their time reading something that is irrelevant to their research. However, in more informal writing styles, catchy titles can attract a wider audience. This entry will give you tips on how to come up with a good title for the type of paper you’re writing, and hopefully clear up some common questions regarding titles.

Capitalizing Words in a Title

I’ll admit that I’ve often struggled to remember which words to capitalize in a title. Over the years, I’ve come to find that it’s a lot easier than you might think to remember the rules.

1. Always capitalize the first and last words in your title. Regardless of what the rules below say about specific parts of speech that should not be capitalized, capitalize them if they are the first or last words in your title.

2. These parts of speech should always be capitalized in a title.


3. Conjunctions and prepositions are generally never capitalized, unless they are 5 or more letters in length. However, it is completely optional whether or not you want to capitalize them even when they are 5 letters or more, as both ways are accepted. I choose never to capitalize these parts of speech so that I don’t confuse myself.

Like with other optional rules in grammar, the key is to remain consistent. If you capitalize beneath in your first heading, and then leave against lowercase in another heading, your paper will look unorganized and inconsistent.

Example 1:
Heading 1: Mouse Remains Beneath the Table
Heading 2: Bear Leans Against a Tree

Heading 1: Mouse Remains Beneath the Table
Heading 2: Bear Leans against a Tree

4. Never capitalize articles (the, a, an) unless they are part of a proper noun (or at the beginning or end of your title).

Example: Fans Waited for the Arrival of The Beatles

As you can see, the first article is not capitalized, while the second one is. The Beatles is the name of the band; therefore, the should be capitalized in the title.

5. There is no particular rule about the use of numbers within titles. My recommendation would be to spell out numbers that are less than 20 and capitalize them. It is really only a matter of preference, so remain consistent.

Informal Titles

I’ve talked about informal writing styles in different blog posts. They differ greatly from research papers and formal essays. For that reason, their titles are going to be much different as well. Articles, poems, creative essays and personal narratives should have clever titles that would make someone interested in reading the paper.

Assignment: Write about what you did last Christmas.

Example 1: Family Trip to New York for Christmas

Example 2: Building Snowmen by Skyscrapers: Christmas with the Coles

The first example is an acceptable title, but it doesn’t really grab the attention of the reader. It clarifies what the paper is about, but a good title will do more than that. As shown in the second example, describing one specific event is a good way to grab a reader’s attention.

Instead of making the title broadly about a family trip, it is better to narrow it down to one event that happened on the trip. This event could be funny, sad, and/or meaningful. The main purpose is to have a title that you wouldn’t find on any other paper. You want it to be unique enough that it stands out from the rest. Limit the title to 10 words or less, and don’t make it a complete sentence.

Incorrect: The Cole Family Traveled to New York for Their Christmas Vacation

This title has too many words, and it looks like it could be the first sentence of the paper rather than the title. If you’re having trouble coming up with a catchy title, try thinking of the main point of your paper and come up with words that all start with the same letter. This is called alliteration, and I used it in my example above (snowmen and skyscrapers, Christmas and Coles). There is something about repeating consonant sounds that tends to grab a reader’s attention. This method is just one easy way to come up with a good title.

If I wanted to come up with a title for a paper that I wrote about a magical place called Pandora, I would create a list of related words that either started with a P or had repetitive P sounds.

Example: Pandora


Then, I would come up with different ideas for a title.

Approaching the Planet of Pandora

Pandora: A Place of Many Possibilities

Pandora’s Infinite Opportunities

Generally, it is best to wait until your paper is finished before you try to think of a title. Even though it’s the first thing someone will read about your paper, it should be one of the last things you write. Anytime you have a subtitle, you should also capitalize the first word of it (no matter what part of speech it is).

Format of a Title Page (Formal Writing)

The format of your title or title page will depend on the instructions of your paper. Be consistent with the guidelines given for each paper format. If your professor does not require you to follow a specific format, it is best to center your title and have one space above the first paragraph of your main text.

1. APA title page guidelines can be found here.

2. MLA title page guidelines can be found here.

3. Chicago Manual of Style title page guidelines can be found here.

Formal Titles

These titles will generally be longer than informal paper titles. It is acceptable to go over 10 words, but only do it when it is absolutely necessary in order to get your point across.

The sole purpose of a title for a research paper is to inform the reader about the topic of the essay. These titles do not need to be catchy or unique. Actually, they only need to be clear and concise. Recall that the audience of research papers is probably going to be doing research on that same topic.

For instance, let’s say that I was assigned a research paper to be written on the effects of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on veterans returning from war. I would start by reading articles that had been written about PTSD and the conclusions about its effects. If I search in a database for articles related to PTSD, I might get a list of titles like the ones below.

  • An investigation of relations between crystal methamphetamine use and posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Cognitive-affective characteristics of smokers with and without posttraumatic stress disorder and panic psychopathology
  • Correlates of Long-term Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in Children Following Hurricane Katrina
  • Fear less
  • Families’ Perceptions of Veterans’ Distress Due to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-Related Symptoms at the End of Life

Given that all of these articles are based on research done on PTSD, it should be easy to understand what each article is about based on the title. The fourth title, Fear less, does not give specific clues to tell me what the article is referencing. In fact, this particular article is about a researcher who came up with treatments for veterans with PTSD, in order to help them cope with the disorder. This would be a great article for me to read for my assignment. However, due to the lack of information in the title, I would be more likely to skip over it because it isn’t clear whether I’d be wasting my time or not.

After reading the other titles in my list, I don’t think the first three would be relevant to my paper, but the fifth one would definitely be worth reading. Next time you write a research paper, remember to make the title very clear about the topic of the paper. Save your creative and catchy titles for informal writing styles.

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Texting vs. Writing

Updated September 5, 2017
Sprint has stated that a teen in Florida sent/received 35,463 text messages in one month. In other words, the teen sent/received 1,182 text messages per day. Incredibly, this is nowhere near the world-record. A guy by the name of Deepak Sharma sent 182,689 messages in a single month - over 6,100 messages per day. I think it’s safe to assume that not all 6,100 of his daily texts were grammatically correct.

An increasing number of teachers are expressing concern about the impact that texting has on students’grammar. As a grammar fanatic, it has always bothered me to see sentences and words broken up to save time via email, text messages, and instant messaging software. I understand that the world now relies heavily on these programs for communication, and not everyone feels as strongly as I do about proper grammar. However, it is quite common that students confuse texting and writing to be the same thing. The truth is that they are incredibly different. Syntax (sentence structure) is affected by this new language of instant chatting, and I hope to clear up some of the confusion.

It isn’t easy to always write out a complete sentence when you’re sending a text message. Most of the time, it’s best to keep it as short and to-the-point as possible, but it is also important to understand the difference between texting and correct grammar.

Text Example 1: u comin 2nite?!

Text Example 2: lol yea b/c u r drivin me - thx ttyl

I realize that my examples are the most extreme types of texts and the furthest away from proper grammar that I could possibly get, but I know that you understand what the texts are implying. I didn’t have to spell the words out and use proper punctuation, because I knew that the message would get across with less effort on my part. The problem is, if a student is writing like this 100+ times on a daily basis, then he or she is likely to struggle with writing a formal essay.

1. The first thing to be aware of is capitalizing the first letter of each sentence in your essay. It can become a habit to text without capitalizing anything. Most of the time, the automatic spellchecker in your word processing software will correct these mistakes. However, pay attention to the following types of words that also must always be capitalized.

Days of the week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
Months: January, February, March, etc.
Holidays: St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, etc.
Cities, States, Countries: Dover, Delaware, United States of America

Never use ALL CAPS in an essay unless you are referring to an acronym. As stated in previous blog entries, italics should be used for emphasis, but not excessively. For commonly used words that are accepted as either capitalized or lowercase, the most important thing is to remain consistent.

Incorrect: The World Wide Web has helpful resources that can broaden your array of knowledge on any particular issue. Use a search engine to locate which websites are available to you on the web.

Since I capitalized World Wide Web, then I should have been consistent and capitalized the other words relating to the internet. I could have chosen to use lowercase letters, as long as I remained consistent throughout the paper.

For further information on capitalization, visit this site.

2. I’m not sure when the trend of leaving the g off of –ing words started, but it is common today in the texting world. If one were to do this in an essay (using it as a reference to southern dialect of a particular character, for instance), then there would be an apostrophe in place of the g. In fact, anytime a letter is omitted from a word, it still needs to be represented by an apostrophe.

Example: “I’m thinkin’ ‘bout gettin’ some goats,” said the farmer.

As you can see, the omission of letters only took place in quotation marks because I wanted the true accent of the farmer to come out strongly in the dialect. However, it should never happen in a formal essay without character dialogue (unless you have a specific quote from someone or a scholarly source that uses this dialect).

3. It is acceptable to use abbreviations in text messages, but remember to always spell out words in essays. It may seem ridiculous to you that I even have to put this in here, but teenagers that are getting into the habit of writing poorly due to texting is a growing problem in America. The more you see texts and emails come to your phone or laptop with abbreviations instead of real words, the more comfortable you will be with writing this way, and you may forget to correct your errors in your essays.

Example: The president said the new health care bill will benefit many Americans b/c it will mandate health insurance for everyone by 2014.

Obviously, b/c cannot be used in a formal essay in place of because. You might not catch it if you are used to typing this way. Be aware that these mistakes can happen.

4. Whenever possible, write all of your emails and text messages using full words instead of abbreviations. Try to make complete sentences when you have time to do so. The more you write correctly, the easier it will be when you have to sit down to write a paper, and the less effort you will have to make when you proofread to look for these mistakes.

5. See Punctuation Marks regarding the use of punctuation in your essays. Remember, never use an exclamation point together with another punctuation mark, and don’t repeat them. In addition, I want to clarify the use of an ellipsis (…).

I see ellipses used on Facebook and Twitter status updates all the time. They are usually used in modern texting language to represent a pause or often just to show the end of a statement.

Example: went shopping today…… didn’t find anything on sale..

The ellipses are used incorrectly. First, whenever you use an ellipsis, make sure it has only three periods. It shouldn’t be any more or any less than three. Next, only use it to show omission of words in a quote.

Full Quotation: "It is very important to generate a good attitude, and a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come."

Shorter Quotation: "It is very important to generate a good attitude … as much as possible. From this, happiness … will come."

Using ellipses in the above example allowed me to still get the point across without using the entire quotation. This would be very useful if you were writing an argumentative essay and you wanted to leave out irrelevant parts of a quote so that they wouldn’t take attention away from your argument.

If an ellipsis is used at the end of a quotation to show omitted words at the end of the phrase, then no other punctuation is needed after it.

Example: “It is very important to generate a good attitude…” said the Dalai Lama.

Be sure to check the rules about using an ellipsis in the handbook of your assigned format for research papers. MLA requires the use of brackets [ ] around the ellipsis in certain instances, while APA and Chicago Manual have different requirements.

6. Sometimes when writing an email or a text message, it is easier to write and over and over instead of ending a sentence and beginning a new one. Don’t let this cause you to write a lot of run-on sentences in your essays. One coordinating conjunction should suffice in each sentence. If you find more than one, you may need to revise the phrase to be two or more separate sentences.

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Automated Proofreader


Updated September 12, 2017
A student who proofreads his or her paper is determined to make it the best paper it can be. What is the excuse for the rest of the students? Small grammatical errors are easy to catch if you read back over your paper, but if you don’t, it could be the difference between an A and a B. One of the best things you can do for yourself to improve your writing is to proofread before you hand in an essay. Set aside some time to make it happen!

Many people complain that proofreading takes too long, and when they’re finished writing their papers, then they’re finished working. That shouldn’t be how you feel when you think you’ve finished your paper. Only about 75% of the work is finished at this point. Below are some tips which will improve your proofreading skills.

1. Just like with any other skill, the more you proofread, the better you’ll be. No matter what the assignment is, make it a habit to read back over your work before you hand it in. This includes short answers on exams, small homework assignments, and even questions on job applications. The more you read back over your writing, the more you’ll know about your strengths and weaknesses, and the more improvement you’ll make the next time you have to write an essay. That way, when you might not have a lot of time to go back and proofread, you’ll be able to pick out common mistakes that you know you usually make.

2. Read word by word, not phrase by phrase. Since you were the one that wrote it, you will already know what you meant to say. However, what you meant to say may not actually be what you wrote. I’ve proofread for classmates who swore that they had caught all the simple mistakes in their essays, but I found spelling errors and missing words because they only skimmed over their work. Here’s an example of something that you could easily miss while skimming.

Example: The September 11th attacks on the the World Trade Center were devastating to all Americans at that time.

You might have noticed that there was an extra word in the sentence. The appears twice before World Trade Center. If you didn’t catch it, then you were probably skimming too fast. Now, imagine having 2 pages of text before this error. It is less likely that it would have been caught if you had already read a lot before skimming over that sentence. The point is, you will remember writing the paper (because you were the one that wrote it), but you need to make sure you aren’t biased, assuming that you typed everything correctly. Proofread your paper slowly as if you’re determined to find something wrong (as many professors will, too).

3. Take breaks. I recommend taking breaks in the process of proofreading for papers that are over three pages long. For shorter papers, it is still good to take a break between the actual writing of the paper and the proofreading of it. Let’s face it, sometimes procrastination gets the best of us, and we wait until the last minute to write our papers. Take a 10-15 minute break after you think you’re done with it, and go back to read it over again. It may not be the best time to come up with a second draft, but it would be wise to check for spelling errors or sentences that could be rephrased to make them stronger.

4. Don’t completely trust spell check to correct all of your mistakes. Most programs are good at catching words that are misspelled, but they don’t excel in catching appropriate meanings of the words. Of course, our style and grammar checker is excellent at giving tips on how to improve your paper. You can easily find suggestions on grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. It will definitely catch most of the spelling mistakes that you didn’t see, but sometimes only the author of the paper can know the true meaning behind each sentence.

Example 1: The single bachelor seemed to be enjoying himself over a few beets with his date at the bar.

Example 2: They started to get tire, so they ended up leaving earlier than expected.

Now, it is perfectly possible that the particular bar where the bachelor and his date were having a good time was serving beets that night. However, it is more likely that they were having beers, instead. No spellchecker is going to catch these mistakes because everything is spelled correctly. Unfortunately, without proofreading carefully, this mistake might change the meaning of the entire sentence.

5. Rearrange sentences or phrases, if necessary. Omit words if they seem redundant.

Example: This mistake might entirely change the whole meaning of the entire sentence.

This sentence is much better stated with only one of the underlined words; the other two can be omitted. Also, move sentences if they are in the wrong part of your paper. Sometimes (especially near the end of a paper) it becomes obvious that the author did not want to come up with nice transition words or to put new ideas in the appropriate part of the paper. If you start to think of something to add to the paragraph that you were writing 4 pages ago, then move your cursor up 4 pages and put it in the right spot. Don’t just add all your finishing points to the conclusion and expect your paper to flow smoothly. These errors are most likely to be caught after you take a break and go back to proofread. Copying and pasting can be very helpful.

6. Use the highlighting tool that is found in many word processing programs as you are writing. If you know that you won’t have much time to go back and proofread, then highlight as you go, so you’ll be sure to go back and read those sections again. I use the highlighting tool for sentences that I think will need to be moved later, when I don’t want to be bothered with it at the moment. When I have a lot of ideas on my mind, I try to type them out as quickly as possible, and then go back to make them flow. Highlight words that you want to use in the thesaurus later, or sentences that you think are weak and need to be improved.

7. Visit PaperRater before submitting your assignment, and navigate through the various tips that our program gives you to improve your paper. It is excellent at catching fragments and run-ons, as well. Use the vocabulary builder to spice up the tone of your paper. You may notice a difference when you are graded on your next essay!

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Automated Proofreader

Know Your Audience

Updated August 31, 2017
What if you had a car accident for which you were responsible. If you were to send an email to your mom or dad about the accident, what might you say? Would you tell the story the same way if you were talking to your friends about the accident? Would you tell the story differently when writing an email to your insurance company? Would you emphasize the same facts of the incident? Are there some facts you would tell your friends that you might not mention in your email to your parents? What would you exclude from your email to the insurance company? Whether we are aware of it or not, we naturally customize our writing to appeal to each distinct audience.

Sometimes, figuring out audiences can be tricky. Children’s books are targeted at the younger generation, but not all audiences are so obvious. The easiest way for a student to determine the intended audience is to understand the assignment instructions. It is clear who the audience of a letter should be. Argumentative essays have a similar guide. Usually, your professor will give you instructions to construct an argument defending one side of a particular debate. The audience is usually the opposing side.


Assignment: defend health care reform

Audience: legislators against health care reform

Argument: One in six Americans doesn’t have health insurance. Financial difficulty due to medical expenses for the uninsured is the primary reason for bankruptcy in the United States. Therefore, there is a need for health care reform.

If the assignment instructions are to write an essay illustrating both sides of a particular debate, your audience will change. Usually, this will depend on what the debated topic is.

Example 1:

Assignment: illustrate the debate of health care reform

Audience: citizens voting for legislators, students learning about reform, legislators who are undecided

Example 2:

Assignment: explain the pros and cons of homeschooling

Audience: parents deciding whether or not to teach their children at home

As you can see by the above examples, some papers will have many different groups within the audience, while others will have only one group or one person. It will definitely help you know which styles of essays are formal and which are informal if you first understand who your audience is. Imagine reading your paper in front of a classroom of fourth graders. Your paper better not have profound diction and unrecognizable vocabulary words, or the students will be confused and bored. On the other hand, if you were standing in front of a group of Harvard-educated lawyers discussing a specific trial, you would want your paper to read fluently and be well-written. Knowing your audience is crucial to writing a strong essay.

That brings me to the often feared research papers. Yes, they are probably the most difficult to write, but they don’t have to scare you. The audience of a research paper will almost never be young students. Mostly, you will be targeting a population of people that are interested in the topic about which you're writing. Where do most research scholars get their information? They get it from fellow researchers who have written essays about their findings. Sometimes you’ll be writing to an audience that is looking for evidence of a hot topic that might not have much literature about it.

Remember: Think of your instructor as an observer. He or she will only be observing the information passed from you to your audience.

For more help, see this Audience Analysis to guide you through the process of determining the appropriate audience.

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Punctuation Marks

It is important to know which type of paper you are writing and which type of punctuation marks are appropriate to use. Having the wrong punctuation marks could take away from an important point that you are trying to make, but having the right ones might add emphasis to the point. I want to help make it clear when and how you should use certain punctuation marks.  Use our free grammar checker to help with grammar, spelling correction, plagiarism check, punctuation, and much more.

Exclamation Point (!)

The exclamation point has one purpose, and that is to show exclamation. It allows the reader to feel excitement or alarm based on what it follows.

Example: Everyone must evacuate the building immediately! There is a fire!

These sentences would not have the same effect on the reader if they ended with periods. The exclamation point emphasizes that there is an emergency situation.

Example 1: Hi, Rob! It is so good to see you again, finally!

Example 2: Hi, Rob. It is so good to see you again, finally.

The first example shows that the author is excited to see Rob and that he or she is relieved that the wait is finally over. The second example has a sense of sarcasm or calmness, as if there wasn’t much urgency for the author to ever see Rob again.

Do not use exclamation points in research papers or other formal writing unless they are used in a quote. However, be cautious if you find exclamation points in reliable sources. Most scholarly journal articles and references will not have exclamation points included in them. This type of punctuation is most appropriate for informal writing styles (personal narratives and newspaper articles).

Lastly, never use an exclamation point more than once after a sentence, and never combine them with question marks or other forms of punctuation. Now that the use of instant messaging software, email, and text messages has taken precedence over other forms of writing, many people get confused about what is proper and what isn’t.

Incorrect: Karen told you what?!

It is only necessary to have one punctuation mark after a sentence. This example is obviously from a dialogue. It is unclear whether or not the sentence is a statement or a question. Another way to write this expression correctly is below.

Example: I can’t believe this! What did Karen tell you, exactly?

Incorrect: You make me so happy!!!

Using the exclamation point once is enough to show emphasis. It doesn’t need to be repeated in order to emphasize the expression.

Question Mark (?)

It should be clear that a question mark is used, well, after a question. If you need further explanation, refer to these tips provided by WhiteSmoke.

Comma (,)

Commas are probably the most widely used punctuation mark. However, they are not always used correctly. The easiest tip to figure out when the best time to place a comma is whenever the reader should pause or take a breath in the middle of a sentence. Anytime a coordinating conjunction is used (and, but, yet, etc.), then a comma should also be used. Transition words should be followed by commas. When dialogue is expressed to a particular person or group of people, a comma should separate that object from the rest of the sentence. A common example is shown below.

Example 1: Let’s eat, Grandma!

Example 2: Let’s eat Grandma!

As you can see, the first example shows someone that is expressing interest in eating with his or her grandma. However, the second example is quite disturbing. Without the comma, it looks like the person is interested in actually eating grandma. One little mark can change the entire meaning of the sentence.
There are many appropriate uses for commas, but they are often used too frequently. For a quick guide to some proper uses of the comma, visit PurdueOWL.

An ellipsis (...) should generally only be used in quotations. For more information on this type of punctuation, see Texting vs. Writing.

See General Grammar Tips for help on proper use of semicolons and quotation marks, and another earlier post has help on the use of parentheses.

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Writing Numbers

I know I’m not the only one that has struggled to remember the rules regarding when to write 3 or three in an essay. Fortunately, I will be clarifying the rules so that next time you run into this issue, you will remember what to do. Here are some brief rules to follow.

1. The most commonly known rule is that if the number is less than 10, you must use the actual word (one, two, three, etc.). Additionally, if the number is greater than 10, you should use the numerals. However, you may choose to use words for numbers that are higher than ten and can be said in no more than two words. It is a matter of personal choice, but either way is accepted.

Example 1: All of the thirty-nine students attended math class yesterday.
All of the 39 students attended math class yesterday.

Example 2: There are 178 children enrolled for the summer cheerleading camp.

Incorrect: There are one hundred seventy-eight children enrolled for the summer cheerleading camp.

2. Always use words for numbers that are at the beginning of a sentence. If possible, re-word the sentence so that a long number is not at the beginning.

Example 1: Eight hundred fifty animals were rescued last year by the new wildlife preservation organization.

Example 2 (revised): The new wildlife preservation organization rescued 850 animals last year.

3. Numbers within the same categories should show consistency.

Example: The woman bought 30 dollars worth of lottery tickets from five different stores. She previously won 100 dollars from purchasing tickets from two different stores.

Incorrect: I have 20 pairs of shoes, but nine of them are too small for me now.

In the incorrect example, I should have either spelled out twenty or written the number 9 in order to make them consistent.

4. Spell out shorter versions of decades in lower-case letters. Or, put an apostrophe before the number and not before the s.

Example 1: I was born in the seventies (or '70s), and my parents were born in the forties (or '40s).

Incorrect: I was born in the ‘70’s, and my parents were born in the ‘40’s.

Example 2: I was born in the 1970s (or 1970’s), and my parents were born in the 1940s (or 1940’s).

5. The time of day can be written either as the number (using a.m. or p.m.) or written out (using o’clock). However, when you are expressing 12:00 a.m., use the word midnight instead. Also, use the word noon in place of 12:00 p.m.

For more tips on writing numbers in an essay, visit Daily Writing Tips.


I wouldn’t recommend habitually using parentheses in essay writing. Newspaper articles, personal narratives, and other informal writing styles are the only types of papers that should have parentheses. So, it is best to know how to use them appropriately. Parentheses are used to add a piece of information that otherwise would cause the reader to misunderstand your point.

Example: My father took my two youngest brothers to the baseball game (my oldest brother was away at college).

Without the use of parentheses, the reader might think that my father didn’t want to take my oldest brother to the game. By adding the statement inside the parentheses, I made it clear that the oldest brother was out of town, and that’s why he didn’t go to the game. Making a new sentence to explain that my oldest brother was away at school wouldn’t be the best way to introduce that piece of information. Parentheses can also be used to expand on the details of a specific topic.

Example: My father took my brothers to the baseball game (Braves vs. Red Sox).


Sometimes seeing long names of popular organizations (i.e. Central Intelligence Agency) can be quite troubling for the reader of your essay. In an essay that will be using the name of the organization more than once, it is best to follow it with the common acronym associated with it (shown in parentheses).

Example: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been following Mr. Jones in a secret mission. Mr. Jones is unaware that the CIA has been tracking his location for the past few months.

In-Text Citations

Research papers require the use of citations to show from which sources your information has been gathered. Using parentheses to cite the references is appropriate. In APA style, cite the author’s last name followed by the page numbers. An example of this style can be found here.

eHow offers more helpful advice regarding the use of parentheses.