Common Problems and How to Avoid Them

Academic writing requires accurate grammar. The following sections address the most common problematic areas of English grammar in writing, supplying rules and examples.

Introduction

Ideally, writing at university can be described as being formally correct. This means that while other grammatical possibilities are possibly acceptable in informal writing or speech, the formally (and prescriptively) correct option would be most recommended for academic writing. Therefore, there are certain rules that must be followed in your writing.

A difference is made between descriptive and prescriptive approaches to grammar. When you write academically, it may be wise to devote more attention to the grammarians' prescriptive rules than you normally do when you speak or write in English.

Definition: Descriptive and prescriptive grammar rules (click to expand/contract)

A definition of Descriptive grammar rule

"A descriptive rule is an attempt to describe a feature of language use; it is a statement about how linguistic elements actually behave in a certain language."

 

A definition of Prescriptive grammar rule

"Prescriptive (or normative) rules, on the other hand, are rules formulated by grammarians about how a language should be spoken or written. They are meant as advice on how to speak or write good English.... Prescriptive grammar is concerned with 'right' and 'wrong', and is often relatively conservative in its nature, that is, it does not usually welcome new developments in the language system"

Both definitions are from Hasselgård, Johansson & Lysvåg (1998:2)


This section of AWELU contains the following subsections, some of which deal with problems that anyone might encounter when writing in English, while others are more typical of Swedish writers: