Standard Writing Guidelines

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Some guidelines apply to virtually all English writing. The following guidelines should generally be followed for all pieces of writing.

Use proper English

Readers will judge your writing both on its meaning and on its mechanics. If you have great meaning but poor spelling or grammar, your work will be less well received.

Proper English means several things.

Have correct spelling

Spelling mistakes are some of the easiest mistakes to avoid in writing. Most programs support automatic spell-checking, and there are other tools for spell-checking text files.

Additionally, avoid misspellings that computers can't detect. For instance, the following sentence is correctly spelled.

Ho ware you doing?

Even though all the words in that sentence are spelled correctly, it is not correct. Look for errors such as these.

Have correct grammar

Having correct grammar is vital for communicating effectively. Incorrect grammar can sometimes make it very difficult to understand what you are trying to say. A full discussion of English grammar is beyond the scope of this wiki, but there are many books which address this topic.

Watch for homonym problems

Several invalid phrases come from spoken English, where homonyms all sound the same. There are many examples of this, but the most common ones are addressed here.


All of these words have different meanings. Their correct uses are generally as follows:

  • there refers to a location.
  • their means "belonging to them"
  • they're stands for "they are"

You can find a more thorough discussion at [1]


These two forms of its have quite different meanings. The correct usage is

  • its means "belonging to it"
  • it's means "it is"


An object can be larger than another object, and if this is the case, then something else is true.

And more

Many other words are commonly misused. Looking at the list on wikipedia should help you avoid these mistakes.

Use appropriate style

Depending on where you are sharing your work, the appropriate writing style can vary greatly. With this is mind, it is a good idea to carefully read the other works presented at the venue, and ensure your tone is appropriate. The following advice, however, generally holds true.

Avoid business lingo

Try to avoid language that sounds like it was written by a marketer or bureaucrat. This sort of language is not typically used in academia, and its use may make others think that you are trying to hide something.

Use clear language

Writing is meant to be understood, so it is a good idea to make writing as clear as possible. Don't try to make writing fancier by using obscure synonyms of common words.

Avoid needless synonyms

Use the same term for the same thing in whatever you're writing. Do not refer to something as a "technique" in one sentence and an "approach" in the next. Doing so can cause confusion, or at the very least make it less clear what you are referring to.

Use active voice (when possible)

The active voice (as opposed to the passive voice) should be used whenever possible. Using active phrasing makes sentences stronger, clearer, and shorter. Sentences can be easier to understand when in the active voice.

However, some authors prefer, in academic writing, to avoid using first- or second-person pronouns. In this case, passive construction is essential. Before writing, you should decide which choice to make.


  1. How to Use There, Their and They're