Write Like an Academic

0 notes

Choosing your essay topic

Writing an essay can be challenging enough, but getting started can be intimidating if you don’t know what topic to write about! Choosing your topic is an essential first step, and sometimes it’s not at all clear where you should begin. Here are some quick tips to help you pick the right topic.

BUT… Before you start thinking about your topic, make sure you read your assignment guidelines carefully. Make sure you know what your professor is looking for so you don’t veer off track with your topic choice.


Determine your purpose

To choose a good topic, you need to think about the purpose of your essay. What are you trying to achieve?

  • Are you explaining a concept?
  • Are you trying to persuade your reader of a certain point of view?
  • Are you presenting a critique of someone else’s point of view?

Whatever the purpose of your essay, your topic needs to fit that purpose.

Start with your interests

It’s hard to write a full essay on a topic you know absolutely nothing about. Start with a subject you’re interested in or want to learn more about. The process of researching and writing will be much more interesting and much less painful if you are engaged and excited by the topic.

However, try not to choose a topic that you’re already an expert in. Essay writing is about exploring new areas and discovering new ideas. If you try to take the easy way out and write about something you know already, you risk being lazy in your research and missing out on key insights that could make your paper more interesting. 

Think about the topics you’ve covered in class

If you’re still uninspired (maybe you hate the subject you are studying and have no personal interests related to the class!), try jotting down the topics you’ve covered in class or that have been touched on in your readings. Look at the list and think about whether you have any questions about those topics. Maybe there are related topics that you can expand on. Maybe there are questions raised in your readings that warrant further research. Class material is always a good place to start, because you can be almost positive that the topic you choose will be relevant to the course material.



Open a fresh document (or grab a pen and paper—the old fashioned way!), clear your mind, and start making a list. Jot down any and every topic you can think of in relation to your assignment. Don’t censor yourself or try to make judgements about the quality of the topic choice—just get it on paper.

Evaluate your List

Here is where you start deleting or crossing out topics that will obviously not work. Consider each item on your list individually. Sort out which ones are most interesting to you and jot down any additional ideas or questions you have about the topics on your list. At this point, it should be clearer to you what topics are emerging as having real potential.


If you still haven’t decided, try choosing two or three of your shortlisted topics and do a five-minute freewriting exercise on each of them. It’s a great way to get your thoughts on paper. All you have to do is write for five minutes without thinking too hard. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling at this stage— just write about the topic and don’t stop until your five minutes is up. Go wherever your mind takes you.

Once you have completed these exercises, take a look at the results and see which topic seems the most interesting and the most workable with respect to your assignment. Remember that even if you’re still not sure that your topic will be a good one, once you start the research and writing processes, it might turn out to be a better topic than you first thought!


Keep these qualities in mind when you are thinking about what topic to choose!

You are interested in the topic

The more interested you are in the topic, the more thorough you will be with your research, and the stronger your essay will be in the end.

Your topic is sufficiently specific

Think about the length of your essay and make sure you choose a question that you can actually answer thoroughly within your space and time limitations.

Your topic is original

You don’t have to choose a topic that no one has written about before, but you should bring something of yourself to the table—what is your specific take on the issue? How does your voice differ from others writing on the same or similar topics? What’s your unique angle?

If you have questions about essay writing or if you have a question you’d like me to answer on this blog, feel free to connect with me by leaving a comment or via Facebook or Twitter.

Filed under essayhelp essay grammar university college writing academic writing academic essay topic essay topic

1 note

Less vs. Fewer


The misuse of ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ is another one of those grammar errors that English-first-languages speakers and writers make all the time. Fortunately, as with many other grammar quirks, once you know the rules you’ll notice the mistake all the time and will be far less likely to make it yourself!

Use fewer when you can count the items to which you are referring. (These are technically called “count nouns.”)

Fewer students are choosing to study mathematics at the university level.

My box had fewer M&Ms than my sister’s box.

In both of these sentences, you can count the items one-by-one. You can line up and count the number of students, just as you can line up and count the number of M&Ms in the box.

Use less when you cannot count the item to which you are referring. (These are technically called “non-count nouns” or “mass nouns.”)

When I am travelling I listen to less music than I do when I’m at home.

His glass has less water in it than her glass.

In both of these sentences, you cannot count the items one-by-one. Music and water cannot be counted. Note that ‘music’ and ‘water’ do not have plural forms (i.e., you would’t say ‘musics’ or ‘waters’). If you can’t make it plural, then you need to use ‘less.’

Use less when using numbers or expressions of measurement (e.g., time, money, and distance).

I take public transportation so that I can spend less time stuck in traffic.

He quit his job because he made less money than his colleagues.

The corner store is less than two kilometres away.

Do you have other burning grammar or writing questions? Feel free to comment on this blog, or connect with me via Facebook or Twitter!

Filed under less fewer grammar writing essays university college essayhelp

4 notes

Comma Sutra Pt. 4: The Dreaded Comma Splice!

Comma splices are among the most common writing errors for writers of all levels. I’m guilty of comma splicing, myself. It took me a while to learn how to avoid comma splices, but actually it’s pretty easy to avoid if you know what to look for.


Simply put, a comma splice occurs when you use a comma to separate two complete sentences. For example:

I went to the store, I bought a Snickers bar.

Both halves of this sentence can stand alone. That means we have a comma splice!


(1) Use a period!

I went to the store. I bought a Snickers bar.

This sounds a little abrupt, but it’s grammatically correct.

(2) Use a semicolon! 

I went to the store; I bought a Snickers bar.

Semicolons can be used if the two parts of the sentence are closely related to each other. However, this is still a little abrupt.

(3) Use a conjunction!

I went to the store and bought a Snickers bar.

I went to the store, and I bought a Snickers bar.

These two options are probably the best in this case. The sentence flows nicely and communicates our meaning without a splice! Read this post to make sure you use your conjunctions properly.


Do you have more comma questions, or questions about writing and grammar in general? Feel free to ask me on this blog or connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

Filed under comma comma splice oxford comma fanboys myths writing academic writing essayhelp essay writing essay grammar university college collegelife universitylife

0 notes

Simple Rules for Acronyms in Essays


Last week, five clients asked me questions about acronyms in essay writing. I didn’t realize how many rules there are! Here’s a quick summary to help you out.

(1) Write acronyms in full caps with no periods.

AIDS (Correct!)

A.I.D.S. (Incorrect!)

(2) On first mention, write the acronyms in full followed by the acronym in brackets. Thereafter, use only the acronym.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) declares the monetary policy to be sound. The president of FASB stands by this decision. (Correct!)

The FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board) declares the monetary policy to be sound. The president of FASB stands by this decision. (Incorrect!)

(3) Acronyms that are well-known and appear in the alphabetical section of a standard dictionary do not need to be introduced or spelled out, even upon first mention in your essay. This is an exception to rule #2!

After 25 years, she finally threw out her VCR. (Correct!)

After 25 years, she finally threw out her videocassette recorder (VCR). (Incorrect!)

If you want to make sure you are clear, for these well-known acronyms you can include the full term in brackets after the acronym (the opposite of what is indicated in rule #2).

After 25 years, she finally threw out her VCR (videocassette recorder). (Correct!)     

Some familiar acronyms that do not need to be spelled out include: AFL-CIO, CIA, FBI, IRS, NAFTA, NATO, YMCA, AIDS, DNA, LSD, REM, and UN.

However, if you are not sure whether your acronym would be considered “familiar,” then you should definitely spell it out to be safe. Remember, some acronyms might be familiar to you, but someone in a different field (or in a different country!) might not know what you’re talking about.

(4) If including your acronym in brackets on first mention introduces awkwardness into your text, either re-write your sentence or save the bracketed acronym for the next time you mention the term.

The International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) decent work agenda has been embraced by domestic workers and their supporters worldwide. (Awkward!)

The International Labour Organization’s decent work agenda has been embraced by domestic workers and their supporters worldwide. (Better!)

Domestic workers and their supporters worldwide have embraced the decent work agenda set out by the International Labour Organization (ILO). (Better!)

The Canadian Radio-Television Communications Commission (CRTC)-mandated reforms will take effect immediately. (Awkward!)

Reforms mandated by the Canadian Radio-Television Communications Commission (CRTC) will take effect immediately. (Better!)

(5) Watch out for “alphabet soup”! Remove acronyms if your sentence has too many of them.

The TVEPA’s ERP had moderate success in eliminating GHGs in the GTVA. (Woah! Alphabet soup).

The Thames Valley Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Restoration Program had moderate success in cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the Greater Thames Valley Area. (Longer, but so much clearer!)

(6) Some international organizations are best known by acronyms that are derived from their non-English names. In these cases, use both the organization’s proper name and the English translation of the name (even if it seems wordy!).

The PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional; Institutional Revolutionary Party) ruled Mexico for decades. (Correct!)

Or, more informally:

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (best known by its Spanish acronym PRI) ruled Mexico for decades. (Correct!)

(7) If an acronym should be preceded by “a” or “an,” choose based on the pronunciation of the acronym. If the acronym begins with a vowel sound, use “an.” If the acronym begins with a consonant sound, use “a.”

Create a URL (“you-ar-el”) for the new website.

She joined an ROTC (“ar-oh-tee-cee”) program last year.

Security forces foiled an IRA (“eye-ar-a”) plot.

(8) To make an acronym plural, add an ‘s’—no apostrophes!!

The company is selling its old CPU’s. (Incorrect!)

The company is selling its old CPUs. (Correct!)

Each province has multiple country census divisions (CCDs). (Correct!)

Each province has multiple country census divisions (CCD’s). (Incorrect!)

(9) Watch out for redundancies! Remember what your acronym stands for so you don’t follow it up with a word that it already includes.

The Royal Bank installed new ATM machines in the shopping mall. (Incorrect! ATM = automated teller machine. Therefore, this sentence reads “…installed new automated teller machine machines…).

The Royal Bank installed new ATMs in the shopping mall. (Perfect! No redundancies here.)

Every year, thousands of students take the GRE exam. (Incorrect!)

Every year, thousands of students take the GRE. (Correct!)

If you have more questions about grammar or essay writing, or if you want to request a topic for this blog, feel free to comment or connect with me via Facebook or Twitter!

Filed under writing essays grammar essayhelp acronyms university college Essayhelp

0 notes

Reason #3 to work with a MadProofingSkillz.com Proofreader

If you’re wondering why you should go to the trouble of hiring a professional proofreader to edit your essays, here’s another great reason!

The professional proofreaders at MadProofingSkillz.com are more reliable than family or friends who volunteer to proofread your work.

Our proofreaders and editors are trained and experienced in the art of academic editing. They know what to look for and can offer you advice on how to strengthen your paper. They are also more objective than people who know you personally, and won’t be worried about hurting your feelings by suggesting improvements.

Also, since we are not “doing you a favour,” you can count on us to get your work done on time, every time!

Your service is so great! I used to get my friend to edit my work but I felt bad asking her all the time and sometimes she couldn’t finish it on time for my deadline. I used the 12-hour service so I could hand in my paper on time, and the results were fantastic. Thanks!  (Alie, Undergraduate Student)

We also give great discounts! 

Click here for 200 words edited free!

Still need convincing?

Check out reason #1 and reason #2.

If you have questions about essay writing or English grammar, feel free to ask on this blog or via Facebook or Twitter!

Filed under editing proofreading discounts promos coupon gif john ralfio parks and recreation university college writinghelp essayhelp

7 notes

Comma Sutra Pt. 3: Making Lists!

Today we have an easy comma rule! 

Use commas to separate items in a simple list.

When you are making a list of items, as long as the list items are short, separate them with commas. For example:

The premier lost the election due to economic stagnation, political stalemate, and a history of poor policy decisions.

Do I need a comma before and, or, or but?

Some say that the comma before a conjunction (and, or, or but) is unnecessary when you are making a list, and they are right that it is optional.

However, while it may be optional, it is never wrong to include a comma at the end of your list. This comma is also called the Oxford comma or the serial comma, and I always use it when I make lists. It helps to make your list items clear. For example:

With the Oxford Comma

My cats love playing with ribbon, chasing their tails, munching on catnip, and sitting on my keyboard.

It is clear to my reader that my cats love 4 things: (1) playing with ribbon; (2) chasing their tails; (3) munching on catnip; (4) sitting on my keyboard.

Without the Oxford Comma

My cats love playing with ribbon, chasing their tails, munching on catnip and sitting on my keyboard.

My reader might think that my cats love 3 things: (1) playing with ribbon; (2) chasing their tails; (3) munching on catnip while sitting on my keyboard.

You need to know when the comma is necessary, and when it is unnecessary!

For example:

I’d like to thank my parents, Bert, and Cheryl.

With the Oxford comma, my reader knows I am thanking 4 people (my two parents + Bert + Cheryl).

I’d like to thank my parents, Bert and Cheryl.

Without the Oxford comma, my reader knows I am thanking 2 people (my two parents, whose names are Bert and Cheryl).

See the difference?

The internet is full of memes demonstrating this point. Here are a few of my favourites!




If you have more Oxford comma memes, or questions about grammar, writing, essays, etc., feel free to comment on this blog or connect with me via Facebook or Twitter!

Filed under commas lists grammar serial comma oxford comma writing essays academic writing essayhelp university college

1 note

Comma Sutra Pt. 2: FANBOYS!


What, you may ask, do FANBOYS have to do with comma placement?

Well, before there were FANBOYS there were “coordinating conjunctions”—For, And, Nor, But, Or,Yet, & So. FANBOYS are connecting words that link ideas in a sentence.

Sometimes FANBOYS need commas, and sometimes they don’t! 

Use a comma between two distinct ideas separated by a FANBOYS.  

Only use a comma in front of a FANBOYS if the two ideas you are separating are distinct and can stand alone.

HINT: When you are trying to decide if a comma is necessary, take out the FANBOYS and read both parts of your sentence. If both parts can stand alone as complete sentences then you need a comma. If one of your sentences in incomplete then you don’t need a comma.

For example: 

Yesterday was Vicky’s birthday. I took her out to lunch.

Yesterday was Vicky’s birthday, so I took her out to lunch. 

My cat loves to play the piano. She is not very good.

My cat loves to play the piano, but she is not very good.

Do not use a comma with your FANBOYS if the ideas in your sentence cannot stand alone!

Your sentence must have two subjects and two verbs separated by the FANBOYS if you are going to use a comma. Otherwise, the comma is unnecessary.

For example:

My gym clothes [subject 1] smelled [verb 1] terrible, so I [subject 2] put [verb 2] them in the laundry.

This sentence has two subjects and two verbs, and the ideas are distinct. COMMA + FANBOYS ftw!

My gym clothes [subject 1] smelled [verb 1] terrible and were [verb 2] mouldy.

This sentence has only one subject and two verbs. No comma is necessary!

More examples!

COMMA + FANBOYS: The medical student passed her exams, but she still felt nervous about practicing medicine.

FANBOYS ONLY: The medical student passed her exams and felt confident about practicing medicine.

COMMA + FANBOYS: The pencil fell off of the desk, yet I did not pick it up.

FANBOYS ONLY: The pencil fell off of the desk and did not get picked up.

For more on commas, see:

Comma Sutra Pt. 1: Comma Myths!

If you have other writing or grammar questions, ask me on this blog or connect with me via Twitter or Facebook!

Filed under fanboys coordinating conjunctions conjunctions commas comma grammar writing essays essayhelp university college universitylife collegelife

6 notes

Comma Sutra Pt. 1: Comma Myths!

Among all punctuation marks, commas are perhaps the most overused and misunderstood.

Rather than overwhelm you with all the different ways you can use commas, I will break this up into a series of posts to make it easier for you to incorporate these rules into your writing.


MYTH: Commas are way too confusing. It’s impossible to figure out how to use them!

Wrong! Commas help your reader to understand how words go together in a sentence and which parts of your sentence are most important. Once you understand their function, it will be easy to see where they belong.

MYTH: Long sentences always need commas.

Wrong! Sometimes very long sentences are perfectly correct without commas. It’s not the length of the sentence you should be concerned with, but with how the parts of the sentence fit together. 

MYTH: Add a comma wherever you pause or take a breath.

Wrong! The idea that wherever you breathe in a sentence necessitates a comma is incorrect. Different readers pause at different places. You need to know the rules for comma use instead.

Follow my blog throughout the week—I’ll post a new comma rule every couple days.

You can also ask me questions about essays, grammar, or writing in general by commenting on this blog, or via Facebook or Twitter (@proofingskillz).

Filed under comma myth grammar writing academic writing essay essayhelp university college commasutra