Table of Contents
 Introduction to Language Skill Handbook
Back to Language Skills Handbook Home Page
Ten basic rules
Common errors in grammar
Spelling and Word Choice
Use punctuation correctly
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Written Reports page
Oral Presentations page
A Few Words on Plagiarism
ETSU Resources
Credits page

Grammar & Usage

All students enrolled in classes in the College of Applied Science and Technology are expected to exhibit proficiency in basic grammar skills. One of the major tasks of revising and polishing a paper or presentation is to correct errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage. Even with years of training in this area, most writers will occasionally experience difficulty choosing the correct form or usage.

Many students erroneously assume that as long as their writing assignments contain the proper information, they have credibility. Wrong! A reader could justifiably question the technical competence of a person who displays poor writing skills. All writing must have correct grammar and usage if it is to be considered credible and noteworthy. Studies clearly reveal that those who write (and speak) well excel in the job market and they rise faster in their careers.

If you feel that you have a weak background in grammar, you are encouraged to discuss the situation with your instructor or faculty advisor. If they cannot offer appropriate assistance, they may suggest additional sources of help such as the ETSU Writing and Communication Center, tutoring, library resources, or other university services. A listing of these resources is included in the last section of this handbook.

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Ten basic rules

The following is a brief review of ten fundamental language skills:

  • Understand the subject matter yourself before trying to communicate it to others.
  • Understand the nature of your audience and communicate with sincerity and authority; put yourself in the place of an interested reader or audience member.
  • Choose a publication or presentation style appropriate to the subject and audience.
  • Correct spelling, punctuation, and pronunciation DO matter.
  • Carefully choose and place words to enhance communication and prevent confusion.
  • Use parallel construction for compound elements, comparisons, and lists.
  • Develop sentences that are clear, concise, and complete, containing both a subject and a verb.
  • Ensure paragraphs are coherent and begin with a topic sentence.
  • Begin all reports and presentations with a focused introduction, flow from one major idea to another in the body, and end with a meaningful summary or conclusion.
  • Limit the number of major points you want to make to three or four.

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Common errors in grammar

This section contains links to a web page containing a few of the more common errors and sub-standard usages that you should look for and correct during the editing process. Proper and improper examples are provided together with references to appropriate sections of The Blair Handbook (henceforth referred to simply as "Blair").

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Spelling and word choice

See Blair, sect. 50

Correct spelling and the use of a vocabulary appropriate to the situation in which the communication takes place is essential. Incorrect spelling or the use of inappropriate technical words (e.g., level for parallel) will make the communicator appear ignorant-the last thing you should want to do. The selection of inappropriate words may cloud or obscure the meaning you wish to convey.

Writers who use word processors and presentation software (and that should include just about everyone) should become proficient in the use of the applications' spell checkers, thesauri, and grammar checkers. Nonetheless, careful proof reading is still required, for spell checkers will not flag a correctly-spelled word used incorrectly (e.g., their or they're used for there) or some mis-typed words like from and form.

An up-to-date collegiate-level dictionary or thesaurus should be consulted as an aid to spelling, pronunciation, and meaning.

(errors emphasized)


Altho a flange may not be tru to it's spindle, it may be corrected by carefull remolding. Although a flange may not be true to its spindle, it may be corrected by careful remolding.
Use of margerine, buter, shortning, or larde will produce a pastrie of varying tenderness. Use of margarine, butter, shortening, or lard will produce a pastry of varying tenderness.
The connexion can be easliy maid by usin a sawkit rench too titen the stainless steal skrews. The connection can be easily made by using a socket wrench to tighten the stainless steel screws.
The boxes were seperated from the new attachment and fited into the basket. There sizes were irrevelant in this particular location. The boxes were separated from the new attachment and fitted into the basket. Their sizes were irrelevant in this particular location.
Protien is essential in the diet of a healthy individule. Protein is essential in the diet of a healthy individual.
Be certin that there carefully fixed against the writting platform and that their are no sharp pertuberences. Be certain that the braces are carefully fixed against the writing platform and that all sharp protuberances have been removed.
Cut the TV off when you're done. Turn the TV off when the program is over.
I have an ideal that will save us time. I have an idea that will save us time.

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Use punctuation correctly to facilitate communication.

See Blair, sects. 43 through 49.)


What is the next procedure. You need to use the following steps, grasp the hammer in your right hand, place the nail perpendicular to the wood, and drive the nail directly into the wood. What is the next procedure? Use the following steps: grasp the hammer in your right hand; place the nail perpendicular to the wood; then drive the nail directly into the wood.
Applied Human Sciences draw from a variety of disciplines; sociology; psychology; business; economics; biology; chemistry; art; architecture; and on and on; and combines the knowledge from these disciplines into a form that provides practical applications to everyday living. Applied Human Sciences draw from a variety of disciplines-sociology, psychology, business, economics, biology, chemistry, art, architecture, etc.-and combines the knowledge from these disciplines into a form that provides practical applications to everyday living.

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Language to avoid

The following section deals with language conventions that are to be used to eliminate (a) stereotypes; (b) sexist language; and (c) biased language.  While the term "political correctness" springs to mind here, remember that the workplace is ethinically and culturally diverse where a single, unintentional slight could literally cost your company thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Avoid stereotyping

See Blair, sect. 32a.

Generalizations based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, age, physical attributes, and similar characteristics usually reflect the writer's biases and have a negative effect on credibility. When editing, look for sweeping generalizations in phrases such as like most college students. Never assume that any one member of a group has the same attributes as the group itself. Likewise, do not use unsupported qualitative statements; instead use quantitative values (e.g., 87% of ETSU freshmen).

Avoid sexist language

See Blair, sect. 32c.

Although one might argue ad infinitum whether the term man refers to the species homo sapiens (including both male and female variants) or refers only to the human male, non-sexist language should be used in technical writing.

Avoid use of he, she, and similar exclusive terms unless referring specifically to a female or male. Also avoid man, men, and similar exclusive terms.



The technologist who wishes his blueprints to be accurate must have his appropriate materials, his references, and room for his work. The technologist who wishes to draw an accurate plan must be sure to have the appropriate materials, references, and room to work.
The audience should be the demonstrator's guide to her presentation. She should analyze the audience and plan her remarks accordingly. The audience should be the demonstrator's guide to the presentation. The audience should be analyzed and the remarks planned accordingly.
Primitive man discovered the practical uses of fire quite accidentally. The practical uses of fire were discovered by primitive people quite accidentally.
The committee chairman led the meeting. The committee chairperson led the meeting.
The committee chair led the meeting.

Avoid gender-specific words

Use universal or gender neutral terms for occupations




business person


camera operator, photographer


fire fighter


manufactured, handmade


police officer


sales people





Avoid biased language

See Blair, sect 2b.

Formal technical writings and presentations, including conclusions and recommendations, must be based upon fact. Facts give a body of work credibility. All facts must be documented to ensure that they can be later verified by a reader or an audience member.

However, in most of your writing and presentation assignments, you will be expected to form some type of inference (a conclusion based upon an accumulation of facts). Opinions (personal beliefs based upon emotion, faith, or myth) are rarely used in technical writing. In such cases, all inferences or opinions should be clearly identifiable; they should never be disguised as facts.

Within the context of your work, other people's inferences and opinions are to be considered as facts; they should be appropriately identified within the body of the work and in the reference or bibliography section. More information on correctly citing and referencing sources is contained in the next section. The consequences of not identifying other people's work and ideas are contained in the section dealing with plagiarism.

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One of our expectations is that you develop the ability to present a clear, concise description of a simple system or process. In the first example, note how the use of different typefaces and special symbols make the description clearer.



Get the first diskette in the disk drive after first turning the computer on. At the prompt, type A:SETUP <return> to install. Be sure to turn the machine on and finish booting before you put the first disk in the floppy drive. Turn on the computer and wait for the computer to finish its initialization processes. Insert the diskette labeled "Disk 1" face up into the floppy disk drive. At the DOS prompt (typically C:\>), type A:SETUP and press the "Enter" or "Reurn" key to begin the installation process.
You take your screw and screwdriver. And you fit the screw to the pilot hole. Screw it into the wood. It won't work if you don't use a Phillips screwdriver and you turn too hard. Place the screw into the pilot hole. Using a #2 Phillips screwdriver, turn the screw clockwise with firm, even pressure.
Put meat on the bread after you have put on the mayonnaise. Then put on the tomatoes and cheese and lettuce and the other slice. You should have the cheese on top of the meat and the lettuce under the tomato. Cut it. Arrange your sandwich fillings in order: mayonnaise, meat, cheese, lettuce, and sliced tomato. Spread mayonnaise in a thin, even layer on one slice of bread. Add meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Top with the second bread slice and cut the sandwich into halves or quarters using a sharp knife.
Cook six fresh and deteriorated eggs. Let them come up to room temperature first. Don't forget to mark the deteriorated ones. Cook in the pressure saucepan. Let cook for 5 minutes. Then cook in simmering water. Cook for 20 minutes. Cook in boiling water. Cook these for about 13 minutes. Bring six fresh and six deteriorated eggs to room temperature. Mark the deteriorated eggs with a marking pencil. Cook two fresh and two deteriorated eggs in simmering water for 20 minutes. Cook two fresh and two deteriorated eggs in boiling water for 13 minutes. Cook two fresh and two deteriorated eggs in a pressure saucepan for 5 minutes.
You need heavy sandpaper and don't forget to wipe the surface before you apply varnish. Use long strokes. Sand the surface until it is very smooth with fine sandpaper. Use a thin brush and if you don't want blurry, blotched results, don't rub too hard. With the varnish. To prepare the surface you will need both coarse and fine abrasives. When you have sanded and smoothed the surface, be sure to wipe away all residue. Then apply varnish with a thin brush using long, even strokes. Do not force the varnish into the wood or the finish will be blurred and blotched.


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Last updated on Thuesday, Nov. 20, 2001 by Bill Hemphill