grammar choices for graduate

grammar choices for graduate

Grammar choices for graduate students

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1. Introduction

Why study grammar? In this introduction, you will encounter some of the arguments in favor of a greater attention to grammar and mechanics in academic writing, and in the literature on English for Academic Purposes (EAP). If you are already persuaded, skip ahead to Section 2 on the difficulties; if not, read on. First, there are negative reasons: avoidance of error. In a study of examined work at the Open University, Raimes (1969) found that two thirds of the composing errors made by students involved serious sentence boundary mistakes. This kind of error can create difficulty for the reader. In particular, a sentence which begins with information related to the previous sentence (a common type of run-on or comma splice error) can impose considerable cognitive processing cost on the reader. The reader will have to re-parse the initial noun phrase or clause in order to attach it to the right part of the discourse. If it is not worth the effort, he or she may give up in disgust. Run-on sentences and sentence boundary errors, furthermore, are typical of writers from certain L1 backgrounds, for example Chinese (Grabe, 2004). Hence for some students these are areas where targeted instruction on how English grammar works, with practice for self-editing, may be the only way of effecting genuine improvement. Run-on sentences can continue to cause difficulty even for students who have successfully completed EAP courses, and have implications for academic progress and achievement. High levels of error in student work can have demotivating effects on teachers. This is confirmed by research showing that student EAP writing is often under-commented on by overworked instructors who are unsure about how best to respond to the errors they perceive (Grabe, 2002). At worst, lack of clear understanding about what is wrong with a piece of student writing has led to misdiagnosis of learning difficulties or specific language impairment on the part of the student, when the student simply needed more explicit grammar instruction. Focusing on student-identified problems in writing, Silva (1993) found that comparing to content errors, more mechanical errors had been identified and they took longer time to revise. This suggests that grammar and mechanics instruction may enable more efficient self-editing strategies, if students can be taught to identify and correct such errors without becoming preoccupied with rule memorization. Finally, it is to be hoped that increased ability in identifying and editing problem areas with grammar and mechanics will have a positive transfer effect on reading comprehension and vocabulary knowledge.

2. Importance of grammar in academic writing

In section 2, Halliday argues that the role of grammar in academic writing involves three components: “the construction of meaning,” “the expression of writer stance with respect to the proposition,” and “the expression of writer stance with respect to the social action entailed in the communication.” When constructing a clause in an academic paper, the writer chooses specific elements to “enact a grammatical metaphor about the nature of the process and its participants.” This involves the second key component. An academic writer will frequently need to present arguments and propositions and in doing so will adopt a specific stance regarding their own stance in relation to the proposition and the likelihood of alternative stances. The clause complex above clearly shows what is entailed in the second key component as the writer indicates the contrast between the “Limited control condition” and the “Reality” on students’ opinions. The final component suggests that the nature of the communication event will determine the level of grammatical intricacy. Basically, it states that different contexts will require different grammatical constructions to best fulfill the communicative goal. By this, it means that the same clause constructed in two different ways may interfere with an attempt to change from one context to another. The move may be between sections of a paper or to different communicative events, e.g., lectures, seminars. This will have implications for students and teachers of English for speakers of other languages, especially if they are involved in academic study or teaching. It has implications for the choice of grammar to be taught and the ease in acquisition of specific grammatical features.

3. Common grammar mistakes to avoid

Violating the rule that a subject must agree with its verb in number is a common mistake made by native and non-native writers. An example of this type of error occurs in sentences that start with when or if. A student who knows that he is right might say “If he knows I am correct, he won’t bother checking.” Slightly more complicated is the mistake that occurs when the subject immediately follows the verb, as in “There are many reasons to hurry.” In sentences like these, the singular verb should be used. Note that double negatives are considered “grammatically nonstandard” and the specific cultures or regional dialects may still employ them. This is important to listen for when doing fieldwork so as not to “correct” informants into the interviewer’s own dialect. A double negative used by an informant may also be a pattern of the informant’s own language interference and will provide important data for the speaker’s language variety. A more general and global teaching is to avoid double negatives when writing in a professional or academic context. Sentence fragments are another common mistake. Often in the excitement of writing an academic paper, a student may toss around an idea and then move onto the next, forgetting to form the thought into a complete sentence. This is considered a serious error when fragment usage hinders the reader’s understanding of the written content. A similar mistake is made with comma splices. A student not entirely sure of the semicolon rules may erroneously replace all semicolons with commas. This sentence writing strategy can lead to run-on sentences or the linking of two separate sentences with only a comma.

4. Strategies for improving grammar skills

4. Read for grammar. A great way to improve your grammar is to read targeted material that focuses on the points you are studying: – If you are focusing on a specific point at the sentence level, such as articles, adjectives, or conditionals, it is advantageous to find a grammar book or website that has a simple explanation and exercises specifically for that point. When studying relative clauses, I had ESL students find explanations with exercises from various sources, and then put together a worksheet based on what they thought was the best information. Reading is also effective at the proofreading stage. After learning how to edit on my own papers, I would next apply those skills to my classmates’ papers. This was a slow and sometimes frustrating process, as I was amazed by the amount of errors that native speakers could make, but it was effective in the long run.

3. Master the tenses. The consistent use of the correct tense is vital for expressing your meaning clearly: – Tenses are a common error for Japanese students, but the problem is not always using the wrong tense– it is also using a correct tense, but not using it in the appropriate situation. For example, if Japanese students see a sentence describing an event that occurred in the past, they may think that the simple past tense is the best choice to express that idea, when the present perfect may be a better choice. – It is not advantageous to simply memorize the rules for each tense, but to improve through practice and being mindful of the various situations in which each tense should be used. The Perfect English Grammar website is very useful for this, with detailed lessons and exercises on each tense.

2. Analyze your persistent errors: – Some grammar errors are more serious than others; the errors that hinder your communication or make it hard for native speakers to understand you are the ones to focus on. Every time you get a paper back from your instructor, circle the grammar errors; analyze what you did wrong, and try to figure out why you made that mistake. For instance, if you have problems constructing relative clauses, review the rules for making them and the appropriate situations to use them.

1. Learning from simple and complex exercises: – Do exercises that focus on points, such as subject-verb agreement or verb tense usage, rather than mixing all the points together in a single exercise. – As you progress, do more difficult exercises. If you are a beginning student, for example, you can start with the exercises in the back of the book; then do more difficult exercises, then try the ones on the website.

5. Conclusion

It is often thought that good English is good writing – the correct writing, the clear writing, the interesting writing. In Teaching English Grammar, it is an undisputed fact that good English is all of these whetstones for obtaining the tool of communication. Only in the last couple hundred years has the scrutiny of English grammar – the tool of putting words together correctly – been considered as more than just a subject for the schoolmaster. Truly, grammar is the history of language; and many solutions to both Americans’ and English’ problems with grammar lie in a simple understanding of the history of the words in question. With the modern definer of grammar as something that is spoken, written, and read, it confines the word to a single definition in one person’s language. This makes it hard for most people to determine what sounds and looks right. Teaching English Grammar is purposed for not just future teachers of the language, but for average people who would like to know more about their native tongue. With an understanding of the book, clearer communication in English can become a reality. The Teaching English Grammar website welcomes the reader with a charming disclaimer from the start. “And now, from time to time, you may want to consult this site alone, so as not to be unduly intimidated.” This is the epitome of what the readers of Teaching English Grammar want from the very start. This book will not talk down its readers and will do its best to make the language of grammar make sense. This is what the grammatically unenlightened need most and the future teachers are currently striving for.

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