Grammar and punctuation

You spend a lot of time writing, texts, emails, shopping lists, letters to friends, and filling in forms. For each of these, you will use a different style of writing, choosing whichever is appropriate for the purpose and the people you are writing for.  

The style of writing you will be expected to use for academic work is likely to be different from other styles you use every day. It is part of your academic training to learn how to write in this more formal style, it demonstrates discipline and thoughtfulness and is important to communicate your ideas clearly. This page offers advice on developing key aspects of your academic writing. 

This guide does not aim to be a comprehensive guide to English grammar. It focuses on some of the common problems students have in using grammar in their academic writing. See UCSD’s Punctuation guide for definitions of punctuation symbols. 

Thinking about grammar 

Grammar is the system we use for organising language so that it is deliberately meaningful. It is not a set of absolute rules, but a kind of code that we all agree to as English language speakers so that we can communicate ideas to each other. In informal writing, like texting or instant messaging, grammatical errors are usually overlooked. In creative writing and colloquial speech, the system can be tweaked for effect; if you are studying any form of creative writing as a primary text, you will get used to analysing the kinds of effects that are caused in this way.  

However, in other situations, where it is necessary to convey ideas accurately and clearly, writing grammatically is important. In academic writing, where you are expected to demonstrate your understanding of complex ideas, it is essential. 

Thinking about words 

Words are the basic units of the grammatical system. Words belong to various word classes, with each class doing a different job of constructing the meaning of a sentence. There are seven major word classes: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions. 

When to capitalise a noun 

Nouns are commonly thought of as naming words 

  • cup, John, sky, summer, truth

Common nouns are used to identify instances of a class of things

  • a cup is more useful if it has a handle 
  • the cups were on the second shelf 
  • cups can be a welcome present in a new home

Proper nouns are the names that certain individuals, things, or places claim as their own. They are distinguished from common nouns by being capitalised  

  • Example: The World Cup is probably the most sought-after trophy in international football 
  • Example: The World Cup is probably the most sought-after trophy in international football 

If unsure, ask yourself: does the name identify a specific person or thing?

Remember: proper nouns, need capitalising, e.g. ancient Greece

However, when identifying something which is an instance of a group of things it is a common noun, it does not require capitalisation, e.g. the ancient world.

Skills refresher

Refresh your memory by working through a free short course on Writing in English for University – Online Course – FutureLearn


Useful links

Library – information on using the library, searching for physical and digital resources, and accessing inter-library loans.

eResources – browse and search the Library’s online resources, including eBooks and online databases.

Primo (UoP students) -Ignore any “sign in” buttons when searching for and accessing a resource until you are taken to a Microsoft sign-in screen featuring the University of Plymouth logo. You will be prompted to sign in with your UoP email address and password.

HE Study – Contact the HE Study team for support and guidance via email or on Teams.