Boundless Writing

Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” through Chapter 14 “Creating Presentations: Sharing Your Ideas” focus on how to write a research paper. Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” guides students through the process of conducting research, while Chapter 12 “Writing a Research Paper” explains how to transform that research into a finished paper. Chapter 13 “APA and MLA Documentation and Formatting” explains how to format your paper and use a standard system for documenting sources. Finally, Chapter 14 “Creating Presentations: Sharing Your Ideas” discusses how to transform your paper into an effective presentation.

Research tips for effective writing.

Sentence-Level Skills

The Eberly tutors have identified these sites as ones that are personally useful to them. In the annotation that follows each site, a tutor explains that benefits of the site. While the Eberly tutors hope you find these sites useful, we encourage you to come and visit us for a face-to-face session in the Writing Center.

Usually, effective writing uses the active voice and dodges the passive. However, particular situations are awkward or incorrect when expressed in the active voice. This article will explain the difference between active and passive voice and detail when to use each. It will also review how to convert passive sentences into active ones. E.S.

Are you writing your paper or is your paper being written by you? That last sentence contained both the active and passive voice (respectively). Do you want your paper to be active? Passive? Both? If you do not know the intricacies of using these forms of voice, or you just want to sharpen your active/passive knowledge, check out this site for a clear and simple explanation of the subject. J.W.

You may have learned that passive voice is bad, but did you know that there are certain instances when passive voice can be appropriate, or even the best choice for your paper? The University of North Carolina busts several myths about the passive voice, defines it in clear terms, and then provides situations when passive voice is or is not acceptable. The article then suggests a trick to determine when to use passive or active voice. M.N.

Passive voice is a sentence construction in which the object being acted on comes before the subject or actor, who is added at the end. ("The pizza is being eaten by zombies.") You may have learned that it is an error in academic writing, but, in fact, there are instances when it is preferred. This resource discusses the problems with passive voice and how to identify it, but also demonstrates when it is acceptable. J.D.

When a word or a phrase describes a nonexistent subject, it forms a dangerously "dangling" modifier. Note the first part of the sentence: "Having finished his homework, the TV was turned on by Jack." Now this sentence literally means that the TV, not Jack, has finished the homework. Such a mistake is dangerous because writers are often insensitive to it. This site extensively discusses the problem of dangling modifiers and provides abundant examples to help you revise them. X.Z.

Developing Your Voice as a Writer

Learning Objectives

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While academic writing stresses formal conventions, opportunities exist to experiment with a wide range of styles and voices.
  • A more casual writing style might include contractions, humor, exclamations, and/or familiar vocabulary. Others writings may include clause-heavy sentences, esoteric terminology, and formal language. Still others favor analogies, idioms, metaphors, and colorful imagery.
  • “Authorial voice” is a characteristic of a writer’s distinctive style. It is an important element of academic writing, fiction, and nonfiction.
  • Voice is developed over time and through experience.

Key Terms

You’ve probably heard that one quality found in good writing is voice. “Voice” refers to elements of the author ‘s tone, phrasing, and style that are recognizably unique to her or him. A distinctive, persuasive voice will successfully engage your audience — without it, your writing risks losing your reader despite your top notch research or how well you adhered to sound writing practices. Yes, academic writing has rules about format, style, and objectivity that you must follow, but these will not rescue boring, impersonal prose. Whatever you choose to write about, be certain to develop an authorial voice!

Having a “unique voice” does not translate into having a radically different style from others. In academic writing, voice boils down to seemingly insignificant small habits and personal preferences. But they matter! If each student in your class was told to explain a complex concept, not one would do it in the same way. Each would use different language and syntax to say the same basic thing. Over time, each student would continue to make similar choices in language and syntax, and readers would eventually associate those choices with particular writers — each student would have developed an authorial voice.

Common Writing Pitfalls

The proper use of grammar increases the clarity of your writing, and creates an easy flow of words and ideas for the reader to follow. Common problems occur when using the passive voice, incorrect punctuation and confusing word options. The examples in this section provide easy-to-remember tips to avoid these errors in your own writing.

Active vs. Passive Voice

Active voice is generally preferred in most forms of writing. It places emphasis on the subject of a sentence and the action taking place. Active voice usually requires fewer words than passive voice and communicates action more clearly to the reader.



Commas divide sentences into separate components, which improves readability, creates a pause and connects thoughts. They may be used with conjunctions (e.g., and, but, for, so), to separate items in a series, or to emphasize a phrase or clause.




Hyphen guidelines are not as strict as those for other types of punctuation. Primary use includes connecting two words to create a compound adjective when they come before a noun in a sentence. They are also used with some prefixes.



Periods are used to end sentences, and in some abbreviations. Check your style guide (e.g., APA, MLA) for more specific instructions on abbreviations, since the rules vary.

Words to Watch

Many college students struggle with some of the most common punctuation and grammar mistakes. Review the words listed below, along with tips for proper usage.

They’re, their, there

These words all sound the same, but have different meanings. They’re is the contraction of they and are; their is possessive (as in, it belongs to them) and there is a location (as in, here or there).

Two, too, to

These words all sound the same, but have different meanings. Two is a number (as in, one, two, three). Too is used to say "also" or as an alternative to "very." To is a preposition (which often indicated movement) or as part of an infinitive (e.g., to write).

🤔 Staying Focused

It is easy to lose focus when you are working. Either you are becoming tired and lacking concentration or procrastinating. Finding other things to do than settling down to write can seem desirable. You should focus and be highly productive during your work time.

How to stay focused while writing.

Work with the rhythms of your brain. The human brain goes through a process called the ultradian cycle. It takes you through periods of active concentration and focuses and then into periods during which it needs rest. Fast Company explains that the natural cycle is to work for 90 minutes and rest your mind for 20 minutes. You will then be energized enough to work for another 90 minutes. If you take advantage of this natural cycle, you will always be working at peak efficiency, and you won’t lose focus and waste your time.

Incorporate physical activity into your breaks. When you do take some rest during your writing time, doing some form of exercise is essential. Stand up and do a couple of stretches or go for a walk. Sing, dance, wave your hands, or even scream. It will help you wake up and complete your essay as soon as possible.

Try listening to music. If you are working in a place with various distractions, it is a good idea. Music can help you reduce tension and concentrate. Make sure you don’t start singing because it can be very distracting. Choose tracks without lyrics or songs in another language.

Block out all potential distractions. If you don’t need to use the Internet, then work offline. If you need access to the Internet to do research, close any tabs related to your email and social media. Oh, and turn off your phone! All the Twitter updates and text messages can wait. Avoid drinking too much liquid because bathroom breaks can be very disruptive. Avoid anything that could distract you during a work session.

Overview: College Writing Skills

You now have a solid foundation of skills and strategies you can use to succeed in college. The remainder of this book will provide you with guidance on specific aspects of writing, ranging from grammar and style conventions to how to write a research paper.

  • Plan ahead. Divide the work into smaller, manageable tasks, and set aside time to accomplish each task in turn.
  • Make sure you understand the assignment requirements, and if necessary, clarify them with your instructor. Think carefully about the purpose of the writing, the intended audience, the topics you will need to address, and any specific requirements of the writing form.
  • Complete each step of the writing process. With practice, using this process will come automatically to you.
  • Use the resources available to you. Remember that most colleges have specific services to help students with their writing.

For help with specific writing assignments and guidance on different aspects of writing, you may refer to the other chapters in this book. The table of contents lists topics in detail. As a general overview, the following paragraphs discuss what you will learn in the upcoming chapters.

Chapter 2 “Writing Basics: What Makes a Good Sentence?” through Chapter 7 “Refining Your Writing: How Do I Improve My Writing Technique?” will ground you in writing basics: the “nuts and bolts” of grammar, sentence structure, and paragraph development that you need to master to produce competent college-level writing. Chapter 2 “Writing Basics: What Makes a Good Sentence?” reviews the parts of speech and the components of a sentence. Chapter 3 “Punctuation” explains how to use punctuation correctly. Chapter 4 “Working with Words: Which Word Is Right?” reviews concepts that will help you use words correctly, including everything from commonly confused words to using context clues.

Chapter 5 “Help for English Language Learners” provides guidance for students who have learned English as a second language. Then, Chapter 6 “Writing Paragraphs: Separating Ideas and Shaping Content” guides you through the process of developing a paragraph while Chapter 7 “Refining Your Writing: How Do I Improve My Writing Technique?” has tips to help you refine and improve your sentences.