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Sentence Structure

Where one sentence ends and another begins.

Common problems

‘This’ / ‘these’ / ‘therefore’

‘This’ / ‘these’ / ‘therefore’ often indicates a new sentence but students often incorrectly use a comma before such words.

Example: The results also suggest that there were no gender differences in the propensity to recycle waste, this is in accord with the literature survey.

This example is incorrect because here the word ‘this’ is part of a new sentence.

Example: The results also suggest that there were no gender differences in the propensity to recycle waste. This is in accord with the literature survey.

This example is correct. Here we have two independent sentences which could be joined into one if the word ‘and’ is used after ‘waste’. Some writers would say that this helps the text to flow better. See below:

The results also suggest that there were no gender differences in the propensity to recycle waste, and this is in accord with the literature survey.

Remember though that when ‘and’ or ‘but’ are used in this way they must be preceded by a comma.

‘Whereas’ and ‘while’

‘Whereas’ and ‘while’ are used with commas to separate two clauses within one sentence. It is incorrect to use a full stop. (In simple terms, a clause is a grammatical structure which contains a subject and a verb).

Example: The more valuable assets such as land, jewellery or lengths of fabric represent wealth. Whereas small livestock have a more utilitarian function.
This example is incorrect because a ‘while’ or ‘whereas’ clause must be joined to a main clause. They should not be written separately.

Example: The more valuable assets such as land, jewellery or lengths of fabric represent wealth, whereas small livestock have a more utilitarian function.

This example is correct. Note that a ‘while or whereas’ clause can also be used at the beginning of a sentence. Other words that can be used in this way are ‘if’, ‘when’, ‘although’ and ‘because’.

Example: While the results are indicative of a successful programme, the authors raise a concern that the overcrowding of classrooms could lower school quality.

'However'

‘However’, used to indicate contrast, should be used in a separate (new) sentence. ‘However’ can also be preceded by a semi-colon (;).

Example: Huberman (1996) suggests that efficiency wages may have appeared as early as the 1830s in cotton textile factories, however such compensation systems are not likely to have been important in an occupation such as agricultural labour.

This example is incorrect because ‘however’ is normally used to begin a separate (new) sentence.

Example: Huberman (1996) suggests that efficiency wages may have appeared as early as the 1830s in cotton textile factories. However, such compensation systems are not likely to have been important in an occupation such as agricultural labour.

Example: Huberman (1996) suggests that efficiency wages may have appeared as early as the 1830s in cotton textile factories; however, such compensation systems are not likely to have been important in an occupation such as agricultural labour.

Both of these are correct. The second example is less common but some writers say that it helps the writing to flow better.

‘However’ does not have to be the first word of the new sentence. It can come after another word or phrase. In this case, it is separated by commas.

Example: Huberman (1996) suggests that efficiency wages may have appeared as early as the 1830s in cotton textile factories. Such compensation systems, however, are not likely to have been important in an occupation such as agricultural labour.

Some writers say that placing ‘however’ in the non-initial position like this also enhances a sense of ‘flow’, making the writing less abrupt. Like ‘however’, the word ‘but’ can be used to indicate contrast. Unlike ‘however’, ‘but’ is generally used to join two ideas within the same single sentence and is preceded by a comma.

Example: Huberman suggests that efficiency wages may have appeared as early as the 1830s in cotton textile factories, but such compensation systems are not likely to have been important in an occupation such as agricultural labour.
Note that ‘but’ can be used to join two sentences into one in the same way as ‘and’, and that when they do this, they are normally preceded by a comma.

Lists

In academic writing it is often necessary to include lists. In such cases you should use a colon (:).

Example: In 2004, the top recipient countries were: Iraq, Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, Colombia, Jordan and Pakistan.

Or:

Homework is valuable for the following reasons:
(i) It can help pupils to make more rapid progress in learning.
(ii) It can allow pupils to develop the practice of working on their own without the constant presence of the teacher or other pupils.
(iii) Work at home can provide the quiet and private conditions needed for creative and thoughtful work of all kinds.
(iv) It can allow valuable practice of skills learned in the classroom.
(v) ……..

Or:

The decade prior to the dawn of the new millennium was punctuated at regular intervals with major economic and financial crises: Japan continually threatened, and partially delivered, an economic meltdown throughout the decade; Europe experienced a financial crisis in 1992; a major financial collapse occurred in Mexico in 1994; there were similar collapses in Thailand, Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia in 1997 and 1998; Brazil and Argentina followed in 1999 and 2001.

The different ways of listing items shown above are all acceptable in academic writing. Short lists, however, are best kept within the text (see the first and last examples above), whereas long lists are better numbered or used with bullet points (see the second example).