English Writing Skills

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The Semicolon:


The semicolon may be new to you. It is used between clauses and to divide long elements of a list. Remember that a clause contains a noun and a verb. Independent clauses can stand alone as sentences, whereas dependent clauses cannot. Phrases are groups of words, usually of the same part of speech. The following examples show uses of the semicolon:

Between two independent clauses:

Kyoto was the capital of Japan from 795–1868; it remains an important cultural center in Japan today.

To divide long elements of a list:

The Lake Biwa Canal was built for three main purposes: to bring people and goods from Lake Biwa to Kyoto; to provide a stable supply of water to the city of Kyoto; and to generate electricity for lighting and transportation.

To introduce certain connecting words (accordingly, also, anyhow, besides, consequently, furthermore, hence, however, in addition, indeed, likewise, moreover, nevertheless, still, then, and therefore) that join two independent clauses:

Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan; however, it is also a major commercial and academic center.

In the above examples, the semicolon cuts and divides parts of a sentence into easily recognized pieces. Think of the semicolon as a knife or a red light. In academic writing, the semicolon is used most commonly to divide long elements of a list.

The Colon:


The colon is completely different from the semicolon. Do not confuse the two or think that they are interchangeable. Like the semicolon, the colon connects two independent clauses. It also introduces lists and long quotations, and is used in the greeting of a letter or e-mail message. Notice the following uses of the colon.

Between two independent clauses:

Paik knows what every good artist in the late twentieth century should know: mythologized artists sell.

To introduce a list:

The subjects were divided into three groups: students who completed one semester of Japanese, students who completed one year of Japanese, and students who completed two years of Japanese.

To introduce a long quotation:

In 1972, Yi Hoesong made a bold prediction: Literature by Koreans in Japan will disappear someday. He said:
As an insider in the movement of Korean literature in Japan, I can see that it’s just a temporary phenomenon. I don’t know if what I speak of will happen in ten years or not for decades, but I know that Korean literature in Japan is transitional. That’s because its aim as a literature is to rejoin the Korean mainstream of literature. So, in a certain sense, this literature by Koreans in Japan would be better off not lasting long in Japan. At least that’s my opinion. The sooner it’s over, the better. After all, when Korea is unified, Korean literature in Japan will have no reason to exist.


( )

Parentheses are used to enclose additional information that is inserted into a sentence. This information is not required to understand the sentence. It is usually background information or writer’s comments. Notice the following example:

Parentheses also have the following special uses:

To enclose numbers in a list that is embedded in a sentence:

The results showed that (1) students with good listening skills have good pronunciation and (2) students who read a lot have good writing skills.

To note life spans or other biographical information:

Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945) is one of Japan’s most noted philosophers.

In academic writing, parentheses have the following uses:

To enclose references in APA and other author-date bibliographical styles:

Tanaka (2001) concluded that light rail was the most efficient type of transportation for Kyoto.

To enclose short references in a sentence:

Regarding the pattern of readability across the curriculum, we found that the increase in volume and difficulty (i.e., decline in readability) between second and third-year textbooks in Japan is more gradual than in Korean textbooks.

The Asterisk:


The asterisk is placed next to words or sentences to indicate notes. If you have more than one note on a page, you may use two or three asterisks to indicate different notes. In academic writing, asterisks are not used to indicate notes in the text, but may be used to indicate note, usually of acknowledgement, to a title. The asterisk is also used to indicate notes to the tables and figures.

The Hyphen:

As you know, the hyphen is used in many compound words that were once separate words. The hyphen has the other special uses:

To indicate compound adjectives:

Earthquake-resistant buildings are expensive to build.

To combine parts of words to create new words:

E-learning remains one of the most controversial topics in education today.

The Dash:

The dash is set off material from the rest of the sentence. It can be used instead of commas to set off additional material in the sentence as in the following example:

Kyoto dialect belongs to Kansai dialect—the dialect of a region of more than 20 million people—but it also retains many unique features.

The dash can also be used to note the additional of a summarizing word, phrase or clause.

The dash is also used to set off the source of a quotation. In this case, the source is usually well known and only the full name or full name and date are given.

A shorter dash is used between dates to indicate a period of time, such as a life span or term of office. This type of dash is called an en-dash, whereas the longer dash discussed above is called an em-dash. The en-dash is often confused with a hyphen. Notice the difference between the three forms:

  • Em-dash: The Maeda family—the ruling lords of Kanazawa—was the most powerful family in the Edo Period.
  • En-dash: Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536–1598) remains one of the most controversial figures in Japanese history.
  • Hyphen: Nagasaki is famous for its 19th-century Western-style architecture.


Ellipses are three periods that are used to indicate omitted parts of quotations. This is convenient when you wish to omit unnecessary parts of a longer quotation.

Ellipses are also used to indicate writer’s thoughts or to give hints. This type of usage is common in creative writing, but rare in academic writing.

Remember that when ellipses occur at the end of a sentence, a fourth period is used to complete the sentence.

The Virgule:


The virgule is often called a “slash” and is used in several specialized situations.

In academic writing, some writers use the virgule in “he/she” or “h/she” for gender neutral writing. A better way to deal with gender in academic writing is to use the plural form. The combination “and/or” also appears in some academic writing, but is considered bad style because it is not clear.

The virgule is also used to separate lines of poetry that are quoted as prose in a text.

In other uses, the virgule can replace the word “and” and “per” as in “$50/barrel.”


[ ]

Brackets are used to give writer’s, editor’s, and translator’s comments in a text.

Brackets also have the following special uses:

  • To insert comments in material that is already in parentheses.
  • To enclose sic, which indicates errors in the original text. Usually these are spelling or minor factual errors. Sic is Latin for “thus it is.”
  • To give a phonetic pronunciation of a word.

In academic writing in English, one important use of brackets is to give an English translation of titles of books and articles written in foreign languages.

The Ampersand:


The Ampersand is the & mark and is used to replace and. It is used in APA style for bibliographic references. Do not use the ampersand in the text or in headings in academic writing.


As you know, proper nouns are capitalized. In academic writing, capitalization is frequent, so pay close attention to how it is used in your field. In general, however, the following items are usually capitalized:

  • Names of academic associations
  • Titles of academic departments and units in a university
  • Titles of degrees and other professional qualifications
  • Extended academic studies
  • Artistic, intellectual, religious movements
  • Names of NGOs, NPOs, and political and social organizations.


Italics are slanted letters that indicate the following:

  • Titles of books, journals, magazines, and newspapers
  • Titles of films, plays, operas, and epic poems
  • Names of ships, trains, and aircrafts
  • Names of legal cases
  • Foreign words and phrases used in English
  • Latin names of genus and species
  • A word, figure, or letter used as a name and not to represent an idea
  • Letters used to represent persons
  • Stage directions in a play
  • To emphasize a word in a sentence

In academic writing, italics are mainly used for titles, foreign words, and Latin names of genus and species. Remember that some Japanese words have become English words, so you may want to consult a good English-English dictionary to check this. Be careful of using italics for emphasis in academic writing.


Numbers are often difficult to deal with in English. The following guidelines are useful:

  • Spell out numbers from one to ten as words. Write numbers above 11 in Arabic numerals.
  • Do not start a sentence with a number; write it in words instead.
  • spell out round numbers above one hundred. Round numbers are large even numbers, such as one hundred, one thousand, or one million.
  • Spell out fractions that stand alone.
  • Spell out numbers referring to centuries and political and social groups.
  • Spell out the age of persons.
  • Use numbers for pages, sections, chapters, etc.
  • Write out numerals as compound adjectives.
  • Use numbers for percentages and other statistical and mathematical figures.