All posts by Athena Buell

Functional Word, Pt. II: Check Yourself

When Microsoft Word introduced significant changes to its design in 2007, one thing that seemed to disappear was Spelling and Grammar Check. Luckily, it still exists, albeit hidden, and it has become a lot more useful.

Under the “Review” tab (between “Mailings” and “View”), spelling and grammar check finds its home.  Here, the first button on the toolbar will point out all of (or many, it IS just a computer and not a writing tutor, after all) your spelling errors and sentence fragments. There is only one problem with this: many professors are on the lookout for far more than your standard grammar errors. These professors might ask you to use only active voice (and avoid passive) and remind you that contractions are strictly forbidden.

Standard grammar check will not highlight these errors, but right now, on my screen, “are strictly forbidden” has a lovely squiggly blue line under it because it is an example of passive voice. This has happened (the blue line, not the passive voice) because I adjusted my settings. Under the “File” tab, the same place you will find “Save” and “Print”, you will find “Options” at the bottom of the list on the left.
Check yourself by going to "proofing" and select the needed options!

This opens up another window. One of the items in the list there is “Proofing.”  Under the section, “When correcting spelling and grammar in Word” is an option “Writing Style” with a drop-down menu. The default is “Grammar Only.” If you change this to “Grammar and Style,” Word will gladly yell at you too for passive voice and contraction use. There are many, many more functions of Word you can adjust here, such as what is auto-corrected, but that’s a topic for another day.

For now, enjoy the colorful little squiggly lines that Word gives you and remember, if you’re unsure why that line is there, simply place the cursor over it and right click. Grammar check will offer corrections or at least tell you which error it sees.

Let Our SPC Writing Navigators Guide You on Your Next Essay

Meet a writing navigator at our writing studio!

It is not easy to ask for help. The more lost you feel, the more difficult it is.  When writing, this feeling is only compounded by the necessity of staring at a blank screen. There are a million different destinations to visit and a million different routes to take, and every word can feel like a step in the wrong direction. You do not have to feel this way; St. Petersburg College has made sure of it. SPC supplies its students with navigators, your very own writing GPS.

I name us ‘GPS’s rather than Maps’ because a map will show all possible routes, while the GPS will tell you, “In two hundred feet, turn left.”  Writing Studio staff can guide you to your destination: a completed assignment.  However, like a GPS, we cannot give you a route without a destination.  Like inputting the correct city and street address into a GPS, it is important to give your tutor all of the information you can. You will get better results by searching for “Cappy’s Pizza” than by simply searching for “food.”

This information includes assignment descriptions and rubrics from your professor. If a tutor knows what you are supposed to write about, in what format, and how you are being graded, the tutor can help you plan your route to avoid any unnecessary detours. Feedback you have already gotten from your professor elevates your Writing GPS from basic Maps-level directions to Waze-level navigation. It is akin to having current traffic information in avoiding slowdowns. If your navigator knows where the slowdowns are, they can guide you around them.

Every journey requires both driver and navigator, so come prepared to see your friendly neighborhood writing navigator in the Writing Studio. We will make sure you end up where you intended to go.

Sentence Structure: Variety is the Spice of Life

sentence variation

Sentences are the building blocks of paragraphs, novels, and academic papers. Building a strong sentence is the start of an “A” paper. Keep the reader’s interest using subordination and coordination. Take a look at the following two examples.

Sentences can be simple.  They convey information to the reader. Readability is important to effectively convey this information. Simple sentences won’t help a sleeping reader.

Sentences can be simple, but they don’t have to be that way to perform their function.  Though readability is important to effectively convey information, more complex sentences can show how ideas are related and provide more interest to the reader.

Make your sentence sparkle

Which one of those paragraphs would you prefer to read? (I’m guessing the second.) Is the second paragraph really any harder to understand than the first? (I’m guessing you’ll say no.)  The second paragraph uses what we crazy English types call coordination and subordination, the two main methods of joining ideas.  Before we get into all of that, let’s take a trip down memory lane to my last post, where we discussed fragments, which are dependent clauses while complete sentences are independent clauses. This will all become relevant soon.


Coordination is the joining of two independent clauses, so two complete sentences.   It is coordination because they are working together. Neither has any more weight than the other.  Let’s use those last two sentences to showcase different methods of coordination.

Semicolon use

It is coordination because they are working together; neither has any more weight than the other.

Coordinating conjunction use (FANBOYS – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

It is coordination because they are working together, so neither has any more weight than the other.

Conjunctive adverb use (however, therefore, consequently, etc.)

It is coordination because they are working together; therefore, neither has any more weight than the other.


Subordination is the joining of at least one independent clause with at least one dependent clause.  It is subordination because one clause (the independent clause) carries more weight than the other.  The dependent clause typically begins with a subordinating conjunction.  Unfortunately, there is no nice mnemonic device to remember them, unlike the FANBOYS, but it is often easiest to think of these as expressing condition.  For example, IF this, because this, when, while, during, after, etc.

We’ll use a sentence from earlier as our example.  In “It is subordination because one clause carries more weight than the other,” “It is subordination” is the independent clause while the rest is the dependent clause.  There are two ways the sentence can be structured, with the independent clause first or the dependent clause first.

It is subordination because one clause carries more weight than the other.

Because one clause carries more weight than the other, it is subordination.

We use subordination if there is one part of the sentence we wish to emphasize.

If there is one part of the sentence we wish to emphasize, we use subordination.

(Note the comma only appears when the dependent clause comes first.)

Perhaps most important to note about all of these methods is to not rely on any one of them too much.  Varying your sentence structure helps to create a more interesting read. Intrigued? Have questions? Check out resources available to help students learn more from research guides to free tutoring!

Striking Fear in Writers: Sentence Structure Errors

Three errors in fundamental sentence structure strike terror into the heart of any writer.   These three errors, the fragment, the comma splice, and the run-on, are occasionally referred to as “The Axis of Evil.”  Luckily, a little bit of knowledge and one single phrase can help you identify these egregious errors.

What you need to know is that these three errors all center on the same concept – what is a complete sentence?  The fragment is an incomplete sentence, and run-ons and comma splices are two (or more) complete sentences written as one.  Essentially, all you need to be able to correct these errors is the ability to identify whether or not a sentence (or part of a sentence) is a complete thought.

To do this, all you need to do is ask, “Is it true that…” and read the sentence (or part of a sentence) you’re unsure of.  For example, if I asked, “Is it true that while I was running down the street?” would you be able to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’?  In this case, the question makes no sense because “While I was running down the street” is a dependent clause, an incomplete sentence.  If I asked, “Is it true that I was running down the street?” you could answer, “Yes, you were running” or “No, you were not running,” which means, “I was running down the street,” is a complete sentence.  “How does this help me?” you must be wondering.  Well, this depends on the error.  If you were worried that what you had is a fragment, this could confirm that it is or reassure you that it is not.

A change in perspective is necessary if your worries are more about run-ons and comma splices.  The sentence, “I was running down the street I tripped,” is a run-on.  If I wanted to see if that was correct, I would simply cover one potential sentence and ask, “Is it true that I was running down the street?” This would tell me that yes, I have at least one complete sentence here.  I would then cover the first part and ask, “Is it true that I tripped?” Bingo! I have two complete sentences.  The same process works with the comma splice, “I was running down the street, I tripped.”  Both the run-on and the comma splice are easily corrected by inserting a period between the two sentences.

For interesting and proper ways of connecting multiple sentences/clauses, tune in next time for: Varying Your Sentences.

Functional Word, Pt. I

Microsoft Word can easily become the bane of any student’s existence, especially if that student is taking a composition class.  Cursors that jump all over the place, words that are auto-corrected to other words that mean something completely different, and the seeming impossibility of getting hanging indentation to work in your citations are just a few of the problems that abound.  The creators of Microsoft Word didn’t set out to drive you crazy, I promise.  In fact, there are a number of lesser-known functions that will actually make your life easier.

Perhaps my favorite is the “Find” function.  This can be accessed from the “Find” button on the far right of the Home toolbar, or by holding down the Ctrl and F keys. This brings up a search box on the left that does some neat things. When you type a word into the box, it will display all matches in your document, including snippets of the text around that word for context.  When your professor tells you that you need to write in third person, avoiding the first person’s “me” and “I” and the second person’s “you,” this function is extremely useful for weeding out those “you” and “I” bombs!

Navigation Panel for Microsoft Word

            What this search does is bring up a list of every time you’ve used the word. The text around the word can give you context to see if using the word was appropriate. Got an ‘I’ but it’s in a quote? That’s fine! Got an ‘I feel’ outside of a quote? Not so fine – you probably want to change that.

This is not the only usage of the Find function. If you’re like me, you may find yourself enamored with a certain word or phrase.  Sometimes, I lean too heavily on “therefore” or “fortunately” in my writing.  The “find” function helps me make sure that I’m not using these words too much, in startling, highlighted letters on my screen.

Next time, Functional Word, Pt. II: Check Yourself (using Word’s spelling and grammar review functions)