Comma-dy, Tragedy: Small Writing Improvements in Academia

Writers of academic research need to adhere to a standard of language to improve the readability of their content and ensure the readers’ understanding of the author’s intent. The importance cannot be understated. As some constructs may be useful in the writing of a novel or screenplay, the same constructs can be detracting in the professional and academic domains.

Through primary and secondary school, I have always been a creative writer, and I have always been confident in my creative writing skills. My academic writing skills, I found, are not as effective. Recently, I had to take a college-level course concentrating on scholarly writing. Two things bothered me: the 16 years it has been since high school and the 13 years that I have been relegated to writing medical reports with no hint of grammar in sight. Though I have written some technical documents during this time, academic writing has never been a focus. I will describe my challenges in style and grammar as it pertains to scholarly writing.

Grammatic Fanatic

Comma Chameleon

Readers of my previous works may find the comma to be quite an elusive device. I have always tried to use clauses that relate in both meaning and flow, and this had allowed me to make stylistic considerations in the use of the comma. Even now, after having this shortcoming identified, I find difficulty in full and proper use of the comma.

Aaron (2007) describes strict comma usage with clauses such as dates and time, insignificant or nonessential phrases, and lists of three or more items, but she admits that stylistic considerations can be made for readability, especially in the case of brief but equally important phrases. It is apparent that I have taken this as license to defer appropriate comma usage, but I now have the tools and motivation to pay close attention to the punctuation in my future writing. I do need to ensure that I do not overcompensate for this shortcoming by including unwarranted punctuation.

Colloquialism Speaks Volumes

Converse to my lack of comma usage, I have realized that I rely heavily on colloquial speech, perhaps, as a means of presenting a contemporary, pertinent, and assured demeanor. Though the use of colloquial speech can add flair to an otherwise lifeless discourse, continual use should be avoided. Standard American English is the accepted standard language used in academic writing, following standard conventions and vocabulary and allowing “distance between writer and reader” with an “authoritative and neutral” voice (Aaron, 2007, p. 73). The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2010) addresses this by wholly restricting “expressions… which diffuse meaning” (p. 68).

More importantly, I have recognized the need to avoid anthropomorphisms and the use of the passive voice, specifically. Though these constructs are prolific in colloquial speech, their use can impact the readability of the work and can negatively influence the readers’ perceptions of the author.


Applying the writing skills that I have learned previously, I feel that I now have a fairly good understanding of the concepts in academic, scholarly writing. As I progress in my academic career, I will have frequent opportunities to improve my writing and explore more useful stylistic methods. I want to have a near-perfect use of the grammar before expanding my writings to more poignant subjects. Upon matriculation into a graduate program, my writing ability will prove pivotal to my success in academia. My writing skill must be of the same quality as my peers; therefore, my skills must improve as I proceed in my studies.


Aaron, J. E. (2007). The little, brown compact handbook (6th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.