Criteris - Universitat de Barcelona

Criteris lingüístics, bibliogràfics, d'estil i convencions

Style Guide

Style Guide

Style Guide 

The University of Barcelona’s Style Guide brings together and develops different documents produced by the English Section of the Language Quality Work Group of the Vives Network of Universities, in which the University of Barcelona participates. To date, these include the Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing Institutional Texts in English (Manual d’estil interuniversitari per a la redacció de textos institucionals en anglès), the Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing End-of-Degree Projects in English and the Interuniversity Style Guide for Writing Course Guides in English, which were all completed with the support of an Interlingua grant from the Government of Catalonia.

The UB’s Style Guide aims to facilitate interuniversity communication and improve the quality of the institutional and academic English-language documents produced at our university. Loosely modelled on existing style manuals, including the Commission Style Guide of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation and The Chicago Manual of Style, the Guide is organized into different sections addressing specific and general aspects of institutional and academic language style and providing examples of model documents.

The University of Barcelona’s Language Services would like to thank all those people who participate each year to extend and improve the Style Guide, from our colleagues in other institutions to the Language Services’ own grantholders.

Orthography and grammar 


Many questions related to spelling can be resolved simply by referring to a dictionary or using a good computer spellchecker. But there are also issues that require more careful consideration and that cannot be resolved automatically. This part of the Guide provides recommendations on the general conventions applicable to spelling, the use of British or American English and the features of Oxford spelling, which is the UB’s preferred spelling system. It also explains the consequences of using one spelling system or another (for example, ligatures and consonant doubling) and refers to considerations that are related to spelling in different ways, such as diacritics, italics and hyphens.

Spelling at the UB 

As a reflection of our European geographical situation, the Vives Network of Universities recommends the universities in the Catalan university system to use British English in most contexts, particularly for institutional documents. At an institutional level, the UB recommends using British English combined with Oxford spelling following the Oxford Dictionary, and being guided by common sense and discretion when deciding which English to use in texts addressed to American readers. The rest of this page explains how to use Oxford spelling and reviews the main differences in usage between British English and American English.  

Oxford spelling puts emphasis on conserving the earliest known root of English words and so, generally speaking, it only differs from British English when British English doesn't do this. The most notable case is the group of verbs and verb derivatives whose origins can be traced back to the Greek root izo. Oxford spelling conserves this root by spelling these words with a z, while British English spells them with s, following a later form that was more common in Early and Middle English. American English spells these words with z too, but for a different reason to Oxford: in the American case, this comes from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reforms headed by Noah Webster and designed to simplify and standardize English spelling.

British English
Oxford spelling*
American English

*For a more extensive list of verbs that follow this pattern, see Appendix I: Common verbs spelt with z using Oxford spelling.

Both British English and Oxford spelling conserve the s of those verbs whose Greek root is lys by spelling the verbs with an s, while American English uses z, again as a means to simplify and standardize writers’ spelling choices.

British English
Oxford spelling
American English

Remember, however, that British English, Oxford spelling and American English all spell certain words always with an s or with a z. In the case of s, this happens when the -ise part of the word is not a complete suffix but a fragment of a longer component like  -cise, -mise, -prise or -vise (often, historically, from French past participles that use s, like -mise from mettre/mis and -prise from prendre/pris):


In the case of z, this happens with a small number of words including prize, size and capsize (possibly from the Spanish verb capuzar).

Finally, in most other respects, remember that Oxford spelling follows British English and contrasts with American English in the following ways.

British English with Oxford spelling
American English
-ce for nouns, -se for verbs (practice, practise; licence, license)
-se for both nouns and verbs (practise, practise; license, license)
-e before suffixes (ageing, judgement, knowledgeable)
no -e before suffixes (aging, judgment, knowledgable)
-ogue (analogue, catalogue, dialogue)
-og (analog, catalog, dialog)
-our (behaviour, colour, favour)
-or (behavior, color, favor)
-re (centre, fibre, litre)
-er (center, fiber, liter)
-wards (backwards, forwards, towards)
-ward (backward, forward, toward)

A last note: remember that British usage has the form programme (as opposed to the American program) except when referring to computer code, in which case program is preferred.


Diacritics are marks added above or below a letter (or sometimes within or between letters). In the Roman alphabet, they are basically used to indicate a modification in the pronunciation of the letter in question.

Although some languages make use of a large number of such marks, in those often used within our contexts, the most common diacritics are the so-called grave (`) or acute (´) accents, the cedilla (¸), the umlaut/dierisis (¨), the tilde (˜) and the circumflex (ˆ).

Unlike other European languages, modern English does not have diacritics. Some borrowed words may be written in English with their original non-English diacritic, but this rarely affects pronunciation (for exceptional cases, see Ambiguity, below). Overall, borrowed words tend to lose their diacritics over time because of processes of simplification and assimilation, and the fact that diacritics are not easily typed on an English keyboard.

  • Ambiguity

    Use diacritics when their absence could result in ambiguity. For example, exposé, resumé and rosé, when unaccented, look like different words (in this case, expose, resume and rose, respectively). In many cases, when there is no possible ambiguity, you do not need to use the original diacritic (for example, facade, deja-vu or doppelganger). In other cases, however, assimilated foreign words, including some borrowed from French (for example, attaché, communiqué and soufflé) and, increasingly, from Spanish (jalapeño and piñata) keep their mark.

  • Names

    With names in other languages, use all the diacritics correctly and consistently, or use none at all.

    Exemple correcte Please contact Dr González Martí, assistant rector for Communication, for further information.

    Exemple correcte The plenary talk was given by Professor Johan Lübeck, a specialist in medieval German manuscripts.

    Exemple correcte Please contact Dr Gonzalez Marti, assistant rector for Communication, for further information.

    Exemple correcte The plenary talk was given by Professor Johan Lubeck, a specialist in medieval German manuscripts.

  • Other words

    When an English text uses foreign words or phrases that are not names but that have a diacritic in the original language, you should either keep all such marks or else use none at all. Be consistent. If you decide to use them, remember that they should also be used on capital letters.

    Exemple correcte The Concept of Égalité in the Recognition of Non-EU Degrees in France: A Critical Analysis


Italics are often used to draw attention to words or phrases, for instance to provide an example.

Exemple correcte Only use etc. at the end of a series of examples and never at the end of a series introduced by the words like or such as.

Generally speaking, restrict their use to the following cases.

  • Titles of books, journals and other publications

    Unless following specific editorial guides, write the titles of books, journals and other published materials such as theses, end-of-degree projects, dictionaries and reference works in italics, to distinguish the titles from the rest of the sentence.

    Exemple correcte Recent research into the applications of microbial cyanobacteria on oil pollution has been published in the latest edition of the prestigious journal Science Today.

    Be aware, however, that conventions for indicating the title of a book or journal may vary depending on the publication or academic field. You will therefore have to bear these factors in mind, depending on the purpose of your text and where it will be published. For additional comment, see Titles.

  • Words and expressions in other languages

    Italicize words or expressions from other languages that are not common in English (that is, words not included in a reliable English dictionary) and that may therefore not be readily understood.

    Exemple correcte The ceiling of the Faculty’s Aula Magna offers visitors a beautiful example of Catalan Modernisme.

    Other expressions of this kind are the Latin terms for academic distinction, cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude (meaning “with honour”, “with great honour” and “with highest honour”, respectively), which should be italicized.

    But note that foreign words that have now become part of normal English do not require italics.

    entente cordiale
    ad hoc
    alma mater
    status quo
    terra firma
    hors d’oeuvre
    vice versa
    éminence gris

    Note also that, in the event of using a non-English form for the official name of an organization (universities, companies, governmental bodies, etc.) these names are not written in italics.

    Exemple correcte The University is currently involved in discussions with the Red Española de Supercomputación (Spanish Supercomputing Network).


Although still in use in British English for more technical words (such as œstrogen or cæsium), the æ/œ spelling (known as a ligature, in which two or more letters are graphically combined) is now not universally used for most other words that were traditionally written with a ligature. These words now have a single written vowel that substitutes the older æ form (medieval and encyclopedia being well-known examples). Opt for the simplified spelling for all such technical words.

Double consonants before suffixes 

Where consonants are doubled for monosyllabic words (basically, after a short vowel and immediately before a suffix beginning with a vowel such as -ing, -er, -est or -ed), British and American English spelling is the same.


For words of more than one syllable, however, differences between British and American usage can be complicated.

The letter l 

As an indication for when to double this final consonant in British English, we replicate the explanation given in Section 1.5 of the English Style Guide of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation: “In British usage, a final -l is doubled after a short vowel on adding -ing or -ed to verbs (sole exception: parallel, paralleled) and adding -er to make nouns from verbs”.

Examples would include the following:

Exemple correcte Alumni membership growth will probably level off by the end of the year.

Exemple correcte The new rector has indicated as a priority the levelling-off of expenditure.

Exemple correcte All those wishing to travel on the new grant should contact the International Office.

Exemple correcte This regulation applies to administrative staff who travelled during the first semester.

Exemple correcte Model your task on one of the following diagrams.

Exemple correcte Project modellers will need a minimum of five years’ experience.

In American English, except for multi-syllabic words ending in -al (final/finally; minimal/minimally), l is usually not doubled before a suffix.
Finally, there are certain words ending in -l in British English which double this consonant in American English:

Exemple correcte enrol–enroll; fulfil–fulfill; appal–appall

Note that the -l is accordingly doubled or not in derivatives ending in -ment:

Exemple correcte enrolment–enrollment; fulfilment–fulfillment

Other consonants 

Usage may vary considerably between British and American English in the doubling of a consonant at the end of a word other than l. If in doubt, consult a reliable English dictionary. However, the following observations generally hold for both variants. The consonants t and r double before -ed and -ing if the last syllable of the root word is stressed.

Exemple correcte The Department will admit students who meet the following requirements.

Exemple correcte The Dean admitted that faculty disruptions were inevitable.

Exemple correcte Students must submit their assignments in the agreed format.

Exemple correcte Applicants who are submitting their papers in June should fill in the following form.

Exemple correcte The Rector will confer an honorary doctorate on two renowned sociologists.

Exemple correcte The University has rarely conferred such degrees in this academic field.

Exemple correcte The Faculty will refer all complaints to the Dean.

Exemple correcte Reliable international research should be referred to for clarification.

In contrast to this, for two-syllable words whose first syllable is stressed, the final consonant is not doubled.


In British English the exception to this are two-syllable words ending in -p, where the final consonant is doubled even when the principal stress is on the first syllable.

Exemple correcte This groundbreaking project studies forms of primitive worship that are still prevalent.

Exemple correcte The study shows how animate and inanimate objects were worshipped indistinctly.


The use or non-use of hyphens is a complex issue. The same words may sometimes be considered correct with or without hyphens, such as is the case with email and e-mail, although the general tendency is for less use of hyphens, above all as the result of the influence of electronic and social media, where hyphens are often considered superfluous or untidy. There are thousands of examples of recently disappearing hyphens, such as the following recommendations taken from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.

Formerly hyphenated words split in two

fig leaf
hobby horse
pot belly
test tube
fire drill
ice cream
pin money
water bed

Formerly hyphenated words unified in one


To avoid unnecessary difficulties, we will give only certain basic guidelines.


Unless they belong to a figure (), always spell out and hyphenate fractions.

Exemple correcte The report shows that one-third of all undergraduates use campus parking facilities.


Many words beginning with a prefix are written with a hyphen (co-payment); many are not (overproduction). Confusingly, there are also cases where both forms are considered acceptable (British: pre-school / American: preschool). As can be seen from this last example, the tendency in American English is to hyphenate less than in British English. In all events, if in doubt about whether a prefix should be followed by a hyphen, consult a reliable dictionary. However, the following observations generally hold.

Words beginning with a common prefix (such as un-, dis- or re-) are often written without a hyphen.

Exemple correcte Current levels of absenteeism in many subjects are unacceptably high.

Exemple correcte Student representatives have disregarded criticism from the Rector, calling it uninformed and unfair.

Exemple correcte This initiative reaffirms the strong ties between the two universities.

However, make sure to hyphenate when it can help avoid confusion, for example re-sent vs resent, re-sign vs resign and re-form vs reform.

Hyphenate all words formed by a prefix and a word beginning with a capital letter.

Exemple correcte This movement is a pan-European response to failures in education.

Exemple correcte The research confirms a growing anti-British sentiment in commercial relations.

But note that words like transatlantic, transpacific or subarctic are normally written as single words with no capitalization.

Compound adjectives 

Hyphenate compound adjectives before a noun.

Exemple correcte a little-discussed problem

Exemple correcte a low-prevalence phenomenon

Exemple correcte a well-meaning intervention

However, do not hyphenate compound adjectives in which the first element is an adverb ending in either -ly or in -y.

Exemple correcte a compellingly argued paper

Exemple correcte a highly detailed research proposal

Exemple correcte a very engaging argument

Similarly, do not hyphenate compound adjectives in which the first element is a comparative or superlative.

Exemple correcte the most cited research paper

Exemple correcte a less complicated suggestion

Phrasal verbs 

  • Nouns formed from phrasal verbs

    Nouns formed from phrasal verbs are often written as a single word and may or may not be hyphenated. If in doubt, consult a dictionary.

    Exemple correcte The dropouts from this course are unusually high.

    Exemple correcte Funding problems have meant that these projects have been put on standby.

    Exemple correcte A major follow-up to this study has already been planned.

    Exemple correcte Last year’s buy-in allowed our faculty to open three new laboratories.

  • Adjectives formed from phrasal verbs

    When a phrasal verb is used as an adjective it is usually hyphenated.

    Exemple correcte Students participating in this initiative were given additional information during the signing-on phase.

    Exemple correcte During the warm-up period, there will be no assessment.

Word breaks 

Hyphens can be used to break up words into their component parts to facilitate reading by avoiding doubled letters.

Exemple correcte Part-time teaching staff play an increasingly important role in the MA programme.

Exemple correcte Students who do not comply with the regulations may lose the right to re-examination.

But note that certain high-frequency terms are no longer hyphenated.

Exemple correcte Cooperation among participating universities is gradually increasing.

Exemple correcte Macroeconomic factors have led to considerable modifications in research funding.

Words that are part of a name may be exceptions to this rule.

Exemple correcte The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Compounds with the same root and different prefixes 

When a noun is preceded by more than one hyphenated prefix, write them as follows.

Exemple correcte In a pioneering study, the Department of Psychology is currently researching the pre- and post-natal effects of carbon monoxide.


Punctuation is an important aspect of any written text. Good punctuation organizes or divides the text to make meaning clearer; poor punctuation will make it difficult to understand.

General guidelines 

Use common sense. Punctuation should help make written language clear to readers; but if it does not, it should not be there. In other words, make light use of punctuation: as much as is necessary, but no more.

  • Precedence

    Be careful of using two or more punctuation marks in succession. Generally speaking, use the stronger or more necessary one. For example, question and exclamation marks are stronger than commas and full stops. However, quotation marks, brackets and ellipsis points are often used next to other punctuation marks. In the first of the two examples below, the question mark is used instead of the habitual comma and precedes the closing quotation marks; and in the second, a full stop is not needed because the exclamation mark already ends the sentence.

    Exemple correcte “Have all the results been reported?” asked the researcher.

    Exemple correcte “Fees must be paid by 20 December!

  • Punctuation and spacing

    Punctuation marks in English – apart from dashes, ellipsis points, slashes and opening brackets – are always next to the preceding word, without a space.

    Slashes are closed up to the preceding word and to the next word when they separate two single words.

    Exemple correcte and/or
    Exemple correcte male/female

    When a slash separates two groups of words or a group of words from a single word, insert a space before and after the slash.

    Exemple correcte This proposal has been approved / requires further consideration.

    Exemple correcte Such documents shall be signed by the rector / rector’s delegate, as applicable.

    Full stops, question marks, exclamation marks, commas, colons and semicolons are always followed by a single space.

Full stops 

Full stops or points present few problems. Use them for three main purposes: ending sentences that are not questions or exclamations, punctuating the numbers or letters used to list the elements of a summary, and separating the letters in some, but not all, abbreviations.

Indirect questions 

Use a full stop, not a question mark, after an indirect question.

Exemple correcte He asked what the requirements were.

Items in lists 

Use full stops after the numbers or letters that list the elements of a summary.

Exemple correcte 1. Prepare the report.
2. Send copies to all members.

Exemple correcte A. Punctuate properly.
B. Write simply.

The individual items in vertical lists should only be followed by full stops when they form complete sentences (as above), not when they are simply nouns or noun phrases (as below).

Exemple correcte Bachelor’s degrees
1. Law
2. Chemistry
3. History of Art

Punctuate information contained in a list written in sentence form with a comma after each item in the list and the conjunction and or or before the last item, which is punctuated with a full stop.

Exemple correcte To qualify for the master’s programme
1. your undergraduate degree must be officially recognized,
2. you must have a CEFR B2-level command of English, and
3. you must submit official transcripts of your undergraduate studies.

If the list consists of sentences punctuated with a full stop, the phrase introducing the list must end in a colon (as in the example) or a full stop.

Exemple correcte Requirements for admission to the master’s programme:
1. Your undergraduate degree must be officially recognized.
2. You must have a CEFR B2-level command of English.
3. You must submit official transcripts of your undergraduate studies.


Do not use full stops at the end of headings. Use full stops (not colons) in run-in heads, which should be italicized or written in boldface to make them stand out.

Exemple correcte Doctoral degree requirements. Doctoral students are required to submit at least three progress reports during the first two months of the research period. The templates for these reports can be accessed online.

Sentences ending in abbreviations 

If an abbreviation that takes a final point ends a sentence, this final point functions as the full stop.

Exemple correcte The new faculty service provides updates on roundtables, forums, seminars, courses, etc.

Exemple correcte This research is the initiative of a number of companies, including Apple Inc.

Exemple correcte The tour of the Aula Magna will end at 2.30 p.m.

In the case of questions and exclamations, however, finish the sentence with the final point of the abbreviation followed by a question mark or exclamation mark.

Exemple correcte Can this department really base its future decisions on the findings of Brown et al.?

Exemple correcte This was hardly the position adopted by Washington D.C.!

Footnotes and endnotes 

End all footnotes and endnotes with a full stop.

Exemple correcte 1Smith, R.G. In “How to Write a Good Essay”, pp. 45–48.

Exemple correcte 4Mack, 111–112.


Use colons to introduce examples, explanations and specifications. In running text, a colon is preceded by a complete sentence; what follows it may or may not be a complete sentence, and may be a list or even a single word.

Exemple correcte University orientation provides a range of activities for new students: tours, workshops and social events.

Exemple correcte Research centres are facing a troubling situation: budgets are shrinking.

Exemple correcte They proposed the creation of a new post: unit coordinator.

Common mistakes 

Be careful with colons in the following situations.

  • Instead of a comma

    Do not use a colon to substitute a comma. Therefore, not

    Exemple incorrecte To complete your admission application: send the required documents by the end of the month.


    Exemple correcte To complete your admission application, send the required documents by the end of the month.

  • After a preposition

    Do not use colons between a preposition and its complement. Therefore, not

    Exemple incorrecte The Council announced cutbacks in: research funding, international cooperation and staff development.


    Exemple correcte The Council announced cutbacks in research funding, international cooperation and staff development.

  • Two or more colons in a sentence

    Never use more than one colon in a sentence. Therefore, not

    Exemple incorrecte The Council’s priorities are controversial: they have been praised and criticized by all groups: PDI, PAS and students.


    Exemple correcte The Council’s priorities are controversial. They have been praised and criticized by all groups: PDI, PAS and students.

    Note, however, that you can use a semicolon and a colon in the same sentence.

    Exemple correcte The Government cutbacks have been devastating; protests are planned by many people working in the most affected areas: education, healthcare and social services.

Other uses 

  • Separating a title from a subtitle

    When you cite the name of a book which has both a title and a subtitle, separate the two with a colon. Do this even though no colon may appear on the cover or the title page of the book itself.

    Exemple correcte Human Towers: A Catalan Tradition

  • Ratios

    Ratios can be written with words (two to one) or with numbers and a colon (2:1).

    Exemple correcte Women outnumbered men by two to one.

    Exemple correcte The ratio of women to men was 2:1.


Main functions 

The semicolon is mainly used to join two complete sentences in a single sentence when (a) the two sentences are thought to be too closely related to be separated by a full stop and (b) there is no connecting word which would require a comma, such as and or but.

Exemple correcte The Governing Council agreed to the measure; the Student Council rejected it.

Alternatives to the semicolon 

  • Full stop

    A semicolon can generally be replaced by a full stop.

    Exemple correcte The Governing Council agreed to the measure. The Student Council rejected it.

    However, the semicolon suggests that the two shorter sentences are more closely related than two consecutive sentences usually are.

  • A connecting word

    A semicolon can also be replaced by a suitable connecting word (and, or, but, while, yet) with a joining comma.

    Exemple correcte The Governing Council agreed to the measure, yet the Student Council rejected it.

    However, certain connecting words must be preceded by a semicolon or full stop. The most common are consequently, hence, however, meanwhile, nevertheless, therefore and thus.

    Exemple correcte The two sides have refused to negotiate; consequently, the measure has been suspended.


Use semicolons to separate items in long or complex lists, or to make these items more conspicuous than they would be with commas.

Exemple correcte The membership of the committee was as follows: PDI, 4; PAS, 5; students, 3.


As a general rule, commas can be used to list items in a series, to join sentences and to set off parenthetical or introductory phrases (for commas in lists in sentence form, see Items in lists).

Listing items in a series 

In a list containing a series of items, separate the items with commas. However, a comma should not precede the conjunction before the final item (in other words, write a, b and c and not a, b, and c). But if a comma would make the meaning clearer, use it – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by and.

Exemple correcte Specialist subjects include teaching, research and development, and business applications.

Joining sentences 

When you join two complete sentences into a single sentence, you can use commas but follow them with a suitable connecting word: and, or, but, while or yet.

Exemple correcte The group members had to hand in their reports last week, but some were only submitted this week.

The comma is not required if the subject of the second part of the sentence is omitted or if the conjunction used is and or or.

Exemple correcte The student had to hand in the work by Friday but didn’t make the deadline.

Exemple correcte The student had to hand in the work by Friday or the work would receive a failing mark.

Setting off phrases 

If a phrase is meant to complement or introduce the main information in a sentence, it can be set off by a comma or pair of commas.

Exemple correcte Knowing that some students put things off, the lecturer decided assignments should be submitted a week before the exam.

The students in the third group, despite their best efforts, did not submit the assignment on time.

  • Defining relative clauses

    In relative clauses do not use commas if the clause defines the antecedent and if omitting it would radically change the meaning of the sentence.

    Exemple correcte Students who study here are very intelligent.

    Students who use the library are likely to be better prepared.

    The above clauses define the type of students referred to.

    In defining clauses that do not refer to people use either which or that.

    Exemple correcte The research was completed with materials which were easily obtained.

    The research was completed with materials that were easily obtained.

    The above clauses define the type of materials referred to.

  • Non-defining relative clauses

    Sentences with non-defining relative clauses need commas because the clause adds information to an otherwise complete sentence.

    Exemple correcte Students at that university, who were all admitted with academic scholarships, have to work very hard.

    In non-defining clauses, only use which or who.

    Exemple correcte The research, which was done over a period of three years, was conducted with easily obtained materials.

    In the following two sentences, which are both correct, the comma makes a difference. In the first, Dr Smith researches only those additives that pose a risk; in the second, the implication is that all food additives pose a risk.

    Exemple correcte Dr Smith researches food additives which pose a risk to human health.

    Dr Smith researches food additives, which pose a risk to human health.

Misuse of the comma 

Do not put the comma between the subject and the verb even if the subject is very long. Therefore, in the sentence below there is no comma between the words own (the end of the long subject) and are (the first word of the verb phrase).

Exemple correcte Students who are attracted by the idea of spending a few months studying at a university in a country other than their own are often put off when they realize they will have to attend lectures in a foreign language.

Other uses of the comma 

Separate a city from a state, province, region or country with a comma.

Exemple correcte Chicago, Illinois
Exemple correcte Lisbon, Portugal

Do not use a comma between the month and the year.

Exemple incorrecte October, 2001
Exemple correcte October 2001

In most numbers of one thousand or more, use commas between groups of three digits.

Exemple correcte 62,242
Exemple correcte 1,723
Exemple correcte 1,000,000

Exceptions are degree temperatures, years, addresses, page numbers and other uses of numbers for a non-quantifying purpose (see Numbers and punctuation).


A dash is similar in appearance to a hyphen but is longer and used differently. The most common version of the dash is the en dash. Use it with spaces to make a parenthetical reference.

Exemple correcte This morning’s lecture rescheduled from last week was given by Professor Mulligan.

Use it without spaces to express a connection or to indicate a date, time or number range.

Exemple correcte GironaBarcelona bus
Exemple correcte staffstudent relationship

Exemple correcte 20192022
Exemple correcte 3.157.30 p.m.
Exemple correcte 4050 students

Remember that ranges can be expressed by an en dash or by the words from and to (or between and and) but never by a combination of from (or between) and an en dash. Therefore, not

Exemple incorrecte The Arabic discussion group will meet from 3 p.m.–6.30 p.m. on Thursdays.


Exemple correcte The Arabic discussion group will meet from 3 p.m. to 6.30 p.m. on Thursdays.


Round brackets 

Round brackets are primarily used in four situations.

  • Secondary or marginal information

    Use round brackets to indicate information that is secondary or marginal to the main idea of the sentence.

    Exemple correcte The documentary was produced by Spotlight Films (a production company connected to the University’s film school).

  • Explanations or abbreviations of preceding information

    Use round brackets to expand on or explain preceding information.

    Exemple correcte EU-OSH (the European workplace safety and health agency) works to ensure that these regulations are respected.

    Exemple correcte The project was funded by the World Health Organization (WHO).

    When a passage within round brackets is at the end of a sentence, of which it is only a part, place the full stop after the closing bracket. However, when the bracketed passage is a complete sentence, place the full stop before the opening bracket and then add a second full stop before the closing bracket.

    Exemple correcte The number of students entering arts degrees is declining (according to recent reports).

    Exemple correcte The number of students entering arts degrees is declining. (According to recent reports, it has dropped by over 25% in the last nine years.)

  • Options

    Use round brackets to represent options.

    Exemple correcte Please write your surname(s) in block capitals.

    Exemple correcte The opinions of the author(s) are not shared by the publisher(s).

  • Enumerations in a body of text

    Use round brackets to enclose numerals or letters in an enumeration in the body of a text. Italicize the numerals and letters.

    Exemple correcte A project proposal should include (1) a description of the project, (2) an identification of the target audience, (3) an explanation of why the project deserves funding and (4) a comparison with similar projects implemented in recent years.

    Exemple correcte The preview of your class paper should include (a) an abstract, (b) a sample of each chapter, (c) a selected bibliography and (d) details on funding.

Square brackets 

Square brackets are less common than round brackets. They are primarily used in three situations.

  • Clarifications within quoted text

    Use square brackets to set off a clarification within quoted text.

    Exemple correcte The Rector said of the coming budget debate: “Never in all my years as rector have I had to make such a difficult decision about such a useful programme [grants for young researchers] affecting so many”.

  • Optional or tentative text

    Use square brackets to indicate text that is optional or still open to discussion. In the following example, the School of Education is responsible for implementing the project. What is optional or uncertain is whether the Office of External Relations will share that responsibility

    Exemple correcte The implementation of the project will be the [joint] responsibility of the School of Education [and the Office of External Relations].

  • Brackets within brackets

    Use square brackets to indicate parenthetical elements that are already in round brackets.

    Exemple correcte A large multilateral organization (e.g., the World Bank [WB]) has the following characteristics…

Question marks 

  • Direct questions

    Place a question mark at the end of any sentence that is a direct question.

    Exemple correcte Who wrote that report?

    If the question is a direct quotation, repeating the speaker’s exact words, a question mark is still used.

    Exemple correcte “Who wrote that report?” she asked.

  • Other types of questions

    • Indirect questions

      Do not use a question mark in an indirect question, in which the speaker’s exact words are not repeated. Use only a full stop, since the whole sentence is now a statement.

      Exemple correcte She asked who had written that report.

    • Courtesy questions

      If a request or instruction is put as a question for reasons of courtesy, do not use a question mark.

      Exemple correcte Would you please fill in and sign the attached application and submit it before the end of the month.

Quotation marks 

Use quotation marks, also called inverted commas, to indicate direct quotations and definitions.

Exemple correcte Before bestowing the award the Rector said, Dr Robinson’s efforts to oppose discrimination place him among the few who actually deserve such an honour.

Exemple correcte According to this dictionary, a methodology is a body of methods, rules and postulates employed by a discipline.

Although there is a diversity of guidance in this respect, we recommend the use of double marks for a quotation and single marks for a quotation within a quotation.

Exemple correcte His office door is very unusual; it has Welcome written all over it in over thirty different languages.

Punctuation should be placed according to the meaning: if it belongs to the quotation, it is quoted; otherwise, it is not.

Exemple correcte According to the Dean, The need for structural change is paramount.”

Exemple correcte The Dean declared that the need for structural change was paramount.

Quotations of over four lines in length should be set off from the text as a block quotation, not enclosed in quotation marks, and single-spaced. Quoted matter within the block quotation is set off with double quotation marks; quotations within these quotations, with single quotation marks.

Single quotation marks can also help show the reader that a word or term is used in an unusual, colloquial or ironic way.

Exemple correcte Nature somehow ‘knows’ the best environmental course to take.

Exemple correcte The students felt ‘ripped off’ by the lecturer’s decision to hold the exam a week earlier than scheduled.

Exemple correcte That lecturer is famous for sharing her ‘wisdom’ with her students.

Also, use quotation marks for titles of chapters in books, articles in periodicals, and TV and radio programmes.

Exclamation marks 

An exclamation mark is used at the end of a short phrase or a sentence that expresses very strong feeling. It is one way of adding emphasis and in our institutional context it may be used in public announcements of certain kinds, university relations and advertising.

Exemple correcte Sign up now!
Exemple correcte More funding for research and development!

However, exclamation marks are very rare in formal English, so use them sparingly. Finally, never use more than one exclamation mark in a row.

Exemple incorrecte Join us at the presentation!!!


In general, we use apostrophes to indicate possession or contracted forms.

  • Possessive forms of nouns

    The possessive form of a singular noun is marked by an apostrophe followed by s.

    Exemple correcte the manager’s report
    Exemple correcte the lecturer’s hypothesis

    This rule applies in most cases even with a name ending in -s.

    Exemple correcte the PAS’s response
    Exemple correcte Erasmus’s success

    If a plural noun already ends in -s, the apostrophe is used alone.

    Exemple correcte the students work (several students)
    Exemple correcte the teachers room (all the teachers)

    Note that the apostrophe is also used in expressions of time.

    Exemple correcte eight weeks time
    Exemple correcte yesterdays meeting

    Degree types should be written with an apostrophe followed by s.

    Exemple correcte bachelor’s degree
    Exemple correcte master’s degree

    But note the exception doctoral degree (not doctor’s degree).

    Do not use apostrophes to indicate a decade, a plural acronym or the plurals of figures.

    Exemple incorrecte the 1990’s
    Exemple correcte the 1990s
    Exemple incorrecte URL’s
    Exemple correcte URLs
    Exemple incorrecte 747’s
    Exemple correcte 747s

  • Contractions

    Use apostrophes for contractions (you’re for you are, don’t for do not, it’s for it is or it has) but note that contractions are far less common in formal texts than they are in informal writing.

Ellipsis points 

Use ellipsis points with a space on either side to denote pauses. Use them at the end of a sentence without a space to indicate that the sentence has been left unfinished.

Exemple correcte “This morning’s lecture ... was very interesting.”

Exemple correcte The lecturer warned her students: “The reports are due next Friday. If I don’t get them...

Use ellipsis points with square brackets to denote words missing from a direct quotation.

Exemple correcte The Rector said, “Preston [...] transmitted values through his books [...] and enabled us to understand the present and look to the future.”

Do not use ellipsis points to indicate an incomplete list. Use etc. Therefore, not

Exemple incorrecte This unit deals with promotion, advertising, outreach...


Exemple correcte This unit deals with promotion, advertising, outreach, etc.


Capital letters essentially have three functions: to mark the beginning of a sentence, to indicate titles and to distinguish proper nouns from other words. It is impossible to establish absolute rules for all aspects of capitalization because it often depends on the role of a word in a sentence, the writer’s personal taste or the house style being followed. It is largely the second and third functions mentioned above – titles, and the distinction between proper nouns and other words – that lead to discrepancies in practice: authors can apply traditional or more modern approaches to title capitalization (that is to say, maximal and minimal capitalization, respectively), and sometimes there are differences of opinion over exactly what constitutes a proper noun and how words derived from proper nouns should be dealt with. Whatever decisions are taken, however, writers should strive to maintain consistency.

Sentence capitals 

Beginning of a sentence 

The first letter of a word that begins a sentence, or a set of words that function as a sentence, should be capitalized.

Exemple correcte On behalf of the URV I would like to welcome you. All of you. Each and every one of you.

Also capitalize the first letter of a syntactically complete quoted sentence.

Exemple correcte According to university regulations, “All thefts of library books must be reported to the general manager.”

After a colon 

After a colon it is standard practice not to capitalize the first letter of the following text.

Exemple correcte The academic year is divided into two quite distinct periods: the first and the second semesters.

If the statement introducing a vertical list is a complete sentence, close it with a colon. Then capitalize the first letter of each item of the list. Only close each item with a full stop if it is a complete sentence.

Exemple correcte Students can pass the course only in the following circumstances:
a) They attend 80% of all the classes.
b) They hand in all the course work on time.
c) They get at least 50% in the final exam in June.

Exemple correcte Students must present the following documents:
a) The official application form
b) A motivation letter
c) A photocopy of their passport

However, if the statement introducing a vertical list is a sentence fragment, not a complete sentence, do not close it with a colon and lowercase the first letter of each item. Finish each item with a comma or a semicolon, except the last one, which should finish with a full stop.

Exemple correcte Students will have more chance of successfully completing the course if
a) they are given clear instructions,
b) they are regularly reminded of their obligations, and
c) they are closely supervised.

For the use of a capital letter after a colon in some administrative documents, see Application.

With round brackets 

When the parenthetical material is a complete sentence, the first letter of the first word should be capitalized.

Exemple correcte All aspects of the projects submitted will be analysed in detail by the department. (Please bear in mind, however, that the final decision will be in the hands of the research committee.)

If the parenthetical material is enclosed within another sentence it should not begin with a capital or end with a full stop, whether it is a full sentence or not.

Exemple correcte The debate continued (we all knew that this was inevitable) in the bar after the lecture had finished.

Exemple correcte Students should take their application forms to the Language Service (opposite the lift on the third floor).



Traditionally, the titles of documents in English are given maximal capitalization. That is to say, capitalize the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. Do not capitalize articles, conjunctions or prepositions.

Exemple correcte The Strategic Plan for Teaching and Learning

However, the first word of a subtitle after a colon is generally capitalized, whatever part of speech it may be (see also Other uses in the section on punctuation).

Exemple correcte Strategic Planning: An Approach to the Future

Remember, too, that when writing individual titles you can often exercise a certain amount of personal judgement. A short title, for example, may look better if words that are often lowercased are capitalized.

Exemple correcte All About Erasmus

In the headings of document sections, however, use sentence-style capitalization (first word and proper nouns) instead of title-style capitalization (first word and all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs), although the exact style will also depend on the number of levels of hierarchy. Capitalize the first letter of the first word, but lowercase the rest, including the first word after a colon (except for those words that would normally be capitalized in running text).

Exemple correcte Teaching vision

Exemple correcte Strategic goals: a necessary evil

Exemple correcte Core teaching values and the Dublin Declaration

The first element of a compound word is always capitalized in a title; the second element is also capitalized unless it is an article, a preposition or a coordinating conjunction.

Exemple correcte The Role of Computer-Assisted Translation in the Internationalization of European Universities

Exemple correcte Greater European Integration Gets the Thumbs-up from Catalan-Speaking University Students

Second elements that are hyphenated to prefixes are capitalized only if they are proper nouns.

Exemple correcte Competences: A Comparison between Pre- and Post-Erasmus Students

Exemple correcte Post-examination Opening Times for University Libraries


Capitalize and set in italics the titles of all sorts of published works (books, theses, audiovisual material, journals, paintings, etc.).

Exemple correcte the book Landscapes: A Guide to University Architecture

Exemple correcte the thesis Fabrication of Bulk and Interdigitated Solar Cells

Exemple correcte the film American Beauty

Exemple correcte the Pink Floyd album Dark Side of the Moon

Exemple correcte the journal Analytical Chemistry

Exemple correcte the Dalí painting The Persistence of Memory

Exemple correcte Harold Pinter’s play The Birthday Party

However, only capitalize the first word of the titles of articles, chapters and other sections of a publication, and enclose them in inverted commas.

Exemple correcte The research group wrote the article entitled “The dynamics of charge carriers.

Exemple correcte Before the next class, please read the chapter “Revising prose structure and style.

For other issues of use of italics, see the explanation about the titles of books, journals and other publications in Italics.

Proper nouns 

Titles and ranks 

Words for the titles and ranks of people are lowercased when they are used in a general sense or refer to the position held rather than the person.

Exemple correcte The principal academic and administrative officer of a university in this country is the rector.

They are capitalized when they are used directly before a name, as a form of address or as a substitute for the name of the holder of the title.

Exemple correcte In 2011, Rector Alabart was re-elected for a second four-year term of office.

Exemple correcte Only last week, Rector, you stated that there would be no further cuts in the departmental budget.

Exemple correcte Last week the Rector gave a speech to the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce.

When titles are used in apposition to a name, they do not form part of the name and are, therefore, lowercased.

Exemple correcte Dr Alabart, rector of the University, was first elected in 2007.

The general guideline, then, is that if the title or rank is a reference to a specific person and the person’s name could be used instead without affecting factual or grammatical accuracy, then a capital letter should be used.

In titles that are hyphenated compounds it used to be standard practice to capitalize only the first part of the compound. Nowadays, however, the tendency is to capitalize both parts if the compound refers to a specific person.

Exemple correcte The Vice-Rector for Academic Policy described the new reforms to the Governing Council.

Exemple correcte The vice-rector for academic policy is responsible for making large-scale changes to degree programmes.

The title is lowercased in the second example above because it is a reference to the position of vice-rector, not to a particular person.

Personal names 

Capitalize the names and initials of all real or fictitious people.

Exemple correcte William Shakespeare
Exemple correcte Joanot Martorell
Exemple correcte Silence Dogood

Many names contain articles, prepositions, conjunctions or other particles (for example, de, d’, de la, the, lo, el, la, i, y, von, van, etc.). English, Catalan and Spanish names tend to lowercase these elements. Therefore:

Exemple correcte Xavier de Bofarull
Exemple correcte Walter de la Mare
Exemple correcte Alexander the Great

Exemple correcte Tirant lo Blanc
Exemple correcte Antoni Rovira i Virgili
Exemple correcte Santiago Ramón y Cajal

However, capitalize the particle when a person is referred to by the surname and the particle is in initial position.

Exemple correcte The writer D’Ors often used the pseudonym Xènius.


Capitalize the names of all countries, towns and other geographical terms commonly accepted to be the proper names of cultural, historic, tourist, geographic or economic entities.

Exemple correcte Catalonia
Exemple correcte Barcelona
Exemple correcte the Iberian Peninsula

Exemple correcte the Golden Coast
Exemple correcte the Third World
Exemple correcte the Wild West

The names of geographical features are also capitalized. The generic term (lake, sea, river, channel, etc.) is also capitalized when it is used as part of the name.

Exemple correcte the Mediterranean Sea
Exemple correcte the River Francolí
Exemple correcte Lake Banyoles

Otherwise, no capital letter is used (see Reference).

Exemple correcte the Mediterranean and the Baltic seas

Capitalize the initial article in place names, even though it is lowercased in Catalan.

Exemple correcte El Morell
Exemple correcte La Floresta
Exemple correcte L’Anoia

When you are referring to parts of cities, capitalize terms such as avinguda, carrer, carretera, passeig and plaça, even though these are lowercased in Catalan (see also Place names in the section on translation).

Exemple correcte All Erasmus Week participants should be at the station in Plaça de Catalunya at 9 a.m.

Compass directions should only be capitalized when they are part of the name of a recognized geographical or political region.

Exemple correcte The URV has established an agreement with Queen’s University, the leading university in Northern Ireland.

Exemple correcte The URV is the university of southern Catalonia.


When a reference is made to a previous mention of a capitalized proper name, the usual practice is to revert to lower case.

Exemple correcte The Erasmus students were taken to Lake Banyoles. When they arrived, the lake was calm and serene.

Exemple correcte The Spanish Civil War was fought between 17 July 1936 and 1 April 1939. The war began after a group of right-wing generals rose up against the Government of the Second Spanish Republic.

However, when the reference is simply a short form of the specific person, organization, institution or event previously mentioned, capitals are used.

Exemple correcte The Universitat Rovira i Virgili is placing great emphasis on internationalization. The University is fully aware of the importance of this policy.

Exemple correcte The Spanish Civil War was fought between 17 July 1936 and 1 April 1939. The Civil War became notable for the passion and political division it inspired.

Plural forms that apply one generic term to multiple names should be lowercased because the generic term is merely a descriptor and not part of the proper name.

Exemple correcte the universities of Girona and Lleida

In order not to repeat the name of a place, writers sometimes use synonyms (or coreferents), which should always be capitalized.

Exemple correcte the New World [America]
Exemple correcte the Big Apple [New York]
Exemple correcte the Pond [the Atlantic Ocean]

Dates, periods and events 

Capitalize all days, months, festivals, holidays, historical periods and historical events (Wednesday, August, Easter, Saint John’s Eve, the Middle Ages, the Tragic Week), but lowercase the seasons (the autumn semester, spring enrolment, winter, summer).

Movements and ideologies 

Capitalize the names of all cultural, artistic, social, political and religious movements and ideologies.

Exemple correcte Romanticism
Exemple correcte Surrealism
Exemple correcte the Slow Movement

Exemple correcte the Tea Party
Exemple correcte Catholicism

Languages and nationalities 

The names of languages and nationalities are always written with a capital letter.

Exemple correcte The working languages of the research group are Catalan, Spanish and English.

Exemple correcte The Basque universities have signed numerous agreements with their Catalan counterparts.

Official documents 

The titles of laws and official documents should be capitalized.

Exemple correcte the Single European Act

Exemple correcte the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia

Exemple correcte Royal Decree 1359 of 21 October 2003 on the Governance of TATT Activities

Exemple correcte Framework Agreement of Cooperation between the University of Lleida and Queen’s University

Descriptive titles and titles used in the plural should be lowercased.

Exemple correcte The regulation governing the administration of examinations was debated by the Senate yesterday.

Exemple correcte The statutes of the autonomous communities were first established in the early 1980s.


Subjects, courses, degrees and disciplines 

When referring to subjects, courses and degrees in general terms, use lower case.

Exemple correcte Three students failed their mathematics exam.

Exemple correcte My mother has just enrolled on a course in computer programming for senior citizens.

Exemple correcte Bernard is studying a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.

When referring to the official titles of subjects, courses and degrees, use title-style capitalization.

Exemple correcte Three students failed Advanced Mathematics I.

Exemple correcte The enrolment for the course Computer Programming for Beginners ends on 27 March.

Exemple correcte The Master’s Degree in Biochemistry teaches students how to use chromatographic techniques.

The names of disciplines should be lowercased.

Exemple correcte Although anthropology is easy to define, it is difficult to describe.

Exemple correcte The course provides students with training in research into oenology and biotechnology.

Chairs and knowledge areas 

The official names of all chairs and knowledge areas are capitalized. The generic term is only capitalized when it is part of the official name.

Exemple correcte The UOC’s UNESCO Chair in E-Learning is pleased to announce that its 10th international seminar will be held next November.

Exemple correcte The knowledge area of Scope Management ensures that the projects include only the work required to complete them successfully.


Grades are capitalized.

Exemple correcte Fail
Exemple correcte Pass
Exemple correcte Excellent
Exemple correcte Distinction
Exemple correcte A
Exemple correcte B

Academic periods 

Academic periods are lowercased.

Exemple correcte the academic year
Exemple correcte compulsory secondary education (ESO)
Exemple correcte the first semester
Exemple correcte the second term

Public institutions and organizations 

Capitalize all the words, including the generic terms, that are part of the official name of public institutions, organizations, societies, associations and movements.

Exemple correcte the Faculty of Chemistry

Exemple correcte the Department of Business Management

Exemple correcte the Language Service

Exemple correcte the Board of Trustees

Exemple correcte the General Directorate of Universities

When the names of organizations are in the plural or have a more general meaning, the generic terms should be lowercased.

Exemple correcte The departments of History and Psychology are piloting a new teaching methodology.

Exemple correcte One of the aims of a university language service is to prepare students to compete in a globalized society.

When the full name of the organization is abbreviated by deleting a word or words, the capitals should be maintained (see Reference).

Exemple correcte The Department [of History] is piloting a new teaching methodology.

Exemple correcte The University [of Barcelona] is engaged in a far-reaching process of internationalization.

Congresses, events and competitions 

Capitalize the names of congresses, conferences, symposiums, meetings, seminars, forums, festivals, competitions, etc.

Exemple correcte the Third Symposium of Sports Medicine

Exemple correcte Science Week

Exemple correcte the Seventh Competition in Creative Writing

If the generic term is not part of the name of the activity, use lowercase.

Exemple correcte the conference Euroanaesthesia 2015

Any specific title that is placed after the general title should also be capitalized.

Exemple correcte The Second MAUMIS Research Symposium: “Conflict, Discrimination and Religious Plurality”

Brand names 

Write all words that are part of brand names, models and commercial products with an initial capital.

Exemple correcte The Samsung Galaxy Tab is a popular line of  Android- and Windows-based tablet computers.

Exemple correcte An Excel worksheet can be embedded in a Word document.

Exemple correcte The laboratory purchased various PerkinElmer analytical instruments and a Hewlett Packard printer.


CamelCase is the term used to refer to the convention of joining several words together to form a single name. Medial capitals (capital letters in the middle of a word) are used so that each word can be clearly distinguished and the name easily read. There are two types of CamelCase: in UpperCamelCase the first letter of the name is capitalized; in lowerCamelCase it is lowercased. It has been used for centuries in the spelling of certain names.

Exemple correcte Don MacLean
Exemple correcte Paul McCartney
Exemple correcte Meindert DeJong

In the 19th century, it was used for the purpose of chemical notation.

Exemple correcte CaBr2
Exemple correcte Ac2O3
Exemple correcte Li2O

Subsequently, in the 20th century, it was used by computer programmers who needed to create terms without leaving spaces between words.

Exemple correcte EndOfFile
Exemple correcte ErrorLevel

At the end of the 20th century it spread from the world of computer programming and it is now in general use, particularly for corporate trade names. Some examples are:

Exemple correcte MasterCard
Exemple correcte Microsoft PowerPoint
Exemple correcte HarperCollins

Exemple correcte iPad
Exemple correcte iPhone
Exemple correcte PlayStation

In the world of academia, CamelCase is often used in the abbreviations of academic qualifications.

Exemple correcte BSc
Exemple correcte MSc
Exemple correcte PhD

Abbreviations and symbols 

Abbreviations and symbols provide a short reference for a longer word or a series of words. In general terms, abbreviations fall into two groups: those which are frequently used to refer to specific words or terms (Thurs., e.g., Dr) and those which accompany their longer form at least once to show us there is a shorter alternative (EHEA for European Higher Education Area, or LERU for League of European Research Universities). In this second group there are short forms for proper nouns, like EHEA or LERU above, but there are also abbreviations for common nouns (such as CPD for continuing professional development or IT for information technology), which we use when we want those common nouns to describe a generalized group, practice or field. Abbreviations are particularly important in our university context, where a large number of texts record the names of institutions and systems of different kinds; and the correct use of certain symbols in institutional texts such as informative web pages and annual reports makes those texts easier to read.

Forming abbreviations 

Forming acronyms and initialisms 

Most acronyms are formed from the first or first few letters of a series of words and are usually pronounced as words. If an acronym contains six or more letters, capitalize the initial letter and lowercase the others.

Exemple correcte Erasmus (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students)

Exemple correcte Europol (European Police Office)

Exemple correcte NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization)

Initialisms are usually formed from just the first letters of a series of words. Generally speaking, write them following the upper- or lower-case pattern of the full term. When the full term is in lower case, they are usually separated by points.

Exemple correcte MBA (Master of Business Administration)

Exemple correcte e.g. (exempli gratia)

Exemple correcte i.e. (id est)

Note, however, that the abbreviation plc (public limited company) is always written in lower case but without points.

In higher education, some initialisms representing degree studies combine upper and lower case and do not take points.

Exemple correcte BSc (Bachelor of Science)
Exemple correcte PhD (philosophiae doctor)

Note, too, that an initialism may take capital letters even when the full term does not.

Exemple correcte NGO (non-governmental organization)
Exemple correcte PC (personal computer)

Forming contractions and truncations 

Contractions are formed by omitting the middle of a word. In line with British English, do not put a point after the last letter of the contraction.

Exemple correcte Attn (Attention)
Exemple correcte Dr (Doctor)
Exemple correcte Mr (Mister)

Truncations are formed by omitting the end of a word and sometimes other letters as well. They are always followed by a point.

Exemple correcte Feb. (February)
Exemple correcte Tues. (Tuesday)
Exemple correcte col. (column)

Using abbreviations 

Using acronyms and initialisms 

Terms in the title of a text should not be accompanied by their abbreviation.
If a term occurs frequently in a text, accompany it by its abbreviation on first mention and just use the abbreviation in all further references.

Exemple correcte Our faculty’s internal quality assurance system (IQAS) is modelled on the document European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area (ESGs) and each academic year all IQAS results are subject to an external review which considers those ESGs on an individual basis.

If the term only occurs once in the text, there is usually no need to give the abbreviation at all.
However, there are texts in which you should add an abbreviation after a term even though the term only occurs once. One case is legal or administrative texts, where for the sake of precision and clarity the abbreviation is as important to include as the full term.

Exemple correcte I hereby award this diploma to the student Joan Puig Peralta for having successfully completed the examinations organized by the University School of Nursing (EUI-UB) in the programme in Palliative Care.

Exemple correcte The University of Barcelona Virtual Museum (MVUB) declines any liability resulting from the incorrect use of this website.

Another case is a text in which the full term is not as useful to the reader as the abbreviation. In some institutions, for example, writers often translate the full names of organizations to help non-native readers but those translations are not used by other institutions. In such cases, the original-language abbreviation becomes particularly important for the reader as an identifier, as in the example of the Centre de Recerca d’Alta Muntanya (CRAM) below.

Exemple correcte The Centre for Mountain Research (CRAM) is a leading institute that promotes practical and theoretical research into the natural environment of the Pyrenees in aquatic systems and in records of environmental fluctuation and biodiversity.

A further case is a text in which the full term is not as reliable as the abbreviation. On the web, for example, a research organization called the Centre de Recursos de Biodiversitat Animal is variously rendered as the Animal Biodiversity Resource Centre, the Resource Centre for Animal Biodiversity and the Centre for Resources in Animal Biodiversity. In such cases, add the full term’s official abbreviation (in this case, CRBA) even after an isolated reference.

Finally, however, do not use abbreviations simply because they make a text look more official and without considering whether the reader really benefits by them.

Exemple incorrecte I would like to express my gratitude to you and your colleagues for having invited our institution to the Third International Exhibition and Conference on Higher Education (IECHE 2012).

Using contractions and truncations 

  • Truncated forms as codes or symbols

    Truncated forms used as codes or symbols do not take points.

    Exemple correcte EN (English)
    Exemple correcte kg (kilogram)

  • Contractions and truncations in Latin

    Latin forms that are full words do not take a point; Latin forms that are not full words do take a point.

    Exemple correcte sic (meaning as was written in the original)

    Exemple correcte et al. (short for et alii meaning and others)

    Exemple correcte no. (short for numero meaning number, with a point in this case to avoid confusion with the word no)

  • Abbreviating people’s names

    Abbreviate people’s first names with a single letter only, followed by a point and a space.

    Philippe Junot
    P. Junot
    Theodore Roosevelt
    T. Roosevelt

    Write multiple initials with points and spaces.

    Elwyn Brooks White
    E. B. White

    Represent compound first names by both initials.

    Joan Manuel Serrat
    J. M. Serrat
    Jean-Paul Sartre
    J.-P. Sartre

    Note, however, that in formal institutional texts like contracts or certificates you should avoid abbreviating people’s first names. For example, M. or M.a should be written out as Maria or María, while J. Ramon should be written out as Joan Ramon or Josep Ramon (for further details, see People in the section on translation).

  • Lower-case abbreviations

    Some common abbreviations are never written in upper case, even at the beginning of a footnote.

    Exemple correcte c. (circa)
    Exemple correcte e.g. (for example)
    Exemple correcte i.e. (that is)

    Exemple correcte l., ll. (line, lines)
    Exemple correcte p., pp. (page, pages)

  • Use of Article

    Note that the word Article may be abbreviated to Art. in footnotes or tables, but should not be abbreviated in running text.

  • Use of etc.

    Only use etc. at the end of a series of examples and never at the end of a series introduced by the words like, for example or such as.

Abbreviations and grammar 

Abbreviations and articles 

Acronyms that abbreviate the names (proper nouns) of organizations and systems do not take the definite article the even if their full forms do.

Exemple correcte OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries)

Exemple correcte UNTERM (the United Nations Multilingual Terminology Database)

But when they abbreviate common nouns, they take the or a(n) as necessary.

Exemple correcte the MD (managing director)

Exemple correcte a CMS (content management system)

Initialisms generally take the definite article if the full form does.

Exemple correcte the ERA (the European Research Area)

Exemple correcte the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)

This rule can be applied to the abbreviations of the names of Catalan-speaking universities because the full forms always begin with the definite article la (la Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, la Universitat Rovira i Virgili, la Universitat de València).

Exemple correcte the UPC
Exemple correcte the URV
Exemple correcte the UV

Universities may establish other norms, however. For example, the University of Vic – Central University of Catalonia is known as UVic–UCC (without the) in its English abbreviated form. In English, many universities prefer this usage.

Exemple correcte USC is the University of Southern California.

Finally, remember that the article is not necessary when the full term is hardly ever used (HIV, for human immunodeficiency virus), when it describes a general notion (VET, for vocational education and training) or when we consider the abbreviation to be a name in its own right (IBM, for International Business Machines Corporation).

To choose between a or an, apply the rule “a before a consonant sound, an before a vowel sound” (as if the abbreviation following the article were being spoken).

Exemple correcte a LERU decision
Exemple correcte a PAS representative
Exemple correcte a UJI student
Exemple correcte an Erasmus grant
Exemple correcte an EHEA guideline
Exemple correcte an NBA player

Abbreviations and plurals 

Plurals of abbreviations are formed in the same way as the regular plurals of common nouns: simply by adding the letter s. Note that there is no apostrophe before s, which is written in lower case.

Exemple correcte FAQs (frequently asked questions)

Exemple correcte SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises)

Exemple correcte VLEs (virtual learning environments)

When the singular form of the abbreviation ends in -s, that form can also be used to refer to a plural group. This avoids the uncomfortable effect of seeing an s repeated.

Exemple correcte SDS (safety data sheet)

Exemple correcte SDS (safety data sheets)

Abbreviations as adjectives 

As indicated in the examples in Abbreviations and articles, abbreviations can also be used as adjectives, in either a simple or compound form.

Exemple correcte PDI salaries

Exemple correcte R&D contracts

Exemple correcte UB-specific degree courses

Exemple correcte EHEA-recognized qualifications

Abbreviations in a multilingual context 

Criteria for translating into English is the subject of the section on translation but there are two important points to be made about using abbreviations in our multilingual institutional context.

First, if you need to provide English versions of the full names of university offices or government institutions, do not translate their abbreviations. For example, the English name of a university office called the Oficina de Programes Internacionals (OPI) would be the Office for International Programmes (OPI). And the English names of the Diari Oficial de la Generalitat de Catalunya, the Diari Oficial de la Generalitat Valenciana and the Boletín Oficial del Estado would be the Official Journal of the Government of Catalonia (DOGC), the Official Journal of the Government of Valencia (DOGV) and the Official Gazette of the Government of Spain (BOE), respectively.

Second, a number of very frequent abbreviations in Catalan-speaking universities come from common noun phrases that have no official English equivalent (PAS from personal d’administració i serveis, PDI from personal docent i investigador, SED from secretaria d’estudiants i docència and PAT from pla d’acció tutorial). In these cases, explain or paraphrase the full term the first time it occurs in a text and then use only the Catalan abbreviation for the rest of the text. This way, English-language readers can be more effectively helped to understand their non-English institutional environment.

Exemple correcte Last year, our university’s administrative and service staff (personal d’administració i serveis, or PAS) took advantage of the Erasmus+ programme to travel to over 20 different European destinations. A number of PAS members also completed courses in the US and in Canada.


This part of the Guide provides guidelines for the symbols most commonly used in institutional writing. It also considers the use of abbreviations for units of measurement. For details on symbols expressing sequences, ranges and yearly periods, see Numbers.


In our university context, the ampersand is mainly found in the formal names of institutions (e.g., Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Overton & Meyer Award), where it should not be replaced with the word and. The ampersand, and not the plus sign, should be used to abbreviate the phrase research and development.

Exemple correcte Is today’s R&D model failing to meet the needs of developing countries?

Do not use the ampersand as a substitute for the word and, as this use is generally a feature of informal writing.

Capitalization and lowercasing 

Use capital letters for the first letter of symbols that come from people’s names.

Exemple correcte Bq (becquerel)
Exemple correcte Hz (hertz)
Exemple correcte K (kelvin)
Exemple correcte N (newton)

Symbols that come from common nouns are generally written in lower case and are the same for singular and plural.

Exemple correcte cd (candela)
Exemple correcte g (gram)
Exemple correcte kb (kilobit)
Exemple correcte kg (kilogram)
Exemple correcte lm (lumen)
Exemple correcte lx (lux)

Multiplication signs 

The multiplication sign (×) is similar to the lower case x but should not be confused with it.

Percent signs 

Use per cent where the number is also spelt out; when it is not, always close up the percent sign to the value.

Exemple correcte Forty-nine per cent

Exemple correcte 65%

Finally, note the difference between per cent and percentage point: an increase from 5% to 7% would be an increase of two percentage points (or an increase of 40%), not an increase of two per cent.

Abbreviating units of measurement 

Units of measurement are often abbreviated. The abridged forms are normally written without points and do not have plurals.

Exemple correcte 4 ha (hectares)
Exemple correcte 9 m (metres)
Exemple correcte 60 km (kilometres)
Exemple correcte
200 g (grams)
Exemple correcte 5 kg (kilograms)

Note that proper nouns that form part of units of measurement retain their initial capital.

Exemple correcte 10 degrees Celsius


With most abbreviated units of measurement, insert a non-breaking space between the number and the unit.

Exemple correcte 5 cm
Exemple correcte 20 kg
Exemple correcte 960 Hz
Exemple correcte
40 km
Exemple correcte 5.5 g

However, with percentages and temperatures, close up the space between the number and the symbol.

Exemple correcte 55%
Exemple correcte 4.6%
Exemple correcte 33°C
Exemple correcte 91.4°F


The symbol for the euro and other currencies comes before the number, not after it.

Exemple correcte 250
Exemple correcte £900

Place the abbreviation for a currency before the amount and insert a non-breaking space.

Exemple correcte EUR 3,600

Exemple correcte GBP 571


This part of the Guide covers numbers, particularly the question of when they should be written out and what to do if they appear in combination with units of measurement, other numbers and punctuation marks. Although approaches to these issues differ depending on the type of document, remember that these guidelines are intended for institutional rather than technical texts. They also give precedence to British usage, in line with the UB’s preferred spelling system (see Spelling at the UB), although explanations on American usage are given when necessary. For details of using numbers with currencies, see Currencies.

Writing out numbers 

  • Cardinal numbers

    Spell out cardinal numbers from zero to nine and use numerals from 10 upwards, but maintain consistency in the immediate context.

    Exemple correcte Every three sessions, the students will be organized in new groups of five.

    Exemple correcte The Board will be reviewing a total of 10 new master’s degrees and 12 new doctoral degrees.

    Exemple correcte The presentations should last between five and ten minutes.

  • Ordinal numbers

    Spell out ordinal numbers from zero to nine and use numerals from 10 upwards, but maintain consistency in the immediate context. Avoid superscript type.

    Exemple correcte The Second International Conference on Fluid Dynamics was held in Vic.

    Exemple correcte The oldest European university was founded in the 12th century.

    Exemple correcte In this year’s ranking table, the research groups Pattern Analysis and Sonar Imaging occupied third and eleventh position, respectively.

  • Roman numerals

    Use Roman numerals for course names.

    Exemple correcte Mathematics II

  • Fractions

    Spell out simple fractions and hyphenate them.

    Exemple correcte Two-thirds of the students were in agreement.

    Exemple correcte The lecturer has covered three-quarters of the course so far.

  • Numbers at the beginning of a sentence

    Spell out numbers (including years) at the beginning of a sentence, although it is better to rewrite the sentence so that it does not start with a numeral.

    Exemple correcte Nineteen forty-five was the year the UN was founded.

    Exemple correcte The UN was founded in 1945.

  • Plural numbers

    Add an s to form the plural of a numeral. Do not add an apostrophe.

    Exemple correcte Among the scores were four 94s and two 99s.

Numbers and punctuation 

  • Decimal points

    Use a point, not a comma, before a decimal.

    Exemple correcte 0.25
    Exemple correcte 5.5

  • Commas

    In numbers of one thousand or more, use commas between groups of three digits.

    Exemple correcte 2,436
    Exemple correcte 32,548
    Exemple correcte 83,200,000

    Do not use commas in serial numbers such as page numbers, street numbers and years.

    Exemple correcte This idea receives further comment on page 1056 of the report.

    Exemple correcte All further enquiries should be made at our office at 1558 Brunswick Avenue, New York City.

    Exemple correcte The University of Bologna is the world’s oldest university; it was founded in 1088.

  • Hyphens

    Hyphenate compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine.

    Exemple correcte Three hundred and forty-six students are enrolled in the School of Fine Art.

    Spell out numbers that are joined to a word by a hyphen, except in the case of set phrases such as 24-hour clock.

    Exemple correcte A five-year period

    Exemple correcte A one-week holiday

    When two numbers appear side by side, spell one of them out. If one of them occurs alongside a unit of measurement, make that one a numeral.

    Exemple correcte four 6-week periods

    Exemple correcte thirty-six 20-cent coins

Numbers and units of measurement 

Spell out the number if the unit of measurement is written out and use a numeral when the unit of measurement is abbreviated.

Exemple correcte The surface area of the School’s premises is five hundred square metres.

Exemple correcte The conference hall is 2 km from here.

Do not use points or plurals with abbreviated units of measurement. Insert a non-breaking space between the numeral and the unit.

Exemple correcte 2 m
Exemple correcte 6 km
Exemple correcte 10 min

Numbers and ranges 

Use numerals for ranges.

  • Full numbers

    In ranges, always write numbers in full to avoid ambiguity.

    Exemple incorrecte between 18 and 20,000 people

    Exemple correcte between 18,000 and 20,000 people

    Exemple incorrecte pages 123–5

    Exemple correcte pages 123–125

  • En dashes

    Use a closed-up en dash to indicate a range.

    Exemple correcte groups of 5–10 students

  • Symbols

    In ranges, repeat those symbols and units that are joined to a numeral.

    between 100°C and 150°C
    20–30 cm
    from 20 to 30 cm

For advice on spacing, see Spacing.

Time of day 

Use numerals for times of day, but spell out the number with the expression o’clock, which is used to designate exact hours only.

If you use the 12-hour clock, write a.m. and p.m. with points and a space between the time and the abbreviation. Use a point to separate hours from minutes.

Exemple correcte The library closes at 8 p.m.

Exemple correcte The lecture starts at 9.45 a.m.

Exemple correcte The secretary’s office hours are from 8.30 a.m. till 2 p.m.

Exemple correcte The Rector’s speech will begin at four o’clock.

Use noon (or 12 noon) and midnight, rather than 12 p.m. and 12 a.m.

Exemple correcte The tutorial, which was due to begin at noon, began at 1.15 p.m.

Exemple correcte The campus copy shop closes at 12 noon.

Exemple correcte The faculty bar will serve coffee until midnight.

If you use the 24-hour clock, use a point to separate hours from minutes. Do not use the symbol h.

Exemple correcte The meeting is at 18.00.

When using a.m. or p.m., avoid a leading zero.

Exemple incorrecte 08.30 a.m.

Exemple correcte 8.30 a.m.


Do not use the endings -st, -nd, -rd or -th with a figure in a date. Note that, in British English, dates are written in the order day–month–year, without internal punctuation.

Exemple correcte 16 July 2020

In British English, the numeric form of the date above is, therefore:

Exemple correcte 16/07/20

Note that, in American English, dates are written in the order month–day–year, with a comma between the day and the year.

Exemple correcte July 16, 2020

In American English, the numeric form of the date above is, therefore:

Exemple correcte 07/16/20

  • Days of the week

    Do not use a comma after the day of the week when it precedes a date.

    Exemple correcte Monday 23 November 2021

  • Years

    In running text, use all four digits when referring to a year.

    Exemple incorrecte ’98

    Exemple correcte 1998

  • Academic years

    Write academic years in one of the following two ways, but be consistent. Use a hyphen and not an en dash.

    Exemple correcte the academic year 2022-2023

    Exemple correcte the 2022-2023 academic year

  • Decades

    Use numbers to refer to decades rather than writing them out. Do not add an apostrophe before the plural  s.

    Exemple correcte We were all born in the mid-1920s.

    To refer to decades in the period from 2000 to 2020, use a circumlocution such as the first decade of the 21st century or the second decade of the 21st century.

  • Centuries

    Do not use Roman numerals for centuries. Instead, either spell out the century or use the ordinal number.

    Exemple incorrecte the XX century

    Exemple correcte the twentieth century

    Exemple incorrecte the XIX century

    Exemple correcte the 19th century

  • Festivals and historic events

    If a date refers to a festival or historic event, spell out the number.

    Exemple correcte the Fourth of July celebrations

    Exemple correcte the Hundred Years’ War

    Exemple correcte the First of May demonstration

  • Laws

    In citing pieces of legislation, arrange the dates as shown in the examples below.

    Exemple correcte Spanish Personal Data Protection Law 15 of 13 December 1999

    Exemple correcte Organic Law 4 of 12 April 2007 amended by Organic Law 6 of 21 December 2001 on Universities

Use of billion 

The term billion is now used to indicate 1,000,000,000 or 109 in most, if not all, English-speaking contexts.

Telephone numbers 

Telephone numbers are typically composed of an international call prefix, a country calling code and the local telephone number. To aid legibility, they are split into groups, using spaces and not dashes or points. In the Catalan-speaking territories, group the numbers after the country calling code in threes.

Exemple correcte 00 34 934 016 186

Note that the international call prefix (00) used to dial out of a country is generally replaced by a plus sign. This is joined to the country calling code, which is used to dial into a country.

Exemple correcte +34 934 016 186

Telephone extensions are written at the end of the number, after a space, in brackets.

Exemple correcte +34 934 016 186 (182)

Singular and plural 

Because English is a language with very heterogeneous origins, many English words derived from French, Greek or Latin have irregular plurals or even two different plurals, depending on usage. Some words which may appear plural are in fact singular, as in the various names of areas of knowledge. Furthermore, the use of collective nouns and partitive expressions often affects whether the related verb is singular or plural. Finally, despite some notable exceptions, nouns used as adjectives normally revert to their singular form.

Words with unusual plural forms 

Some frequent examples in our institutional context are campus, curriculum, practicum and thesis, which take the plural forms campuses, curricula, practicums and theses, respectively. Because the standard English plural -s is becoming increasingly widespread, in those cases where you can choose between two plural forms use the -s form (for example, syllabuses rather than syllabi). For a longer list of unusual plural forms, see Appendix II: Unusual plural forms.

Common problems with singular and plural 

  • The word data

    The word data can be singular or plural. In common usage, use the singular; in research, convention favours the plural.

    Exemple correcte Much of this data is useless because the file has been corrupted.

    Exemple correcte The data show a 15% increase in bronchial diseases in four of the five cohorts examined.

  • Areas of knowledge

    Many names of academic and scientific disciplines appear to be plural. These include economics, electronics, physics, statistics and telecommunications, which are usually singular in Catalan (economia, electrònica, física, estadística and telecomunicació, respectively). However, when treated as the name of a field of knowledge or as a subject of study, they are considered collective nouns and take a singular verb.

    Exemple correcte Economics is commonly regarded as a soft science.

    A common but informal version of the term mathematics is maths (British English) or math (American English). In most documents, only the full version of the word is appropriate.

Collective nouns and the number of the verb 

  • Words denoting groups

    In collective nouns applying to groups of people, you can use either singular or plural verbs. If you wish to imply unanimity or unity, use a singular verb; if you want to talk about varied opinions or only one part of the group, use the plural.

    Exemple correcte The University’s Governing Council is considering the matter.

    Exemple correcte The Committee were divided over tuition fees.

  • Geographical areas and organizations

    Countries, regions and organizations take a singular verb even when they have a plural name.

    Exemple correcte The Balearic Islands is a self-governing region of Spain.

    Exemple correcte The United Nations is charged with the maintenance of international peace.

    However, if there is some reason to stress the individual parts, use a plural verb.

    Exemple correcte The Balearic Islands are made up of four main islands.

Partitive expressions 

The expressions half of and none (of) may take either a singular or a plural verb when the noun they modify is countable. Otherwise, the verb must be singular.

Exemple correcte None of our graduates has had problems getting a grant for further studies.

Exemple correcte None of our graduates have had problems getting a grant for further studies.

The expression the majority (of) takes a plural verb if the following noun is a collection of individuals.

Exemple correcte The majority of our graduates have had no problem getting a grant for further studies.

When a number (of) means several, it takes a plural verb.

Exemple correcte A number of applications are still to come.

Meanwhile, the number (of) takes a singular verb.

Exemple correcte The number of applications is small.

Nouns used as adjectives 

  • Normal use

    Nouns used as adjectives are rarely used in their plural form.

    Exemple correcte Mr Martorell presented the guidelines for mobility programmes.

    Exemple correcte Mr Martorell presented the mobility programme guidelines.

    However, there are some noteworthy exceptions, such as admissions office, materials science, genomics data, sports ground and accounts office.

  • Areas of knowledge as adjectives

    When the plural names of disciplines are used as adjectives, they maintain their plural form. Therefore, economic and economics used as an adjective have two different meanings.

    Exemple correcte The Department is beginning a series of CPD courses for its economics lecturers.

    Exemple correcte Attaining sufficient economic support is a vital aspect of university governance.


Languages often use two kinds of gender: natural gender, referring to living things of different sexes; and grammatical gender, relating to inanimate objects and concepts which are categorized as feminine, masculine or even neuter. English only uses natural gender, and often makes no distinction between male and female where other languages would (for example, in most professional categories). Nonetheless, gender can be a complex issue that requires care, particularly in the use of they or he or she, professional categories which do distinguish gender, married women’s names, titles and problematic words.

Third-person pronouns 

Personal pronouns 

English pronouns are not gender-specific, with the exception of he and she (subjects), him and her (objects) and his and hers (possessive). When you are describing groups of people of different sexes or individuals whose gender is unknown, avoid expressions like he/she, him/her, his/hers and himself/herself. Where possible, use a plural pronoun (they, their, etc.).

Exemple correcte When students have no certificate, the University will ask them to take an exam.

Exemple correcte Researchers have to be completely objective in their findings.

Use of he or she 

You can occasionally use he or she, him or her and his or her as an alternative to pluralizing the subject and verb, but overuse can seem pedantic. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat The average student is worried about his or her marks.

Exemple inadequat The applicant must demonstrate his or her ability to work independently.


Exemple correcte Students are worried about their marks.

Exemple correcte Applicants must demonstrate their ability to work independently.

In some instances, the pronoun adds nothing. Simply remove it or use an article.

Exemple correcte The average student is worried about marks.

Exemple correcte The applicant must demonstrate an ability to work independently.

Indefinite pronouns 

When you use all ⁓s, each ⁓, every ⁓ , everyone/body, anyone/body, someone/body, whoever or a relative clause like those who, you must pair these with they, them and their. All take a singular verb, except all ⁓s and those who.

Exemple correcte All candidates are requested to include a cover letter and their CV in their applications.

Exemple correcte Every candidate has to include references for work experience they have had over the past two years.

Use of you 

In some texts, especially less formal documents such as manuals, guides or instructions, the second person (you) or the imperative (no pronoun) is often more appropriate than the third person. This is especially convenient, as you, your, yourself and yourselves are not gender-specific. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat The students should first turn on their computers.


Exemple correcte You should first turn on your computer.

Exemple correcte First, turn on your computer.

Gender-neutral titles 

Gender-neutral forms for referring to men and women 

English is largely gender-neutral, so most professional categories do not distinguish between men and women. Furthermore, when you are referring to a particular person, there is no need to avoid gender-marked language.

Exemple correcte Chairwoman Vázquez apologized for her absence.

However, in situations where no sex should predominate – for example, when referring to the position rather than the person occupying it – always use the neutral version(s).

Exemple correcte A new chairperson must be elected before the Senate’s inaugural session.

Exemple correcte A new chair must be elected before the Senate’s inaugural session.

Many professions which previously had only gender-specific names now have a neutral form. For example, ombudsman and ombudswoman should become ombuds officer where possible.

Take care when using both gender-neutral titles and they, their, or themselves. In the example below, their absence could refer to either the chairperson or other committee members.

Exemple inadequat The chairperson apologized for their absence.

Best practice is to avoid this construction, as below.

Exemple correcte The chairperson apologized for not being able to attend.

Avoid the few gender-marked words in English (for example, fireman, air hostess) by using one of the many neutral synonyms available (fire fighter, flight attendant).


Re-gendering means adding gender markers to words which are neutral and could describe persons of different sexes. Avoid re-gendering neutral words (especially those which are more vulnerable to re-gendering because they are perceived, for one reason or another, as feminine). Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat Male nurses constitute 35% of this year’s nursing graduates.


Exemple correcte Men constitute 35% of this year’s nursing graduates.

Where it is necessary to show that a group includes both men and women, use distributive expressions.

Exemple correcte The survey obtained similar results among both male and female students.

Avoid the suffix -ess and never use the prefix she- or the formula lady + job title. Therefore manager and not manageress, she-mayor or lady-mayor.

Plural nouns 

In English, plural nouns behave just like singular ones: only those which are gender-specific in the singular are likewise marked in the plural.

Exemple correcte Graduates should arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the ceremony.

Exemple correcte Chairwomen Vázquez and Puig will offer a short press conference.

When describing mixed-sex groups, use inclusive expressions where possible. In the examples below, chairmen and mankind have been avoided.

Exemple correcte Mr Ferrer and Ms Vázquez served as chairpersons at the meeting.

Exemple correcte In the last 20 years humankind has made more scientific progress than in the previous century.

Impersonal expressions 

It is especially important to use gender-neutral expressions (for example, person or party) in templates for very common official documents where the text is aimed at a single person but will be reused for individuals of different sexes. These should be followed by they, not he or she.

Exemple correcte For whatever purposes it may serve and at the request of the person concerned, I issue this certificate.

Exemple correcte Each party must ratify the pact before it can take effect. They will then publish the text in their region’s official gazette in the space of six months.

Use of Mr, Mrs and Ms 

  • Use of Ms and Mrs

    Because Mrs implies a woman is married, using it in formal contexts seems presumptuous. Use Ms (but see below).

  • Mr, Mrs or Ms versus other titles

    Do not combine titles and ranks such as professor, doctor, etc. with Mr or Ms. If the title is somehow separated from the name, use Mr or Ms + surname or the full name.

    Exemple correcte Chairwoman Isabel Sales asked the rector, Mr Torrelló, to speak.

    Use lady only for the ceremonial title used in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries, and as part of the expression ladies and gentlemen.

  • Salutations

    A problem occurs in the opening salutation of letters written to unnamed individuals. Avoid translating senyor, senyora, Sr./Sra. or En/Na as Mr or Ms, and instead write Dear student, Dear faculty member or Dear colleague. If the recipients have no relationship with the university, use Dear Sir or Madam.

Gender and problematic words 

  • Words containing man but including reference to women

    A few words that include reference to both men and women are intrinsically masculine, and can often be replaced with gender-neutral terms. These include mankind (humankind, humanity), manpower (staff), manmade (artificial) and the verb to man (to staff), Englishmen (the English) and Englishman (an English person).

  • Use of bachelor, master, alumni and fellow

    Although generally considered gender-neutral, bachelor, master, alumni and fellow have, or have had, gender-specific meanings. The word bachelor may also refer to a single man, and master can refer to a young man or a male teacher (feminine mistress). The Latin alumnus is properly masculine-only (fem. singular, alumna; masc. plural, alumni; fem. plural, alumnae). Meanwhile, fellow is sometimes considered to refer primarily to men. In present-day use, none of these words retain any real masculine connotations, and bachelor of science, master of arts, alumni and fellow are all perfectly applicable to both men and women. Nonetheless, you can often use more common terms: alumni can be replaced by graduates or former students; and fellow is often better expressed as colleague, peer or member of faculty.


On many occasions translators face difficult decisions as to what requires translation or further explanation. Many cultural aspects are specific to a given setting and the guidelines in this part of the Guide aim to provide support with the issues this can lead to. The intention is not to lay down the law, but to provide a point of reference to help you make decisions when you are faced with these complex questions. If your particular issue is not answered here, use the Oxford English Dictionary to guide your decision.



Maintain the accents in people’s names (for example, Sílvia). Write out the abbreviations M. and M.a in full as Maria or María. Respect the way people write their names. For example, if they use an i to connect their first and second surnames, do not translate it, remove it or replace it with a hyphen. Likewise, if they do not use a connecting i, do not add one.

Public figures 

Generally speaking, do not translate the names of public figures. For example, royalty should be referred to in the original language.

Exemple incorrecte King Philip VI
Exemple correcte King Felipe VI

However, there are some exceptions. Popes should be referred to by the English equivalent of their papal names. Likewise, transliteration of names in non-Latin scripts can cause problems (a notable example being Gaddafi).

Historical figures 

Only translate the names of famous figures from history when there is a well-established English translation.

Exemple correcte Alexander the Great
Exemple correcte Catherine of Aragon
Exemple correcte Wilfred the Hairy

Place names 

When there is a well-established English version of a place name, use it.

Exemple correcte the Balearic Islands
Exemple correcte Catalonia
Exemple correcte Majorca

Exemple correcte Minorca
Exemple correcte Moscow
Exemple correcte Munich

When there is no well-established English translation, use the name in the local language.

Exemple correcte Arezzo
Exemple correcte Castelló de la Plana
Exemple correcte Girona

When a Catalan place name may not be as familiar to the reader as the Spanish, French or Italian equivalent, you may decide to add this version in brackets after the Catalan name.

Exemple correcte Alacant (Alicante)
Exemple correcte L’Alguer (Alghero)
Exemple correcte Eivissa (Ibiza)

Exemple correcte Elx (Elche)
Exemple correcte Perpinyà (Perpignan)

Avoid the use of demonyms (words used to describe inhabitants) for towns and cities. Use the inhabitants of Barcelona or the people of Barcelona, rather than Barcelonans. Note that the demonym for Catalonia is Catalan (not Catalonian).

Do not translate addresses, but if they can be made more understandable or easier to read for an English-speaking audience, then this is advisable. For example, transcribe the first letter of lower-case Catalan terms such as avinguda, carrer, carretera, passeig and plaça in upper case for English-speaking audiences (so Carrer de Sant Pau, Avinguda Diagonal, etc.).

Write out the full address rather than using abbreviations (so for pl. de Catalunya, write Plaça de Catalunya).

Floor and door numbers should be expressed in cardinal rather than ordinal numbers (for example, Carrer de Provença, 66, 1, 2).

  • Rivers and lakes

    Do not translate the names of rivers and lakes (River Sec, not the Dry River) unless there is a well-established English version (River Danube).

  • Seas

    Translate the names of seas when there is a well-established English translation. For example, use the Bay of Biscay (rather than the Cantabrian Sea, unless you are referring strictly to the southern part of the bay).

  • Islands

    Translate the names of islands when there is a well-established English translation.

    Exemple correcte Corsica
    Exemple correcte Sardinia
    Exemple correcte Sicily

  • Mountain ranges

    Translate the names of mountain ranges when there is a well-established English translation.

    Exemple correcte the Alps
    Exemple correcte the Pyrenees

    Do not translate them when there is not.

    Exemple correcte the Picos de Europa
    Exemple correcte the Serra de Tramuntana

  • Landmarks, buildings, rooms and halls

    Generally speaking, do not translate the names of landmarks, buildings, rooms and halls. However, there are some exceptions such as the Catalan Parliament building or the Great Wall of China. Likewise, descriptive translations may be used to make references clearer: for example, the Les Àligues building at the University of Girona or the Camp Nou stadium. In the case of generic names, such as Sala de juntes (in Catalan), write Sala de Juntes (boardroom) in English.

Public institutions 

Generally speaking, translate the names of public institutions. If the original is required, use it on first mention with a descriptive translation in brackets. Use the translation on subsequent mention. Examples include Generalitat Valenciana (Valencian government) and Mossos d’Esquadra (Catalan police force). Organizations with abbreviations should be translated but the abbreviation should be maintained and used on subsequent mention: Spanish Royal Academy (RAE) or European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). As can be seen above, use lower case for descriptive translations into English, but maintain capitals when you are translating proper names word for word or using established English versions.


Translate the names of universities, unless otherwise stipulated by the university in question itself. Below is a list of the names of Vives Network universities to be used when writing in English.

Universitat Abat Oliba CEU
Abat Oliba CEU University
Universitat d’Alacant
University of Alacant
Universitat d’Andorra
Universitat d’Andorra
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Universitat de Barcelona
University of Barcelona
Universitat de Girona
University of Girona
Universitat de les Illes Balears
University of the Balearic Islands
Universitat de Perpinyà Via Domitia
University of Perpignan Via Domitia
Universitat de Sàsser
University of Sassari
Universitat Internacional de Catalunya
Universitat Internacional de Catalunya
Universitat Internacional Valenciana
Valencian International University
Universitat Jaume I
Universitat Jaume I
Universitat de Lleida
University of Lleida
Universitat Miguel Hernández d’Elx
Miguel Hernández University of Elche
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya
Universitat Politècnica de València
Universitat Politècnica de València
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Pompeu Fabra University
Universitat Ramon Llull
Ramon Llull University
Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Universitat de València
Universitat de València
Universitat de Vic - Universitat Central de Catalunya
University of Vic - Central University of Catalonia

University names that incorporate a proper noun should include the definite article in running text whether they are translated or not.

Exemple correcte The Miguel Hernández University of Elche is a public university.

Exemple correcte The Universitat Rovira i Virgili announced yesterday that admissions had increased for the third year in a row.

Courses and subjects 

Translate the names of courses and subjects.

Exemple correcte English Studies
Exemple correcte Roman Law II

Public lectures 

The titles of public lectures should be left in the original language. However, they may be accompanied by a descriptive translation in brackets where deemed appropriate. Do not italicize this descriptive title.

Exemple correcte “Educació, aprenentatge i tecnologia a la societat del coneixement” (Education, learning and technology in the knowledge society)

Books, music and art 

In general, do not translate the names of books, musical and art works unless there is a well-established English version. Nonetheless, make sure you avoid any possible confusion about which version of the work is being referred to.

Exemple correcte Cervantes’s Don Quijote (Don Quixote)

Exemple correcte Verdaguer’s A Barcelona (To Barcelona)

Exemple correcte Mallo’s Muller con cabra

Exemple correcte Miró’s Pla de l’Os

Exemple correcte Casals’s Song of the Birds


Translate the names of awards. Examples include the Max Theatre Awards or the Catalan government’s Saint George’s Cross.


Translate the names of museums, but refer to them on subsequent mention by their abbreviation if they have one: for example, the Catalan National Museum of Art (MNAC).

Political parties and unions 

Translate the names of political parties and unions in brackets on first mention. If the original name has an abbreviation, use this on subsequent mention; if it does not, use the original name.

Exemple correcte the Partido Popular (People’s Party, PP)

Exemple correcte the Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya (Socialist Party of Catalonia, PSC)

Exemple correcte the Unión General de Trabajadores (General Workers’ Union, UGT)

Exemple correcte Podemos (We Can)

Official journals and gazettes 

Translate the names of the governmental journals and gazettes, accompanied by their original abbreviation.

Exemple correcte Official Journal of the Government of Catalonia (DOGC)

Exemple correcte Official Gazette of the Government of Spain (BOE)

Exemple correcte Official Journal of the Government of Valencia (DOGV)


Do not translate company names, although a descriptive translation in brackets may be deemed useful.

Exemple correcte Som Energia (a renewable energies cooperative)

Exemple correcte Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (a railway vehicle manufacturing company)

Trade fairs and conferences 

Translate the names of trade fairs and conferences. That said, if the trade fair or conference is referred to by its original abbreviation, this should be maintained in the translation. For example, CONSTRUMAT (International Construction Exhibition) and simply CONSTRUMAT on subsequent mention.

Forms of address 

Translate common forms of address such as senyor or doctora. Omit any other forms of address used with high-ranking officials such as politicians or the heads of universities. Thus, for example, do not include or translate Excel·lentíssima i Magnífica in Excel·lentíssima i Magnífica Rectora unless specifically requested to do so.

Currencies and measures 

Do not translate figures in euros into sterling or US dollars. Likewise, do not translate measures given in metric units into imperial units.

The word web versus the word internet 

The words web and internet are not synonymous. The internet is the infrastructure of connections, whereas the web is the information stored on and transmitted over this network. The web cannot exist without the internet. With this in mind, translate xarxa as web, unless you are sure that it refers to the internet infrastructure.


Avoid the use of Latin terms where there is a perfectly acceptable English equivalent. Examples include a posteriori (acceptable equivalents would be subsequently or in hindsight), a priori (beforehand or in theory), in situ (in the original place, on site) and viva voce (oral examination). For a more complete list, see Appendix III: Latin terms with English equivalents.

Varieties of English 

While the UB uses British English with Oxford spelling (see Spelling at the UB), bear in mind that your texts may often need to refer to the names of programmes, institutions or other concepts that use American English, British English without Oxford spelling or some other spelling system. When they do, conserve these different spellings. Thus, the words program in White House Internship Program and organisation in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development should not be changed to programme or organization, respectively.

Remember, however, that this convention of conserving spellings may not be universally adopted, even when the name of an institution is well known. (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is a case in point, referred to at the website of the United States Department of State as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.)

Terms that have no established translation 

Terms that have no established translation, such as vegueria (proposed territorial division for Catalonia), should be left in the original Catalan with a descriptive translation in brackets on first mention. Other examples include comarca (territorial division between a municipality and a province), diputació (provincial government) and protecció civil (civil defence).

Writing and model documents 

Writing in English 

Writing well in English – or any other language for that matter – involves somewhat more than avoiding errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling. Good writing is not just correct; it responds to the interests or needs of the intended readers. It must be planned, structured and designed with a particular audience and a particular purpose in mind. For maximum effectiveness, writers need to take decisions at a variety of levels, ranging from the overall structure of the document, through the organization of sentences within paragraphs, to the placing of certain words at certain points in sentences. They should be aware that the writing process is full of challenges. Unlike speech, writing cannot rely on intonation or gesture, or exploit immediate feedback to put communication back on track. Likewise, unlike speakers, writers have to make certain assumptions about their intended – and often anonymous – audience, and they have to understand that communication is primarily their responsibility: they know full well what they want to say, but their audience may not; and it is up to them to bridge the gap.

This part of the Guide aims to make you aware of the issues to be considered if you are to rise to these challenges, convey your message efficiently and produce readily understandable texts.


The main point of writing institutional texts is to convey information to readers. If texts are not well structured, readers will struggle to follow what you are trying to say. The first step towards an effective, coherent document, then, is proper structuring. Ensure that your texts have clearly defined sections preceded by short headings which typographically stand out from the surrounding text. Use a numbering system to highlight the hierarchy of sections (1) and subsections (1.1). Organize your texts in paragraphs that are not too long (readers welcome white space).


  • Types of sentence

    There are three main types of sentence in English: simple, compound and complex.


    Exemple correcte Registration begins on 14 September.


    Exemple correcte Registration begins on 14 September but courses do not start until 1 October.


    Exemple correcte Although registration starts on 14 September, courses do not start until 1 October.

  • Sentence variety

    Well-written texts will contain sentences not only of the three types mentioned above – simple, compound and complex – but also of different lengths. Although short sentences are more understandable than long ones, avoid a telegraphic style by writing short, medium and (sometimes) long sentences. Aim for an average sentence length of between 15 and 20 words and beware of excessively long sentences with too many subordinations and parenthetical elements.

    For further variety, begin your sentences in different ways. You can, of course, begin with the subject followed by the verb, but there are other options: for example, a short prepositional phrase (During the meeting this morning...), a transition word (However,...), an infinitive phrase (To register correctly, you must first...) or a participle phrase (On arriving at their host university, mobility students should...).

  • End weight

    Texts can be processed more efficiently when short and simple sequences come before long and complex ones. Therefore, put heavier sequences after the verb, towards the end of the sentence. This is the principle of end weight.

    Therefore, not

    Exemple incorrecte The fact that many mobility students arrived in September and had to return home almost immediately because their papers were not in order is unfortunate.


    Exemple correcte It is unfortunate that many mobility students arrived in September and had to return home almost immediately because their papers were not in order.

  • End focus

    The principle of end focus states that the new information – that is, the information that the writer is giving the reader for the first time – should be placed at the end of clauses and sentences.

    Therefore, not

    Exemple incorrecte The ability to communicate ideas to others is the single most important skill that undergraduate students must acquire.


    Exemple correcte The single most important skill that undergraduate students must acquire is the ability to communicate ideas to others.

Subjects and characters 

At its most basic level, a sentence is about people or things (characters) that do certain actions or have certain actions done to them. As such, the subject of a sentence should refer clearly to the character and the verb of the sentence should describe the important action. If possible, characters should be short and concrete. Often, however, you are obliged to use abstractions (unemployment, legislation, etc.) as characters of your texts. This is not a problem as long as your readers are familiar with the abstractions that are central to your text. For example, in a text entitled ‘First-year students and the registration process’, the following sentence uses an abstraction in subject position that is not a character.

Exemple inadequat Complaints by first-year students about the clarity of information on the website were frequent.

In this sentence, the subject is long (13 words), abstract and not a main character (the focus of the text is not the word complaints). The following sentence is an improvement.

Exemple correcte First-year students frequently complained about the clarity of information on the website.

To sum up, then, readers will find your texts easier to follow if the subjects of your verbs are short and concrete (or familiar abstractions), and refer to the main characters.

Verbs and actions 

After the subject, readers seek a verb that expresses the action. The sooner they find a strong verb (not a weak one like is or has), the more easily they will understand the sentence. Compare the words in bold in the two sentences below.

Exemple inadequat Full payment of all outstanding fees must be carried out before issuance of degree certificates to students.

Exemple correcte All outstanding fees must be paid before degree certificates can be issued.

The only verb in the first sentence (carried out) is empty. It expresses no real action. On the other hand, the verbs in the second sentence (paid and issued) directly express the actions that are done. In the first sentence, the actions of paying and issuing are expressed in the form of the abstract nouns payment and issuance. The technical term for expressing actions in the form of nouns is nominalization. When you nominalize your texts, they will often sound abstract and dense because you use weak verbs instead of strong ones, you place abstractions in subject position and you need more articles and prepositions.

Sometimes nominalizations are little more than minor inconveniences.

Exemple inadequat The Governing Council took the decision to reduce funding.

Exemple correcte The Governing Council decided to reduce funding.

However, they can also lead to unwieldy and cumbersome text, and make understanding more difficult.

Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat Despite her knowledge of the department’s need for more money, her veto of the decision to request a bigger budget aimed at giving encouragement to the department for an improvement in efficiency.


Exemple correcte Although she knew that the department needed more money, she decided not to request a bigger budget to encourage the department to be more efficient.

For this reason, use verbs to express actions. Do not conceal them in nominalizations.


In general terms, English traditionally prefers placing the verb towards the beginning of the sentence. The sentence below uses an excessively long introductory phrase, includes non-essential information, has a long subject and places information between the subject and the verb.

Exemple inadequat According to recent research carried out by members of the Communication and News research group from Oxford University, led by the well-known expert in the subject, Dr James White, many administrative workers from all sorts of public and private institutions, because they have never studied communication in any of its forms, have great difficulty in writing clear texts.

The sentence below shortens the introductory phrase and the subject, removes unnecessary information and keeps the subject and the verb together.

Exemple correcte According to recent research from Oxford University, many administrative workers have great difficulty in writing clear texts because they have never studied communication in any of its forms.


Readers should be able to perceive that paragraphs are not just sets of individual sentences, but units in which ideas progress logically and flow from sentence to sentence. Writing in such a way is said to be cohesive.

One way in which you can make your texts cohesive is to begin your sentences with information that is known – either because it is straightforward and familiar, or because it has just been mentioned – and end them with information that is new or surprising. Beginning sentences with familiar information provides a context that allows readers to focus on the important information at the end, which has not been mentioned previously in the text and which requires the reader’s attention (this is known as end-focus). In the example below, the new information presented at the end of the first sentence is immediately taken up and used as the contextual information at the beginning of the second.

Exemple correcte Dr James Watson will give a seminar on the Human Genome Project. The project began in 1990 and is considered to be of such importance that funding has just been approved for the next 15 years.

Another way to make your paragraphs cohesive is to give them a clear focus by structuring them around a consistent topic string. That is to say, several of the sentences in the paragraph can have the same subject. Do not be afraid of repetition. It helps to reinforce the focus on particular ideas and concepts, and gives a passage greater unity.

Exemple correcte The module of the Jean Monnet programme on European integration will be taught in February. Registration is now open to university members and professionals working in the field. The module will be taught in seminar room 3 and is organized by lecturers from the Department of Public Law. It analyses recent legislation and the transformation of European law over the last 15 years.

In the example above, three of the four sentences have the same subject, although in the first sentence the subject is used in its full form (the module of the Jean Monnet programme on European integration), in the second it is used in a reduced form (the module) and in the third it is used in its pronominal form (it).

One final way to make your writing cohesive is transitional metadiscourse, which guides readers through a passage and clarifies the relationships between ideas. Examples are moreover, on the other hand, however, first, second, finally and therefore.


Parallelism refers to giving each element in a list the same grammatical category (noun phrases, verb clauses, infinitives, etc.). The similarity of the grammatical form makes it easier for readers to perceive a similarity in content and function. The sentence below is not parallel.

Exemple inadequat The students’ objections were the injustice of the measures and that they were unconstitutional.

The first element of the list (the injustice of the measures) is a noun phrase while the second (they were unconstitutional) is a verb clause. The sentence would be more readily understandable if it were rewritten. The sentence below contains a verb instead of the nominalization objections and then has a verb clause that contains a list of two elements, both of which are adjectives.

Exemple correcte The students objected that the measures were unjust and unconstitutional.

In any series of items, then, make sure that each element of the series is in exactly the same form as all of the others. In the example below, the list has three elements: the first two are noun phrases while the last one is a verb clause. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat The master’s students will acquire the personality, the contacts and have the knowledge to succeed in almost any business venture.


Exemple correcte The master’s students will acquire the personality, the contacts and the knowledge to succeed in almost any business venture.

This general guideline can affect even the smallest, and seemingly trivial, of words. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat The Erasmus students will talk of their experiences in Paris, in Athens and Moscow.


Exemple correcte The Erasmus students will talk of their experiences in Paris, Athens and Moscow.

The principle of parallelism should also be respected in vertical lists. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat Students must
a) present the official application form,
b) their personal academic certificate, and
c) proof of payment.


Exemple correcte Students must present
a) the official application form,
b) their personal academic certificate, and
c) proof of payment.

Take particular care when you use such structures as not only ... but also. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat Master’s degrees not only prepare professionals but also researchers.


Exemple correcte Master’s degrees prepare not only professionals but also researchers.

The unofficial style 

In his book Revising Prose (Longman, 2006), Richard Lanham coined the term the official style to refer to the obscure, dense prose so characteristic of many textbooks, business reports, academic papers and institutional documents. According to Lanham, this style is characterized by sentences full of nouns cluttered up by long strings of prepositional phrases and typically linked by some form of the verb be, such as in the sentence below.

Exemple inadequat In the light of the constant lack of places on the courses provided by the Language Service, employing another teacher would be a big advantage for the students and lecturers of the university community.

This sentence could be more economically and clearly expressed in the following way.

Exemple correcte The understaffed Language Service needs to employ another teacher.

The official style is often unclear because it consists of too many elements of the same grammatical type. Consider the following sentence.

Exemple inadequat The aim of the project is to encourage relations between different universities in Europe in an attempt to foster new approaches to administrative procedures to improve efficiency and cut the costs of the production of academic courses by the organization of interuniversity programmes to be taught at several institutions at any one time.

The sentence is long and complex. It has 53 words but only one weak verb (is). It is full of prepositional phrases (in total, there are 11 of these) and infinitive clauses (there are four of these). Prepositional phrases are important because they provide necessary detail about time, manner and place but, in excess, they obstruct the reader’s progress by providing too much information. After the word procedures the sentence provides many diverse details. Likewise, the use of several infinitives of purpose clouds the issue. What is the real purpose of the project? The text could be improved by a shorter introductory sentence focusing on the purpose of the project and then clarification of how this purpose is to be achieved in subsequent sentences.

Exemple correcte This European project aims to improve the efficiency of administrative procedures and cut the costs of academic courses. It plans to do this by organizing interuniversity courses that can be taught simultaneously at various universities.

So, if you want your texts to be clear and readily understandable, avoid the official style. Do not write long sentences full of nouns and strings of prepositional phrases linked only by the verb be. Be unofficial: write shorter, more dynamic, verb-centred sentences and do not use long strings of similar grammatical elements.


Texts are said to be concise if they communicate a message clearly using few words. Concise texts are generally effective because they make information easier to understand but they are by no means easy to write. In fact, they often take considerably longer to write because they require lots of revision. It is impossible to identify all the ways in which authors inflate their texts but below you will find some strategies for reducing the length of your texts without removing necessary information.

Reduce clauses 

Reduce clauses to simpler, shorter constructions. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat The URV, which was founded in 1994, is the university of southern Catalonia.


Exemple correcte Founded in 1994, the URV is the university of southern Catalonia.

Delete superfluous words and phrases 

Delete all phrases and words that add nothing to the meaning or provide excessive detail. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat The effect of the application of the new economic measures can be seen in last month’s figures, and it goes without saying that the University is aware of the new policy on tax deduction and that it has every intention of complying with the regulations.


Exemple correcte The effect of the new economic measures can be seen in last month’s figures, and the University intends to comply with the new regulations on tax deduction.

Avoid nominalizations 

Use verbs to express actions, not nominalizations. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat This report is dedicated to the discussion of the new economic measures.


Exemple correcte This report discusses the new economic measures.

Avoid overuse of it is and there is 

Expressions that combine it or there with the verb be can be effectively used for emphasis at times but overuse can create unnecessarily lengthy prose. Use them sparingly. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat It is the Rector who will have the last word on this issue.


Exemple correcte The Rector will have the last word on this issue.

Do not make vague attributions 

Authors often try to justify their statements by suggesting they have acquired the information from an authoritative source. If you wish to refer to a source, however, do not do so vaguely as in the following example. A straightforward statement is preferable to a vague attribution. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat Student registrations have been observed to be increasing in some subjects that were previously determined to be unfashionable.


Exemple correcte Student registrations have been increasing in some previously unfashionable subjects.

and not

Exemple inadequat It has been shown that visiting lecturers have been using this new resource.


Exemple correcte Visiting lecturers have been using this new resource.

Make direct statements 

Do not feel obliged to provide a brief introduction to every statement you make. Often, no introduction is necessary. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat With regard to good students, their most important characteristic is the ability to work hard.


Exemple correcte The most important characteristic of good students is the ability to work hard.

Do not hedge excessively 

When you write, you are often not certain of the facts and are obliged to hedge (that is to say, introduce elements of doubt and uncertainty into your texts). If you need to hedge, though, do so just once. Therefore, not

Exemple inadequat It could be possible that economic factors and the decline in immigration may be affecting student numbers.


Exemple correcte Economic factors and the decline in immigration may be affecting student numbers.


One of the main problems of writing clearly and effectively is that there will always be a gap between what you want to say and what your readers may understand. The principles outlined below will help you overcome this. Remember that they are only guidelines, not inflexible rules, but they will give you a general idea about how most university texts should be written. In a nutshell, the principles of clear writing are the following:

  1. Give your documents a clearly defined structure. The sections and subsections and their corresponding headings should guide readers towards meaning.

  2. Write sentences of different types and lengths. This will give your texts variety. But beware of excessively long sentences!

  3. Make the important characters of your text the subjects of your sentences.

  4. Express actions not as abstract nouns (nominalizations) but as verbs.

  5. Make sure that the main verb is towards the beginning of the sentence by avoiding long introductory phrases, keeping your subjects short and not separating the subject from the verb.

  6. Begin sentences with information that you believe is familiar to readers and end sentences with what you believe is new or unfamiliar. Make sure that your most important characters occupy the subject position as often as possible.

  7. Ensure that all the elements of a list are expressed in the same grammatical form.

  8. Avoid long strings of prepositional phrases and sentences that only have weak verbs.

  9. Once you have completed your text, revise it for concision (among other things).

Tools for text production 

In today’s world, most administrative texts are produced on a word processor. Within this context, those who work with text need to be able to exploit the full potential of digital text processing, a field that goes far beyond the textual and linguistic issues that are dealt with in the UB’s Style Guide. Much of what could be said is applicable to all languages, but the discussion here will be restricted to aspects that affect texts in English.

Popular word processors, such as the broadly equivalent Microsoft Word (commercial software that is a registered trademark of Microsoft), and LibreOffice (open-source software), are sophisticated configurable programs with many tools to improve productivity, that is, to work faster and achieve higher quality. These programs are installed with a series of default settings and while some affect the creation of texts in all languages, certain settings can specifically affect English. An example is the language setting for the text, which establishes the spellcheck dictionary to be used, among other things. If you are typing in English but the spellchecker is checking for words in Catalan, productivity goes down rather than up. Default settings for new documents can be established by creating a template document and saving your preferred settings into it. Precisely how to do that will depend on the program and the version you are using .

There are various kinds of language tools. Not all of these are installed with the word processor itself but usually the relevant files for English will be. In general, different varieties of English are available, so you need to check that the variety chosen is the one you want to use.

Language tools not distributed with the version of Microsoft Word you have can be acquired subsequently or set up from the original installation CD or downloaded from the web. Extra language tool files for LibreOffice can be downloaded from the web.


Spellcheckers are perhaps the most useful of the language tools on offer. Impossible spellings are automatically detected. You can set up the checker so that it detects spelling mistakes as you type or you can turn it off and activate it later.

It is easy enough to use the wrong word, however, typing for example sight instead of site. In such cases your spellchecker will not detect any error, so you still need to check your work carefully after typing it.

Another potential problem is that you may disagree with the established criteria of the spellchecker. For example, does your institution prefer cooperate or co-operate? This is largely a matter of taste. In such cases you can add what you consider to be exceptions to a local dictionary so these spellings will be accepted in the future, but only for documents edited on the same computer.

Grammar checkers, thesauruses and translation dictionaries 

Word processors offer users grammar checkers and thesauruses but non-native users should bear in mind that these are not always as useful as other similar tools available online. For example, while grammar checkers can detect a lack of verb concord or suggest the punctuation of long sentences to improve readability, they can also mark a sentence as unacceptable when there is really nothing wrong with it. And while thesauruses can suggest synonyms of selected words, they are not always very complete and do not include guidance on differences between matched words. For this reason, if you are writing in English but it is not your first language, you will need to find other tools and resources to support your word processor’s grammar checker and thesaurus.

Microsoft Word also includes a tool for translating selected words or text, but its usefulness in text creation is limited. It might help you understand an unknown word but it certainly would not help you write correct English. Since the appearance of Microsoft Word 2007, this tool uses online translation (through the Translate button on the Review ribbon), so it will only work if you have an internet connection. Like all generic automatic translation, it is rather unreliable.

While most authors have no need for this kind of tool, in our context the administrative texts that need to be created in English are often based on already existing texts in Catalan, if not on close translations of these. In such cases an automatic translation into English may be a viable first draft for rephrasing. This process for text production in English is discussed in Online word processors and other online tools.

Automatic correction tools 

Both Microsoft Word and LibreOffice include the automatic correction tool Autocorrect, which automatically replaces certain typed sequences of characters with other characters. Autocorrect is language specific so, if you use it, make sure it is correctly configured. Otherwise, you may find yourself unable to enter a correct sequence at all, because the program will unhelpfully change what you type.

Automatic substitution of characters may be a useful option, if set up in accordance with the way you want to work. It can include the following:
  1. Correction of common typing errors (such as teh to the or abotu to about)

  2. Automatic suggested completion of long words

  3. Expansion of abbreviated forms

  4. Substitution of character sequences to access special characters, such as a double hyphen replaced by an em dash or 1/4 replaced by ¼

  5. Replacement of unlikely sequences, such as double capital letters at the beginning of a sentence replaced by a single capital letter

  6. Automatic formatting of lists

Configuring language tools in your word processor 

Configuring language tools is important because, if you are using a local version of Microsoft Word, the default settings for your document may not be for English, even though your document is in that language. Follow the instructions below to configure the tools in your word processor and establish suitable default settings for an administrative document in British English.

To create a template with suitable default settings, create a new Microsoft Word document and then follow the steps below.
  1. Maximize the Estils panel on the Inici ribbon to visualize it. Position the pointer over the Normal style and an arrow for a drop-down menu will appear. Right-click on the style to open this menu. Choose Modifica and a dialogue box will open.

  2. Click on the Format button and then on the first item, Tipus de lletra, in the drop-down menu. Here you can choose the default font, its size and colour, among other things. Confirm any changes you make with the Dacord button.

  3. Select Paràgraf from the same drop-down menu. Click the first tab to establish the line spacing, the paragraph spacing, the indentation, the justification and the tabulation positions. Click on the second tab to avoid single final lines at the top or bottom of a page, and to insert a page break before each paragraph with this style. Confirm all the changes.

  4. Select Llengua, choose anglès (Regne Unit) from the list and make sure the box No revisis l’ortografia ni la gramàtica is unchecked. Confirm those changes. (The spellchecker will only work if it has been installed. If in doubt about this, contact the computer service responsible for your hardware and software maintenance.)

  5. Click on the Anomena i desa icon (a diskette with a pencil). A dialogue box will appear, in which you can give your document a name, such as admin-en-template1. Then open the drop-down menu for Tipus de fitxer and choose Plantilla de Word (*.dotx).

Your document format preferences are now saved in your template. To create a new empty document based on these settings, double-click on the template file in a Windows Explorer window, or create a new document based on your template through the Nou document dialogue box. (Templates for many kinds of documents are also available online. Such templates tend to focus on complicated formats, such as tri-fold brochures. For simpler documents with a single flow of text, it is preferable to create your own template, as we describe here.)

To view the spellchecker and grammar checker settings, click on the blue Fitxer tab at the top on the left and choose Opcions to open the corresponding dialogue box. Then choose Correcció from the menu on the left-hand side. On the right-hand side of the box you can establish settings for document proofing. To turn off as-you-write spell checking, uncheck Revisa l’ortografia a mesura que escric. To turn off grammar checking, uncheck Marca els errors gramaticals a mesura que escric. To choose what kinds of error the activated grammar checker will identify, open the Estil d’escriptura dialogue box by clicking on the Configuració button. Uncheck boxes for items that you do not want the program to automatically correct. Do not forget the Format automàtic a mesura que escric tab, where you can set up the automatic treatment of quotation marks, among other things. When you finish, save your changes and exit the dialogue box. These autocorrect settings are not saved into your template but are associated with your profile as a user on that specific computer.

You can establish various other general settings through the Visualització and Avançades dialogue boxes in the Opcions del Word window.

Special characters 

Some characters are particularly problematic for electronic media.

For example, the older type-setting tradition of curly apostrophes (’) and curly quotation marks (“ ”) corresponds to print media. They are not available on mechanical typewriters at all and are not immediately available on computer keyboards either. (They need to be looked up in character tables.) Like straight apostrophes (') and straight quotation marks (" ") they are available on word processors, but curly quotation marks are often misinterpreted by web servers and incorrectly displayed on web pages.

Problems tend to arise when authors use Microsoft Windows programs, including Microsoft Word, to edit texts for the web (in HTML code), because Windows uses non-standard codes for these special characters and they may appear as meaningless symbols on web pages.

These are other characters that Microsoft Windows may code idiosyncratically:

  • Curly apostrophes

  • Curly quotation marks

  • Double dashes re-interpreted as an em dash

  • Ellipsis points

  • The geminate l in Catalan (l·l).

To sum up, if you know that you are editing for Windows programs or print media, then you can use these special characters without risk of them being corrupted and appearing incorrectly in the final document. On the other hand, if you are editing for HTML documents or for a variety of output media, turn off all these special characters and the autocorrect options that introduce them automatically into documents.

The raised dot or interpunct of the geminate l is generally too large if you are using obsolete Windows character tables, leading to l•l instead of l·l. Using Unicode (UTF-8) character encoding, available in all current software, should solve this problem (see Team projects and revision of texts).

Word wrap and word division 

The difference between print and web text editing traditions is not merely confined to character selection. Text justification may also be an issue.

Texts for print media such as letters, books, magazines and newspapers are usually fully justified (left and right). Web media, in contrast, tend to be left-justified because they are viewed at different page widths on different screens, and large horizontal gaps may appear between words if full justification is used and the text is viewed in a narrow window. This problem can be solved in word processing documents if the right dictionaries are installed (if not, words may be divided in the wrong place) and automatic word division is activated. The program will then split long words at the end of lines to reduce the appearance of long spaces between words when total justification is used.

Word wrap is the feature that automatically carries down any word that does not fit at the end of a line. Although it is a fundamental feature of word processors, it can lead to problems when items that should be on the same line are split over two lines. To avoid this, use non-breaking spaces, for instance between an honorific and the following name, and non-breaking hyphens, for instance as a separator between numbers.

Exemple correcte Mr Charles Smith

Exemple correcte 2013 3476 24 4700000418 (a bank account number)

In Microsoft Word the following key combinations may be used to insert these characters: Control+Shift+Space for a non-breaking space; Control+Shift+Hyphen for a non-breaking hyphen.

Character sets and encoding 

Generally speaking, when texts are saved in word processors, the fonts used are not saved as part of the file. If an unusual font has been used and is not available on other computers where the document is viewed, it will be substituted, with rather unpredictable results.

Most modern word processors use Unicode (UTF-8) encoding by default. This is a great improvement on previous systems because with Unicode many alphabets are available with the same encoding system. Now, with UTF-8, gone are the days when Cyrillic characters would not show up correctly in a document that for the most part used the Roman alphabet, to take just one example.

Some programs still use old encoding systems by default. If you are importing text from one of these programs, you will typically be shown a file conversion dialogue box. Always convert to UTF-8 if given the opportunity.

Team projects and revision of texts 

Generally speaking, texts for publication pass through various hands during the stages of creation, editing, proofreading, etc. This chain is fragile when using desktop software such as locally installed word processors because the most recent version of the project file is held by only one person at a time (and stored in only one place). Users must take turns working on the document and send the project file on to the next member of the team when they finish.

This can slow work down and lead to problems of traceability, meaning that it is difficult (or impossible) to know which versions a document has gone through and who has introduced which changes.

This issue is addressed by the Control de canvis tool in word processors, but as with all digital tools, it is vital to make best use of the instrument provided. (Hidden revisions can be inadvertently distributed in a final version, to the potential embarrassment of all concerned.)

The following guidelines focus on the use of Control de canvis in the Catalan version of Microsoft Word 2010.

To turn Track changes on and off, go to Revisió > Seguiment > Control de canvis or use the key combination Control+Shift+E to toggle Control de canvis on and off.

You can see if you are currently tracking changes by looking for Control de canvis on the status bar (the bottom border of the Microsoft Word window). If this control is not visible, activate it by right clicking on the status bar itself and selecting the corresponding option on the menu that appears.

To control how tracked changes are displayed in your document, use the drop-down menu controls in the Revisió > Seguiment group. You can modify how changes appear by clicking on the bottom half of the large Control de canvis button and selecting Canvia les opcions de seguiment from the drop-down menu.

Once changes are accepted or rejected (and the file is saved and closed), they can no longer be displayed or tracked. To accept or reject them, use the Revisió > Canvis controls.

If a document has passed through various reviewers with Control de canvis turned on, the proposed modifications will be marked with an identifier for each person. If you click on Revisió > Seguiment > Subfinestra de revisió, you will see this identifier beside each change. When you hold the pointer over a change, a pop-up text also shows this information. Each author’s suggestions can be colour-coded in the Canvia les opcions de seguiment dialogue; changes proposed by just one reviewer, for example, can be shown using the Mostra l’etiquetatge > Revisors dialogue.

Control de canvis can be combined with the insertion of comments (on the same Revisió ribbon) to create an effective process for proofreading by teams of reviewers, but circulating a document leads to problems of downtime, where team members are held up by sluggish work from their colleagues.

If you are the manager of a group of document reviewers, there are a number of issues to bear in mind, most of which concern actions to be avoided. The most important of these are outlined below.

  • Base your document on a template that includes styles for all the paragraphs and headings you will need. Do not introduce any manual paragraph formatting into the document. Use your template styles instead.

  • Never use the Enter key to create extra vertical spacing. If necessary, adjust your template paragraph styles.

  • Never use the font and font-size controls to change the appearance of text manually. Incorporate font features into your style definitions instead.

  • Never apply italic and bold styling to a whole paragraph to make it look like a heading. Use a real heading style instead.

  • Never use the space bar repeatedly to create horizontal space or to centre your text. Make sure your tabulation positions are defined in your template styles and use the tab key to position text. If text needs to be aligned, this should be part of the paragraph style definition.

  • Never type a manual number to create the effect of a numbered list or heading. Incorporate automatic numbering into the paragraph style instead.

  • Never create a page number, a table of contents, an index, a cross-reference, or other calculable items manually. These items should be created using automatic fields so that they are updated automatically when the document is modified.

  • Use inline images (instead of floating images) to prevent unpredictable movement of text.

Some of these problems, and many others, may be detected and corrected by skilful use of the Cerca i substitució command. For instance, many touch typists leave double spaces between words unintentionally every time they are momentarily distracted. Such extra spaces may be eliminated by searching for double spaces and replacing them with single spaces throughout the whole document. The same trick may be used to eliminate extra empty paragraphs.

The items listed above are guidelines to avoid frequent text-formatting errors. Once you start to use the built-in features of the word processor to create the desired effects in a reproducible and configurable way, you will find it much more effective than manual formatting.

Current versions of Microsoft Word offer another method of working with a document that has been circulated among various editors: Compara, which is available on the Revisió ribbon. This function allows you to see all the differences between versions of a document and who has proposed each change.

Nonetheless, circulating a document to different members of a team is a cumbersome process. This problem may be addressed by resort to online tools, which is the subject of Online word processors and other online tools.

Online word processors and other online tools 

Desktop word processors are powerful programs that can be adapted to users’ preferred ways of working, but they have their limitations, particularly when document editors are working as a team.

Many of the tools available in desktop word processors are now available online and in some cases these tools are more powerful. This is the case for online dictionaries such as Word Reference [<>], and also for automatic translators, such as Google Translate [<>] and Microsoft Translator [<>].

Teamwork can be enhanced by synchronizing desktop files to a shared online copy, as with the service offered by DropBox [<>].

The most radical option is to do away with the desktop word processing environment altogether, at least in the initial stages of text creation. Basic online word processors are a viable alternative to desktop software. Popular options are GoogleDocs (recently rebranded as Google Drive) [<>], Zoho [<>] and Microsoft Office 365 [<>]. On the other hand, if you want an alternative to Google, there are a number of possibilities, including Synqion [<>], Nextcloud [<>] or Tresorit [<>]. (For a useful website listing these and other possibilities, see Pixel Privacy [<>]).    

The word processing environment in these online editors is more rudimentary but they offer advantages over desktop word processors:

  • File storage is more secure online than on a local hard disk.

  • All previous versions are stored and the editing of each version can be traced.

  • Since all editors work on the same version, there is never any conflict between versions from different sources.

  • There is enhanced integration with other online resources, such as automatic translation and dictionary look-up.

Online systems also facilitate the use of shared translation memories and terminology databases. Together with the use of specialized automatic translation systems, these hold much promise for the future as a viable method of fast, cheap, approximate translation and for the preparation of first drafts of foreign language texts, which need limited post-editing to be converted into quality publications.

Authors can experiment with this kind of system for free with Google Translator Toolkit [<>]or Wordfast Anywhere [<>]. The use of online word processing and translation tools is bound to increase in the future.

Finally, however, be aware that your own organization may well have created university-specific tools for online collaboration. In some cases, there may be institutional preferences or requirements for the exclusive use of such dedicated tools and you should get acquainted with both these tools and whatever guidance or instructions are provided on their use.


All too often, users are asked to create and edit texts without any thought to the issues raised in this subsection, as if the effective use of these programs were common knowledge or intuitive. To some extent, word processing programs themselves encourage this perception by making it so easy to edit and print your first texts and also by allowing users to manually format texts without regard to best practice. Given the variety and power of the tools available, it is vital that users exploit the full potential of word processors, configuring the tools appropriately and fully exploiting their potential. In this subsection we hope to have indicated some of the resources and pitfalls, particularly with a view to the edition of texts in English in a Catalan-speaking context.

Types of document 

Administrative documents 

This part of the Guide provides practical advice on writing different types of document: the application, resolution and notification; the certificate and internal certificate; correspondence (the letter and email); and the agreement. (Note that in the menu on the left, the documents have been listed separately, in alphabetical order.)

Each subsection offers model texts that are versions of similar original documents. Their purpose is to facilitate and standardize the UB’s institutional production of such documents in English, making them readily comprehensible to international readers. Their structure may vary from corresponding Catalan and Spanish documents.

These models may not cover all eventualities, but they will provide helpful guidelines and some useful language. When combined with advice from the other sections, they are a good start to creating your own institutional documents.


A letter is a hand-written, typed or printed communication which may require a response.

  • Sender’s address. Write the sender’s address in the top right-hand corner of the page.

  • Recipient’s name, position and address. If you include the recipient’s address, write this on the left-hand side of the page. The first line should be level with the last line of the sender’s address. Use any professional title the recipient has used in previous correspondence. Otherwise, write the recipient’s full name without Mr or Ms.

    Exemple correcte Janice Farrell
    The Organizing Committee
    Centre for Educational Research
    The Fairborn Exchange
    M13 4XL

  • Date. Write the date on the right-hand side of the page below the sender’s address. Do not write the name of the town or city from which the letter is sent.

    Exemple correcte 17 November 2021

  • Salutation. Salutations most frequently begin with Dear and end with a comma.

    • When the letter is informal, follow Dear by a first name.

      Exemple correcte Dear Mark,
      Dear Lucy,

    • When the letter is formal, follow Dear by Mr or Ms and the recipient’s family name.

      Exemple correcte Dear Mr Jones,
      Dear Ms Benway,

      When you do not know the recipient’s name, use the phrase Dear Sir or Madam followed by a comma.

    • When the letter is addressed to a group of people, follow Dear by a common noun.

      Exemple correcte Dear student,
      Dear colleague,

    • You can follow Dear by a capitalized noun to denote the recipient’s position.

      Exemple correcte Dear Coordinator,
      Dear Head of Studies,

  • Body. The body of the letter should convey the information in a direct style and be paragraphed appropriately.

    The following phrases may be useful in both letters and e-mails.

    In reply to…
    With reference to…
    I am writing to enquire about…
    I am writing to inform you of…
    I was happy to learn that…
    I was sorry to hear that…
    I would be grateful if…
    I would appreciate it if…
    I am pleased to announce that…
    You will be happy to learn that…
    I regret to inform you that…
    I am sorry to say that…
    You are advised to…
    You are requested to…
    Please do not hesitate to…
    Please feel free to…
    I look forward to…
    I am looking forward to…

  • Close. The close is a formulaic way of ending a letter. Capitalize the first word and follow the last word with a comma. Leave some extra space above and below the close.

    Exemple correcte Sincerely, [formal close]

    Exemple correcte Kind regards, [informal close]

  • Signature line. The signature line consists of the signature followed by the sender’s printed name. If appropriate, write the sender’s position below the printed name.

    Exemple correcte Imatge sense text alternatiu definit

    Laverne Forner
    Staff Week Coordinator

Model 1: giving information

Model 1Word


Model 2: asking for information

Model 2Word


Tutorials on writing letters 

The following tutorials on writing letters were produced by the English Section of the Language Quality Work Group of the Vives Network of Universities.

Writing formal letters (I)

Writing formal letters (II)

Non-text features of formal letters


An email is a form of written communication sent by electronic means which may require a response.

  • Subject line. Keep the subject line short and provide specific information about the content of the message. Use sentence-style capitalization (first word and proper nouns).

  • Salutation. Tailor the salutation to the person you are writing to. The salutation generally starts with Dear followed by a name or position and ends with a comma.

    Exemple correcte Dear Marina,
    Dear Mr Davies,

    Exemple correcte Dear Head of Department,
    Dear Coordinator,

    Less formal emails can also start with Hi or Hello, followed by a comma.

  • Opening sentence. The opening sentence is commonly used to explain why you are writing.

    Exemple correcte I am writing to inform you that… [formal beginning]

    Exemple correcte I am writing to let you know that… [informal beginning]

  • Body. Formal emails are very similar to formal letters. Therefore, the body of a formal email should convey the information in a direct style and be paragraphed appropriately.

    The following phrases may be useful in both emails and letters.

    In reply to…
    With reference to…
    I am writing to enquire about…
    I am writing to inform you of…
    I was happy to learn that…
    I was sorry to hear that…
    I would be grateful if…
    I would appreciate it if…
    I am pleased to announce that…
    You will be happy to learn that…
    I regret to inform you that…
    I am sorry to say that…
    You are advised to…
    You are requested to…
    Please do not hesitate to…
    Please feel free to…
    I look forward to…
    I am looking forward to…

  • Closing sentence. The closing sentence is commonly used to offer thanks or to state what kind of response you expect.

    Exemple correcte I look forward to your response. [formal closing sentence]

    Exemple correcte I look forward to hearing from you. [informal closing sentence]

  • Close. To close, use the formal Sincerely or the informal Kind regards, followed by a comma.

  • Signature line. Write your first name or your full name, depending on the level of formality.

Model 1: giving information

Model 1Word


Model 2: asking information

Model 2Word


Tutorials on writing emails 

The following tutorials on writing emails were produced by the English Section of the Language Quality Work Group of the Vives Network of Universities.

How to write an e-mail in English

How to write an e-mail in English 2


A certificate attests to a broad range of facts such as course attendance, the attainment of an academic level or qualification, or the exercising of a specific function. It is issued by a person or organization with the recognized authority to validate the facts attested to.


  • Date. Write the date in the top right-hand corner of the page rather than at the bottom. Omit the place name that typically appears on certificates in Catalan.

    Exemple correcte 13 February 2021

  • Generic salutation. The final recipient of a certificate is not generally known, so the text begins with the generic salutation To whom it may concern, which should be left-justified and followed by a comma.

    Exemple correcte To whom it may concern,

  • Body. Begin with This is to certify that. Then state the information that is being attested to. This section of the certificate is justified.

    Exemple correcte This is to certify that

  • Signature. Include the signature of the person issuing the document and left-justify it.

  • Certifier’s name and position. Give this information on two lines, left-justified and without full stops.

    Exemple correcte Maria Josep Puig i Torres
    Director of the Department of Greek

  • Organization. The specific level of organization (service, school, faculty, area, university, etc.) indicated in the text may depend on the type of certificate. Indicate the highest level of organization as the final item. Where two or more levels are identified, place them on separate lines with no full stop. This information is left-justified.

    Exemple correcte Faculty of Philology and Communication
    University of Barcelona




Tutorials on writing certificates 

The following tutorials on writing certificates were produced by the English Section of the Language Quality Work Group of the Vives Network of Universities.

About certificates

Examples of certificates

Discussing certificates

Internal certificate 

An internal certificate attests to an ongoing or completed administrative procedure. It is equivalent to the Catalan diligència, informally known as a faig constar.


  • Date. Write the date in the top right-hand corner of the page rather than at the bottom. Omit the place name that typically appears in certificates in Catalan.

    Exemple correcte 10 June 2021

  • Generic salutation. The final recipient of an internal certificate is not generally known, so the text begins with the generic salutation To whom it may concern, which should be left-justified and followed by a comma.

    Exemple correcte To whom it may concern,

  • Body. In the body, state the information that is being attested to. This section is justified.

  • Signature. Include the signature of the person issuing the document and left-justify it.

  • Signatory’s position. Put the person’s name below the signature, followed by their position on the next line. Left-justify the text and do not use full stops.

    Exemple correcte Department Director





An application is a formal request to a competent body.


  • Applicant’s personal details. Provide your name, family name, identity document type and number, and postal address. If relevant, provide further information such as telephone number, email address, and date and place of birth, etc. If you are making the application on behalf of another person, include both your personal details and those of the person you are representing.

  • Declaration. In this section, give the reasons for the application. Introduce it with the expression I declare in bold, capital letters and followed by a colon, and write each statement on a new line beginning with a capital letter and ending with a full stop. If there are two statements or more, number them.

    Exemple correcte I DECLARE:

    1. I am a student on an Erasmus+ programme.

    2. I registered in a course and paid the full course fee.

    3. I was informed that I am entitled to free language tuition.

  • Request. This section states the object of the application. Begin with the expression I request in bold, capital letters and followed by a colon, and write any following statements on a new line beginning with a capital letter and ending with a full stop. If there are two statements or more, number them.

    Exemple correcte I REQUEST:

    1. The cancellation of my registration.

    2. A refund of the course fee.

  • Supporting documents. If any documentary evidence is required, or it is in your interests to include it, list the documents you attach.

    Exemple correcte SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS

    1. Photocopy of passport

    2. Photocopy of Erasmus+ learning agreement

    3. Photocopy of Language Service registration form

  • Signature. Sign the document. There is no need to print your name and surname because they have already been provided at the beginning.

  • Place and date. After the signature, write the name of the town or city in which the application has been made and the date.

    Exemple correcte Barcelona, 15 October 2021

  • Recipient. At the foot of the page, put the name of the unit and institution to which the application is addressed.





A notification informs the interested party of a resolution that has been adopted by a competent authority.

  • Recipient’s details. Identify the person to whom the notification is to be sent in the top left-hand corner under the heading. Include their name and family name, address, post code, and town or city.

  • Introductory formula. State the date on which the resolution was adopted and by whom.

    Exemple correcte On 29 October 2021 the coordinator of the Language Services of this university issued the following resolution.

  • Text of the resolution. Reproduce the full text of the resolution below the introductory formula. If it is particularly long, attach it to the notification as a separate document.

  • Appeals. State whether an appeal can be made, to whom and within what time frame.

    Exemple correcte APPEALS

    This resolution does not exhaust the right of appeal through administrative channels. If you wish to appeal, present an application for further review by the rector within one month from the day after receiving this notification.

  • Signature. In this section, include the signature, the full name and position of the person issuing the notification.

    Exemple correcte Imatge sense text alternatiu definit

    Jaume Serra i Alemany
    Head of the Secretary’s Office
    Language Services

  • Place and date. End the notification with the name of the town or city where the document will be signed and the date.

    Exemple correcte Barcelona, 1 November 2021





A resolution records a decision. It generally responds to an application and may end a particular administrative procedure.


  • Identification of the document. Identify the document with a reference number. If the resolution is especially long or complex, it may be appropriate to add a short title by way of summary.

  • Background. List the facts and the various steps that have been taken since the beginning of the process and any regulations that might affect the decision. Introduce them with the expression considering in bold, capital letters followed by a colon, and write each statement on a new line. If there are two statements or more, number them.

    Exemple correcte CONSIDERING:

    1. On 15 October, Anita Smith sent an application asking to be refunded the sum of €225.

    2. From the documents provided, it is clear that Ms Smith made the payment as stated.

    3. Mobility students are entitled to free tuition in Catalan, in accordance with the official list of fees.

  • Resolution. Introduce this section with the formula I resolve in bold, capital letters and followed by a colon, and briefly state the decision taken, in full sentences.

    Exemple correcte I RESOLVE:

    Ms Smith is to be refunded the sum of €225.

  • Signature. This section includes the signature, full name and position of the signatory, in this order.

    Exemple correcte Imatge sense text alternatiu definit

    Maria Sales Llopis
    Coordinator of the Language Services

  • Place and date. End the resolution with the name of the town or city where the document will be signed and the date.

    Exemple correcte Barcelona, 29 October 2021





An agreement is a written document in which two or more parties establish mutual obligations for the conduct of a shared project.


  • Title. The title identifies the type of agreement and can also name the parties and state the main objective of the agreement.

  • Participants. This section identifies the parties signing the agreement by their full name, position and institution. It also makes reference to their power to represent their institution or act individually. Introduce it with the expression by and between, centred in bold, capital letters. Each party should be given a separate paragraph.

    Exemple correcte


    The first party, Joan Garcia Romaní, rector of the UB, acting for said university; and

    The second party, Sònia Capdevila Tena, rector of the UdG, acting for said university.

    Close this section with a sentence confirming that all the parties signing the agreement acknowledge the others’ ability to enter the agreement.

    Exemple correcte The parties, acting in their aforementioned capacities, declare that they have sufficient legal capacity to enter into this Agreement, and

  • Recitals. This section sets out, in separate and numbered paragraphs, the precedents, the willingness of the signatories, the legal framework and everything that needs to be taken into consideration. Introduce it with the word state, centred in bold, capital letters, and start each of the following paragraphs with the word That.

    Exemple correcte


    1. That the UB and the UdG signed an Agreement for…

    2. That Spanish Royal Decree 1393 of 29 October 2007…

    Close this section with a sentence confirming that all the parties agree to the clauses in the next section.

    Exemple correcte Therefore, the parties agree to the following

  • Clauses. This section includes the specific clauses agreed to by the parties. Use the word clauses, centred in bold, capital letters as the title of the section and a numbered heading for each clause.

    Exemple correcte


    1. Object

    The object of this Agreement is to…

    2. Liability

    The signatory universities hereby state that…

  • Close. Close the document with a sentence acknowledging where and when the agreement was signed.

    Exemple correcte In witness whereof, the parties hereto sign two (2) identical and equally valid counterparts of this document in Barcelona on 30 April 2021.

  • Signatures. This section should include the signature, name, position and institution for each of the parties signing the agreement.

    Exemple correcte [signature]

    Joan Garcia Romaní
    University of Barcelona




Final projects 

This part of the Guide provides advice to students who are writing the final project of their bachelor’s or master’s degree in English (at the UB, the “treball final de grau” or “TFG”, and the “treball final de màster” or “TFM”, respectively). Final projects are basically academic papers and so the focus is on how to write the most typical parts of an academic paper in the humanities, the natural sciences and the social sciences. Specifically, this part of the Guide refers to style, structure, references and bibliography, and it offers tips on editing. It also provides real examples of the recommended way to organize each section of an academic paper and suggests how to use a simpler writing style and adapt the tone to the subject matter.

Because many academic writing skills are equally important in all disciplines, the advice does not always distinguish between the three ambits. However, where writing practices do differ, we highlight the differences and describe appropriate structure and content for one ambit or another. To give just one example, the main body of an academic paper in the natural sciences generally consists of the three parts Methods, Results and Discussion, whereas the main body of a humanities paper consists of only one part, also called Discussion but very different to the part with that name in the sciences.

Of course, there are also other differences between the three ambits and not all of the parts examined here are indispensable in papers in all of them. It is also true that there is no set formula for writing some of the parts, as is the case with the discussion section in humanities papers. To sum up, academic writing is a complex process, but you can make your TFG or TFM more manageable if you are sure of two things: first, that the parts, structures and techniques you have chosen are serving your research objectives; and second, that your paper clearly considers the requirements of the specific academic community you are addressing.
Further reading
Alley, M. (1996). The craft of scientific writing . Springer.

Anderson, G. (2014). How to write a paper in scientific journal style and format. Bates College, Department of Biology, On-line Resources website. <>

Bhakar, S., & Nathani, N. (2015). A handbook on writing research papers in social sciences. Bharti Publications.

Gibaldi, J. MLA Handbook . 9th ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2021.

Haggan, M. (2004). Research paper titles in literature, linguistics and science: Dimensions of attraction. Journal of Pragmatics, 36(2), 293–317. <>

Letchford, A., Moat, H. S., & Preis, T. (2015). The advantage of short paper titles. Royal Society Open Science, 2(8). <>

Modern Humanities Research Association. MHRA Style Guide . 3rd ed. London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 2013.

Millar, N., & Budgell, B. S. (2019). The passive voice and comprehensibility of biomedical texts: An experimental study with 2 cohorts of chiropractic students. Journal of Chiropractic Education, 33(1), 16–20. <>

Mohammed, C., & Radix, C.-A. (2020). Creating rhetorical complexity: Using popular science articles to teach abstract writing. Proceedings of the 2020 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (137–140). <>

Schimel, J. (2012). Writing science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded. Oxford University Press.

Scientific Style and Format: the CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers. 7th ed. Reston, VA: Council of Science Editors in Cooperation with the Rockefeller UP, 2006. Print.

Shipman, J. T., Wilson, J. D., & Higgins, C. A. (2012). An introduction to physical science (13th ed.). Cengage Learning.  

Soler, V. (2007). Writing titles in science: An exploratory study. English for Specific Purposes, 26(1): 90–102. <>

Sword, H. (2012). Stylish academic writing. Harvard University Press.  

Zeiger, M. (2000). Essentials of writing biomedical research papers (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill.  

Articles cited

Mayhew, B. (2018, May 13). Scatter graphics: Premier League, 2017/18. Experimental 3-6-1.

Poyato Sánchez, P. (2014). La transducción al cine de la novela Tristana: La forma cinematográfica buñueliana. Signa: Revista de la Asociación Española de Semiótica, 23, 731–752. <>

Reddy, J. I., Cooke, P. J., van Schalkwyk, J. M., Hannam, J. A., Fitzharris, P., & Mitchell, S. J. (2014). Anaphylaxis is more common with rocuronium and succinylcholine than with atracurium.  Anesthesiology, 59(3), 39–45. <>

Final projects cited

Ciberta, J. (2014). WebGraphEd, an open source graph drawing editor for the web [master’s thesis, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya]. O2.

Cuadrat, C. (2012). Route optimization and customization using real geographical data in Android mobile devices [master’s thesis, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya]. O2. <>

Duval, D. (2016). The nature of food poverty: Literature review and qualitative study in Greenwich (UK) [master’s thesis, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya]. O2. <>

Terpugova, I. (2017). Protein classification from primary structures in the context of database biocuration [master’s thesis, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya]. UPCommons. <>

Academic style 

This part of the Guide provides a series of principles that can help all those researchers who may feel unprepared to write in a language that is not their own. These principles, particularly those considered in Paragraphs, Active or passive, Parallel structure and Concision are largely the result of the work done by Joseph Williams and published in his book Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace. If followed, they will enable you to write clearly and comprehensibly. Here, the focus is on writing research in general, and the principles can be applied to all three ambits – the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences – and all levels – bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, doctorate or even professional research. They can also be applied to all forms of informative writing.

A word of warning, however. The principles are merely guidelines, not rigid rules, so apply them judiciously. Also, take care to apply them when you are revising, not when you are drafting. Otherwise, you may have great difficulty in writing anything at all. Inevitably, applying these principles will make the writing process slower because you will be thinking about what you are doing, but they will help you to write prose that is clearer and more readily understood by the reader, and that can only be good for the world of science in general and you as a researcher within it.

Sentence variety 

Make your texts more interesting to read by varying the sentences you write. If sentences are constantly of the same type and length, and with the same openers, the text will be monotonous and either too simplistic or too complex, so aim to write different types of sentences that are of different lengths and have different openers.

  • Sentence types

    There are four types of sentences in English: simple, compound, complex and compound-complex.

    • Simple sentences consist of one independent clause (that is to say, at least a subject and a verb and, perhaps, an object, complement or adverbial).

      Exemple correcte Slavery was officially abolished in the United States in 1863.

    • Compound sentences consist of two independent clauses joined by a conjunction (and, or, so, but, etc.).

      Exemple correcte Slavery was officially abolished in the United States in 1863 but was still widely practised until the end of 1865.

    • Complex sentences consist of one independent clause and one dependent clause linked by a subordinating conjunction (when, if, because, since, before, although, etc.).

      Exemple correcte Although slavery was officially abolished in the United States in 1863, it was still widely practised until the end of 1865.

    • Compound-complex sentences contain more than one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

      Exemple correcte Although slavery was officially abolished in the United States in 1863, it was still widely practised until the end of 1865 and racial bias still pervades American society today.

  • Sentence length

    Well-written texts are made up of sentences of different lengths: short, medium and long. If you write too many long sentences, readers may feel overwhelmed by the excess detail and be unable to identify the important points. If you write too many short sentences, readers again may be unable to identify the important points and your text will sound childish.

  • Sentence openers

    Sentence openers are any structures in the initial position of a sentence. They can give writing greater sophistication and help maintain readers’ interest. In his book The Craft of Scientific Writing, Michael Alley defined seven different types (Alley, 1996).
    • Subject-verb

      Exemple correcte Slavery was abolished in 1863.

    • Prepositional phrases

      Exemple correcte In the Deep South, the Ku Klux Klan was set up as a vigilante justice system in 1865.

    • Transitional words

      Exemple correcte However, the organization was suppressed in 1872.

    • Introductory subordinate clauses

      Exemple correcte Although the Civil War led to the abolition of slavery, it did not change the basic power relations between African Americans and whites.

    • Infinitive phrases

      Exemple correcte To fully understand the influence of racial bias on the 2016 election, we measured anti-immigrant sentiment and racial resentment separately.

    • Participle phrases

      Exemple correcte Summarizing the work of numerous political scientists, the author claims that the decisive factor in the electoral victory was racial resentment.

    • Verb

      Exemple correcte Note that the victorious candidate never distanced himself from the opinions of white supremacist leaders.

      To see the importance of sentence type, sentence length and sentence openers, take a look at the following text (from Alley, 1996), in which there is very little variety.

      Exemple incorrecte Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. A cloud of hot rock and gas surged northward from its collapsing slope. The cloud devastated more than 500 square kilometers of forests and lakes. The effects of Mount St. Helens were well documented with geophysical instruments. The origin of the eruption is not well understood. Volcanic explosions are driven by a rapid expansion of steam. Some scientists believe that the steam comes from groundwater heated by magma. Other scientists believe the steam comes from water originally dissolved in the magma. We have to understand the source of steam in volcanic eruptions. We have to determine how much water the magma contains.

      All the sentences are of the same type (simple), all are of approximately the same length (short/medium) and all open in the same way (subject-verb). This means that readers pause at very regular intervals and the greater stress that is naturally given to the subject falls in exactly the same place, thus creating an extremely monotonous rhythm. Now compare it to the following revised version.

      Exemple correcte Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. Its slope collapsing, the mountain emitted a cloud of hot rock and gas and, within minutes, the cloud had devastated more than 500 square kilometers of forests and lakes. Although the effects of the eruption were well documented, the origin is not well understood. Volcanic explosions are driven by a rapid expansion of steam and, recently, there has been considerable debate over the source of this steam. Is it groundwater heated by the magma or water originally dissolved in the magma itself? To understand the source of steam in volcanic explosions, we have to determine how much water the magma contains.

      The revised text above has a much more varied rhythm because it exploits the variables of sentence type, length and opener. The first sentence is simple, short and has a subject-verb opener. The second sentence is compound, long and opens with a participle phrase. The third sentence is complex, medium length and opens with a subordinate conjunction. And so on.

Subjects and verbs 

Sentences are easy for your readers to understand if it is clear who is doing what. You can write sentences that are easy to read if you follow a few basic principles.

  • Express characters in subjects and actions in verbs

    In an affirmative or negative sentence

    • the grammatical subject is the noun (or nouns) before the verb, and

    • the characters are the nouns that express the concepts, people or things you are writing about.

    Readers will understand a text more easily if its grammatical subjects are also frequently characters. For example, the following text feels dense for two reasons.

    Exemple incorrecte Between 1980 and 2005, the evolution of the banking industry observed a significant growth of the savings bank sector but has since then witnessed the virtual disappearance of the savings bank.

    Firstly, the grammatical subject of the verb is not a character. The author is writing not about an evolution (the grammatical subject) but about the banking industry and the savings bank sector (the characters of the text). Secondly, the actions done by these characters are expressed in the form of nouns (evolution, growth, disappearance). Most readers will understand the sentence more easily if you make the characters the grammatical subjects of the actions they do.

    Exemple correcte Between 1980 and 2005, the banking industry evolved in such a way that the savings bank sector grew significantly but since then this sector has virtually disappeared.

    This process of expressing the action of a sentence in the form of a noun and not in the form of a verb is known as nominalization and, although it can be used to good effect on occasion, it should be avoided when it forces an abstraction that is not a character into subject position.  

    Exemple incorrecte The separation of the components of a mixture is made with chromatographic techniques and the identification of organic compounds is carried out with spectroscopic techniques.

    Exemple correcte The components of a mixture are separated with chromatographic techniques and organic compounds are identified with spectroscopic techniques.

  • Keep the subject short

    Readers will understand a sentence more easily if the subject of the verb is short and concrete or a familiar abstraction and if the longer, more complex information comes after the verb.  

    Exemple incorrecte Novel nutritional technologies and innovative techniques for optimizing yield and increasing profit in a context of increasing production expenses is the subject of the section below.

    Exemple correcte The section below discusses novel nutritional technologies and innovative techniques for optimizing yield and increasing profit in a context of increasing production expenses.

  • Keep the subject towards the beginning of the sentence

    Position the subject of the main verb towards the beginning of a sentence. Too much information before the subject will overload the reader.

    Exemple incorrecte Citing the example of a 17-year-old student who was working 35 hours a week in a well-known burger chain restaurant so that he could pay for a new car while simultaneously studying full-time for his university entrance examinations at the local secondary school, Dr Smith urged for greater communication between parents and educational institutions.

    Exemple correcte Urging for greater communication between parents and educational institutions, Dr Smith cited the example of a 17-year-old student who was working 35 hours a week in a well-known burger chain restaurant so that he could pay for a new car while simultaneously studying full-time for his university entrance examinations at the local secondary school.

    In the first text above, the subject of the main clause (in bold) is the forty-fifth word. In the second, it is the tenth. Readers find it much easier to understand long pieces of text if they appear after the subject and the verb rather than before them.

  • Maintain the subject-verb-object connection

    The essential elements of an English sentence are the subject, the verb and the object. Those sentences that keep these elements together tend to be clearer than those that separate them.  

    Exemple incorrecte Dr Jan Wilkinson, despite criticism from both within her discipline and without, defended her thesis on notional groups in her next paper.

    Exemple correcte Despite criticism from both within her discipline and without, Dr Jan Wilkinson defended her thesis on notional groups in her next paper.

  • Respect end focus

    End focus is the principle that the new or most important information in a clause or sentence comes at the end. The following sentence is the last one from a thesis on juice concentration processes.

    Exemple incorrecte The main conclusions are that low values of retention and permeate flux are the causes of the problems in juice concentration processes.

    The information is not in the correct order. Juice concentration is the topic of the research, it is announced in the title (Juice Concentration: Problems and Solutions) and is, therefore, a major character throughout the text, so the final sentence should position it, as a major character, in subject position and then go on to provide some information about it after the main verb. The aim of the sentence is to communicate what problems juice concentration involves, so this information should be placed in the focus position.

    Exemple correcte The main conclusions are that the causes of problems in juice concentration processes are the low values of retention and permeate flux.

    Likewise, in the following text the author sets up an expectation in the first sentence – that the number of sensors is important – but then buries the information that responds to this expectation in the middle of the following sentence.

    Exemple incorrecte The tests showed that not all of the sensors helped to monitor the ripening process. In fact, for purposes of classification, with two sensors best results were achieved.

    The principle of end focuses requires a second sentence such as the following.

    Exemple correcte The tests showed that not all of the sensors helped to monitor the ripening process. In fact, for purposes of classification, results were best with just two.


Texts are conventionally divided into paragraphs. One way of marking paragraphs is to indent the first line like this.

Figure 1. Indenting

Another way is to leave a complete blank line between one paragraph and the next.

Black lines

Figure 2. Blank lines

The white space created by the paragraph break has a considerable impact on the visual appearance of text. A page with paragraph breaks can be visually attractive while a page with no breaks can be quite intimidating. There are no hard and fast rules about the length of individual paragraphs because much can depend on medium, topic, audience and purpose; but in academic texts aim for an average of two to three paragraph breaks per page.

More important than visual appearance, however, is the effect paragraphing can have on content. Paragraphs give you the opportunity to organize the information you wish to give your readers into manageable, logical units so that they can see how you develop your argument as you move from one topic to another.

Exactly what constitutes a well-written paragraph is not easy to define. Nevertheless, some features are worth mentioning: point sentences, cohesion and coherence.

Point sentences 

Traditional advice on writing claims that every paragraph must state its topic in its first sentence (the topic sentence). Joseph Williams has refined this notion of the topic sentence and uses the term “point sentence” to refer to the sentence that states the main idea of a paragraph or discourse block. In some cases, the point sentence coincides exactly with the traditional concept of topic sentence.  

Exemple correcte Although most economists believe that business decisions are guided by a simple law of maximum profits, in fact they result from a vector of influences acting from many directions. When advertisers select a particular layout, for example, they think not only of sales expectations but also of current fashion. They may also be concerned with what colleagues and competitors will think, or whether some social groups will be offended. They might even be worried about whether their partner will approve.

In the example paragraph above (adapted from Williams, 2007), the first sentence best represents the paragraph as a whole. It states the idea that the author wants readers to accept, and the other sentences support this idea. However, what about the following paragraph?

Exemple correcte Many English-language teachers say that paragraphs must have an introductory topic sentence. But in many cases, this topic sentence is the second or third sentence. What teachers do not explain is that writers may use the first sentence (or sentences) as a transition from the previous paragraph or for general background information before they decide to state their point.

Most readers understand the point sentence of this paragraph to be the second one, the first one acting as a claim that the author goes on to refute and discuss.

The text below makes its point in the third sentence (adapted from Williams, 2007).  

Exemple correcte Writing well involves so many skills that it is hard to know where to begin describing what makes a good writer. Among other considerations, a writer must be sensitive to words, style, organization, subject matter, logic, emotion and audience. Perhaps the most crucial of these, though, is a sensibility to one’s audience, to how readers read.

In this case, the first two sentences are generalizations that are narrowed to the point that is made in the third. The author must now decide whether to go on to discuss this point in the rest of the paragraph or start a new paragraph that takes the final sentence as its point (and that, therefore, will not have a point sentence of its own). The decision to do one thing or another will probably depend not on content but on length.

Likewise, some paragraphs may not have a sentence that clearly states the point. Consider the following text (adapted from Shipman et al., 2012).

Exemple inadequat A lightning stroke’s sudden release of energy heats the air, producing the compressions we hear as thunder. At a distance of about 100 m or less from the discharge channel, thunder is heard as one loud bang or “clap”. At a distance of 1 km from the discharge channel, thunder is generally heard as a rumbling punctuated by several claps. In general, thunder cannot be heard at distances of more than 25 km from the discharge channel.

Because lightning strokes generally occur near the storm center, the resultant thunder provides a method of approximating the distance to the storm. Light travels at approximately 3000,000 km/s and the lightning flash is seen instantaneously. Sound, however, travels at approximately 1/3 km/s, so there is a gap between seeing the lightning flash and hearing the thunder. This phenomenon can also be observed by watching someone at a distance fire a gun. The report of the gun is heard after the smoke or flash from the gun is observed.

By counting the seconds between seeing the light and hearing the thunder, you can estimate your distance from the lightning stroke or the storm. For example, if 5 seconds elapse, then the distance would be approximately 1.6 km away.

These three paragraphs are from an article about thunderstorms. All three can be regarded as forming a block that focuses on the sound associated with thunder.

The first sentence of Paragraph 1 expresses the major idea – the point – that is developed throughout the three paragraphs: lightning produces thunder. Even though this main idea is discussed in all the paragraphs, Paragraph 2 also has a point sentence in initial position. It is more specific than the first sentence of Paragraph 1: it deals with how we can calculate the distance to the storm from the sound it produces. Therefore, Paragraph 1 has a major point sentence while Paragraph 2 has a minor one. Paragraph 3, on the other hand, has no point sentence. It clearly uses the point sentence from the preceding paragraph, of which it is a continuation.

To sum up, locate your point, your main idea, at the beginning or towards the beginning of paragraphs or blocks because this is where readers will naturally expect it to be and because by stating a general idea and then going into more specific detail you will make the reading process easier. After stating your point, write a longer segment that completes a paragraph or extends over several paragraphs. Paragraphs are not isolated units. They connect with adjoining paragraphs to form larger blocks.

Cohesion and coherence 

Cohesion and coherence are similar concepts but not the same. Cohesion refers to the micro-level of the text, the logical connections between words and sentences that give a sense of flow. Coherence refers to the macro-level of the text, the sense that the paragraph or block clearly communicates an idea to the reader. You can use several techniques to ensure that your paragraphs are cohesive and coherent.
  • Exploit repetition

    One way to make text cohesive is to repeat words, to repeat ideas using different words (synonyms) or to refer back to previous ideas using pronouns or shell nouns (see example text below). Repetition, particularly of characters in subject position, and constant reference back to previous information gives text a sense of unity and focus.

  • Use transitions

    Transitions are words and phrases that signal relationships between ideas. They can be used to good effect at the beginning of sentences to make text flow but, be careful, they cannot replace good organization. One of the dangers of transitions is to use too many of them.  

    First/In the first place
    Second/In the second place
    In addition
    As a result

    In contrast
    For example
    To conclude
    For instance
    To sum up
    By way of example
    In conclusion
    In this case
    In brief
    On the other hand
    In the final analysis

  • Move from old information to new

    Text is more readily understood if writers begin their sentences with old or familiar information and then go on to add something new or unfamiliar. The old/familiar information comes from two sources: (a) the sentences readers have just read, and (b) readers’ knowledge of the subject. This principle goes hand in hand with the principles of characters as subjects and end focus. As soon as writers have stated their main characters (normally towards the beginning of the text), readers will accept them as familiar information, so when characters are regularly placed at the beginning of sentences, the information naturally flows from old to new.

Example text with commentary 

Exemple correcte In recent decades, red wine has been associated with many health benefits. According to research, if drunk in moderation red wine can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis and some cancers. This effect is largely due to its content of antioxidants, which reinforce the immune system. [However], antioxidants are also found in fruit, nuts and vegetables so, because of the health risks of drinking alcohol, getting antioxidants from food may be a healthier option. This study discusses the importance of antioxidants for human health and finds that, although red wine is healthier than other alcoholic beverages, antioxidant-rich foods are better sources because they do not have any associated risks.

This text has many of the features of a well-written paragraph discussed above.  

The words in bold are the main characters, which are introduced in the first sentence (the point sentence) and repeated throughout the paragraph. In some cases, the words are direct repetitions (red wine or health), while in others the author uses a pronoun or a hypernym (its and alcohol) or an adjectival form (healthier). Note that the author opts for direct repetition (red wine) in the first two sentences to reinforce the importance of the term in the text before introducing variation.

The word in square brackets ([ ]), the adverb however, is the only transition word in the text, but it signals a key point: the limitations of previous research. It is this word that tells readers that the text is about to take a new direction and the limitations described justify the need for the present study.

The author starts the text with a concept that is familiar to all readers (red wine) and then moves on to say something about it that they may or may not know (it has health benefits). The structure of the second sentence is similar to that of the first. It begins by repeating the familiar concept (red wine), which is now a character in our text, and then extends the idea introduced in the first sentence by specifying exactly what these health benefits are. The third sentence again begins with familiar information, this time because it refers back to the information given in the previous one (the reduction of risk) by using a shell noun (effect), an abstract noun that summarizes a previously stated, more complex idea. The fourth sentence starts with the contrastive adverb however and then uses the concept introduced at the end of the previous sentence (antioxidants) as the subject of the main verb. The subject of the final sentence (study) is neither a character nor a concept introduced previously, but in the context it is easily understandable and the information given in the rest of the sentence repeats the main concepts in the text so far: red wine and health (introduced in the very first sentence) and antioxidants, a concept that will also clearly become a main character.

Active or passive 

The use of the active or passive voice in research writing is the subject of heated debate. Some claim that the passive voice is ideally suited to scientific communication because it gives texts an impersonal tone that is more objective and formal. Others believe that the active is more concise and makes texts more readable and easier to understand.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, research was largely communicated in a highly personal letter format and authors played a more central role because individual skill was a fundamental part of the process (for example, they often had to make their instruments themselves). The general trend was to use an active, personal style. Consider the following text from Isaac Newton’s Opticks, published in 1730, the tone of which is quite unlike that of modern scientific writing.

Exemple inadequat In a very dark chamber, at a round hole […] made in the shut of a window, I placed a glass prism, whereby the beam of the sun’s light […] might be refracted upwards toward the opposite wall of the chamber, and there form a colour’d image of the sun. The axis of the prism […] was in this and the following experiments perpendicular to the incident rays. About this axis I turned the prism slowly, and saw the refracted light on the wall. When the image seemed stationary, I stopp’d the prism, and fix’d it in that posture, that it should be moved no more.

The twentieth century saw the advent of the highly structured IMRaD format, and authors were instructed by scientific journals to favour the passive voice and avoid the active, particularly first-person pronouns such as I, we, my or our. Thus, the sentence from Isaac Newton’s text above

Exemple inadequat I turned the prism slowly, and saw the refracted light on the wall.

would become

Exemple correcte The prism was turned slowly and the refracted light was seen on the wall.

More recently, many research journals have been reacting against the notion that the passive is more suited to academic writing and they now encourage authors to favour the active voice. In their instructions for authors, many journals advise authors to use the active because it makes texts easier to read. However, despite such explicit advice as “Please write in a clear, direct and active style” and “Use, direct, active-voice sentences” other advice is not so clear. The British Medical Journal tells authors to “Use the first person where necessary” but does not explain where it is necessary and where it is not. The Journal of Neuroscience states that “Overuse of the passive is a common problem” but does not define the difference between overuse and acceptable use. It also recognizes that “The passive has its place” but then only mentions that one of these places is the methods section.  

To add to the confusion, some recent research suggests that there is little basis to the claims that texts written in the active voice are easier to understand than texts that favour the passive (Millar & Budgell, 2019). The question thus remains: should research writers use the active or the passive voice? The answer is, of course, that you should use both. Whatever you do, however, respect your supervisor’s preferences. As a researcher, you will adapt your writing style not only to your individual preferences but also to the external requirements dictated by your field of study and your supervisor. If you are given instructions to favour either the active or the passive, follow them. If you are not, there are other principles you can follow.

Use the passive voice to focus on the action 

In many cases readers do not need to know who or what did the action because the focus is on the object of the action or the action itself. The important thing is not that someone did something but that something was done.

Exemple correcte The ferroelectric properties of polyvinylidene fluoride were first reported in 1971. These properties were exploited to take giant strides in the field of data storage and retrieval.

In this example, the focus is on a particular polymer and its properties. For the purposes of the text, the person who reported the properties is of no importance.

Favour the passive voice in the Methods and Results sections 

If you favour the active voice in the Methods and Results sections, you will focus on the researchers. By using the passive you can change the focus to the materials and procedures used or the results obtained, and also avoid a long list of sentences all beginning with the pronouns I or We. What is more, in this central section of the research paper, readers know who is responsible for the actions. There is no need to specify the agent of every action because it is obvious.

Exemple incorrecte We obtained intelligibility quotients by presenting 273 undergraduates in their final year with abstracts from five research articles. We presented the control group with the original texts, and the two experimental groups with texts containing a high prevalence of verbs in either the passive or the active voice. We determined the intelligibility of the three text types by dividing the time taken to read the texts by the number of correct answers given to a series of post-reading questions. We assessed the differences in intelligibility between the three texts with a dependent t test.

Exemple correcte Intelligibility quotients were obtained by presenting 273 undergraduates in their final year with abstracts from five research articles. The control group was presented with the original texts, and the two experimental groups were presented with texts containing a high prevalence of verbs in either the passive or the active voice. The intelligibility of the three text types was determined by dividing the time taken to read the texts by the number of correct answers given to a series of post-reading questions. Differences in intelligibility between the three texts were assessed with a dependent t test.

Use the verb form to organize the sentence content 

Readers find sentences easier to understand if subjects are short and the longer, more complex information is located after the main verb, so your decision on how to express the verb does not depend on your preference for the active or the passive per se but on the position of the verb in the sentence.

Exemple incorrecte The effect of the temperature lift between low and intermediate temperature levels on COP for the double lift cycles working with TFE-TEGDME is illustrated in Figure 8.

Exemple correcte Figure 8 illustrates the effect of the temperature lift between low and intermediate temperature levels on COP for the double lift cycles working with TFE-TEGDME.

Use verb forms that keep characters in subject position 

More important than the decision to express the verb in the active or the passive is the decision about what to place in subject position. Readers understand text more easily if writers locate their main characters in the subjects of their verbs and if these subjects are regularly repeated. This principle works both within and between sentences. The sentence below begins with Digital competence as the subject of the main clause but then repeats the concept in the subordinate clause not as the subject but as the object (it) of an active verb.

Exemple incorrecte Digital competence is essential for 21st century students, which is why universities must integrate it into their curricula.

By changing the verb in the subordinate clause to the passive, we can keep digital competence in subject position and focus readers’ attention on one character.

Exemple correcte Digital competence is essential for 21st century students, which is why it must be integrated into university curricula.

The paragraph below introduces its main character, the psychoactive brew ayahuasca, as the subject of the first sentence.

Exemple incorrecte Ayahuasca is a psychoactive substance from the Amazon, usually prepared with two main ingredients: the vine Banisteriopsis caapi, and the shrub Psychotria viridis. Both ingredients are necessary for ayahuasca’s psychoactive effect. In the traditional Amazon cultural environment, more than 70 tribes use it for religious, magic and medical purposes.

The subject of the second sentence (Both ingredients) is familiar because it is the information introduced at the end of the first. However, the subject of the third sentence (more than 70 tribes) has not been mentioned before and it shifts the focus away from the main character of the paragraph, which appears as a pronoun in object position (it). By rewriting the sentence using the passive, we return the main character to subject position and improve coherence.

Exemple correcte Ayahuasca is a psychoactive substance from the Amazon, usually prepared with two main ingredients: the vine Banisteriopsis caapi, and the shrub Psychotria viridis. Both ingredients are necessary for ayahuasca’s psychoactive effect. In the traditional Amazon cultural environment, it is used by more than 70 tribes for religious, magic and medical purposes.

The two examples above use the passive not because it is intrinsically superior to the active but because it helps keep the focus on a particular character by placing it in subject position.

Use verb forms that facilitate movement from old information to new 

Readers expect the information at the beginning of a sentence to provide a familiar context after which new information will be presented. They feel confused when a sentence begins with information that is new or unexpected. In the fragment below, the subject of the second sentence gives new information before the more familiar information already presented in the previous sentence.

Exemple incorrecte Universities must decide whether they want to improve the quality of courses in the most popular disciplines alone or across the whole curriculum. The relative importance attached to commercial competitiveness or a well-balanced educational programme will determine the decision.

The sentence above would be easier to read if the active verb determine were passive because the information that refers back to the previous sentence (the decision), which also has the advantage of being short, would be in initial position.

Exemple correcte Universities must decide whether they want to improve the quality of courses in the most popular disciplines alone or across the whole curriculum. The decision will be determined by the relative importance attached to commercial competitiveness or a well-balanced educational programme.

Again, if we followed the advice given by some journals and style guides to prefer the active to the passive, we would choose the first of the following two sentences (Williams, 2007).

Exemple correcte The collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble creates a black hole.

Exemple incorrecte A black hole is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point no larger than a marble.

However, which one would we choose if the context were the following?

Exemple inadequat Some astonishing questions have been raised about the nature of the universe by scientists studying black holes in space. [...] So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.

Our sense of flow requires not the first, active sentence but the second, passive one because the last words of the first sentence introduce important information (black holes in space). If we follow it with the active sentence, the first information we encounter is collapsed stars and marbles, which does not refer to anything in the text we have just read. If we follow it with the passive sentence, however, the first words repeat the information that we have just read and the last words give information about size and volume, which connects with the beginning of the third sentence.

Use the active with the pronouns I or we 

Some researchers claim that first-person pronouns should not be used in research writing because they are not objective. But consider the first sentence from Watson and Crick’s article announcing their discovery of the DNA double helix in the 1950s (Watson & Crick, 1953).

Exemple inadequat We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (D.N.A.). This structure has novel features which are of considerable biological interest.

And later in the paper they continue in the following way.

Exemple inadequat It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.

It is not true, then, that I and we are not used in modern research writing. However, and by way of example, just as the passive is preferentially used in the Methods section to report research procedures and activities, so personal pronouns are also used in certain ways. In particular, they are used to refer to the authors’ own writing and thinking, and when the authors are main characters in contrast to other researchers. This means that I and we are generally found in the introduction, where authors state their intentions (I will show that …, We start by …, I claim that …, We argue that …, etc.) or in the discussion and conclusion where they compare or contrast their work with the work of others.

Exemple correcte Although Larsson and Eklund found moderate support for the theory, we found none. This may be because their population was from Scandinavia while ours was from Catalonia.

First-person pronouns are, then, quite acceptable in research writing as long as you use them in certain limited ways.

Parallel structure 

Parts of sentences are said to be parallel when they are connected by commas (in a list) or by conjunctions such as and, or, or but and have the same grammatical form (see Parallelism for a simple explanation). Parallelism repeats lexis or structure to make it easier for readers to understand new information because it is given in a familiar form. The first segment establishes a structure that is then repeated so that ideas are expressed through lexical and syntactic parallels. Carried to an extreme, it is a powerful device that is often used for rhetorical effect. Many famous quotes are remembered not only because they were uttered by important people at important times but because they have a distinct parallel structure.

Exemple correcte I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Exemple correcte [...] we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills [...]

In the first example, Winston Churchill coordinates a series of four one-syllable nouns as the objects of the preposition to give an aesthetically pleasing and powerful message. The force of his argument would have been lost if he had used, for example, just the noun phrase hard work. In the second, he coordinates whole verb clauses, the subject and verb of which are repeated and combined with different prepositional phrases, to generate a clear rhythm and a strong emotional effect.

In the quote below, Abraham Lincoln coordinates three prepositional phrases, in which the preposition varies but the object remains the same, to highlight the nature of democracy.

Exemple correcte [...] we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain [...] and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

But parallel structure is also a useful communicative tool for researchers because it clarifies meaning and makes ideas more comprehensible and memorable for readers. It is particularly important in lists and coordinated sentences. For example, in the sentence below, the subordinating conjunction because introduces a non-parallel list.

Exemple incorrecte Textile companies are now less competitive because their plants are old fashioned, foreign competition is greater than ever before and high labour costs.

The first and second items are verb clauses (subject + verb + complement), but the third item (high labour costs) is a noun phrase. Readers will probably have to read the sentence two or three times before they realize that it has no accompanying verb and that the list has three items, one of which is not parallel to the others. Changing the third item to a verb clause solves the problem.  

Exemple correcte Textile companies are now less competitive because their plants are old fashioned, foreign competition is greater than ever before and labour costs are high.

Likewise, in the sentence below, two very similar ideas are expressed with two different grammatical structures (infinitive phrase and verb clause).

Exemple inadequat Physiological changes in haemostasis are necessary in the first phases of pregnancy to ensure appropriate placentation and in the last phases they have a protective function against possible haemorrhages during delivery.

The message can be more efficiently expressed if the grammatical form of the second idea mirrors that of the first.

Exemple correcte Physiological changes in haemostasis are necessary in the first phases of pregnancy to ensure appropriate placentation and in the last phases to protect against possible haemorrhages during delivery.

Parallel structure can be particularly valuable in results and discussion sections where data, ideas and situations are contrasted, and differences and similarities are highlighted. Parallel structure makes these differences and similarities easier to see because the constant remains constant and only the variable varies. That is to say, when the words are different, the ideas are different; when the words are the same, the ideas are the same. By presenting your data in parallel sentences, you can point readers directly to your findings.

Exemple correcte In the control group we observed no change in the infection rate or the survival of patients. In the experimental group, on the other hand, we observed a decrease in the infection rate and a corresponding increase in the survival of patients.

Exemple correcte When the divisor was greater than the absolute value of the peak of a wave, the wave was eliminated. When the divisor was less than the absolute value of the peak of a wave, the wave was amplified.

Finally, a word of warning. As mentioned above, in parallel structures be sure that every coordinated item has the same grammatical form.

Exemple incorrecte Sequencing approaches are now widely used for the characterization of organisms and inferring their genealogical histories.

Exemple correcte Sequencing approaches are now widely used for characterizing organisms and inferring their genealogical histories.

Ensure, however, that readers can clearly discern where parallel segments begin and end. In the following sentence, it is not clear where the parallelism begins.

Exemple inadequat Injury to endothelial cells increases sensitivity to vasopressor agents, intravascular coagulation and membrane permeability.

It seems to be saying that Injury to endothelial cells increases sensitivity to three coordinated segments. This is not the case. It increases three coordinated segments, one of which is sensitivity to vasopressor agents. The problem can be solved by repositioning the problematic segment.

Exemple correcte Injury to endothelial cells increases intravascular coagulation, membrane permeability and sensitivity to vasopressor agents.


Good academic writing is concise. Concise writing expresses its meaning clearly in few words and enables readers to quickly identify key points. It increases the impact of the message because it makes it more memorable. However, although concise texts are easy to understand, they are by no means easy to write because they require considerable revision. It is impossible to identify all the ways in which authors inflate their texts, but in the subsections below you will find some strategies for reducing length without removing necessary information.

Reduce relative clauses 

Reduce relative clauses to simpler, shorter constructions.

Exemple incorrecte The Last Supper, which was painted at the end of the 15th century, was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza for his family’s mausoleum.

Exemple correcte The Last Supper, painted at the end of the 15th century, was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza for his family’s mausoleum.

Exemple correcte Painted at the end of the 15th century, The Last Supper was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza for his family’s mausoleum.

Delete superfluous words and phrases 

Delete all words and phrases that add nothing to the meaning. In all the sentences below, the fragments in bold could be removed without affecting the meaning in any way.

Exemple inadequat The effect of the application of infrasonic pulsing on flux can be seen in Figure 3.

The lesion was slightly pink in colour.

The results obtained are discussed below.

It has been shown that dibucaine inhibits plasma cholinesterase by 80%.

We can affirm that the paper contains no new theoretical information.

Use of a higher voltage increases Joule heat.

The mobilities were studied in the range between 10 and 30 mM.

This section reports the adsorption of three different proteins.

Exemple correcte The effect of infrasonic pulsing on flux can be seen in Figure 3.

The lesion was slightly pink.

The results are discussed below.

Dibucaine inhibits plasma cholinesterase by 80%.

The paper contains no new theoretical information.

A higher voltage increases Joule heat.

The mobilities were studied between 10 and 30 mM.

This section reports the adsorption of three proteins.

Avoid nominalizations 

Researchers often use a higher ratio of nouns to verbs than other writers. Consider the following two versions of the same sentence.

Exemple inadequat Spaceflight is now less risky and more economic because technology has improved.

Exemple correcte Improvements in technology have reduced the risk and cost of spaceflight.

The first sentence, which is a verb-style version, uses more verbs and adjectives and fewer nouns, so the emphasis is on actions and events. The second sentence, a noun-style version, uses more nouns and fewer adjectives and verbs, so the emphasis is on concepts and things. This emphasis makes the writing seem more abstract and formal, and, therefore, more academic.

But beware: if the nouns you use are not the concepts on which you wish to focus, or if you use too many concepts, your texts may become dense and difficult to read. Note that in the two examples, many of the concepts are the same but the focus is completely different: the first one is about spaceflight while the second is about improvements in technology.

Be careful not to express the action of a sentence in the form of a noun, a phenomenon known as nominalization. If you do, you may change the focus (because you remove a character from subject position), write sentences with long subjects, or need more words to express your ideas.

Exemple inadequat Stabilization of the compound took place early in the experiment.

Exemple correcte The compound stabilized early in the experiment.

In the nominalized sentence above (the first sentence), the focus is on stabilization, the subject is four words long and the whole sentence is 10 words long. In the verb-style sentence, the focus is on compound, the subject is two words long and the whole sentence is seven words long.

Exemple inadequat Successful separation of four of the five compounds was achieved with a 20 mM borate buffer.

Exemple correcte Four of the five compounds were successfully separated with a 20 mM borate buffer.

In the nominalized sentence above, the focus is on separation, the subject is eight words long and the whole sentence is 16 words long. In the verb-style sentence, the focus is on compounds, the subject is five words long and the whole sentence is 14 words long.

To sum up, express the actions of your sentences with verbs rather than with nominalizations to write more focused, more concise sentences.

Use expletive constructions sparingly 

Expletive constructions combine it or there with the verb be.

Exemple correcte There were 50 participants in the experimental group and 47 in the control group.

They can be useful sometimes because they allow you to emphasize information by positioning it after the verb in focus position. However, the verb be is often followed by a relative clause that increases the length of the sentence unnecessarily.

Exemple inadequat It is this proposal that solves the problem most effectively.

Exemple inadequat There are some natural polymers that have cationic properties.

In both examples above, the expletive construction and the relative clause can be removed and the idea expressed with a more concise subject-verb-object structure.

Exemple correcte This proposal solves the problem most effectively.

Exemple correcte Some natural polymers have cationic properties.

Avoid vague attributions 

In their texts, researchers often justify their statements by referring to authoritative sources. However, if you are writing about generally accepted scientific knowledge, there is no need to acknowledge a source and you should make a straightforward statement rather than a vague attribution.

Exemple incorrecte It has been shown that Spirulina and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae can be used safely in food supplements.

Exemple correcte Spirulina and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae can be used safely in food supplements.

Exemple incorrecte Plasma homocysteine levels have been observed to increase with age.

Exemple correcte Plasma homocysteine levels increase with age.

Make direct statements 

Avoid unnecessary introductions to sentences.

Exemple incorrecte As far as plans for overcoming poverty are concerned, they must include cultural development.

Exemple incorrecte With regard to personal data processing, it has been legislated for in Article 6.

The two constructions used above (as far as ... is concerned and with regard to) call attention to a topic that has probably been mentioned at least once in the preceding text and is repeated later in the same sentence in pronominal form (they and it, respectively). Your sentences will be more concise and more easily understood if you make direct statements by using the topic as the subject of the verb in the main clause.

Exemple correcte Plans for overcoming poverty must include cultural development.

Exemple correcte Personal data processing has been legislated for in Article 6.

Do not hedge to excess 

Researchers are often uncertain about the significance of their findings and need to use cautious language to make noncommittal statements. This is known as hedging. Common hedges include probably, possibly, perhaps, may, might, apparently, suggest, and indicate. It is quite legitimate for researchers to use language such as this because it protects them from the consequences of any errors of interpretation and reveals that they are aware of the limits of their findings.

However, despite being common practice in scientific writing, hedging should not be used to excess because it weakens the message.

Exemple incorrecte There seems to be some evidence to suggest that some of the differences between Japanese and Western rhetoric may be due to historical influences possibly traceable to Japan’s cultural isolation and Europe’s history of cross-cultural contacts.

Exemple correcte The evidence suggests that some of the differences between Japanese and Western rhetoric are due to Japan’s cultural isolation and Europe’s history of cross-cultural contacts.

In the first text, the number of hedges weakens the argument so much that it is probably not worth making. In the second text (adapted from Williams, 2007), the verb suggest and the quantifier some enable the author to make an argument about which they may not be fully certain but are confident enough to propose. It is also more reasoned and moderate than aggressively stating “The evidence proves that the differences between...”.

So, academic writing requires you to use hedges to moderate the forcefulness of your arguments. But do not use too many.


This part of the Guide offers practical advice about writing the most typical parts of a final project in the humanities. Our advice is organized into ten sections, each supported by practical examples. The sections Cover page, Acknowledgements, Table of contents, Title, Abstract and keywords, Introduction, Main body and Conclusion look at the different parts of the paper. The sections Referencing styles and Editing your text consider the paper as a whole.

Cover page 

Your supervisor will provide you with guidelines about the layout of your cover page, specifying which parts should be in English or not. Remember that at the UB, the preferred full terms for the TFG and TFM are treball final de grau and treball final de màster, respectively. In English, those are translated as the “bachelor’s degree final project” and the “master’s degree final project”.

Unless you are instructed otherwise, italicize the title of your project and capitalize the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. Do not capitalize articles, conjunctions or prepositions.

Exemple correcte The Prodigal Son in Asturian Cinema
Capitalize the first word of a subtitle after a colon, whatever part of speech it is.

Exemple correcte The Prodigal Son: A Recurrent Theme in Asturian Cinema
Use roman type rather than italics for any works mentioned in the title.

Exemple correcte The Prodigal Son in Tomás Fernández’s La torre de Suso

If the entire page is in English, preserve all the diacritics in people’s names or use none.

Exemple correcte Tutor: Dr Núria González Sarrió
Supervisors: Dr Birgit Schröder and Dr Bela Vojtĕch

Exemple correcte Tutor: Dr Nuria Gonzalez Sarrio
Supervisors: Dr Birgit Schroder and Dr Bela Vojtech
Either way, respect people’s preferences with their names by preserving their use of capital and small letters and their treatment of articles, prepositions and conjunctions.

Exemple correcte Maria De La Rosa

James H. Macdonald

Karel Van de Weyde

Sander van Veen

Gemma Puig Davies

Jana Puig i Salas

Oscar Hernández-Ferrero
Finally, when two or more people appear in a single phrase or list, order them alphabetically by family name.

Exemple correcte Supervisors: Dr Juli Caubet-Puigverd and Dr Laura Ciminelli


The acknowledgements page names the individuals and organizations who helped you write the final project. Including this page is therefore regarded as good academic practice in all the ambits because it establishes your integrity as a researcher. Like the cover page, your institution may have guidelines about how to present the acknowledgements page and where it should go in the overall paper; whatever the case, it should be brief and contain the full names of all the individuals and organizations you thank, listed in the order that best represents the nature and importance of their contribution.  

Because the text is short, aim for variety in the way you express your thanks to avoid sounding repetitive, and distinguish between more formal acknowledgements (teachers, other professionals) and informal ones (family members, friends).

Exemple correcte This final project and the research behind it would have been impossible without the support of my tutor and supervisor, Dr Sandra Puig Martín. I am indebted to her for the patience and painstaking care with which she guided me through the writing. Next, I wish to thank James Eberhart Jnr. and Natalia Lucchetti of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies Library, who offered me practical advice during the last two months of writing, and express my gratitude to Iñigo Montoya at Readymade Books, whose insightful observations helped put the finishing touches to the paper. Finally, I also want to say thank you to my brother Jaume Armengol, whose moral support helped me get the project finished. In short, the generosity of all of these people improved my paper in many ways and saved me from many errors; those that inevitably remain are entirely my own responsibility.

Table of contents 

In all the ambits, the table of contents lists the different sections of the paper together with the page numbers, which you can create automatically in Word using the Titles styles for your section titles. Use sentence-style capitalization for the section titles, meaning only capitalize the first word and all the proper nouns.  

Here is the table of contents of a humanities paper called Rauschenberg’s Bed as an Examination of Portraiture.

Table of Contents

1 Abstract
2 Introduction
3 Discussion
3.1 The first ‘combines’
3.2 Talisman in William C. Seitz’s The Art of Assemblage
3.3 “Writes well, cuts ragged, sleeps five”: the inanimate made animate
3.4 Redefining the self-portrait
4 Conclusion
5 Works cited
Digital appendix
Robert Rauschenberg by Louwrien Wijers for Art & Design Profile No. 21, Art meets Science and Spirituality, 1990 (interview, .mp4)

Finally, if you need to include an index of figures (information organized in charts, graphs, plots or drawings) and tables (information organized in columns and rows), put this on the page following the table of contents. Generally speaking, there is no need for you to include an index for any illustrations in the paper.

Informació Note that this is just an example of what a table of contents might look like in a publication in the humanities.
For the purposes of your Final Project, your faculty will tell you what format you need to follow.


In all the ambits, the title summarizes the main ideas of your study. A good title contains the fewest possible words that adequately describe the contents and purpose of your research. The title is the part of a paper that is read the most, and usually the part that is read first.

  • General considerations

    In miniature, the title of your humanities paper should reflect four aspects of your academic writing skills that will continue to be important in the rest of the paper: your summary skills, your ability to write for a specific community, your authorial voice and your intention to make an original contribution to the field.

    The title shows your summary skills by describing the subject of the paper clearly and concisely. When your paper is an analysis, you may be able to do this in just a few words.

    Exemple correcte Cycles of Neglect in Hideo Tanaka’s Dark Water

    But when it reports on a procedure or describes a specific project, the title may need to be longer.

    Exemple correcte Subtitling Flamenco for Netflix: Creating the Subtitles and Pivot Language Dialogue List for the Documentary Flamencas: mujeres, fuerza y duende

    Whatever its length, aim for a title that avoids unnecessary words. For example, the following titles describe the main ideas in the paper but are rather long.

    Exemple inadequat Robert Rauschenberg’s use of the painting Bed to examine the concept and practice of portraiture

    The relationship between moments of sadness and pleasure in the novels of J. P. Donleavy

    You can shorten the phrases by removing any unnecessary words to get better titles.

    Exemple correcte Rauschenberg’s Bed as an Examination of Portraiture
    Sadness and Pleasure in J. P. Donleavy

    After summary skills, your title should reflect your ability to address your particular academic community, also called your discourse community. This means showing you are familiar with the concepts customarily discussed by members of the community and successfully including the academic terms they use. To indicate this knowledge and ability, the second title above might be slightly revised.

    Exemple correcte Sadness and the Notion of Jouissance in J. P. Donleavy

    Second, show you know what is expected of you by the community in more general terms. For example, because research indicates that papers with shorter titles can get more citations and are easier to understand (Letchford et al, 2015), short titles are valued by academics in general. You may only be planning to publish this paper as a final project in your university repository, but the reader will value your short title as attention to good academic practices.

    After summary skills and familiarity with your discourse community, the title should reflect your authorial voice: the style and features of your writing that distinguish it from other people’s. This may sound daunting if you are just beginning your academic career, but in practice you can start simply by adding a detail that is originally yours but also fits with what your discourse community would expect. For example, you could give authorial voice to the title above by rewording it to remind the reader of something that was typical of Donleavy, namely his habit of giving novels alliterative titles (The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman, etc.).

    Exemple correcte The Joyless Jouissance of J. P. Donleavy

    Speaking directly to your discourse community and working on your authorial voice are also closely connected to the fourth and last aspect that your title should reflect: your intention to make an original contribution to research. In fact, the three often go together.

    Exemple correcte From Charlie to Evan and Bach Again: Improvisation as a Constant in Musical Practice

    The title above comes from a paper defending the musical genre known as free jazz. In it, the writer proposes that free jazz musicians today use the same techniques that classical musicians used in other periods of history and that, for this reason, their music deserves similar critical attention. The paper therefore clearly addresses a discourse community (scholars of musicology) and sets itself a task (to convince the sceptics). But to argue the case, the writer will quickly need to assert their knowledge of the subject and find an authorial voice, and this is where the title is important. In the example above, the writer asserts their knowledge by choosing as examples of free players two well-known musicians who happen to have the same family name (Charlie Parker, who will be known by specialists and non-specialists alike, and Evan Parker, who only specialists or enthusiasts will recognize) so that they can omit the name and make the reader call it up from their own specialist knowledge – or to be more precise, make the reader appreciate that they, the writer, know enough to engineer the coincidence in the first place. And second, as in the J. P. Donleavy title earlier in this page, they create a sense of voice by engaging in wordplay (where “Bach” refers to both Johann Sebastian Bach and the word “back” in the common phrase “and back again”).

Title styles 

When you start to think about the title of your paper or final project, there are three title styles to choose from: nominal, compound and full-sentence. Some universities recommend their humanities students to use the compound style. Some guides recommend not using the full-sentence title, which may be more suited to research papers in science (see below). If your institution lets you choose, select the style that best suits your purposes.  

Nominal titles generally consist of noun or verb phrases and are probably the easiest to write well because their aim is simply to describe the main theme of the study.

Exemple correcte White Temporality and the Underground Railroad in African-American Poetry of the 1950s

Homo Mensura in Plato’s Theaetetus to Examine the Relativity of Literary Criticism

Following Hamish Fulton’s Solo Walking Works in Valencia and Portugal

Compound titles comprise two phrases joined by a colon. Never use a full stop to join them. The first phrase can contain a general description of the subject, which the second phrase explains in more detail.

Exemple correcte The Filmscore in John Zorn’s Filmworks: A Musician’s Attempt to Work outside the Jazz-Frame

Or you can reverse the order so that the first phrase ‘drops’ the reader in the middle of the subject while the second phrase pulls back and contextualizes.

Exemple correcte Attempting to Work outside the Jazz-Frame: The Filmscore in John Zorn’s Filmworks

This alternative order can help you develop a sense of authorial voice. In it, the first phrase can name an important concept in the paper.

Exemple correcte The Space Love Fills: An Examination of Beauty in Agnes Martin’s Life and Works

It can give special emphasis to quoted material, which is then tied to but perhaps not entirely explained by the second phrase.

Exemple correcte “I am leaving because I am bored”: George Sanders and the Aesthetics of Hollywood Suicide

“I could not love thee (Dear) so much, Lov’d I not Honour more”: The Literate Gumshoe in Robert B. Parker’s Crime Fiction

Or it can combine with the second phrase to comment on your overall proposal.

Exemple correcte Why We Cannot Negate Marjorie Perloff’s Postmodernism and the impasse of lyric: A Critical Reading of Poetry Criticism

Whichever order you choose, make sure the two phrases are each doing something different. If they are not, the effect is strange.

Exemple incorrecte Jordi Savall’s Adaptation of The Song of the Sibyl for a Solo Female Voice: The Arrangement of the Song for Montserrat Figueras

To solve this, decide where your priorities lie and edit accordingly, possibly changing style.

Exemple correcte Jordi Savall’s Adaptation of The Song of the Sibyl for Montserrat Figueras

Jordi Savall’s Adaptation of The Song of the Sibyl for a Solo Female Voice

Alternatively, keep all the details but make it shorter.

Exemple correcte Jordi Savall’s Adaptation of The Song of the Sibyl for a Solo Female Voice Featuring Montserrat Figueras

Finally, after nominal and compound titles, there are full-sentence titles. As explained above, these are more common in science papers, for example when a writer wants the title to contain a mention of results.

Exemple correcte Anaphylaxis is More Common with Rocuronium and Succinylcholine than with Atracurium
(Reddy et al., Anesthesiology, January 2015, Vol. 122, 39–45 )

Full-sentence titles are less common in humanities papers, which generally deal with questions for which there are no definitive answers, let alone results, and where the evidence as such is textual (written documents, films, paintings, scores, etc.). But if your title makes it clear that you know this convention and you are using it consciously for a particular effect, it may offer possibilities. The following are titles of a study on the works of musician-actor John Lurie, a commentary on a book by art historian Patricia Emison and an analysis of the uses of violence in the theatre and in popular culture, respectively.

Exemple correcte Fishing with John Is Not as Exciting as Watching His Movies

The Old-Style Art Historians are the Smug Frat Brothers of the Academy

My Brother Dave Saw Calixto Bieito’s Macbeth at the Teatre Romea but All I Got Was this Bloody T-Shirt

Abstract and keywords 

In all the ambits, the abstract should summarize the main aspects of your final project in an order that will generally include: the purpose of your paper and the research problems you address; your research or methods; your findings as a result of an analysis; and a brief summary of your interpretations and conclusions.

As for the keywords section that follows the abstract, remember two things. First, a keyword can actually comprise a phrase of two to four words, and a phrase can sometimes be more effective in pointing a reader to your paper than a single word. Second, because the function of keywords is to supplement the information given in the title, try not to repeat any of the words from the title in the keywords section.


Like your paper title, in a humanities paper your abstract should reflect your summary skills, your ability to write for a discourse community, your authorial voice and your intention to make an original contribution; also, it needs to bring all these elements together in a brief text that indicates the structure of your paper.

Generally speaking, the IMRaD structure suited to natural science papers (introduction, methods, results and discussion) is less useful in the humanities, where the main objective is not to establish scientific facts but to ask and answer interpretive questions about how humans express meaning, and where the raw material for research is not populations or experiments but ‘texts’; (written documents, films, paintings, musical scores, etc.). Because humanities papers analyse the meaning of people’s thoughts, actions and creations, humanities writers’ first concern is their own representation of meaning: the way they write and use language and the way others will interpret this.

Therefore, the best structure for a humanities paper is one that keeps your representation of meaning on track for your reader; and generally speaking, the humanities reader is someone who wants to be persuaded by a claim or premise you assert about meaning – about the meaning of your particular text in your academic field – so the structure you choose needs to provide the space and opportunity to strengthen your claim by calling up and commenting on texts that support it.

This ‘text and claim’ structure, in miniature, is also what your abstract does. Sometimes it becomes clear to the reader that the claim or premise is a modest one that you should be able to support fairly easily if you maintain your analysis and demonstrate adequate knowledge of the subject area. In this type of paper, you might assert the claim at the end of the abstract.

Exemple correcte This paper examines the role of North American journalists in the years before and after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917. It describes how the press came under pressure from the United States federal law called the Espionage Act, which sought to prevent interference with military operations or the support of US enemies during war time. As journalists came more under the control of the government, certain prestigious writers lost their legitimacy in the eyes of the general public. To explore the role of the newspapers in the political events of this period, the paper examines a sample of newspapers published in Washington and New York between 1915 and 1920. It proposes that, while at the beginning of this period certain editors and writers could lead initiatives to change the order of American society, by the end of the period these figures had all but disappeared.

Sometimes the claim can appear earlier in the abstract, even though the writer may not elaborate on it in any detail and may even hold back important detail intentionally. Again, like the example above, the reader will understand that a fair part of the paper will be given over to analysis but that your interplay between text and claim may start earlier and occupy more of the discussion section.

Exemple correcte This paper examines the guidelines that young researchers are customarily given to write a research paper in the field of film studies and proposes that this advice is often inadequate in three areas. It describes how writers are told to organize the different sections of their paper and considers how well they normally do this. It also evaluates the aspects they are recommended to include in each section and the guidance they are given on developing the subject of the paper. Finally, a description of the conclusion section is offered, focusing on the difficulties writers have relating their own papers to the literature. The paper includes an overview of how to cite references, examining the two most frequently used citation styles, MLA and APA. Reference is also made to how writers should revise their papers before submitting them for publication and to the impact factor in the selection of a journal.

Sometimes the abstract starts with the claim, which is then extended and explained in more detail. The advantage of doing this is that you immediately make your intentions clear to the reader, who can then decide with greater certainty whether you successfully follow through. Here below is such an abstract, from a final project entitled Rauschenberg’s Bed as an Examination of Portraiture.

Exemple correcte This paper argues that Robert Rauschenberg’s 1951 collage Bed can still contribute to young artists’ and exhibition-goers’ understanding of the possibilities of portraiture because the artist did something with the medium that few others ever have. It starts by contrasting the artist’s earliest experiments in assemblage with similar projects by other painters in order to identify the moment in Rauschenberg’s career when his use of found objects began to differ to his contemporaries’. It then explains this difference, which is essentially that Rauschenberg sees assemblage not just as something painters do but something viewers need to practise, both visually and cognitively, in order to experience an artwork. In this context, the paper ends by suggesting three ways in which Rauschenberg’s use of the inanimate may still go far beyond the works of other artists who employ similar materials and themes, like Anselm Kiefer, Rachel Whiteread or Tracey Emin.

The danger with this last style is that your paper does not follow through with what you promised the reader; but then calculated risks are an important part of good academic writing in the humanities and taking these risks is a way of asserting your membership of the writing community.

Finally, alongside titles, abstracts are often the only sections of research papers that are freely available to readers on journal websites, search engines and abstracting databases. Because of this, make your abstract a stand-alone text that does not leave out any important aspect of the paper. You may only be writing for one reader, your tutor, but they will assess the merits of your abstract on these terms too.


Because the function of keywords is to supplement the information given in the title, try not to repeat any of the words from the title in the keywords section. So, for the keywords section of the abstract Rauschenberg’s Bed as an Examination of Portraiture (see Abstract), any of the following terms could be suitable for inclusion.

Exemple correcte Keywords: abstract expressionism; assemblage; assertive-declarative phrasing; combine series; secret language of junk; Southern Renaissance; verticality.


In all the ambits, the introduction should lead your reader from generalization to your particular field of research. It sets the context for the research you have conducted by summarizing the current understanding about the topic, stating the purpose of your paper, possibly as a hypothesis, question, or research problem, outlining your rationale and describing the remaining structure.

In the humanities, the introduction is where your reader meets you as a writer and first learns how you will talk to them during the rest of the paper, in the discussion and conclusion sections: how you explain problems, value details or use humour; how often you refer to the texts at your disposal, where you stand in comparison to other researchers, what interests you and what does not. The important thing is not to make this less visible, but to make it clear that you know you are showing these things. This is what will establish your authority, in your reader’s eyes, to interpret the meaning in other peoples’ production in the humanities: to ask and answer in your own writing interpretive questions about how others express meaning.

Because the reader will have learnt the important details about the substance of your paper in both the title and the abstract, the beginning of the introduction is a good place to introduce some kind of example from the middle of your topic rather than to repeat your objectives or reassert your main claim. In this respect, it is rather like the inverted compound title (see the fifth example in Title styles) which ‘drops’ the reader into the middle of the subject before pulling back and contextualizing. The following are the opening lines of introductions to a paper on the importance of fairy tales in children’s education and a paper on the popular reception of the twentieth-century art movement known as abstract expressionism, respectively.

Exemple correcte If it was late at night and you were going to tell your little sister a bedtime story, would you choose the one about the boy and girl who discovered a beautiful sugar house in the middle of the forest, were trapped there by an old woman who wanted to eat them, but who eventually managed to escape after roasting her alive in her own oven?

Exemple correcte In a well-known cartoon by the French artist Jean-Jacques Sempé, a group of museum-goers are shown standing in respectful silence on the threshold of the twentieth-century rooms of an art museum while their guide tells them they are extremely lucky to have her there because otherwise they would understand nothing of what they are about to see.

The next line of each introduction brings the reader firmly back to the topic under discussion.

Exemple correcte You might well decide not to; but as the English historian Marina Warner has said, to understand the meaning of many fairy tales, one has to look at the context in which they were told, at who was telling them, to whom and why.

Exemple correcte The reader may smile but as abstract painter Nicolas Carone once observed to his friend and contemporary Jackson Pollock, “Who the hell do you know who understands your picture? People understand the painting – talk about the technique, the dripping, the splattering, the automatism and all that, but who really knows the content?”

This is one way of starting the introduction section.

In the following paragraphs, your main objective is to introduce your reader to the concepts you will be discussing (issue, question, research question or final project statement), show your method of approach to the topic, provide the necessary background information or context and, before finishing, reassert the claim the paper will make.

The last paragraph of the introduction might return to the detail of the first when it does this, so reminding the reader of the raw material they and you constantly need to re-examine.

Exemple correcte Finally, I propose that before we accept what we are sold about children’s entertainment, we should remember two things. First, history shows that fairy stories were never escapist tales about magical phenomena that only children could believe in; they are serious stories that deal with life and death in ways that help people become adults. Second, the child who reads, watches or listens to fairy tales deserves the same complexity adults are given when they read, watch or listen to products of fiction, if only because children are people who should be happily and purposefully on their way to becoming adults. The problem, of course, is that some of the adults in charge can’t see that: Walt Disney Pictures may live happily ever after, but more than one child who saw the 2017 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast was actually disappointed by the strange but somehow majestic beast’s final transformation into a very unextraordinary prince.

Main body 

The main body of a humanities paper is given over to just one section, called Discussion.

But what exactly is a discussion in academic writing of this kind? Well, very importantly, it is certainly not a conversation (which is one of the main meanings of the word); there is no informal give-and-take of views; no sudden changes of topic; no improvised opinions. In your TFG or TFM, an academic discussion needs to be a well-constructed, carefully written and suitably referenced section of the overall paper.  

In fact, the word discussion is a little misleading if it makes you think of simply talking about a subject. In academic writing in the humanities, it means something more like the section of your text in which you expand on the research question or final project statement set out in your introduction, or the part that provides your own analysis and interpretation of your topic, engaging with critical/secondary sources, developing the arguments presented, according to your basic thesis. In effect, it is the part of your project that sets out the main arguments, thoughts and ideas that you have produced on your chosen topic.

The following subsections provide basic guidelines on how to do this.

Who are you writing for? 

Address yourself to your particular ‘public’, often called your discourse community. This is basic advice that is often ignored. You would not write a class essay in the same way as you would write a message to a friend or a review on a social network; you would modify important aspects of your text, such as level of formality, choice of vocabulary, the structure of sentences and paragraphs, possibly even the use of what are called apparatus (footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies). In other words, you would make decisions based on who you are writing for.  

Your final project is aimed at a specific academic community and so it needs to respect and conform to certain requirements. These include the obvious questions just mentioned, but they also include making reference to the main ideas that are current in your own field regarding your topic and locating your subject in an ongoing current of critical debate.

Exemple correcte There are over 16,000 academic studies on Abraham Lincoln, covering a broad range of topics such as his life, his political and historical contexts and his own social views. However, as this final project concerns Lincoln’s political difficulties during the US Civil War (1861–1865), the arguments made here are based, fundamentally, on three major studies of this subject: Herman Belz’s Abraham Lincoln, Constitutionalism, and Equal Rights in the Civil War Era (1998); Jonathan W. White’s Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War (2011); and T. Harry Williams’s now dated but still essential Lincoln and His Generals (1967). These three works, above all others, have set down the main lines of discussion in this area.

Basic organization 

There is no set formula for how to structure a discussion. But that does not mean you should not think carefully about how to do this. Your specific area of study will possibly require a particular general structure (for example, a project on history might call for a chronological organization), and your specific topic might require you to organize the discussion in a way that reflects this topic (for example, a study of several poems might require you to have a subsection on each work). Whatever the case, some kind of division will help you to present your work effectively and make it easier for your readers to follow it clearly.  

In humanities papers, the most common divisions within the discussion are subsections (“1.1 The Rise of the Novel”; “1.2 The Condition of England Novel”; “1.3 The Modernist Novel”, etc.) or chapters (“Chapter One: The Georgian Garden”; “Chapter Two: The Georgian Market Town”; “Chapter Three: The Georgian Slums”).  

Subsections are units that are more closely interconnected; chapters are units that are more stand-alone in content. You will almost certainly have decided on this by the time you come to write your discussion (as you will have already drawn up your table of contents); but, during your writing, look carefully at your work and keep in mind that your chosen general structure might need changing.


Unless you are specifically referring to certain technical aspects of your topic (for example, analysing the metric structure of a poem), generally avoid jargon or overly complex words or expressions.

Exemple incorrecte To illustrate the ways in which late-Victorian textual production subliminally conveyed social preoccupations connected to the atrophying of British power, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) forwards a narrative of ‘invasion’ expressed through polyphonic epistolarity.

Exemple correcte As an example of the ways in which late-Victorian writing reflected social worries about the decline in British power, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) presents a story of ‘invasion’ told in letters, journals and newspaper articles by many different narrators.

Too much informality 

On the other hand, remember that you are addressing your discussion to an academic community, so while it is a good idea to opt for a clear and uncomplicated style of writing, do not be too informal either. Avoid colloquial language and make sure that contractions such as it’s, don’t or you’ll are written out in their more formal, non-contracted forms.  

Exemple incorrecte It’s pretty safe to reckon that even the most mad-keen researcher won’t find any really interesting new stuff on the Peasants’ Revolt

Exemple correcte It is reasonable to assume that even the most dedicated researcher will not be able to discover significant new material on the Peasants’ Revolt

Give opinions 

  • Give your opinions

    This project is an opportunity for you to develop and discuss your own ideas. Unlike other disciplines, such as the pure sciences – in which the expression of personal opinion is not conventionally expected or even accepted in written texts – in the humanities you should feel free to state your own opinions clearly and unambiguously (by using forms such as in my view, I think, I believe or my opinion is). In fact, if you do not put forward your own opinions, it might appear that you are simply summarizing other people’s views.

    Exemple correcte The arguments set out in the above articles, in my own view, do not provide an entirely satisfactory analysis of this question. Unlike these authors, I believe that it is essential to look closely at the painter’s very early works if we are to fully understand her influences.

  • Give the specialists’ view too

    But, as an important part of academic discussion, you also need to present your ideas with reference to the critical opinions expressed in the literature of your own field (e.g., published academic studies such as monographic works, chapters or journal articles). You do not have to agree with these studies; in fact, you might want to express your absolute disagreement with them, but you do need to present your ideas in the company of these recognized sources.

    Exemple correcte Specialists such as Keegan (1984); Carpenter and Elliot (2007); and Reeves (2010; 2012) have argued that Neanderthal wall paintings have little or no aesthetic function. However, this final project will propose, in keeping with Wragg Sykes (2020), that this is no longer a sustainable position.

Summary is not analysis 

Contextualizing your discussion – making clear what it is that you are actually writing about – is, of course, fundamental. This may well involve a certain amount of summarizing (events, ideas, plot, etc.). But be aware, first, that your examiners will probably be entirely familiar with the information that you are summarizing, and second, that summary is not analysis. All contextualization should be kept to a minimum as it takes up space for presenting your own ideas. Where summary is necessary, it can be supplemented by providing comment on the information.

Exemple incorrecte Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice in 1813; it narrates the story of Lizzy Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy and ends in their marriage.

Exemple correcte When Jane published Pride and Prejudice in 1813, the love plot (which typically resolves in marriage, as is the case with the novel’s protagonists, Lizzy Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy) had established itself as the major form of novelistic fiction.

Writing critically 

The principal type of academic writing in the humanities is critical writing. The term ‘critical’ can be misleading, as it might appear to suggest that it expresses a negative view of its subject, that is, that it criticizes things. This is not exactly the case, but it does highlight an important aspect of critical writing, which is that it closely analyses its topic in order to understand it more fully. So, although the term does not imply taking a negative view of things, we can say that it involves close and careful examination.

In academic writing in the humanities (as in all academic writing, of course), you need a topic and an opinion on that topic. For example, you might believe that Protestantism contributed to the growth of capitalism. But it is not enough to simply have this opinion; you need to develop it through argument that takes into account other recognized ideas or sources on this topic, and to use these ideas, with which you will show your agreement or disagreement, as a way of building up your own point of view. By doing so, you will be reviewing the evidence on this subject in order to reach a reasoned conclusion. This is critical writing.

There are many different approaches that can be taken in writing critically, but essentially it has two important aspects:

  • Critical writing takes into account not just one but a range of sources.

  • Critical writing examines and assesses its sources.

To return to your theory on Protestantism, to write critically on this subject you would need to research work (‘critical sources’) that discusses this idea. You would find that some authors (also known, particularly in literary studies, as ‘critics’) claim that the highly individualistic nature of Protestantism contributed to capitalism because it emphasizes the consequences of individual responsibility. Let us say that this opinion is close to your own, so you want to use it in your text. But you need more than just one source, otherwise your argument will be too limited and one-sided. Then you discover that other critics point out that capitalism also developed in regions where Catholicism has never been displaced (such as Bavaria, for instance, or parts of Scandinavia), which tends to complicate your own view. You could ignore this opinion, as it does not support your own idea; but this would be academically dishonest and would result in an argument that did not take into account a broad range of views. That is, you need to examine and assess the sources that support and that undermine your own idea.  

Notice that your main tasks in writing critically, apart from eventually describing your reasoned conclusions, are to evaluate and analyse your sources. You do this by looking at how relevant they are to your topic; how strong or weak their arguments are; and how balanced and reasonable they are (a source that does not take other views into account or that makes too many unsubstantiated claims is not likely to be a positive contribution to your text). But you also need to make sure that your sources are reliable, that they come from recognized specialists or at least from people whose work is accepted by your own academic area. And you need to make sure that you are using sources that are acceptably recent: a rule of thumb in the humanities is that most of your sources should have been published within the last 20 years; anything earlier than that is unlikely to reflect most recent debate (although there are always important exceptions to this, and your supervisor will guide you on this matter).  

The kinds of questions you need to ask yourself when writing critically are the following:

  • Is my argument sufficiently supported by other sources? Have I (or have any of my sources) made claims that have no evidence?

  • Am I limiting my sources and my own analysis to only one point of view? Am I taking distinct and maybe contradictory opinions into account?

  • Am I adequately examining my own opinion and those of my sources? Do I clearly indicate the strengths and weaknesses of these views?

  • Are these sources reliable? Are they recognized within my own academic area?

  • Are these sources and their opinions relevant to my topic?

  • Are these ideas sufficiently recent?

  • Am I presenting all sides of the argument in a balanced way? Do I give too much emphasis to one point of view?

  • Am I being honest about the limitations of my own opinion? (It is valid and responsible to accept that a view, however compelling, might need more evidence or discussion?)

In your own project, you might eventually find that, although certain studies point to ideas that are contrary to your own opinion, on balance your view is supported and justified by the sources you have assessed. Although it is also worth remarking that academic enquiry means accepting that your arguments have been disproved, or at least that your own findings have limitations. Whatever your final opinion, however, it will have been shaped by a consideration of the sources, and this is basic to critical writing.

Writing concisely 

Good academic writing should be clear, relevant and concise, avoiding unnecessary ‘padding’, even when this might be valued in other kinds of texts such as descriptive or literary writing. In other words, it is writing that aims to communicate its content in a way that is as unembellished as possible; it is writing that is free of wordiness. This obviously refers to vocabulary and expressions, but also to sentence structure and paragraphing.

A good way to make sure that you write concisely is to be clear about what you want to say before putting it on paper. In theory, at this stage in your final project, you should no longer be worrying about that (your abstract, table of contents and introduction have covered this), but it is helpful to keep in mind that your discussion needs to contribute directly to this by having a clear purpose and by sticking to that purpose. If your writing becomes irrelevant, it will not be expressing your ideas concisely.

Your paragraphs must each have a clearly recognizable function. If they are not developing your views, if they are not moving your discussion forward through critical argument, then your writing is not suitably concise.  

Also, the grammatical way in which you express your ideas (especially the choice of active or passive voice) will have a significant impact on concise writing, by opting for simpler constructions that are, at the same time, clearer and more effective.

Finally, you also need to constantly pay attention to a number of smaller elements in your writing, including avoiding redundancy and repetition and eliminating unnecessary words.

The following subsections provide basic guidelines on how to do this.


Good paragraphing is key to concise writing as it creates a flow of related ideas that fit together in an accumulative way, moving the argument forward coherently and relevantly towards its conclusions.

But paragraphing has to be relevant; you cannot simply make a paragraph break because your current section looks a bit long. In other words, paragraphs should not be random. They should contain a series of sentences that discuss a single topic. When that topic changes, change your paragraph.

Good paragraphs should have the following.

  • Cohesion. A paragraph should be about a specific topic, announced in the opening sentence and discussed by all following sentences.  

  • A clear structure. There are many ways of organizing the sentences, depending on your own discussion (chronology, order of importance, etc.), but the order should be clear and easily understandable. This will guide your reader through your argument and force you to stay relevant.

  • Coherence. This refers to the ways in which the sentences relate to each other through transition words (for example, indicating order, contrast, continuation, logic, etc.). Other elements of coherence include using the same tense in each sentence and ensuring that the dominant point of view (yours, a critical source, etc.) is the same throughout.

  • Roundedness. A rounded paragraph is one that clearly establishes its topic and develops that topic through well-connected sentences. But it also means that the sentences suitably perform the function of introducing, discussing, supporting and concluding the paragraph topic, which basically means that a good academic paragraph should have at least four sentences.

Exemple correcte This discussion considers the marginalisation of the Porter sisters’ contribution to Walter Scott’s historical novels, a marginalisation arguably caused by Scott himself. It is relevant to remark that, unlike Scott, the sisters have now almost entirely fallen into what Clifford Siskin termed “the Great Forgetting”. But this also leads me to consider how literary history is written, how women novelists are silenced and, perhaps, how the traditional subjects of women’s fiction are assumed to be strictly domestic.  

However, the foundation for the Porter-Scott rift that I am discussing here is actually the nature of childhood, and how its recording and recollection is partisan and partial. This debate ought to be primarily literary; instead, it has conventionally been presented as an overly sentimental reaction by the Porters to perceived slights and disloyalties. Or, to express this in a more nineteenth-century way, “Ladies who assume masculine functions must learn to assume masculine gravity and impartiality” (Phillips, C. S. M., The Edinburgh Review, 1849, p. 436).

Having indicated the general area of this discussion, what exactly is the evidence for the childhood connection among the three writers? Is it open to any challenge? What might be said on this topic if the conventional accounts turn out to be untrue, or at least unprovable?

Passive voice 

In many types of academic writing (with scientific writing as perhaps the most obvious example) passive voice is expected; it is also seen as a marker of formality and of objectivity, as it removes the personal subject.

But, as explained in Give your opinions, in the humanities it is conventional to express personal opinion and to incorporate subjective responses into academic argument. So, although you may think that using the passive voice adds a note of seriousness to your writing, or even that you might be expected to produce writing of this kind, it is better at all times to avoid the passive where possible.  

Exemple incorrecte This view has been posited since the beginning of the 1960s by many feminist critics.

Exemple correcte Many feminist critics have posited this view since the 1960s.

Not only is the second example above shorter (and therefore more concise in a literal sense), but it is also simpler and a more dynamic form of expressing ideas.

Small matters 

Concise writing also comes from thinking carefully about the smaller elements involved in writing. These include:

  • Avoiding redundancy (e.g., “each and every”; “first and foremost”; “true and veridical”)  

  • Avoiding repetition (e.g., stating the same opinion more than once in a single section)

  • Eliminating unnecessary qualifiers (e.g., “very”; “really”)

  • Replacing phrases by a single word (e.g., “in light of the fact that…” by “because”)

  • Keeping sentences as short as possible, and avoiding complex dependent clauses

Exemple incorrecte The object of this chapter, which forms part of the second section of this dissertation and which begins the more analytical phase of this project, is to look at the evidence for the use of the phrase-initial adverbial ‘so’ as a marker of academic discourse. This chapter is very important in the overall work presented here due to the fact that it presents the part of the project in which a close analysis of evidence is carried out.

Exemple correcte This chapter (2.1) begins the analytical part of the project; it assesses evidence for the use of the phrase-initial adverbial ‘so’ as a marker of academic discourse.

In each of the cases indicated here, think about how your writing can be made more direct and economical by the modifications suggested.

Use of supporting literature 

Writing a discussion for a final project in the humanities means much more than simply presenting your own ideas, however relevant, interesting and original these may be. In fact, in all academic ambits, the discussion requires writers to frame their own ideas in relation to those of their colleagues so that the ideas expressed can be understood in a general context of academic debate and make an informed contribution to that debate. The key here is informed contribution, which means supporting your ideas by relating them to others. This means referring both to the work of other specialists (secondary sources) and to artistic works (primary sources), from which – especially but not exclusively in literary studies – you will sometimes want to quote.

(For a discussion of supporting literature in referencing and bibliography, see Referencing styles.)

Primary sources 

We tend to think of primary sources as works of fiction (poetry, drama, novels), but in fact the term covers a far wider selection of works. It can also refer to journalism, essays, treatises, diaries, interviews and a range of other material. A secondary source, in contrast, describes or interprets a primary source.

You might want to quote from a primary source to give further support to your own ideas and arguments, to indicate a particular point or – again, especially in literary studies – to analyse the source in question.

Whatever your reason, the following guidelines should be kept in mind when using primary sources in the humanities:

  • Avoid lengthy quotations. Summarizing the source is a more effective way of using it if you need to refer to an extensive amount of text.

  • Be careful if you are incorporating the quotation into the structure of your own sentence. Whatever source you use, it must be grammatically coherent with the sentence in which it appears.  

  • Avoid using snippets of quotation within a single sentence. This will appear as clumsy writing on your part and suggests that you have not adequately integrated the source into your own text.

  • Do not modify the primary text without indicating this. Modification includes modernizing spelling, changing capital letters, adding emphasis (italics, bold, underline) or altering the word for grammatical reasons. If the original quotation contains an error, that must also be indicated using the Latin adverb sic meaning “thus” or “just as” (from the full form sic erat scriptum, “thus was it written”). Otherwise, it might be assumed that the error is your own.

  • Always give precise bibliographical indications of the source material, either in parenthesis or as a footnote. Fuller details must also be given in the bibliography. The reader should be able to access this source material on the basis of the references that you provide.

  • Ensure that all quotation – short or long – conforms strictly to the writing format applicable to your end-of-degree project (MLA, Chicago, etc.).

Secondary sources 

Secondary sources include monographic studies, book chapters, journal articles, book reviews, encyclopedia entries, dictionaries and textbooks. They also include sources that, conventionally, have not been considered acceptable for an academic project such as a final project in a bachelor’s or master’s degree; this includes sources such as SparkNotes, blog posts (unless these come from a reliable source that discusses a topic in an academic manner) and Wikipedia, rightly or wrongly. You should always consult your tutor or supervisor before making use of this material.

Just as with primary sources, you should try to follow these guidelines in the humanities:

  • Avoid lengthy citation, which will distract from your own text and make it appear less important. Again, summarizing is more effective if you need to refer to a substantial amount of text.

  • Ensure the grammatical coherence of the citation that you use, if it is incorporated into your sentence.  

  • Fully indicate any modification that you make to the cited source.

  • Provide complete bibliographical reference.

  • Ensure that all citations are correctly formatted.

  • Except for sources that are of major and ongoing importance to your field, ensure that your sources are as contemporary as possible. (See Writing critically and consult your tutor or supervisor.)

As we have seen, using secondary sources is an essential procedure in a discussion. It allows you to express your ideas in the context of a broader critical debate and is a fundamental part of assessing and analysing the material that you will use in forwarding your own ideas.

But you need to make sure that your use of these sources does not cause your own point of view to disappear. This material supports your writing; it does not replace it. Remember that your discussion is being written in accordance with your final project question, which is the dominant idea. Secondary material is supplementary to this and, however important it is to contextualize your opinions in light of other work, you should avoid giving excessive space to this material. Ultimately, it is your work that needs highlighting most.  

Additionally, using secondary sources requires you to establish a balance in the material used. If you are citing sources that directly support your main ideas, you need to counter this by citing sources that present distinct opinions. If you discuss and analyse one source in depth, you need to do the same for the other sources you use.  

Above all, you need to avoid as much as possible the dependency on a single critical source or, indeed, on only a few. This would weaken your own critical writing and would also give the impression that you have not sufficiently researched the literature.  

On the other hand, the relevant, well-selected and balanced use, analysis and interpretation of secondary sources will not only provide support to your own ideas, it will also help to give your readers the idea that your writing makes a contribution to the ongoing debate within your field of study. As a result, it will ensure that your views are given fuller attention and respect.


When you have come to the end of your final project, you need to conclude the ideas you have explored throughout your discussion. The aim of your conclusion is to ensure that your readers walk away from your paper with clear ideas about what you have gained from your analysis and where the research might be headed. Here are some tips on how to write a good conclusion and elegantly round off your work.

  • Do not simply repeat yourself in an attempt to close your discussion with a list of points you have already raised.  

  • Avoid introducing new ideas; all significant contributions regarding the subject at hand should have already been mentioned in your discussion.

  • Summarize what you have discussed, mention and evaluate the most important points you have raised throughout your analysis and suggest the impact these might have beyond your research and on the wider context.  

  • Avoid including lengthy quotations. If you want to draw attention to a pivotal critic of the work you are analysing, someone who has heavily featured throughout your paper, try to paraphrase their ideas instead of directly citing them.

  • Do not forget about your title. It is easy to get lost in the discussion as you discover new aspects about your chosen topic that are exciting and inspiring. For example, write the final project’s title in large letters and stick it above your writing station for the duration of your assessment. This will serve as a visual reminder of what you need to focus on.

These are all important things to remember. But most of all, leave your reader with a clear idea of what you have gained from your research.

The following example focuses on a film from the year 1970 called Tristana by the renowned film director, Luis Buñuel. Have a look at the film’s Wikipedia page for some brief background information, which will help contextualize the example.

This is an example of a poor conclusion for a paper entitled Examining the Trope of the Amputated Leg in the Context of the Wider Themes of Tristana.

Exemple inadequat Buñuel was a communist atheist who opposed the Spanish government, a stance he made obvious through his film Tristana. Don Lope’s murder represents the fall of the government and power for oppressed peoples. By the end of the film, Tristana is free but she still has challenges to face and overcome. The amputation of her leg is a metaphor for pain and struggle, but the new prosthesis gives her power to recover. The film is one of Buñuel’s best.

Why might the following statement be a weak observation for a conclusion?

Exemple inadequat The amputation of her leg is a metaphor for pain and struggle, but the new prosthesis gives her power to recover.

It is a very generalist statement, and although it draws upon the film director’s use of imagery, it does not explain why the leg is a metaphor and the greater implications of that comparison. It is a one-dimensional conclusion. The writer could expand and talk about why the amputation is a metaphor for pain and what the greater implications of this metaphor are, thus drawing on their earlier discussion. Is it only relevant to the protagonist or is it a much wider metaphor, depicting her as a symbol of society at large?

Consider the following sentence.

Exemple inadequat Buñuel was a communist atheist who opposed the Spanish government, a stance he made obvious through his film Tristana.

How did Buñuel make that stance obvious? This is a good introduction to a conclusion. But the writer should expand upon how they have come to this conclusion, summarizing earlier observations from their discussion. The Spanish government is also still an active entity in Spain. The writer might refer to how contemporary films represent depictions of political power today, whether to praise or criticize it, commenting upon Buñuel’s brave commentary given the context in which he made his film.

The following is an example of a stronger conclusion that summarizes, draws upon and evaluates the most important points from the discussion and refers to the bigger picture at hand in order to respond to the title of the final project.

Exemple correcte It is important to recall that Tristana is a film made by a communist atheist who stood against everything the patriarchal Spanish order represented for society at that time. Spain was still emerging from a harsh dictatorship during the late 1970s, a situation Buñuel reflected on and referred to symbolically throughout the film, employing different narrative and audiovisual techniques to do so. Whilst extreme, the protagonist’s murder of Don Lope is also a figurative dethroning of the oppressor of all individuals under similar circumstances; those oppressed in personal relationships, by institutions or by their surroundings. The young protagonist eventually achieves freedom, but as the film’s final montage suggests, society’s conditioning is unavoidable and the spectator cannot overlook the societal and political challenges still to be overcome. The amputation, as read through different contexts presented in the film, stands to represent a crippled nation; a country set to achieve emancipation but at the cost of war and loss. However, the prosthesis, which is gained, represents strength and courage against the oppressor. Buñuel’s aim was to challenge his audience to question the world they live in, and Tristana exemplifies this call for criticism, reaction and rebellion. The film also serves as a point of reference for political criticism in twenty-first-century cinema, which begs the question as to whether films are still capable of such an artistic commentary. Subtlety is an art form in itself, but in today’s politically-polarized society where such subliminal messages are no longer necessary, do filmmakers still draw on these powerful artistic techniques to get under their audience’s skin?

Mentioning evidence (in this case, cinematic techniques) that backs up your claims and refers to earlier points made in your discussion, without going into too much detail, is a good way to summarize in your conclusion. The writer above also refers to the greater societal issues represented in the film, and the potential impact it had on its contemporary audience. They have also pulled their final assessment of the film into today’s world, questioning the use of such a subtle political commentary today, while recognising Buñuel’s place in cinematic history as an artistic political commentator and critic. This is a strong conclusion as the reader is left with a final impression of the writer’s understanding of the film’s themes, which also demonstrates that they have understood and effectively responded to the title.  

Even though an academic paper is not necessarily an exercise in creative writing, the use of incisive statements and rhetorical techniques can make reading it a more pleasant experience. For example, the use of three abstract nouns at one point in the text (criticism, reaction and rebellion) not only employs the ‘rule of three’ (a common writing technique that adds emphasis and rhythm to your text); it also refers to the main themes of the film, leaving the reader with a final answer to the paper’s title.

Referencing styles 

There are many referencing styles for academic writing. The most common styles in the humanities are the style offered by the Modern Language Association  (MLA style) and the style commonly known as Harvard referencing, which both use the author-date system to display the basic information for a given source. Other referencing styles use footnotes that include all of the reference information, such as the Chicago Manual of Style  (CMOS style), which is often used in the field of history.  

The University of Roehampton’s MLA Referencing Quick Guide (8th edition) explains how to reference different sources and write your bibliography using the MLA referencing style.

However, style guides do not limit themselves to correct referencing; they also encompass a range of writing style and formatting features. For example, does your style guide suggest single or double quotations marks? When should you use footnotes? What system should you use for abbreviations? How should your writing be laid out on the page? Check with your tutor as to whether you should be following these guidelines. Do they think it is important at this stage of your academic career? They are important considerations, as they help the reader stay focused on the content, rather than getting distracted by formatting discrepancies. Should you ever want to submit your work for publication, the journal in question will request strict adhesion to a style guide.  

A good way to make referencing (and writing your bibliography) easier starts in the research stage. Before reading or making notes, write down all the information regarding the publication of each text you cite: the author(s), the titles of both the chapter and the book it appears in, or the title of the article and the journal’s name, page numbers, date of publication, place of publication, the publisher and the edition.

Exemple correcte Title: Why Write? A Master Class on the Art of Writing and Why it Matters
Author: Mark Edmundson
Chapter: “To Catch a Dream”
Pages: pp. 46–61
Date published: 3.11.2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Edition: 1st

If you have all this information before you even begin to structure your discussion and include citations, referencing should be easy!

Avoiding plagiarism 

Often, the final stage of writing an academic paper is formatting and completing the bibliography and correctly referencing all the sources you refer to in the body of your text. There are many ways to do this depending on the subject of your writing.

It might be the last, but it is a vital stage in the academic writing process. As such, it is essential you correctly reference each and every source you refer to in your writing. If you do not, it might be deemed as plagiarism, the act of appropriating someone else’s ideas or claims as your own. When done deliberately, plagiarism can lead to very severe consequences that tarnish a writer’s academic reputation. Of course, students can sometimes plagiarize accidentally, especially if they are unsure of how to properly acknowledge other academics’ work, but it is something you should try to avoid.

When writing in a foreign language, it can often be tempting to ‘borrow’ (or directly copy) someone else’s idea. However, this would be considered plagiarism. You need to find your own voice and writing style. As you read through secondary sources to help develop your argument, focus on the sections that contain key ideas, highlight them, or make detailed notes, but then summarize them in your own words without looking at the source. Not only will you learn to develop your own style, but you will see if you have really understood everything you read!

The structure of your final project will be unique. However, some of the ideas you present in the main discussion will be based on the reading you did during the research stage. Every time you paraphrase one of these ideas (i.e., refer to it using your own words), you will need to reference the original author and their work, especially if you directly quote a fellow academic. This way, you are essentially letting the reader know that this idea is not your own, but that you have read around the subject.

Exemple correcte García Márquez comments on the “discovery of a genuine world that I never expected inside of me” (García Márquez, 247) when he read James Joyce’s Ulysses, and the immediate impact Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis had upon him, literary proof that translations are vital to the continual development and evolution of style and ideas.

The writer has lifted an idea directly from the original author’s work. Therefore, they have introduced the quote between quotation marks and referenced it immediately after, using the reference style of the Modern Language Association. This reference will also appear in their alphabetized bibliography (or Works cited) at the end of their paper.

Exemple correcte García Márquez, Gabriel. Living to tell the Tale, translated by Edith Grossman. New York: Knopf, 2003.

So, one option when referencing another writer’s ideas is to directly quote them, as we see above. However, you can also paraphrase their ideas. Consider the following example, where the writer’s original ideas in Spanish (Poyato, 2014) are then paraphrased in the final project.  

“...elidida en la novela, la boda cobra una presencia extraordinaria en el filme, donde es escenificada como boda negra —caracterización a la que contribuye la escenografía de funeral— en sintonía con una vinculación entre la boda y la muerte recurrente en el texto buñueliano.”

Exemple correcte In contrast to Poyato Sánchez, who suggests the wedding can be seen as representing a funeral and the death of Tristana’s freedom (Poyato, 743) given the black outfits and tearful statues, the wedding could also be seen as a positive step for Tristana; a public demonstration of empowerment.
Here, the writer has paraphrased an idea presented by another author. They have used it to support their own argument and woven it smoothly into the text by rewording the academic’s contribution to contrast their own argument. Even though the original is in a different language to the paper, the same plagiarism rules apply. The writer has once again used the MLA referencing style for their in-text citations.

Even when paraphrasing, you can still mention the author’s name and use introductory phrases to present these paraphrased ideas.

Exemple correcte Smith declares...
Smith argues that...
Smith believes that...
The work of Smith shows that...
As Smith indicates...
As Smith implies...
As Smith suggests...
Smith thinks that...
Smith addresses the fact that...

Finally, remember the difference between the Works cited (or References) section and the Bibliography: Works cited is a formatted list of all the sources cited within your text, and it can also include non-literary sources such as audiovisual media; on the other hand, the Bibliography section is a formatted list of all the sources you consulted (but did not necessarily cite) for your final project.

Editing your text 

  • General considerations

    In all the ambits, while it might be tempting to submit your final project as soon as you have inserted the final full stop, do not be so quick to forget about it completely!

    When you start planning the project, look at how much time you have before the hand-in date. Leave yourself a few days between finishing your draft and submitting the finished paper to read through your work with fresh, critical eyes. This will give you time to take a step back from your work and spot any mistakes, add important information you may have overlooked or take out anything you now deem to be redundant.

    This process is known as editing and is an essential part of publication. It might seem daunting at first, but it increases the academic quality of your work. It is much easier to criticize and make improvements to your writing than it is to create content from scratch. The bulk of the work is done, now this is your chance to polish it off.

    Finally, print out your project. This helps you see your writing with fresh eyes, as if it were written by someone else. Take a different coloured pen and do not be afraid to cross things out or add comments to the page. Visualizing the editing process before you make and save your changes will help guide you through the process.

  • Structure

    When you first start the editing process, focus on the overarching structure of the project. Make sure your discussion presents your ideas in a logical order, that it flows through your argument and leads the reader to a coherent conclusion. Do not be afraid to rearrange your paragraphs, perhaps turning two shorter paragraphs into one paragraph or cutting out unnecessary introductions to create space for more valuable content. If you do this, however, read through the project again to ensure your new order flows logically.

  • Content

    It is common to finish a draft over the word limit, but that limit exists for a reason. Concise writing is an art form, and even if you have not managed it so far, editing your work tightens up your ideas and leaves you with a clean and polished paper. Here are a few tips for this final stage:

    • Delve in a little deeper. Look at the sentences that make up your paragraphs. In Catalan and Spanish, the tendency is to write long sentences with lots of information. However, English-speaking readers are much more receptive to shorter sentences that break up the information into digestible chunks and facilitate their understanding of your argument. That being said, these are often used alongside longer, more complex sentences to make the paragraph more interesting to read and easier to understand (see Sentence variety). Look out for repetitions. Your reader will have good academic skills, so avoid explaining your points more than once, or extending your argument with redundant examples, simply to stress how important you think it is.  

    • Check your ideas against your original plan. Have you included everything you believed would be useful during your research stage? A lot of preparation has gone into this project. Make sure you have not left anything important out, but also only include the most relevant arguments in your discussion, those that will lead the reader to the clear conclusions you have drawn. Do all the points you make help answer the question or title of your paper? Everything you write should be relevant.  

    • Have another look at your introduction. It might not have been the first thing you wrote; but now you have had a chance to look at the whole text as a body of work, does your introduction do its job? Does it signpost your reader through your work? Make sure to revise it, especially if you moved things around as you edited!

  • Spelling

    Make sure your spelling is consistent throughout your paper (See Spelling at the UB for more details). Also check common spelling mistakes caused by confusion between there, their and they’re, or our and are, or it’s and its. These are common signs that you failed to proofread your work and can lead your reader to draw negative conclusions about your competence.

    Finally, always run a spelling and grammar check once you have finished writing. It may pull up some errors you missed in your own proofreading!

  • Punctuation

    Review your use of commas. Even native English speakers have trouble using commas correctly, but they can make or break your writing. One trick is to put commas where you would naturally take a pause when speaking. (Note that Purdue University offers excellent advice on using commas.) Try reading your paper aloud, which might also help you spot other mistakes, such as repetitions. Finally, consider using semicolons to join longer sentences, particularly when building an argument.  

  • Check and recheck your references

    Reference your citations correctly. Take another look at the referencing style guide recommended for your degree. Check that all your citations include the relevant information and whether they are listed as footnotes or embedded within the text itself. Check that your bibliography is listed in alphabetical order and include all the information that is relevant to the publication of each source. Again, the information you need to include will be detailed in the referencing style guide you are using.

  • Feedback

    Asking for feedback is one of the most useful ways to help improve the academic quality of your paper. If your tutor offers to read a draft of your final project, accept! After all, the tutor is the person who will be marking the final version. Once you have spent so long engaged in the writing stage, it is often difficult to see your own mistakes or spot ways in which you can improve.

    If you have already handed work in and had it marked, look at the feedback from your teachers. Are there any recurring comments? Have they given you any tips on how to structure your paper more effectively? Look at all their comments as constructive criticism and apply this to your final project. Swap your work with a classmate to get a fresh perspective. Peer learning can be very effective, especially when someone looks at your work objectively.

Natural sciences 

This part of the Guide offers practical advice about writing the most typical parts of a final project in the natural sciences. Our advice is organized into ten sections, each supported by practical examples. The sections Cover page, Acknowledgements, Table of contents, Title, Abstract and keywords, Introduction, Main body and Conclusion look at the different parts of the paper. The sections Referencing styles and Editing your text consider the paper as a whole.

Cover page 

Your supervisor will provide you with guidelines about the layout of your cover page, specifying which parts should be in English or not. Remember that at the UB, the preferred full terms for the TFG and TFM are treball final de grau and treball final de màster, respectively. In English, those are translated as the “bachelor’s degree final project” and the “master’s degree final project”.
Unless you are instructed otherwise, italicize the title of your project and capitalize the first word and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. Do not capitalize articles, conjunctions or prepositions.

Exemple correcte Determining the Effectiveness of Decontamination with Ionized Hydrogen Peroxide
Capitalize the first word of a subtitle after a colon, whatever part of speech it is.

Exemple correcte Cognition and Alertness in Medical Students: The Effects of a Single Night of Partial
Sleep Deprivation
Use roman type rather than italics for any works mentioned in the title.

Exemple correcte Assessing the Structural Characteristics of the Japanese Version of the Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit for Carers

If the entire page is in English, preserve all the diacritics in people’s names or use none.

Exemple correcte Tutor: Dr Núria González Sarrió
Supervisors: Dr Birgit Schröder and Dr Bela Vojtĕch

Exemple correcte Tutor: Dr Nuria Gonzalez Sarrio
Supervisors: Dr Birgit Schroder and Dr Bela Vojtech
Either way, respect people’s preferences with their names by preserving their use of capital and small letters and their treatment of articles, prepositions and conjunctions.

Exemple correcte Maria De La Rosa

James H. Macdonald

Karel Van de Weyde

Sander van Veen

Gemma Puig Davies

Jana Puig i Salas

Oscar Hernández-Ferrero
Finally, when two or more people appear in a single phrase or list, order them alphabetically by family name.

Exemple correcte Supervisors: Dr Juli Caubet-Puigverd and Dr Laura Ciminelli