Tips to Improve Your Business Writing

The following handouts are available as PDFs to help you improve your business writing. 

Help Structuring Your Paper/Presentation

Help with APA Formatting

Help with Writing

Help with Grammar

Help with Presentations

Help with Research


Communication truly is a process. It takes time and revision to express our thoughts clearly to others. Beginning work on a paper or presentation the night before it is due rarely results in success. Instead, break the communication task into manageable parts by using the following tips:

1.      Understand your co-communicators.

               a. Who will be reading your paper or listening to your presentation?

               b. What information do they already have and what information do they need?

               c. What might their attitude be toward the information you plan to provide?

 2.      Think about research.

               a. What information do you need to support your key points?

               b. Where can you find this information?

               c. How will you evaluate sources of information for credibility?

3.      Brainstorm ideas.

               a. Remember PEAS? This critical-thinking framework encourages you to identify a Problem, gather Evidence in                       the form of relevant facts and data, Analyze several possible solutions, and then determine the best Solution.

               b. Use a variety of techniques, including clustering, mapping, and freewriting, to organize your ideas.

4.      Create an outline.

               a. Start by identifying your thesis/claim/main idea. What is your purpose for communicating? Of what do you                         hope to convince your co-communicators?

               b. Then, identify key points you will use to support your thesis, in addition to the evidence you will need to                              support each key point.

 5.      Write a first draft.

 6.      If writing, REVISE! If presenting, PRACTICE!

               a. Do others understand your meaning?

               b. Is your work error-free?

Crafting your paper or presentation will be much easier after you take the time to develop your ideas. Once you have a first draft, be sure to have others look at it and provide feedback. BBCC coaches are an excellent resource during the revision process. Remember, successful communication only occurs when all parties reach SHARED MEANING.

Download and Print The Communication Process

Help Structuring Your Paper/Presentation


In business writing and presenting, a good introduction should tell your co-communicators three things:

  1. The issue you plan to address with your document (the issue).
  2. Your main purpose for communicating (your thesis or claim).
  3. The key points you will discuss in your document (preview statement).

Most business communication should be direct, with the main idea (thesis or claim) stated clearly in the introduction. This allows your reader to determine the importance and relevance of your document or presentation quickly.

The Attention Getter

In business writing, it is generally acceptable to leave out an attention getter for the sake of being concise. However, the attention getter is essential in business presentations. Interesting facts, relevant quotes or stories, and demonstrations are just some of the many ways to get and keep your audience’s attention. Be creative!

The Issue

Business writing should be concise, so determine your co-communicator’s familiarity with the issue before writing. Do not include more information than necessary, but do give the reader a clear idea of the issue that has motivated you to write the document or create the presentation. Remember that your document may be distributed to a wider audience than you originally anticipated.

The Thesis/Claim

It is crucial that your co-communicator understands your purpose for communicating right away. A thesis or claim is an arguable statement that you plan to introduce and/or support in the rest of your document. When writing your thesis, think about the following questions:

  • What goal do I hope to achieve by writing this document?
  • What is my purpose for communicating?
  • What is the main idea I am trying to convey?

The Preview Statement

A preview statement briefly outlines the key points you plan to use to support your thesis/claim. List the key points in your preview statement in the exact order they will appear in your paper or presentation using the same terms or phrases you will use in your paper or presentation. Tell your co-communicator what you plan to tell them before you go into detail. This lets readers know how to navigate your document and find the points that are most important to them. When giving a presentation, this preview lets your audience know the points you intend to cover, which makes keeping up with the speaker much easier for the listeners.

Download and Print Writing a Good Introduction


Paragraphs are easiest for readers to follow when they have a predictable structure. In business writing, this predictability is important because readers often have limited time. It may help to think of your paragraph as a house. First, you need to state your claim/thesis. What is the main idea? This topic sentence is the roof of your house—it needs support. The claim/thesis of every paragraph must be supported with specific evidence, just as the roof of a house needs walls for support. Finally, make sure your paragraph has a strong foundation by including a concluding statement that explains why your evidence supports your topic sentence and transitions to the topic of your next paragraph. This house metaphor is useful not just for paragraphs, but for entire papers as well.

Below are the definitions of the three essential building blocks for writing an effective paragraph and an example of how these building blocks should be used:

Building Blocks for Making an Effective Paragraph:

  • Claim/Thesis/Topic Sentence: States goal or an assertion that supports our goal
  • Grounds: Specific forms of evidence that support the claim. This evidence may be facts based on research, examples, quotes from experts, etc.
  • Warrant/Conclusion: Specifies why the grounds support the claim

An Example Paragraph:

The development of communication skills is key for both hirability and future success. (This is the thesis/claim.) All seven competencies for career readiness in college graduates identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (2016) relate to communication in some way. Employers prioritize demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across majors, like written communication, oral communication, and teamwork (Hart Research Associates, 2015). However, employers consistently report that communication competencies are “rare skills that companies want most” (Levy & Rodkin, 2015). (The preceding three sentences are the grounds/supporting evidence.) Thus, a curriculum that develops communication skills meets employer demand. (The final sentence is the warrant/conclusion.)

 Download and Print Writing an Effective Paragraph


A strong conclusion should be memorable because it is the last thing your co-communicators will read or listen to and is what they will remember most. A good conclusion will include the following elements:

 1. Restatement of your thesis/claim

  • What was your main point?
  • Why should your co-communicators care about the idea you have communicated?

2.  Synthesis (not summary) of your key points

  • How do your key points fit together to support your thesis/claim?

 3. Call to action

  • Do your co-communicators need to act on the information you have provided?
  • Can you recommend next steps for co-communicators to take?

Download and Print Writing a Strong Conclusion

Incorporating Tables and Figures into a Document

Tables and figures allow you to communicate complicated data efficiently and clearly. Tables use a column and row structure; figures can be graphs, pictures, and any other kind of illustration. Both tables and figures are useful in business writing but need to be incorporated into your document correctly.

Use the following rules from the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association 7 th Ed. (2020) to include tables and figures successfully into written documents:

1. Refer to tables/figures in the text of the paper, i.e. explain why the table/figure is significant and what key points the reader should understand from the table. Do not explain every detail because the table or figure should speak for itself.

  • In the paper, tables/figures should be located near the text you are using to discuss them. They are there to help the reader understand the purpose of the work.

2. Label tables and figures based on when they appear in the text of your document. The table mentioned first should be labeled Table 1; the table mentioned second should be labeled Table 2, and so on.  When referring to a table or figure, tell the reader for what to look, for example, “As shown in Table 1, the demographic characteristics…” (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 197). 

  • If tables/figures are included in an appendix, label them with the Appendix letter and the number that corresponds to their appearance in the appendix. The first figure in Appendix A would be labeled Figure A1; the second figure in Appendix C would be labeled Figure C2, and so on.

2. Properly cite all information contained in the tables or figures that are used.

3. Do not use a table/figure if you can briefly explain the same information using text.

4. Keep tables concise. Do not include information the readers can easily calculate themselves.

5. Keep tables and figures consistent in formats, titles, headings, and terminology.

  • Table/figure titles should be concise but should explain the basic content of the table/figure.
  • Headings should also be concise and let the reader know how the information is organized.

 Source: American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7 th ed.) American Psychological Association.

Download and Print Incorporating Tables and Figures Into a Document

Help with APA Formatting

APA Format for In-Text Citations and References

APA format is used in business and the social sciences. It is the format you are most likely to encounter in the workplace after graduation, so we use it in the JJCBE.

You must use APA format to give credit to the sources of information you used to create every paper and presentation. This is done by:

  • Using in-text citations within the text of your assignment, and 
  • Listing all cited sources on a References page at the end of your assignment.

You must cite a source or reference when:

  • You use a direct quote, or 
  • You paraphrase and use ideas, opinions, theories, etc. that are not your own, or the information is not common knowledge. If you find information in more than three sources, it is considered common knowledge.

In-Text Citations

In-Text Citation (direct quote)

When quoting material directly, place the name(s) of the author(s), the publication date,and the specific page number, paragraph number for webpages, or timestamp for video or podcast.

  • With page number: (Smith, 2001, p. 7).
  • Website with paragraph number: (Brown, 2016, para. 7).
  • Podcast with timestamp: (Raz, 2019, 4:12).

The citation appears immediately following the quoted material; e.g., 

      The CEO stated, "The business enjoyed the highest profits in the third quarter due to a new management style"                (Smith, 2001, p. 7). 

In-Text Citation (paraphrase)

When referring to or summarizinig ideas, opinions, and information not commonly known, place the name(s) of the author(s) and the publication date within the parentheses directly following the paraphrase; e.g., 

     The CEO of the company attributed the increasing third quarter profits of the business to the implementation of a           new style of management (Smith, 2001).

In-Text Citation (when using a signal phrase naming the author)

When the author is named in the narrative (in a signal phrase), there is no need to repeat the author's name in the in-text citation. Cite only the publication date--and a page or paragraph number if directly quoting--within the parentheses; e.g., 

     Smith (2001) noted that the business was successful in the third quarter.

     Smith (2001) pointed out that the CEO stated, "The business enjoyed the highest profits in the third quarter due to a       new management style" (p. 7).

Handling Multiple Authors in In-Text Citations

There are varied formats for in-text citations when citing multiple authors.

Single Author or Two Authors

When a source is written by one or two authors, list all authors in every in-text citations or signal phrase. The following examples represent in-text citations for paraphrased  information. Remember to include page/paragraph numbers when citing direct quotes.

     One Author, every citation: (Skloot, 2010)

     Two Authors, every citation: (Porter & Kramer, 2011)


Three or More Authors

When a source is written by three or more authors, list the first author followed by “et al.” in every citation.

            Every citation: (Teunissen et al., 2017)


No Author?

When you cannot find an author of a source, use the publishing organization as the source whenever possible. Organizations frequently publish information and updates without giving credit to the specific person who wrote the content.

            Publishing organization as author: (Montana State University, 2016)


Still No Author?

Very rarely, there will be no author or publishing source; for example, an article may have been written by an Associated Press reporter and published by multiple news outlets that have listed only “Associated Press” as the author. If the author and publishing source are not clear, use a few words of the source’s title in quotation marks in place of the author. The following pages contain specific examples.

            Title as author: (“All 33 Chile miners,” 2010)


List of References

Use the heading "References" for the complete list of references, which appears on a separate page at the end of your paper. (See the References list at the end of this paper for an example.)

  • All the sources you cited in your paper should be in your list of references. The exception is personal communication, which is not included in the References list.
  • Organize the references list alphabetically by authors' last names.
  • Double space your references list and use a hanging indent on the second and subsequent lines of each entry.

Handling Multiple Authors in References List Entries

There are varied formats for references entries when citing multiple authors.

One to Twenty Authors

When a source is written by one to twenty authors, list all authors in the Reference list entry.


Griffin, D.J., Bolkan, S., Holmgren, J.L., & Tutzauer, F. (2016). Central journals and authors in communication using a                publication network. Scientometrics, 106(1), 91-104. doi: 10.1007/s11192-015-1774-4

More than Twenty Authors

When a source is written by more than 20 authors, list the first 19 authors; then, use an ellipsis (…) to replace all but the last author’s name. Twenty names should be listed.

Download and Print APA Format for In-Text Citations and References

APA Formatting and Capitalization Considerations

 The format of your reference entries depends heavily on the type of source you are referencing. Specific examples are provided in the following pages; first, it is important to consider some consistencies in the formatting of APA reference entries.

APA reference entries contain:

  • Authors' last names and first initials; e.g., Liotta, D.
  • Publication date; e.g. (2016, February 11).
  • Source Title and Publisher Name/Publication Source:
    • The title of the stand-alone (major) source should be in italics.
    • Format varies based on two factors:
      • independence of source (stand-alone or part of a greater whole)
      • location of title mention (in-text or on References list)

Formatting Source Titles In-Text and on the References List


Titles in the text of your paper are written in title case: All major words are capitalized.

Titles on your References list are written in sentence case: Only the first word, proper nouns, and words after a colon or em-dash are capitalized.

Stand-Alone Source

Titles are italicized both in the text of your paper and on your References list.

e.g., book, e-book, periodicals, report [technical, government, etc.], dissertation, film, video, podcast, YouTube video, etc.

Used in the text of your paper:

In The Immortal LIfe of Henrietta Lacks, Skloot (2010) explored...

Used on your References list:

Book: Skloot, R. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Random House.

Journal Article: Porter, M.E., & Kramer, M.R. (2011). Creating shared value. Harvard Business Review, 89(2). 62-77.


Source is Part of a Greater Whole

Titles of sources that are part of a greater whole are NOT italicized. They are placed in double quotation marks only when used in in-text citations or the text of your paper.

e.g., journal article, book chapter, newspaper or magazine article, blog post, webpage, tweet, Facebook update, etc.

Used in the text of your paper:

In his "Misbelief" blog post, Seth Godin (2017) stated...

Used on your References list:

Godin, S. (2017, April 1). Misbelief. Seth's Blog.                                                                                                              

Download and Print APA Formatting and Capitalization Considerations

APA Examples for Specific Types of Sources


Website with Named Author(s)

If you can identify the name(s) of the individual author(s) of the material on the website, list the name(s) as the authors.


Ceniza-Levine, C. (2019, November 17). Seven job interview mistakes you probably don’t realize you’re making. Forbes.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (Ceniza-Levine, 2019).

Website with Known Source but No Named Author

Often, you know the company or entity who owns a website, but you don’t know the name of the person who wrote the material. Use the name of the entity that created the site as your author. Do not repeat the organization’s name in the source element (after the title).


Montana State University. (n.d.). Bracken Business Communications Clinic.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (Montana State University, n.d.)

Another Example:

The Walt Disney Company. (2016). Recent news.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (The Walt Disney Company, 2016)

Website with Unknown Author

Occasionally you may find a source that does not have an author. When that happens, use the title in place of the author. For example, you might find a news story written by an unknown Associated Press author, in which case the reference page entry would look like this:

All 33 Chile miners freed in flawless rescue. (2010, October 13). Retrieved from                                                                        

*Corresponding in-text citation: ("All 33 Chile miners," 2010).



Format: Author, A. (publication date). Title of message. Title of Blog. http://url

Example Reference Page Entry:

Becker, D. (2016, September 21). How to cite a YouTube comment. APA Style Blog.                                           

*Corresponding in-text citation: (Becker, 2016)


Crowdfunding Sites

Consult the BBCC or the APA Publication Manual for information on how to cite other forms of social media.

Format: Author, A. (publication date). Title of webpage. Name of crowdfunding site. http://url

Example Reference Page Entry:

Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration. (n.d.). New robot to explore the depths of Yellowstone Lake.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, n.d.)


Journal Articles

Journal Article (electronic - no doi: digital object identifier)

Format: Author, A. (publication date). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number(issue number), page numbers of                         the article. https://URL


Porter, M.E., & Kramer, M.R. (2011). Creating shared value. Harvard Business Review, 89(2). 62-77.           

Journal Article (electronic with doi)

Format: Author, A. (publication date). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number(issue number), page numbers of                          the article.

*When citing the doi, there is no need to include a URL.


Porter, M.E., & Kramer, M.R. (2011). Creating shared value. Harvard Business Review, 89(2). 62-77.      10.3692/72004

Journal Article (print)

Format: Author, A. (publication date). Title of article. Title of Journal, volume number(issue number), page numbers of                          the article.


Porter, M.E., & Kramer, M.R. (2011). Creating shared value. Harvard Business Review, 89(2). 62-77.

*Corresponding In-text Citations for all three journal article examples:

   (Porter & Kramer, 2011) paraphrase

   (Porter & Kramer, 2011, p. 214) direct quote



Format: Author, A. (publication date). Title of work. Publishing Company.


Skloot, R. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Random House, Inc.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (Skloot, 2010).



Format: Author, A. (publication date). Title of video [Format description]. Production company or Publisher. https://URL

*This example shows how to use a video timestamp in an in-text citation to cite a direct quote from a video.

Example in-text citations:

(Liotta, 2016) paraphrase

(Liotta, 2016, 3:03) direct quote

3:03 is the video timestamp at which the cited information begins. A range may also be used, e.g., 3:03 - 3:45.

Example Reference list entry:

Liotta, D. (2016, February 11). How to fight Zika and other neglected diseases [Video file].                     



Format: Host, H. (Host). (Date). Title of episode [Audio podcast episode]. In Title of  Podcast. Publisher. https://URL         


Raz, G. (Host). (2019, November 4). FUBU: Daymond John [Audio podcast episode]. In How I Built This with Guy Raz.     NPR.

*Corresponding In-text Citations:

(Raz, 2019) paraphrase

(Raz, 2019, 24:13) direct quote

24:13 is the timestamp at which the cited information begins. A range may also be used; e.g., 24:13 – 25:12.


PLEASE NOTE: The date and titles of episode and podcast in the above reference citation should be changed to list the specific podcast you are writing about.

Download and Print APA Examples for Specific Types of Sources

How to Cite Websites

It is confusing to try to figure out how to cite websites in your papers, so here are some guidelines that should help:

Website with Named Author(s)

If you can identify the name(s) of the individual author(s) of the material on the website, list the name(s) as the authors. Example:

Ceniza-Levine, C. (2019, November 17). Seven job interview mistakes you probably don’t realize you’re making. Forbes.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (Ceniza-Levine, 2019).

Website with Known Source but No Named Author

Often, you know the company or entity who owns a website, but you don’t know the name of the person who wrote the material. Use the name of the entity that created the site as your author. Do not repeat the organization’s name in the source element (after the title).


Montana State University. (n.d.). Bracken Business Communications Clinic.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (Montana State University, n.d.)

Another Example:

The Walt Disney Company. (2016). Recent news.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (The Walt Disney Company, 2016)

Website with Unknown Author

Rarely, you may find a source that does not have an author. When that happens, use the title in place of the author. For example, you might find a news story written by an unknown Associated Press author, in which case the reference page entry would look like this:


All 33 Chile miners freed in flawless rescue. (2010, October 13). MSNBC.

*Corresponding in-text citation: (“All 33 Chile miners,” 2010).

 Download and Print How to Cite a Website

How to Cite Interviews, E-mail Messages, and Other Personal Communication

Personal interviews, whether conducted in person, by e-mail, or by telephone, need to be cited within the text of your paper. However, because the information cannot be found later by a reader, personal communication is NOT included on your References page.

There are two ways to cite a personal interview, depending on whether the name of the person being interviewed is mentioned in your writing:

  1. If you do not use the name of the person you interviewed in your writing, include it in your citation. Note that only the first initial and last name are necessary. For example:

After interviewing my grandfather, I learned that starting a new business can be very expensive (G. Robertson, personal communication, September 28, 2015).

  1. If you do use the name of the person you interviewed in your writing, you do not need to include it in your citation. For example:

 According to Gordon Robertson (personal communication, September 28, 2015), starting a new business can be very expensive.

 ** Please note that the APA recommends keeping all notes and e-mail correspondence from personal interviews in case your accuracy is questioned.

 Download and Print How to Cite Interviews, E-mail Messages, and Other Personal Communication

Sample APA References List


All 33 Chile miners freed in flawless rescue. (2010, October 13). NBC News. 



American Psychological Association. (2019). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th

     ed.). American Psychological Association.


Griffin, D.J., Bolkan, S., Holmgren, J.L., & Tutzauer, F. (2016). Central journals and authors in communication

     using a publication network. Scientometrics, 106(1), 91-104.


Godin, S. (2017, April 2). Misbelief. Seth's Blog.


Liotta, D. (2016, February 11). How to fight Zika and other neglected diseases [Video]. YouTube. 8C_YhSQ


Montana State University. (2016a). Allen Yarnell Center for Student Success: MSU student professional development


     program. aycss/careers/students/professionalskills.html


Montana State University. (2016b). Bracken Business Communications Clinic: Writing an effective paragraph. business/bracken/bbcc/ documents/paragraph-handout.pdf


NOTE: The use of 'a’ and ‘b’ following dates is to differentiate works by the same author in the same year.


Porter, M.E., & Kramer, M.R. (2011). Creating shared value. Harvard Business Review, 89(2), 62-77.


Skloot, R. (2010). The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. Random House.

Download and Print Sample APA References List

Help with Writing


Good business communication is clear and concise. Our attention span is short (about 8 seconds!), and most people will not continue to read or listen if the main point is not immediately clear.

Direct Approach

Structure most arguments using a direct approach. State your thesis/claim in the introductory paragraph. Then, support that thesis/claim with evidence. Finally, craft a conclusion that restates your thesis/claim, synthesizes your supporting evidence, and recommends next steps if necessary.

Indirect Approach

If you are delivering bad news or communicating with an audience who is not likely to agree with you, you may want to use an indirect approach. With this structure, you build to your thesis/claim by stating your supporting evidence first. For example, if you had to fire someone, you would first discuss their poor work performance and then tell them that they are fired (your thesis/claim). This approach should be used only when necessary.

Active Voice

Sentences constructed using active voice make it clear to the reader or listener who or what is performing the action in the sentence. These sentences follow the conventional subject-verb-object construction. This type of sentence is easiest to understand and is the preferred structure for business communication.

Example: Sally (subject) visited (verb) the BBCC (object) for help on her presentation.

Passive Voice

Sentences constructed using passive voice are harder to understand and should be avoided in business communication. In passive sentences, the noun performing the action in the sentence is unclear.

Example: The BBCC was visited.

In this sentence, the subject is not clear. The reader is left wondering who visited the BBCC.

Download and Print Using a Direct Approach and Active Voice


There are a number of words that can be easily confused. Using these words incorrectly can damage your credibility, thereby making your message less effective. If you aren’t sure of a word’s meaning, look it up in the dictionary! Below are examples of commonly misused words.

Accept means to take.

Except means to leave out.


Advise is a verb.

Advice is a noun.


Affect is a verb.

Effect is a noun.


Capitol refers to a building that houses government or legislature.

Capital refers to wealth or property used to generate wealth.


Complement means to complete.

Compliment means to say something nice to someone.


Council refers to a governing or advising group.

Counsel as a noun means advice or refers to a legal advocate, or as a verb means to advise.


Desert means to abandon or means a dry area.

Dessert refers to sweet food.


Discreet means hush-hush or private.

Discrete means separate, divided, or distinct.


Insure means to protect against loss or harm.

Ensure means to make certain.

Assure means to promise.


Principle refers to a rule for appropriate conduct.

Principal refers to a school leader or a capital sum distinct from profit or interest.


Site means a location or place.

Cite means to quote or reference something else.


Stationary means immobile.

Stationery refers to paper used for letters.

 Download and Print Commonly Misused Words


Paraphrasing is the go-to method of using somebody else’s words and ideas without direct quoting, but with the required in-text citations and reference at the end of the paper.

Using paraphrasing correctly shows that you have a good grasp of other people’s ideas and are able to use YOUR OWN WORDS to express them.

To paraphrase, you should consider the original passage, note the key words, and then use synonyms and different grammatical phrases to change words so that the passage looks different, but you keep the same meaning.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to paraphrase a quote or a passage.

Step 1. Read the passage and take notes on the key words and ideas.

Step 2. Remove the passage from your view.

Step 3. Rewrite the passage in your own words:

  •   Use synonyms
  •   Use different word forms
  •   Use different sentence structure

Step 4. Lay the original passage and your paraphrase side by side. Is there a part of the original (longer than 2 words) that appears in your paraphrase? Would a Google search of your paraphrase bring up the original document?

  •   Yes: repeat step 3
  •   No: move to step 5

Step 5. While looking at both your paraphrase and the original, check that they have the same meaning. If not, make corrections.

Step 6. Add in-text citation to your paraphrase. Include full citation in References section.

Here’s an illustration. Let’s paraphrase a famous quote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” attributed to Einstein.  I can identify the key words (imagination, knowledge), and find synonyms or other word forms for them. I can also change the structure of the sentence and the order, but not the logic, of the ideas.

Here’s a possible example of a paraphrase:

  • According to Einstein, knowing something is not as vital as being able to imagine it.

Notice, I changed the grammar: now “knowledge" comes first in the sentence, and “imagine” comes last. Also, I changed the part of speech: knowledge (noun) becomes knowing (gerund); imagination (noun) becomes to imagine (verb).

Note also that I mentioned the name Einstein in the sentence, indicating that this idea is attributed to him, thus making an in-text citation.

Voila! You have a good paraphrase.

Download and Print Paraphrasing


Choose e-mail as a communication medium when:

  • You need to communicate a written message immediately.
  • You desire convenience or you are away from your office.
  • You need a permanent record.
  • You need to disburse your message to a wide audience.
  • You have a message that does not exceed one screen.

To maintain professionalism and to communicate accurately and clearly, follow these guidelines when you compose your e-mail.

  • Use a clear, detailed, and descriptive subject heading.
  • Keep your e-mail content geared to the subject heading. Cover only one topic.
  • Use appropriate, professional greetings and sign-offs.
  • Set up e-mail to insert automatically a signature block with your full name, your title, and your full contact information.
  • Copy the original e-mail into the reply when replying to an e-mail.
  • Keep the e-mail brief, but cover the topic. Aim for no longer than one screen length.
  • Use clearly labeled attachments to share supplemental information of more detailed information.
  • Use business language and correct grammar, punctuation, and capitalization.
  • Use single space, but double-space between paragraphs.
  • Use straightforward language; avoid sarcasm or humor, which do not translate clearly without a nonverbal cue like a wink or a vocal cue like tone of voice or inflection. Avoid smiley faces and emoticons to attempt to convey sarcasm or humor.
  • Edit and proofread your e-mail before sending.

Drawbacks of electronic communication are largely due to:

  • Lack of nonverbal cues, which help communicate meaning.
  • Lack of privacy.
  • Broken topic threads.
  • Lack of immediate feedback.
  • Time delays in the send/receive process, which add layers of confusion.

Download and Print Competent Email Communication

Effective Use of Bullet Points in Business Writing

Business writing must be concise, well organized, and formatted to ensure ease when scanning a document for important information. Bullet points can help business writers organize and emphasize information quickly and effectively. Consider the document’s purpose and its intended audience when deciding how best to convey the information using bullet points or other business formatting.

Effective bullet points rely on strong headings within a document. The effective use of headings signals the type of information your bullet points will cover, helps the reader identify key areas of information, and improves the reader’s ability to scan for pertinent topics of interest.

The effective use of bullet points in business writing can help highlight important information, direct the reader to themed lists, and improve a document’s overall readability. These simple tips provide a guide for using bullet points successfully in business writing.

The purpose of bullet points:

  • Draws attention to important information
  • Improves the ability of the reader to scan information easily
  • Communicates information efficiently

How to use bullet points:

  • Keep bullet pointed information short; each element in the list should be no more than two lines in length.
  • Use parallel form when constructing bulleted lists. For example, use the same part of speech to begin each bullet.
  • Make all bullet points approximately the same length and ensure that the format is consistent within each list.
  • Use a strong heading to group related items together.
  • Use the same font and margin width for each bullet point.
  • Use periods at the end of each line only if they are complete sentences.

As with any formatting technique, overusing bullet points will detract from the overall goal in writing and formatting a business document. Bullet points should highlight important information only. Use them wisely to emphasize key information within the text.

Download and Print Effective Use of Bullet Points

Proofreading: The Final Step

You have typed the last line of your paper. What’s next? Before turning in a written assignment, be sure to proofread it for any spelling or grammatical errors.

  1. Start the proofreading process by using your computer’s spell check and grammar check. One word of caution: Do not stop here. Spell check does not catch everything. Using these computer functions is a great way to begin proofreading, but there are other steps to follow.
  1. Print out a copy of your document. Read it aloud. Do you notice any errors? Do any of the sentences sound awkward? If so, make the necessary corrections. (See BBCC handout, “10 Most Common Writing Errors.”)
  1. Read through the printed copy of your paper one more time. Use your pen like a cursor to mark your spot on the page and move slowly, reading word by word. Change any errors.
  1. You may want to read each sentence backward too. This slows down your mind’s ability to “read” a word correctly even when there is an error. It forces you to look at each word individually.

What to Check As You Proofread:

  • Does each sentence contain a subject and a verb?
  • Is there punctuation at the end of each sentence?
  • Can each sentence in a paragraph stand by itself? Does it have clear meaning?
  • Check the text for misspellings and wrong word usage (too/to, its/it’s, effect/affect).
  • Check for typos.
  • Look for missing or misplaced apostrophes (See BBCC handout, “Plurals and Possessives”).
  • Watch for an overuse of pronouns (he or she, instead of a person’s name).
  • Look for missing or misplaced commas (See BBCC handout, “Comma Rules”).

 Download and Print Proofreading: The Final Step

Help with Grammar



  • are descriptive words that modify nouns.
  • usually (but not always) come before the noun.
  • often answer the questions:
    • Which? How many?       What kind?       

In the following examples, adjectives are italicized:

            good dog      seven trees    big truck    best college    daring rescue

Rarely, adjectives come after the noun; e.g., when following forms of “to be” and sense verbs.

The pizza looks delicious.    She feels hungry.       The sauce tastes spicy.

Demonstrative Adjectives

  • identify specific nouns.
  • indicate objects in close proximity (this, these), or
  • indicate objects at a distance (that, those).         

              this book    these shoes    that turkey    those cars

Compound Adjectives

  • consist of two or more words working together to modify a noun.
  • must be hyphenated.

            Face-to-face communication    data-sharing system    free-range chickens


  • are descriptive words that modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.
  • Often answer the questions:
    • When? Where?       How?       Why?

In the following examples, adverbs are bold and adjectives are italicized.

            spoke more slowly    runs fast    extremelykind    reallybad    thoroughly explained


Note: “Good” and “bad” are adjectives, whereas “well” and “badly” are adverbs.

             I am good.    I am doing well.    The grizzly smells bad.    He sings badly.

(*If the grizzly smells badly, then the grizzly does not have a good sense of smell.)

Download and Print Adjectives and Adverbs


The English language uses articles to identify nouns. Articles act much like adjectives. Articles clarify whether a noun is specific or general, singular or plural.  An article appears before the noun it accompanies.

There are two types of articles

  • Definite article: the
  • Indefinite article: a, an.

General rules

  • Place the article before the noun.

                e.g., the house    the cat     a dog    a book

  • Place the article before the adjective when the noun is modified by an adjective.

                e.g., the purple house    the black cat     a white dog    an open book < Correct

             the house purple  or   a dog white < Incorrect

  • Do not add an article when the noun has a possessive pronoun (my, his, her, our, their) or a demonstrative pronoun (this, that).

                e.g.,  my house   her book   that house   this book < Correct

                        the my house  or  the this book < Incorrect


  • Use the to identify specific or definite nouns: nouns that represent things, places, ideas, or persons that can be identified specifically.
  • Use the with both singular and plural definite nouns.

                 e.g., the house    the houses   the business   the businesses      

  • Use the to identify things, places, ideas, or persons that represent a specific or definite group or category.

                  e.g., The students in Professor Smith’s class should study harder.

               The automobile revolutionized travel and industry.           

                (the automobile identifies a specific category of transportation)


  • Use a or an to identify nouns that are not definite and not

Think of a and an as meaning any or one among many.

                e.g., a book  (any book)  a dog (any dog)   a cat (one cat)   a house (one among many houses)

  • Use a or an only for singular
  • Do not use an article for a plural, indefinite noun.

Think of a plural, indefinite noun as meaning all.

                 e.g., Students should study hard.  (All students should study hard.)

When to use a and when to use an

  • Choose when to use a or an according to the sound of the noun that follows it.
  • Use a before consonant sounds.

                e.g.,   a book    a dog

  • Use a before a sounded h, a long u, and  o with the sound of w.

                e.g., a hat   a house    a union    a uniform   a one-hour appointment

  • Use an before vowel sounds (except long u).

                e.g., an asset   an essay   an index    an onion   an umbrella  

  • Use an when h is not sounded

                e.g., an honor    an hour

NOTE:  Computerized grammar checkers do not indicate missing or misused articles. Therefore, you cannot depend on a computer grammar checker to alert you to missing or misused articles.

 Download and Print Definite and Indefinite Articles

THE COLON  ( : )

A sentence is punctuated with a period, which appears at the end of the sentence.

One may encounter other forms of punctuation within a sentence: commas, semi-colons, and colons.

  • The colon shares a key on the computer keyboard with the semi-colon.
  • Similar to the semi-colon, the colon links two parts of a sentence.
  • Unlike the semi-colon, the colon does not indicate a full stop; rather, the colon signals an immediate and logical link between two parts of a sentence.
  • The colon follows an independent clause and introduces a statement or list that clarifies or explains the independent clause.

Use a colon

  • to introduce a list, but only if the list is introduced by an independent clause (a clause that can stand on its own).

              e.g., There were four ingredients in the soup: tomatoes, beans, celery, and carrots. < Correct   

        The four ingredients in the soup were: tomatoes, beans, celery, and carrots. < Incorrect 

  • to link two independent clauses when the second clause explains, clarifies, or summarizes the first clause and there is NO coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, yet, so, for) or transitional phrase between the two clauses.

                e.g., The soup is easy to prepare: It requires only four ingredients.  < Correct

                        The soup is easy to prepare: and it requires only four ingredients. < Incorrect

                        The soup is easy to prepare: requiring only four ingredients. < Incorrect

Rules for capitalization following a colon

Do capitalize the first word following the colon when

  • the second clause is a formal rule or requires emphasis.

                 e.g., We all try to follow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  • the second part of the sentence contains an independent clause and the first part of the sentence serves to introduce the second part.

                  e.g., Copernicus made a startling discovery: The earth revolves around the sun.

  • the material following the colon consists of two sentences or more.

                  e.g., There are several advantages to getting a head start on writing a paper: First, you have plenty of time to                            revise. Second, you have time to work with a coach at the BBCC.

  • the colon is used following a short introductory word.

                  e.g., Note:  All travel expenses will be paid.

Do not capitalize the first word following the colon

  • if the second clause illustrates or explains the first clause. (See example above)
  • if the material in the second part of the sentence cannot stand alone. (See example above)

Additional uses for the colon

  • Use a colon to punctuate the greeting in a business letter.   e.g., Dear Ms. Martin:         
  • Use a colon to introduce a long quote that is set apart from the text.
  • Use a colon following each guide word in a memo heading. e.g., TO: Ms. Kim

Download and Print Colon Rules


A sentence is punctuated with a period, which appears at the end of the sentence. Within a sentence, one may encounter other forms of punctuation: commas, semi-colons, and colons.

Commas separateitems and enclose or set off items from the main content of a sentence. A misplaced comma can change the intended meaning of a sentence.  Commas are also used after a phrase introducing a short quote.


Use commas to separate

  • 3 or more nouns, phrases, or clauses in a series.
  • 2 or more adjectives in a series that modify the same noun (2 or more “coordinate” adjectives).

      Note:  Use a comma before and to clarify the last or final item in a series is a separate item.                                        

           Known as the Oxford comma, it prevents unintended misstatements.

           e.g., The job required answering phones, cleaning and serving customers.

                    Unclear : Here, the job required cleaning customers.

                   The job required answering phones, cleaning, and serving customers. 

                    Clear : The comma clarifies that cleaning does not refer to customers.  

  • introductory words, phrases, or commands from the rest of the sentence.

         e.g., Yes, please call.

           Please remember, all papers are due tomorrow.

           Unfortunately, our speaker will be late.  

  • independent clauses (clauses that can stand on their own) that are joined by a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet).

           e.g., The pitcher threw the ball quickly to first base, but the base runner was safe.

                   The pilots fly the plane, and the flight attendants oversee in-flight safety.

                   The computer screens were not delivered, so we were all unhappy.

Do not use a comma to separate

  • the 2 parts of a compound predicate: one single subject and 2 predicates. A predicate consists of a verb or a word group containing a verb that describes what the subject does.

             e.g., He made a peanut butter sandwich and ate it before leaving the house.  (no comma)

                      Jane wrote the letter and mailed it immediately. (no comma)


A pair of commas works like a pair of parentheses.

Use commas to enclose and set off

  • nonessential phrases: phrases that may enhance meaning, but are not essential to the meaning or the grammatical structure of the sentence.

            e.g., We can review the meeting agenda over breakfast or, if your time is limited, over the          


  • a phrase that interrupts the flow of the sentence.

            e.g.,  Her new book is better written, though less thrilling, than her last book.

                     Taking a bus is the cheapest, though not the fastest, way to get there.

  • an appositive (a modifying phrase used to identify a noun).

            e.g., MSU, located in the Gallatin Valley of Montana, has a great football team.

                    Jane, president of the student advisory club, introduced the speaker.

NEVER use a comma

  • to separate a subject and its predicate (verb) in a sentence.

            e.g.,The distinguished professor of accounting, looked on as her student received the award.                   

                Incorrect: No comma after “professor of accounting.”

                The person we plan to hire for the new position is Sara Bellum. 

                Correct: No comma after “is.”

               Anyone who contributes will earn intangible rewards.

               Correct: Here, a noun clause is the subject, so there is no comma after “anyone who contributes.”

  • to connect two independent clauses when there is no conjunction.

              e.g., Complete the writing assignment by Friday, I must have it corrected by    


             Incorrect: Here, the coma creates a run on sentence.

            Complete the writing assignment by Friday. I must have it corrected by Monday.

            Correct : Make 2 sentences and use a period to punctuate both sentences.

Download and Print The Comma


Often, extra words or phrases modify the meaning of a primary word or clause, answering questions of Why? Which one? When? and How? These modifiers usually have to be near the primary word(s). Otherwise, misinterpretation can occur.

Occasionally some modifiers do not work with the rest of the sentence because they are in the wrong place (too far from the word/phrase they modify) and/or are ambiguous.

  • Ambiguous preposition phrases:

           Example: At the mountain pass, I saw a girl with binoculars.

    What is the meaning of this sentence for you? Is it a. or b. (below)? Or is it both? This sentence is ambiguous!

               a. I was using binoculars to see, and by this way I observed a girl.

               b. I observed a girl who was wearing/using binoculars.

  • Ambiguous reduced adverb clauses:

           Example: While getting up, the alarm clock went off again.

Incorrect: Grammatically, here, it is the alarm clock who is getting up. The subject of the main clause (alarm clock) becomes the implicit subject of the reduced adverbial clause (while getting up). If the explicit and the implicit subjects are not the same, the sentence does not make sense.

To fix this, you can add a subject to the introductory clause, “While I was getting up, the alarm clock went off again.”

           Example: While drinking coffee, I had a cookie.

Correct: Grammatically, the interpretation is, “I had a cookie, and I was drinking coffee.” The implicit and the explicit subjects match.

  • Misplaced relative clauses

Example: The hiker met a grizzly bear who was having lunch.

Who was having lunch? The hiker? Or the bear? The “bear” interpretation comes to mind easier. However, is this what the sentence really tries to mean? Do bears eat lunch? How do we know which meal of the day they are eating? It is likely that the hiker was the one having lunch.

To fix this, move the relative clause next to the primary word that it modifies, “The hiker who was having lunch met a grizzly bear.”

Download and Print Misplaced Modifiers


Both plurals and possessives (ownership) require an s at the end of a noun, but only the possessive requires an apostrophe () in addition to thes


General Rule

Add an s to the singular noun form:

          e.g.,  house—houses   idea—ideas   club—clubs       fund—funds   menu—menus  flight—flights

Exceptions to the general rule

  • For a singular noun ending in s, x, ch, sh, or z, add es to form the plural.

           e.g., virus—viruses  tax—taxes  match—matches   dish—dishes  business—businesses


 Note: When the ch sounds like a k, just add an s.

           e.g., stomach—stomachs.


  • For a singular noun ending in y that is preceded by a consonant, change the y to i and add es.

             e.g., city—cities  country—countries  policy—policies   proxy—proxies   copy—copies   


  • For a singular noun ending in o that is preceded by a consonant
  • sometimes you add an s: g., zero—zeros   photo—photos
  • sometimes you add an es: g., potato—potatoes   hero—heroes
  • For singular nouns ending in f, fe, or ff
  • sometimes you add an e.g., safe—safes  tariff—tariffs  belief—beliefs
  • sometimes you change f or fe to ve and then add an

              e.g., wife—wives   thief—thieves   leaf—leaves   life--lives 

  • For lower case letters, add an apostrophe followed by an s.

              e.g.,dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s


Nouns with irregular plurals

  • Some nouns are simply irregular and their plurals must be learned.

              e.g., woman—women    man—men   deer—deer   moose—moose   goose—geese  

                      mouse—mice       foot—feet

  • Some nouns derive from Latin or Greek and their plurals must be learned.

              e.g., index—indices   syllabus—syllabi   curriculum—curricula   criterion—criteria


  • For abbreviations that are capitalized, just add a lower case s. e.g., VIPs, PCs, MDs.

 Do not hesitate to consult a dictionary to double check whether you are using the correct plural form.  


The possessive form of a noun indicates ownership. To form a possessive, add an apostrophe followed by an s.  If the noun ends with an s, generally just add an apostrophe ().

General Rule

To make a singular or plural noun possessive, add an apostrophe followed by an s.

          e.g., my uncle’s hat     Montana’s mountains     the boy’s hand    the children’s toys

                  Joe’s car      

Rules for nouns ending in s

  • Use the sound of the word to form its possessive.
    • If the s is silent, just add an apostrophe.

                       e.g., Illinois’ highways   the corps’ leader


  • If a new syllable is created when the possessive is pronounced, add an apostrophe followed by an

               e.g., the boss’s approval   Dallas’s airport    Congress’s vote


  • If adding a syllable makes the word difficult to pronounce, add only an apostrophe.

               e.g., Texas’ panhandle   Moses story    goodnesssake


  • To make a plural noun ending in s or espossessive, add only an apostrophe.

              e.g., witnesses’ testimonies              attorneys’ fees     agencies’ rules   boys’ habits

                      heroes’ awards     knives’ handles   committees’ agendas

Note: Do not mistake the contraction it’s (it is) for the possessive pronoun its.

Download and Print Plurals and Possessives


Basic Rules

  • A pronoun takes the place of a specific noun.
  • Examples of pronouns include I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, him, her, us, them, hers, his, who, whom, whose, which, etc.
  • The original noun that the pronoun replaces is called the antecedent.
  • Pronouns must have clear antecedents.
  • Pronouns help with the flow of one’s writing by pointing to something or someone (the

           original noun or antecedent) already mentioned or named.

  • Pronouns make writing concise by eliminating the need to repeat the antecedent.

Note: Sometimes it is necessary to repeat the antecedent to make the meaning clear.

  • Like nouns, pronouns function as subjects or objects in sentences.
  • Pronouns change form according to
    • whether they are feminine or masculine.
    • whether they are singular or plural.
    • how they function in the sentence (subject, object, or possessive).


Agreement in Gender

  • If the antecedent is feminine, the pronoun must be feminine; if the antecedent is masculine, the pronoun must be masculine.

                e.g., When Natasha met Boris, she gave him a gift.

  • Situations often arise in which the gender of the antecedent is unclear. When this happens, use the singular “they” or one of its variant forms (e.g., their) to avoid making gender-based assumptions.

           e.g., A student left their homework on the table.

  • When the gender of the antecedent in unclear, do not use “he/she” or “he or she” instead of the singular “they.”  Using he/she or him/her implies that gender is binary and can be offensive to those who do not identify with these binary gender constructs. If you do not like using the singular “they,” rewrite your sentence to avoid the use of pronouns.

Agreement in Number

  • If the antecedent is singular, the pronoun must be singular; if the antecedent is plural, the pronoun must be plural.

                e.g., Harry wanted to see the movie, but he stayed home instead. àCorrect

                        Harry: masculine, singular;  he: masculine, singular.

               e.g., A student must study hard if they want to succeed. àCorrect

                       student: singular, gender unknown;   they: singular, gender unknown.

               e.g., Students must study hard if they want to succeed. àCorrect

                       students: plural, gender unknown;    they: plural, gender unknown

Both of the above examples are correct because “they” can be plural or singular, but it should act as a singular word ONLY when the gender of the antecedent is unknown or does not fit the he/she binary.


Agreement in Form/Case

  • The form/case of the pronoun must reflect how it functions in the sentence.
  • If the pronoun acts as the subject it takes the nominative form/case.
  • If the pronoun acts as the object, it takes the objective (accusative) form/case.
  • If the pronoun reflects ownership, it takes the possessive (genitive) form /case.


                                          PRONOUN FORMS AND CASES



Nominative Form              Objective Form                   Possessive Form  


I                                                  Me                                        My, mine  



You                                           You                                       Your, yours    



She, he, they, it                     Her, him, them, it                Hers, his, their, its



We                                             Us                                         Our, ours



You                                           You                                        Your, yours



They                                          Them                                     Their, theirs   


Nominative forms:  I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they  

  • Use the nominative form if the pronoun functions as the subject of the sentence or clause.
  • Use the nominative form when the pronoun follows a to be verb.

                 e.g., John always thinks before he speaks.   (John = subject: nominative form, he)

                         She and I went shopping.  (She and I = subject: nominative form)

                        The Nobel Prize winner was she.  (nominative form follows is, a to beverb)

                        They decided to go skiing today.  (They = subject (can be singular or plural): nominative form)

Objective (Accusative) forms:  me, you, him, her, it, us, you, them

  • Use the objective form if the pronoun is a direct or indirect object.

               e.g., The doctor spoke with my husband and me(me = object: objective form)

                       When Boris met Natasha, he gave her a gift. (her = object: objective form, )

                       A neighbor helped us.  (us = object: objective form)

                       We helped them with their homework.  (them = object (can be singular or plural): objective form)

Possessive (Genitive) forms:  my, mine, your, yours, his, her, hers, its, our, ours, your, yours, their, theirs

  • Use the possessive form to indicate ownership.

               e.g., The workers forgot their lunches.

                       Jane needed a calculator to do her homework.

                      During the storm, the house lost its roof tiles.

                      Jordan parked their car by the Stadium.


Do not confuse its, the possessive form of it, with it’s, the contraction for "it is" (See “Plurals and Possessives” handout).

Do not confuse their, the possessive form of they, with there, which indicates direction or they’re, the contraction for “they are.”


  • Clarify ambiguous references by revising the sentence. Often a pronoun does not provide enough clarity, especially if two or three subjects are involved.

                 e.g., Abbott told Costello that he won the prize. àAmbiguous: he can refer to either man.

                         To clarify, rewrite the sentence by inserting a name or using a direct quote.

                e.g., Abbott told Costello that he, Abbott, won the prize.

                        Abbott told Costello, “I won the prize.”

  • The antecedent cannot be implied: the antecedent must be present.

               e.g.,  As an MSU student, it struck me that there is not enough parking on campus.  

                    àIncorrect:  It cannot refer to student, so there is no antecedent for it.

                       Also, "As an MSU student" becomes a dangling modifier in this sentence. (See misplaced phrases"                       handout).

                       e.g., As an MSU student, I am struck by the fact that there is not enough parking on

                       campus. à CorrectI refers to student.

  • Make sure the pronoun refers to specific people or items.

It, this, and that should not be used to refer to a broad idea or an entire preceding sentence.  Instead, use a noun or phrase to express the broad idea. 


Collective nouns as antecedents

  • Any group that functions as a unit, such as committee, jury, crowd, corporation, is singular; use the singular pronoun, it. The plural pronouns may be used to refer to the peopleof the unit. Note that these rules apply to writing. The incorrect examples are commonly spoken in informal use - pay attention!

               e.g., The jury reached its decision. àCorrect

                       The jury reached their decision. àIncorrect

                       The members of the jury deliberated their decision. à Correct

                       The committee published its agenda for the upcoming retreat. àCorrect

                       The committee published their agenda for the upcoming retreat. àIncorrect

                       The officers of the committee took their turns presenting. à Correct

                      Xenia Corp. made a billion in profits last year. It increased profits by 25% over last

                      year. àCorrect

                     Xenia Corp. made a billion in profits last year. They increased profits by 25% over

                     last year. àIncorrect

Comparisons:  than, as

  • Use the correct form/case of pronoun when comparing persons or items.

               e.g., Jack is taller than I [am]. àCorrect subject

                      Jack is taller than me[am]. àIncorrect

                     We valued no other employee more than [we valued] her. àCorrect

                    We valued no other employee member better than [we valued] she.  àIncorrect

  • How to troubleshoot: In your mind, fill in the rest of the sentence to double check the form of the pronoun.

              e.g., She cooks better than he [cooks].  Not:  She cooks better than him [cooks].

                      I am a better cook than she [is].  Not:  I am a better cook than her [is].

Compound antecedents

  • If there are two nouns, one singular and the other plural, in an either-or situation, the pronoun agrees with the noun nearer to it in the sentence.

             e.g., Neither the squirrel nor the birdsfound theirway to the bin of seed.

NOTE: Computergrammar checks do notindicate ambiguous or incorrect pronoun references. Microsoft Word does not; neither do Google Docs. Grammarly picks up a few of these, but NOT all!   

Download and Print Personal Pronouns         


Who, whom, and whose function as interrogative pronouns and relative pronouns. Like personal pronouns, interrogative and relative pronouns change form according to how they function in a question or in a clause. (See handout on Personal Pronouns).


Who     =    nominative form; functions as subject

Whom  =    objective form; functions as object

Whose  =    possessive form; indicates ownership

As Interrogative Pronouns

They are used to introduce a question.

e.g.,  Who is on first base?               Who     =   subject, nominative form        

          Whom did you call?                Whom  =   object, objective form

          Whose foot is on first base?    Whose  =   possessive, possessive form

As Relative Pronouns

They are used to introduce a dependent clause that refers to a noun or personal pronoun in the main clause. 

e.g., You will meet the teacher who will share an office with you.

        Who is the subject of the clause and relates to teacher.   (...she will share an office¼)


       The student chose the TA who she knew would help her the most.

       Who is the subject of the clause and relates to TA.  (...she knew he would help her) 


       You will see the advisor whom you met last week. 

       Whom is the object of the clause and relates to advisor ( met him...)       


        You will meet the student whose favorite class is Business Communication.

        Whose indicates ownership or possession and relates to student.

        NOTE: Do not use who’s, the contraction for who is, for the possessive whose.

How to Troubleshoot

In your mind, substitute a she or her, or a he or him, for the who or the whom.

e.g., The student chose the TA who [she knew] would help her the most (...he would help her the most).

e.g., You will see the advisor whom you met last week. (you met him (objective form), not he (nominative form).     

Download and Print Interrogative and Relative Pronouns                     


Whenever you make a list in a sentence, the members of that list should all be the same kind of grammatical entity, be it a part of speech, a verb tense, a clause structure, or a date format. This is called parallel structure. It is easier to understand a list that is structured in a parallel way. Such a list also has a consistent rhythm to it. When writing, keep an eye and an ear out for parallel structures.

Parallel structure applies to lists of single words, such as verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc.

       e.g., There are many different restaurants in Bozeman, including Chinese, Brazilian, and Italian.

       >Correct: Here, “Chinese, Brazilian, and Italian” are all adjectives (all the same type of words), and this is good                                    parallel structure.


       e.g., There are many different restaurants in Bozeman, including Chinese, food from Brazil, and Italian.

        >Incorrect: Here the list is not made up of the same entities. “food from Brazil” is a noun phrase, not an adjective.                                Therefore, this is not parallel structure.

Parallel structure also applies to lists of phrases or clauses.

       e.g., The BBCC offers such services as correcting and improving papers, fine-tuning résumés and cover letters, and                   listening to and providing feedback on oral presentations.

        >Correct: Here, each phrase after “as” is a gerund phrase which includes the action (e.g. “correcting”) and the                                      object of the action (e.g. “papers”).


         e.g., The BBCC offers such services as correcting and improving papers, fine-tuning resumes and cover letters, and                    the coaches provide feedback on oral presentations.

         >Incorrect: Here, the last phrase is different in structure from the previous two. It is a full clause (with subject                    “coaches” and main verb “provide”). This clause can be made into a separate sentence, but it cannot be part of                  the preceding list of gerunds.

Long lists, e.g. in résumés, are most concise in bulleted form, but parallel structure is still necessary.

>Correct: Parallel structure:

  • Directed evaluation
  • Applied new regulations
  • Increased sales

>Incorrect: Lacking parallel structure:

  • I directed evaluation
  • When regulations changed…
  • Sales increased

 Download and Print Parallel Structure

QUOTATION MARKS ( “…” or ‘…’ )

Quotation marks are used to enclose and set off text that is directly quoted, titles, technical terms, and words or phrases that carry a subtext.


Use quotation marks to enclose

  • a short direct quote (a quote of no more than 40 words).
  • a title of short works, such as titles of articles, essays, book chapters, songs, films, and poems.
  • a word or short phrase that is meant to express irony or sarcasm.
  • slang that is out of character with the rest of the writing or to enclose a deliberate misspelling.

Do not use quotation marks to enclose

  • a colloquial expression.
  • a long direct quote (a quote more than 40 words).
  • Set apart a long quote by indenting five spaces from both margins and introducing the quote with a colon.
  • an indirect quotation, which is usually introduced by that.

                e.g., The meteorologist said that it will rain tomorrow. < Correct (indirect quote)          

                        The meteorologist said that, “it will rain tomorrow.”  < Incorrect (indirect quote)

                        The meteorologist said, “It will rain tomorrow.”   < Correct (direct quote)


Punctuation placed inside quotation marks

  • Periods, commas, question marks, and exclamation marks are enclosed within quotation marks.
  • Exception: If the question or exclamation mark punctuates the sentence as a whole, the question mark or exclamation mark falls outside the quotation marks.

               e.g., Have you heard the proverb, “Do not count your chickens until they hatch”?              

Punctuation placed outsidequotation marks

  • Colons and semi-colons appear outside quotation marks.
  • Parentheses with in-text citation fall outside quotation marks.

Note: Never duplicate punctuation.  When the quoted sentence uses the same punctuation as the main sentence, enclose the punctuation within the quotation marks. 


  • Use single quotation marks to enclose a direct quotation within another direct quotation.
  • Insert a space between the single and the double quotation.
  • Apply the rules for placement of punctuation provided above.

                e.g., Dorothy Parker once said, “The most beautiful words in the English language are 

                        ‘Check enclosed.’ ”

Download and Print Quotation Marks


The semi-colon consists of a comma and a period ; . Therefore, the semi-colon indicates a full stop and, at the same time, a connection to what follows. The semi-colon connects elements that have equal grammatical status.

A semi-colon signals the end of an independent clause (a clause that stands on its own) and links it to what follows. The semi-colon indicates the writer will add to or support his or her statement by linking it to what follows. 

Use a semi-colon

  • to link items in a series or phrases in a series, especially if the phrases contain internal punctuation, such as a comma.

e.g., Maria made a peanut butter sandwich; packed it in her lunchbox; and ate it later at school during her lunchtime, which was at noon.

  • to connect related independent clauses that are not joined by a conjunction (and, but, or, nor, yet, so, for).  If the clauses are not closely related, use a period and make two sentences.

e.g., The BBCC is a valuable resource for the College of Business; the coaches there help students with writing, presentations, and resumes.   

  • to link two independent clauses when a transitional expression or a conjunctive adverb (for example; in fact;on the contrary; in addition;however;therefore; etc.) introduces the second clause.

e.g., The BBCC in the College of Business offers valuable services; for example, it helps students with brainstorming, organizing ideas, and writing strong papers.

Do not use a semi-colon

  • to introduce a list of items.

e.g., The ingredients for the soup included; tomatoes, celery, carrots,

         and zucchini.  <Incorrect

         The ingredients for the soup included tomatoes, celery, carrots,

         and zucchini. <Correct

  • to link a dependent clause (a clause that cannot stand on its own) and its main clause.

e.g., No one ate the rich dessert; even though it looked delicious. < Incorrect

No one ate the rich dessert, even though it looked delicious. < Correct

Download and Print The Semicolon


The Rule: If a subject is singular, its verb must be singular; if a subject is plural, its verb must be plural.

Examples:        [Note: Subjectsbelow are italicized; Verbs are bold and italicized.]

Singular:          The Murphyfamily is celebrating.      I am celebrating.

                         Stan or Sueis celebrating.                   Neither Stan nor Sueis celebrating.

                        One of the Murphys is celebrating.     A neighbordoesn’t like it.

                        The Murphy family, as well as their neighbors, is awake.


Plural:              The Murphys are celebrating.             We are celebrating.

                        Stan and Sue Murphy are celebrating.

                        All of the Murphys are celebrating.    The neighbors don’t like it.

                        The Murphy family and all of their neighborsare awake.

More Rules:

--When a compound subject contains both a singular and a plural noun/pronoun joined by or/nor, the verb should agree with the part of the subject that is nearer the verb.

      e.g., His friends or the boy parties every day. (singular)

             The boy or his friends party every day. (plural)        

--The words each, each one, either, neither, everyone, everybody, anybody, anyone, nobody, somebody, someone, and no one are singular and require a singular verb:

      e.g., Each of those boys is an athlete.                    Everybody knows the Murphys.

--Nouns such as civics, mathematics, and news require singular verbs:

      e.g., Mathematics is boss.                                       Thenews is bad.

--The word dollars is special. When talking about an amount of money, it requires a singular verb, but when referring to the dollars themselves, a plural verb is required.

      e.g., Ten dollars is affordable. (singular)                Dollars are acceptable. (plural)

--Nouns with two or more parts (scissors, tweezers, pants, shoes) require plural verbs.

      e.g., These scissors are dull.                                   Those pants are short.

--In sentences beginning with "there is" or "there are," the subject follows the verb. Since "there" is not the subject, the verb agrees with what follows.

      e.g., There is a question. (singular)                         There are many questions. (plural)

Download and Print Subject-Verb Agreement

Help with Job Application Materials

Résumé Reminders

  1. Put important information first - recruiters spend an average of 6 seconds on each résumé (Friedman, 2017).
    1. Highlight your skills under a heading titled “Summary.”
    2. Do not use an “Objective Statement” because this focuses on your needs, not the needs of the employer.
    3. Modify your résumé to meet employer demand.


  1. Beat the ATS systems – 75% of candidates are eliminated by computers (Bahler, 2018).
    1. Use the language found in the job description to include important key words.
    2. Use a combination of the job description’s exact language and synonyms for greatest success.


  1. Use active verbs and hard numbers to describe your skills.
    1. Describe your skills using active verbs.
    2. Quantify your successes whenever possible.

                                  e.g. How many people did you train?

                                         How much money did your idea save?


  1. Avoid listing soft skills like “punctual” or “friendly.”
    1. If you can’t prove it, don’t list it.
    2. Include soft skills, like leadership and communication, if you can support these claims with examples.


  1. Proofread to perfection.
    1. Minor mistakes make you look less credible and less detail-oriented.


  1. Use LinkedIn – 87% of recruiters use it (Singer, 2015).
    1. Join LinkedIn groups to network with professionals.
    2. Make sure your profile complements your résumé.
    3. Replace your mailing address on your résumé with a link to your LinkedIn profile.


Bahler, K. (2018, January 2). What your resume should look like in 2018. Time. Retrieved from

Friedman, A. (2017, February 16). 6 seconds is the average time spent reading a resume. LinkedIn. Retrieved from

Singer, M. (2015, September 22). Welcome to the 2015 recruiter nation, formerly known as the social recruiting survey. Jobvite. Retrieved from

Download and Print Résumé Reminders

Practice Interview Questions

Source: Monster. (2017). Answers to 10 most common job interview questions. Retrieved from

1. What are your weaknesses?

"What are your weaknesses" is one of the most popular questions interviewers ask. It is also the most dreaded question of all. Handle it by minimizing your weakness and emphasizing your strengths. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate on professional traits: "I am always working on improving my communication skills to be a more effective presenter. I recently joined Toastmasters, which I find very helpful."

2. Why should we hire you?

Answer "Why should we hire you" by summarizing your experiences: "With five years' experience working in the financial industry and my proven record of saving the company money, I could make a big difference in your company. I'm confident I would be a great addition to your team."

3. Why do you want to work here?

By asking you, "Why do you want to work here?" the interviewer is listening for an answer that indicates you've given this some thought and are not sending out resumes just because there is an opening. For example, "I've selected key companies whose mission statements are in line with my values, where I know I could be excited about what the company does, and this company is very high on my list of desirable choices."

4. What are your goals?

When you're asked, "What are your goals?" sometimes it's best to talk about short-term and intermediate goals rather than locking yourself into the distant future. For example, "My immediate goal is to get a job in a growth-oriented company. My long-term goal will depend on where the company goes. I hope to eventually grow into a position of responsibility."

5. Why did you leave (or why are you leaving) your job?

If an interviewer asks, "Why did you leave (or why are you leaving) your job?" and you're unemployed, state your reason for leaving in a positive context: "I managed to survive two rounds of corporate downsizing, but the third round was a 20% reduction in the workforce, which included me."

If you are employed, focus on what you want in your next job: "After two years, I made the decision to look for a company that is team-focused, where I can add my experience."

6. When were you most satisfied in your job?

The interviewer who asks, "When were you most satisfied in your job?" wants to know what motivates you. If you can relate an example of a job or project when you were excited, the interviewer will get an idea of your preferences. "I was very satisfied in my last job, because I worked directly with the customers and their problems; that is an important part of the job for me."

7. What can you do for us that other candidates can't?

Emphasize what makes you unique when you're asked, "What can you do for us that other candidates can't?" This will take an assessment of your experiences, skills and traits. Summarize concisely: "I have a unique combination of strong technical skills, and the ability to build strong customer relationships. This allows me to use my knowledge and break down information to be more user-friendly."

8. What are three positive things your last boss would say about you?

It's time to pull out your old performance appraisals and boss's quotes to answer the question, "What are three positive things your last boss would say about you?" This is a great way to brag about yourself through someone else's words: "My boss has told me that I am the best designer he has ever had. He knows he can rely on me, and he likes my sense of humor."

9. What salary are you seeking?

When you're asked, "What salary are you seeking?" it is to your advantage if the employer tells you the range first. Prepare by knowing the going rate in your area, and your bottom line or walk-away point. One possible answer would be: "I am sure when the time comes, we can agree on a reasonable amount. In what range do you typically pay someone with my background?"

10. If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?

Don't be alarmed if you're asked, "If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?" Interviewers use this type of psychological question to see if you can think quickly. If you answer "a bunny," you will make a soft, passive impression. If you answer "a lion," you will be seen as aggressive. What type of personality would it take to get the job done? What impression do you want to make?

Download and Print Practice Interview Questions

Tips for Successful Skype Interviews

  1. Prepare
    1. Research the company and the interviewer using websites and LinkedIn.
    2. Prepare responses for common interview questions.
    3. Write a list of questions you would like to ask; some should focus on the organization interviewing you.
    4. Keep notes on your desk, out of view of the webcam.
  1. Practice
    1. Test all components of your technology by practicing with a friend.
    2. Make sure your Skype username and profile are professional.
  1. Eliminate Distractions
    1. Find a quiet place.
    2. Close all other programs on your computer.
    3. Silence your phone!
  1. Consider your space
    1. Think about what is behind you – keep it professional.
    2. Eliminate clutter, but avoid blank walls as well.
    3. Don’t sit in front of a window or other light source; it will make your face look dark.
    4. Sit an arm’s length from the camera.
  1. Pay attention to nonverbal communication
    1. Eye contact is essential, but awkward, on video conferences.
      1. Look at the camera to make eye contact!
      2. Don’t look at the other person’s image or your own image.
    2. Greet the interviewer with a digital handshake, i.e. a slow, confident nod as you lean slightly forward
    3. Dress appropriately – if you decide to wear sweatpants, be sure the webcam is off before you stand up.
    4. Relax and don’t fidget.
    5. Smile!
  1. Address technical issues
    1. If sound or video issues arise during the interview, politely recognize them and attempt to fix them.
    2. Have a back-up plan available; phones are a good substitute.
  1. Special considerations for phone interviews
    1. Smile – others can hear when you are smiling.
    2. Stay focused.

Download and Print Tips for Successful Skype Interviews

Help with Presentations

Making an Effective PowerPoint Presentation

Visual aids help your audience follow your presentation by emphasizing key points and concepts. Many workplaces (and the JJCBE) encourage the use of PowerPoint as a visual aid because it offers an effective platform for displaying text and images to a large or small audience. Use the following tips to create effective PowerPoint presentations. (These concepts apply to other digital visual media aid platforms, like Prezi, as well).

  • Limit the amount of text on each slide.
    • Use the 6 X 6 rule—no more than six bullet points per slide and no more than six words per bullet point.
    • Each slide should include only one key point.
    • Remember: The audience cannot read and listen to you at the same time, so too much text is distracting.
  • Use relevant images.
    • Limit images to one or two per slide, so as not to distract your audience.
    • Remember: Too many images will make your presentation slow to load, so use images wisely.
  • Use contrast.
    • Use light text on a dark background or dark text on a light background to make your text stand out.
    • Remember: Our eyes are drawn to bright objects, so light text on a dark background will be easiest for your audience to see.
  • Be consistent with transition and animation effects.
    • If you use effects to transition between slides, use the same one every time.
    • Remember: Too much movement on your slides will distract your audience from the point you are trying to make.
  • Cite your sources.
    • Use in-text (parenthetical) citations on your slides when necessary.
    • Include a ‘References’ slide at the end of your presentation.
    • Remember: Plagiarism can occur in oral presentations and plagiarism damages your credibility as a speaker.
  • Be prepared.
    • Practice your presentation. Use the space and technology where you will give your final presentation whenever possible.
    • Bring a hard copy of your slides to your presentation.

Download and Print Making an Effective PowerPoint Presentation

Help with Research

The ABCs of Evaluating Information Resources

This guide was created by Greg Notess, Business Librarian, Montana State University Library.

When evaluating information, consider the following four criteria:

  • Authority
  • Bias
  • Content
  • Currentness


Does this person/group know what they are talking about?

Why should you care?

  • It can be pretty easy to get published. It is important to determine whether the author of a work is credible and knowledgeable about the field.  Provide your reader with accurate information.

Tips for Evaluating Authority:

  • What are the author's credentials?
  • For which type of audience do the authors write?
  • Do they have a record of conducting research in this area?


Is the research objective? Is it all opinion or are there facts?

Why should you care?

  • If research is biased, you may be missing an entire side of an issue and not obtaining all of the information needed to present an accurate and clear picture.  Sources should be based on research rather than opinion.  Who’s to say the author is right?

How can you tell whether a resource is objective?

  • Read through the work and consider its content.  Does it appear to only represent one side of an issue?
  • Does it disregard pertinent information?


Is there useful information on the website?

Why should you care?

  • Your time is valuable.  You don’t want to waste time on a resource that is either repeating information that you already have or provides information on a superficial level.

How can you tell if a website has useful content?

  • Is the research relevant to your topic?
  • Does it provide new information?
  • How does it relate to existing literature on the topic?
  • Are the author's arguments convincing?


How recent is the information?

Why should you care?

  • Older information may have been superseded by new research. Provide your reader with current and accurate information. NOTE: There may be times when you need to include older research (e.g. an individual founded a theory 50 years ago on which all other research has been based).

How can you tell if a work is current?

  • Check the publication date.
  • Locate a date on the website: The date can either indicate when the information was initially published or last updated.  Ideally you want to verify when the site was last updated. You can also do this by looking at the dates when an announcement or document was posted.
  • Check the links: Are the links current and pointing to existing pages?  If links lead you to an error message, there is a good chance that the owner is not updating the site very frequently.

Download and Print The ABCs of Evaluating Sources

Searching for Research Materials

When would it be appropriate to search the world-wide web?

  • Personal use
  • Professional use for popular culture, local information, people
  • Rare or obscure topics… sometimes
  • Very current and emerging topics
  • Medical questions for lay folks (e.g., WebMD or
  • Standard facts and stats: almanacs and government sources

Why select an academic database?

  • Authority and credibility are paramount  
  • Need for journal articles
  • Support for research

How does one search efficiently and effectively?

  • Accessing a University database: Library home ( → FIND → Articles and Research Databases → and then choose By Subject (e.g., Business) or By Format (e.g., Company/Industry Profiles) or browse alphabetical listing by title (e.g., select B → Business Source Complete).
  • Selecting an appropriate database: There is no single best database for all enquiries.  Business Source Complete is terrific for many business-related topics but is only one of many databases that are available through the library and may not be the best one for non-business topics.  Academic Search Complete is a solid, general-purpose social sciences index and would be a better option for non-business questions. If you are in a specific topical area, select the database that would be focused on that subject.
  • Entering search terms: Input different, discreet topics or facets of the search in different search boxes, and then use the drop-down menu to select in which fields to search. The default in many databases is to search in subject-focused fields of title, abstract and subject terms; but don’t assume this, so either confirm or select the field(s).
  • Connecting terms: Select different connecting (Boolean) operators to manage the precision of returned results.  Often these will be selectable somewhere near the search-term boxes.  ANDing and NOTing will lead to fewer, more-focused results and smaller results sets.  ORing will lead to more, broader results and larger results sets.
  • Narrowing results: Typically initial returned sets will be large, so additional steps will be needed to narrow them.  Use the selectable tools often found on the left side of the returned-results page.  For example, sets can be narrowed by date, subject headings, geographic areas, whether scholarly or peer reviewed, and others.

Are there strategies that could be followed when searching?

  • Yes! A searcher could opt to use very broad term(s) (e.g., “fish”), providing the widest recall, and then narrow the results by using more-precise terms and filtering tools (e.g., date, types of publication and so on).  Additionally, using OR to connect search terms will lead to more, broader results and larger result sets.
  • A searcher could opt to use as precise a term or terms as possible (e.g., “Rainbow trout”), providing the most precision; and if this proves too narrow, then broaden the search. Additionally, using AND and/or NOT to connect search terms will lead to fewer, more-focused results and smaller result sets.
  • Use subject terms found in useful articles to extend or narrow the search.

How can sources be evaluated?

  • Authority: Does this person/group know what they are talking about?
  • Bias: Is the source objective? Is it all opinion or are there facts? How can you tell?
  • Content: Is the information useful or relevant to my topic/claim?
  • Currency: Is the information timely?

… or remember the ABCCs

Does the government publish information?

  • Yes! Federal, state and local governments all have searchable databases that contain valuable, authoritative information. 
  • Two great federal examples are for information about population, housing, education, and other subjects; and  (Bureau of Economic Analysis) for information about different aspects of the nation’s economy. 

This is all way too confusing.  Is help available?

Yes!  The reference librarians at Renne Library can be of great assistance in getting a searcher started or in refining one’s efforts. Library guides are available online at the Library site, as well as many course-specific aides. 

Download and Print Searching for Research Materials

Parts of a Research Paper

Research papers typically consist of a number of parts.  This brief paper summarizes the main sections that would normally be found in such a paper, but does not include all, and follows American Psychological Association (APA) structure as defined in section two of its sixth edition publication manual “Manuscript Structure and Content” (2010).  The focus of this paper is on the structure itself and not the specific layout and format (e.g., font, font size, centering of titles, paging structure, and so on; and these formatting directions can be found in the different sections of the APA manual). 

Indicates the problem or issue addressed by the paper briefly and clearly.

Author’s Name


Summarizes the content and approach of the paper succinctly and comprehensively. It provides a synopsis by introducing the subject and the specific research question, providing a statement regarding methodology and giving a general statement about the results and the findings. Abstract and body content will vary with a report of an empirical study having different abstract elements than a meta-analysis, theory-oriented paper, methodological paper, or case study.


Introduces the topic and provides basic background information. It provides the purpose and specific focus of the paper and sets up the justification for the research.

Literature Review

Describes past important research and how it relates to the paper’s research problem. The review should examine the major theories related to the topic, their contribution, and include all relevant findings from reliable sources such as peer-reviewed journal articles. The APA includes this as part of the introduction (“Describe relevant scholarship”), but in many cases this will be a separate section.


Designates in detail the research design and methodology used to complete to the study. A good guideline to follow is that readers should be provided with enough detail to replicate the study.


Summarizes the research data and analysis conducted. How the results are presented will depend upon whether the research study was quantitative or qualitative in nature. This section should focus only on results that are directly related to the research or the problem. Graphs and tables should only be used when there is too much data to efficiently include it within the text. The section should present the results, but not discuss their significance.


Discusses the results and the implications on the field, as well as other fields. The hypothesis should be answered and validated by the interpretation of the results. The discussion section should also assess how the results relate to previous research mentioned in the literature review, any cautions about the findings, and potential for future research.


Describes what this paper does to add to the field of study. While this is not designated as a separate section by the APA and may be included in the discussion section, oftentimes the contribution may be included as a separate, stand-alone section.


Summarizes the content and approach and reiterates the results, contribution, and potential areas for future research.


Lists alphabetically all the academic sources of information utilized in the paper. These references must match and support the in-text citations used in the paper.

Appendices and Supplemental Materials

Contains materials supporting a paper’s content but that are not an integral part of the narrative. Appendices contain material that is brief and can be presented in text or tabular form. Supplements contain, or direct readers to, more lengthy material that may be found online or in other sources (e.g., audio or video clips, very large tables, detailed medical protocols, and other similar content).