Writing tips

  1. Brief Comma Usage Rules in Plain Language

  2. English Grammar Tips for Speakers of Norwegian

  3. Essential and Nonessential Expressions and Comma Usage

  4. Proofreading tips

Brief Comma Usage Rules in Plain Language

The Serial Comma

Place a comma between items in a series.

Example: Everybody benefits from creative thinking, clear communication, and time for reflection.

The Introductory Word or Phrase Comma

Place a comma after an introductory word or phrase. 

Example: As the people gathered, the speaker felt her heart beat faster.

The Interrupting Word/Phrase Comma

Place a comma before and after any word or phrase that can be removed from the sentence and still make sense.

Example:  Sammy, a friend of one of the researchers, helped more than the advisor.  (or) She showed real interest, though it wasn’t her field, and made the most astute observations.

The Concluding Word/Phrase Comma

Place a comma before a word or phrase that is tagged on at the end of the sentence.

Example: Did you bring the questionnaires, Patty?  (or) The project took longer than expected, though the participants didn’t seem to mind.

The Clarification Comma

Used to separate numbers more than four digits long (2,357,111,317,198).

Used to separate place names (Trondheim, Norway)

Used to separate elements of time (AE: November 6, 2006) (BE: 6 November 2006)

Placed before and after titles (Sandy Jones, PhD, is on holiday.)

Used to prevent confusion (The elderly couple walked in, hand in hand.)

The Coordinating Conjunction Comma

Place a comma before a coordinating conjunction that joins two clauses that can stand on their own as sentences (independent clauses). Coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet.

Example:  The scientists knew they were entering unchartered territory, and the agency funding the research turned a blind eye.

Do not use a comma when the subject is shared and the second clause cannot stand on its own (dependent clause).

Example: The scientists knew they were entering unchartered territory and felt it was time to do so.


English Grammar Tips for Speakers of Norwegian

Use the spellchecker, but don’t depend too much on it.

It lets you write this question: Two bee ore knot too bee?

  • Form – from
  • Two - too – to
  • Where – were – we’re
  • There – their – they’re

Both should not be used before more than two items on a list.

Use a colon (:) where Norwegian uses a semicolon (;) before lists.

All participants filled out the same questionnaires: the HADS, the MSQ, and the CDC.

Use Also correctly

  • Use also when you are giving more information about a person or thing.
  • Use also to express that the same fact applies to someone or something else.

NOT in place of altså (consequently, therefore, accordingly or then, so, well, do, ergo)

Use Respectively correctly

Respectively connects two pieces of information by sequencing them in two lists.
The cat, dog and mouse partied for six days, five days, and two days, respectively.

Double check your numbers

  • Use decimal points, not commas: 2,5 → 2.5
  • Use commas not spaces: 100,000,000
  • One-nine are only written out when no larger numbers are in the same sentence.

* Plus (16 rules) See http://www.grammarbook.com/numbers/numbers.asp

Double check your spacing

  • Know the requirements of the journal.
  • No space between numbers and % signs
  • No space between end of sentence and ? or !
  • Single space after end of sentence punctuation unless otherwise required.

Use Due to and Because of correctly

  • Due to modifies a noun. It is commonly used after the verb to be (is, are, was, were).  Ex: Bob’s loss was due to a broken tennis racket.
  • Because of modifies a verb (adv.prep.phrase). It usually answers the question, “Why?” Ex: Bob lost because of a broken tennis racket.

Persons versus People

  • A proposal was put forth: Persons should be used when it is a distinct and known number of more than one person (There were 100 persons in the control group.). People should be used when it is an unknown number of more than one person (Many people suffer from allergies.).
  • The proposal hasn’t caught on as hoped and the result is:

Both People and Persons are being used as the plural of person (Persons is mainly used in very formal writing).

Be consistent

  • American English (AE) or British English (BE)?
  • A patient/adolescent on page one should not become a client/teenager on page two.
  • Hyphen, space or one word? It usually doesn’t matter as long as you are consistent.

                     i.      Follow-up or follow up or followup

                     ii.      Co-morbid or co morbid or comorbid

  • The serial comma or not?

-          AE, CE and Oxford U. Press use it.

           Ex: Cats, dogs, and mice like to party.

-          BE only uses when necessary for clarity.

           Two people or four people?

           I would like to thank my parents, Joe and Liz. (2)

           I would like to thank my parents, Joe, and Liz. (4)

See also Brief Comma Usage Rules in Plain Language

Articles (the, an, a) AND Prepositions (on, in, of, at...)

The problem: They don’t make sense!

The solution: They have to be memorized or let the internet find the correct one!

1. Type the phrase in the Google bar, hit Enter

2. And then choose the most commonly used article/preposition

* Check that the writers of the hits are native speakers

Subject – Verb Agreement (can also be checked in the google/yahoo bar)

A singular subject takes a singular verb.

A plural subject takes a plural verb.

The trick is in knowing whether the subject is singular or plural.

The next trick is recognizing a singular or plural verb.

For help and a quiz, see http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/subjectVerbAgree.asp

Parallel Construction

When a sentence has two or more items linked by and or or, those items are parallel and should be in the same grammatical form (i.e., nouns, verbs, infinitives, gerunds, adjectives, etc.).

Remind Mark to go to the store, the bank, and see if the laundry is ready.

Remind Mark to go to the store, deposit his check at the bank, and see if the laundry is ready.

  • Use Who, That, and Which correctly. Who refers to people. That and which refer to groups or things.

  • That introduces essential clauses while which introduces nonessential clauses.
  • If this, that, these, or those has already introduced an essential clause, you may use which to introduce the next clause, whether it is essential or nonessential.
  • Comma usage with the above:

Nonessential: Let’s chat with Jan, who knows about writing.

Essential: Let’s chat with someone who knows about writing.

Need extra help? See Nonessential/essential clauses

Extra note:

i.e. Latin id est, means that is/in other words

e.g. Latin exempli gratia, means for example

In the American style of writing, a comma is inserted before and after i.e. and e.g.; however, in the British style of writing, a comma is inserted before but not after these abbreviations.


Essential and Nonessential Expressions and Comma Usage


Use commas to set off nonessential expressions (words, phrases and clauses not necessary for the meaning or structure of the sentence). If you can omit it or place it somewhere else without changing the core meaning of the sentence, it is nonessential and should be set off by commas.

Here are some examples with specific words

Because can begin both essential and nonessential phrases.

Essential: She left because she needed to finish the article she is writing.

Nonessential: You must proofread the article today, because I have to send it to the editor by tomorrow evening. (Though the information after because is important, the first part of the sentence can stand alone.)

Øverst i skjemaet

Nederst i skjemaet

As can begin both essential and nonessential phrases.

Essential: The response rate is as he predicted it would be.

Nonessential: The response rate is high, as he predicted it would be.

These words always introduce nonessential phrases

No Matter What

The project will not be completed today, no matter what my advisor wants.

Some of whom

He hired six researchers, some of whom had backgrounds in statistics.


The study sample filled out three questionnaires, whereas the control sample only filled out two.

All/None of which

The articles, all of which touch upon the use of this new medicine, were on a variety of topics.


She has an advisor, although I don't think he really helps her much.

 These words always introduce essential clauses, which require commas


The sample in the study is smaller than other samples, but I hope to publish the article anyway.


He will be at the dissertation until 5pm.


Proofreading Tips

  • Wait (create distance) before you proofread (This way your mind won’t fill in words, numbers or symbols that are missing)
  • Proofread a hard copy
  • Read it aloud
  • Avoid proofreading in fluorescent lighting - The flicker rate of fluoro lights is slower than standard lighting, which makes it more difficult to pick up errors.
  • Know your own weaknesses and keep a list of your common mistakes – check for those first
  • Proofread for one thing at a time (use the search tool)
  • Read the paper section by section from the end to the beginning


Editors often decide rather quickly if an article is worth printing in their journal. To save time they read the Abstract and the first and last sentences of the Introduction and the Discussion. Make sure these are perfect in both content and language usage.