Spelling and grammar

General hints and tips on spelling and grammar

The previous section on technical writing gave specific advice, but this section contains more general information to help researchers in all subject areas. Here are some tips from lecturers in the School of Health and Life Sciences. The Learning Development Centre for your school can give you more help and support.


Do not use an apostrophe to denote ownership except after noun or name. Use in ‘it’s’ only when the meaning is ‘it is’.

  • Right: I like Emma’s hat      Wrong: I like Emmas hat
  • Right: Hers is the hat I like  Wrong: Her’s is the hat I like
  • Right: I like its colour           Wrong: I like it’s colour
  • Right: It’s the colour I like    Wrong: Its the colour I like

As a general rule, a single sentence that needs more than two commas is too long. Use two shorter sentences instead. Do not use a comma before the word and or the word but. If a sentence seems to need a comma before either of these words, it is too long. When giving a list of items in a sentence, use and instead of a comma before the last item.

Hyphens and Obliques 

Never use obliques (/) in text. Do not use hyphens unconventionally.

  • Right: Take his or her father-in-law    
    Wrong: Take his/her father-in-law
  • Right: I value the interactive and perceptual functions of experiential groups
    Wrong: I value the interactive/perceptual functions of experiential groups
  • Right: I do not see them any more but am ever ready to do so
    Wrong: I do not see them any-more but Am ever-ready to do so
Capital Letters 

For proper names (people and places) only. They are best avoided for categories, procedures and professions. For drugs - capitals are necessary only for trade names.

  • Bad: We know that Physiotherapists treat Cerebral Palsy Patients and like to Videotape them.
  • Better: We know that Physiotherapists treat patients with Cerebral Palsy and like to videotape them.