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Debatepedia:Language handbook

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This handbook is an language and writing educational resource to help contributors edit and polish their articles. This article is intended to provide useful tips to help contributors establish scholarly Debatepedia articles.


Structure is important for English and for developing clear, logical communication, so pay attention to the structure of your writing, both in the overall sense (structure of your entire piece) and in the more specific sense (structure of individual paragraphs and sentences).


Tone: Using words, sentences, and punctuation to communicate a particular voice. Tone is dependent upon purpose, platform, and audience. When deciding upon tone, it is helpful to ask the following guiding questions:

  • Purpose: What is the purpose of your piece? Is it intended to be informative, persuasive, entertaining, explanatory, or some combination of these possibilities? Does it aim to do something else?
  • Platform: Where will this piece be read or viewed? What is the standard for your forum? Consider how the type of platform helps determine the tone and style of a piece. Do you need to be polite and serious?
  • Audience: Who is the piece for? Is it a general audience, or a specialized audience? Have you explained your key terms?

Tips: Correcting Tone

  • Minimize highly informal language and eliminate slang.
  • Do not overuse contractions. At times, contractions (don't, can't) may make for more readable text, but a few too many contractions detract from the overall tone of a work.
  • Define specialized terms or any terms that may be unclear for your audience. If you are in doubt of what to explain, it is better to provide links or explain more, than to do less. This is because, even when you assume that a term is known by many, you may be using it in a particular way. As a result, a brief explanation or link helps clarify for readers how you are using any particular key term, which helps make your writing more precise and thus, stronger in terms of internal logical coherence.
  • In a related fashion, in the attempt to deliver a scholarly tone, do not go overboard! Your writing should be serious, but it should not be pompous, grandiose, or convoluted. Rather than simply trying to impress your audience with your profound vocabulary, remember the aim should be focused on your message, not on you, so aim for clarity and readability.
  • Be polite.

Common Confusions in English

Here are some common problems with word usage in English:

Incorrect Spellings

  1. A lot is two words, an informal term, with more formal alternatives (much, many, a great deal of, great). The mistake is people often write alot, instead of the correct A lot.
  2. All right is two words. Although common, alright is actually incorrect.


Here are words and phrases that often people confuse, either out of habit, or out of misunderstanding.

  1. It’s versus its It’s means it is: It is time to stop your speech or it's time to stop your speech! In contrast, Its is a possessive pronoun and is used to show ownership (such as his or her), for the third person neutral. In English, its can show ownership for animals or things, while his and her show ownership for males and females, with humans especially, but sometimes, also with animals, especially pets. For an example of its: The debate club was supposed to open today, but its (the club's) doors were locked. For examples of his and her: his flowchart, or her pen.
  2. There versus Their There can be an adverb or a dummy subject. Their is a possessive pronoun.
  3. Affect versus Effect Affect is usually a verb: Caffeine drinks affect the speed at which a debater speaks. Effect is usually a noun: The effect of the caffeine was obvious, the debater spoke with such speed, he herniated his tongue.
  4. Good versus Well Good is an adjective, used to modify a noun: That was a good debate. In contrast, Well is an adverb, used to modify a verb: They debate well.
  5. Principle versus Principal: Principle is a fundamental belief. Principal is usually a person, such as the principal of your school, the first in rank (a person) or the most important. To help you, just remember, your school principal is your pal.

Confusions When Expressing Comparisons

  1. Among and Between Among is used when you refer to two or more things: Please divide the cue cards evenly among your debaters. Between is used when you refer to two things: This debate is a draw, so we'll have to divide the trophy between the two winners.
  2. Amount and Number Use amount to refer to anything that is considered as a mass. Use number for anything that can be counted as individual units.
  3. Less versus fewer Less refers to things considered a mass. Fewer refers to things that can be counted.
  4. Compare with and Compare to Use compare with when you examine both the similarities and differences in things. Use compare to when you want to point out only the similarities in two things.
  5. Differ from and Differ with Use differ from to indicate two things that are not alike. Use differ with to express disagreement with another person.
  6. Different from Use different from, not different than.
  7. Imply and infer Imply means hint. Infer means to make an educated guess or to make a conclusion.
  8. Like and as Like is used when you are not introducing a clause. As is used to introduce a clause.
  9. Uninterested and Disinterested Uninterested means “not interested in.” Disinterested means impartial: While it is fine if judges act as disinterested parties, it is not so fine if they act like uninterested parties; hence, when judging, try not to fall asleep.

See Also

Other About pages:

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