The Professional and Executive Handbook


This Handbook is intended as a guideline. Any format or specific instructions from the professor/supervisor supersedes anything in this handbook.

Table of Contents

Getting Started

Finding a Topic

Knowing Who Your Audience Is

Creating a Thesis Statement and Outline


Finding Source Information

Library Services and Resources

Identifying and Finding Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources

Evaluating Websites

Advanced Searching Techniques

Basic Elementa of a Citation

Differences Between Popular, Scholarly and Trade Periodicals/Magazines

Recommended Websites for MARB, MARE, MASE, MARA

Business Letters and Internal Office Communication

Business Letter

Cover Letter


Proposal business letter


Internal Office Communications



Using Visuals

Oral Presentations

MLA & APA Styles


Systematic Editing

Suggestions for Editing

Six Tips for Reader Friendly Writing

Tips from the Writing Lab


Fragments & Run-ons

Plurals, Possessives, and Apostrophes

Quotation Marks and Ellipses


Semicolon & Colon



Five Paragraph Theme



How to Write a Resume


Getting Started

finding a topic

General topic has been given

If the paper requested is an overview of the subject, research can begin. If the topic is too broad, a subtopic may need to be selected.


            Topic – Engineering (too broad)

            Subtopic – Ocean Engineering (narrowed topic)

Topic has not been assigned

If a topic has not been assigned, the task of finding one may seem overwhelming. This scenario give the writer the opportunity to select a topic of interest, which can make a stronger paper.

Here are steps to help select a topic

  1. Define the purpose of the paper. Ask, “What is the purpose of this paper? To inform? To entertain? To persuade?”
  2. Brainstorm ideas
  3. Evaluate the ideas and how you feel about them. If it is persuade, be sure you are moderately passionate about the topic.
  4. Decide if the topic needs to be an overview or something specific

Once a topic has been decided, the next step is to define the audience.


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knowing who your audience is


All writing (including creative writing) is done with a specific audience in mind.  In the professional world there are two distinct super groups for which one is likely to write: internal and external audience.


An internal audience is a group or person within the writer’s own organization, such as a boss, coworker or workgroup.  External audiences are typically clients (or prospective clients), but can be any group or individual from outside the writer’s organization. 


A real audience is a group of people who will read the written document. This audience is known prior to writing a paper, lab, letter or proposal. An intended audience is the group of people or person the might read the document; the writer needs to consider who the reader may be because the more specific the audience, the more precise the document can be.


To effectively communicate one must understand his or her audience and use language and media appropriate to the situation.  Using video may be appropriate for one audience while using writing may be effective for communicating with another audience. Using the wrong jargon, language, or media when communicating can lead to confusion or rejection.


After determining the audience and media, the style, tone, format must be decided. Is the document formal or informal?  Persuasive or supportive?  Creative or technical?   Using jargon in a grant application may not be appropriate, but using it in a technical manual/document would be.  If writing to an international audience, are there specific terms to use or not use? What might be considered offensive by the real or intended audience?


Knowing the audience for a document is important. The type of audience will dictate the style, tone and format.  For example, consider "Bob" in two scenarios.


Scenario 1: Bob works for the company Global Goods Shipping, and the company, due to hard economic times, needs to end one of its two shipping routes in the Pacific.  The VP of Operations has asked Bob to prepare a report on which route, A or B, should be shut down and make a recommendation to the board of directors.


Scenario 2: Global Goods Shipping is doing well financially and is, in fact, acquiring a new client, Mustang Cars.  The client wants to know which Pacific route offered by Global Goods will best serve their needs.  To help Mustang Cars with the decision Bob has prepared a report to compare routes A and B and make a recommendation on which service Mustang Cars should use.


These two scenarios illustrate the need of understand and writing to one's audience.  In each scenario Bob is comparing the same two services, route A and route B, but the needs of his respective audiences are very different.  This may seem intuitive, but too often professionals get in a hurry and use a "one-size-fits-all" approach.  The situations described above are significantly different and one would not likely be confused as to which report should go to which recipient.  However, what if in the first scenario it's not an internal document, but another client, Viper Motors, that wants a recommendation?  Two similar companies, two similar situations, but each company may have very different goals, and Bob would have to tailor his recommendation to each company.

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creating a thesis statement and outline

A thesis is a central idea or conclusion drawn from researching a particular subject. A thesis statement claims something significant about the subject, conveys the purpose of the paper, and narrows the subject to a single central idea (Fowler, 2007).  There are three types of thesis statements; advocates a course of action, makes comparisons and evaluate, and attributes a cause (University Writing Center, 2011). When creating a thesis statement, it may be changed as the paper is written.  Here is a checklist for a good thesis statement:


  • Does the subject of the statement capture the subject of the paper?
  • Does it make a claim?
  • Does it answer the question “So what?”
  • Can it be made more specific?
  • Does it clarify the boundary of the idea?
  • Do all of the words unify the idea?


The thesis statement is the last sentence in the introduction. A second thesis statement may be needed to add clarity


When composing a paper, it is always a good idea to begin with an outline. An outline helps to gather and organize your thoughts, while enabling you to make sure that all of the information you are including is relevant and that it flows.


The main topics in the outline will serve as the subheadings in the paper. Breaking the paper up into subsections will make it easier to write and for the audience to read. Rather than having a ten page paper on one topic, there will be five two-page papers on your topic. Something to have in mind when filling out the outline is keeping sentences and paragraphs short. The average paragraph should be no longer than nine lines.


  1. Introduction
  2. Body of the paper
    1. Subsection 1
    2. Subsection 2
    3. Subsection 3
    4. Conclusion
    5. References


When writing a paper, write like you talk, because that is the way people think most effectively. It will ensure the information is being in the clearest manner. It is important to avoid jargon and clichés. Technical terms are important to technical audiences, but intimidating to those who do not understand, while clichés will make the paper seem informal and unprofessional.


Active voice is always preferred to passive voice, as it is more concise and easier to follow. In order to avoid confusion, it is important to use specific terms when writing, especially when referring to statistics. The general rule regarding numbers is to not use more than three numbers in a single sentence. Too many numbers in one sentence can be overwhelming to the reader.


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finding source information

To conduct any research, key words are needed. Key words relate to the topic, but are not necessarily in the thesis statement. They must be specific; for example, when writing a paper about cabotage law, the writer might use the key words, “cabotage”, “law”, “economics”, and “jobs”. Using key words that directly relate to the topic is important because it narrows the search results to more relevant articles. The main places to gather research include libraries, databases, and the internet.

In the library, first search the library’s computer catalog using the key words. Not all libraries have their entire collection in the computer catalog, but it is a good place to start. If you need more information than what is available in the computer catalog, ask a librarian if they still maintain an old-fashioned card catalog. If the topic is not new and the research does not require up-to-date information, a card catalog can be useful.

While perusing the library shelves, remember the books are organized by topic. When finding a book that could be useful, look at the rest of the shelf to find similar books. After selecting books to read, ask the following questions to determine how useful these sources will be to the paper: Is the writing biased? For example, is the author involved in an organization that would influence their writing? Does the author agree or disagree with my thesis? Is the information correct, to the best of your knowledge? Is the author using valid sources? Is the author leaving out pertinent information?

Periodicals are another resource commonly found in libraries. Magazines and journals are called periodicals because they are published periodically (weekly, monthly, etc.). Most libraries keep only the most current issue on the shelf; others are kept in a separate room, bound in collections by year. To obtain past issues, ask a librarian. These issues generally cannot be taken outside of the library. Photocopy any articles you would like to keep. Remember to distinguish between periodicals and professional journals; this difference is extremely important in research as it is often the difference between scholarly and non-scholarly sources.

Libraries usually have database systems in their computers or on their websites. Databases are electronic systems that compile information. They may include thousands of journal issues, news articles, and inter-library loan information. Again, enter key words into the database to narrow the search results. Some databases are online and free to the public, such as Academic Search Complete.

The internet is the most readily available resource to most students as internet research can be conducted wherever there is an internet connection. The disadvantage to using the internet to find sources is that it can be very time consuming. There is a lot of information to sift through, most of which is completely useless. Aside from databases like Academic Search complete, Google Scholar is another excellent resource for certain fields of study. Google Scholar will search the internet only for scholarly literature. However, it is still a good idea to check all online resources for credibility. Refer to “Determining if a Resource is Scholarly” online for scholarly parameters.


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library services and resources

texas a&m university at galveston

jack k. williams library




Print Books


Journal Articles/National Newspapers

Local newspapers

Newspaper rack


Front Desk


Front Desk

Information Literacy Instruction

Dr. Dave Baca, 409.740.4568 or

Quiet Study Space

Chamber of Silence

Group Study Rm. 108B/126

Front Desk or Reserve at 409.740.4560

Other group study rooms

Rm. 115,118,119,120


Rm. 111


Rm. 111

Computer Lab

Rm. 114

Interlibrary Loan

Government Information


Front Desk


Front Desk

New Books

New Books Shelf

Director – Dr. Dave Baca

Rm. 112, 409.740.4568,

Literacy Coordinator – Amy Caton

Rm. 108G, 409.740.4711,

Digital Initiatives Librarian – Laura McElfresh

Rm. 113, 409.741.7179,

Public Services Associate – Michael Sweeney



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identifying and finding primary, secondary, and tertiary sources


Your professor has instructed you to get primary or secondary materials for your research project, and you are confused. If you understand the publication cycle of information, you will then understand what your professor means when s/he requests primary or secondary materials.

The chart below defines the different stages of the cycle of information.









Sources that contain raw, original, non-interpreted and unevaluated information.


Sources that digest, analyze, evaluate and interpret the information contained within primary sources. They tend to be argumentative.


Sources that compile, analyze, and digest secondary sources. They tend to be factual.




Primary sources tend to come first in the publication cycle.


Secondary sources tend to come second in the

publication cycle.


Tertiary sources tend to

come last in the

publication cycle.



on the kind of

analysis being



Often newspapers, weekly and monthly-produced

magazines; letters, diaries.


Often scholarly periodicals and books. (Professors like these.)

Often reference books.


EXAMPLE: Historian

(studying the

Vietnam War)


Newspaper articles, weekly news magazines, monthly

magazines, diaries,

correspondence, diplomatic records.


Articles in scholarly journals analyzing the war, possibly footnoting primary documents; books analyzing the war.


Historical Dictionary of

Vietnam ; The Vietnam

War, An Almanac


Example: Literary

Critic (studying the

literature of the

Vietnam War)


Novels, poems, plays,

diaries, correspondence.


Articles in scholarly journals analyzing the literature; books

analyzing the literature; formal biographies of writers of the war.


Writing About Vietnam; A Bibliography of the

Literature of the Vietnam

Conflict; Dictionary of

Literary Biography




(studying the effects

of the Vietnam



Article in a journal that reports research and its methodology; notes taken by a clinical psychologist.


Articles in scholarly

publications synthesizing

results of original research; books analyzing results of

original research.


Diagnostic and Statistical

Manual of Mental Disorders; The

Encyclopedic Dictionary

of Psychology


Example: Scientist

(studying Agent

Orange exposure)


Article in a journal reporting

research and methodology.


Articles in scholarly

publications synthesizing

results of original research;

books doing same.


Agent Orange and

Vietnam: An Annotated





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evaluating websites


You need to do your assignment using credible research sources but how do you know when information is credible? Never use information that you cannot verify. If you find information that is “too good to be true,” it probably is. Just because you find something on the web doesn’t mean it’s credible, reliable or even true. You should question everything you find on the web with critical thinking.


Determine Authority

 If you answer no to any of the questions below or come up with negative information the site is probably not trustworthy.


  • Is it clear who is responsible for the information on the site? Go to to find out information on the website.
  • Is the site a personal page? Is the server a commercial Internet Service Provider?
  • What is the domain (.edu, .org, .gov, .com, .mil)
  • Is the author well-known and well-regarded? Google the author to find out more about them.
  • Is it a name you recognize?
  • What do others say about the author?
  • Is there biographical information?
  • If a company or organization is there a link that describes what they do and the people involved (About Us, Philosophy, Background, Biography)?
  • If the information is published by someone else has there been any review of the information?


Determine Accuracy

If you are not satisfied with the answers to the questions below then you might want to find another source.


  • Can you easily find who wrote the information?
  • Has the information been reproduced from another site? If so are there permissions to


  • Are claims substantiated? Is there data and an explanation of the research method used?
  • Are there linked, cited or footnoted sources to the claims? Is there a bibliography?
  • How old is the information? Have there been changes in the field that would make this information obsolete? Is there a publication date on the information?
  • Does the author have expertise? What are their qualifications or credentials?
  • How does the search engine decide what order information is presented? Has the author paid for placement?



Determine Motivation

You will need to determine the neutrality of the author on the subject


  • Is the information biased? Does the information reside on the server of an individual or organization that has a political or philosophical agenda?
  • Does the writing seem fair and balanced? Is the information put out by a political organization or an organization that lobbies politicians?
  • Are ads clearly separated from the content?

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advanced searching techniques


Natural Language Searching - A Search Like Google

Google has made most of us comfortable with Natural Language searching. It takes the words you type

into the box and searches for them using the Boolean operator 'and' (see below on Boolean searching).

It also tries to find instances where the words are close to each other within the result; this is called

proximity (see also below). Clipper Cat and many of our article databases now use Natural Language

Searching, so when you type in a keyword search like 'java web application' you will probably get some

hits. However, you will be able to significantly improve the results from your searching by using the

following techniques.


Boolean Searching

Broaden or narrow your search by combining words or phrases using the Boolean operators AND, OR,

and NOT. The diagrams below show graphically how using the AND operator narrows a search, using OR

broadens a search, and using NOT excludes material from a search. Many databases and search engines

have an Advanced Search interface that allows for Boolean searching; you can also try just using a

Boolean operator in the main search box.




Example search

The search will find...


Venn diagram

results shown in





north carolina

and prohibition


items containing "North Carolina" and

"prohibition." AND narrows a search,

resulting in fewer hits.





zimbabwe or



items containing either "Zimbabwe" or

"Rhodesia" or both. OR broadens a

search, resulting in more hits.





mexico not new



items containing "Mexico" but not "New

Mexico." Caution! It's easy to exclude

relevant items.





Parentheses (Nesting)

Use parentheses to clarify relationships between search terms.


Example: (television or mass media) and women


This search looks for both "television and women" and "mass media and women."





Truncation or Wildcards

A symbol at the end of a word stem provides for all variants on the word stem. The most commonly

used symbol is the asterisk (*).


Example: educat* will retrieve educate, educating, education, educational, educator, educators, etc.


Be careful not to truncate too far, or you will retrieve unrelated words! A symbol within a word provides

for all possible variants inside a word or word stem. A commonly used symbol for internal truncation is !.


Example: wom!n will retrieve woman and women.


You may combine truncation symbols in one search. Look at the help pages for the database you are

using to determine the truncation symbols. Most systems provide truncation but some provide only

simple plurals.


Proximity Operators

Sometimes in a full text search you want words that occur close to one another but not as a phrase.

Many full text article databases allow searching with proximity operators in their advanced search

interfaces. Consult the help pages of the database you are using to see what proximity operators work

for it.






The search will find...




logical with



Usually requires "logical" and "positivism" to be adjacent to each

other in the order typed. Adding a number following "with"

requires the terms to occur with up to that number of other

words between the two terms in the order typed.




macro near



Usually requires "macro" and "virus" to be adjacent to each other

in either the order typed or the reverse order. Adding a number

following "near" requires the terms to occur with up to that

number of other words between the two terms in either the

order typed or the reverse order


ADJ or



harry adj



ADJ is usually equivalent to WITH in requiring the search terms to

be adjacent to each other in the order typed. You are generally

not allowed to specify the number of words that occur between

the two search terms; individual databases may vary.




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basic elements of a citation


What Is a Citation?
A citation is a reference that allows you to acknowledge the sources you use in a formal academic paper, and enables a reader to locate those sources through the key information it provides. Citations are placed both in the text and in an organized list at the end of the text. The format of the citations can vary depending on the citation style that is used.


Citations enable you as a researcher to

  • verify the facts and opinions set forth in a piece of writing
  • identify additional sources that may delve more deeply into a subject
  • distinguish the ideas of various experts regarding a specific topic
  • measure the influence of one thinker upon another
  • trace the evolution of an idea as it passes from scholar to scholar, culture to culture, and era to era.


When Do I Have to Cite?
If you quote an author, even if you are only borrowing a single key word, you must tell your reader where you found the information.

You also must cite a source—

  • if you restate an idea, thesis, or opinion given by an author
  • if you restate an expert’s theory or opinion,
  • if you use facts that are not common knowledge, or
  • if you need to provide an informational or explanatory note


How do I Cite?

Citation styles vary from discipline to discipline. If you’re not sure what style you should use, ask your
instructor. Common citation styles include:

  • APA
  • MLA
  • Chicago Manual of Style (or CMOS)
  • Turabian
  • CSE

When Is It Okay Not to Cite?

Facts that are common knowledge do not have to be cited.

Statistics and information that can easily be found in several sources and are not likely to vary from source to source do not have to be cited. For example, the population of the United States is 281 million.

Dictionary definitions that are common knowledge and vary little from source to source do not have to be cited.


Why Cite?
It is important to cite when borrowing the ideas and thoughts of others for several reasons. Citing sources

  • builds credibility in your work by showing you are not alone in your opinions
  • gives you a chance to show that you have thought about and investigated your topic
  • gives your reader the information he or she needs to verify your source or to find more information on the subject
  • allows you to give credit where credit is due.

Not citing your sources is academically dishonest and may lead to charges of plagiarism.

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the differences between popular, scholarly and trade periodicals/magazines







Reporters, magazine staff, freelance writers

Scholars, researchers,

experts in the field


educators, specialists


General public

Researchers, scholars,


Professionals in the

field, researchers


Inform, entertain, special interests

Inform, report and share

original research and

experimentation with the

rest of the scholarly world

Provide information

and news to

practitioners in a



Personalities, news,

general interest articles

Original research, research results, methodology, theory

New trends,


organizational news


Non-technical, simple,

elementary language.

Assumes an 8th grade



Terminology and language of the discipline; reader is assumed to have similar background. Assumes a college education.


terminology of the



Published by:


Commercial publishers

Scholarly societies,

University presses

Associations, trade



Brief, providing broad

overviews. A bibliography is usually not provided

although references might be mentioned in the text

Lengthy, providing in-depth analysis. Bibliography and/or footnotes in standardized citation format


Length varies, many

short interest/news

items, bibliography

may/may not be



Pictures and



Many photographs and pictures, glossy paper, many ads

Few or no photographs,

includes charts and tables,

regular white paper

Some photographs

and pictures, some ads





No formal peer review

process, reviewed by

editors on staff

Reviewed by a board of

experts in the field

(referred) or by the author’s peers (peer


Includes some peer review articles, most

are reviewed by

editors (often



People Weekly, Sports

Illustrated, New York

Times, Washington Post, Ladies Home Journal

Sociological Review,

Journal of Asian Studies,

Journal of Philosophy


Industry Week,

Plastics News, Pacific





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recommended websites by major

Marine Biology

AGRICOLA - Index of agricultural literature created by the National Agricultural Library and cooperators. Encompasses all aspects of agricultural disciplines: animal sciences, entomology, plant sciences, aquaculture/fisheries, etc. Primarily focused on US agriculture.

Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts - Basic & applied research, law & policy concerning aquatic organisms, aquaculture, aquatic & marine environments, & oceanography. Includes: ASFA 1; ASFA 2; ASFA 3; ASFA Aquaculture Abstracts; ASFA Marine Biotechnology Abstracts.

BioOne - Collection of full texts of various research journals in biological, ecological, and environmental sciences. Subject areas covered by this resource are: biochemistry, biology, ecology, environment studies, geosciences, sciences and technology.

BIOSIS Previews - Comprehensive citation index in life sciences research. Combines journal content from Biological Abstracts ® with supplemental, non-journal content from Biological Abstracts/RRM ® (Reports, Reviews and Meetings). Covers all life science areas, including agriculture, biochemistry, biomedicine, biotechnology, botany, ecology, environmental sciences, genetics, microbiology & pharmacology. Indexes over 6000 journals, serials and conference proceedings.

EBSCO Animals - EBSCO Animals provides in-depth information on a variety of topics relating to animals. The database consists of indexing, abstracts, and full text records describing the nature and habitat of familiar animals.

Oceanic Abstracts - Literature of marine biology and physical oceanography, fisheries, aquaculture, non-living resources, meteorology and geology, plus environmental, technological, and legislative topics.

Zoological Record - The world's most comprehensive index to zoological literature. Records cover every aspect of zoology, including biochemistry, behavior, ecology evolution, genetics, etc.

Selected Journals

Selected Reference Sources

  • Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. Ref QL7 .G7813 2003  
  • Encyclopedia of Texas Seashells Ref QL415.T4E53 2010
  • Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico Ref QL621.56 .M383 1998
  • Birds of North America Ref QL681.B625


Marine Engineering Technology and Maritime Systems Engineering

Autonomous undersea systems institute - This research centre site includes full text papers in pdf format from 1997 to 2006 covering Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), platforms and sensors, as well as some illustrated research reports.

Offshore Technology - Offshore Technology contains information and news about the offshore oil and gas industry. The site covers current projects, contractors and suppliers, and offshore operators, as well as industry exhibitions, conferences and trade associations, of particular interest to offshore and marine engineers.

Petroleum Abstracts TULSA® Database - Indexes the international literature on petroleum exploration, development, transportation, and production, as well as related topics that concern environmental, safety, and health issues.

Selected Journals

Selected Reference Sources

  • Encyclopedia of coastal science Ref TC203.7 .E53 2005
  • Mechanical engineers’ handbook Ref TJ151 .M395 2006


Maritime Administration

ABI/INFORM Global - Authoritative source for worldwide business and management information. Almost 2000 journals and periodicals indexed/abstracted; almost half full text/page image. Updates daily.

ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry - The latest industry news, product and competitive information, marketing trends, and a wide variety of other topics. Search more than 750 business periodicals and newsletters with a trade or industry focus. Contains publications on every major industry, including finance, insurance, transportation, construction, and many more.

Associations Unlimited - Online version of the Encyclopedia of Associations and the National Directory of Nonprofit Organizations.

Country Report - Covers nearly 200 countries, reporting national, regional and global events that affect business in the short-to medium term. Each report examines issues shaping the countries: the political scene, economic policy, domestic economy, sectoral trends, and foreign trade and payments. Detailed two-year forecasts complement the analysis and pinpoint political and economic developments and trends.

Economist Intelligence Unit - The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is recognized as a leading provider of political and economic data and analysis. This is the library's homepage for its electronic subscriptions to: Country Profile; Country Report; Market Indicators and Forecasts; and The

Hoover's Company Records - Find up to date proprietary editorial content covering public and non-public companies and key executives.

LexisNexis Academic - Full-text documents from over 5,900 news, business, legal, medical, and reference publications. Includes both state and federal courtdecisions, as well as legal code. Detailed business information by company and industry.

Market Indicators and Forecasts - Provides key economic and market data for countries. CountryData package provides a comprehensive database of macroeconomic indicators and forecasts. Market Indicators and Forecasts package helps gauge market size and growth potential of 60 countries.

Oceana Online - The Oceana Online products bring the best and most current legal information to those who need it at a moment's notice. Our online databases provide lawyers, legal scholars and legal researchers around the world with continuously updated legal information with expert commentary.

Sea-web - Combines comprehensive ships, owners, shipbuilders, fixtures, casualties, port state control, ISM and real-time ship movements data and ports information into a single application. Sea-Web now incorporates all content from Internet Ships Register, including the latest information on commercial ships over 299 GT and their owners, operators, managers and builders. Includes ships on order and under construction, as well as total losses and demolitions.

SourceOECD - Database from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development allows users to build statistical tables drawn from the body of economic and social data compiled by the OECD’s 30 member countries. [has tertiary sources.]

TAMUG Journal/Database/Website Passwords

Some of our resources are password protected. You can view the list of passwords by logging into Howdy.

For students:

  • Click on the Research tab
  • Look under Research Spotlight
  • Click on Maritime Journal Password List
  • You can go to the link from the password list

For faculty:

  • Click on the Faculty tab
  • Look under Center for Teaching Excellence
  • Click on Maritime Journal Password List
  • You can go to the link from the password list

Selected Journals

Selected Reference Resources

  • Admiralty in a nutshell. Book Stacks KF1105 .M34 1996
  • American Practical Navigator  Ref VK555.B78
  • The law of the sea in a nutshell. Book Stacks JX4422.U5 S64 1984
  • The Oxford encyclopedia of maritime history. Reference VK15 .O84 2007
  • Farwell’s Rules of the Nautical Road  Ref K4184.F37
  • Dutton’s Navigation and Piloting  Ref VK555.D96
  • Code of Federal Regulations  Online and in paper at Ref KF70.A3
  • Tide Tables VK747.A2  also online Statistical Abstract of the United States HA202.S72 2011



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Business Letters and Internal Office Communication

business letters and internal office communications


In the professional world letters still serve as the formal lines of communication.  Organizations may (and frequently do) communicate through informal channels such as e-Mail and phone calls, but official business is conducted via letter.  It is, thus, in the best interest of the company to craft the best letter, as it will serve as a representative of the company as well as - and possibly better than - any employee.


Within a given organization informal writing is commonplace.  Memos, agendas and e-Mails are exchanged, sometimes hundreds of times per day.  While these internal communications do not need the same level of polish as a letter going to an outside contact, they do still need to be precise and well worded for two reasons.  First, the sender needs to be sure that there are no ambiguities and the readers can clearly understand what is being asked.  Second, if the organization should ever get into legal or PR trouble (or there is just a disgruntled employee) we have all seen on the media just how damning poorly worded internal memos and e-Mails can be.

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business letter


A business letter gives the reader a concise version of the accompanying document whether it is a resume, proposal or any type of document. These letters have similar characteristics; they are a summary about the document and there is a request for action by the reader at the end. Here are a some questions to ask yourself:


  • Why am I writing this letter?
  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • What action do I want from my reader?
  • Who will read this letter?
  • What information should be included first?
  • What details does the reader need to know?
  • Does my conclusion motivate the reader to do something?
  • Do I end the letter in a positive and polite manner?
  • Does my language and style show a positive attitude toward the reader/company/product/information?
  • Are there any spelling errors? Grammatical mistakes? Typos?
  • Is the letter formatted correctly?
  • Did I sign the letter?


For organizations a formal business letter serves as the first and last point of contact with external interests.  It will be around much longer than any particular phone conversation can be remembered, and can be referenced at any point in the future.  Regardless of how well a particular transaction is handled, if the correspondence is well written it can lead to future business or continued relations.  Alternatively, a sloppy letter can just as easily damage future prospects.  For that reason, it is critical that any professional person have a solid grasp on the proper form and function of a formal business letter.



Regardless of the content, most formal business letters follow either a full block or a modified block format as shown in the following PDF:

Business Letter (pdf)


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cover letters

resume cover letter

A resume cover letter is a summary of the resume, how the writer is qualified for the position, and what they can bring to the company and a request for an interview at the end.
It is very important to know who the letter is going to; there may be research involved in finding out who that person is. It is not a good idea to address the letter to “To Whom It May Concern;” using “Hiring Manager” or “Human Resources” is a better alternative if a person’s name is not available.
The first paragraph should have the position you are applying for and the source where you found the job posting, i.e., company’s website or personal contact.
The second paragraph should include details of past experience and education relating to the position. Be specific and list related course work. If there is enough information experience and education, split them into two paragraphs.
The last paragraph should include a request for an interview. After the request, a “thank you for your consideration” and “you look forward to hearing from them and will be contacting them” is the next part. Also, state a resume is included and offer to supply any additional information.



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proposal business letter

A business letter accompanying a proposal should include the problem, a solution and a request for action. The reader should know exactly what the problem and the proposed solution is and what to do with the proposal from the letter. The proposal is more detailed information of what is included in the letter.


The first paragraph needs to include the purpose of the proposal. It is important to state specifically what the problem or situation being address. Supply some background of the problem or other groups/situations that are affected by the issue.


The second paragraph is about the proposed solution.  Again, be specific. If there is money involved, mention the amount needed. If there is a time line for construction, include that information in this paragraph. This paragraph is a summary of the proposal. Using the headings from the proposal can help with what to write in this section.


The third paragraph needs to include what type of action needs to be done. This is where knowing the audience is crucial. Ask to set up a time to discuss or state when to have the proposal to a local association or governmental group. “Please consider this proposal at the next City Council meeting” is an example of requesting the proposal to be submitted.


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comparison business letter

A business letter accompanying a comparison is written for a specific situation.  The letter is where personal information is used – not in the actual comparison.


The first paragraph should include the specific comparison requested. Be sure to include information about budget, locations, type of vehicles, etc.


The following paragraphs need to be about the items being compared. If the comparison is set up by item, then there will be additional paragraphs. If the comparison is set up based on features, the letter will have a paragraph dedicated to each feature compared.


The last paragraph should summarize the previous paragraphs. This is where your recommendation is stated, not in the actual comparison itself.


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internal office communications


Internal office communication tends to be less formal than when dealing with an external client.  This does not mean, however, that one should include unprofessional or personal correspondence in office communication.  A moderately formal, calm and respectful tone should permeate all office communication.


In the electronic age e-mail has become the preeminent medium of fast and informal communication.  An e-mail allows one to quickly and without the rigid form of a business letter.  



  • Use proper grammar;
  • Do NOT type in all caps except for special emphasis;
  • Forward messages only when necessary, and only with the permission of the original sender;
  • Be courteous;
  • Be concise;
  • Proofread!



The substance of an e-mail should follow the same format as a business letter.  Clearly state the purpose in the first sentence or paragraph.  The following paragraphs should describe the idea so that everyone understands the meaning.  Finally, ask for action on the matter at hand. 



A memo is a more formal document than an e-mail and is used exclusively for interoffice communication.  They are more uncommon in the modern business environment because e-mail is so easily accessible, but they are not obsolete.



The heading and format of a memo is different than that of a cover letter as shown below:


To: C. Reader (Depending on the organization, full names and job titles are preferred)

From: W. Sender (The author of the memo initials or signs next to their name or at the end of the memo to show responsibility for the content in the memo.)

Subject: Have a clear and specific subject line about the contents of the memo.

Date: 25 March 2010


C: Include a list of all people, alphabetically or descending order of rank, that will receive a copy of the memo.


The purpose of the memo should be clearly stated in the opening paragraph. 




Headings are used to make the memo easier to read, so the reader can glance over each section or skip forward to a specific section.  A summary gives the reader an overview of the content and organizes the sequence of the content.  For readers who are in a hurry, the summary is a substitute for reading the whole memo.  The summary will include the most important details, actions required, and recommendations. 


Detailed Content and Discussion

The following sections will include the details of the message.  It will include all the facts that the reader(s) will need to know.  The end of the body of the memo will end with a conclusion. 


Action List of Items that Need to be Completed

The final section will include a statement of future plans, actions that need to be taken, or tasks that need to be completed to continue with the discussion.


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Using Visuals

Using Visuals to Enhance Writing


Visuals are tables, charts, and figures.  Visuals can add or distract from a point or message the author is trying to convey.  In technical papers, use visuals to clarify or enhance the idea.  Do not use visuals that are too small, vague, confusing, or have too much information which can raise more questions and detract from the information in the document.


In academia, visuals can add clarity to an idea, connect two concepts, and lead an audience towards a desired conclusion.  In lab reports, visuals can be used to show equipment used, simplified procedures, data and results.  When using visuals in your document answer the following questions:


  • It the visual relevant to the material in the text?
  • Is the visual necessary?
  • Does the visual help explain or support the message being conveyed?
  • Is the visual simple, clean and free of erroneous details?
  • Is the data plot accurate?
  • Is the scale properly proportioned?
  • Is the lettering large enough to be easily read?  Proportionate to the figure?
  • Is the spelling correct?
  • Are all abbreviations explained?
  • Are the visuals correctly labeled?
  • Are the visuals referenced in the text?


Below is an example of an APA style table and figure and necessary text to show referencing:


Tables 1 and 2 show the data collected and the log of the flow rates for rectangular and notched plates. The head measurement was determined by taking an initial reading, and then the readings from the other trials were subtracted from the initial value. Because the flow meter was in English Engineering units, it was converted to SI units.


Table 1

Rectangle Weirs Data


Flow Rate (Q)

Flow Rate (Q)

Flow Rate (Q) x 104

Log Q

Gauge reading

head (H)

head (H)

Log H











































































Table 2

Notched Weirs Data




Flow Rate (Q)

Flow Rate (Q) x 104

Log Q

Gauge reading

head (H)

head (H)

Log H


















































































Figure 1 shows the relationship between the discharge rate and the head. As the discharge rate increased, the head increased. This was true of the rectangular and notched plate.



Figure 1: Discharge Rate and Head for Weirs Equations


The head loss through valves and fittings is calculated using the following equation:


hL =K*V2/2g=fT*Le/D*V2/2g [1]


Where, hL is the energy loss due to friction, fT is the fitting size,  is the fitting type, and v is the average velocity.



hL = energy loss due to friction

fT = fitting size

Le/D = fitting type

v = average velocity

1 Mott, Applied Fluid Mechanics, 6th Ed., Prentice Hall, OH, 2006; page 281.


NOTE: Separating equations from the text allows them to be easily accessible as graphic shorthand of the text.  Include additional details about the equation in the text.





Using the appropriate photo can enhance a paper as well. The example below shows a relevant photo and an irrelevant photo.



In 1815, the first attempts to modernize the Port of Recife began and failed. It was not until 1909 when the company Société de Construction de Port de Permanbuco received authorization from the government to build new warehouses, 2000m of dock and new plants that the expansion started. The construction was started in 1918 and was completed in 1920. The next expansion included five more warehouses, a barn and an extension of the docks. These projects were completed in 1937.


Another modernization of the Port was Warehouse 7. This warehouse was originally built in 1912 and was "retired" from use in 2000. Until the renovations began, only minor repairs were done. In 2010, Warehouse 7(photo 1) reopened as a passenger terminal for the 2010/2011 cruise season (


Example of a relevant photo                                      Example of irrelevant photo



Photo 1 - Courtesy of


visuals 2

Photo 2 - Courtesy of


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 Oral Presentations


oral presentations


Giving an oral presentation is very different from writing a paper. Unlike reading a piece of written work, a person has only one chance to present a speech, to get the point across, and to make a good impression; this means that person has no opportunity to re-run the presentation.


The idea of delivering an oral presentation often scares people; the fear of public speaking is ranked higher than the fear of dying. If you are terrified of giving a speech in front of an audience, you are not alone. Most of the time, people are afraid of failing -- being judged by their peers, coming across as unprepared, making a mistake in front of an audience, etc. A few ways to overcome the fear of public speaking are as follows:


  1. Practice - speak to yourself in the mirror, speak to small groups of family and friends, join an organization such as Toastmasters;
  2. Prepare - have your presentation ready well in advance of when you are expected to deliver it so you can practice and tweak it into a final form;
  3. Give speeches - overcoming a fear requires facing that fear. The more speeches you give, the more comfortable you will be at giving speeches.

powerpoint preparation

The first step to preparing a successful PowerPoint is to find a background that is eye-catching but not distracting. If you decide to use a premade theme, try to relate it to your topic. For scientific presentations, pick something that is clean and crisp and not too colorful. Try to stick with two to three colors, nothing too bright (that means no hot pinks or fluorescent greens).


A major complaint about PowerPoint presentations is that the font is difficult to see. Be sure that you have a sharp contrast between your font color and the background slide color. Dark blue background with white font is great, but yellow font on a white background is almost impossible to read. The font size should be between 18-24 point. Remember that people at the back of the room must be able to see what you have written on the slides. Use the same type style and size for all headings and the same type style and size for all of your text/bullet points. 


The serif fonts (i.e. Times New Roman) are best for body text; whereas the san-serif (i.e. Arial) fonts are best for headings. Stay away from the fancy fonts that mimic handwriting or calligraphy. While these "look pretty," they are often very difficult to read. Avoid using all capital letters; it looks as though you are shouting and it is also difficult to read. Use the dim feature within PowerPoint to bring out the bullet you are discussing and take the focus off of the rest of your slide.


When putting text on a slide, do not add every detail and avoid writing in complete sentences. The slides only emphasize what you say, so only write the key points to your presentation on them.


As a final check of the presentation, go through it projected in a room and stand at the back. Check if the font is easy to read and if there is good contrast between the lettering and the background.


A reference page should be included at the end of your PowerPoint to show your audience where you got your information.



Figures are helpful to show your audience what you are talking about. If you took the figure from somewhere else, be sure to give proper citation below the figure. You do not need a long explanation of the figure, provided you explain it within the presentation. Examples of appropriate figures are charts, graphs, some pictures (that add meaning to your presentation), and tables.



This is often where people freeze. The key is to know your audience (if you can) and know your material (which you must). Remember, you spent time putting this together, and you had time to prepare, so you are ready for it. Go over your presentation until you have it memorized, like a speech. If you have been given a time limit, set a timer during practice sessions. Make sure you subtract a little time from whatever your practice time is, especially if you are nervous. Most people speed up when they give a speech/presentation, so if you must go 5 minutes for a class and you are only lasting 3 at your house, you most likely will not make your 5 minute limit the day of your presentation. However, if you are lasting 6 minutes, you will probably be right around 5 minutes the day you deliver the presentation.


Dressing appropriately for the presentation is important; it is the first thing the audience will see. Match your appearance to the audience. If the audience is a class, then slightly more formal than every day attire is fine. For an audience of professions, a jacket, a suit, or office wear is more appropriate.  If speaking on a stage, be sure your shoes are polished since they will be at eye level. For men, bringing an extra tie or coat is a good idea in case of an accidental spill and for women, an extra pair of stockings. Conservative colors are best; navy blue, grey, black pants and light colored shirt. Ties should not have cartoon characters or goofy prints. For women, go for a business look rather than a cocktail party look. If you wearing make-up, be sure it is understated; dark make-up can make your eyes look dull. Avoid tight clothing, shiny jewelry, and high heeled shoes. Adding a jacket or a cardigan can make your look more professional. On the day of the presentation, be sure your hair is trimmed, neat and out of your face and eyes. Eye contact is important while giving the presentation.


Audience members sometimes complain that the presenter had his/her back to them and he/she read directly from the slides. First of all, you should always, always, always face your audience. If you are talking to a screen, the audience most likely cannot hear you. Avoid having too much text on your slides; this also keeps you from reading directly from them. At some point before giving your presentation, make note cards and use them while you practice giving your speech. Be comfortable with them and know how they correlate with the slides. This way, if you get stuck or forget where you are on the day of the speech, you can glance down at your note cards and keep on going. Don't use them as a book; glance down and make eye contact with the audience frequently. Eye contact will help keep them engaged and will make your presentation more personal and more interesting.


At the end of your presentation, always ask if there are any questions. Most of the questions you will get, you will have an answer for, but every once in a while there will be one that you don't. That is ok; simply tell the person that while that is an interesting question, you will have to apologize because it was not within your research and you will have to look up the answer. As presenters, we are not supposed to know everything on the subject, nor do we pretend to know everything on the subject.


Remember, it is not the end of the world and no one is judging you. Be prepared and practice, and you should do just fine.

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MLA and APA Styles


MLA guidelines

Body of Report
•    On the first page of your paper, place your name, your instructor’s name, the course title, and the date on separate lines against the left margin.
•    Center your title.
•    Page header contains the author’s last name and page number.
•    The body of the paper and works cited page is double spaced with 1” margins.
•    Double space the report.
•    Headings and subheadings can be used to separate distinct parts within the section and body of the report.
•    When a quotation is longer than four typed lines of prose or three lines of verse:
─    Set it off from the text by indenting the entire quotation one inch from the left margin
─    Double-space the indented quotation
─    Do not add extra space above or below it
In-text Citations
Follow author-page number method i.e. use the author’s last name and the page number for the source, for example, (Jones 245) and include a complete source in the works cited page.
Works Cited Page
•    Alphabetize the list.
•    Begin works cited on a new page after the report
•    Double space
•    All lines after the first line of each entry in your reference list should be indented one-half inch from the left margin. This is called hanging indentation.
•    If you need to include a Web address (URL) in a works cited entry, do not insert a hyphen when dividing it at the end of a line. Break the URL only after a slash. Insert angle brackets around the URL.

APA guidelines

Body of Report
Include a title page with the following information centered:

•    Title of the report
•    Author’s name
•    Name of course
•    Instructor’s name
•    Date

Page header contains an abbreviated title and the page number.
The body of the paper and reference page is double spaced with 1” margins.
Double space the report.
Headings and subheadings are used to separate distinct parts within the section and body of the report.
Quotations longer than 40 words should be typed in a double-spaced block (all lines indented) without quotation marks.   The final punctuation mark will come after the last word.
In-text Citations
Direct quotes and summaries of author’s sentences, ideas, or studies require references.
Follow author-date method i.e. use the author’s last name and the year of publication for the source, for example, (Smith, 2002) and include a complete reference in the reference page.
References Page
Alphabetize the list.
Begin references on a new page after the report.
Double space
All lines after the first line of each entry in your reference list should be indented one-half inch from the left margin. This is called hanging indentation.


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systematic editing


Editing is part of writing.  Without a systematic strategy many writers over edit; they work too hard for too little results.  Develop a strategy that works for you.  The one that follows works for me.


Steps in the process

  1. Organization
  2. Content
  3. Required elements
  4. Sentence structures-language use
  5. Grammar and mechanics



Process and things to look for in each step



Is the title clear?  Does it give a brief description of the text that follows?

Scan the subheadings.  Are they clear?  Do they describe the contents of each section?  Are they in parallel form?  Are they connected to the text (no accidental page breaks separating them from the sections they head) and do they show the logical development of the paper.



Is all the relevant information you want to give your reader present. Is irrelevant information clouding your message?  Is content of each section consistent with its heading?  Is important information supported by appropriate outside sources and cited in proper format?


Required Elements

Have you included every required element in the paper? If a cover letter is required have you followed the required format?  Is it dated?  Do you have a checklist of required items to insure that all are included?


If graphics (graphs, charts, tables, pictures, etc) are used, are they properly credited? Do they clarify your meaning?


Sentence Structure-language use

Is every sentence clear on first reading?  Are there ambiguous pronoun placements, single/plural shifts, clichés, figures of speech or overused favorite words?  Have you checked for your pet phrases and habits which pad the paper or reduce clarity? Are sentence lengths varied to add interest? Is complex information presented clearly and logically? Is information presented using the least number of words possible?


Grammar and Mechanics

Have you run spellchecker and grammar checker? Have you double checked them? Do not let your spellchecker think for you. Electronic editors are not precise.


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suggestions for editing


Read it aloud: Reading aloud forces you to slow down and read it as it is written.  You will hear it and say it as well as seeing it.  If you become tongue tied or hesitate on any sentence, flag it and come back to it.  If you see an mechanical error, fix it or flag it and come back to it.


Have someone read it aloud to you:  Your reader will see it for the first time much as the intended recipient of the paper will experience it.  As your reader reads, flag hesitations, redundancies, illogical connections, awkward sentences, and errors you pick up on.  Repair



Write in the plural:  Writing “students” is less wordy and less stiff than using “the student.” If you always write in the plural you will avoid single-plural shifts (the student-they) and you will avoid most gender biased language.  Students are always they-never he or she. Unless your subject is clearly singular, prefer the plural.


Do not contract: In academic writing contractions are prohibited.  Eliminating them in business and personal writing will make your writing more clear.  If you never contract, you will never have doubt about its and it’s.  If you use “it is”, and never “it’s,” you do not have to remember the elusive grammar rule.


Eliminate vague terms: Words like many, various, and several, pad your paper and reduce its precision.  Even big, strong, and priceless add nothing of value and reduce clarity.


Consider leaving out any word that ends in ly: If you are writing in the present tense, it adds nothing to use currently.  It does not add information to say “he stumbled awkwardly.” No one ever stumbled in any manner other than awkwardly.  Words ending in ly rarely (there is one of those ly words J) add useful information and many J words ending in y are superfluous, too.


Keep paragraphs short:  Short paragraphs (5-7 lines) are reader friendly. Readers group information in overly long paragraphs in order clarify meaning. Group thoughts for them. There are exceptions to this in research writing in some disciplines.  Check your style manual if you are unsure.


Keep sentences short: Although you should vary your sentence length, readable sentences should average about 20 words.  Long convoluted sentences are hard to punctuate and may confuse your readers.


Prefer the active voice:  Although there are specific uses for the passive voice, the active voice is less wordy and more clear.  The statement, “Sales reports will be turned in to the sales manager each Friday” does not define who will do it. There are examples of active and passive voice in every writing manual.  Consult the manual and use passive sentences only when it is called for.




A few observations:


Parking lots do not need to be paved.  Bills do not need to be paid.  Murderers do not need to be executed, and cereal does not need to be eaten. 


“He is not only enthusiastic, but also energetic” takes more words to write than “He is energetic and enthusiastic. 


“Use not only (an ly word J) but also” sparingly (an ly wordJ)  if ever.  Notice that energetic and enthusiasm are almost synonyms.  Frequently (an ly word J) students pair synonyms in this form and  pairing always (an ly word J) detracts.


Building a building will not create needed classroom space. The building will provide space.  The process of building it may reduce parking space and won’t add classroom space.


It is sufficient to say “May” rather than “the month of May.”  Texas doesn’t need “the State of”  to clarify it.


Most (more than 50% ?) of us use words we do not need when we write.  Eliminating all superfluous words is not possible or even desirable, but wordiness bogs readers down and makes  communication difficult. 


Every word you put on paper is a choice you make; choose carefully!


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six tips for reader friendly writing

Tip 1: Keep sentences and paragraphs short.

            Vary length for interest, but don’t intimidate readers


Tip 2: Avoid jargon and clichés.

            Technical terms are important to technical audiences,

            but intimidating to others.  Clichés detract. Avoid them like the….


Tip 3: Cut unnecessary words and redundancy

            “I will graduate in the month of May.”

            “The lanes merge together.”

            “He is currently stationed in Iraq.”


           Words that end in "ly" often don't add any substance to a paper.  Find these

          words, and consider leaving them out of the paper.


Tip 4: Be specific-avoid vague terms

            Be precise in your writing, leave out terms like many,

several, a lot of, and somewhat.  “A 300 pound cupcake” has

more impact than “a huge individual birthday pastry.”


Tip 5: Prefer the active voice

            “The invoice was paid by the accountant” is wordy.

            “The accountant paid the invoice” is clear and concise.


            Passive voice is useful if used effectively and is required

 in certain applications and  some scientific and professional

 style guides.  Passive voice is wordy; and often unclear.


Tip 6: Don’t use more than 3 numbers in a single sentence

            Thirty percent of the 10th grade class scored over 85% on at least two of

the three parts of the test, and 78 percent of students met the minimum two-thirds

pass rate required in the 2007 Education Mandate.


Using that many numbers makes it difficult for the reader to understand

what you are trying to say.  Instead, break it up into several sentences.


Educated readers scan rapidly…write reader friendly- take the speed bumps out of their way.



Want more tips on polishing your communication skill? 

Check out the TAMUG Writing Lab CLB 108


About Grammar and Mechanics


The purpose for grammar is to clarify meaning.  Grammar and mechanics are tools enabling us to communicate effectively.  Conventions like capitalizing the first word in a sentence and putting a period or question mark at the end enable us to separate thoughts into segments. There is a short grammar section following this guide, and there are links to more detailed information.


Writer’s tip- The purpose for grammar is to clarify meaning.  Grammar conventions are the tools of the trade in professional and executive communication.  Learn to use them effectively!


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Tips from the Writing Lab

6 Common Grammar and Punctuation Mistakes

•    Single-plural shift – Write in the plural: “students,” instead of singular: “the student.” Avoid single-plural shift.
   Single-plural shift: The student studied for the exam, and they got an A.   
    No single-plural shift: The students studied for the exam, and they all passed.
•    Comma – Use when joining two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction.
    Use after a group of words that introduce the main part of a sentence.
    Use to separate a list of 3 or more items joined by a conjunction.
•    Ambiguous pronoun reference – Pronouns are used in place of nouns.
    Mr. Peterson’s article was in the magazine, but I didn’t read it.
     I didn’t read Mr. Peterson’s article in the magazine.
•    Dangling modifiers – Modifiers are words, phrases or clauses that add description to other words.
    Dangling: While driving down the road, the tree fell on Kevin’s car.
    Clear: While Kevin was driving down the road, a tree fell on his car.
•    Quotation Marks – Use “ ” for single quotations and ‘ ‘ for quotations within a quotation.
•    Commonly misused words
Accept/Except – Accept is a verb meaning receive with consent. Except means to exclude, but it is more commonly used just as the word but is used.
    The professor did not accept my late paper.
    The students had all the laboratory equipment they needed except a scale.

There/Their/They’re – There refers to a location. Their refers to ownership. They’re is a contraction for they are.

Affect/Effect – Affect is an active verb. Effect is usually a noun meaning outcome or results.
    The small amount of moisture in the soil sample affected the results of the experiment.
    Drying the soil in the oven over night gave the desired effect of the sample.

Compare to/Compare with – Compare to suggests resemblances between things that have different natures. Compare with suggests resemblances between things that have similar nature.

Cite/Site/Sight – Cite is a verb meaning to mention or to make reference to. Site is a noun meaning location. Sight is both a noun and verb that refers to seeing.

Stationary/Stationery – Stationary refers to an object that is not moving. Stationery is material for writing, typing or printing.

Principle/Principal – Principle is a doctrine or truth. Principal means first, primary or main.

Hour/Our/Are – Hour is a 24th of a day, 60 minutes. Our is possessive pronoun referring to group ownership. Are is a singular or present plural of be.

It’s/Its – It’s is a contraction of it is. Its is a possessive pronoun.

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Basic Guidelines to Comma Usage

Use a comma when you are joining words or groups of words and when separating introductory or parenthetical elements.


1. Use a comma when joining two complete sentences with and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

I know how to use a comma, and I get good grades.


2. Use a comma after a group of words that introduce the main part of a sentence.

Although Jo studied the chapter, she was still confused.


3. Use a comma to separate a list of 3 or more items joined by and/or. (Note: Some sources say that the comma should be omitted before and; some sources say to use it for clarity. This is the writer’s preference. If it helps to clarify the sentence, you should put the comma before “and”.)

Cups of sugar, jars of honey, and plates of spaghetti


4. Use a comma separating a state name when an address is written in the text. Also use a comma to separate the year of a date when the format follows month/date/year.

December 10, 2001, is the last day of classes this semester.

The state capitol in Springfield, Illinois, is near my house.


When Not To Use A Comma

One unhelpful “rule” should not be used: place a comma where you pause (or breathe). This “rule” gets many writers in trouble since they pause at rhetorically important places that are not grammatically important.


1. Do not separate the subject and the verb of a sentence with a comma.

Incorrect: The country selected, and supported the worst candidate.

Correct: The country selected and supported the worst candidate.


2. Do not use a comma directly after a preposition.

Incorrect: Joanna and Mary registered to vote, after they realized, that voting was a privilege, that they could lose.

Correct: Joanna and Mary registered to vote after they realized that voting was a privilege that they could lose.


3. Do not use a comma after but or and in a compound sentence.

Incorrect: They went downtown but, they did not stay long.

Correct: They went downtown but they did not stay long.


4. Do not use a comma before and when it is joining two subjects, two objects, or two verbs.

Incorrect: Peter, and Paul were early church leaders.

Correct: Peter and Paul were early church leaders.

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fragments and run-ons

Sentence Fragments

A sentence fragment does not have a verb, subject, or complete a thought. When you edit for sentence fragments remember:


  • All sentences must have complete subjects and verbs
  • Relative clauses and appositives cannot stand alone
  • Words like who, which, that and where typically signal the beginning of a relative clause and must be connected to a sentence to form a complete thought.
  • “Which was very high” is a relative clause and should be joined to the first sentence by a comma.
  • Do not use lists as an independent sentence



Two or more complete sentences with out the proper use of punctuation (i.e. commas, periods, semicolons, and conjunctions).


A “choppy paper” contains too many short sentences, awkward phrases, and/or starts each sentence with the same word(s) or phrase(s).


  • Vary your sentence lengths by using commas and semicolons
  • Vary the beginning of each sentence
  • Use active voiced language to add to the strength of the meaning of the sentence
  • Read your paper out loud; any sentence, word, or phrase that you stumble on, your reader will stumble on


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plurals, possessives, and apostrophes


Use the apostrophe with contractions. The apostrophe is always placed at the spot where the letter(s) has been removed.

Don’t = do not

Isn’t = is not


The only time an apostrophe is used for it's is when it is a contraction for it is or it has.

It’s a nice day.


Use the apostrophe to show possession. Place the apostrophe before the s to show singular possession.

One man’s car

Mr. Jones’s golf clubs


To show plural possession, make the noun plural first. Then immediately use the apostrophe.

Two boy’s books

Three school’s computer


Do not use an apostrophe for the plural of a name.

We visited the Andersons in New York.


With a singular compound noun, show possession with 's at the end of the word.

My sister-in-law’s house


If the compound noun is plural, form the plural first and then use the apostrophe.

My two sister-in-laws’ sweater


Use the apostrophe and s after the second name only if two people possess the same item.

Stephen and Isabel’s house is constructed from redwood.


Never use an apostrophe with possessive pronouns: his, hers, its, theirs, ours, yours, whose. They already show possession so they do not require an apostrophe.

The book is hers, not yours.


The plurals for capital letters and numbers used as nouns are not formed with apostrophes.

The 1900s NOT the 1900’s

The ‘90s or the mid-‘70s NOT the ‘90’s or the mid-‘70’s


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quotation marks and ellipses


Quotation Marks

1. Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes .

The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again within 30 seconds.

She said, “Hurry up.”

She said, “He said, ‘Hurry up.’”

2. Punctuation goes outside quotation marks ONLY when a citation follows.


“Animals have a variety of emotions similar to human’s” (Smith 40).


3. When you have a question outside quoted material AND inside quoted material, use only one question mark and place it inside the quotation mark. 


She asked, “Will you return my book?”

Do you agree with the saying, “All’s fair in love and war”?


NOTE:  Only one ending punctuation mark is used with quotation marks.  Also, the stronger punctuation mark wins.


4. Use a single quotation mark for quotes within quotes.  NOTE: The period goes inside all quote marks.


He said, “Jen said, ‘Do not treat me that way.’”


5. When quoting something that has a spelling or grammar mistake or present material in a confusing way, insert the term [sic] in italics enclosed in brackets.  Sic means, “This is the way the original material was.”


She wrote, “I would rather die then [sic] be seen wearing the same outfit as my sister.”


Using Ellipses Correctly

1. Use no more than three marks whether the omission occurs in the middle of a sentence or between sentences.  NOTE: You may leave out punctuation such as commas that were in the original.

            Original Sentence:  The regulation states, “All agencies must    document overtime or risk losing federal funds.”


            Rewritten using ellipses:  The regulation states, “All agencies must       document overtime…”

2. When you omit one or more paragraphs within a long quotation, use ellipsis marks after the last punctuation mark that ends the preceding paragraph.


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using dashes correctly

Dashes can serve two purposes in writing sentences.  They can be used to link or separate ideas when writing.  While they add flair to writing, they should be used with care. 


1. Dashes are used to add examples, illustrations, or summaries to the ends of sentences.  Dashes emphasize additions to sentences.

2. Dashes are used to insert information in the middle of the sentence.  The information inserted in the middle of sentences does get attention.

3. Dashes are used to highlight interruptions, especially in dialogue.

4. Dashes are used to set off items, phrases, or credit lines.

5. Dashes are constructed by using two unspaced hyphens.  Also, no space is left before or after a dash.

6. Dashes should be used sparingly.  Since they can clutter a selection, do not use more than one pair per sentence.


Correct Usage Examples

  • Along the wall are the bulk liquids – sesame seed oil, honey, safflower oil, maple syrup, and peanut butter. 
  • Consider the amount of sugar in the average person’s diet – 104 pounds per year, 90 percent more than that consumed by our ancestors. 


Incorrect Usage Example

Insisting that our young people learn to use computers as instructional tools – for information retrieval – makes good sense.


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using semicolons and colons

Determining when to use a semicolon or colon is easy.  The semicolon is used only between items of equal grammatical rank:  two independent clauses, two phrases, etc.


1. A semicolon is used between closely related complete sentences of parallel or contrasting information that are not joined by and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.  Using only a comma or no punctuation at all between complete sentences creates a comma splice or a fused sentence.

2. A semicolon is used before a conjunctive adverb, transitional phrase, or transitional word used to join two complete sentences.  This transitional element is followed by a comma.

3. A colon is used after a complete sentence to introduce a list of items when introductory words such as namely, for example, or that is do not appear.


Correct Semicolon Usage Example

Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.


Transitional use:

Many corals grow very gradually; in fact, the creation of a coral reef can take centuries.


List use:

Some of my favorite film stars have home pages on the Web; John Travolta, Susan Sarandon, and Leonardo DiCaprio.


Incorrect Semicolon Usage Example

Five of the applicants had worked with spreadsheets; but only one was familiar with database management. (semicolon should be a comma “,”)


Correct Colon Usage Example

A typical routine includes the following: 25 knee bends, 50 sit-ups, 15 leg lifts, and five minutes of running in place.


Incorrect Colon Usage Example

The trees on our campus include many Japanese specimens such as: black pines, gingkos, and weeping cherries. (colon does not need to be used after “such as,” “including,” or “for example.”)


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Your supervisor, or a colleague, has asked you to check into several options for performing a task, selecting a product (phone system, computer software, etc.) and to make a recommendation. 



Prepare a report comparing two options and making a recommendation. The report should be 5-6 pages in length comparing specific features (benefits) of two possible choices and making a recommendation. The report must be suitable for presentation to a board, committee, or other non-personal audience.


Write a cover letter to the person who made the request. Summarize the rationale, the findings, and your recommendation. Personal information should be included in the letter but not in the report.



Two stand-alone documents – a cover letter and a report.


The letter

A single page cover letter using standard letter format. It must be to a specific person in response to information the person has given you. It should restate preferences you have been given, identify the options you will compare, summarize your findings, and recommend a single choice.


The report

The report should be prepared as if it was to a committee, city Council, or other group of people. No personal information should be included.


The report must include

  • Title
  • Subheadings
  • Graphics to clarify meaning
  • Recommendation
  • 2 outside sources in proper citation format


Possible strategy: restate the rationale (the assigned task) in the introduction. Narrow the number of choices to two which will be used for final consideration.  Establish the criteria upon which you will base your recommendation, and transition into a comparison of specific features.


For example, if you are going to compare two trucks -- a Ford and Chevy—establish that you will compare based on handling characteristics, cost using over three years, and comfort and convenience packages, you will want to set up an organization pattern which will allow you to compare them head-to-head on those features.


Organization Strategy

You could outline it, using each of the outlined items as a subsection, as follows: Put information directly related to each heading in that section.


A comparison of 2007 Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado Pickup Trucks

            Introduction – no subheading is needed

 Ford F-150

            Handling Characteristics

            Cost of driving over three years

            Comfort and convenience

Chevrolet Silverado

            Handling Characteristics

            Cost of driving over three years

            Comfort and Convenience


             Summarize- Ford handles better. Chevy is less expensive to operate, but Ford offers greater comfort and convenience. The best choice for our purpose is Ford.


Alternative Organization Strategy

This outline is especially effective when presenting long comparisons. It reduces the need to look back several pages in order to match features of Ford with those of the Chevrolet. Features of each are presented in the same location in the paper for easy cross reference. A mini-conclusion at the end of each section summarizes the difference. The conclusion at the end of the paper is a restatement of the mini-conclusions followed by a recommendation.


A comparison of 2007 Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado Pickup Trucks

            Introduction – no subheading is needed


Handling Characteristics

            Ford F-150

            Chevrolet Silverado


Cost of driving over three years

     Ford F-150

            Chevrolet Silverado



Comfort and Convenience

            Ford F-150

            Chevrolet Silverado


Summary and Conclusion


Grading Criteria (rubric)

Content: 25%

Organization 25%

Inclusion of required elements 20%

Language use (sentence structures, word choices, etc.) 20%

Grammar and mechanics 10%



Pay particular attention to single/plural shifts, awkward sentence structures, vague and redundant phrases. Avoid clichés slang, and most figures of speech.


Be specific. Every sentence should be clear on first reading. Graphics should clarify difference. Use similarities to narrow to two choices (more than two results in too many complexities to make a clear recommendations) and use the differences to choose between them.


Use the checklist for readability (usability in some editions) in the book as a guideline.


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five paragraph theme

The first sentence should start with a broad topic that will be narrowed, present a concrete fact that provides hints toward the main idea of the paper, and move the reader from general to specific.
The second sentence should further explain the opening sentence and foreshadow one of the body paragraphs.
Third and subsequent sentences (with the exception of the thesis) should continue to move the reader from general to specific and move the reader smoothly into the thesis.
The thesis statement should normally be located at the end of the introduction, express the substantive issue (which is the main idea), and may provide hints as to support to be presented.  A well-focused thesis statement contains two elements:  a precise subject and a precise restricting element.  Avoid using a generalized topic rather than a precise topic when writing a thesis.  Another problem occurs when the thesis does not limit the subject adequately.  Also, avoid opening thesis statements with statements like “I will use my essay to consider. . .” and “This paper will discuss. . .”
    A thesis should have the following characteristics: 
        It should be simple or complex, never compound.
        It should state a positive attitude.
        It should be restricted, precise, and unified.
        It should not contain figurative language.
        It must make a claim or an argument; it cannot be a statement of fact.

The Body
The body should contain topic sentences for every body paragraph, contain at least three adequately-developed supports, contain internal transition, contain clincher sentences (ones that do not merely summarize), and contain between paragraph transitions after the first body paragraph.

The Conclusion
The first sentence should restate the thesis and move the reader from specific to general.
The second and subsequent sentences (with the exception of the last) should draw definite conclusions, rather than simple summarizations, of each body paragraph, and move the reader back to general from specific.
The last sentence should be most general in the closing and bring the paper’s thesis full circle as it should relate back to the opening sentence of the introduction.           


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how to paper

This paper is a simple set of instructions. It can be how to program a VCR, how to download a file from the Internet, how to lower a lifeboat or any other set of procedures or directions.


The paper should be one or two pages in length.  The instructions should be given in parallel form (see textbook), and simple directives rather than full paragraphs.  It should be the type of thing we can hold or reference while performing the task


It must have graphics to show how to perform the task. Pictures or diagrams should be labeled and credit must be given to the source.


Notes and warnings should be given in a different form than directions.  It is okay to use samples were different type styles to indicate that they are different from the directions.


The sample page from the Bissell carpet shampooer or is one example of a reasonably well done set of instructions. Yours may be more professional or more structured -- they should fit the situation and be appropriate for your audience.


Be sure to include all necessary steps. Be sure that your instructions are easy to understand and follow.


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Identify a problem and propose a solution. Your goal is to influence someone to take specific action to remedy a situation.


You must prepare two stand-alone documents.  A cover letter to the person you are sending it to and a brochure style proposal (about 4 pages) identifying the problem and presenting a case for the action you request as the best solution.


Establish the problem, then present specific, relevant information to support your request.


The letter

This must be one page in standard letter or memo form.  It must summarize the proposal that follows and must make a request for specific action on the part of the person you are writing to.  Your purpose should be clear from the beginning.


It must be to a specific person who has both the authority and resources to take the action you request. You must conclude with a request for specific action.  “Consider my proposal is not an action, and it will not get the results you are seeking.


The text 

This must be divided into sections, roughly corresponding to introduction, background, rationale for the proposed action, and a summary conclusion.  It may contain information needed by your reader in making a favorable decision, such as budget, legal considerations, etc.


This portion should establish the importance of the problem, but should focus on the solution.  The tone should be designed to influence your reader.


Personal appeals should be confined to the letter since the attachment may become part of a presentation to a committee, board, or other group, and this text should be slanted toward multiple audiences.


Internal subheadings are required.  Your paper will be stronger if these are specifically related to your topic rather than generic.


Both documents should be free of mechanical errors and should follow conventional practice.  They should be centered on your proposed solution



You use one (1) outside source use for this paper and must provide a Reference page. You may use “your best educated guess,” and the designation “PFA” to indicate that you are aware that in a true presentation, and all later papers in this class, you will need to document sources for the type of information you present.  You must use (PFA) in the text and include a listing on the Reference page to match each one in the text but for this paper are required only one researched source; the rest are guesstimates.


All Papers in this class must be in APA Format


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How to Write a Resume

By Liat Goldstein

A resume is a brief, detailed list of your education, experience, achievements, and skills. A proper resume should contain only positive information that is relevant to the position you are applying for. Resumes should be limited to one page and organized in a way that makes it easy to find information quickly and is pleasing to the eye. Here are a few pointers on how to compose an effective resume.

Basic Information
•    Start your resume off with a heading that provides your contact information. Be sure to include a permanent address as well as a university address, if you have one, and the dates you will be in each location so that the employer knows where to contact you.
•    List all schools that you attended, including their locations, the year you graduated, your degree and your major. If your GPA is above a 3.0, you may include that, as well.
•    Outline any skills you have that help qualify you for the position.
•    When listing your work experience, arrange them from the most recent, back. Include the location of the job, but not a specific address, and state your job title and responsibilities.
•    Be sure to list any internships, volunteer positions, or extracurricular activities you participated in. Also list any offices you have held, or awards you have received.

•    It is important to be sure that you are succinct – do not repeat yourself, do not include unnecessary information, and keep it at ONE page.
•    Do not use first-person, and do not use full sentences.
•    Use attention-getting headings. It may be appropriate to use a different font for headings than the rest of the paper, as well as bold and a larger font size. Remember - you want the resume to be easily navigable.


Fig 1. Sample student resume.

“The Quadrant Test”

•    A reader tends to read from top to bottom and left to right, looking for important information and headings.
•    Knowing this will allow you to arrange your resume in a way that puts the most important information on the left side of the page, following the line of site in figure 3.
•    However, do not make the page left-heavy. Make sure you have an equal amount of information and white-space in all four quadrants.
•    Quadrant one is the first one the employer will read, so be sure to include your most important information in that quadrant – including contact information.

“The Twenty-Second Test”

•    If you are unsure whether your resume is arranged properly, have someone perform the “twenty-second test” on it.

•    Give the person your resume and have them read it while you time them for exactly twenty seconds.

•    After the twenty seconds, ask them what information they gathered from your resume.
If they noticed the information you want the employer to notice, then your resume is organized efficiently.


Fig 3. General path the eye takes as it scans across the page.



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Getting Started

Finding a Topic – Livingston, Kathy. (8 Nov, 2010). Choosing an essay topic.

Retrieved from

Knowing Who Your Audience Is - Hale, S., Dr. (n.d.). Choosing and Writing for an Audience [Brochure].

Creating a Thesis Statement and Outline – Fowler, H. Ramsey & Aaron, Jane E. (2007) The Little Brown Handbook. New York:Pearson Education, Inc. pp. 27 – 29.

University Writing Center. (2011). Thesis statements. Retrieved from



Finding Source Information – Texas A&M University at Galveston Writing Lab

Library Services and Resources – Texas A&M University at Galveston Writing Lab

Identifying and Finding Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources – Primary Source. (May 26, 2010).

Evaluating Websites – Evalwebsites. (May 26, 2010).

Advance Searching Techniques – Adsearching. (May 26, 2010).

Basic Elements of a Citation – Citation. (May 26, 2010).

Difference Between Popular, Scholarly and Trade Periodicals/Magazines –

Popscholtrade. (May 26, 2010).


Using Visuals – Purdue OWL:APA Formatting and Style Guide. (2011).

Retrieved from

Professional and Technical Writing/Instructions/Visuals – Wikibooks, open books for an open world. (2010)

Retrieved from

Photo 1, Porto do Recife S.A. – História – Página 2. (2009).

Photo 2, Porto do Recife, S.A. – História. (2009).


Oral Presentations – Texas A&M University at Galveston Writing Lab


MLA & APA Styles

The Humanities – Research and Documentation Online 5th Edition. (n.d.).

Social Sciences – Research and Documentation Online 5th Edition. (n.d.).

Editing – Texas A&M University at Galveston Writing Lab

Systematic Editing

Suggestions for Editing

Six Tips for Reader Friendly Writing

Tips from the Writing Lab


Fragments & Run-ons

Plurals, Possessives and Apostrophes

Quotation Marks & Ellipses


Semicolon & Colon




Five Paragraph Theme

How To




Note: all sections that are not referenced above have been created at or taken from previous TAMUG Writing Lab handouts