Here, we will post frequently asked questions from our tutorials and class discussions (and our answers to them of course!). If you have any questions that you think should be added to this list, please mail us at writingguide@chalmers.se.

Can I use ”we” in a text? Short answer: yes, sometimes.

”We” is actually used quite frequently in technical writing. However, be aware of the conventions of your discipline, i.e. check some articles /theses in your field,  see if they use ”we”, and think of the style implications (see Active vs passive voice for further discussion).

Typically, more traditional fields tend to avoid personal pronouns like ”we” whereas more recent disciplines, like computer science, use personal pronouns more. Also consider that although ”we” is fairly common, ”you” and ”I” are not used very much at all.

Can I begin a sentence with ”and” or ”but”? Short answer: no.

In formal writing, these words create too informal of a register when used at beginnings of sentences. However, in more informal texts, this is acceptable. If you are unsure of the level of formality of a text, the best idea is to avoid beginning a sentence with ”and” or ”but”.

What are the differences between American and British English?

Despite the fact that the populations of the United Kingdom and the United States speak English, many differences exist between British and American English. The information that follows is not meant to provide a complete list of all such differences, but it is instead meant to give general advice that may help you in formal, academic work.

Whichever form of English you prefer, it is important to be consistent.

Spelling difference examples

British  American 
“s” constructions, e.g. organisation, organise, utilisation, utilise “z” constructions, e.g. organization, organize, utilization, utilize
use of ”u” in words like: colour, vapour, honour, labour, mould no ”u” in words like: color, vapor, honor, labor, mold
”-re” endings, e.g. centre, litre, fibre ”-er” endings, e.g. center, liter, fiber
doubled Ls, e.g. fuelled, traveller, equalling single Ls, e.g. fueled, traveler, equaling
”-nce” endings, e.g. offence, licence -nse” endings, e.g. offense, license
double vowels, e.g. paediatric, oestrogen, anaesthetic single vowels, e.g. pediatric, estrogen, anasthetic
choice of ”-t” or ”-ed” past tense verb ending, e.g. burnt/burned, smelt/smelled, dreamt/dreamed only the ”-ed” past tense verb ending, e.g. burned, smelled, dreamed
some chemical terms, e.g. sulphur, sulphate, aluminium, caesium some chemical terms, e.g. sulfur, sulfate, aluminum, cesium

Vocabulary difference examples

British  American 
anti-clockwise counter-clockwise
base rate prime rate
bespoke custom-made
biro ball-point pen
(round) brackets parentheses (“brackets” refers to [] )
CV résumé (“CV” is only used for professors and academics)
earth wire ground wire
fortnight two weeks
full stop period
gearbox transmission
hand brake parking brake
hire purchase installment plan
juggernaut 18-wheeler, semi truck
lorry truck
managing director chief executive officer, CEO
maths math
mobile cell phone
number plate license plate
pet hate pet peeve
petrol gas, gasoline
post mail
postal code ZIP code
queue line (”line up” if using a verb)
solicitor lawyer, attorney
stockholder shareholder
zed the letter z (pronounced ”zee”)

What are the most common informalities that I should avoid in my writing?

Most students work hard to produce texts that are appropriately formal, but this can be particularly difficult when working in a language that is not one’s mother tongue. For instance, words that are abbreviations of longer words are usually informal. Examples include ad or advert for advertisement, bike for bicycle, and TVor telly for television.

Below are some informalities that students frequently include in their writing, along with some suggestions for revision. For more about informalities, see the information under Style and Register.

Informality Explanation
get This word is often used when “have” is a better choice. So, “The client needs to get a clear idea of the project goals” would be more formal if it read, “The client needs to have a clear idea of the project goals”.
etc. When you have a list that you would like to indicate is not a complete catalogue of all possible items, avoid using “etc.” Instead, use the phrase “such as” to indicate one or more examples: “The team tested many different battery types, such as lithium-ion, chromic acid cell, alkaline, and nickel-cadmium batteries”.
kind of, sort of “Kind of” is acceptable when used to indicate “type of” (as in the example “Chromic acid cell is one kind of battery”) but is informal when it is used to indicate extent or quantity, as in: “The carbon fiber machine is kind of expensive”. Instead, be more precise: “The carbon fiber machine’s cost exceeds the budget”. “Sort of” is also informal, and it also should be avoided.
pros and cons These are prefixes, not full words, so better options include “advantages and disadvantages” or  “benefits and detriments”.
thing Replace this word with a more specific noun to clarify your writing.
ups and downs Replace with “successes and challenges”, “advances and setbacks”, or another phrase that more specifically conveys the intended meaning.
the reason being This phrase cannot function as a sentence’s subject. For example, “The reason being that plutonium is scarce” is incorrect, and could better be expressed as “The reason for this is that plutonium is scarce”. To correctly use this phrase, it must begin a description. An example of this, which should be used only in informal situations, is: “Plutonium is not an ideal choice for this application, the reason being that it is scarce.”

Does Urkund react if I change just a few words in a paragraph? Short answer: yes.

Urkund is a fairly sophisticated system, and through it your instructors can see if you have used another text verbatim, and even if you have used another text while only changing a few words. Urkund will even show your instructor the base text that a student used to plagiarize. 

Where should I put references in a text? Short answer: it depends on which reference system is used.

This answer is under construction.

Which words should have capital letters in a document or chapter title?

There are 2 possibilities in English, title case and sentence case (see below). Both possibilities are equally used. The 2nd option is probably easier to follow since there are fewer words to capitalise, but different journals / disciplines have their own requirements. For example, the APA system uses both depending on where in the text the title appears  (see APA style).

1. Title case: Capitalise all significant words, i.e. most words apart from articles (a, an, the), linking words (e.g. and, but) and prepositions (e.g. of, in, at). This is the way that the titles of novels usually appear on the cover of the book, for instance.

Examples: Titles Using Title Case

Modelling and Analysis of Urban Flooding

Management in Sweden and China: a Comparison of Cultures

Note: Since ”in”, ”a” ”and” and ”of” are not significant words, they are not capitalised. Note in the 2nd example that there is no capital letter after the colon (British English). In American English, there would be a capital ”A” since this is the start of an independent clause. If the subtitle came on the next line, it would start with a capital letter.

2. Sentence case: This means capitalising the first word and all proper nouns, just as a writer would do when writing a sentence in English.

Examples: Titles using sentence case

Modelling and analysis of urban flooding

Management in Sweden and China: a comparison of cultures

Note: In the 2nd example, since ”Sweden” and ”China” are proper nouns, they have capital letters, but none of the other words needs a capital.

Am I allowed to use abbreviations like e.g. and etc. in reports and other texts?

There is consensus on ”etc.” being too informal for most scientific and technical texts, so you should not use it.

However, there is not one clear answer for the use of ”e.g.” Some people feel that it should not be used in formal texts, except in instances which require extreme concision (like footnotes). Other people feel that ”e.g.” is a usefully concise way to introduce an example. Check with your supervisor to find out what his or her preference is. If you are still uncertain, then avoid using ”e.g.”

If I write out an acronym or abbreviation, which letters should I capitalize?

The answer here depends on the acronym or abbreviation.

If an acronym stands for a proper noun (the name of a specific person, place, or thing, such as a company’s name), then the words must follow the same capitalization rules as other proper nouns.

For instance, if spelling out the full name of INTERPOL, it would appear as the ”International Criminal Police Organization”. Why? That is the specific name of that organization.

However, if spelling out the full phrase for FAQ, it should appear as ”frequently asked questions” because that is not the name of a specific person, place, or thing.