Infographic: “The 69 Rules of Punctuation” from

The infographic above offers ¬†“69 Rules for Punctuation.” ¬†Though 69 rules may seem overwhelming, they are organized by type, such as commas, parentheses, exclamation marks (don’t overuse these in college writing), and quotation marks. ¬†If punctuation challenges you, print the infographic out and put it on your notebook this semester! Here it is again:

Sentence Fragments

"Williamsburg Bridge: April 1, 2014" by Jennifer Sears

“Williamsburg Bridge: April 1, 2014” by Jennifer SearsFragment


~ a small part broken or separated off something

  • ~ an isolated or¬†incomplete¬†part of something

A sentence fragment is an incomplete sentence. Every¬†sentence needs a subject/noun and a verb. A noun is a person place or thing, and a verb is an action or state of being. A sentence fragment is either missing a noun or a verb or, it doesn’t¬†contain a complete thought. When looking for sentence fragments there is a tendency to look for short sentences. While it’s true that some sentence fragments are short, it’s not always the case. There are short sentences that are fine.

I am here.   She is fun.   We jumped.    Rachel ate.
Each of these sentences is a complete sentence containing a subject and a verb.

Subject             Verb
I                          am
she                     is
we                      jumped
Rachel                ate

There are longer sentences that may not look like fragments, because they contain more information, but are still incomplete. This can happen when the subject or the verb is missing, or when the sentence does not contain a complete thought. Like this:

While eating cheetos, caressing her cat lovingly, and watching her favorite TV show.

There is no subject in that sentence. It is not clear who is eating cheetos. We can fix that sentence like this:

Jessica was eating cheetos, caressing her cat lovingly, and watching her favorite TV show.

Another way to fix that sentence is to complete the scenario that was set up by using the word while. Using the word while in the first version of that sentence, makes it seem as if something happened while Jessica was eating cheetos, caressing her cat, and watching TV. So, what happened?

Jessica fell asleep while eating cheetos, caressing her cat lovingly, and watching her favorite TV show.

Here is another sentence fragment.
For example what my father has done before.

This fragment contains a subject and a verb, but it does not contain a complete thought. It is a particularly difficult sentence fragment because we have no idea what it is talking about. It could be saying just about anything.

For example what my father has done before was take his helicopter when he was late for work. For example what my father has done before is stay inside of the house for the entire winter because he hates the cold.

Do you see what I mean?

Proofread your essays and look for sentence fragments. Check to see if each sentence has a subject and a verb. Then, make sure that each sentence contains a complete thought. See the links below for tutorials and exercises on sentence fragments.


Finding the Main Idea

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Your grammar and your sentence structure are great. You’ve got a good handle on how to write a pretty decent essay in ninety minutes. The only problem is that your professor keeps saying that you’re going off topic. It’s possible that you’re missing the main point; the author’s main idea. And while it’s great that you can write a good essay, for the CATW, it’s extremely important that your essay is a response to the passage that you were given.

So, how do you find the main idea? If you’re lucky the title of the article can be a big help. If an article is titled “Smoking is Bad for You” then, most likely the main idea of the article is that smoking is bad for you, and the author will go on to tell you why this is so. But if the title is something more obscure like, “Cigarette Breath and Nicotine Withdrawal,” you have to look a beyond the title, in order to ascertain what the main idea of the passage is.

Sometimes the main idea is stated very clearly in a thesis statement like this:  Many people used to think that smoking a cigarette was a  good way to take a much needed break from their problems. Now, studies show that smoking causes serious health hazards. It is most likely that the rest of that passage is going to be about the health hazards that can occur as a result of smoking.

If¬†a passage doesn’t have a very clear thesis statement you will have to figure it out on your own. A good thing to remember is that the main idea is going to be something ¬†general¬†like, smoking is bad for you. It will be followed by supporting details which are more specific such as, smoking causes emphysema, halitosis, and lung cancer.¬†Try not to get sidetracked¬†by¬†a particularly interesting supporting detail and focus on that, while losing track of the main idea.

If you’ve read through the essay once and you’re not¬†positive¬†that you know what the author’s main point is:
1. Read the title again.
2. Look for a thesis statement.
3. Look for a general idea followed by more specific details.

General Idea                        Supporting Details
Smoking is bad                      It causes emphysema, halitosis, and lung cancer
I had a bad day ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†I got fired from my job, my dog doesn’t like me anymore
Smart phones are useful        You can make calls, check your email, and take pictures

4. Look for repeated words and phrases. If the author keeps saying something over and over again it’s probably pretty important to the passage.

Run-on Sentences

A sentence is considered a run-on sentence when it has several ideas that are crammed together one after the other without punctuation or without joining them properly with conjunctions this often happens when we write fast and think fast and also when we don’t take time to proofread.

The previous sentence is a run on sentence. There are four ideas in that sentence. 1. several ideas crammed into one sentence 2. without pause or joining them properly with conjunctions or punctuation 3. this happens when writing and thinking fast 4. and when we don’t take time to proofread.

This would be a better way to deal with that sentence. A run-on sentence has several ideas that are crammed together without punctuation or, without joining them properly with conjunctions. This often happens when we write fast and think fast. It¬†can also happen when we don’t take time to proofread.

Notice how much easier it is to take in all of the ideas that are presented when they are not thrown together in one sentence. Also notice that some words were cut while reconstructing that sentence. Eliminating excess words helps to avoid repetition and often makes things clearer. Please remember that using the proper conjunctions and punctuation allows the reader time to pause, in order to understand what they have read.

Check out the following links for tutorials on run-on sentences.



Fancy Clock śôāŤ®ą of a Hairdressers Salon messed up in Traffic Signs in :¬†City Chiba Japan by: Arjan Richter

Punctuation marks are like road signs for the reader.¬†They tell the reader when to pause, and when to stop. They indicate when one idea ends and another one begins.¬†Using proper punctuation in an essay can mean the difference between presenting coherent ideas and confusing your reader. So, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the proper usage of the different punctuation marks.

For basic essay writing you will have to be proficient in using periods, commas, apostrophes, and quotation marks. The period ( . ) is a dot at then end of the sentence that indicates a full stop. The comma ( , ) indicates a pause inside of the sentence.

Last night I forgot to turn on my alarm clock.¬†So, this morning I was running late.¬†I usually leave my house an hour before I’m scheduled to show up at my job. I got dressed quickly,¬†hurried through breakfast, and barely had¬†time to brush my teeth.¬†In the end,¬†I managed to make it to work before my boss showed up. ¬†

(Please see a previous post for an more in depth look at the use of commas.)

Quotation marks ( ) indicate that someone is speaking or, that we’re using someone else’s words. Using quotation marks is especially important in essay writing if we want to use someone else’s words without plagiarizing.

My mother used a lot of aphorisms when I was little. She would say, do as I say not as I do, when I wanted to join her, as she was doing grown up things. At the time, I found that very annoying. She also liked to quote the Dalai Lama whenever my sister and I got into a fight. He said, Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. I think it’s good for me to remember that one.

Apostrophes indicate possession or, allow us to combine words like: cant (can not,) couldnt (could not,)  wont (will not,) wouldnt (would not,) and shouldnt (should not.) (Please see a previous apostrophe post for an in depth tutorial on the proper use of apostrophes.)

There are also semi colons ( ; ) colons ( : ) dashes  and hyphens, all of which indicate different kinds of pauses. Once you master the proper use of periods, commas, quotation marks and apostrophes, you can move on to incorporating colons, semi colons, and hyphens.

The following link contains tutorials about comas, apostrophes, quotation marks, and hyphens.

Transition Words: A Categorized List

The attachment below contains a list of transition words that many students have found helpful when working on making your essay more graceful.  Make sure you practice these words before the exam!  Some of the words have subtle differences, and, as always, you want to be sure the word you choose says what you want it to mean.

Transition Words for the CATW


Six Online Resources to Build Vocabulary


Photo: Jennifer Sears

Photo: Jennifer Sears

Below are online resources to help you build your vocabulary as you prepare for the CATW. Note: A few of the sites my require you to provide your email address. If you are not comfortable with that, choose another! None of them require payment

  1. One of my favorite sites is from the New York Times. This source offers tests, tips, and techniques based on articles in the New York Times, which is a great source for students in Developmental English courses because many of the essays are drawn from Times pieces or their educational equivalents in other media. Many instructors at NYCCT suggest students preparing to take the CATW become regular readers of the Times, and this might get you started:  Remember, you have a free subscription to the Times online as a student at City Tech, but you have to activate it. Here is information how to do this:
  1.  This fun site from the British Broadcasting System (BBC) offers a regularly updated tutorial on popular phrases in the English language, particularly those that appear on the BBC. Note: You should practice these phrases in your writing in class before you use them on t he CATW! A few may be Briticisms (how’s that for a vocabulary word?) that don’t work as effectively in American English.
  1.  This site helps you building vocabulary with an interactive vocabulary quizzes: (Note: You have to give your email address to continue with the tests they give on this site.)
  1. This funky, interactive site allows you to type in a word and find synonyms, much like a Thesaurus (but funner).
  1. Рadjectives-describing-appearance  From Buzzfeed comes a list of descriptive adjectives in different categories such as appearance, shape, touch, and duration:
  1.¬†¬†The CUNY ‚ÄúWrite Site‚ÄĚ also has lists of words and spelling tips.



Capitalization works along with punctuation to indicate the beginning of a new sentence. It also indicates that something is a proper noun.

In most schools in the United States, capitalization is taught in the second grade. Although you may not have attended second grade in the United States or, your second grade teacher might have skipped that lesson, most readers will assume that you’ve learned the rules of capitalization. When writers do not adhere to the rules of capitalization it detracts from the quality of their writing. Making sure that everything is properly capitalized will help readers take your writing seriously.

1. Always capitalize the first letter of a new sentence. Notice in the paragraph above that the first letter of each sentence is capitalized.

2. Always capitalize the pronoun I.

I am looking for a summer job so that¬†I¬†can save money to put towards tuition in the fall. Even though I‘ll be working I‘m still looking forward to spending some time outside, in the sun.

3. Always capitalize the first letter of a proper noun (a name of something or someone.)   Jason                  Pedro

Alabama              Bangladesh

Kmart                  Disneyland

4. Always capitalize the first letter of the main words in a title, like this:

To Kill a Mockingbird

Malcolm in the Middle

Skip the smaller words like: and, a, an, the, of, and with, unless they are the first word of the title.

Click the links below for more in depth tutorials on proper nouns and capitalization.

Handwriting: What Is and What Isn’t Important?

From the 1853 "Grammar of Ornament" by Owen Jones

From the 1853 “Grammar of Ornament” by Owen Jones

Many students worry about handwriting. Some believe handwriting is why they didn’t pass the test! Typically this is not the case; however, here are some small things you should know.

1. Capitalize: If your handwriting is such that all of your letters are the same size, pay extra attention to capitalizing the first letter of each sentence.

2. Use¬†correct punctuation: Make sure that your comas look like comas and your periods look like periods so that you don’t end up accidentally creating sentence fragments. A coma must reach below the line that you’re writing on. A period is as dot that sits on the line that you’re writing on.

3. Inverted Letters: Avoid writing letters backwards, even if it’s just one letter, you don’t want the reader to be confused.

4. Writing big: It’s okay if you’re handwriting happens to be big, but make sure that your reader is able to distinguish between the capital letters and the lower case letters. Do not write your entire essay in capital letters.

5. Indent the first line of each paragraph so that it is clear to the reader when one paragraph ends and the next one begins.

“I Can’t Relate to This Essay” (A Popular Defense Mechanism)

"Related" by Gemma Stiles Flickr/Creative Commons

“Related” by Gemma Stiles Flickr/Creative Commons

Students often feel like they “can’t understand” and essay or come up with a response because the topic doesn’t immediately relate to their own lives. It’s important to recognize this as a defense mechanism.¬† For the sake of preserving ego, it’s easier to believe the cards are stacked against us or that we could have passed the test brilliantly if we’d actually tried.

Don’t fall into this habit!¬† Recognize that students who respond this way are often frustrated, denying the fact they haven’t prepared, or are nervous they will fail.

As the CATW is actually testing you on how well you CAN relate to a topic, by deciding you “can’t relate” or respond to the provided essay, you are deciding to fail from the outset.¬† It’s like sitting down to take a math test and refusing to do any problems involving math.

Instead, think: how CAN I relate to this topic? Among the many ways to address this “I can’t relate to this” tick, here are two:

  1. Slow down! Read carefully before you immediately “react” to a subject or essay.¬† Put your thoughts aside when you “preview” and/or read¬† your essay a first time. Students who suffer from the “I can’t relate to this” syndrome often jump to this conclusion immediately, perhaps even as soon as they see the title. This is because the assumption is NOT REAL. Push it back.¬† Some students have visualized a giant stop sign to keep the “I can’t relate to this” creature at bay.
  2. “Grow” the subject matter.¬† Instead of “me,” consider the topic in terms of your immediate community, the city, or the environment. Two examples:
  • There is an essay on bicycle laws, and you don’t own a bicycle. As a pedestrian or car driver, consider where you most often see cyclists in your neighborhood and why you see them there; or, as someone who breathes, relate cycling laws to environmental concerns about clean air for the city and beyond.
  • There is an essay about reducing sugar in the American diet, and dietary habits do not immediately impact you or your extraordinarily healthy family.¬† Consider the places in your neighborhood where people fall into the habit of eating too much sugar (convenience stores or ice cream shops) and consider who you see there and why.¬† Or, relate the sugar problem to the city: how do concerns about sugar and diet affect choices available in high school cafeterias or vending machines?¬† What was the result?

The bottom line is that you are being tested on your ability to relate to the topic given to you.  And if you let yourself, you can.