Tips from the Professor

Fragments are among the most serious errors in academic writing. While you may read fiction and informal prose that contain sentence fragments, in academic writing, fragments are generally frowned upon. In fact, research on how errors are perceived by people indicates that fragments are what we call “status marking” errors, which means people will make negative assumptions about the intelligence of the writer when they see fragments in writing.

Of course, making a sentence fragment error has nothing to do with your intelligence. Usually, for native speakers of English, making a sentence fragment error is more about not editing carefully or just not being practiced in the rules.

In this video, the Grammar Professor will review what a fragment is and how you can avoid fragments in your academic writing.

Video Transcript


Student: I noticed I had “fragment” marked on my paper. I know this is a serious error, but I am not sure what this really means.

Professor: A common error in student writing is the sentence fragment. A sentence fragment occurs when students punctuate an incomplete thought as if it were a complete thought.

Student: Can you give me an example?

Professor: Sure! Here is an example of a sentence fragment:

Because I was so tired from working late last night.

Here, this is really just an introductory phrase. It is not a complete thought or independent clause, which means it should not be punctuated like a complete sentence. Instead, there should be a comma after “night,” and the sentence should continue.

Student: That makes sense. So, basically, a sentence fragment happens when you punctuate a sentence like it is a real sentence, but it really isn’t.

Professor: Right! And, it can be easy to miss fragment errors. The key is to look at the text you have from the capital letter to the period and ask yourself if that text is really a complete sentence. Most fragment errors occur because students simply miss the errors when they edit in a hurry—or not at all.

Student: But, I know I read text online and in some of the books I have read that contain fragments. If those authors can use fragments, why can’t I?

Professor: It is true that some writers will purposely use fragments for effect. However, in academic writing, fragments are not as acceptable. Plus, it can be difficult to use a fragment effectively, so most professors will tell students to steer clear of them. Right now, you want to work on creating complete sentences.

Student: That makes sense! And, it is good to know what this means. I will now pay closer attention to my sentences when I edit. I need to make sure they are complete with both a subject and a verb.

This presentation was brought to you by the Excelsior Online Writing Lab.

Grumble... Applaud... Please give us your feedback!