Language Use

This page provides language use guidelines that we use when copy editing manuscripts after they have been accepted and authors have sent us the final version. However, you might find these guidelines useful as you are doing your own writing, revising, and editing. The information here is frequently updated and expanded, so please contact us if you have a question about language use that is not addressed here or if you can think of new content that should be added.


APA defines jargon as “the continuous use of a technical vocabulary even in places where that vocabulary is not relevant” or “the substitution of a euphemistic phrase for a familiar term (e.g., monetarily felt scarcity for poverty)” (p. 68). Consistent with APA guidelines, jargon should generally be avoided and replaced with terms more likely to be understood by a wider audience. The APA Manual advises authors that “An article that depends on terminology familiar to only a few specialists does not sufficiently contribute to the literature” (p. 67) and also suggests that authors should “scrupulously avoid using such jargon” (p. 68).

Verb tense

The APA Manual has two excellent sections on verb tense: sections 3.06 and 3.18. TCQ style follows APA guidelines on verb tense as much as possible. Thus, authors should use past or present perfect tense to discuss another researcher’s work and to report their own results (as in the results section of a typical IMRAD paper). This means if you are citing a previous study, you would refer to it as follows: "Brown and Smith (2005) reported that..." (p. 78).

Book reviews also demand an exception to the general rules on tense, as it seems to make most sense for authors to use present tense when they are reporting what has been said or done by the authors of the book under review.

General Notes on Language Use and Style

  • Avoid vague pronoun references as subjects of sentences. Rather than “This reflects the organization’s new policy,” specify what “this” refers to with a specific noun: e.g., “This change reflects the organization’s new policy.”
  • When possible, present dates as "Month Day, Year," format (e.g., January 10, 2009). If the date appears anywhere other than the end of a sentence, there should be a comma after the year, as follows: "January 10, 2009, was the date of the first interview." (If only the month and year are used, then leave out commas as follows: "The last meeting occurred in August 2007."
  • Use APA style for because vs. since and although vs. while. Since and while should ONLY be used for discussions involving timing of an event, and because and although should be used when that's what the author really means.
  • When referring to academic semesters, capitalize as follows: Fall 2004, Winter 2008, etc. (Season names would not otherwise be capitalized: winter, spring, summer, fall). 
  • Refer to faculty members as  “faculty members” rather than just “faculty.”
  • Consistently use a comma after a prepositional phrase that begins a sentence, such as “In 1993, …” or “In most cases,…..”
  • Language for the author's note that appears at the end of article is as follows: “____ is an assistant professor in…” or “_____ is a professor in….”
  • When referring to people doing research in our field, say “technical communication scholars.”
  • Omit “the” before journal names, unless it is officially part of the title: e.g., Journal of Business and Technical Communication.
  • APA style specifies that a colon should not be used after an introduction that is not a complete sentence (see p. 90, 4.05, in the APA Manual).
  • Remove the comma before “but also” (for example, “composition teachers but also,”).
  • Leave “cited in” when referring to a text indirectly (a text that is cited in another text) even though it doesn’t seem to be required in APA style (p. 178, 6.17).
  • Use “communication” rather than “communications” (unless there is a reason why it needs to be plural).
  • Follow APA style, which discourages use of quotation marks or italics for emphasis. Quotation marks are used to indicate slang. (See Sec. 4.07 for more information.) It is not necessary to italicize words found in Merriam-Webster Online.
  • Delete unnecessary qualifying adverbs such as “very.” There is never a reason to use this word.
  • Avoid vague use of “with” as in “many professionals with access to information.” There is usually a more precise construction available: “many professionals who had access to information.” 
  • Use "a while" instead of “awhile.”
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