EWH Blog
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Modern Academic Writing

There are two viewpoints in linguistics today that affect how we write and speak English: Descriptivism and Prescriptivism.

Descriptivism describes how language is actually used by proficient native speakers and derives correctness conditions for usage from this actual usage.  Prescriptivism defines how language should be used mostly by rules to be followed.

While both viewpoints believe there are rules, Descriptivists figure out those rules by listening to proficient native speakers.  Prescriptivists follow rules that have been written/accepted for a long time.  They say mistakes result when the rules are broken.

Descriptivists believe that if enough people use a new construction, then it becomes the new grammatical model.  They confirm what makes up the language as it is actually used.  Prescriptivists provide guidance on rules for correct/standard usage.  How language should be used based on historical rules.

These two positions are on a continuum and flow into each other.  They can be complementary, especially since English has no formal language institute dictating rules.  Therefore, it is always changing and nothing is set in stone.  Still there are accepted standard conventions for grammar and usage.

ESLWritingHelp.com editors follow prescriptivist standard rules in their editing.  Why? Because academic writing demands a more prescriptivist approach, and we need to edit for that type of writing.  Thus, this blog will address standard grammatical and usage rules in American English.  Nevertheless, we also recognize that grammar and usage change over time and endeavor to keep current with those changes.