Generic Writing Style Advice

This section has been taken from the Medicine article on TSR.

Punctuation 1. Capital letters

Capital letters should only be used when a proper noun is being used. Countless numbers of people tend to capitalise the following words: medicine, chemistry, biology, doctor, hospital, general practice. The words are correct as written there. Exceptions to this do exist if you write the word as a proper noun. For example, if I were to write ‘I am applying for the Medicine A100 course,’ then capitalising the ‘M’ would be correct. Similarly, if I were writing ‘I worked at Central Manchester University Hospital for a period of three weeks,’ then it would be correct to use capital letters. At least half of all statements make a mistake with incorrectly capitalised words.

Something which should always be capitalised is ‘I’. It is correct to say ‘I am twenty years old and I like to play the piano.’ It is not a very common mistake, but it has been seen.

2. Commas

It is rare to see the perfect use of commas throughout a personal statement. More often than not, commas are completely missed out from sentences. Most commonly, this occurs after a clause such as ‘During my hospital work experience, I learnt about empathy.’ More than three quarters of all statements will miss out the comma after the first clause. A comma would therefore also be needed here: ‘In September, I played a football tournament.’ A final example where commas are often missed out is when coordinate clauses are used. ‘Medicine, in my opinion, is the perfect career choice for me.’ Similarly: ‘I like the rewarding nature of medicine, but I am not too fond of the hard work.’

3. Semicolons

Used invariably incorrectly or not used at all.

The semicolon has many uses. Its main use is to separate items of lists or series’. For example: ‘I observed several departments: I watched surgery in Orthopaedics; learnt about ECGs in Cardiology; was taught about Diabetes in Endocrinology and viewed a CT scan in Radiology.’

It can also be used between independent clauses which are related. ‘I went to A&E; it was really busy.’

It is also used to link clauses and semi clauses. ‘It is most common on wards 6 and 9; however, it is not restricted.’

If you are not sure whether to use a semicolon or not, alter your sentence so that you don’t have a need to.

4. Colons

As semicolons, colons are usually used incorrectly or not used at all.

The colon is most commonly used to introduce a list. ‘I went to three wards: ward 4, ward 9 and ward 14.’

It is also commonly used when one sentence is linked to its preceding sentence via consequence or effect. For example: ‘I had a wonderful romantic dinner last night, but I awoke with a stomach pain: It must have been dodgy food.’ Similarly, it can be used in apposition: ‘I couldn’t get up for hospital: I was still hungover.’

5. Apostrophes

This is something that really annoys me. First, when not to use them. If you are turning something into a plural, there is no need to use an apostrophe. For example: GCSEs, GPs, PSs.

Having read an endless number of personal statements, the most common apostrophe mistake concerns the word patient.

patients – this is the plural of patient i.e. There are many patients in this waiting room.

patient’s dignity – this is the dignity of one patient i.e. I was concerned about the patient’s dignity during the PR exam.

patients’ views – the views of many patients i.e. The patients’ views regarding Dr X were very positive.

patience – this is a totally different word i.e. That man has been waiting for 5 hours! I’m amazed by his patience.

Grammar (There is a really good internet tool to check your grammar for you: 1. Spelling

It takes no longer than a couple of minutes to check your spelling. Paste your personal statement into Microsoft Word and do a spell check or use an online tool such as There’s nothing worse than starting your paragraph with ‘Medecine is the perfect career choice for me.’

2. Using apostrophes to shorten words

Don’t use ‘don’t’ in a personal statement (ironic, huh?). Always use the full word. Mustn’t should be written as must not and can’t as cannot. The same applies for I’m which becomes I am. Don’t even consider using I’d, which could stand for ‘I had,’ ‘I did,’ ‘I would’ or ‘I could.’ These are self-explanatory but are very common mistakes in around 20% of statements.

3. There, their and they’re

Really common mistake made in under a quarter of statements.

There is a word which aims to indicate a location or an expletive word which can be used to start sentences. For example: ‘There are seven consultants on the ward.’ ‘It is over there near the table.’

Their is a word used to indicate possession. For example: ‘It is their box of chocolates.’

They’re is the short form of ‘they are.’ So in a sentence it may be used as such: ‘They’re over there. Look, they’re both really busy.’

4. Its and it’s

Its is a possessive form of it. Use it when something belongs to another object i.e. ‘The cat licked its paw.’

It’s is a short form of ‘it is.’ So for example: ‘It’s cold in the hospital today.’

5. Using also, furthermore, however and therefore

Essentially, try not to use the word also. Especially, if every other sentence is starting with it. It is a waste of characters and becomes repetitive.


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