Page 3 Writing Study Guide for the PRAXIS® test

Capitalization and Punctuation

The clarity of your writing is often influenced by the correct use of capitalization and punctuation. Errors in either of these areas can change the effect and even the meaning of the product. Be especially careful in learning the rules for using these writing elements and in editing your writing for errors in their usage.


Capitalization refers to writing the first letter of a word with a capital letter. The first word of every sentence needs to be capitalized. Proper nouns, proper adjectives, and titles before names must also be capitalized. Some examples include:

The Russian man is sitting with his wife.
I went to school with Governor Adams.

Be careful to consider word use when deciding to capitalize names for people. These sentences are both correct:

“I told my mom that we would be home around 9:00.”
“I told Mom that we would be home around 9:00.”

The word mom is capitalized in the second sentence because it is used as a name. This is not so in the first sentence. One quick way to tell that mom/mother or dad/father are not being used as names is to look for a determiner before the word. The determiner my is used in the sentence above and in “the mother of the bride,” the determiner the is used before the word mother. Both of these indicate that the family member term should not be capitalized.


It is important to know how to properly use apostrophes, commas, colons, and semicolons. You will be shown sentences that contain punctuation errors, and you will need to identify the error.

apostrophe ( ‘ )— Apostrophes are used to show possession and to make contractions. Examples of each use:

Possession—Emalina’s puzzles are the hardest ones. (The puzzles belong to Emalina.)

Plural Possession—The dogs’ temperaments vary by breed. (The temperaments belong to the dogs.)

Contractions—can’t (The apostrophe takes the place of missing letters, the n and o, here.)

Note: An apostrophe is only used to form plurals in the case of lowercase letters, as in:

“I make my a’s and o’s nearly the same.”

It is not correctly used here:
“If you have triplet boys, you have three son’s.”
The correct plural of son is sons—no apostrophe.

comma ( , )— Commas have many rules. They are used to separate parts of a sentence. They are used before a coordinating conjunction, after dependent clauses that begin a sentence, to offset appositives, to separate a series of items, and when adding quotes. This does not encompass all of their uses, but these are the ones you are most likely to encounter on the PRAXIS. Take time to review comma use before you take the test.

semicolon ( ; )— Semicolons have three uses. They can be used to combine two related sentences into one sentence. It can also be used with a conjunction to combine two related sentences. The last use is for avoiding confusion for complicated lists, such as “Cairo, Egypt; Paris, France; and Moscow, Russia.”

colon (:)— Colons are used to precede a list, for emphasis, or between independent clauses in which the second clause explains the first. Examples:

List—The store specializes in: clothing, food, and toys.

Emphasis—Only one option was left: We had to leave for our safety.

Two independent clauses—Both of her children are involved in science: Alice is a
physicist and Evan is a medical researcher.

Research Skills

The questions in this area are all about finding and citing appropriate sources during research. You will also need to distinguish among reliable and unreliable sources and determine the usability of information in furthering the premise of the passage. Then, you will need to use these skills when writing your essays, particularly for the informational one.


When writing an essay, it is important to use sources that are credible and relevant. Unreliable sources such as personal blogs and Wikipedia will weaken your paper. The best sources have academic facts and citations to back up their claims.


Citations give credit where it is due to the original writers and researchers. Citations are necessary for quotations, paraphrases, and references to another work. This can be an in-text citation or a reference at the end of the paper, depending on what role the source’s text played in the writing of your paper.

Research Strategies

Effective research strategies include: choosing a topic, using academic search engines (such as Google Scholar), using keywords, and evaluating sources. You may be asked to evaluate the credibility of a list of sources. You could also be asked to choose which keywords would give the best search results on a given topic.


When searching for information, not all results found will be relevant to your purpose. You may get over 1000 hits for a search. But probably, less than 20 of those would actually be relevant. It is important to try out different combinations of key words to find the best results. Remember to use information sources that are credible and have data to back up their claims.

Scoring of Essays

Your essays will be scored by trained personnel. Their basic duty is to determine if you accomplished the task asked of you in the question or prompt for each essay. The scores will not be “counting errors” in grammar, usage, spelling, and mechanics, but will be assessing in these areas for “generally error-free” content.

For very specific scoring guidelines, go to this reference, beginning on page 29. There are also examples of scored essays there.