It’s vs. Its: What’s the Difference?

The English language is a tough business. So much so, it’s unimaginable to have mastered all its intricacies. (See what I did there?)

Determining whether to use “it’s” or “its” is an essential building block of good writing, but it’s easy to let this little word topple your Jenga tower. Even the most seasoned writers are apt to forget an apostrophe every now and again. Take the following text message exchange:

A: When do you want to see that superhero adventure movie no one can stop talking about, the superhero adventure movie to END ALL SUPERHERO ADVENTURE MOVIES???
B: Its playing at 8 tonight. Wanna go?
B: *it’s
B: *it’s playing at 8 tonight
B: That was all autocorrect. I know the difference between it’s and its, I swear. PLEASE YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE MEEEE.

Ok, maybe things aren’t always this dramatic. But knowing the difference between a regular ol’ pronoun and a possessive pronoun is essential for understanding English grammar (and using it to express yourself in writing). Especially when it comes to that tiny, impossible-to-define, root of all description: it.

When do you use “it’s” and when, “its”? We hope this comic will help set the record straight.


What's the Difference Between It's and Its? Cartoon - BibMe blog

Bonus: here’s a practical tip for making sure you’re using the right form of it’s: run the “it is” test

If you’re not sure whether to put in the apostrophe, see if your version of “its” works as two words: it is.

It is nice out.
I’m sure it is going to work.


In these instances, “it is” can be replaced by
it’s:

It’s nice out.
I’m not sure it’s going to work.  

Lovely!

For the other version, take these sentences:

Put the toy back in its place, won’t you please.
The robot took its sweet time making my dinner.

You wouldn’t say “the robot took it is sweet time,” now, would you? There you go: no apostrophe needed.

Not sure your paper is free of rogue apostrophes, reckless subject verb agreement, or other wilding grammar errors? Take our free grammar check for a spin!

 Illustrations by Liv Bishop

Write the Best Formal Thank You Note in 5 Simple Steps

We all need a little help in school (and life). Showing appreciation for all our parents and friends have done for us usually happens casually, whether it be a simple “thank you,” returning the favor, or another gesture. But what about those times where a little formality is needed?

Like thanking your teacher for writing you a letter of recommendation. Or following up after a job interview. Or when you’ve conducted an informational interview with a professional. Or showing appreciation to anyone who’s ever give you guidance, time, or resources. Each of these instances should be followed up with a thank you note.

Most of us have busy lives and if someone donates a portion of their day to you, it’s only polite to repay them with a small note of thanks. With the five simple steps below, you can be sure to create thank you notes that leave a great impression.  

Step 1: Choose Your Medium

Nowadays email is the most common medium for sending thank you notes. It’s fast and professional. There are instances, however, when you should consider sending a handwritten message on stationery. If someone has gone above and beyond for you or if your relationship is more personal than average (for example, a very good friend of your parents), a handwritten note can be a nice touch.

Step 2: Craft Your Opening Line

Resist the urge to get too creative with your letter opening. Thank you notes are very traditional. Following classic form demonstrates maturity and poise. “Dear” is the appropriate salutation. Be sure to actually write “thank you” and simply follow up with what you are thanking the individual for.

Example:

  • Dear Helen,
  • Thank you for…
    • meeting with me yesterday.
    • the great informational interview
    • taking the time to speak with me over the phone yesterday.
    • donating to our student fundraiser.

Step 3: Make It Personal

This is your chance to shine and show your personality. Highlight something specific you spoke about. If this is a note following a job interview, it the right place to reiterate your interest in the position and your unique qualifications for it. Three or four sentences is a good target for this section.

Examples:

  • It was great speaking with a fellow New Yorker.
  • I never knew how much goes into pricing a garment.
  • Your ideas on diversity in the workplace were inspirational.
  • The opportunity to intern with you and learn more would be amazing.

Step 4: Closing

Your closing should be short and simple. Reiterate your thanks, add another sentence if you wish and choose one of the well known closing phrases listed below.

Examples:

  • Thank you again,
  • I look forward to speaking with you soon.
  • Your advice was invaluable.
  • Regards,
  • Best Regards,
  • Sincerely,

Step 5: Proofread

A thank you note is often your final chance to make an impression. Be sure a typo is not the last thing you are remembered for. Most importantly, double check the name of the person and institution you are sending the note to.

 If you’re looking for extra help, there are many great grammar and spell checker services online.  

Quick Tips:

  • Don’t make your note too long. Three short paragraphs are enough.
  • Don’t be overly complimentary. It often turns people off, especially if you don’t know them very well.
  • Don’t procrastinate. The following day is best; anything over a week is much too long. 

Your final note should look something like this:

Dear Helen,

Thank you for meeting with me yesterday.

 You taught me a lot about the fashion industry behind the scenes. I never knew how much goes into pricing a garment. The opportunity to intern with you and learn more would be amazing.

 Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Regards,

Kristen

 Thank you notes are easy, polite, and a way to show your best side. All you have to do is keep it simple.

 If you’re worried about punctuation, subject verb agreement, and overall good grammar, try BibMe Plus. You can check your letter or paper for grammar and spelling mistakes as well as automatically create a works cited page in MLA, an APA format citation, or references in thousands of styles.

4 Ways to Battle Writer’s Block (and Win)

by Amanda Clark

Writer’s block. We’ve all experienced this demon. You get an assignment, sit down to begin, and BAM! Nothing. Or you write a stellar first page, feel like a writing rock star and then—BAM! Nothing.

When you have deadlines to meet, a foggy brain can be more than a nuisance. Next time, skip the stress and try these techniques for battling writer’s block—and winning.

  1. Take a break

It may sound counterproductive, but one of the best things you can do to battle writer’s block is take a break. Go for a run, watch an episode of This is Us, or even do your math homework. Whatever you do, the important thing is to take a break from slaving over your assignment.

Sometimes our minds just need a writing siesta. When you return in an hour or two, you might be surprised to find that when you sit down to type that paper on the periodic table, your fingers fly with style.


  1. Read something related to your topic

It’s easy to get writer’s block after you run out of ideas. After getting off to a strong start, your train of thought derails, frustration sets in, and before you know it, an hour has rolled by and you’re still staring at a blinking cursor.

Don’t let this happen to you! When you’re out of fresh ideas, hit the books.

Let’s say you’re writing a paper on the Civil War. Well, bust out your old history textbook and get reading. Or maybe you have to write a poem, and you happen to have your favorite book of poetry by Billy Collins lying on your desk.

Read these nuggets of inspiration, and they could very well get your thoughts flowing again.

They might even beef up your works cited page. Sweet!


  1. Reach out to others

It’s easy to stay connected through Snapchat updates and Instagram stories. So why not use your friends and family as resources to help you out when you’re stuck?

Having some issues writing about music theory? Facebook your Uncle Ronny who majored in music. Can’t think about how to develop the plot of your story for a creative writing class? Text your friend Lila whose last short story received an “A.” Just make sure to cite sources!

You can even get coffee and have a face-to-face conversation about your struggles, and let collaboration magically heal writer’s block.


  1. Change your surroundings

So you may love to study and write at the local pizza joint because it has great munchies and free Wi-Fi. But if you’re finding it difficult to concentrate with the football game playing on TV and the soda fountain gurgling, it might be best to move to a different environment.

Try to find someplace quiet and uncluttered. Maybe you’re most productive at a small park or the library. Finding your ideal work location could save you hours of time in the long run.

If you’re sick of staring blankly at that computer screen, take a deep breath. Then try one of these four techniques for battling writer’s block. You should be finishing that assignment in no time!

Once your paper is written, make sure your bibliography is just as sharp! BibMe’s citation generator is an easy and fast way to create citations in MLA style, APA style and more. And don’t forget to run your paper through a grammar checker!

The 5 Writing Secrets I Wish I’d Known in High School

by Muranda Mendez 

As a college student, I’ve learned new tips and techniques that have made me a stronger, more efficient writer—and even made the writing experience more enjoyable. Sometimes I’ve found myself thinking, “I wish I’d known this earlier!”

So, here are five writing secrets that I’ve discovered in college that I wish I’d known as a high school student.


1. Find something you like about the topic

It can be hard to write if you don’t think the topic is interesting, or if you’re only writing with your teacher (and their gradebook) in mind. Of course, sometimes a paper topic is just uninspiring. But if you strive to find something you find personally interesting, the writing process will be a lot more enjoyable, whether it’s a literary paper or a research paper. If you find something you like, the writing process will be easier, and the end product will be more fun and interesting to read.

In high school, I dreaded Shakespeare. I found his writing dense, even more so when I knew I’d have to write about it. In college I also encountered Shakespeare, but I learned to pick something about his plays I actually enjoyed exploring. Rather than focusing on the entire play, I picked pieces such as nature symbolism or gender relations. It made writing about Shakespeare a lot easier.

2. Write five sentences

Figuring out where to start can be more difficult than actually writing the essay. If you’re having trouble, try writing out five sentences that could compose your essay. Here’s an example:

      • Thesis: This is the sentence that states your argument and how you’re going to prove it.
        • Example: A lot of students view essay-writing as a tedious task, but it can actually be fun and a great way to express themselves.
      • Body #1: This is the sentence that begins the process of proving your argument.
        • Example: Students focus mainly on achieving a good grade or pleasing the teacher, rather than the writing itself, making it seem more tedious and boring.
      • Body #2: This sentence proves your argument in a new way.
        • Example: If students focused more on what interested them, their writing would improve and the process would be more enjoyable.
      • Body #3: This sentence is either a counterargument or another way to show how and why your argument is right.
        • Example: They would express their opinions with more passion, making the final product more well-rounded and interesting to read.
      • Conclusion: This sentence summarizes your argument.
        • Example: While many students view essays as a boring task, with the right mindset and set of tools it can actually be an enjoyable and enriching experience.

Often, the hard part of writing is actually organizing your thoughts. Once you have the outline sentences written, the paragraphs will be easier to fill in!

3. Use sources

Before college, I viewed the requirement to cite sources in my papers as an obstacle to overcome. In college, though, I’ve discovered that sources can actually be a valuable writing resource.

If you’re struggling with what to say, try finding sources on the topic. Often when I’m writing, I find a source that helps me think about the topic in a way I haven’t previously. This not only gives me more ideas about what to write, but it also helps me argue against potential counterarguments to my thesis.

While you don’t want to make your essay too “source heavy,” using sources to support your argument shows that you have research skills and makes your writing more sophisticated. Just make sure to accurately cite, whether you’re using Chicago style format or MLA style!

4. Focus on the “how”

When writing an essay, it’s easy to get stuck on the “what” or the “why.” If you focus on the “how” instead, you’ll have more to write about and your analysis will go deeper.

For example, instead of writing about “what” theme the author is trying to convey, write about “how” the author conveyed that theme. If you focus only on the “what,” you’re just reaching the surface of the argument. Writing about “how” allows you to write about symbolism, metaphors, foreshadowing and more for a literary analysis essay, or historical context, social implications and more for a research paper. You might find yourself exceeding your teacher’s word count!  

5. Jump, jump, jump around

It might seem like it would be easiest to write your essay from beginning to end. However, jumping around helps keep you engaged on your assignment and makes it easier when you get stuck.

This is where the five sentences trick also come in. After you write the five sentences, you can go back and forth filling them in. Sometimes an idea for a different paragraph might come to mind, and it makes sense to write that idea in rather than feeling obligated to stay on the paragraph you’re currently writing. When you edit and run a grammar check, you can make sure everything fits well together. Sometimes I find that my essays have a stronger, more cohesive argument the more I jump around, because an idea from one paragraph inspired the next paragraph.

Becoming a better writer is a process that’s unique to everyone. However, these five tips and techniques have helped me enjoy writing more than ever before, as well as getting better at it. Try them in high school, and you’ll likely find you’re more prepared for college writing!

Does Anyone Really Know How to Use a Semicolon?

by Muranda Mendez

You’ve seen them in grammar handouts from teachers, pushed somewhere between warnings on overusing commas and misplacing apostrophes. Maybe you’ve tried to stick one in your essay, checking 10 times to make sure you were using it correctly.  

The semicolon has puzzled students for decades. It seems so smart and sophisticated—but how do you know you’re using it right?  

Simply put, a semicolon is a punctuation mark that is used to separate two independent clauses. So what is a clause exactly? A clause is part of a sentence that contains the subject and verb. The key to using a semicolon is that you’re connecting two independent clauses, meaning that it expresses a complete thought. So by using a semicolon, you’re connecting two sentences which could stand on their own.

Sound confusing? Let’s look at some examples:

This is a dependent clause:

When the students formed a study group for their quiz.

Notice how this clause can’t stand on its own as a complete sentence.

Now here it is as an independent clause:

The students formed a study group for their quiz.

Now the clause makes sense as a complete thought or sentence. In this case, the word “when” is what makes the dependent clause unable to stand on its own.

Remember, a semicolon can only connect two independent clauses. Here are some examples of misused semicolons

  1. The store was having a huge sale on many items; clothes, toys, and electronics.
  2. Desperate to fit in with her friends; Mackenzie pretended to have watched the new show.
  3. While they were swimming; they saw dolphins and turtles.

If you want to check whether or not you’re using a semicolon correctly, just read the two clauses on their own and see if they make sense. If they don’t, it’s a miss. In the first example, a semicolon is used to introduce a list; it should be a colon. The last two examples attempt to connect a dependent clause with an independent clause using a semicolon; it should be a comma. If you’re still not sure you used punctuation correctly, try running your paper through our grammar checker tool.


Finally, let’s look at an example of when you should use a semicolon:

Incorrect: Emily is very smart, she was in advanced reading when she was eight years old.

Correct: Emily is very smart; she was in advanced reading when she was eight years old.

The mistake here was a comma splice. A semicolon fixes that because it allows the independent clauses to stand on their own, while still showing that they’re connected.

Correct: In English class we read stories; we also read nonfiction texts.

Correct: Great writers use semicolons; using a semicolon shows a sophisticated understanding of grammar.

Correct: A lot of people have traveled here from Los Angeles, California; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and Orlando, Florida.

All three of these example are correct. The first two connect two related independent clauses. The third separates items in a list that already contains commas, which is another valid use of the semicolon. Another tip for checking if you’re using a semicolon correctly is to substitute in a  conjunction (and, or, so, but, yet, for). In the first example above, you could have written, “In English class we read stories, and we also read nonfiction texts.” Using a semicolon allows you to take out the comma and the conjunction!

As you can see from these examples, semicolons don’t have to be intimidating. Hopefully you now feel more confident about adding one into your writing. Your teacher will likely be impressed!

More BibMe resources: Get tips on how to cite a website and how to cite a website in MLA.

How to Write a Hypothesis

What is a Hypothesis?

A hypothesis is your initial prediction about your topic or argument. Although you’re probably used to writing hypotheses in science, you can also use them effectively in other areas of research. Why Start With a Hypothesis?

When researching, creating a hypothesis gives you a place to start from. It helps you frame your research and know what to look for. Sometimes, your research question is just too big. When you start with a hypothesis, it can help you narrow your scope and figure out what information to focus on.

For example, instead of starting with the topic of the United States, which is very broad and may have too much information, you might choose the thesis “The United States almost lost the Revolutionary War,” which would help you narrow your search to information on the American Revolution.

What Should a Hypothesis Look Like?

You shouldn’t worry about creating a hypothesis that is right or wrong. It’s just a prediction! As you research, you will find out if your guess was correct.

As you write your hypothesis, make sure that it:

  • Relates to the topic
  • Uses higher order thinking
  • Looks like an argument
Each of the hypotheses below relate to the question:
“What would the United States be like if we never fought the Revolutionary War?”
There are a lot of possible answers to this question. A hypothesis will help you focus on specific pieces of information.

Hover your mouse over the blue and green icons to learn more about why the examples below are or are not good hypotheses.

Beginning Your Research: Identify the Information You Need

Once you have a hypothesis, you can identify what information you need to find out. Most likely, you will need to find data and evidence related to your prediction. This evidence may support your prediction, or it may prove it wrong; both are okay!  The point of research is to learn, not to be right.

If your hypothesis is, “The United States would be a much smaller and less diverse nation if we never fought the Revolutionary War,” some of the information you will need to gather includes:

  • ​Statistics on population and diversity before the war and today
  • Specific examples of how fighting the war did or did not lead to greater diversity
  • Specific examples of how fighting the war did or did not lead to the nation growing
If you can’t find the information you need to support your hypothesis, that’s okay! You can adjust your hypothesis as you gather information and learn more about the topic.

Conclusion


Creating a hypothesis is helpful and will be the central theme of your project. Don’t be afraid to explore different options before deciding on one that you like the most.

As you research, it’s ethical to build a bibliography to keep track of the sources you use to support your hypothesis. Easily make one in MLA format, APA format, Chicago, or more with BibMe citation tools. Our premium BibMe Plus service also offers a grammar check to help you improve your writing. Try it today!

What Makes a Good Essay?

Over the course of your studies, you have probably been asked to write an essay. So what exactly is an essay? What are its components? How do you write a good one? Read on for some helpful tips!

What is an Essay?
Generally, an essay is a written piece that presents an argument or the unique point of view of the author. They can be either “formal” or “informal.” “Formal” refers to essays that are done for a scholarly or professional purpose.

“Informal” essays, conversely, express personal tastes and interests, and can have an unconventional writing structure. Essays are meant to provide a platform for writers to express their ideas within a specific type of format.

What are the Different Types of Essays?
There are many different types of essays, each with their own individual purpose and method of presenting information to the reader. Here are the most common:

1. Narrative: Usually written about a personal experience, these tell a story to the reader.

2. Argumentative: Requires research on a topic, collection of evidence, and establishing a clear position based on that evidence.

3. Descriptive: The writer must describe an object, person, place, experience, emotion, etc., and is usually granted some stylistic freedom.

4. Expository: Often in a “compare and contrast” format, this also requires an original thesis statement and paragraphs that link back to a central idea.

What Makes a Good Essay?
To construct a well-formed essay, you need to include several different key components. These are vital to ensuring that the reader is convinced of your argument, hooked on your story, or adequately informed on your topic.

Almost all essays should be broken into four parts: Intro, Body, Conclusion, and Citations. Within these four parts, be sure to include the following components:

Introduction
Your introductory paragraph should serve to frame the rest of your paper in the reader’s mind. Think of it like a preview; you want them to move forward from here with a clear understanding of what the central idea of your paper is.

In order to frame the central idea, many essays contain a thesis statement, which is a one or two sentence phrase that captures the theme of the paper. These should be as specific as possible, and should be included as the last part of your intro paragraph.

Example thesis statement:
Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.
Body
The body of your essay is where your evidence is presented and/or your point of view is made clear to the reader. Each body paragraph should further the central theme you put forth in your thesis statement.

The body paragraphs should each include a topic sentence that drives the rest of the paragraph, and relates back to the thesis statement. Be sure to include transition sentences between paragraphs to ensure a nice flow to your writing.

Within each paragraph on a specific idea, present any outside evidence that you have used to formulate your idea. Here is where you should be sure to include any necessary in-text citations, whether they be in MLA format, APA format, etc.

Conclusion
Your conclusion paragraph should neatly wrap up all of your ideas and evidence, calling the reader back to your original thesis statement. A good way to conclude your writing is to restate your thesis statement or central idea in a different way, making sure to include the main points you made in your paper.

If you are having trouble formulating your essay’s conclusion, read through your paper and then say to yourself “So what?” This helps to summarize the main idea of your paper in your mind.

Make sure that your reader is left with an impression or something to think about in relation to your topic. This is a hallmark of an effective essay. This is most important in argumentative essays.

Citations
Depending on what citation format your teacher prefers (MLA format, APA format, etc.), you should include a reference list at the end of your essay, which lists the outside sources where you attained information while creating your paper.

The citations in your reference list should include any sources that you have referenced within the body of your essay using in-text or parenthetical citations.

For help with creating citations, check out the citation guides on BibMe here http://www.bibme.org/citation-guide.

Finally, always remember to proofread your essay before handing it in to your teacher!