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Table of Contents

  1. Adverbial Clause Commas
  2. Nonessential Clause Commas
  3. Hyphen Errors
  4. AP Style Errors
  5. Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
  6. Proofreading Tips
  7. Expedited 5-Star Review
  8. Textbroker AP Style Cheat Sheet

Throughout this training course, we will be providing detailed information that can help you improve your writing and reach that elusive 5-star promotion. At the end of each section, there will be a link to a short practice quiz to test you on the material you have learned. At the very end of this course, there will be a link to your final TBU evaluation quiz. After you have passed the TBU quiz and the 5-star Advancement Test — and have articles available to be rated — you will receive one expedited evaluation. If your writing during this evaluation is completely free of errors, you will be promoted to 5-star status instantly. Let’s start with some common punctuation errors that prevent many 4-star authors from reaching 5-star status.

Adverbial Clause Commas

By now, as a 4-star author, you should have a strong grasp on coordinating conjunctions and how to punctuate sentences that contain them. However, the subordinating conjunction is trickier. If you struggle with adverbial clauses, you probably have received this feedback from our editors.


[“*” is a subordinating conjunction and begins an adverbial clause. An adverbial clause is not set off by a comma when it is at the end of a sentence. If it is placed at the beginning, it is then an introductory clause, so a comma comes after it. If it is placed within the sentence as a nonessential/nonrestrictive clause, it is surrounded by commas on both sides.]


Here is a list of the most common subordinating conjunctions: after, although, as, as if, because, before, even if, even though, if, if only, rather than, in order to, since, though, unless, until, whatever, when, whenever, whether, while, where, whereas, wherever, and regardless.

Save this list, and have it close by while you are writing or proofreading. When you see one of these words, double check to make sure you are punctuating the sentence correctly. Please note, however, that this is not an exhaustive list. Some words can also act like subordinating conjunctions; one example is the word “with”.

One simple test for adverbial clauses is to move it around the sentence to see if it still makes sense. As an example, here’s a set of sentences that are all correct:

  • “Once you have mastered the adverbial clause, you will be one step closer to 5-star status.”
  • “You will, once you have mastered the adverbial clause, be one step closer to 5-star status.”
  • “You will be one step closer to 5-star status once you have mastered the adverbial clause.”


With that last sentence, we see a lot of authors who want to use a comma before “once” — or whatever subordinating conjunction they happen to be using. Please avoid using this comma as it is incorrect, and it is something we look for during your evaluations. Another common error we see with adverbial clauses is omitting one of the commas when offsetting the clause in the middle of a sentence.


Incorrect example:

The editor said that if I punctuate my sentence like this, it is incorrect.

Correct example:

However, the editor said that, if I punctuate the sentence like this, it will be correct.


After you have reviewed this information, please take our adverbial clause quiz.

Adverbial Clauses

Nonessential Clause Commas

The nonessential clause, which is also called the nonrestrictive clause, can be one of the most difficult clauses to identify and punctuate correctly. Sometimes, what is and isn’t nonessential material can be very subjective. A nonessential clause provides additional information to the main clause. These clauses are offset by commas. To identify nonessential clauses, try reading the sentence without the clause. If it still makes sense, offset the clause. If not, then the clause is essential, so it should not be offset with commas. Words that end in “-ing” are often indicators of nonessential clauses as well.

The referee raised the boxer’s arm, showing the audience that she was the victor.

In this sentence, “showing the audience that she was the victor” is the nonessential clause. It provides additional information on why the referee raised the boxer’s arm, but the sentence makes complete sense without this clause.

Vegetables, such as onions, lettuce and potatoes, are an important part of a balanced diet.

Examples are often nonessential clauses. However, it is important to make sure that the sentence can stand on its own without the nonessential clause. For this example, “Vegetables are an important part of a balanced diet” is a complete sentence.

Diners such as IHOP and Denny’s serve breakfast all day.

Here, “such as IHOP and Denny’s” is not offset with commas because it is essential to the meaning of the sentence. Although “Diners serve breakfast all day” is grammatically correct, it is not factually correct because not all diners serve breakfast all day. Whenever possible, avoid starting nonessential clauses with a coordinating conjunction. Often times, these clauses are essential and can be integrated into the sentence by removing the commas. Unfortunately, this is not a hard and fast rule; sometimes, it is permissible.

When you are ready, try your hand at our nonessential clause quiz.

Hyphen Errors

Many of our 4-star authors are stumped by this small punctuation mark. Without a thorough grasp on hyphens, it would be very difficult to reach 5-star status.

The hyphen is most often used to connect compound adjectives — two words modifying the same word — in front of a noun.
For example:

Last weekend, I spent an afternoon babysitting my 3-year-old niece.

The magazine only uses high-quality photos in its pages.

When compound adjectives follow the noun, the hyphen is not used:

Last weekend, I spent an afternoon babysitting my niece, who is 3 years old.

The magazine uses photos that are high quality.

Sometimes, you’ll come across suspended compound adjectives where one or more of the words that modify are separated:

We are looking for a four- or five-bedroom house.

Other places you’ll find a hyphen are in prefixes such as “mid-” and “ex-” or when it’s used to break up syllables in a pronunciation guide.

When you are ready, please take this hyphen test to demonstrate your knowledge.

AP Style Errors

Here at Textbroker, we follow the Associated Press Style Guide. This style guide determines how certain writing elements are formatted and punctuated. We have created a cheat sheet to help you become familiar with AP Style writing, which can be found at the end of this guide.

Active Voice vs. Passive Voice

Even if your writing is properly punctuated and free of filler, if the tone or writing style is off, it could make your work sound clunky and awkward. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to write in active voice.

What is Active Voice?

Before we can explain when and why to use active and passive voice, we have to define the terms themselves:

  • With active voice, the subject performs the action. (The lumberjack demolished the tree.)
  • With passive voice, the subject is acted upon. (The tree was demolished by the lumberjack.)

In the active example above, the lumberjack is the subject and the tree is the direct object. When we make it passive, the tree becomes the subject.

Here are some other examples, borrowed from popular songs:

Active: I shot the sheriff.
Passive: The sheriff was shot by me.

Active: Oops…I did it again.
Passive: Oops…it was done by me again.

What is Passive Voice?

There are a few reasons why many editors, professors and content managers discourage using the passive voice:

  1. It’s less direct than active voice.

    Active: The lumberjack demolished the tree.
    Passive: The tree was demolished by the lumberjack.

    The active sentence packs more of a punch, and it immediately establishes who’s doing what.


  3. Active voice can convey the same message in fewer words.

    Active: Both leaders will sign the treaty. (6 words)
    Passive: The treaty will be signed by both leaders. (8 words)

    When your writing contains unnecessary prepositions, auxiliary (“to be”) verbs and other fluff, your narrative suffers. Tight, impactful writing is about learning to say more with less, and passive voice makes this extremely difficult.


  5. Passive voice often leads to awkward prepositional phrases.

    Active: I will always love you.
    Passive: You will always be loved by me.

    Look at the passive example above. “You will always be loved by me” sounds horribly stilted, but if we remove the prepositional phrase “by me,” it changes the meaning of the sentence.


  7. Passive statements are often vague or unclear.

    Active: The feral cat carried her baby across the street.
    Passive: The baby was carried across the street by the feral cat.

    Wait, what? Whose baby? Should we do something?


  9. Some passive statements just sound silly.

    Active: The intrepid athlete climbed Mount Everest.
    Passive: Mount Everest was climbed by the intrepid athlete.

How to Spot Passive Voice

If you want to pinpoint any uses of passive voice in your own writing, there are a few ways of going about it.

  • Search your writing for any uses of the verb “to be” (is, are, was, were, has been, being, etc…). Not every usage denotes passive voice, but you’ll find passive statements much more easily when you locate these auxiliary verbs.
  • Paste your content into the Hemingway App. This tool will highlight passive phrases in green.

Is it Always Wrong to use Passive Voice?

No. In fact, passive phrasing can even be essential in the right context. Use this as a general rule:

If either voice will suffice, always shoot for active voice. In those less frequent instances where passive voice makes more sense, go with passive voice.

Which raises the next question: When does passive voice make more sense?

  1. When the action is more important than the actor. Ex: “Prop 63 was supported by a majority of California voters.”
  2. When the actor is unimportant or unknown. Ex: “The park was vandalized during the night.”
  3. When you want to avoid casting blame or making assumptions. Ex: “Mistakes were made during the planning phase.”
  4. When passive voice improves clarity or flow. Ex: “The candidate was defeated by a narrow margin.”

Switching from Passive to Active Voice

Once you locate instances of unnecessary passive voice, you can easily fix them. Let’s use the follow passive statement as an example:

Passive: The suspect was apprehended by the officer.

To modify this sentence from passive to active voice:

  1. Identify the actor (sometimes called an agent) in the sentence – this is the person, place, thing or idea that’s causing the action. In other words, this is the do-er rather than the receiver. In this case, the actor is the officer.
  2. Rearrange the sentence so that the actor is clearly performing the action. The actor should appear before the verb.

In this case:
Active: The officer apprehended the suspect.

This makes the sentence both clearer and more concise.

Going Forward

Now that you’re familiar with the differences between active and passive voice, use the guidelines in this post to make smart decisions about the voice of your sentences. Try to use active voice wherever possible to keep your content clear, to-the-point, and direct. Here is a test we created for you to practice spotting active and passive voice.

Active vs. Passive Voice

We’ve also created a step-by-step example of how an article’s tone can be improved to 5-star quality. Check out this guide here for excellent tips on how to improve your word choice, sentence structures and article organization.

Proofreading Tips

Even the best authors make mistakes; however, our 5-star quality tier is advertised as nearly flawless. This makes proofreading absolutely essential for our 5-star authors. If you take this lesson to heart, you will have a greater chance of submitting 5-star quality work.

Use a Word Processing Program

It is highly recommended that you use word processing programs for surface-level proofreading. Applications like Grammarly and Microsoft Word are great at picking out misspelled words, typos and much more. However, A.I. is not perfect; the English language has many nuances that a computer cannot pick up. These applications may even suggest edits that are incorrect.

Read With Fresh Eyes

After staring at a bright screen and small letters for hours, our eyes can often become rather jaded to the words we are reading. Sometimes, it helps to leave the computer for an hour or so before proofreading. With fresh eyes, the typos and errors will be easier to spot.

Read Out Loud

If you read a sentence out loud, any awkwardness the sentence may contain will become more apparent. If you are able, you can even have a friend read the sentence out loud to you.

Look for “Flag” Words

“Flag” words are words that commonly have grammatical rules related to them. Pay close attention to these words while you are proofreading.

Coordinating conjunctions:

Each time you see a coordinating conjunction, double-check the clauses on both sides of the conjunction. If they are independent, use a comma before the conjunction. If they are not, don’t use a comma. You can remember these words with the acronym FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so.

Subordinating conjunctions:

We discussed these words earlier in the training course. Once you are familiar with them, they will jump out at you. Then, you can punctuate those adverbial clauses correctly.

Conjunctive adverbs:

Conjunctive adverbs are words that can be used to join two independent clauses together. In these sentence structures, a semicolon comes before the conjunctive adverb and a comma comes after. Here is a list of common conjunctive adverbs: also, however, otherwise, consequently, indeed, similarly, finally, likewise, then, furthermore, moreover, therefore, hence, nevertheless, thus and nonetheless.

Other words:

  • If:

    When a sentence begins with “if,” a comma must always go before “then.” If the sentence begins with “If” but does not contain “then,” speculate where the “then” would logically fall and place your comma there.


  • Not only:

    “Not only… but” is a correlative conjunction and must be used as a pair. If both clauses around “but” are independent, use a comma before “but.” If the second clause is dependent, don’t use a comma. The “but” cannot be omitted from this construction; this could result in a comma splice or a fused sentence.


  • Which:

    “Which” is indicative of a nonessential clause, which is set off by a comma. If the clause is meant to be essential, change the word “which” to “that” or “who.”


  • So:

    Besides being a coordinating conjunction, there is a significant difference between “so” and “so that.” “So” as a coordinating conjunction means “therefore”; “so that” means “in order that”.

    “We’re done shopping, so we can all go home.”
    “Let’s finish up so that we can all go home.”

    Please note the difference in comma usage. We often see authors who want to use “so that” omit the “that.” This is incorrect.

Keep Your Notes Nearby

Save any feedback you get from our editors in a document. Make notes of various grammar rules that you learn. Keep this document open while you write. By keeping these notes and having them close by, you can revisit any grammar rules when you are struggling with your sentence structures.

Search Engines Are Your Friend

If you stumble across a grammatical issue that has you second-guessing yourself, don’t just guess; see if Google has any answers. However, be careful with where you get your information. Make sure you are using reputable sources. Grammar Girl and the OWL at Purdue are two of our favorites.

Expedited 5-Star Review

Here are the steps to receive an expedited 5-star review for an immediate 5-star rating.


  1. Complete the TBU Final Evaluation found here.

  3. Complete the 5-star Advancement Test, found on your account under Assignments > 5-star Advancement Text.
    1. If you have already passed either the 5-star Advancement Test, or old Proofreading Test, you do not need to complete this step again.


  4. After successfully passing both of these tests, contact Author Services at [email protected] to request your expedited rating.
    1. Ensure that you have orders available to rate and you believe these orders are flawless.


  5. If your expedited rating is flawless, you will be automatically promoted to 5-star status.

  7. If your expedited rating is not flawless, you will still be eligible for 5-star status but will need to complete the usual two flawless ratings to be promoted to 5-star status.

Textbroker AP Style Cheat Sheet

This reference guide is not meant to be an exhaustive summary of AP Style but only a quick reference guide for the more common situations a Textbroker author will encounter.

For full rules and guidelines, visit the AP Stylebook.

Remember that the client’s requirements always supersede AP Style and Textbroker preferences, and you will never be penalized for misspelled, grammatically incorrect or stylistically incorrect keywords.






Generally, spell out numbers one through nine and use numerals for numbers 10 and higher.


  1. Addresses
  2. Ages, except for inanimate objects
  3. Dollars and cents
  4. Dates
  5. Dimensions
  6. Highways and street names
  7. Numbers above the thousands (i.e. millions, billions)
  8. Percentages. As of 2019, AP prefers the percent sign (%)
  9. Speed
  10. Temperatures
  11. Times

Spell out numbers at the beginning of a sentence, except for dates.

Use a decimal (up to 2 places) for numbers in the millions and billions or higher.

Pluralize numbers without an apostrophe.

We bought nine oranges and 12 apples.


  1. He lives at 123 Park Avenue
  2. Mary is 8, and her stuffed bunny is seven
  3. $8 (not $8.00), $4.54
  4. April 1 (not April 1st)
  5. The painting is 8×10 inches
  6. Route 66 and Interstate 5
  7. 3.1 billion people
  8. 7%
  9. 6 mph
  10. 9 degrees (or 9 F)
  11. The party begins at 6 p.m.


Twenty-two people attended the rally.

2001 was a slow year.

There are approximately 7.7 billion people on Earth.

The dice came up with 8s.


Do not capitalize federal, state, department, division, board, program, section, unit, etc.,
unless it is part of a formal name.

Capitalize common nouns when they arepart of a proper name.

Cardinal directions are not capitalized unless they are part of a proper name or refer to a specific geographic region.

Capitalize formal titles when they come before a name but not when they come after the name.

Never capitalize job titles that are not formal titles.

Matt is on the board. The Department of Education made the decision.

The Nile River runs through Egypt.

Travel south until you come to the mountains. We’ll be driving through the Midwest.

Doctor Stevens is the director of Immunology.

Michael is a police officer and plays goalie for the local soccer team.

Punctuation and quotation


  1. Do not use a comma before a conjunction in a simple series.
  2. Use commas in a series that includes “and” or “or.”
  3. Textbroker does not use the Oxford comma.


  1. For plural possessive nouns ending in s, add only an apostrophe.
  2. For singular possessive nouns ending in s, add ‘s.
  3. For singular possessive proper nouns ending in s, add only an apostrophe.
  4. For singular possessive proper nouns ending in x, ce and z, add ‘s.
  5. For plurals of single letters, add ‘s.
  6. Do not use ‘s for plurals of numbers or dates.
  7. Only use an apostrophe to omit the initial figures of a decade.

Quotation Marks

  1. Periods and commas always go inside the quotation marks.
  2. Question marks, exclamation points and semicolons go outside the quotation marks unless they are part of the quoted material.
  3. Single quotation marks are only used for a quote within a quote.


  1. Use a semicolon to clarify lists that contain several commas. The semicolon goes before the conjunction.

We bought apples and oranges.

We bought apples, oranges, peaches and grapes.

Peeps is the students’ pet chicken.

There is a pen at the hostess’s desk.

Matthew Press’ bag was full of toads.

Beatriz’s party was the toast of the town.

Marty got all A’s on his report card.

The dice came up with 8s.

The 1960s were more fun the ‘70s.

“I don’t care,” she said.

Can you believe she said, “I don’t care.”?

“What is the meaning of life?” Folsom wonders.

According to XYZ website, “Our father used to say, ‘Everything works out in the end,’ and we try to live by that motto.”

Locations can be found in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sacramento, California; and Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Use a person’s first and last name only the first time they are mentioned, unless a Textbroker client specifically requests otherwise.

After the first reference, use only the last name with no title.

Do not use salutations (i.e. Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc.) unless they are part of a quote, the client has requested that you use them, or the title is needed to differentiate two
people with the same last name.

Matt Smith is very involved in charity projects. In 2012, Smith started the STEM for Girls Foundation to introduce young girls to STEM fields.

Martha and Joe White were both born in Medford, Oregon. Mrs. White runs a small convenience store, and Mr. White is a freelance writer for Textbroker.

Academic Degrees

Use an apostrophe and spell out academic degrees.

If the full title is given, capitalize the title of the degree, but do not capitalize the major unless it is a language or nationality.

Use abbreviations for academic degrees only when they appear as credentials after a person’s name.

Alice has a master’s degree in English.
Alice has earned her Master of Arts in English. Her brother earned a Master of Arts in communications the year before.

Julio Gonzalez, M.D., Ph.D., testified on her behalf.