Roslyn Petelin.
Roslyn Petelin. Contributed

Do you know your grammar rules?

EMOJIS and emoticons have no place in the professional writing world, and the word "utilise” should not be used anywhere. Professor Roslyn Petelin has taught the nuances of English to thousands of students for five decades.

The University of Queensland associate professor's latest book, How Writing Works: A Field Guide to Effective Writing, is designed for professional, creative and novice writers who want to hone their skills on the page.

The book is peppered with useful tips and Petelin's own pet peeves including the much-derided emoji.

"I'm very against emoticons and emojis. Never use an emoticon or emoji in any professional context. It's unprofessional and if you use these happy face things, it means you can't use words well enough,” she said.

The professor's favourite words included evanescent, ineffable, ineluctable, redolent and resonate, but she wrote in her book she could not use them often.

Petelin's fascination with words began early. Her first memory of a book was hearing the passage "dinkle, donkle, do”. Try as she might, she cannot find a copy of the book from which that passage is derived. Her life-long love affair with books, however, began in primary school when she started to read the Australian and Queensland school readers.

"You had a reader for every grade you were in at school. They were full of stories and poems. They gave me a really good grounding in reading and writing,” Petelin said.

Her fascination with words continued in high school, when she studied Latin and French too. Asking the professor about her favourite authors was like turning on a tap. She rapidly listed American, Australian and British writers like J D Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), Dorothy L Sayers (Gaudy Night) and John Updike (Rabbit, Run and Rabbit at Rest).

Closer to home, Petelin said she favoured Australian Mary-Rose MacColl (Swimming Home). MacColl will launch the professor's book next week. Petelin said she measured a novel by how much she wanted to re-read it. She has a comfortable sofa in her office where she likes to pore over pages, but she also reads a lot in bed.

"If a book is worth reading, it's worth re-reading. I think that's the best reading. People say no book is the same for everybody and no book is the same for the same person,” she said.

How Writing Works also explores the relationship among the reader, the writer and the written word and how those words are often misconstrued.

"Quite often I'll put a message out to students and I'll think 'this is foolproof, and they'll never misunderstand what they need to do'. But misunderstanding happens all the time. You cannot account for how people will interpret what you write,” Petelin said.

Petelin's book, however, aims to teach people the tools they need to give clear and concise messages to their readers. Along with How Writing Works, the professor also conducts an online grammar course. The course began in 2014 and has run four times.

It has attracted more than 330,000 registrations from students in more than 200 countries and territories. Their ages range from 8-80, from primary school students to those who have doctoral degrees.

Petelin said the take-up of the course showed a great need for grammar lessons worldwide.

"Many of the teachers who have participated in this free MOOC (massive open online course) have done the course and then used the material in their writing classes. The latest request came from the lead tutor of the pupillage program at the Cape Bar, in Cape Town, South Africa, the final stage of training to be a barrister, who said that it would be excellent training for his students,” she said.


1. Between you and I. (It should be 'between you and me'.)

2. They invited him and myself. (It should be 'him and me'.)

3. They would of gone. (It should be 'they would have gone'.)

4. Stories I only tell my friends. (It should be 'Stories I tell only my friends'.)

6. The rich are very different to you and me. (Change 'to' to 'from' to make sense.)

7. The boy and his father agreed that he was a great sport. (Can you decide whether 'he' refers to the boy or his father?)

8. A hierarchy of subjects still exist/exists in Australian schools. (Either is acceptable here.)

9. I'd like to thankyou for the invitation. (It should be 'thank you'.)

10. The staff were unanimous in support of their manager. (It should be 'was' because the word 'staff' is singular in this sentence.)

11. You need a knack to getting on with your friends. (It should be 'a knack for getting on with your friends'.)

12. I finished the job early, however I had other work to do. (I finished the job early; however, I had other work to do. The original sentence has a comma 'splice'. Commas can't splice two sentences.)


How Writing Works, by Roslyn Petelin, will be published through Allen and Unwin on Wednesday, October 26, RRP $39.99. For more information about the MOOC, go to

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