Practical, Grammatical & Stylistic Pitfalls to Avoid
Numerical Codes Might Show Up In Your Paper Comments in Blackboard
- Back up your work at all times (or e-mail to yourself as an attachment). Save to a flash-drive or a remote server. The matter of computers crashing is when, not if.
- Basic Proofreading: Use A. spell-check and B. grammar-check. 2B or Not 2B? That is the question I ask of thee: Accept the gift of user-friendly technology! C. Remember that spell check does not catch homonyms/heterographs/heteronyms that are spelled right (i.e. their for there, past for passed, move instead of movie, on for one, whose for who’s, write for right, etc.).
- Give it a descriptive title that tells the reader what it is about and what project you are doing (or at least a descriptive subtitle). B. Set it apart from the first line and embolden it. Cover, or title, pages are unnecessary, but it is o.k. to include one. C. Make sure to include title and your name. D. Capitalize all the primary words in your title (everything but the, and, it, etc.).
- Insert page numbers at the bottom of each page (preferably in the middle) that include your initials (1-CA). In WORD, find Header/Footer under View and select Page #.
- Use 12-pt font B. Use what font you’d like, but don’t switch fonts. C. A good default font for academics is Times New Roman.
- Double-space the lines, except for block quotes, which are single-spaced.
- Do not right-justify (straighten) the right margin. Inconsistent word spacing is harder on readers.
- Indenting the first paragraph is optional, but write in paragraph form and indent the other paragraphs.
- Do not put spaces between your paragraphs except in spots where it is a natural, key break.
- To document sources, use the MLA Style if you’re used to that. For those of you considering majoring in history, use footnotes. Refer to Chicago Manual of Style, Kate Turabian, ed. for footnoting format. The Chicago Manual is available in the library, and you can access it online. If using the Chicago/footnoting method, you do NOT have to include a bibliography or endnotes. All the pertinent information is in the footnotes, at least the first time an entry is made. If you use footnotes, use the INSERT function in WORD. If you use MLA, include a Works Cited page.
- Frame what your paper is about in the opening paragraph and wrap things up with a concluding sentence or a concise paragraph.
- I encourage you to insert visuals, though they will not count toward the paper’s length. Many people also include a graphic on a cover page if they choose to include a cover.
- Stay in the past tense (i.e. worked) rather than the present (works) or future tense (would work). Note that the History Channel and other popular writings often prefer the alternatives. If you do choose to right in the present (the wrong choice in my view), that is not incorrect, but it is incorrect to be inconsistent – whichever you choose, stick with it throughout. B. Usually Would be should be was (He would be ten should be He was ten; He would later serve in the Confederacy should be He later served in the Confederacy).
- This is not a business report or legal brief
- Avoid Bulleted Items & Outlines, always write in prose with connective, transitional sentences.
- Avoid contractions (don’t for do not, etc.) in a formal paper, even though it’s natural sounding (I mean it is natural sounding). Keep in mind that this is different than our textbook, which uses contractions.
- Commas, as shown here, often come in pairs (to bracket off as shown here). B. Read sentences out loud and see where the natural breaks are in speech. Those are usually where the commas should be in writing. In the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the engraved epitaph above Lincoln says:
IN THIS TEMPLE
AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE
FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION
THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN
IS ENSHRINED FOREVER
It would not have made sense to carve commas in the marble but, had they been typing in WORD, they would have wanted commas after Temple and Union.
- Only use apostrophes for a possessive, and avoid using it’s (short for it is) when you mean its to be possessive. B. Avoid phantom apostrophes’ for no reason. C. Apostrophes are for contractions (which you will not use) and to show possessiveness; a bunch of dads’ sons (plural); my dad’s son (singular) or America’s role; a bunch of dads shot pool (neither – it’s not possessive, just a noun); D. The Smiths were a big family doesn’t need an apostrophe
- Keep periods and commas inside quotes.” semi-colons, and footnotes. One exception is if you’re putting a citation in parenthesis after the quotation, in which case you put the period at the end, after the parenthesis.
- Do not put(parentheses directly next to words.
- Make sure to use two slashes for quotes (“), not one (‘); the exception is when you have a quote within a quote, then the inside pair is single.
- Indent and single-space long quotations and do not overuse them. A. You don’t need to use quotes (“) in block quotes. B. Don’t use long quotes in place of narrative; use them sparingly to back up or underscore your narrative. C. In the sentence before a block quote, end it with a colon:
- Italicize titles of A. ships or planes B. movies and television show titles C. book titles D. newspapers, journals & magazine titles E. court cases and F. Foreign words (i.e. Latin phrases like coup d’éta, laissez faire or de facto) G. Horses, Farms or Ranches. Use “quotes” for H. articles and I. people saying things. J. There is no need to underline anything in the paper, though technically underlining is equivalent to italicizing.
- For numbers A. spell out numbers under 13 B. use digits for uneven bigger numbers like 1,582, but spell out even ones like two thousand.
- Time, Years and Decades A. For decades, write 1880s with no apostrophe, and ‘80s alone with apostrophe before number. B. Do not spell out years like nineteen-ninety-one; just write 1991. C. Say September 1928 instead of September of 1928. No need to say in the year 1928. D. Avoid throughout this time or throughout history. Most Americans back at that time can be most Americans then. In this time or At this point in time is not better than at this point or then or just nothing. In this time raises the question: can anything happen out of time? Likewise, change during the years of World War II to during World War II or 1977 is when to in 1977. In the year of 1992 is when my family can just be in 1992 my family… Soon after, in February 1763, was the date that… should just be in February 1763…During the 1950s is when can be in the 1950s…E. Avoid sentences like When they were born that is when F. Put dashes in day-to-day.
- Capitalize the names of specific events and pronouns like Great Depression, the Depression, Cold War, the Civil War and, in the Civil War, the North and South, but not regular nouns like there was a civil war in Iran, it occurred in southern Iran where there was a depression. B. Peoples’ names and specific places are capitalized. You can stop saying the first and last names of a person after you have said it once or twice. After that generally use the last name. Always give a person’s full name the first time you use it. C. the Bible, God or Scripture are capitalized, but scriptural and biblical are not.
- There is no need to use ellipses at the beginning or end of sentences of quotes. Use ellipses only in the middle of quotes when you remove words. And separate them as such . . . rather than…
- Military terms: When discussing the Civil War, always use seceded instead of succeeded to describe the Southern states leaving the Union (the Secession). B. Also use World War II or WWII rather than World War 2 or 1. As mentioned above, capitalize the Civil War, but not a civil war.
- Geographical terms A. Use U.S. as shortened version of United States instead of US (with no periods). B. Put a comma after city, then spell out state names (i.e. Austin, Texas). In footnotes, shorten Texas to Tx.
- Phrases after semi-colons could stand by themselves as a sentence; like this doesn’t. The second clause is an incomplete sentence in that case – incorrect. Each portion of the sentence should be an independent clause. Use full colons before indented quotes and to list. i.e. There were only a couple things on television when it first came out and they were wrestling and westerns should be there were only a couple of things on television when it first came out: wrestling and westerns.
- Avoid A. incomplete and B. run-on sentences. Grammar-check will often catch these, and a preponderance of them indicates that you are not proofing your paper. Example: The Civil War, a war fought between the Confederate and the Union armies. Is incomplete (so’s this). Sometimes the way to avoid a run-on is the strategic placement of a semi-colon; usually, though, a period is the solution.
- Avoid mixing nouns with adverbs or adjectives: i.e. ‘they had different views socially, politically and economics (it should be economically).
- Do not overuse terms like very and extremely. It is highly important that you do not overuse them, but not very extremely important that you do not overuse them. Better yet, never use them unless absolutely, extremely necessary. Rarely do they really add anything or make what you are saying more persuasive.
- Avoid 1st-person testimonies like “I really liked this project” or “I had trouble finding.” Just present the finished product. Do a word search for “I.” For distance learning students doing the book review, just say what you think and I know who the author of the review is (you).
- Avoid jarring transitions between paragraphs. Don’t try to get around this by just putting a break between the paragraphs.
- Avoid unnecessary repetition. i.e. It was an evil force from the devil.
- Avoid using the same word twice in the same sentence unless necessary. Avoid “it seems that both women both experienced the same thing.” One both will suffice.
- Words to be careful about (do a search before handing in): backward use of literally (i.e. “he literally had the weight of the world on his shoulders;” is he Atlas?). Some dictionaries say this has become an accepted form in the 20th century, but still best to literally avoid it like the plague. B. Don’t worship Whichcraft. Be careful with over-use of the word which. And do not replace who (for a person) for with which (a thing). He finally built a successful one in which was called the Albatross should just be He finally built a successful one called the Albatross. C. Use regard instead of regards. Use the search function to see where and how you are using either regard or which. If it is not necessary in a sentence remove it.
- Don’t call non-fictional books (biographies, historical monographs, etc.) novels. Novels are fictional.
- Avoid the passive voice when possible. Instead of “it has been suggested” say “Joe suggested that…” Instead of “It was said by my father,” say “my father said…” The passive voice is not actually incorrect, and is sometimes unavoidable, but it’s weaker sounding than the active voice.
- Avoid colloquial phrases like on account of, nowadays, anyways, the reason being is that, seeing as how they, or using ‘till instead of until. Avoid: not to say, just sayin’, can be seen to, being that, being that since, being as there was or and such. Word search for being if you have a tendency toward this habit. In order to simplify it is sometimes good to write as you talk; but if you do talk like this, don’t write like it. B. Avoid the want to do something instead of the desire to do something.
- In keeping with that, when in doubt, keep your writing simple rather than trying to sound fancy.
- Read sentences out loud to yourself. Make each sentence clear and efficient. See if they sound o.k. Therefore we have a great deal of darkness in our genealogical background could be therefore we have a dark genealogy. Check your word-count, then see if you can reduce it 20% by trimming and simplifying sentences to cut the fat. Remove repetitive passages. If the assignment is 5-8 pages, make it 6-9, then cut. This is a big part of proofreading and could take up to a night in papers you care about. This is what I mean by “clean and lean.” Always take the simpler path. The following that is talked about can just be the following. With singing the song it helped should just be singing the song helped….reason why it was called can be reason it was called. My Lai was a horrible tragedy that took place is not better than My Lai was a horrible tragedy. If none of these examples ring true for you, do MORE READING as you progress through college.
- Avoid awkward phrasing – something very different than you would use in speech. Instead of with this being shown in the letter he sent try the letter shows. As far as my father’s family can be dated can just be my father’s family dates to. B. Be careful of is what. The Civil Rights movement is what consumed Americans is not better (worse in fact) than Civil Rights consumed Americans. C. Avoid, the reason for such and such was the fact that,… Avoid the phrase during the time of (just say during). D. Change was to be said to was said. E. Also be careful of had – my mother had suggested is rarely better than my mother suggested. F. Due to the fact should almost always be because.
- Make sure what you are saying makes sense. If it doesn’t, don’t say it. This is especially problematic with introductory sentences. Example: “The American government influences American society in such a way, that the only way to see America is through the eyes of children during the Great Depression.” Be very wary of bad introduction sentences (keep them simple and to the point). This isn’t good: “The presence and importance of societies has existed for as long as there have been people and have often been key to the eventual structure of a culture.”
- Be wary of the we’re never taught about this in history classes phrase that people like to insert in their opening paragraph when they’re writing about topics that have been commonly taught. For instance, history doesn’t teach us about the forced removal of Indians….except for in every textbook in America for the last fifty years.