Rules of Writing
Care about your ideas and the paper you have written. Imagine it in a book entitled The Works of [...your name...].
Whether you type (see dictionary), word process, or handwrite (if your writing is legible), (1) use one side, (2) double-space, (3) use white, 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper, and (4) leave reasonable margins (no more than an inch).
Number your pages at the top right-hand corner.
Give your paper a title that is informative, not cute. The name of the work you are dealing with is NOT the title of your paper. "Shakespeare's Use of Time in Hamlet" is by a thoughtful person; "It Takes a Broken Egghead to Make a Hamlet" is by a jerk; Hamlet is by Shakespeare.
Underline or italicize all full-length films, plays, and books. Underline magazines and newspapers. "Short stories," "film shorts," "one-act plays," and "articles" go in quotation marks (" "). Do NOT underline or put your part of your own title in quotes.
Establish the context of your paper in the first sentence: "John Wayne first appears in Stagecoach with a rifle in his hand." NOT: "Duke has a gun."
GIVE YOUR PAPER A CLEAR THESIS SENTENCE AT THE END OF YOUR FIRST PARAGRAPH. This rule is the one most important way to please a reader.
Do not use one or two sentences as a paragraph.
Each paragraph must stick to the subject introduced by the first sentence in that paragraph.
Do not misspell words. Misspelled words look dumb; do not look dumb. Use a dictionary or a literate friend to check your spelling. Be warned: spell-check will not catch all the mistakes.
A possessive without an apostrophe is a misspelled word.
One exception to rule 11: "Its" is the possessive of "it". "It's" is the contraction for "it is." Since I do not allow contractions, you will never need to write "it's" on a paper.
Make the transition between your sentences and your paragraphs clear and logical. This task is the most difficult in writing, but, as you know, life is a vale of tears.
Do not use the first or second person -- I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours; you, your, yours -- unless I say you may.
Do not use the passive voice ("Careless students are failed by Mr. Cohen"); use the active voice ("Mr. Cohen fails careless students"). This rule is the most important rule of style, and it has serious consequences for your thinking and meaning as well. If you want to be a good writer, the first thing you must do is to understand what the passive is and avoid it like herpes.
Do not begin sentences in any of the following ways: "There are/is..." "This is..." "It is..."
Do not use "this," "these," "that," "those," "which," or "it" unless the word has a clear and unmistakable antecedent nearby. Never begin a sentence with "this" unless you follow it immediately with a noun that re-identifies the idea to which you are referring.
Never publicly dangle a participle or misplace a modifier: WRITE: "Showing unmistakable signs of stupidity, the student did not persuade his professor;" NOT: "The student did not persuade his professor, showing unmistakable signs of stupidity."
NEVER write an incomplete sentence (participles -- "ing" words -- cannot stand alone as verbs).
Do not hedge. Words like "maybe," "perhaps," and "might" do not keep you from being wrong; they merely alert the reader to the fact that you are worried about it.
NEVER JUST SUMMARIZE OR PARAPHRASE. Remember that I have read it or seen it. I do not want to know what happened. I want to know your ideas about what happened.
Support your assertions and ideas with concrete examples or brief quotes from the story, poem, play, or film you are discussing or with a short citation from some reliable authority.
NEVER use someone else's ideas (even in paraphrase) or words without giving proper credit.
a) When the quote is from the Bible, put the book, chapter, and verse in parenthesis immediately after the quotation [e.g. (Psalms. 12. 6.)].
b) When the quote is from Shakespeare, put the play (unless you've mentioned it), the act, scene, and line number in parenthesis right after the quotation [e.g: (King Lear. 3.1. 25)].
c) When the quote or paraphrase is from someone else, put his or her last name and the page number of the quote in parentheses following the quotation [e.g: (Cole 27)] and list the book in good bibliographical form in a works cited list at the back of your paper.
On those extremely rare occasions when you quote more than two lines of text, indent the quotation and leave off the quotation marks. In American, the final quotation mark always goes after the comma and the period and before the semi-colon and the colon [e.g: ," / ." / "; / ":].
Do not split infinitives (keep the "to" next to the verb): WRITE: "I wanted quickly to drop the course" or "I wanted to drop the course quickly." NOT: "I wanted to quickly drop the course."
Know these three rules about commas:
a) Join independent clauses (clauses with a subject and a verb) either by using (1) a comma with a conjunction ("Readers have extraordinary sex lives, but non-readers tend toward impotence and frigidity.") or (2) a semicolon without a conjunction ("Readers have extraordinary sex lives; non-readers tend toward impotence and frigidity.")
b) Separate items in a series by using a comma after every item before the conjunction ("The arbitrary, arrogant, and nasty professor refused to accept journalism rules of punctuation.").
c) Never use a comma between the subject and the verb or between the verb and its object (except for interrupting clauses which use 2 commas).
Bury words like "however," "furthermore," "moreover," "indeed," (conjunctive adverbs) in the clause or sentence. "The students, however, failed." NOT: "However, the students failed."
Write about works of art in the present tense, since Hamlet will be stabbing Polonius and Charlie Chaplin will be eating his shoe long after your grandchildren have forgotten your name.
Be consistent when you have two or more parallel structures in a sentence. With adjectives: "He was pompous and terrorized freshmen" is wrong. "He was pompous and fond of terrorizing freshmen" is right. With prepositions: "A student could count on his bad temper and arbitrariness" is wrong. "A student could count on his bad temper and on his arbitrariness" is right. With correlatives: "He graded not only for content but for style" is wrong. "He graded not only for content but also for style" is right.
Avoid jargon (say "library"; do not say "instructional media center"), cliché (say "the professor is a conservative grouch"; do not say "the professor is an old fogey"), slang (say "the teacher is foolish"; do not say "the teacher is a dork"), and hyperbole (say "this man has too high a regard for himself"; do not say "this man is the most arrogant bastard who ever lived").
Use your smallest, most Anglo-Saxon, most comfortable words; big words impress only insecure administrators and William F. Buckley.
Lose the words "very" and "effective" from your written vocabulary.
Avoid rhetorical questions.
Conclude your paper with a paragraph that explains the importance of your ideas to some larger understanding. Do not allow me to ask "so what?"
ALWAYS WRITE A SCRATCH COPY. Even Shakespeare revised. Unless I say differently, turn all scratch copies in with your final version. If you use a word processor, you must save and print the first full-length version of your paper and hand it in with your final copy.
Before writing your final copy, have an intelligent friend read your paper to you and then fix the things you don't like.
Staple your paper at the top left-hand corner. An unstapled paper incurs a 25¢ (15p) stapling fee.
Regardless of who loses your paper - you, I, or the dog who ate it - you're the one who will have to rewrite it or get an F. So be safe: keep a duplicate of your final version, either in hardcopy or on a backup disk.
Never write more than the assignment specifies. Remember what Donne can say in a sonnet (14 lines).