Grammar Wednesday

I’m still so amazed by the blatant plagiarism from yesterday that I’ve not been able to even consider a Grammar Wednesday topic, so I’ll recap yesterday’s writing tips to my composition students as they consider their final research papers:


1. Do not use the personal pronouns “I” or “you” in formal writing. Establish a narrative distance from the work; this is not a personal essay. Further, don’t use “you” unless you are speaking directly to your reader and, generally speaking, that won’t happen in formal writing. Never use the amorphous “they” – always tell your reader exactly who “they” is.

2. Unless you are actually on a first-name basis with the people in your writing, use last names to refer to characters, people, or historical figures. Albert Einstein is “Einstein,” not “Albert.”

3. When giving background information about a person, please make sure that what you include is relevant. It may matter to me that an athlete broke his leg as a child, but not that a scientist did. Please also give information in a coherent order and focus on those events that support the thesis of your work. Don’t waste paper by giving pointless information.

4. DON’T PLAGIARIZE! Be certain to cite quotations and to list sources in your citation page that helped to inform your writing, whether or not you quoted directly from them.

5. Don’t overuse pronouns. Use proper nouns every so often to remind us of who or what you’re talking about, especially if the use of pronouns can be confusing (if, for example you’re talking about two different men and use “he” to represent both of them in the same sentence).

6. For the love of all that is holy, proofread your work. Please don’t leave out verbs or say “there” when you mean “they’re” or “scarred” when you mean “scared.” Please also divide your thinking into paragraphs and make sure that all your sentences are complete.

7. Avoid colloquial language. Do not use terms like “freaked out” or “mad skills” when you’re writing formal papers. By the same token, don’t use words you don’t understand simply because they’re “big and sound impressive.”

8. Don’t overuse quotations. Most of the words in a research paper should be your own; overusing block quotes will certainly fill up space and help you reach your page number goal, but it won’t show me how well you’re able to express what you’ve learned about your topic.

9. Please only use one font, one color. Don’t use all caps or italicize words for emphasis – use your skills with the language to make sure I appreciate your point.

10. Be certain that your sources are reliable, and cite them properly.

graphic credit



Filed under about writing, Grammar, great writing, Learning, Teaching

6 responses to “Grammar Wednesday

  1. John

    Cool article, I can’t tell you how many adults forget simple rules like these.

  2. One time, I sat in a graduate (CS) class and cringed as the professor talked about how much he hated formal writing. He was telling the class that using I and You in a formal research paper was OK and fine simply because he thought the correct way sounded “stuffy.” I could not bring myself to do that. I spent years struggling to write formal papers properly, and dammit, I wasn’t going to let it all go to pot just because the prof thought it was snobby.

  3. I had many of these topics covered in a 9th grade class today. I may have to print and post in my room – credited of course! 😉

  4. regarding #2: have you ever noticed, though, that most characters who are women and/or children are referred to by first names? no one writes about the scarlet letter and talks about “prynne” and her A – we call her “hester”. but we call chillingworth and dimmesdale by their last names. interesting stuff.

  5. It’s because of you that I went and checked out the English Grammar for Dummies book. I actually read it, too. It’s been so long since I had to do any formal writing that so much seemed new to me. I think I have a handle on who/whom and that/which. Go deeper than that and I’m in trouble. I did find it funny that the author set certain topics apart with a karate icon, and admitted that unless a reader was a black-belt grammarian, they could skip those topics comfortably.

  6. My favorite is the students who think that using a 16-pt font will make up for their lack of effort. Of course, that’s middle school for you 🙂

    Since you like quotes, here’s one for you. I keep it posted in my class, and I’ve been pleased to see that my students actually read it and think about it!

    Profanity is the crutch for conversational cripple.
    (from Jay Alexander, I think)

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