Before you start writing, keep your audience in mind. Different types of audiences require different types of writing. An academic paper analyzing the history of education, for example, will most likely require a formal tone, elevated vocabulary, and quotes from many documented sources.
A sample lesson plan for a third grade class, on the other hand, will be both different in form and content. The vocabulary will need to be simple, the tone, less formal.
While many of the papers you write at this university will be directed toward an instructor, remember that not all instructors are the same. Some instructors will want you to write papers that show how much you know about the materials covered in the course. Others will want you to do research papers which extend beyond the realm of class readings. Know your audience. In the latter case, a paper which centers on material already covered in class is likely to fall flat.
Audience accommodation can also help you choose the "meat" of your paper. If your instructor has indicated that all research articles published over twenty years ago are now obsolete, you know not to include such material in your paper. In this case, when you do your research, look for the most recent publications.
In college, a good way to know your audience is to go to the source.
Visiting professors during their office hours can give you a more complete
picture of their perspective, expectations, and agenda.
Writing the Right Way
While you probably will not take a grammar course in college, it is important to know the rules. ee cummings found his way through Harvard before he abandoned periods altogether (and before altogether became preferred to all together). Gertrude Stein eliminated question marks, and we all know what came of her. You must first learn the rules and prove yourself as a good writer before you begin to bend those rules and conventions too liberally. However, do not allow formalities to prevent you from saying what you feel you need to say.
Your content will propel your style, and your style will be designed to meet the needs of your content and audience. If you plan to shoot hoops, you do not arrive in cleats.
So content usually drives form, and form is important. It is a recognition of respect for the reader as well of the significance of the idea to be communicated.
Research shows the most common errors of form (other than submitting a legal brief in free verse) involve punctuation errors, especially with commas and apostrophes.
To give precise meaning to errors of style, a 1981 study demonstrated that a variety of professionals attach a weighty stigma to certain grammatical errors. (Noguchi, p.25) Some mistakes are worse than others and affect matters like jobs or promotions. The interpretation of these errors predictably appears to be rooted along lines of class, race, and educational level. Power sets the rules and enforces them.
The key here is simple. Do not overcapitalize. Do not capitalize without
some reason. Here are some rules for formal work.
See the section on bibliographies and references for the capitalization
of books, essays and stories.
2) Proper nouns and adjectives are capitalized.
Proper nouns name a person, place, or object; common nouns name one of a class of persons, places or objects.
b. Names of languages: French, Esperanto, Latin, Greek.
c. Names of organizations: National Education Association, International Reading Association, Penn State Alumni.
d. Days of the week and months: Sunday, April.
e. Historical events and documents: Tet Offensive, Magna Charta, Sherman's
Note that these words are not capitalized when they are not part of the name.
She became a full professor.
The queen pays no taxes.
Exclamation Points and Question Marks
Minimize! Do not use triple exclamation points or question marks. Let your message be carried in your choice of words.
Yipes!!! They'll pay salaries to student teachers??? (Not).
Either as a reader or an author, there are a few abbreviations you should know.
There is one word of advice about we've, you've, it's,
and the rest of the contractions which do not show possession: don't. Some
things are worth fighting for; contractions aren't. In formal writing,
minimize your use of contractions.
Printers set the rules here too. Printed sentences are never started with numbers, always with words.
Eighty-five per cent of the people did not vote in the school board election.
If the number can be printed as one or two words (nine or nine hundred), use words. If not, use the number: 1917. If you are writing passage full of numbers and shifting from one style to another would be confusing; remain consistent.
The United States ranks 49th among 158 member nations of the UN in literacy. (Kozol, 1990)
Space once after a comma, the period following an initial (W. E. B. Dubois), after internal periods in an abbreviation (e. g.) or semi-colon.
Space twice after a colon or punctuation ending a sentence.
Double-space all of your formal papers. All formal work must be typed.
Place numbers at the bottom center of every page.
There is anguish in the world, some of it rising out of the splitting of infinitives. An infinitive is split when an adverb is placed between to and the infinitive it governs.
It is shrewd not to needlessly quibble about silly rules.
Now, needlessly belongs after quibble. Here is a correct example:
Gordie Howe did not need to elbow mercilessly.
But if there is anguish in the world, there is also redemption. A split infinitive here and there, depending on its sound and ease of use, is acceptable.
What is at issue is the greater sin, that of promiscuity. Split infinitives scattered everywhere draw penalties.
Some Common Faux Pas
Careless grammar mistakes are annoying and distract your reader. Nearly all of us have made them, particularly when we write papers at 4 a.m., but they can usually be caught with a good proofreading. Watch out for the following:
Cannot is one word, not two.
A like is two words.
A lot is two words.
You're means you are. Your shows possession as in your book, your life, your highness.
It's means it is. Its shows possession as in its name, its number, its habitat.
Their is also possessive. Their dog, their home, their sorrows.
There denotes a place. I want to eat over there. They're
means they are. They're going to flunk the exam.
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