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Writing Checklist

Grammar - hard and fast rules for formal or academic writing 

  1.  Allways aviod mispelling.
    Spell-check programs help, but are no substitute for your own critical eye.
  2. Also using sentence fragments and incomplete sentences that are too long and run-on sentences.
    A complete sentence has a subject, a verb, and an object. Advertising copy can sometimes survive without one, or with too many, of these elements, but formal prose cannot.
  3. Be sure the verb and the subject agrees in number.
    In particular, use "they" and "their" only with plural nouns.
  4. Remembering to have kept the tenses of your verb consistent, or your writing will have became unclear.
  5. Use the write word, not just the won that looks or sounds rite, to.
    This is one of the reasons spell-checking programs will never replace your brain.
  6. capitalize Words Correctly, Even On tuesdays in america.
  7. Its important alway's to use ones apostrophe's correctly.
    Apostrophes  indicate both possessives and contractions. Do not use contractions in formal writing; form most possessives by adding an apostrophe and an "s".
  8. Semicolons separate independent clauses of a sentence; each of which is, in itself; a complete sentence on its own.
    A semicolon links two closely related thoughts, often where one explains or depends on the other; you can also use semicolons to separate items in a list. 
  9. Everyone that refers to persons as objects is a brick. 
    "That" is for things; when referring to persons use "who".
  10. When I slowly-entered the room there were twenty odd students present.
    Hyphens avoid misunderstanding by combining or distinguishing words in a phrase appropriately. The "ly" of an adverb replaces the hyphen. 

Style & Meaning - some flexibility here. Use your judgment, but know what you are doing.

  1. Ain't no good, by the bye, to stick to your guns just to produce prose that's flat as a pancake anyways.
    Avoid inappropriately informal language, including contractions, clichés, and slang terms.
  2. Rely primarily on your choice of words, RATHER THAN "punctuation," CAPITALS, underlining, or italics, to express {emphasis} in your writing!!!!
  3. Doesn't everybody know rhetorical questions are dismissive and obnoxious?
    A rhetorical question is a statement in the form of a question that needs no answer because the speaker presumes the answer is obvious. It is more respectful of your readers, and less likely to put them on the defensive, simply to state your position declaratively. The rhetorical question "Who's to say?" is especially annoying, a conversation-stopper rather than a genuine inquiry.
  4. Save "quotation marks" for when you are directly "quoting" a "person" or "text."
    Some writers use scare quotes to express their suspicion of certain terms. It is better either to discuss what is misleading about a term or phrase, or simply to choose a more suitable term.
  5. Try, try, try not to say what you have to say repeatedly, over and over, again and again.
    Do we need to keep reminding you of this?
  6. And most sentences should neither begin with a conjunction, nor have a preposition to end with or on.
  7. The passive voice is to be avoided; it is generally preferred if the subject is identified clearly.
    Passive voice, or indirect discourse, conceals  the subject altogether (as in Ronald Reagan's famous admission about Iran-Contra: "Mistakes were made") or tags it on awkwardly at the end of the phrase ("The bathroom was gone to by me").
  8. Since the dawn of time, and perhaps even before, good writers have sought to express themselves clearly and simply, eschewing vague, grandiloquent composition and lugubrious tracts of extraneously laborious periphrasis.
    Steer clear of irrelevant, global proclamations and pompous-sounding language.
  9. Mankind can no longer tolerate, in his language, the presumption of maleness as the norm.
    Misplaced gender-specific language can confuse readers and put them off. Sometimes it is easy to fix (use humanity instead of mankind, for example), and sometimes it is a struggle to do so gracefully (as when you must recast a sentence in the plural rather than using s/he or other awkward compound phrases inappropriate in formal prose). This is worth learning to do, however, as most academic and professional societies now require it for publication, and you want to say exactly what you mean. 
  10. I feel it is misleading to express your thoughts and claims as though they were sensations or emotions. 
    Feelings are important, but they are not the same as thoughts. In general, a thought is more public, and subject to intellectual challenge and question, whereas a feeling is just something you have, like an emotion, sensation, or intuition, and you do not expect others to challenge it.  Since formal writing should almost always invite correction or challenge, never use "feel" where "think" will do.
  11. Keep [1] footnotes [2] to [3] a minimum,[4] but as some great writer once said:  "Always acknowledge the sources of your ideas."
    Notes should credit and direct readers to all substantive sources of your ideas and language, not distract them from what you are saying.
  12. Use standard manuscript format for academic writing, saving your creative impulses for your choice of words and care in editing.
    Unless a particular course or assignment demands it, present your work in Times New Roman 12-point type, double-spaced, flush left, one inch margins, black ink on one side of 8.5" x 11" paper, stapled if more than one page. Set the defaults in your word processor to these parameters, so most of the time you will not have to think about it.

[1] rhymes with peep.
[2] i.e., notes at the foot of the page.
[3] as contrasted with too, or two.
[4] I owe this thought to my writing teacher. 

This teaching and writing tool is part of an ongoing collaboration between Matt Silliman and David Johnson.  We offer it to our students and colleagues for their use, adaptation, and amusement.