All college writers, especially new ones, should be particularly careful about the following. One or two errors might be overlooked; more than that will cause you to lose letter grades, or worse: the respect of your online community.
(If you do not want to read your paper, why should I?)
Look up words about which you are unsure, or at least use the spell checker. However, you should never trust a spell checker completely: they are never aware of context.
Avoid them (don’t, won’t, it’s).
Do not confuse with plurals and vice versa. Examples:
- singular possessive: society’s
- plural possessive: societies’
- plural: societies
- possessive: its (no apostrophe)
- contraction: it’s (meaning “it is”)
- singular: hero
- plural: heroes
- singular possessive: hero’s
- plural possessive: heroes’
Number (singular or plural) must agree with its antecedent (singular or plural). It is therefore wrong to write: “Each person has their biases” or “Everyone has their quirks.” The antecedent (“person” or “everyone”) is singular and therefore the pronoun deriving it must be singular: “Each person has his (or her) biases” or “Everyone has her (or his) quirks.”
Do not switch back and forth from past to present tense; be consistent. When writing about literature always use the present tense.
For practice, be certain each paragraph has at least four sentences. Most should have more, but do not run paragraphs together. Paragraphs should flow logically from one topic to another utilizing transitions.
Every sentence must be a complete sentence. Do not run complete sentences together. When a sentence is complete, end it.
Use active-voice verbs as much as possible and do not refer to yourself with personal pronouns such as I, we, my, our, etc.
Introduce all quotations with a colon (:) unless it is a short quotation integrated into the body of your sentence. Block quote more than four lines of quoted material. Only quote when you cannot use your own words.
Margins and Fonts
Avoid large margins and fonts. They make it appear as if you are short on words and that you think you can slip a short paper past your professor.
Do not borrow quotations or conclusions or paraphrase another need to be cited, but do not regurgitate class lecture material either — I know my own stuff.
Write a good one summarizing your findings, adding general comments that include a larger significance. Do not just repeat what you have already said.
Confused about the proper use of the comma, colon, semicolon, dash, etc.? Consult your grammar textbook if you are unsure, or easier yet, Gary Olson’s Punctuation Made Simple.