TIPS ON GOOD WRITING
Winfield H. Rose
In stressing good writing I have noticed that several errors appear
repeatedly, year after year. I believe it is preferable to
a mistake before it is made than to correct it after it is made.
Over the years I have kept a record of the kinds of mistakes my
commonly made in their term papers and other written work. They
categorized and listed below. If you will follow these tips you
be a better writer.
I. You should avoid:
Taking all your sources from the internet. Yes, it is more
to do so but libraries and books still exist and they should be
Much good material is not on the internet, especially older
Also, some internet material is not necessarily reliable so be careful
One-sentence paragraphs. One-sentence paragraphs as used in
and magazines should not be used.
Lengthy paragraphs. Paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence
which should then be followed by a few sentences that appropriately
the topic. When that is done you are ready for a new topic and a
new paragraph. Paragraphs should never be one, two or three pages
Incomplete sentences. Sentences must, at the very least have a
and a verb. If they do not, they are fragments, not real
Use of a comma as a conjunction, otherwise known as a comma
“The bank was closed, I couldn’t cash my
check.” is incorrect.
“Since the bank was closed, I couldn’t cash my
check.” and “I couldn’t
cash my check because the bank was closed.” are correct. Be
not to use commas unnecessarily; they are used for a purpose, not for
Many direct quotes. Direct quotes are appropriate at times but
objective is to analyze, not recite the literature. Your paper
be more than a “cut and paste” job of one quote after
Long quotes. When you decide to use the words of another author,
make the passage brief and be 100% certain that you give that author
appropriate credit the correct way. References, be they
footnotes, endnotes or in the text, always must include the page number
(s). Their purpose is to enable the reader to find the passage
without reading the entire work.
Contractions. Contractions are acceptable in every-day
but they are not acceptable in a scholarly paper.
Colloquialisms (“ease the pinch”, “get the ball
rolling”). The same
(as in #7 above) is true of colloquialisms but it is even more
that they be avoided because their meanings may not be as clear
those of contractions. An occasional humorous phrase, inside
marks, used to add flavor, however, can be welcome.
Crudities. Crudities, profane language, and other vulgarities
simply have no place in a scholarly paper. Leave them
not leave them out of your life as well?)
Split infinitives. “Not to go,” not “to not
Dangling participles. Example: “Hanging on a nail in
I found my tie.” Were you hanging on the nail?
Oxymorons. Saying something is “somewhat unique” does
not make sense.
What you really mean is “somewhat unusual.” If
something is unique,
it is unique; it cannot be partially or somewhat unique.
Abbreviations. Abbreviations in the text of a scholarly paper,
as etc., i.e., e.g., and so forth, are the mark of an abbreviated
You also should avoid the U.S. Postal Service abbreviations for states
(KY, TN, VA). If you do not know how to spell Tennessee, it is
you learned. Even worse are the now-obsolete abbreviations Ky.,
Calif., and so forth. (Footnotes are another matter.
in footnotes are not only acceptable, they are encouraged.
“Ibid., p. 128.” makes much more sense than
repeating the entire
previous footnote while changing only the page number.)
Using “it’s” for “its.” If you need
to use the possessive pronoun,
use “its.” “It’s” is the
contraction for “it is” which you should
The wrong tense. Students sometimes say something like
that organizations are cooperative social systems.” Barnard
that argument in 1937, and he now is dead. That puts him in the
Beginning a sentence with a conjunction. Ending a sentence with a
preposition is opposed by purists but, due to the awkwardness created
avoiding it, it is something up with which I will put. Beginning
a sentence with a conjunction, however, (However, beginning a sentence
with a conjunction,. . .) is something I will not put up with.
are you paying attention ?????
Dividing topic headings or sections of your paper into one part, as
II does not have more than one part you probably should use A for
other hand, if you have an A you should also have a B. You also
II. You should
Though. Don’t ever use this word in a scholarly
is a good substitute but see above.
Using the word "feel" for think, believe, have concluded, and so forth.
Thing and things.
A propensity for polysyllabic pseudoprofundities.
All other errors.
Be careful with the findings and assertions of advocacy groups.
interest groups have their own websites (in addition to books,
and flyers) with all sorts of graphics and links. These are
to win support for their positions. The information may be
accurate and correct but, on the other hand, it is likely to be
Do not accept their findings uncritically but obtain independent
in other places from other sources.
Remember good organization is one of the most essential ingredients of
a good paper. Group similar topics and sub-topics together; this
will form your outline. Then write from your outline.
Purchase and use a good style manual. They are available in any
bookstore. You may also consult Bibliography
Styles Handbook and/or Citation
Guide for Internet Sources.
Read and digest Strictly Speaking by Edwin Newman.
Learn how to prepare footnotes and bibliographies. Journal
and scholarly books are full of them. Remember that Ibid. and op.
cit. are from a foreign language (Latin) and should, therefore, be underlined
or italicized. They also are abbreviations which end with
periods. Footnotes in the form of ibid, p. 6. are incorrect and
Use original sources if possible. If one author quotes another
and you want to use it, go to the original source. Going to the
source will enable you to make certain the passage is copied correctly
and it will also enable you to have a better “feel” for the
the passage. The same is true for a collection of articles in a
go to the original publication if you possibly can.
Learn the difference between principle and principal, past and passed,
complimentary and complementary, to, too, and two, fewer and less,
and unique, their and there, and so forth.
Hyphenate at the end of a line only between syllables, not just when
hit the margin, and if you will have fewer than four letters at the
of the next line do not hyphenate. In other words, hy/phen/ate,
Indent on both sides and single space quotations that exceed five lines.
Learn how to form possessives, and remember, “it’s”
is not the possessive
Be careful about the subject/verb and pronoun/antecedent
“Most conflicts that takes place ...”, “The city
manager ... they ...”,
“Each university has a broad mission statement of their own
...” are incorrect.
Plural subjects require plural verbs, plural nouns require plural
singular subjects require singular verbs, and singular nouns require
pronouns. “Most conflicts that take place are . . .”
and “Each university
has a mission statement of its own . . .” are, however, [not
correct. And, please remember that “who” refers to
people while “which”
refers to everything else.
Get a good typist if you are not one yourself.
Proofread your paper after permitting at least 24 hours to elapse since
you last read it. Ask yourself as you do so if you have ever seen
writing like yours in good books, magazines, and newspapers. If
haven’t, you probably need to work on it some more.
Follow all directions.
Turn in your paper on time. Remember to allow time for your
to break down at least once and for other calamities of modern
Print your paper on a laser or ink jet printer with the basic text in
font, using standard margins.
Do your own work and do original work. I’m not interested
in a warmed-over
version of a paper you wrote in the eighth grade. But, if you are
going to join J. R. Ewing and try to pass off a previously-used paper
yours or original, at least have the sense to print a fresh copy;
turn it in to me with the previous teacher’s corrections still on
one student did last year. Reminds me of the story about the
who handed in his final, in-class English theme typewritten . .
Remember: Sloppy writing means sloppy thinking. Why be a
This page was updated May 11, 2011.