1. Don't use quotation marks around blocks of inset (or set-off) text, since insetting text serves as a code equivalent to quotation marks. Of course, do use quotation marks inside such blocks of text when they appear in the original.
2. Do not begin a new paragraph immediately after a set-off quoted passage unless you move to a new subject. If you explain or discuss the quoted passage, start at the left margin.
3. When using a century as an adjective, (a) spell out number and (b) use hyphen: "eighteenth-century poets," not "18th century poets." On the other hand, when a phrase acts as a noun -- e.g., "poets of the eighteenth century" -- it takes no hyphen.
4. Don't underline the title of your paper; save underlining for the titles of published books. If you have a computer and wish to play around with fancy display type, by all means do so.
5. Do use double quotation marks and not single ones, which are used in England and countries following British convention. Do use single quotes when something is quoted within a quoted passage that already has double quotes around it; for quotation marks within set-off blocks of text, see item 10 below.
6. Don't use quotation marks, whether single or double, to indicate that you do not accept some word or phrase or that you take it ironically. Use "so-called" or some other means of showing what you mean.
1. Don't use humans when you mean people or human beings. Humans sounds like the dialogue of a bad 1956 sci-fi movie.
2. Don't use barbarisms such as s/he or his/her if you find offensive the convention of using the masculine pronoun for both male and female. Instead, try the following: (a) use plurals ("readers . . . they"); (b) use the feminine pronoun instead of the masculine, employing "she" all the time that one conventionally encounters "he;" and (c) use "he or she" and so forth.
3. Don't use through, which implies movement through space, when you mean by means of.
4. Don't use while, which means "at the same time," when you mean whereas or although. (This phrasing has become increasingly acceptable, but it still can weaken your style. Avoid.)
5. Don't start sentences with Also. Do use In addition, Moreover, Furthermore.
1. Avoid introducing quotations with non-informative phrases (e.g., "Pope states," "She says") and try to lead readers into the quoted material by letting them know what to expect. In the following passage the author has a fine introduction but doesn't realize it:
Fixing the errors in idiom and cutting the unnecessary words make this introduction much stronger.
Finally, Austen ends the passage with a distinct notion of sarcasm. She states: "To this speech, Bingley made no answer."
Finally, Austen ends the passage ON a distinctLY SARCASTIC NOTE: "To this speech, Bingley made no answer."
2. A quick way to add strength and clarity: take the noun or phrase following due to and because of, and make make that noun or phrase the subject the sentence. Thus: Instead of "Due to the war, his business failed," try (1) "The war made his business fail" or (2) "The war destroyed his business."
3. To Be and Passive Constructions. Perhaps the easiest way to improve your style by giving it more strength and clarity lies in abandoning excessive uses of "to be," which inevitably pad out and weaken writing. First, turn passive to active constructions:
To rid your writing of these constructions requires rethinking relations between things. Try, for example, to look for the verbs underlying -ion nouns and similar abstractions:
BEFORE: "The naturally unifying force of the couplet is used throughout The Rape of the Lock to illustrate incongruities."
AFTER: "ThroughoutThe Rape of the Lock the naturally unifying force of the couplet illustrates incongruities . . . "
WEAK: "values that are distorted by human pride"
STRONG: "values that pride distorts."
WEAK: "Lines are often split with caesurae."
STRONG: "Caesurae often split lines."
BEFORE: "It is just a slight exaggeration of the oppression faced by the poor in Ireland."
AFTER: It just slightly exaggerates the oppression the poor face in Ireland." [This version also avoids "exaggeraTION of the oppressION".]
BEFORE: "The whole essay, in fact, is an example of . . . "
AFTER: "The whole essay, in fact, exemplifies . . . "
Avoid "It is . . . that (which)" constructions.
Similarly, avoid stringing together clumps of abstract nouns with prepositions:
I had planned to rewrite this sentence from an essay by student in order to show how you can add more energy and clarity to your writing by transforming abstract nouns into verbs, but after several attempts, I discovered that I could not make out what this sentence means. I had such difficulty deciphering the sentence because the emphasis upon abstract nouns in the absence of transitive verbs prevents me from finding out who does what to whom. This kind of writing, in other words, omits crucial information. For example, to whom does "preoccupation" refer? Pope, the reader, some of the characters in the poem, all of them?
The gravity of this statement in the midst of a poem about the snipping of a strand of hair creates a jarring realization of concealment of importance by preoccupation with social superficiality.
Note the prepositions ganging up on that single verb: The gravity of this statement in the midst of a poem about the snipping of a strand of hair creates a jarring realization
of concealment of importance by preoccupation with social superficiality.
Try varying the structure of your sentences. If you find that your sentences follow the following formula -- SUBJECT VERB1 [clause] and VERB2 [clause] -- use several alternative structures.
BORING when repeated too often: "Dickens had felt himself alone and abandoned as a child AND he made many of his protagonists orphans."
(a) Alternative that emphasizes subordination of one thought or fact to another: "Dickens, WHO had felt himself alone and abandoned, mader many of his protagonists orphans."
(b) Alternative that emphasizes causality: "BECAUSE Dickens felt abandoned as a child, he made many of his protagonists orphans."
(c) Alternative that emphasizes relations of time or sequence: "AFTER Dickens had felt abandoned as a child, he made many of his protagonists orphans."