Sunday, February 9, 2014

Writing Checklist

Writing Checklist

Good writers are multiply literate, able to choose appropriate styles for different purposes. These guidelines apply to writing formal English where, as in acacemic contexts, it is important to write clearly for an unknown or open-ended readership. This checklist is an ongoing collaboration between Matt Silliman and David Johnson; we offer it to our students and colleagues for their use, adaptation, and amusement. [Updated 2/2014]

I.  Grammar – hard-and-fast rules

___  1.  Aviod misspelling, and use the write word, not just the won that looks or sounds              rite, to.    Spell-check programs 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, normally in that order, and punctuation that closely mimics the cadence of the spoken word.

___  3.  Be sure the verb and the subject agrees in number.   In particular, use ‘they’ and ‘their’ only with plural nouns. There is no gender-neutral singular pronoun in formal English, and although ‘they’ may someday fill that role, as it already does informally, we must work around it for the time being.

___  4.  Kept noun and verbs consistent in number and tense.

___  5.  Remember not to boldly split where no infinitive has gone before.    Form the infinitive of an English verb by placing the preposition ‘to’ in front of it. Let nothing come between them.
___  6.  Its important alway’s to use ones apostrophe’s correctly.    With few exceptions, form possessives by adding an apostrophe and an ‘s.’

___  7.  Like, Don’t use contractions or slang in formal writing.    Like overworked clich├ęs and colloquial language, contractions are the epitome of linguistic informality.

___  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.

___  9.  Everyone that refers to persons as objects is a brick.   That’ is for objects. Use ‘who’ for persons.

___  10.  It is harder to read-sentences with misplaced hyphen disorder.    Hyphenate to combine confusing two-word modifiers into a single compound adjective. However, the ‘ly’ of an adverb replaces the hyphen.

II.  Style – Use your judgment, but know what you are doing.

___  11.  Doesn’t everybody know rhetorical questions are dismissive and obnoxious?    A rhetorical question is really a disguised statement. To be respectful of your readers and avoid putting them on the defensive, state your position declaratively.

___  12.  Save “quotation marks” for when you are directly “quoting” a “person” or “text.”   Writers use scare quotes to express their suspicion of certain terms, but far better either to say what is misleading about a term, or choose one that conveys your meaning..

___  13.  The passive voice is to be avoided; it is generally preferred that the subject be identified
clearly.    Passive voice, or indirect discourse, conceals the subject altogether (as in Rumsfeld’s faux apology for the Iraq war: "Mistakes were made") or tags it on awkwardly at the end of the phrase ("The bathroom was gone to by me").

___  14.  Since before the dawn of time, writers have sought to express themselves clearly and simply, eschewing vague, grandiloquent compostion and lugubrious tracts of laborious periphrasis.    Be clear and direct, and avoid making global claims for which you lack evidence.
___  15.  Mankind can no longer tolerate, in his language, the presumption of maleness as
the norm.    Misplaced gender-specific language is both imprecise and offensive. Use ‘humanity’ instead of ‘mankind,’, and look for similar ways to say  gracefully what you really mean.

___  16.  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. A thought is more public, and subject to intellectual challenge and question, whereas a feeling is something you have, like an emotion, sensation, or intuition, that you do not expect others to challenge. Formal writing should almost always invite correction or challenge, so never use ‘feel’ where ‘think’ will do.

___  17.  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.

___  18.  Rely primarily on your choice of words, rather than {extra punctuation!!!!!}, non-standard fonts, CAPITALS, underlining, or italics, to express emphasis or creativity in your writing.    Unless a particular task demands a different format, present your writing 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. If you set the defaults in your word processor to these parameters, 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.