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English Composition 1

Checklist: Style and Mechanics

Below is a list of many things to consider as you are revising and proofreading your essays that should help you strengthen the style and mechanics of your writing. 

The material here is presented only as a checklist, without much explanation. You can find more information concerning much of the material below on the course web pages.

Style

  1. Eliminate the first person: "I," "me," etc. Delete "I think that," "I believe that," "I feel that," "in my opinion," and similar phrases using the first person.

  2. Avoid referring to readers of your essay as "you," and avoid making questionable assumptions about your readers.

  3. Eliminate unnecessary words: "very," "extremely," "really." If you use the right word, you do not need these words that suggest a weak attempt to make the wrong word better.

  4. Eliminate/Revise weak words: "a lot," "got," often-repeated "has."

  5. Eliminate contractions: "can't" should be "cannot," for instance.

  6. Eliminate slang or other informal diction: try to maintain a consistently formal writing voice.

  7. Eliminate overuse of "to be" verbs ("is," "are," "was," "were," etc.). Try to use stronger verbs as the main verbs of sentences.

  8. Eliminate awkward phrases: "this quote means," "this quotation says," "the story says," "the essay says."

  9. Eliminate wordiness: "the fact that," "a woman that," "a man that," "at that point in time." Go through each sentence and see if you can rewrite the sentence with fewer words without changing the meaning that the sentence conveys.

  10. Eliminate repeated words: "in the story," "the story," "in the essay." (Look for your own repeated words.).

  11. Avoid pretentious diction, or words intended to impress readers. Impress readers by using the right words, the most specific and accurate words to convey your exact meaning, not by using long and obscure words. Use a thesaurus only to find the right words, not to find words that will be unfamiliar to most of your readers.

  12. Avoid the use of words that cast doubt on your authority as the author: "could," "might," "maybe," "probably," etc.

  13. Avoid redundant sentence structure: How do sentences begin? How long are sentences? How are sentences structured?

  14. Avoid overuse of the passive voice.

  15. Are all quotations integrated into your own sentences? (No quotation should be standing alone.)

  16. Author's name—use the full name only the first time that you refer to the author: then use just the author's last name, never just the author's first name!

  17. If you are writing about an essay, you can assume that the authorial voice is the writer's. However, the authorial voice of a short story is referred to as the "narrator," and the authorial voice of a poem is referred to as the "speaker." If you are writing about a short story or a poem, be careful not to confuse the author with the narrator or the speaker.

  18. Do not use the title of an essay, short story, or other work of literature that you are analyzing as the title of your own paper.

Mechanics

  1. Titles of essays and short stories go in quotation marks; they are not underlined, italicized, or put into bold fonts. (But your own title appearing at the top of your essay does not go in quotation marks.)

  2. Use 12-point fonts and double space your essay--press [Ctrl 2].

  3. Do not put your own title in quotation marks; do not underline or italicize your own title.

  4. Capitalize the first letter of each important word in titles; always capitalize the first letter of the first word in your title. Do not capitalize all letters in words of titles.

  5. Use the same font for your title that you use for the rest of the essay; do not put titles in bold fonts.

  6. If you use Word, check carefully any parts of your essay that Word underlines in green or red. This might be an indication of an error.

  7. Use the spell-checker wisely. If your word-processor identifies a word as being misspelled, the word most likely is misspelled unless it is a proper name.

  8. Check if words you write as two words should be written as one word and vice versa: "cannot," "throughout," "all right," "even though," "maybe," "may be," etc.

  9. Check all comma usage for correctness. Make sure to be familiar with frequently-used comma rules, especially the "FAN BOYS" rule.

  10. Check all semicolon usage for correctness. Remember, you have used a semicolon correctly if a period is correct where you put the semicolon.

  11. Make sure to spell the names of people or characters correctly.

  12. If you are writing about a work of literature, make sure to copy the title correctly.

  13. Make sure that the antecedents of pronouns are clear: do not write, "in the essay, it says."

  14. Check that plural pronouns ("they," "them," etc.) have plural antecedents and that singular pronouns ("it," "he," "him or her," etc.) have singular antecedents. "They" (plural) should not be used as a pronoun for "anyone," "everyone," "someone," "one," etc. (all singular).

  15. Check for mistakes involving commonly confused words and words that sound similar ("where" and "were," "there and their," "affect" and "effect," "granite" and "granted," "lead" and "led," etc.).

  16. Do not capitalize words that should not be capitalized. In general, the only words not beginning a sentence that should be capitalized are names of people and places.

  17. Pay special attention to avoiding sentence-boundary errors (comma splices, sentence fragments, and run-on sentences). Just a few of these errors will reduce the grade of an essay, and many problems with these errors will cause an essay to receive a failing grade.

  18. Quotations

I also recommend coming up with your own checklist by carefully reviewing the comments on your graded essays. The aspects of your essays that have given you some trouble in the past are likely to cause problems on other essays you write unless you put extra work into understanding and strengthening those specific aspects of your writing.

Copyright Randy Rambo, 2016.