Miscellaneous Reminders and Suggestions

I hope you find these reminders and suggestions helpful!

  • When writing about literature, avoid the words "use," "utilize," "employ," etc. Do authors really "use" things in their writing? For example, does Keats really "use" a nightingale? Invariably, your sentence will be stronger if you take out the author and the word "use" and just start with the thing itself. Instead of "Keats uses the nightingale to represent ...," just start with the nightingale: "The nightingale represents ..." (Authors do "use" metaphors, images, etc., but especially in short papers that don’t involve research, it’s almost always best to leave the dead author out of it and just focus on the living text. Instead of "Coleridge uses the metaphor of the eolian harp to ...," just start, "The metaphor of the eolian harp ..." A related hint: if you're writing about poetry, the "speaker" is a far more interesting figure to discuss than the "poet" or "author.")
  • Short sentences! Vary the lengths of your sentences, by all means. Short sentences, however, will help both you and your reader, but mainly you. A long sentence can easily become convoluted and lose focus, slowing you down and muddling your thoughts. A short sentence, on the other hand, will often generate the next sentence. If you feel like you're getting stuck and don't know what to say next, try looking at the last sentence you wrote. More often than not, you'll see that it's long and convoluted: divide it in two (or three!), and I bet you'll see the way forward!
  • Avoid using a demonstrative pronoun (usually "This") on its own as the subject of a sentence or a relative pronoun (usually "which") as the subject of a clause if that pronoun doesn't have a clear grammatical antecedent -- in other words, if it doesn't clearly refer to a noun in the preceding sentence or clause. If there's a single noun in the preceding sentence or clause to which the pronoun clearly refers, then fine! If not, and you're using the pronoun to mean basically "That whole thing I just said," either give your new sentence a clear noun as its subject or revise the beginning of the sentence so that the relative pronoun clearly refers to a noun at the end of it.
  • By the time you are in university, you should have mastered basic punctuation usage. If you do not know how to use a comma, a semicolon, or a colon, for example, take the time to review basic punctuation usage! (Just google. You may need to review some other basic grammatical terms as well, like "dependent clause," "conjunction," etc.)
  • "Its" is possessive; "it’s" means "it is."
  • "Cannot" is one word.
  • When a century stands on its own as a noun, as in "the eighteenth century," do not use a hyphen. When the century serves as a modifier, as in "eighteenth-century literature," use a hyphen. (The same goes for "early" and "late": "the early eighteenth century," but "early-eighteenth-century literature"; "the late eighteenth century," but "late-eighteenth-century literature." The annoying exception is "mid," which always takes a hyphen, but the same conventions apply regarding whether the century stands on its own as a noun or serves as a modifier, so "the mid-eighteenth century" and "mid-eighteenth-century literature.") See here.
  • No spelling errors: use your spellcheck, and proofread.

Other questions you have about grammar and style may be answered in Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Style, which I encourage you to check out along with his Getting an A on an English Paper!