Pet Peeves on Papers

Gruner, Pet Peeves on Papers

  1. Unstapled papers.  Take a moment to make sure the pages are in order, and numbered, while you’re at it. (This one’s moot for electronic submissions–see below.)
  2. They’re/their/there, affect/effect and its/it’s—learn the difference!
  3. In general, it annoys me if you don’t take time to run the spellcheck. It won’t catch homonyms (see #2) but it should at least prevent egregious misspellings.
  4. Untitled papers. Sometimes coming up with a title helps you narrow your focus, or makes clear what the focus should be. So spend a little time thinking about it, and then put it at the top of your paper.
  5. Punctuation: American English has several somewhat arbitrary rules. For example, if your sentence ends with a quotation, the closing punctuation for the sentence generally goes within the quotation marks, “like this.” However, if you then have a parenthetical citation, the closing punctuation stays outside the quotation marks and the parentheses: “like this” (42).  I know, it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s also not hard to remember and to get right. (Exceptions include question marks and exclamation points—they go within the quotation marks if they are part of the quotation, outside if not.)
  6. Another punctuation one: save semicolons for connecting independent clauses (complete sentences). So , for example, you can use a semicolon when you have a lot to say; just make sure the words on either side of it could stand on their own as sentences. If you use a comma in such a situation, you will have the feared and dreaded comma splice—avoid it at all costs!
  7. If you begin a comparison, complete it. Cinderella is not just more beautiful, she is more beautiful than her sisters. Her sisters are not meaner, they are meaner than snakes. Get it?
  8. Your name and mine both belong on the paper somewhere, and I prefer that mine not be misspelled (yours, too!).
  9. While a certain informality can be fine in a paper—you may, for example, use the first person singular (“I”)—please avoid text message-style abbreviations.
  10. Make sure every “this” in your paper has a clear referent, preferably in the previous sentence, certainly within the same paragraph.
  11. If your paper is to be electronically submitted, make sure that you adhere to the naming conventions given in the assignment. It’s hard to tell the difference among four different “paper2.docx” documents.

Note that avoiding these peeves will only guarantee a non-annoyed reader—you’re still responsible for coming up with interesting content!