Writing Tips for Hum 1

Some Common Mechanical Issues

Other writing tips:

You should be able to Here are a few of the mechanical problems or misunderstandings that commonly crop up in papers. Please look over these points carefully as you are writing, but the most important way you can avoid mechanical problems is to PROOFREAD carefully and several times.

  • Use quotation marks correctly.

    In the United States, all quotes are surrounded by double quotation marks (") and interior quotes by single quotation marks ('). Single quotation marks are never otherwise used (at least in MLA style).

    When a period, comma, or semicolon ends a quotation, that punctuation goes inside the quotation, i.e. before the quotation mark. Question marks, exclamation marks, or colons do not, unless they are part of the quote. Citations go outside the quotation mark, since the source presumably did not say that. Note that periods go after the citation, because the citation is part of the sentence:

    "...Duchamp's physics, amusing as it may be, really anticipates with startling acumen the subsequent scientific theories of relativity and indeterminacy" (Tomkins 34).


    and indeterminacy (Tomkins 34)."


    "...and indeterminacy." (Tomkins 34)

  • Note the proper format for block quotes.

    Block quotes should be used sparingly and only when a long quote is absolutely necessary. The rule of thumb is to use a block quote when the quoted text exceeds three lines of poetry or four lines of prose. Indent the left margin one inch, but use the normal right margin. Do not single space. The citation for a block quote follows after the last period, unlike an in-line quote. Block quotes are usually introduced with a colon (:).

  • Use italics instead of underlines.

    Italics are functionally equivalent to underlines. Underlining was invented because typewriters could not easily have an italics font set. However, since italic styles are easily available on computers, I prefer italics, not underlining for this class (even though MLA examples, as in The St. Martin's Handbook, often use underlines). If you do use underlines, BE CONSISTENT--never mix underlines and italics in the same paper.

  • Use the correct formats for titles.

    Be careful about how to designate titles. Books, plays, magazines, newspapers, works of visual art, films, choreographic works, and complete musical compositions (except for very short pieces) are normally italicized. Poems, short stories, articles, and parts of larger pieces (musical compositions, for example) are shown "in double quotation marks." There are some exceptions. If a description substitutes for a title, that description is capitalized, but not otherwise designated. For example, Symphony fantastique is a given title and therefore italicized, but Symphony No. 9 is a descriptor and is not usually italicized or put in quotation marks. The United States Constitution is a description and is therefore also not italicized.

  • Distinguish dashes and hyphens.

    Dashes and hyphens are two distinct characters. (For the proper use of each, see The St. Martin's Handbook pp. 782-784 and 815-820.) In word processors, use a double hyphen or the straight line longer than the hyphen that is in most extended ASCII character sets for a dash. In MLA style, there is no space before or after the dash.