You will be expected to meet professional standards of maturity, clarity, grammar, spelling, and organization in your written work for this class, and, to that end, you will find the following remarks useful. Review these standards both before and after writing.
Every writer is faced with the problem of not knowing what her audience knows about the topic at hand; therefore, effective communication depends upon maximizing clarity. As Wolcott reminds us in Writing Up Qualitative Research (1990, p. 47): “Address . . . the many who do not know, not the few who do.” It is also important to remember that clarity of ideas, clarity of language, and clarity of syntax are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
Good writing makes for good thinking and vice versa. Writing is a form of inquiry, a way to think, not a reflection of some supposed static thought “in” the mind. A vivid example of how this complex process of composition and thought works appears in the unexpurgated version of Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1994, p. 144):
Hurstwood surprised himself with his fluency. By the natural law which governs all effort, what he wrote reacted upon him. He began to feel those subtleties which he could find words to express. With every word came increased conception. Those inmost breathings which thus found words took hold upon him.
We need not adopt Dreiser’s breathless metaphysics or naturalism to understand the point.
All written work for the class must be word processed and double-spaced, with 1" margins all the way around and in either 10 or 12 pt. font.
Some writing assignments will demand the use of notes (either footnotes or endnotes) and references. It is particularly important in professional schools such as the School of Information that notes and references are impeccable. Please use APA (American Psychological Association) standards. There are other standard bibliographic and note formats, for example, in engineering and law, but social scientists and a growing number of humanists use APA. Familiarity with standard formats is essential for understanding others' work and for preparing submissions to journals, funding agencies, employers, professional conferences, and the like. You may want to consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001, 5th ed.).
Do not use a general dictionary or encyclopedia for defining terms in graduate school or in professional writing. If you want to use a reference source to define a term, use a specialized dictionary, e.g., The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, or subject-specific encyclopedia, e.g., the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. The best alternative, however, is having an understanding of the literature about the term sufficient to provide a definition in the context of that literature.
Use a standard spell checker when writing, but be aware that spell checking dictionaries: do not include most proper nouns, particularly personal and place names; omit most technical terms; include few foreign words and phrases; and cannot identify the error in using homophones, e.g., writing "there" instead of "their” or "the" instead of "them."
It is imperative that you proofread your work thoroughly and be precise in editing it. It is often helpful to have someone else read your writing, to eliminate errors and to increase clarity. If you have any questions about these standards, please ask the instructor at any time.
Remember, every assignment must include a title page with:
- The title of the assignment
- Your name
- The date
- The class number – INF 397C.
Since the production of professional-level written work is one of the aims of the class, the instructor will read and edit your work as the editor of a professional journal or the moderator of a technical session at a professional conference would. The reminders below will help you prepare professional written work appropriate to any situation. Note the asterisked errors in #'s 3, 4, 9, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, and 25 (some have more than one error):
- Staple all papers for this class in the upper left-hand corner. Do not use covers, binders, or other means of keeping the pages together.
- Number all pages after the title page. Notes and references do not count against page limits.
- Use formal, academic prose. Avoid colloquial language, *you know?* It is essential in graduate work and in professional communication to avoid failures in diction – be serious and academic when called for, be informal and relaxed when called for, and be everything in between as necessary. For this course, avoid words and phrases such as “agenda,” “problem with,” “deal with,” “handle,” “window of,” “goes into,” “broken down into,” “viable,” and “option.”
- Avoid clichés. They are vague, *fail to “push the envelope,” and do not provide “relevant input.”*
- Avoid computer technospeak like “input,” “feedback,” or “processing information” except when using such terms in specific technical ways.
- Avoid using “content” as a noun.
- Do not use the term “relevant” except in its information retrieval sense. Ordinarily, it is a colloquial cliché, but it also has a strict technical meaning in information studies.
- Do not use “quality” as an adjective; it is vague, cliché, and colloquial. Instead use “high-quality,” “excellent,” “superior,” or whatever more formal phrase you deem appropriate.
- Study the APA style convention for the proper use of ellipses*. …*
- Avoid using the terms “objective” and “subjective” in their evidentiary senses; these terms entail major philosophical, epistemological controversy. Avoid terms such as “facts,” “factual,” “proven,” and related constructions for similar reasons.
- Avoid contractions. *Don’t* use them in formal writing.
- Be circumspect in using the term “this,” especially in the beginning of a sentence. *This* is often a problem because the referent is unclear. Pay strict attention to providing clear referents for all pronouns. Especially ensure that pronouns and their referents agree in number; e.g., “each person went to their home” is a poor construction because “each” is singular, as is the noun “person,” while “their” is a plural form. Therefore, either the referent or the pronoun must change in number.
- “If” ordinarily takes the subjunctive mood, e.g., “If he were [not “was”] only taller.”
- Put “only” in its appropriate place, near the word it modifies. For example, it is appropriate in spoken English to say that “he only goes to Antone’s” when you mean that “the only place he frequents is Antone’s.” In written English, however, the sentence should read “he goes only to Antone’s.”
- Do not confuse possessive, plural, or contracted forms, especially of pronouns. *Its* bad.
- Do not confuse affect/effect, compliment/complement, or principle/principal. Readers will not *complement* your work or *it’s* *principle* *affect* on them.
- Avoid misplaced modifiers; e.g., it is inappropriate to write the following sentence: *As someone interested in the history of Mesoamerica, it was important for me to attend the lecture.* The sentence is inappropriate because the phrase “As someone interested in the history of Mesoamerica” is meant to modify the next immediate word, which should then, obviously, be both a person and the subject of the sentence. It should modify the word “I” by preceding it immediately. One good alternative for the sentence is: As someone interested in the history of Mesoamerica, I was especially eager to attend the lecture.
- Avoid use of “valid,” “parameter,” “bias,” “reliability,” and “paradigm,” except in limited technical ways. These are important research terms and should be used with precision.
- Remember that the words “data,” “media,” “criteria,” “strata,” and “phenomena” are all PLURAL forms. They *takes* plural verbs. If you use any of these plural forms in a singular construction, e.g., “the data is,” you will make the instructor very unhappy.
- “Number,” “many,” and “fewer” are used with plural nouns (a number of horses, many horses, and fewer horses). “Amount,” “much,” and “less” are used with singular nouns (an amount of hydrogen, much hydrogen, and less hydrogen). Another useful way to make this distinction is to recall that “many” is used for countable nouns, while “much” is used for uncountable nouns.
- *The passive voice should generally not be used.*
- “Between” is used with two alternatives, while “among” is used with three or more.
- Generally avoid the use of honorifics such as Mister, Doctor, Ms., and so on when referring to persons in your writing, especially when citing their written work. Use last names and dates as appropriate in APA.
- There is no generally accepted standard for citing electronic resources. If you cite them, give an indication, as specifically as possible, of:
- responsibility (who?)
- title (what?)
- date of creation (when?)
- date viewed (when?)
- place to find the source (where? how?).
See the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association
(2001, 5th ed., pp. 213-214, 231, and 268-281) for a discussion of citing electronic material and useful examples. Also see Web Extension to American Psychological Association Style (WEAPAS) at http://www.beadsland.com/weapas/#SCRIBE
for more guidance.
*PROFREAD! PROOFREED! PROOOFREAD!*
“Citation,” “quotation,” and “reference” are nouns; “cite,” “quote,” and “refer to” are verbs.
Use double quotation marks (“abc”), not single quotation marks (‘xyz’), as a matter of course. Single quotation marks are to be used to indicate quotations within quotations.
Provide a specific page number for all direct quotations. If the quotation is from a Web page or other digital source without page numbers, provide at least the paragraph number and/or other directional cues, e.g., “(Davis, 1993, section II, ¶ 4).”
To maximize the clarity of your writing, please do not use “as” as a synonym for “because.”
Use "about" instead of the tortured locution "as to."
Many scholars in the social sciences and humanities use the term "issue" in a technical way to identify sources of public controversy or dissensus, NOT synonymously with general terms such as "area," "topic," or the like. Generally avoid using the term.
For a number of reasons, do NOT use “debate” or similar locutions to identify public discussions about political and other conflicts. Use of the term implies that there are only two points of view on the conflict, that one side is “correct,” that one side must and will “win,” and that there are no alternatives to this adversarial approach to disagreement. All these assumptions are highly questionable.
Please do not start a sentence or any independent clause with “however.”
Avoid the use of “etc.” – it is awkward, colloquial, and vague.
Do not use the term “subjects” to describe research participants. “Respondents,” “participants,” and “informants” are preferred and have been for decades.
Do not use notes unless absolutely necessary. If you must use them, use endnotes rather than footnotes.
Last Modified: July 17 2008 10:31:09.