Essay Hints and Tips

Always refer to the text in the present tense (the fictional world), but refer to history (the real world) in the past tense.

 

Set your spellcheck to “English (Canadian).” American spelling is not the global default

  • e.g., honour, colour, sabre, theatre, oxidize, penalize

 

Use the author’s full name the first time you name him/her (e.g., “Right Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau”), but only their family name after that (e.g., “Trudeau”).

 

Use serial commas. “And” does not replace a comma between the second-to-last and last item in a list:

  • e.g., “I have three kids: Dale, Lane, and Pat.”

 

“Who” and “whom” work the same as “he” and “him.” Who/he are the subject of the sentence, and whom/him are the object of the sentence.

  • He’s going out to the beach. ; Who’s going out to the beach?
  • I’m going to the beach with him. ; You’re going to the beach with whom?

 

 

Do not use contractions.

  • “don’t” (bad)
  • “do not” (good!)

Also, remember that “can not” means “able to not do something” whereas “cannot” means “unable to do something.” The sentence “I cannot fly” means almost the opposite of “I can not fly.”

 

Quotation marks are for quotations only. Never use them as “scare quotes.” Use double-quotes only. Don’t mix double-quotes and single-quotes.

Use a colon at the end of a complete sentence to introduce a quotation; don’t put a comma before every quotation (only when a comma would be there anyway).

Quotations are more convincing that citations. Instead of a page number, supply some of the source’s actual words.

Whenever possible, integrate quotations into the flow of your words. It makes your point easier to understand, and it indicates mastery of the source text.

Do not end paragraphs with quotations. It doesn’t give you a chance to interpret the quotation (which is your job, as the writer).

Quotations that are four lines or more should be formatted as block quotes: indent the left margin 1 inch, the right margin 1/2″, and don’t use quotation marks.

 

Titles should be centred and in the same font/size as the rest of the text. No underlining or bold-facing. Don’t get fancy.

 

Use the active voice. It is easier to follow and usually uses fewer words.

  • “It will be argued that…” (passive voice: bad)
  • “This paper argues…” (active voice: good!)

 

Use the simple present tense. It makes your sentences direct and to the point.

  • “This paper is arguing…” (present continuing: bad)
  • “This paper argues…” (simple present: good!)

 

Do not use the present progressive, (i.e., don’t turn verbs into adjectives). For example:

  • “Higher prices are indicative of rising costs of materials.” (present progressive: bad)
  • “Higher prices indicate rising costs of materials.” (simple verb: good!)

 

Don’t use weak words for claims, words like “seems” and “could” and “might.” Be assertive: “is.”

 

Cut unnecessary phrases:

  • We can see in the novel that Calvinism has affected…
  • It is revealed in glimpses throughout the novel that i Industrialism has affected the landscape in a negative way.
  • Readers are shown that Archie MacNeill has an excessive temper.

 

Do not use “you” to refer to your reader or to refer to people in general. Instead, use “one,” “people,” or “readers.”

 

“Since” ≠ “because”:

  • “since” = refers to time
  • “because” = refers to causality
  • “given that” = refers to evidence

 

The phrase “give evidence” applies only to legal trials. For an essay use a simple verb: implies, demonstrates, shows, suggests, etc.

 

Always follow “this” with a noun, the thing that “this” refers to. If you can’t think of a specific thing, then your reader won’t know what it is, either. (NB: This rule applies to “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.”)

 

Avoid parentheses (round brackets). They are for unimportant information, and all information in an essay should be important. You may use them for “i.e.” and “e.g.” expressions (e.g., the letters “i.e.” stand for “that is” in Latin).

 

Never call something “obvious” or “clear.” If it is obvious, then you should be able to explain it.

 

Do not uses phrases such as “I think…” or “I believe…” or “It seems to me…” They can fool you into thinking you’re making an argument when you’re not. If you find yourself writing one of these phrases, simply delete it.

 

Only make claims about the text, not about universal/timeless rules of human behaviour. For example:

  • “Families that experience immigration are traumatized.” (stated as a rule: bad)
  • “The Chans in The End of East are traumatized by immigration.” (directly refers to the text: good!)

 

You cannot have conversations with dead people. You do not know what the author “meant” to say or was “trying” to say or “intended” to say. You also do not know what the reader thinks or feels. Do not presume to know these things, even as a figure of speech.

Use the text as evidence, with phrases such as “The poem describes a mountain…” or “The speaker’s tone is sad…” Do not argue what you think “Hughes is trying to say…” or what “Herrick wants us to think…”, and don’t claim that “The reader starts to wonder…” You simply do not know what the poet meant or what the reader thinks, so don’t speculate.

 

Remember that you are not your essay. All I have to mark is the pieces of paper that you give me. I can’t know what you were trying to say; I know only what you said. Make your reasoning clear to someone who isn’t inside your head. I can’t know how hard you worked, so you have to put all your efforts on the page.

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