Although Schopenhauer claimed that, "jeder der etwas leisten will, muss in jeder Sache, in Handeln, im Schreiben, im Bilden, die Regeln befolgen, ohne sie zu kennen," most modern students need this style sheet; only bottomless self-pity will permit you to imagine that these twenty-seven items have the power to impede your creative powers. Students who become upset, even paralyzed, when they read this sheet often do not belong to the set of students whose attitude towards language originally provoked its production and distribution. Failure to pay close attention to these instructions will guarantee the immediate numerical results described in this sheet; among other possible long term results:
Tum quoque, cum vacuas fuero dilapsus in auras,
Exanimis mores oderit umbra tuos...
Quidquid ero, Stygiis erumpere nitar ab oris,
et tendam gelidas ultor in ora manus.
1. Read aloud every sentence that you write. If you find the sentence difficult to read, or if you would be embarrassed to be caught speaking such a sentence to another human being, rewrite the sentence immediately.
2. A vacuous opening sentence earns -8. Papers should begin with a vivid, direct, complex, precise assertion, from which the rest of the essay flows inexorably. The best papers often are written by people who write their opening sentence AFTER they have finished the rest of the essay. Under no circumstances should an opening sentence contain a passive or impersonal construction. An opening sentence should not contain an assertion of a universal truth; "always," "in every society," should appear neither in an opening sentence, nor in any other sentence. For example, having read a modern English translation of one or even several Greek texts does not entitle you to make categorical statements about "the Greeks." Having read several hundred lines of Chaucer does not entitle you to speak with any comfort about what may or may not be "medieval". (-10).
3. A paragraph rarely consists of one sentence. Few paragraphs consist of less than three sentences. On the other hand, paragraphs longer than one page are not likely to be paragraphs. If you begin and end paragraphs according to whim, you are wasting your time and mine (-8).
4. "Truth is in detail." Only assertions supported by specific, significant detail are acceptable. Make no generalizations that cannot be supported by referring to specific passages, phrases, words, in the texts you are discussing. A paragraph consisting entirely of unsupported assertions earns -10.
5. Avoid impersonal and passive constructions (e.g., "it is," or "there is," or "attention must be paid") whenever possible; "it is interesting to note" too often means that you have nothing whatever to say about what follows.
6. To say that two passages, characters, poems "can be compared" leaves many readers wondering why they should be compared. Such constructions are too often symptoms of intellectual sloth, of outright cowardice, or of an inability to conceal distaste for the assignment. A paper containing more than one such construction receives -5 for each violation.
7. A high proportion of sentences containing subordinate clauses (not to be confused with run-on sentences) usually characterizes a thoughtful, interesting paper. A paper composed primarily of paratactic constructions often sounds very much like the work of a breathless 12-year old; if you find that more than two consecutive sentences in your paper begin with "he," or "she," you should begin to grow anxious; if those sentences contain no subordinate clauses, you are well on the way to earning -20.
8. If the main verbs in your sentences tend to be copulative (e.g., "is," "are," "was," "were"), you probably are writing mush (-20).
9. Each outright grammatical error [case, concord, tense] earns -5. Each split infinitive and misplaced modifier earns -8. Using a transitive verb transitively and vice-versa earns -9.
10. Commas, semi-colons, and periods function not as random decoration, but to reduce the amount of energy a reader must expend to understand what you are trying to say. The proper use of semi-colons makes a startling impression, and may often prevent major disasters. No semi-colon should be followed by a sentence fragment (-7).
11. Sentences beginning with "this" tend to be unclear; since "this" and "these" are often used ambiguously, use them sparingly, and with extreme caution (-5).
12. "Quite" uses up five spaces on a line, but generally has no other function. "A great deal" and "a lot" point to no useful quantities (-6).
13. No sentence should begin with "And," "Also," "So," or "Then" (-6). Make every effort to avoid beginning a sentence with "Thus" followed by a comma. "Therefore" should be used to complete a syllogism, not to clear your throat at the opening of a final paragraph (-8). No final paragraph should begin with, "In conclusion..." (-8). Do not fill a final paragraph with safe, vapid generalizations; hot air has no place in any paragraph (-10).
14. Do not use adjectives as nouns, or nouns as adjectives ["human" is an adjective; "Shakespeare" is not] (-5).
15. "As" should not be take the place of "because," nor should "like" usurp the place of "as." For an explanation, see Fowler, Modern English Usage (-5). "As previously mentioned" is a symptom of careless organization (-5). No paragraph should begin with, "Another example is …" (-7).
16. Only ashes remain of students who have used "lifestyle," "hopefully," "thought-provoking," "in-depth," "interface," "insightful," "due to," "our hero," or "input" in papers written for this course (-8). Students who have confused "infer" and "imply" now lie with Ixion and Sisyphus, together with students who use "affect" instead of "effect," "center around" instead of "center on," "societal" instead of "social," "simplistic" instead of "simple," "motivational factors" instead of "motives," "moralistic" instead of "moral," "its" instead of "it's," (and the reverse). Few students have used "respective" without creating distress for themselves and others. Before using "enormity," look it up in the dictionary. Never use "tremendous" (-7).
17. If you are submitting your paper to a journal published in England, you may use "different to," but in the continental United States, use "different from." Under no conditions use "different than." (-5).
18. Phrases like "I think" or "I believe" or "in my opinion" or "in this writer's opinion" are unnecessary, and often powerfully irritating; instead of saying, "I think that Lear is a tedious old man," merely write, "Lear is a tedious old man," confident in the knowledge that I will not make a mistake about who is making the statement [unless you are plagiarizing, in which case see item 26] (-6). A paper containing a reference to "the reader" receives an instant F.
19. Underline the titles of books (-5). List the books you have used at the end of the paper and refer to them in the body of the paper by enclosing the last name of the author and the page number (Levine 671) in parentheses immediately after the passage quoted or paraphrased.
20. Use the present tense to describe the action in a text [Oedipus "gouges," not "gouged" out his eyes] (-6).
21. Whenever you find yourself using the word "flowery," replace it with as precise a description of what you mean as you are capable of producing (-9).
22. All papers must be typed, never on onion-skin stock, with one-inch margins. Throw away desiccated typewriter or printer ribbons (-8). Set your dot-matrix printer at the slowest speed for your final draft. Every mark of punctuation (comma, period, semicolon, colon, quotation mark, parenthesis, bracket) must be followed by at least one blank space.
23. Proofread with care; a paper with more typographical errors than pages will automatically receive an F. Normal human beings are unable to proofread their own papers. Make every effort to induce a friend or passerby to proofread for you. Abandon all hope that your inability to spell is an essential part of your personal charm (-5 for each misspelling).
24. Do not offer your congratulations to writers for the beauty, truth, greatness, or profound significance of their efforts. (-7).
25. In writing a comparative paper, never open with a sentence like this: "There are many similarities and many differences between the two..." (-9). Never use the word "comparison" when you mean "resemblance;" do not say that A and B may be compared, when you mean that A resembles B (-9).
26. If you borrow other people's words and ideas, give them credit; otherwise you are plagiarizing, and will receive, at the very least, an F for the paper and an F for the course.
27. If these remarks make little sense to you, make RAPID and EXTENSIVE use of the HARBRACE, MCGRAW-HILL, BEDFORD, or comparable handbook.
Me qui non sequitur, vult sine lege loqui.
or, more strongly,
execrabilis ista turba. quae non novit legem.