Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Term Paper Pre-submission Checklist

I have been trying to help my students overcome the grammatical deficit that ensues twelve years in the New York City school system. I made up a checklist and gave it to them. I also sent around a copy to my colleagues at Brooklyn College in case they want to post it:
Dear Colleagues:

I’ve been working on ways to encourage the students to write better. I came up with the idea of giving them a term paper pre-submission checklist to help them go over their grammar before submitting their papers.  I’ve been posting it on the Blackboard announcements page. Feel free to use it if you think it will help.

Best wishes,

Mitchell Langbert

Term Paper Pre-submission Checklist

Before you hand in a paper, check the following points:

1. Avoid unnecessary or extraneous words like "very" and "really." Avoid using the first person ("in my opinion").

2. Check that the verb tense in each paragraph does not change unless you have a specific reason.  

3. If necessary, check the verb tense that you are using against the discussion on English Page: .

4. Only words that require capitalization should be capitalized. Check your paper against the capitalization rules on .

5. Check your paper to make sure that restrictive phrases and clauses are not preceded or followed by commas and that non-restrictive phrases and clauses are preceded and followed by commas. To understand the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive clauses, read these Websites: and  .

Non-restrictive clauses add a little information: George Washington, the first president, rode a white horse.
Restrictive clauses are central to the sentence's meaning: George Washington the first president rode a white horse, but during a parade white horses rode upon George Washington the bridge.

 5. Do not use a comma to separate the subject of the sentence from the verb. Do not use a comma to separate a dependent or subordinate clause that ends a sentence unless it contrasts with or contradicts the meaning of the rest of the sentence or is non-restrictive.    When you inject non-essential remarks into a sentence, enclose them in commas: , in his view, ; , as she remarked, .

6. Check your sentence for independent clauses, and if two or more are in a sentence, punctuate the linkage or linkages correctly.  An independent clause can be a sentence in its own right. If there is more than one independent clause, then there are four potential options for correct punctuation:

(1) Use a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction. The coordinating conjunctions are FAN BOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.
(2)  Use a semicolon.
(3) Use a semicolon followed by a conjunctive adverb or adverbial phrase followed by a comma.
(4) Bite the bullet. Often, the best option is a shorter sentence. Consider breaking the separate independent clauses into separate sentences.

An example of a run-on sentence (a sentence that lacks proper linkage of independent clauses) is as follows: 

Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star, he broke box office records and he broke many hearts.

Four alternative potential corrective measures:

1) Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star, for he broke box office records, and he broke many hearts.
(2)  Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star; he broke box office records; he broke many hearts.
(3) Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star; specifically, he broke box office records; also, he broke many hearts.
(4) Rudolph Valentino was a famous movie star. He broke box office records.  He broke many hearts.

All four are grammatically correct from a technical standpoint. Which is the most effective? I say (4). Yet, students insist on long sentences. One time, I broke one into six separate sentences.

1 comment:

Mairi said...

I have copied and saved your informative article. It's been a LONG time since I took English grammar. LOL!
You must cringe every time I send out information!