Essay style sheet

Essay style sheet
University of St Andrews
Quotations, Referencing and Bibliography
Essays: some general advice
Trouble-shooting guidelines
Confusing words
Appendix on plagiarism
Students must submit essays in word-processed or typed form. The main body
of a typed or word-processed essay should be set out in either ‘one and a half’
or double spacing. Indented quotations, however, may be single-spaced.
It is your responsibility to proof-read your essay. Your final fair copy should be
free from all save the most minor corrections or alterations or revisions.
Your essay should be correctly spelled and punctuated. For spelling, and in
order to discriminate meanings carefully, you should consult a good dictionary
(such as The Concise Oxford Dictionary; for further suggestions, see below).
You ought not to rely upon your word-processor’s spelling facility. It is
recommended that British students follow British spelling conventions.
Leave a margin of at least 1.5 inches on the left-hand side of each page. This is
to permit marginal comments by your tutor.
Number your pages in the top right-hand corner.
Fasten your pages together at the top left-hand corner with a strong paperclip.
Please do not staple your essays as the School is obliged to copy samples of
written work for External Examiners, Academic Audit, and Teaching Quality
Put your module number and your tutor’s name at the top of page 1 of your
Write the essay question below your tutor’s name. Do not abbreviate or amend
the question. (This is particularly important for students from North America,
where conventions may be different).
Anonymous marking
Students should fill out the anonymization cover-sheets (green) provided by
module co-ordinators before delivery to the module Essay Box. Spare cover
sheets can be found beside the essay boxes. Do NOT fold back and seal the
anonymization strip: this will be done by the School Office before the essays
are passed on to co-ordinators/tutors for marking. Markers may add
individualized comments once essays have been de-anonymized.
Quotations, Referencing and Bibliography
All quotations and references made in the body of your essay must be clearly
identified and specifically acknowledged in footnotes or endnotes. Failure to
acknowledge in this way is plagiarism.
Numerous different systems of referencing exist. These guidelines follow the
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) Notes System. Its official website is The basics of the system are
outlined below but if you have further style questions you should consult your
tutor or refer to the Chicago-Style Citations Quick Guide on the website.
If you are used to following alternative styles of citation (which you may have
learned at another university, for example, or in preparation for a career in
publishing), you may use one of those instead of the guidelines outlined here,
so long as your alternative method is consistent in itself. Thus, few School of
English tutors would object to students using MLA-style, MHRA-style, or the
so-called Author-Date system (also known as Harvard-style), to name a few
examples. Detailed published guidebooks exist for those styles and can be used
by interested students. In all cases, though, references must be both complete
and internally consistent. That is, they must provide your reader with all the
relevant information on the text cited (author, title, publication details and page
reference), and they must do so in a systematic way.
i. Quotations
Titles of books, plays, journals, and poems long enough to have been published
as independent works should be quoted in full and identified by italics.
Accuracy is important in itself, and eliminates confusion: Hamlet is a play;
Hamlet is a character in Hamlet.
Always italicise the definite or indefinite article when it is part of the title, as
The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Waste Land (not the Waste
Land and never The Wasteland).
If you would like to use underlining instead of italicising, you may do so, for
instance in exams. (But do not underline and italicise.)
Use single inverted commas for the titles of short poems, short stories in longer
collections, journal articles and chapters in books, such as ‘Wordy Love Song’
in Norman MacCaig’s The World’s Room. So ‘North’ is a poem by Seamus
Heaney, North is a book of poems by Seamus Heaney.
Verbatim (word-for-word) quotations
These must be enclosed in single quotation marks (inverted commas). Reserve
double quotation marks for quotations within quotations. If the quotation is
short, incorporate it into the body of your sentence or paragraph and include a
footnoted reference. Quotations must fit into your sentence structure and
If the source of your quotation is a novel, your footnote reference must include
the author and title (where these details are not clear from the context of your
essay) and a page reference to the edition specified in your bibliography. If the
source is a play, give similar details of author and title, and act and scene
references. If the play is in verse the line reference should be added as well;
thus, for example, Macbeth, III. ii. 75-6 (or 3.2. 75-6).
If the quotation is long (more than one sentence of prose or more than one line
of verse) set it down as an indented or block quotation:
Wordsworth takes the language of rural people as a model for poetic
diction because he believes that it is:
a more permanent and a far more philosophical language than
that which is frequently substituted for it by Poets, who think that
they are conferring honour upon themselves and their art in
proportion as they separate themselves from the sympathies of
Since the quotation is clearly separated from your own prose when thus set out,
you should not enclose it in quotation marks as well. The source of the
quotation should, however, be given in the relevant footnote or endnote.
Indented quotations are usually preceded by a colon (:) not a semi-colon (;). Do
not indent the next line after an indented quotation unless you mean to start a
new paragraph.
Adapting quotations
Quotations, with the following minor exceptions, should appear in your essay
exactly as they do in your source.
Omissions from the body of a quotation, which must be honest omissions and
not ones designed to alter the impression that a quotation makes, should be
clearly indicated by means of a combination of ellipsis dots and square
‘In between their astronomical activities Piazzi and Jessica visited the
physics laboratory and [...] the geological department of the university.’
Additions to your quotations, when additions are needed to fit them
grammatically into your sentence structure, should also be enclosed within
square brackets:
‘In between their astronomical activities Piazzi and Jessica [who] visited
the physics laboratory and, for Jessica's interest, the geological
department of the university’ would, as one of their friends noted
disapprovingly in his journal, exchange personal opinions in a free and
candid manner.
You should try, however, to avoid too much manipulation of your quoted
material. The following is bad practice:
‘It seems [to those expert in the relevant areas of scholarship] that each
nation made quite a lot of glass in competition with the other [...] and
any exports from Murano to the Netherlandish [Dutch and Belgian]
ports of Amsterdam and Antwerp added [...] to [the difficulties involved
in making] a correct attribution of origin now.’
Verse quotations
It is very important to reproduce the form of the poem exactly as it appears in
the text that you are using. When quoting verse always quote in lines,
capitalising at the start of each line if the poet does so. Give the line reference
when quoting from a poem that is more than one stanza in length.
ii. Footnoting
According to the CMS system, superscripted numbers are inserted at the end of
the clause or sentence in which a quotation occurs. These correspond to
sequentially numbered footnotes listed at the bottom of a page, or endnotes
listed at the end of the document, which contain the reference for the quotation.
Footnotes can be inserted in most word-processing programmes (including
Word or WordPerfect) under the heading ‘Insert’. Footnotes can also be used
for giving bibliographical references or for making points (‘asides’) which are
inessential to the main argument of your essay.
In-text superscripted numbers appear after the punctuation and quotation marks
at the end of a cited clause or sentence. There is no space between the
punctuation and the numeral. For example:
In Shakespeare’s Language (2000), Frank Kermode argues that although
Shakespeare ‘was an accomplished non-dramatic poet, […] his eminence
depends on his work for the theatre’.1
In Shakespeare’s Language (2000), Frank Kermode argues that although
Shakespeare ‘was an accomplished non-dramatic poet, […] his eminence
depends on his work for the theatre1’.
In Shakespeare’s Language (2000), Frank Kermode argues that although
Shakespeare ‘was an accomplished non-dramatic poet, […] his eminence
depends on his work for the theatre’1.
In Shakespeare’s Language (2000), Frank Kermode1 argues that although
Shakespeare ‘was an accomplished non-dramatic poet, […] his eminence
depends on his work for the theatre.’.
iii. First reference
The first time you footnote a text — typically with reference to a quotation, as
above — you should give a full reference to that text, along with the page or
line number of the passage quoted. Subsequent references can be abbreviated
(see below). If you are unsure about the publication details of a book, try
looking it up in the on-line University Library catalogue (SAULCAT), where
all details will be listed. (Do make sure you are using exactly the same edition
as the one in the catalogue though, as page numbers can vary.)
The standard formatting for the type of sources you will most commonly cite is
presented below. Note that in these examples the author’s surname is not listed
first but it should be in the bibliography (see sample bibliography below). Note
that in the titles of works written in English the first word and all subsequent
words (other than articles and pronouns) should have initial capitals. Pay
careful attention to the arrangement of parentheses, colons, periods and spaces:
these are all significant details, and failure to reproduce them accurately looks
Author, Title (Place of Publication: Publisher, Year).
Ken Sofa, How To Be Idle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
V.V. Late and O. Drat, eds., Procrastination (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001).
Book Chapter
Author of Chapter, ‘Title of the Chapter’, in Title of Book, author/editor of the
book (Place of Publication: Publisher, Year), page numbers of chapter.
S. Presso, ‘Caffeine and the Single Girl’, in Staying Up Late, ed. I. Stare
(London: Bloomsbury, 2005), 12-32.
Journal Article
Author, ‘Title of Article’, Title of Journal, Vol No: Part No (Year): page
number(s) of article.
L. Plate, ‘Wonderful Teenage Drivers’, Automotive Journal, 3:2 (1997): 11221.
Article in an Online Journal:
Author, ‘Title of Article’, Title of Journal, volume number: issue number
(year), <web address> [date accessed].
Michael O’Rourke, ‘The Roguish Future of Queer Studies’, SQS – Journal of
Queer Studies in Finland, 2 (2006), <> [accessed
January 1, 2007].
Note that you should only include a web reference for an article if it has
actually been published online. If you access a journal article electronically but
it was originally published in a paper journal then follow the formatting for
journal articles above.
Web site
Author (if known), ‘Title of Entry/Document’, Title of Web site, <web
address> [date accessed].
Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees, ‘Evanston Public Library Strategic
Plan, 2000–2010: A Decade of Outreach’, Evanston Public Library,
<> [accessed June 14, 2007].
Name of Editor or Translator, trans., Title of Work (Place of Publication:
Publisher, Year).
Richmond Lattimore, trans., The Iliad of Homer (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1951).
These publication details preface the specific page or line reference. So, to
continue the example given above, a first footnote might look like this:
In Shakespeare’s Language (2000), Frank Kermode argues that
although Shakespeare ‘was an accomplished non-dramatic poet, […] his
eminence depends on his work for the theatre’.1
Shakespeare’s Language (London: Penguin Books, 2000), vii.
In this case, the author’s name has been omitted because it appears in the main
body of the essay.
iv. Subsequent references
Later references to sources already cited in full can be produced in a shorter
format. CMS recommends doing so using: the author surname; main title,
shortened if more than four words, so that A Culture of Teaching: Early
Modern Humanism in Theory and Practice would become A Culture of
Teaching; plus page reference. For example:
See Kermode, Shakespeare’s Language, 34-67.
Another common system uses surname and date:
Kermode (2000), pp. 34-67.
Note that in systems that cite page numbers with the prefix ‘p.’, ‘p’ stands for
‘page’, ‘pp’ stands for ‘pages’. Therefore ‘pp. 5’ is incorrect. Similarly, ‘l.’
stands for ‘line’, and ‘ll.’ for ‘lines’.
The abbreviation ‘ibid.’ (from the Latin ‘ibidem’, or ‘in the same place’) can be
used to refer to a single work cited in the note immediately preceding.
Shakespeare’s Language (London: Penguin Books, 2000), vii.
Ibid., 34-67.
Note, however, that ‘ibid’ cannot be used unless it refers back to the work in
the directly precedent footnote, nor if that footnote contains more than one
Repeated references to Primary Texts
When you are quoting repeatedly from a primary text in an essay, you should
not include a footnote for every citation. An essay on Beowulf, for example,
should not contain footnotes with repeated publication details of a Beowulf
edition. It is sufficient to explain in only one footnote (usually one of the first
footnotes of the essay) which edition of the primary text(s) you are writing on
will be used; subsequent references to the primary text(s) (page or line
numbers) can then be given in the main body of the text immediately after the
quoted words.
First reference to a primary text in footnote:
All quotations from Beowulf in this essay are taken from Beowulf: A
Student Edition, ed. George Jack (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997).
Subsequent references to a primary text in main body of essay:
In this passage, the poet refers to Grendel as an aglæca (line 433). [No
footnote necessary!]
v. Bibliography
A bibliography is a list of all material consulted during the preparation of an
essay, even if debts to items of such material are of the most general kind and
you do not cite the work directly in your essay. Note that it should not be
assumed that length is a merit in a bibliography; every item included should
either be referred to within the essay or else be clearly relevant to it.
The bibliography should be provided at the end of an essay, starting on a new
page. Items on the list should be organised alphabetically by author’s surname.
The first line of each entry should be flush-left while any subsequent lines
should be indented five spaces. There is no need for numbering or bullet
The purpose of giving bibliographical references is to enable the reader to
follow up your references and to demonstrate that you are paying attention to
detail. It is, therefore, important that all pieces of information are given
completely and in the right order.
Sample bibliography:
Evanston Public Library Board of Trustees, ‘Evanston Public Library Strategic
Plan, 2000–2010: A Decade of Outreach’, Evanston Public Library,
<> [accessed June 14,
Late, V.V. and Drat, O., eds., Procrastination (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001).
Lattimore, Richmond, trans., The Iliad of Homer (Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1951).
O’Rourke, Michael, ‘The Roguish Future of Queer Studies’, SQS – Journal of
Queer Studies in Finland, 2 (2006), <>
[accessed January 1, 2007].
Plate, L., ‘Wonderful Teenage Drivers’, Automotive Journal, 3:2 (1997):
Presso, S., ‘Caffeine and the Single Girl’, in Staying Up Late, ed. I. Stare
(London: Bloomsbury, 2005), 12-32.
Sofa, Ken, How To Be Idle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
vi. A note on sources and electronic resources
Students are expected to use reputable academic sources for information and
secondary reading. Primarily, these include academic books and peer reviewed
articles in academic journals. Recognised electronic resources may also be
used. For a list of such resources consult the English entry in the library’s
Internet Subject Tree, found under Electronic Resources:
Books, book chapters and journal articles related to a relevant topic can also be
found via a number of electronic databases which enable you to search under
keywords. The two most useful for students of English are:
MLA (Modern Language Association) database. You can use this database to
find journal articles, books, dissertations and proceedings in the fields of
Folklore, Language, Linguistics and Literature. It covers 1965 to the present
day and is provided by OCLC FirstSearch.
LION (Literature Online). This is a fully-searchable library of more than
349,000 full-text works of English and American poetry, drama and prose. It
also includes biographies, bibliographies and key criticism. Of particular use is
the fully-searchable MHRA’s Annual Bibliography of English Language and
Literature (ABELL).
Links to both of these databases can be found on the library’s Databases and
Datasets webpage (see link given above).
Note that university usernames and passwords are required for remote access to
certain databases.
Once you have identified relevant journal articles, many of these will be
available in paper copy in the library, or electronically via the library. Just
search for the journal/periodical title in SAULCAT for information on sourcing
the article.
You are warmly encouraged to use these recognised electronic resources. In
order to find relevant sources your first port of call should be these recognised
databases, NOT Google. The use of information from online Spark Notes, York
Notes, Wikipedia and other non-academic websites is completely unacceptable
at University level, and may well result in marks being deducted.
vii. A note on e-readers (Kindle, Sony etc.)
Students may wish to use e-books for their reading. This is entirely acceptable.
However, they should be aware that these devices do not at present always
permit stable pagination or accurate referencing. If you wish to refer to an ebook, make sure that you can do so to an academically acceptable standard. If
you are in any doubt, consult your tutor on his or her preferences.
viii. Further reading
Generally useful handbooks and works of reference
Abrams, M.H., A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th edn. (London: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1993). [PN44.5A3F93]
Alexander, Michael, A History of English Literature (Basingstoke: Macmillan,
2000). [PR83.A6]
Burchfield, R.W., ed., The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd edn.
(Oxford Clarendon Press, 1996). [Ref PE1631.F7F96]
Clanchy, John and Ballard, Brigid, How to Write Essays: A Practical Guide for
Students (Cheshire: Longman, 1983). [LB2395.C6]
Truss, Lynne, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to
Punctuation (London: Profile, 2003). [PE1450.T8]
The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is an indispensable source of
information for the historical use of English words. For an on-line version,
accessible from all university computers, go to
Judy Pearsall (ed.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 10th edn. (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2001) [Ref AG5.M9F7G01], costs about £14 to buy and
represents an excellent investment for any student of English.
Essays: some general advice
An essay’s mark depends not only on its content, but also on whether it is well
or badly written. These remarks address some common problems that students
have with essay-writing. They are intended to give you pointers which will
make it easier for you to know what is expected of you in essay-writing, and
how to avoid some common errors. They are followed by some troubleshooting guidelines on spelling, punctuation, and other important aspects of
written English.
The Thesis
Every essay should have a thesis: an argument which can be formulated in one
or two sentences, and which tells your reader (as well as clarifying to yourself)
the claims that you are making in your essay, or the position that you are
attempting to defend. As a general rule, the thesis should be stated within your
opening paragraph. Whether or not you follow this rule strictly, you should
ensure that you have an argument, and that it is stated clearly enough for your
reader to know as soon as possible exactly what you are setting out to claim or
A good essay needs a good thesis. Within the length of a short essay you
should attempt to challenge yourself and your reader; you should attempt to
show signs of having thought about what you are writing, and, if possible, seek
to find things to say which are not immediately self-evident. In other words,
you should try to be independent. In thinking about your thesis, or argument,
you should ask yourself if it is possible to disagree with it. If you can think of
ways in which your argument can readily be made untenable, then you should
try to think of another line of approach.
As you go on with your essay, keep your thesis constantly in mind. Continue to
ask yourself this question: ‘How does what I am arguing now relate to my
thesis? Am I straying from my argument?’ If the answer is not obvious to you,
then stop, and think again, because you could be going wrong. If you are in two
minds about what you are saying, then the reader will be confused too. A short
essay leaves little space for digression. Try to bring what you are saying back
to the point. Don’t be shy of revision. Get into the habit of cutting even those
paragraphs which you feel to be rather well written, but which have led you
away from your argument and detract from the sense of what you are trying to
The body of the essay
Your reader should be able to appreciate, paragraph by paragraph, the way in
which the argument is moving forward. Paragraphing is not incidental, or
simply a matter of aesthetics (a way of making words look good on the page).
Each new paragraph should contain one idea, or several closely linked ideas; a
new idea necessitates the opening of a new paragraph. Moreover, the
relationship between one paragraph and the next should be clear: you need to
provide transitional sentences between one stage in the argument and the next,
which show your reader what the relation is between one point and another. In
short, your reader should be able to see a clear, coherent and logical argument
worked out through your essay.
Having thought about what you want to do, you should write out a plan for
your essay before you start. This outline structure should contain a statement of
your thesis, and the topics of each stage of your argument. Your plan, or
outline, should clarify to you what relation each step of your argument bears to
the next. A poor plan resembles a list of ingredients; a good one resembles a
recipe, showing how and where the various elements are to be put together.
You should expect your plan to change while you are doing the reading for the
essay, so you might wish to think in terms of planning (a process) rather than
of a plan (a fixed statement of intent).
Who are you writing for? Who is your reader?
Think of yourself as writing for a generalised reader and not for a particular
individual. You should take it for granted that your audience is familiar with
the texts you are discussing, but also that you are under an obligation to attempt
to make your reader interested in what you are saying.
Despite the demands and conventions of an academic essay, you should also
try to write with style and vigour. However, you should avoid chattiness or an
excessively journalistic approach. In the study of English, the literary quality of
an essay can be important if the student is aspiring to do well in the subject.
Evidence of reading, beyond the predicted or immediate sources of the subject
on which you are writing — general critical works, for example, critical theory,
or works similar to those you are discussing but by different authors — can
very often be advantageous. A good essay is sometimes one which surprises its
reader with daring and insight as well as a self-evident mastery of the texts
which are being addressed.
A great deal about essay-writing can be learnt from the critical works that you
read. When a passage of prose or poetry or dramatic dialogue impresses you
then read it over again until you discover how it works. Consider its sentences,
and how they are made; consider how each sentence feeds into the next.
Examine the punctuation of the passage which has impressed you. If you want
to read general critical works of a kind which will enrich your writing as well
as your understanding of literature, then ask your tutor to recommend books for
you to read.
Gendered references
You should not automatically refer to an anonymous author, reader or other
person as male. (‘A medieval reader of Chaucer would have been unsure in his
interpretation of this passage’ is poor phrasing and historically inaccurate).
Difficult choices of vocabulary can sometimes be avoided by switching from
singular to plural (‘Medieval readers of Chaucer would have been unsure in
their interpretation of this passage’). Another conventional alternative is the
phrase ‘he or she’.
Use of Secondary Sources
Use and quote from your reading of critical books and essays when you have
an opportunity to make points which are directly relevant to your argument.
That is, if a critic’s remarks strike you as especially illuminating to your
argument, then quote them, or refer to them. But you should avoid giving your
reader the impression that your argument is over-dependent on published
insights. Similarly, if a critic’s claims seem mistaken to you, or in need of
modification, then quote or refer to them and use this episode in your essay to
emphasise those points that you wish to make. Do not quote or refer to
secondary sources merely to prove that you have consulted pertinent critical
Whenever you use secondary sources you must make it clear to your reader
that you have done so by acknowledging your sources in the text or in a
footnote or an end-note. Make explicit acknowledgement (including relevant
details of editions used and page numbers) whenever:
you are using someone else’s words to express a point (i.e. a direct
quotation from your secondary source).
you are making use of an observation made by someone else (i.e. a
discussion of a point, or opinion, or interpretation, in a secondary
source, which might not involve direct quotation within the appropriate
you are making use of information (even apparently ‘factual’
information) which some other critic has researched. Examples could be
the influence of one writer on another, or the effect on a writer of a
particular historical circumstance, when this information has not been
discovered by you.
If you are quoting lines of verse or a passage of prose which some other
critic has quoted to make the same or a similar point.
The inclusion of secondary sources in your Bibliography does not by itself
constitute adequate acknowledgment. The Appendix to this Style Sheet
gives examples of acceptable and unacceptable ways of using secondary
Use of Lectures
Avoid using lecture notes (or tutorial notes) as the main basis of your essays.
Almost all tutors in the School will be familiar with the material conveyed in
lectures by their colleagues, while the recurrence of the same points and
phrases is easily detected during the process of marking. To rely on lecture
notes will give your essays a dull, predictable, unoriginal cast of opinion and
understanding. If you wish to make a point similar to one made in lectures, try
to support it with your own example rather than one used in the lecture.
In general, avoid statements like ‘scholars have always believed that x . . .’, or
‘most critics agree that y. . .’, unless they are properly researched and
supported. References to a generalised consensus of opinion are valuable only
to the extent that you intend to diverge from or to dismantle it.
Trouble-shooting guidelines
Achieving a lucid style
You should aim to present written work that is lucid, and which avoids
grammatical errors, poor punctuation and spelling mistakes. Clear thinking and
clear expression are inextricable.
You should pay attention to the kind of literary critical writing that you find
most persuasive and clear. You will usually find that it is a critic’s style that
has played a crucial part in strengthening the persuasiveness of the argument
that is being developed. Reading criticism with an eye open to this
effectiveness of expression will help you develop your own persuasive
Except very sparingly, and for rhetorical effect, do not repeat the points you
make. Having to make the same point twice is evidence of poor planning.
Spelling and punctuation
The principal purpose of punctuation is to mark off the constituent parts of a
sentence so as to make its structure and meaning clear to the reader.
Conversely, neglecting punctuation is misleading and ultimately frustrating for
the reader. If your essay is poorly punctuated, you must expect to lose marks.
Full-stops (or periods) signal the completion of a sentence: they distinguish
one complete and self-contained statement from the next point to be made.
Even if your next point is linked, it should not be connected to the preceding
point using a comma.
Commas are used to distinguish parts of a single statement, but not to
distinguish separate statements. Do not use them sloppily, simply because you
know your ideas are linked but cannot be bothered to focus on proper
punctuation. An example of sloppy use:
Hamlet dramatizes the extreme paralysis of will which accompanies
melancholia, his melancholia is induced or possibly simply heightened by
his father the king’s sudden death, his mother has meanwhile married the
man Hamlet believes to be guilty of the murder of the king.
This should have been rendered using three separate sentences, with full-stops
in place of the commas.
Commas are also used to separate simple items within a list:
He said that he felt that the following qualities were required: fortitude,
resolve, compassion, disinterestedness, and wit and wisdom.
Here the items are ‘simple’ because each of them is an unqualified noun.
Colons and semi-colons are heavier stops than the comma and are sometimes
interchangeable. Here are some simple rules. Use the colon to introduce
indented quotations or items within a list (as in the example just given). Use the
semi-colon to separate complex items in a list:
He said that he felt that the following qualities were required: fortitude,
by which more than strength of mind is meant; resolve, which should be
distinguished from mere resolution; compassion, though in dilute form;
disinterestedness, to which are added all of the accompanying good
effects of impartiality; and wit and wisdom.
Here the items are complex because each abstract noun is qualified by an
explanation introduced by a comma; semi-colons help a reader to sort out
qualities from qualifications.
Avoid over-using parentheses (brackets); they frequently lead to a
complication of the sentence in which they are embedded, when a more
thoughtful separation of one idea from another could have eliminated the need
for parentheses.
Avoid the use of exclamation marks, which may give the impression that you
are over-excited or naïve.
Grammatical mistakes often made by students include the writing of
incomplete sentences:
These developments are driven by a preoccupation with political issues.
An important one being that of race.
The second sentence here is grammatically incorrect, lacking a main verb. The
same ideas could have been more correctly and accurately conveyed thus:
These developments are driven by a preoccupation with political issues,
an important one being that of race.
The apostrophe
The apostrophe has two purposes. First, it is used to signal the omission of a
letter, or several letters: e.g. don’t = do not, can’t = cannot, isn’t = is not.
Secondly, it can indicate possession: Lady Macbeth’s hands, Susan’s books,
the cat’s whiskers. It is not, however, to be used with pronouns, such as hers,
theirs, and ours.
The commonest mistake that students make with the apostrophe is to misplace
it, and especially to confuse its with it’s. Its signifies possession (the effect of
the poem is heightened by its metrical irregularity). It’s is a contracted form of
it is (it’s Tuesday, and my essay is ready to be handed in tomorrow).
It is important that you learn the distinction between it’s and its now, as
repeated errors of this kind will result in the deduction of marks from your
written work. An easy way to avoid making the mistake is to remember that
contracted forms such as ‘can’t’, ‘don’t’ and ‘it’s’ are fine in colloquial
English, but have no place in essays, unless of course they are used in
quotations from the text under discussion. So do not use it’s (the contracted
form of it is) in essays.
The possessive apostrophe
With singular nouns, the apostrophe is placed before the ‘s’ to indicate
possession: the poet’s vision. With plural nouns, it is placed after the ‘s’: The
Romantics’ individualism, the students’ union. Make sure that you position the
apostrophe to convey the appropriate meaning.
When the plural form of the noun does not take an ‘s’, as for instance in the
word ‘children’, the apostrophe is placed before the possessive ‘s’: children’s
books; women’s emancipation; other men’s flowers.
Take care also with proper nouns which end in ‘s’. The modern preference is to
form the possessive by adding apostrophe s to all such nouns: Keats’s poetry
set new standards (though Keats’ poetry is acceptable); James’s way of
walking is distinctly odd (though James’ way of walking is acceptable). [Keat’s
and Jame’s are, of course, wholly improper.] With classical and scriptural
names different conventions apply: Mars’ helmet is commoner than Mars’s
helmet; Aristophanes’ plays has yet to yield to Aristophanes’s plays; and,
though both Jesus’ ways of preaching and Jesus’s ways of preaching are
acceptable, the former is commoner in liturgical or solemn use.
Split infinitives
The infinitive in English, though it seems to consist of two words (to be, to go,
to eat, to sleep, to dream), is generally treated as a single and indivisible item.
Avoid inserting adverbs into the infinitive form of verbs, such as in the famous
but grammatically incorrect expression ‘to boldly go’.
Confusing words
Take time now to look at the following pairs of words which are often confused
by students, and learn what distinguishes them:
To affect something is to alter it, to effect something is to make it
Illness affected my results badly
By dint of ingenious duplicity I effected my escape
Effect is also used as a noun and means consequence:
The effect of a poem’s layout on the page can be profound.
[Psychologists, however, use affect as a noun, where it means an
emotion or a desire that leads to an action (which action is the effect or
consequence of the affect).]
discrete (separate) /discreet (tactful)
This series of sonnets can be taken as a discrete set of poems.
Be discreet about this: it is a secret.
complementary (supporting or accompanying) /complimentary
‘The Younger Romantics’ is a complementary module to ‘Revolution
and Romanticism.’
Thank you for your complimentary remarks.
disinterested (impartial) /uninterested (bored)
I would prefer a disinterested financial advisor, whose impartiality could
be trusted.
I do not want a financial advisor who is uninterested in money.
imply (hint or suggest)/infer (derive from, or pick up a hint or
Do you mean to imply that I am lying?
Should I infer from what you say that you have told the truth?
dependant (a person)/dependent
Her will left all her savings to her sole dependant, her daughter.
The result is dependent on certain circumstances.
Who’s at the door?
Whose are those shoes?
practise(verb)/practice (noun)
If you practise playing the piano, you improve.
The practice of using mobile phones on trains should be outlawed.
[This distinction is not observed in American usage, where practise is
commonly both verb and noun.]
‘Less’ refers to a singular noun (less money, less work.). ‘Fewer’ refers
to plural nouns (fewer novelists, fewer dramatists). The common
supermarket sign (Nine items or less) is an error and should read Nine
items or fewer. ‘Majority’ means a greater number, not a greater
amount. ‘Amount’ refers to mass, not number. We speak of a large
amount of effort, not a large amount of people; this should correctly be a
large number of people.
Be consistent in tenses. Generally, literary critical convention dictates that the
present tense is used when referring to events in a literary text or to the
thoughts and speech of characters. Use the past tense to differentiate historical
or biographical facts from the events in the work being discussed. Use the
present tense also when referring to the views of critics. Some examples:
Paul Morel (the central character in Sons and Lovers) has a coal-miner
for a father; Lawrence himself was the son of a coal-miner.
Jonathan Dollimore argues in Radical Tragedy that injustice, both
economic and legal, is at the heart of the tragedy in King Lear.
Hardy brought out his Poems of the Past and Present in November
In Poems of the Past and Present Hardy writes eloquently of the death
in the South African Wars of ‘Drummer Hodge’.
If anything in these guidelines or in the style sheet is unclear to you, consult
your tutor. Do take on board what is contained here. You are warned that marks
will be deducted if these guidelines and conventions are disregarded.
You may find it convenient to contact university staff by e-mail. If you are
unsure about what style and address to adopt in e-mails, you can use the
following example as guidance:
Sample e-mail
Dear Dr Bloggs,
I was planning to sign up for your Shakespeare module next year. Could you
please confirm that it will be running? Thank you for your help.
John Smith (matr. no. 1234567)
Staff e-mail addresses, office hours, the correct titles of individual members of
staff (Prof., Dr, Mr, Ms) and their correctly spelled names can be found on the
School of English website, under ‘People’. Please remember to give both your
first name and your surname, and, if your surname is very common or if your
query concerns Advising, it is helpful to include your matriculation number as
well. In e-mails sent to your English tutor it is of course particularly important
to use correct English grammar and spelling if you want to make a good
impression. It is sometimes helpful to think of an e-mail as a business letter; do
not be afraid, therefore, to practise your professional office skills when making
enquiries. Of course in some cases you may choose to be less formal in your emails, especially once you get to know your tutor better.
Appendix on plagiarism: some examples
Gross plagiarism is easily detected and swiftly punished, but some examples of
plagiarism are less obvious to the untrained eye. This Appendix gives two
examples of the improper use and acknowledgment of source material, and one
example of how the material might be properly acknowledged. If you are
unsure about these examples, consult your tutor before you write your next
Source Material
This is the passage to which all three examples below are indebted. Its
reference is: Michael Wheeler, English Fiction of the Victorian Period, 18301890 (London: Longman 1985), p. 67.
Similarly, whereas the opening of the final chapter of Jane Eyre — ‘Reader, I
married him’ — announces a closed ending of equipoise achieved through
vision and suffering, the apparent closure of Lockwood’s final paragraph [in
Wuthering Heights] remains questionable. He lingers round the graves of
Cathy, Edgar, and Heathcliff under a ‘benign sky’, wondering ‘how anyone
could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth’. Yet
Nelly has just reported that ‘the country folks, if you asked them, would swear
on their Bible that [Heathcliff] walks’, and she has met a little boy and some
sheep who were terrified by what the boy assumed to be Heathcliff and a
woman. The mysteries of Lockwood’s second nightmare in Chapter 3 remain
unfathomed to the end.
Version A: Unacceptable
It is questionable whether we should take at face value the apparent
closure offered by Lockwood’s final paragraph in the novel. He cannot
imagine ‘unquiet slumbers’ for Cathy, Edgar and Heathcliff, yet Nelly
has just reported that ‘the country folks, if you asked them, would swear
on their Bible that [Heathcliff] walks’. Unlike Jane Eyre, Wuthering
Heights is not a novel which ends with equipoise achieved through
vision and suffering.
This is clearly plagiarism, and equally clearly it is unacceptable. Ideas, words
and phrases have been lifted from the original, without acknowledgment. The
student will be penalised for plagiarism, in accordance with the policy
statement that is set out in the School’s Handbook (Section 7).
Version B: Unacceptable
It is questionable how we should respond to the apparent closure
provided by Lockwood’s final paragraph. His vision of a ‘quiet earth’
covering the peaceful slumber of the three main protagonists is at odds
with Nelly’s report that the country folk believe that Heathcliff ‘walks’.
The suffering that has been undergone in the novel is not balanced out at
the end. Though Lockwood seems to have forgotten it, the reader
recognises that the mystery surrounding his dream in Chapter 3 has not
been explained.1
1Michael Wheeler, English Fiction of the Victorian Period, 1830-1890; see chapter 3.
[student’s footnote]
In this instance the student has cited the source, but has not indicated that some
words and phrases have been directly lifted from it, nor that the argument
offered is essentially a paraphrase of it. Nor is it clear whether the footnote
refers only to the last sentence quoted from the essay, or to the whole
paragraph. Adoption of Wheeler's ideas should have been acknowledged within
the body of the text, using an appropriate form of words (Michael Wheeler has
argued that we need to question . . . ). This student too will be penalised for
Version C: Acceptable
The ending of the novel is more open than we might at first recognise.
As Michael Wheeler points out, Lockwood’s final vision of a ‘benign
sky’ and a ‘quiet earth’ covering the peaceful slumber of Cathy,
Heathcliff and Edgar is at odds both with Nelly’s report that the country
folk believe that the ghost of Heathcliff still walks the moors, and with
the evidence of Lockwood’s own dream in Chapter 3.1
1Michael Wheeler, English Fiction of the Victorian Period, 1830-1890 (London: Longman
1985), p. 67. [student’s footnote]
Here the student has named and identified the source, and the nature and degree
of indebtedness is clearly stated. In this instance, Wheeler’s argument has been
summarised or paraphrased, but his words have not been used, so that there is
no need to mark anything as a direct quotation from the source. Had the student
written ‘As Michael Wheeler points out, the apparent closure of Lockwood’s
final paragraph is misleading . . .’ the words italicised here would have needed
to be enclosed within quotation marks, to indicate that they had been taken
directly from Wheeler; the footnote reference would remain the same.
Version D: Good Practice
The ending of the novel is more open than we might at first recognise.
As Michael Wheeler points out, Lockwood’s final vision of a ‘benign
sky’ and a ‘quiet earth’ covering the peaceful slumber of Cathy,
Heathcliff and Edgar is at odds both with Nelly’s report that the country
folk believe that the ghost of Heathcliff still walks the moors, and with
the evidence of Lockwood’s own dream in Chapter 3.1 However,
Wheeler’s consistent emphasis upon the supernatural character of this
lack of closure leads him to underestimate the indeterminate and
uncanny aspects of the natural world in the novel.
Michael Wheeler, English Fiction of the Victorian Period, 1830-1890 (London: Longman
1985), p. 67. [student’s footnote]
The student has named and identified her source appropriately, as above. In
addition, she has gone beyond simply referencing another scholar’s ideas, and
has used them as a spur to develop her own argument. This is good practice.
August 2015
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