Must Know Rules for Successful Writing

  • Follow all instructions provided.
  • Always make sure to demonstrate accuracy, analysis, clarity, critical thinking, organization, and originality. Unless specifically asked for, avoid summary.
  • Always use a creative title.
  • Cite everything that is not your own original work. Unless given the okay, avoid quoting the words of others.
  • Make sure to use properly-formatted and indented paragraphs. Paragraphs should generally have topic sentences.
  • Always have thoughtful introductions and conclusions. Your thesis should be clearly stated in the introduction. The conclusion should address overall implications and discuss areas for further inquiry.
  • Use present tense for literature (fiction or nonfiction), and use past tense for history.
  • Watch your spelling and word choices! Remember to use college-level diction and creative word choices. Strive to use word choices that are exactly accurate; it’s more challenging than you might think. Know the difference between connotation and denotation, and use that to your advantage. Your goal is to be both concise and precise. Avoid contractions, slang, clichés, vague language, and euphemisms.
  • Avoid expletive sentence structure (i.e., starting sentences with it is, there was, etc.).
  • Make sure pronouns refer to the correct noun or subject. A pronoun cannot be used to refer to a noun in a previous paragraph (with the exception of some OpEd writing).
  • Use active, not passive voice, as possible and appropriate. Passive voice puts the important “stuff” later in the sentence and sometimes avoids specifically saying who or what. (Passive voice and past tense are different.)
  • When using lists, place the items in alphabetical order unless there is a specific reason not to. Listing them in order of importance, size, etc. might also be useful.
  • When defining a word use italics. When referring to a word as a word, use quotation marks. If used sparingly and correctly, quotation marks or italics also can be used for emphasis or sarcasm. Periods and commas always go inside quotation marks.
  • Define all terms that are important to the argument.
  • Use sentences of varying length.
  • Use italics for the name of a book, play, magazine, or movie. Use quotation marks for the name of an article, most poems, or short story.
  • Parallelism is important.
  • Label and caption images.

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