Guide to the Marking of Written Assignments
by Ian Johnston

[This document is in the public domain and may be used, in whole or in part, by anyone, without permission and without charge, provided the source is acknowledged.  Released July 2000]


2.1 In formal college writing, you should avoid all slang and common colloquialisms. Do not, for example, write guy for man, boss for employer, kid for child, and so on. Words like jerk, guys, wimp, nerd, dork, turn on, okay, macho, barbie, morphs, goes ballistic, dad, cougar ugly, and so on are inappropriate. Avoid colloquial expressions like cop a plea, bite the dust, takes off (for leaves), jerks around, piss off, and so on. Use the language appropriate in a letter to a friendly but formal elderly relative who cares about the language.

2.2 Avoid the bad habit of using the following colloquialisms:

hopefully for I hope that, with luck
for very good or remarkable or excellent
for angry or irritated
, tremendous, incredible, fantastic, amazing to mean extraordinary, remarkable, outstanding, very good, excellent
, awful, to mean very bad

2.3 In formal writing keep all names formal, unless you are writing a very casual inter-office memorandum. Use Mr. Ian Johnston or Ian Johnston or Mr. Johnston or Johnston, but not Ian or Ian J. or Mr. J. or Dr. J. or I. J.

2.4 In essays and reports you should normally mention a writer's full name as it customarily appears the first time you mention it: e.g., T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare, G. Wilson Knight, Margaret Atwood. Later references should indicate the writer with the surname only: e.g., Eliot, Woolf, Shakespeare, Wilson Knight, Atwood. You should not refer to authors by their Christian names only: e.g., Tom, Virginia, William.

If there is any possibility of confusion because you are dealing with two different people with the same surname, then in all references you must keep one or more of the initials or the first name to indicate which of the two you are talking about: e.g., George Eliot and T. S. Eliot, Mary Shelley and P. B. Shelley).

2.5 Do not become too colloquial in your use of other people's names. Do not, for example, refer to Shakespeare as William, Will, Bill, or Billy. Avoid references to famous writers which rely upon nicknames or popular titles, no matter how well known the nickname might be. Do not, for example, refer to Shakespeare as the Swan of Avon or the Bard, or to Coleridge as the Sage of Highgate, or to Aristotle as the Stagirite.

2.6 Make sure the words you choose convey the appropriate tone to the reader. This issue is particularly important in technical and business writing, especially correspondence. If you are composing a letter of complaint, for example, keep the language polite, unless you deliberately wish to offend. If you need to apologize, then do not grovel all over the page. Similarly, if you are expressing gratitude for certain favours, do not go overboard with praise. Consider the following example of an inappropriate tone:

I am totally angry with the repeated breakdowns of this stupid machine. If you do not stop stalling and refund my money right away, I shall immediately contact my lawyer and sue you incompetent idiots for damages.

You may want to talk like this at some point, but if you are launching an initial complaint you should be much more temperate.

If you are dealing with a serious work of literature, don't adopt a casually flippant tone which calls into question the sincerity or the intelligence of what you are discussing. Even if your criticism is severe, keep the tone formal.

Hobbes's definition of human nature is completely bogus. If he wasn't so stupid about how human nature really is, his theory wouldn't be such a fake attempt to justify capitalism.

Hobbes's theory may be clearly open to serious criticism, but the tone of the above passage tends to disqualify you as a fair analyst. Keep the tone much more temperate.

2.7 In your choice of words, strive to avoid any consistent or obvious gender bias. This means that you should as much as possible seek to replace general words presenting a male bias with words which are more gender neutral.

For example, the word man and its derivatives you should normally change, so that man becomes people or human beings, or individuals. Similarly, chairman becomes chairperson or chair, policeman becomes police officer and so on. For the same reason, unless you want to make a very deliberate point, don't go in the other direction to feminize such general words all the time (e.g., herstory, womyn).

For a full discussion of this matter, see the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. For the treatment of pronouns in gender-free language see 4.10 below.

2.8 Be careful with technical or academic jargon. Keep the vocabulary formal but simple, without trying to inflate it with unnecessarily complicated specialized terms. Notice the following examples.

The serviceability status of this machine is non-operational.
[Write instead: This machine does not work.]

The army wanted him terminated with extreme prejudice.
[Write instead: The army wanted him killed]

The educational suitability checks on this student's official record of achievement classwise indicate that his performance has not been at the level deemed appropriate for satisfactory completion of any of his courses.
[Write instead: This student's transcript indicates that he failed all his courses.]

In essays on literature, avoid all phrases using the word deconstruct unless you are prepared to explain what you mean in more detail.

A good general rule for avoiding jargon is to make sure that you don't regularly use words or phrases which are not part of your normal colloquial vocabulary in a polite setting.

2.9 Be careful of the expressions sort of, type, kind of, and -wise. These can almost always be eliminated or replaced with a more specific expression, as in the following examples:

Every secretarial-type person was sort of overworked and efficiencywise this was not good.
[Write instead: Every secretary was quite overworked, and this practice was not efficient.]

The conduct of the hero in this scene is sort of significant.
[Write instead: The conduct of the hero in this scene is rather (or quite or very) significant.

2.10 Be careful of technical slang. In formal writing do not use the conversational slang common in the field work or on the job:

We first went out for a preliminary recce. The we started a regen survey at the north end.
[Write instead: We first went on a preliminary reconnaissance. Then we started a regeneration survey at the north end]

2.11 Organize your words as concisely as possible, that is, in the simplest, shortest, most direct manner. Do not use five words where three will suffice. Learn to get rid of all unnecessary words. Keep the diction simple, lean, and direct. Notice the following examples.

It is the galaxy Kunos Horribilis which we are going to.
[Write instead: We are going to the galaxy Kunos Horribilis]

I hope that anything which is alive there will behave towards us in a friendly manner.
[Write instead: I hope anything living there will be friendly]

It is he who commits the murder.
[Write instead: He commits the murder]

Go and get the oil. Then take the pump and put it away.
[Write instead: Get the oil. Then put the pump away]

It says in this book that . . .
[Write instead: This book says that. . . ]

Avoid expressions like the following: it is X which does Y or A is the one who did B. Say instead: X does Y or A did B.

2.12 Use simple expressions wherever possible in place of verbose constructions. Here are some very common examples.

We made mistakes mainly due to the fact that the terrain was difficult.
[Write instead: We made mistakes mainly because the terrain was difficult.]

It was for this reason that we went home.
This was the reason why we went home.
Because of this reason we went home.
[Write instead: Therefore, we went home.]

This model is cheaper when compared to Brand X.
[Write instead: This model is cheaper than Brand X.]

There are many times when Nora is frustrated.
[Write instead: Nora is often frustrated.]

As an example of this. . . .
[Write instead: For example, . . . .]

2.13 Do not repeat the same idea unnecessarily.

This problem is complex and complicated.
[Write instead: This problem is complicated]

2.14 Avoid the unnecessary repetition of the same word or a very similar form of word. Notice the following example:

She used this useful machine in many situations where she could not use electric power.
[Write instead: She used this versatile machine in many situations where electric power was not available]

2.15 Learn to check your spelling constantly (or to get someone to check it for you). Use the spell check function in a word processing program before printing. If you know you have trouble with spelling, keep a record of your mistakes, and learn to avoid them. Take the same trouble with words as you would with numbers if you were presenting a mathematical argument or solving an equation.

2.16 Remember the useful rule: "i before e except after c and in syllables rhyming with a, like weigh." Note the following sentence:

The space freighter had special tiers for weighty alien pieces the crew might receive from friends en route.

2.17 Do not confuse words which sound much the same, but which mean quite different things. The following list includes the more common examples of this problem, together with some expressions which are commonly misused.

2.17.1 accept/except. Accept is a verb meaning to receive or to agree with. Except is rarely a verb (meaning to leave out); normally it functions as a preposition meaning excluding. Something one cannot agree with is unacceptable. The word exceptional means remarkable, outstanding

I accepted all the presents except the violin, which was exceptionally fine.

2.17.2 advice/advise. Advice is the noun; advise is the verb. A similar word in which the s spelling is the verb and the c spelling is the noun are prophecy and prophesy.

The witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king. He later receives more prophecies.

2.17.3 affect/effect. Affect is almost always a verb meaning to influence. The noun affect (quite rare) means emotional response. Effect is usually a noun meaning the result of some action. Effect is occasionally a verb meaning to bring about.

If you have trouble with these two words, remember than in almost all cases affect is the verb, and effect is the noun. Notice the following example:

I was affected by the effect his music had on the crowd.

Notice that effective means that something works well; affective refers to the emotional responses to a situation.

2.17.4 all ready/already. All ready means everything is prepared; already means by this time.

2.17.5 all right/alright. The proper spelling is all right.

2.17.6 although/though/however. Although introduces a dependent clauses and thus should never be used as a conjunctive adverb in place of however. The word though is commonly used in place of either although or however. In general, use however to introduce a main clause and although to introduce a subordinate clause, and avoid the use of though.

Although I was ill, I went to school; however, I did not stay.

2.17.7 altogether/all together. Altogether means in all respects, wholly, entirely. All together means everyone or everything all at once.

The sight of them all together there was altogether disgusting.

2.17.8 allusion/illusion. Allusion means casual reference; illusion means spectre, fantasy, or deception. Be careful of the adjectives allusive (containing allusion), illusive (deceptive), and elusive (difficult to pin down or catch).

2.17.9 among/between. Use among to refer to more than two items and between to refer to two or to several things taken separately. Notice the following examples:

She distributed the money among the members of the club.
He divided the food between himself and his brother.
He travels all the time between Rome, Paris, and London.
Between you and me, I think this house is the best because, among other things, it is well built.

2.17.10 amount/number. Use amount for things in a group or in bulk (in a general pile); use number for things which can be counted separately. Always use number when you are dealing with living creatures.

Send me a large amount of money and a number of books.

2.17.11 and/or. Do not use this expression (except in some business correspondence). Use the following construction:

I would like to study English or French or both (do not write: and/or French).

2.17.12 as/like. Use as when you need a conjunction (i.e., to introduce a clause), especially in comparisons; use like when you need a preposition before a noun or pronoun. Use as if (or as though) to introduce a metaphorical comparison or a probability which is a clause. Do not use like to introduce a clause (i.e., a group of words with a verb). Notice the following examples.

He looks like his brother, but he is heavier, as one would expect. He walks like an old man, as if he is weighed down.

It looks as if it is going to rain. The sky looks like an angry soup.

I feel as if I am going to fail the examination. If I do, I will feel like a fool.

Avoid expressions of this sort: 

It looks like we're going to win
I feel like everything is all right 
Hamlet acts like he wants to do it. 

 In these expressions replace the like with as if.

2.17.13 attain/obtain. Attain means to reach (as in a goal or destination); obtain means to get.

Once he obtained the estate, he attained his objective.

2.17.14 being that/being as/in that. Avoid these expressions altogether. Use because or since instead.

2.17.15 can/may. Use can (could) to indicate physical or mental ability; use may (might) to indicate permission or possibility.

I can win the race, but I may not pass the drug test.

2.17.16 check/cheque. Cheque is the British-Canadian spelling for the word meaning bank draft; check is the American spelling. In Canada, use the former.

2.17.17 cite/sight/site. Cite, a verb, means to make reference to or to quote (as in List of Works Cited). Sight, both a noun and a verb, refers to the act of seeing or to what is seen. Site, usually a noun, refers to a location. The verb to site means to place or locate.

2.17.18 coarse/course. Coarse is an adjective meaning rough or unrefined. Course is a verb meaning run and a noun with several meanings (part of a meal, subject of study, path, progress, and so on). The expression of course comes from the latter.

2.17.19 compare/contrast. Compare means to consider similarities and differences of two or more things. Contrast means to consider only the differences. The difference in meaning is often important in essay assignments.

2.17.20 compliment/complement. Both of these words are nouns and verbs. Compliment refers to a polite expression of praise or the act of giving such an expression. Complement refers to something which completes or the act of completing something. Complimentary can also mean free or without charge.

2.17.21 conscious/conscience/conscientious. Conscious describes the mental state of being alert or awake. Conscience is a noun referring to one's inner thoughts (especially moral awareness). Conscientious is an adjective meaning scrupulous, diligent, dutiful.

2.17.22 continual/continuous. Use continual and its adverb continually to mean repeated and repeatedly. Use continuous and its adverb continuously to mean constantly, without stopping, uninterruptedly.

2.17.23 council/counsel. Council means a group of people discussing something. Counsel means an advisor or the advice he gives. A councillor is a member of a council. A counsellor gives advice (in American English the term is commonly used for a legal advisor, a lawyer).

My academic counsellor sits on the college council and is thus also a college councillor.

2.17.24 differ/different. Use differ from to mean to be different. Use differ with to mean to disagree. The adjective different and the adverb differently usually are followed by from (not than).

2.17.25 disinterested/uninterested. Disinterested means impartial or objective or without bias. Uninterested means not interested, bored, uninvolved.

2.17.26 economic/economical. The adjective economic refers to one's financial position. The adjective economical means thrifty, cheap.

2.17.27 elicit/illicit. The verb elicit means to draw forth or provoke; the adjective illicit means illegal.

2.17.28 etcetera/etc./&c. Do not use this word or its abbreviations, especially in technical writing. Either "unpack" the etcetera by listing the rest of the elements (i.e., providing the details) or omit the word. If you want to end a list with a general expression use and so on.

2.17.29 few/less. Use few to refer to things which you can count; use less for other matters. Less fits the question How much?; few fits the question How many?

Few students these days object to less homework.

2.17.30 field/field of. Do not use these expressions unless you are referring to a piece of land or to an electric field. Don't say something like field of forestry or something in the English field. Say instead forestry or English.

2.17.31 former/latter. Use these only when there are two items mentioned in the previous sentence. Former means the item further away (i.e., the first item mentioned). Latter means the closer alternative (i.e., the second item mentioned).

2.17.32 hanged/hung. In capital punishment a person is hanged. Objects are hung.

2.17.33 here/hear. Here is a adverb meaning in this place; hear is the verb meaning to notice through sound.

2.17.34 hopefully. This word is now in common use as an adverb modifying an entire sentence and meaning I hope that or with luck. However, some people still object and insist on the original meaning full of hope. Stick with the older tradition, and use this word only when you mean full of hope. Do not use it to mean I hope that or with luck.

In correct English, the sentence He will come hopefully or Hopefully he will come means He will come full of hope, not I hope that he will come.

2.17.35 i.e./e.g. I.e. means that is. . . It is appropriate only before a phrase or clause which explains further what you have already mentioned. E.g. means for example. It is appropriate only before an example or illustration of something you have just mentioned. Both expressions are usually followed immediately by a comma. You do not capitalize these letters, unless they start a sentence (not a very common practice), in which case you capitalize the first letter. Note that these expressions have a full stop after each letter.

2.17.36 incredible/incredulous. Something incredible is impossible to believe. An incredulous person is a non-believer. Incredible does not mean remarkable.

2.17.37 infer/imply. Infer means conclude; imply means hint or suggest. Similarly, inference means a logical conclusion. Implication means a suggestion.

2.17.38 irregardless. Do not ever use this word. Replace it immediately with regardless or nevertheless. And never write irregardless of as a prepositional phrase. Replace it with in spite of.

2.17.39 kind of/sort of. Do not use these expressions to mean quite or rather. See 2.9 above.

2.17.40 know/now. Now means at this time. Know is the verb meaning to be aware of.

2.17.41 lay/lie. Use lay (laid, laying) when you are writing about moving something somewhere, putting it into place. Use lie (lay, lain, lying) when you are talking about reclining. And use lie (lied, lying) when you mean telling falsehoods. Do not confuse these forms. Notice the following sentences:

He was laying the parcel in the compartment. At the time I was lying down. I have never lain down on the job before. The man who said that lied. Now the supervisor has laid me off. So I am lying in the rain. Would you please lay your newspaper on top of me?

2.17.42 lead/led. The word lead is the present tense of the verb to lead or the noun (the metal). The word led is the past tense or the past participle of the verb to lead.

Lead poisoning will lead to your death as it led to hers.

2.17.43 lend/loan. The word lend is the verb; loan is usually the noun (but growing in popularity as a verb).

I need a loan. Please lend me the money.

2.17.44 lose/loose. The word lose means to no longer have something; loose (the verb) means to undo, and loose (the adjective) is the opposite of tight.

2.17.45 lot/lots/a lot of. Do not use any of these expressions when you mean many or much. Use one of those words instead.

2.17.46 majority/most/many/plurality Do not confuse these words. Majority and most mean more than half. A plurality means more than the next highest (but not necessarily more than half). Many means several.

2.17.47 maybe/may be. The word maybe is an adverb meaning perhaps. May be is a verbal phrase.

2.17.48 moral/morale. The word moral, adjective and noun, refers to ethical principles. Morale refers to the feelings of a person or group.

2.17.49 most/almost. Do not use most in place of almost. If you are not sure, try almost; if the word makes sense in the phrase, then keep it, and avoid most.

Almost everyone finished the race. 
[Do not write: Most everyone finished the race]

2.17.50 off of. This expression is almost always incorrect. Use off or from (whichever sounds more appropriate) instead.

2.17.51 personal/personnel. The word personal is an adjective meaning of the person; personnel is a noun meaning persons employed or people. Note the standard title Personnel Manager.

2.17.52 production/play. The term play refers to the scripted work, what the author wrote. The term production refers to a particular interpretation and presentation of the play. When you are writing a review of a particular production of a play, use the word production to refer to what you saw. Use the word play only if you want to call attention to some quality or problem in the script.

2.17.53 plus. Do not use this word as a noun (e.g., She was a real plus to the team); use the word advantage or asset instead. Remember that plus cannot function as a co-ordinating conjunction to make a compound subject, except in mathematical expressions. See 1.17.

2.17.54 principle/principal. Remember the old school saying: The Principal is your pal. Principal means (as an adjective) main, most important, and (as a noun) the money in a loan or the chief person in a financial deal or a top school administrator. Principle, always a noun, means rule.

2.17.55 proof/evidence. Proof is a completed logical demonstration beyond reasonable doubt. Evidence is material relevant to a proof, a sufficient amount of which gives the proof its persuasiveness. One item of evidence rarely proves anything. Do not use the word proof or prove when the evidence you have permits you only to suggest or offer an interpretative possibility (an important point in essay interpreting literature). See 7.12 below.

2.17.56 quiet/quite/quit. Quiet means the opposite of noisy; quite means rather; and quit means resign or walk away from or stop.

2.17.57 quote/quotation. Use quote as the verb and quotation as the noun. Note the following example.

Make sure you quote from the original text. And take care to format the quotations properly.

2.17.58 raise/rise. Use raise when there is some direct object involved (e.g., raise taxes, raise children, raise wages); use rise to describe motion when there is no direct object involved (e.g., the sun rises, prices rise).

2.17.59 rhythm/rhyme. Rhythm refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in poetry or prose. Rhyme refers to the repetition of certain sounds at the ends of words (usually in poetry the words at the ends of the lines). Do not confuse these words.

2.17.60 roll/role. The word roll refers either to an action of moving something in a circular motion or to an object arranged in a circular form. Role is a noun referring to performance or an acting part.

2.17.61 should of/would of/could of/might of. Never use these expressions. They are incorrect corruptions of should've, would've, could've, might've, shortened forms of should have or would have or could have or might have. Always use the longer expressions, and never use the word of with these verbs.

2.17.62 sit/set. The word sit almost always describes a motion where there is no direct object (e.g., sit down, sit still). Set describes a motion in which the subject puts something somewhere (the word has many other meanings as well). Note the following example.

Sit down, and set your feet on the stool.

2.17.63 their/there/they're. Note the important differences between these words. Their is a possessive pronoun meaning of them. There is an adverb meaning in that place or an expletive (as in there is or there are). They're is a shortened form of they are.

2.17.64 then/than. The word then is an adverb meaning at that time. Than is a conjunction used to introduce the second element in a comparison.

Then he was richer than his brother.

2.17.65 there's/theirs. The word theirs is a possessive form of their, meaning of them. There's is the short form for there is.

2.17.66 through/thru/thorough/threw The word through is normally a preposition meaning a direction within something or indicating a reason; thru is the American spelling of through (which you should avoid). Thorough, a adjective, means diligent, and threw, a verb, is the past tense of to throw. Never confuse the past participle of throw (which is thrown) with the word throne, the chair upon which a king or queen sits.

2.17.67 to/too/two. To is a preposition meaning in the direction of (among other things). Too is an adverb meaning as well or excessively. Two is the number.

2.17.68 try and/try to. The expression try and is usually incorrect. Replace it with try to.

2.17.69 weather/whether. Weather (noun) refers to the climatic conditions, and weather (verb) refers to the actions of the environment on something or to the action of surviving. Whether means if it be the case that or either.

I wonder whether he will weather the stormy weather by hiding behind that weathered rock.

The word wether is quite rare.  It means either a sheep (usually a castrated one) or a variety of sandstone. The term bell-wether means leader of a flock.

2.17.70 where/we're/were/wear. Where means in which or in what place. We're is the short form for we are. Were is the past tense of the verb to be. Wear is a verb referring to the action of eroding or of carrying on one's body.

2.17.71 whose/who's. Whose means of whom or of which. Who's is the short form of who is.

2.17.72 you/your/you're. You is the personal pronoun (second person singular and plural). Your is the possessive of you. You're is the shortened form for you are.

2.18 Most nouns form plurals quite regularly by adding -s, -es, or -ies to the singular form or the root of the word. English does contain many irregular plurals (e.g., men, mice, geese, fish, and so on), but these are generally well known. When in doubt, always consult the dictionary.

Compound nouns (made up of two or more words put together, usually with hyphens) generally form the plural by adding -s to the most important word in the combination. Note the following examples:

mothers-in law, vice-presidents, presidents-elect, ex-wives, anti-Americans, pro-lifers.

2.19 Foreign words which have entered common English usage often have two plurals, the regular English style and the foreign style (usually derived from Latin or Greek). The English plural is always correct, but sometimes the foreign plural is preferable. The following list includes some of the more common foreign words and their English plural and foreign plural. The asterisk indicates which of the two plural forms is more common:

English Word

English Plural 

Foreign Plural


antennas (electronics)
indexes (books, data banks)
mediums (psychics)

antennae (biology)
indices (mathematics)
media (news)

 When in doubt, consult the dictionary.

2.20 Indicate the plural of numbers expressed as figures, abbreviations, single letters, or words used in reference to words, by adding an apostrophe and an -s to the figure, letter, or word, as follows:

The crew carried on board six ICBM's and three X-10's, machines originally designed in the 1970's

Your style is awkward because you use too many and's. Also I find your handwriting, particularly your m's and your w's, hard to read.

Note that this rule applies to references indicating groups of years: the 1960's, the 1800's, and so on.

It also acceptable to omit the apostrophe.  But be consistent in the convention you select.

Do not use the apostrophe in this way when you are indicating the members of a family, as follows:

The Plantaganets were succeed by the Tudors. 
[Do not write Plantaganet's or Tudor's]

2.21 As well as changing their form to indicate the plural, nouns change their form to indicate possession. Singular nouns, including those which already end in -s, form the possessive by adding an apostrophe and an s to the singular form.

Plural nouns form the possessive by adding just the apostrophe to the plural form (after the -s). If the plural form of the noun does not end in -s, then it forms the possessive by adding an apostrophe and an s to the plural form (e.g., women, women's). Note the following examples of the possessive:

Keats's poems, women's rights, sheep's brains, passengers' safety, mother-in-law's, a woman's duties, men's liberation.

2.22 Be very careful not to confuse the singular possessive with the plural form and the plural possessive form of a noun. It is very easy to be careless about these important distinctions, especially when you are dealing with a noun whose singular form ends in -y. Notice the following common examples:

company, company's, companies, companies'
society, society's, societies, societies'
family, family's, families, families'

Observe the distinctions carefully. Each word in the group means something different from each of the others.

2.23 The possessive pronouns (his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs) are the only words in English in which the possessive form has no apostrophe.

Take particular care with the possessive form of it, which is always its (no apostrophe). The very common expression it's is an abbreviation for it is, not the possessive meaning of it. There is no such expression as its'. If you find this distinction impossible to remember, then never use the form it's in your prose.

2.24 Possession is also indicated at times by the word of, as in the following example:

The handle of the pot is on the top of the table.

This use of the possessive is common to indicate the possessive form of objects (e.g., pot, table). The apostrophe form of the possessive is common with nouns which refer to people. With people's names, the possessive form using of is rarely correct; use instead the apostrophe-s combination.

2.25 The apostrophe also commonly indicates the omission of a letter in a shortened version of a word (e.g., don't, isn't, they're, we're, he's, and so on). Since these forms are not usually appropriate to a formal style and since the inexperienced writer commonly confuses them with other expressions, it is often better to avoid entirely this use of the apostrophe. In formal writing, keep the use of the apostrophe to indicate omissions to a minimum.

2.26 Be careful with the apostrophe. Careless writers commonly misuse it by adding it to words where there is no sense of possession (e.g., to verbs), to simple plurals where there is no possessive meaning, or to singular forms of the noun when they are referring to the plural. Here are some examples of common mistakes with the apostrophe:

Then she see's that societies' rules are too strict.
[Write instead: Then she sees that society's rules are too strict.]

Never use the apostrophe in the plural form of a word unless you wish to indicate possession or in a verb unless you mean to indicate the omission of a letter.

2.27 A frequently confusing part of spelling is the hyphen. Normally a hyphen joins two or more words which act as a single unit before a noun (i.e., the joined words act as a single adjective in front of the word they refer to).

Do not touch the launch-control mechanism.
The day-to-day routine created a middle-class life.
Eighteenth-century poetry often has a heroic-couplet style.
My niece is a nine-year-old prodigy.

This use of the hyphen to join two words which form an adjective in front of a noun is particularly important in technical style, where the writer very commonly combines two words to form an adjective.

root-rot infection, fool-proof method, full-time student, juvenile-spacing project, direct-current adapter, IBM-compatible computer, fire-control crew, cathode-ray tube, hack-and-squirt method, air-pollution measurements, snow-covered mountains, twice-daily checks, six-metre intervals, high-tensile fencing, six-year-old conifers, high-grade steel, two-stroke engine, eight-hour shifts, 6.5-metre boards, and so on.

2.28 No hyphen is necessary when the two words come after the noun or when the first word is an adverb ending in -ly.

We shall follow a quickly rising trajectory.
The captain's advice was well timed.
I saw the mountains, snow topped and tree covered.

2.29 Hyphens also link words which form a single larger word:

self-confidence, father-in-law, president-elect, ex-wife, all-American, French-Canadian, re-evaluate, anti-abortionist, vice-president, non-voter, self-control, co-chairperson, mid-afternoon, sub-atomic, Malaspina University-College.

2.30 Use a hyphen when you have to break a word at the end of the line. The hyphen comes at the end of the first line, not at the start of the second. And the hyphen must come at a syllable break in the word. If you are using a computer with a recent word processing program, you will not have to worry about this problem.

2.31 Hyphens join the parts of compound numbers from twenty-one to ninety-nine and of fractions which are written out (e.g., three-quarters, two-thirds, and so on). No hyphen appears in fractions which start with one (e.g., one half, one third). Similarly, hyphens join the compound points of the compass: north-east, south-south-west, and so on.

Two-thirds of the crew set out for the north-east.

2.32 Abbreviations are very common in technical writing and less so in other prose. In technical writing you can abbreviate any term you want to, provided that you explain fully the abbreviation the first time you use it. You should provide such an explanation, unless you use a relatively common abbreviation which you are quite sure will be familiar to all readers (e.g., AIDS). Use the following format to explain an abbreviation:

The NDP government in BC created the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

In the above example, the abbreviations NDP and BC are common enough not to need explanation (unless you are writing for an audience that may not understand them). You should write out Agricultural Land Reserve completely the first time and indicate the abbreviation in brackets. In subsequent references you can now use the abbreviation ALR without explanation.

Follow this procedure when you are designating computer programs commonly identified with abbreviations. Identify them fully the first time, and then use the indicated abbreviation. You do not need to abbreviate very common computer acronyms (e.g., DOS, CD drive), unless understanding the words is very important and the reader is unlikely to know them.

2.33 Abbreviations are normally capitalized (except with most standard abbreviations for units): AIDS, NDP, FRDA, UBC, SFU, NATO, USA, and so forth. And the present tendency is to omit any full stops between the letters and at the end. If you use full stops, then make sure you place one after each letter, not just at the end.

The abbreviation for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education is O.I.S.E. or OISE; the form OISE. (with a full stop at the end) is not correct. Nowadays the form OISE is extremely common and preferable to the acronym with the full stops.

Normally, leave out the full stops, especially for computer acronyms (e.g., DOS, ROM, CD).

2.34 Do not make up your own abbreviations for expressions which have common ones in general use. Do not, for example, use pds for pounds (lb) or Brit. Col. for BC.

2.35 Do not misuse abbreviations. Introduce an abbreviation into your writing only when the expression is going to appear frequently and when the abbreviation is very convenient. Do not introduce an abbreviation which is not going to appear more than once.

2.36 Avoid abbreviating the word approximately. Write it out in full. And never use the abbreviation for and (&) unless the abbreviation is a part of the formal name of a company or a title (e.g., A & P Stores). Similarly, never use the abbreviation ASAP for as soon as possible. Write the expression out in full.

2.37 Most abbreviations do not require periods to separate the letters in the abbreviation or at the end. This point is especially true of units (e.g., 10 gm or 6 lb). Nor do these abbreviations have a plural form (i.e., you do not add -s to them). You should leave a space between the number and the abbreviation for the units.

Abbreviations normally come immediately after the number with a space between the number and the abbreviation (except for some abbreviation for money, as in $10.40, and the sign for percentages: 17%). In these cases there is no space between the abbreviating symbol and the numbers.

Indications of temperature follow the same principle as the one immediately above: 113°F or 140°C.

Normally in your own prose you should use the letter abbreviations or the full word rather than these symbols: 45.6 percent, 4.7 inches, 21 degrees Centigrade.

2.38 Some traditional abbreviations still retain the periods between the letters and at the end, for example, a.m., p.m., e.g., i.e., in. (= inches), no. (= number). The modern tendency is to remove the periods except when the abbreviation makes a word which might confuse the reader (i.e., to distinguish in. from in or a.m. from am or no. from no). The expressions i.e. (for id est) and e.g. (for exemplae gratia) still retain full stops after the letters.

2.39 In modern scientific terminology most abbreviations for units do not have capital letters. The major exception to this occurs with units of measurement which are derived from someone's name, e.g., V for volts, A for amperes, Hz for hertz, W for watts, and units for temperature readings (C for Celsius, F for Fahrenheit, and K for Kelvin).

Be careful of the abbreviation for litre, since it often looks very like the number 1. If necessary capitalize the abbreviation for litre.

The symbols for percentage and degrees (in temperature readings) come immediately after the number without a space (e.g., 45.6%). If you use standard symbols for inches, that, too, comes immediately after the number, without a space (e.g., 4.7").

2.40 Leave a space between the number and the unit of measurement in a phrase indicating a unit. Also leave a space between the abbreviations for mathematical operations and the symbols on either side of them: e.g., 4 + 3 = 7.

If you are using a number of mathematical expressions, then familiarize yourself with the equation editor in the word processing program.

2.41 In formal non-technical writing the most common abbreviations are the following.

2.41.1 BC, AD, CE, a.m., p.m., $, p.: These abbreviations must stand with a number, never alone by themselves (note that BC and CE come after the number and AD before the number: e.g., 345 BC and AD 342).

2.41.2 Mr, Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr, Messrs: These abbreviations are appropriate only immediately before a surname or a Christian name and surname. The full stop after the abbreviations (once standard practice) is now customarily omitted.

2.41.3 Letters indicating university degrees, membership in a professional or honorary association, or award come after the formal Christian name and surname: e.g., Dr Richard Jones, MA, PhD, DSO, OBE.

2.42 Use abbreviations in the titles of books, names of organizations, or titles of companies, only if the abbreviations are part of the official title: e.g., Gorman Brothers Sawmill (not Gorman Bros. Sawmill), A & P Stores (the abbreviation is all right because it's the official title).

2.43 Do not use abbreviations for the months of the year, the days of the week, or for the words Street, Avenue, Crescent, Boulevard, and so on in an address, either inside a business letter or on the envelope. You may abbreviate the names of the provinces or states, but note that there are standard forms for such abbreviations.

2.44 Do not use abbreviations for units of measurement, except in immediate conjunction with an exact figure. Do not write something like the following: We hiked for many hr and covered several km. Instead write out in full the words hours and kilometres.

2.45 Use capital letters for the first word of each sentence, names of people, places, races, languages, nationalities, institutions, names of major historical events, days of the week, months of the year, personal titles (when they are part of a name), sacred terms, titles of books, magazines, poems, essays, records, CD's, television programs. In titles do not capitalize definite or indefinite articles (the or a), short prepositions (one syllable), and conjunctions, unless they come right at the start of the title or sub-title. Notice the following examples:

Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo, British Columbia, God, Allah, Saint Theresa, Virgin Mary, the Bible, Book of Genesis, Koran, Torah, War of 1812, World War II, Premier Gordon Campbell, President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, Queen Elizabeth, Good Friday, Christmas, Passover, the French Revolution, Grade XII, the Fraser River, War and Peace, "Life in the Fast Lane," Assistant Ranger Thomas Jones, the Renaissance, the Romantic Era, Gone with the Wind, Second Law of Thermodynamics, Economics 200, Sonnet 129, Model No. 234-7.

Do not capitalize an aristocratic title when it is not accompanied by a name. Note the difference in the following examples:

In Richard II, the Duke of York plays a key role. A crucial point in the play occurs when Bolingbroke wins over the duke in his fight against the king.

[Notice that the final nouns, duke and king, have no capital letter because there is no name attached to them].

2.46 Use capital letters for something which names a very specific place or object. Notice the following examples of when to use capitals and when to avoid them.

Where do you go to college?
I am studying at Camosun College.
I prefer to work for a small company.
She works at Thomas Cook Company Limited.
Nanaimo has an old hockey arena.
We are going skating at the Civic Arena.

College and Company and Arena are capitalized in the second, fourth, and sixth examples because they are part of a specific name.

Anything identified with a number will usually have the word before the number capitalized: Economics 111, Highway 97, Station 12, Model XZS-10, Woodlot 6437, Table 38, Figure 4, Chapter Five. This principle does not, however, apply to pages: e.g., page 7.

2.47 Brand names will normally require capitals (e.g., Ford, Chevrolet, Toshiba, Apple, Nike), except in those cases where a single brand has become so dominant that it now stands for all varieties of the particular product (e.g., hoover, ketchup, xerox). Normally you should not use such common brand names to stand for all examples of the product, unless there is no common familiar expression available. Instead of writing xerox machine, use photocopier; instead of hoover, use vacuum cleaner.

2.48 Headings in a report and the titles of essays and reports require capital letters in accordance with the rules in 2.45 above (i.e., treat them as you would titles of books).

2.49 Do not capitalize the names of the seasons (summer, winter, fall, spring), points of the compass (north, east, south, west), family relationships (mother, father, son, uncle) unless they are titles or names (e.g., Mother Jones, South Dakota). Do not capitalize subject areas (e.g., forestry, economics) unless you are naming a specific course (e.g., Economics 111). In general, do not capitalize any word that does not fall into the categories listed in 2.45. Notice the following examples:

Last fall I started studying forestry; my sister is studying criminology.
This spring, we had a statistics course, Mathematics 200.
I really like pestology, but I hate English.
I have no aunts, but I often see my Uncle Willie.
I come from southern Ontario; my friend is from the north.
When you visit the US, you should see the South, and don't miss North Carolina.
Kamloops is in the Interior.

Note that in the second last sentence above, the South has a capital letter because the term refers to a specific region known by that name (like the Interior in the last example). English has a capital letter in the third example above because it is a nationality as well as a subject area.

2.50 A capital letter is sometimes useful after a colon when you want to lead into an emphatic question. Notice the following construction:

A question I had to ask myself was this: How should we deal with this problem?
This meeting should focus on the key question: Who is guilty of the murder?

2.51 When you introduce a direct quotation into your own sentence, you will normally start the quotation with a capital letter if the quotation is a complete sentence. If, however, you are taking the quotation directly from a secondary source or if you are quoting only a short phrase, then you will not use a capital letter (unless the quotation has a capital letter there).

I think she asked me, "Where does Russell live?"
Gray observed that life is "full of pleasure."
Gray observed, "Life is full of pleasure."

2.52 Do not use capital letters at the start of an item in a list (horizontal or vertical) unless that item in the list is a complete sentence (or unless the first word falls into one of the categories mentioned in 2.45 above).

2.53 Any words which indicate certain independent titles must be either underlined or appear in italics (italics is preferable if you are working on a word processor). Italicize (or underline) the following phrases: titles of books, names of magazines, journals, newspapers, movies, records, or CD albums, television programs, names of ships and aircraft (the name not the make), names of works of art, any foreign expressions not in common use, Latin names of biological species, and any words to which you want to give special emphasis. Note the following examples:

Last week I read War and Peace on board the Queen Elizabeth, and I watched several old television shows, including Dallas. I also listened to Tom Waits's CD Rain Dogs. I was totally bored. I constantly had the feeling of déjà vu.

The Gerry Springer Show makes me question the alleged rationality of homo sapiens.

For such expressions use italics or underline the appropriate words. Do not use both at the same time or switch back and forth between these two options. If you decide to use italics (which is more common), then stay with that throughout the paper.

2.54 Students of literature should note the important differences between King Lear and King Lear, Moby Dick and Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights and Wuthering Heights. The italicized (or underlined) phrases refer to the entire work (i.e., the book); the regular phrases refer to the character or the place or some particular element in the work of literature.

2.55 Do not put into italics or underline the titles of parts of a book or of an article in a journal or newspaper. Put them in double quotation marks. This rule would include the following: song titles (i.e., parts of a CD), titles of short poems not published as an independent book, short stories, essays, chapter titles, titles of newspaper articles, in short, anything that is part of a publication which has its own name.

I read the short story "The Chrysanthemums" in The Art of Fiction.
My favourite songs on the CD Hotel California are "Hotel California" and "The Last Resort."

2.56 An exception to rule 2.55 above is the name of a work originally published as a separate book on its own but now included in an anthology (either in part or in total).

I read Milton's Paradise Lost in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume I.

Paradise Lost is only a part of the Norton Anthology, but it was originally an independent book published under that title. Hence, the title appears in italics.

2.57 In dealing with the issue of whether to put a particular title in italics (or underline it) or inside quotation marks, observe the following special cases.

2.57.1 With titles of articles which contain the name of a book, put the entire title in quotation marks but put the title of the book in italics, as follows: "One Critic's Response to Milton's Paradise Lost."

2.57.2 When a book title contains within it the title of another book, omit the customary italics for the name of the book within the name of the title, as follows: Approaches to Paradise Lost: Modern Critical Essays.

2.57.3 When the book title contains within it a title which you would normally put in quotation marks, keep the quotation marks, as follows: Different Interpretations of Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey."

2.57.4 If the title of an essay contains within it the title of another essay, a short poem, short story, and so on, use single quotation marks for the title within the title, as follows: "An Introduction to 'Tintern Abbey': The Historical Origins of the Poem."

2.58 Do not confuse the title of a short story, essay, or poem with the name of a character, place, or object within the text of the work. Notice, for example, that "The Chrysanthemums" is the title of the short story and that the chrysanthemums are the flowers in the story. "Ulysses" is the title of the entire poem; Ulysses is the character speaking the lines. "Tintern Abbey" is the name of the poem; Tintern Abbey is the place the speaker is looking at.

2.59 When using numbers in a written essay or report, observe the following general guidelines: write out the numbers less than one hundred, and use Arabic numerals for figures of 100 or more.

We marched for fifty-five days with the 231 prisoners.

2.60 However there are plenty of exceptions to the general principle given in 2.59 above. Here are some of the more important ones:

2.60.1 Use numerical figures for dates, times, exact amounts of money, exact fractions, percentages, identification numbers, scores, any measurements which include units, people's ages.

You owe me $30.00 because the score was 4 to 2 and the odds were 3 to 2.

She was 16 years old and 6 ft. 2 in. tall.

2.60.2 Write out numbers that are approximations and fractions that stand by themselves.

He led about ten thousand soldiers, leaving three-quarters of his main force behind.

The government is going to spend eight billion dollars on nuclear submarines.

2.60.3 Do not start a sentence (or an entry in a parallel list) with a numerical figure. If necessary write the number out in words or, better still, rewrite the sentence so that you do not have to start with the numerical figure.

2.60.4 Do not confuse the reader by placing two different numerical figures together. If necessary, write one of them out.

She needs six 10-gallon drums, five 5-kg weights, and 50 litres of gasoline.

Write twenty-five 50 watt amplifiers or 25 fifty-watt amplifiers, but not 25 50-watt amplifiers.

2.60.5 Use numerical figures for items which are specifically identified by a number: Highway 97, Room 338, Site No. 2, Model No. 557-2, Chapter 6, page 54.

2.61 Watch some special problems with numbers, as follows:

2.61.1 Do not mix fractions and decimals. As a general rule, always use decimals.

2.61.2 With decimals, place a zero in front of the decimal point for numbers less than one (e.g., 0.75, not .75).

2.61.3 Four digit numbers have no punctuation (e.g., 5672); numbers with five digits or more usually have commas (in British-American conventions) or spaces (in International conventions) separating every three digits to the left of the decimal point (or, if there is no decimal point, from the right-hand end of the number), as in the following two figures: 10,365 or 10 365. There are no such spaces or commas to the right of the decimal point (e.g., pi is approximately 3.14159).


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