A LIST OF ESSAY CONVENTIONS YOU SHOULD KNOW

(adapted from Prof. Chris Wilson's)

Here are a few conventions you're expected to know for writing college essays in English courses. These are, for the most part, also conventions for many forms of public writing. If you are in any doubt, consult the MLA Handbook (one of the recommended texts for this course). You can find an abbreviated version of the MLA style online at the University of Illinois Writers' Workshop.

All essays should be typed and double-spaced, with enough of a margin for me to scribble in. Please make sure the typeface of your paper is large enough to be read easily (in other words, don't drive down the font size much below 12). My paper topics have word limits, as opposed to page limits, so there's no need to be creative with fonts and margins!

1.  When you refer to a person or character in your essay, you generally cite the person's entire name the first time you mention it (e.g. "James Duffy"). After that mention, you can use the form of the name that the author uses most frequently (e.g., "Mr. Duffy,""Gabriel").

 2. In general, avoid abbreviations in college essays, with the exception of the titles you see before and after proper names (for example, "Dr." or "Mrs."), names of familiar organizations ("NAACP," "FBI"), or conventions noting time or dates (BC or a.m.)--not, however, for months (that is, don't use "Jan." for "January"). Never use "etc.", since it simply raises the question - what's left in etc.?

 3. When using numbers, spell out any number that takes only one or two words (e.g. "thirty-eight"). The general exceptions are for dates, addresses, times of day, or instances where numbers are used for technical measurement or identification (e.g. "Flight 800").

 4. Italicize the titles of books, magazines, newspapers, television programs--as a good rule of thumb, anything that can hold within it shorter selections or elements.  Do not use underlining, which is a relic of the typewriter. Meanwhile, those shorter selections--poems, articles, chapters, specific TV episodes, and other things that can appear inside things that are italicized--should be presented inside quotation marks (" "). No need to put quotation marks around your own title, or around indented passages. The only time indented passages have quotation marks is if you're citing dialogue.

5. Where to place punctuation marks, brackets, and punctuation?  If you are using only a primary source (which is all I require for Paper 1, on Dubliners), just put the page number from the edition in brackets after a quotation (if you are using another edition, do the same thing, and list the edition you are using on a separate page at the end, under the heading "Works Cited"). When ending a quote, put the quotation mark first, then the bracketed page number, then the period, like this:

The Misses Morkan "had good reason to be fussy on such a night" (176).

In general - there are always exceptions here - put periods and commas inside quotation marks; put colons and semicolons outside them; put question marks inside the quotes if you're quoting a question, outside if you're turning a statement into a  question yourself. Examples:

Frances asked, "What have I done to anger you?"
What does Peale mean when he says, "the greatest sorrows are those we cause ourselves"?

6. How to introduce a quotation?

If you are making a complete statement that your quotation illustrates, put a colon before the quotation:

Gabriel seems very uneasy at the party: he "laughed nervously and patted his tie reassuringly" (180).

But many times you will want to incorporate the quotation into the grammar of your sentence, in which case you just treat it as part of your sentence, and punctuate accordingly. Don't add a comma or a colon where it's not necessary.

Freddy "waved the offer aside impatiently" (185).

6. When quoting four our more lines of another text, set the quote off from the body of your text by indenting ten spaces from the left. For me, you can single space that quote, though some professors will ask you to double space it.

7. When to put a citation?

In general, if in a single paragraph of your paper you are citing a lot of material from the same page (or couple of pages), you can put a single citation at the end of the paragraph. If you're citing from a wider range, cite each instance.