These "nuggets" present some basic conventions for formal academic writing: nuggets 1-2 deal mainly with writing about literature, nuggets 3-6 with handling of quotations, nuggets 7-8 with specific matters of punctuation, and nuggets 9-10 matters of common sense. On your graded assignments, nugget problems are indicated as N1, N2, N3, N3g, etc.
N1 N2 N2h N3 N3g N3cr N3cs N3ss N4 N4.3 N4.4 N4s N4g N4be N5 N5s N6 N7 N8 N8h N8d N9 N10
Nugget 1: Avoid plot summary
Avoid simply retelling "what happens" in a literary work. Unless specifically instructed otherwise, assume your reader is already familiar with the work you are discussing. If you're writing about literature, naturally you will need to refer to "what happens" in the work, but all of your remarks about plot events should be analytical, not straightforward summary.Example of plot summary from an episode of La Femme Nikita:What differentiates analytical discussion of plot events from plot summary is that analysis explains the significance of the events. Analytical discussion explains how the events support or prove a specific claim the writer is making about the work.
Nikita is wrongfully arrested for murder, and Section One gives her the choice of either becoming an anti-terrorist operative or being killed. After many months of training, her mentor, Michael, rewards Nikita for her progress with dinner in an upscale restaurant. At the restaurant, Michael gives her a gun and orders her to take a PDA from a man at a nearby table. Nikita gets the PDA and proceeds as instructed to the ladies room, only to discover that her intended escape route is a trap. Desperate, Nikita engages the "hostiles" in a gun-battle in the kitchen and dives into the garbage chute, reaching the getaway car seconds before she has been told it would leave.
Example of analytical discussion of the same plot sequence, illustrating a point on the ruthlessness of Section One:
Viewers first see how ruthless the Section is when they promise to kill Nikita if she refuses to work for them. Their ruthlessness is emphasized further when Michael rewards Nikita by taking her out supposedly to celebrate her progress. We see how excited Nikita is to get a wrapped present from Michael, and then we share her astonishment and dismay when the gift turns out to be a gun and the dinner a final exama live mission. The fact that the promised escape route is bricked up drives home the Section's ruthlessness: she either passes the test by thinking fast under pressure or she gets killed by the terrorists.
The analytical nature of this passage is established primarily in the reiteration of the key word "ruthless" ("ruthlessness," etc.). The observations on what "we see" and "share" help with the analytical tone of the passage as well, and so do the comparison of Nikita's experience to a "final exam" and the comment on her "passing the test."
Nugget 2: The "literary present"
Use present tense when describing or discussing events from literary works or when introducing quotations. The "literary present" also applies when you are introducing quotations or discussing ideas from nonliterary sources (essays, e.g.).
Even if the story, poem, play, essay, or other work was written in ancient times and even if the work itself uses the past tense, convention dictates that we use the present tense when introducing quotations or when discussing events or circumstances from within a literary work. At times it may be confusing, and at times it may defy logic, but you should use present tense when writing about characters, events, and ideas from literary or other written works or when introducing quotations.Example: discussing events portrayed in a literary work:
If you are writing about Huck's escape from his dad in Huckleberry Finn, even though Huck narrates his story in the past tense, you should say, "Huck fools Pap and escapes by faking his own death."
Examples: introducing quotations from a literary work:
There is clearly double-entendre when Young Goodman Brown cries, "My Faith is gone!" (196).
When Rhett Butler says, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," Mitchell ends all hope that Rhett and Scarlet will work through their problems and stay together (995).
Examples: discussing and quoting nonliterary works (i.e. nonfiction):
Wallace Martin suggests that theorists sometimes impose questionable interpretations on literary works because they are too intent upon proving their theories (101).
In one article, Oscar Wilde says of novelist George Meredith, "As a writer he has mastered everything except language: as a novelist he can do everything except tell a story: as an artist he is everything except articulate" (36).
N2h ("h" for "historical"): Do use past tense to relate historical fact, as in "Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist in 1837-1838," or "Franz Kafka had a terrible fear of his father, a fear we clearly see reflected in 'The Metamorphosis.'"
If you indicate the historical nature of a quotation in introducing itby saying when it was uttered or written, for instanceyou should use the past tense also: "In his Inaugural Address at the height of the Great Depression in 1933, Roosevelt told the nation, 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'"
Nugget 3: Introducing quotations
Introduce quotations by indicating who is speaking before offering the quote—in the same sentence containing the quote. Avoid beginning sentences with quote marks: begin sentences with your words, then incorporate quotations later in the same sentence after you have established who is speaking in the quotation (a particular author, character, narrator, etc.). If the specific work you are citing is not evident in the context of the essay, you might also indicate the title of the source in introducing the quote.
Integrate quotations into your writing smoothly. When quotes are not introduced, the writing becomes choppy and the reader may have to pause to figure out who is speaking in the quotation. As a rule, no sentence in your writing should begin with a quote mark: always begin sentences with your own words.Faulty integration of quote (a.k.a. "dropped quotation"): Many people work because work gives them something to do with their time. "Work therefore is desirable, first and foremost, as a preventive of boredom" (Russell 327). The example is faulty because the second sentence begins with a quote markthe quote is "dropped" into the writing unintroduced.Four methods of introducing quotations:
Better: Many people work because work gives them something to do with their time. As Bertrand Russell says in The Conquest of Happiness, work is "desirable, first and foremost, as a preventive of boredom" (327).
1) With an introductory phrase and a comma, such as "According to Bill Smith," "In the words of Jane Smith," "As Smith puts it," etc.or at the very least, "Bill Smith says, . . . ."Examples:2) With an independent clause and a colon, usually making a point that the quotation expands upon, substantiates, or illustrates:
According to Edith Sitwell, "Virginia Woolf's writing is no more than glamorous knitting" (74).
In the words of Leon Uris, "Michener can bore a guy to death, though you can get a damn good history lesson" (140).Example: When asked once what he thought of Jack Kerouac's work, Truman Capote was bluntly critical: "That's not writingthat's typing" (129).3) Blending the quote into your sentence with the subordinating conjunction "that":
Note that an independent clause introducing a quotation is followed by a colon, not a comma (see GR7q).Example: Gary Brooks feels that "most men have only a vague sense of their masculinity and, therefore, continually worry about whether they measure up, and they are quick to become alarmed at the first sign of failure, weakness, or vulnerability" (441).4) Blending the quote directly into your sentence:Example: Brooks believes that men are "programmed to crave validation of their masculinity, and they frequently view women's bodies as a medium for that validation" (441).
N3g ("g" for "grammar"): Your introduction of a quote and the quotation itself must mesh or agree grammatically.Faulty: Doris Kearns was afraid the butchers would tease her after the Giants beat the Dodgers. She writes in "Fan" that she "refused to go into the butcher shop, unable to face the mocking laughter that I imagined would accompany my first steps into the store" (389). [Faulty shift from third to first person]
Better: Doris Kearns was afraid the butchers would tease her after the Giants beat the Dodgers. She writes in "Fan" that she "refused to go into the butcher shop, unable to face the mocking laughter that [she] imagined would accompany [her] first steps into the store" (389). [Note that square brackets are used to indicate insertions or alterations of words within quotations.]
Better still: Doris Kearns was afraid the butchers would tease her after the Giants beat the Dodgers. She says in "Fan," "I refused to go into the butcher shop, unable to face the mocking laughter that I imagined would accompany my first steps into the store" (389). [Here the "she says" immediately before the quote establishes Kearns as the one speaking in the quotation.]
N3cr ("cr" for "clear reference"): Clarify ambiguous or unclear references within quotations (pronouns, especially) before you offer the quote.Faulty: Theodore Sizer says, "It means that teachers must focus more on how kids think than on what they think" (265). [The reader has no idea what "it" is.]
Better: Theodore Sizer explains the most important implication of students learning to teach themselves when he says, "It means that teachers must focus more on how kids think than on what they think" (265).
Better still: Theodore Sizer believes that teachers should "focus more on how kids think than on what they think" (265).
Faulty: In "Love poem," Levertov writes,Better: The speaker in Levertov's "Love poem" tells her lover,What you give me is
the extraordinary sun
splashing its light
into astonished trees. (1-4)
[Not clear who the "you" is]What you give me is
the extraordinary sun
splashing its light
into astonished trees. (1-4)
N3cs ("cs" for "can't speak"): One common problem in introducing quotations occurs with the use of such expressions as "the poem says," "the line says," "in the book it says," etc. Literally, a poem, book, or play, or an "it," cannot "speak," so this method of introducing quotations is faulty in logic or diction. Avoid these expressions: say instead who speaks literally when you introduce the quotei.e. use the author, speaker, or character who is speaking in place of "the book," "the play," "the poem," "the lines," "it," etc.
N3ss ("ss" for "secondary sources"): Introduce quotations from secondary sources also (criticism, e.g.) by indicating who speaks.
In research papers, introduce all quotations from secondary sources by stating who the author of the quote is before giving the quote. When the author of a quotation from a secondary source is not introduced, it can give the impression that the secondary source is making your point for you, something you should avoid. Quotations from secondary sources should substantiate, support, or develop points you make first in your own words. By indicating who speaks when introducing quotes from secondary sources, you effectively bring more authority to the quoted passage as evidence, much as if to say, "as you see, this published expert agrees with my claim."
Faulty: Gerasim is the only character in "The Death of Ivan Ilych" who is untainted by "town sophistication": he is a simple peasant. Tolstoy's story "teach[es] that simple people are best. That was Tolstoy's faith" (Forster 208). Forster is making the important point here rather than supporting or developing a specific claim of the writer's.
Better: Gerasim is the only character in "The Death of Ivan Ilych" who is untainted by "town sophistication": he is a simple peasant. The story shows that Gerasim is morally superior to all the other characters because his peasant simplicity keeps him more in touch with the truly essential matters in lifeunselfish compassion for others, for instance. Ultimately, Tolstoy's story suggests through Gerasim that in the most important aspects of life peasants are, ironically, far superior to their social "betters." As E. M. Forster notes, this story "teach[es] that simple people are best. That was Tolstoy's faith" (208).
Nugget 4: Ellipsis: those three or four dots.
Indicate the omission of words from within quotations with an ellipsis mark, three spaced periods ( . . . ).
N4.3 ("three dots"): When omitting words from within the middle of a single sentence (anywhere between the first and last words of the sentence), use only the three ellipsis dots.
N4.4 ("four dots"): When omitting an entire sentence or more from the quoted passage, or when a complete sentence in the original source precedes or follows the omission, use four dots (actually a period followed by an ellipsis).
N4s ("s" for "spacing"): Three-point ellipses have a single typed space before and after each of the three dots.
Faulty: "water...had"; "water ... had."
Correct: "water . . . had."
Four-point ellipses have no space before the first dot, and a single space before and after each of the other three.
Faulty: water....took"; "water . . . . took"; "water .... took."
Correct: "water. . . . took"
Sample passage from Mark Twain's Roughing It:
I, the cheerful idiot that had been squandering money like water, and thought myself beyond the reach of misfortune, had not now as much as fifty dollars when I gathered together my various debts and paid them. I removed from the hotel to a very private boardinghouse. I took a reporter's berth and went to work. I was not entirely broken in spirit, for I was building confidently on the sale of the silver mine in the East. (313)Omission within a sentence: "I, the cheerful idiot that had been squandering money like water, . . . had not now as much as fifty dollars" (313). Note that the comma following "water" is preserved as in the original so the quote still makes sense grammatically (N4g), but that only three ellipsis dots are used. Note also that the words omitted from the end of the sentence in the original are not indicated with an ellipsis, only the words taken out of the portion of the sentence that is included within the quote marks. Omission from within a sentence in the original source means literally from the "inside" of the sentence, anywhere between its first and last words.
Omission of a sentence or more: "I removed from the hotel to a very private boardinghouse. . . . I was not entirely broken in spirit, for I was building confidently on the sale of the silver mine in the East" (313). Note that there is no typed space before the first dot when four dots are used.
Omission when a complete sentence in the original source precedes or follows the ellipsis: "I removed from the hotel to a very private boardinghouse. . . . and went to work" (313). Note again that there is no space before the first dot.
N4g ("g" for "grammatical"): The portions of a quotation before and after an ellipsis must make sense together and fit together grammatically.Faulty:
"I, the cheerful idiot that had been squandering money like water. . . . and went to work" (313). The two sides of the omission do not fit together grammatically: adding a comma after "water" and dropping the "and" would make the sentence correct.
"I, the cheerful idiot. . . . for I was building confidently on the sale of the silver mine in the East" (313). The sentence is faulty in grammar because there is no predicate for the subject "I"the "for" introduces an entirely separate independent clause.
N4be ("be" for "beginning or ending"): Avoid beginning or ending quotations with ellipses. It is never necessary to indicate an omission at the beginning of a quotation: never use an ellipsis at the beginning of a quote. It is almost always unnecessary also to indicate an omission at the end of a quotation: avoid putting an ellipsis at the end of a quote.Faulty:
". . . I was building confidently on the sale of the silver mine in the East" (313).
"I, the cheerful idiot that had been squandering money like water . . ." (313).
Nugget 5: Quotation marks adjacent to other marks of punctuation
When quote marks are directly adjacent to other marks of punctuation, "small" marks of punctuation always go inside the pair of quote marks; "larger" marks of punctuation go inside quote marks only if they are an integral part of what is being included within the quote marks—otherwise, larger marks of punctuation go outside the quote marks.
By "small" marks of punctuation, I mean literally the little ones, periods and commas; "larger" punctuation marks include question marks, colons (:), semicolons (;), dashes (--), and exclamation points. Larger marks of punctuation are an integral part of a quotation or a title in quote marks if, for instance, the quote is itself a question or exclamation, or if the question mark or exclamation point is part of a title. Note that quotations should never end in a colon or semicolon, and only very rarely in a dash.Faulty: My favorite article is "A Proposal to Abolish Grading".
Correct: My favorite article is "A Proposal to Abolish Grading."
Faulty: George likes "A Proposal to Abolish Grading", but he likes "Why I Want a Wife" better.
Correct: George likes "A Proposal to Abolish Grading," but he likes "Why I Want a Wife" better.
Amy loved that article, "Here Comes the Groom"! Correct because the article title does not itself end in an exclamation point. The exclamation point here indicates the speaker's enthusiasm or amazement.
Did you like that essay, "Why I Want a Wife"? Correct because the article title is not a question—the larger sentence containing the words in quotes is the question.
I hated "Political Economy and Family Policy"; however, I am using it in my paper. Correct because semicolons, when they're necessary, always go outside quotation marks.
I could not believe it when that reporter said, "Just what the hell's the matter with you, President Obama?" Correct because the question mark indicates that the question itself is what's quoted. Compare: Is it true that the reporter used the word "hell"?
Did you know that "How Do I Love Thee?" is really a poem? Correct because the title of the poem is itself a question.
N5s ("s" for "single quote marks"): Use single quote marks only to indicate quote marks or quotations within quotations, as in Under pressure from the interrogating officer, Michelle admitted, "Yes, it's true. Michael was doing his 'To be or not to be' routine naked in the fountain."
Indicating quote marks or quotations within quotations is the only time you should use single quote marks. When you want to indicate that a word is being used in a special sense, as in Michelle tries to be "cool" or "tough," use double quote marks, not single ones.
Nugget 6: Avoid ending paragraphs with quotations: literally, have the last word in every paragraph.
There are rare times when it may be effective to end a paragraph with a quotation, but as a rule, you should end every paragraph in your own words.
When a paragraph ends in a quotation, it can sometimes suggest to the reader that you are relying too heavily on your cited source to make a point for you (see N3ss). Quotations should not make your primary points in an essay; instead, quotes should most often support or illustrate claims that you are making primarily in your own words. Rather than risking the impression that your source is making your point for you, always have the final say in a paragraphat the very least, close the paragraph by reiterating what is said in the quotation.
Say you are writing about Ogden Nash's "Reflections on Ice-Breaking":CandySay your main point in one paragraph is that "Reflections on Ice-Breaking" should not be considered legitimate poetry. Let's say you found an article by Terry Lee Pendleton, who says, "Ogden Nash's lines are the worst sort of adolescent men's room silliness and have no place in any collection of legitimate poetry." If the quote fits effectively as the culmination of a paragraph explaining why Nash's lines should not be considered poetry, by all means, include the quote as the crowning piece of evidence. However, you should wrap up the paragraph by commenting in your own words on the quote itself so that the paragraph ends with you having literally the last word, even if only to say, "Pendleton clearly does not consider Ogden's 'Reflections' poetry."
Nugget 7: Punctuating titles
Quote marks indicate titles of "small" writingspoems, short stories, brief essays, songs, chapters from books, articles from anthologies, magazine articles, newspaper articles, specific episodes of TV shows, etc.
Underlining, or italics, indicate "larger" worksnovels, books, plays, anthologies, CD titles, very long poems, magazines, newspapers, movies, TV shows, etc.
One way to differentiate between "small" and "larger" works is to consider whether they are likely to be published by themselves. For instance, it is unlikely that Kate Chopin's short story "The Storm" would ever be published by itselfthe publication would be only a few pages. More likely, a work as brief as "The Storm" would be published in a magazine or an anthology, a collection of different works bound together in a volume such as The Norton Introduction to Literature.
On the other hand, while Hamlet might be included in an anthology such as The Collected Plays of Shakespeare, it is a larger work that is often published by itself. In fact, since Hamlet is a play, it is effectively "published" each time it is performed on stage: plays, even short plays, should always be considered "larger" works, so titles of plays are always underlined.
Thus, the title of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" takes quote marksit is a "small" poem unlikely to published by itself; but the title of Othello, or War and Peace, or A Collection of Essays by Middle Georgia State Students is underlined because these are "larger" works likely to be published by themselves.
Note: You may indicate "underlining" in typed essays by italicizing. So long as you are consistent, you may use either italics or underlining to indicate "larger" titles, but consistency is key: underline every time or italicize every time throughout the essay, including works cited pagesdo not mix italicizing and underlining.
Nugget 8: The hyphen and the dash
N8h: The hyphen. Hyphens (-) serve a variety of purposes in connecting and dividing words and parts of words. Hyphens commonly join together compound words such as "forget-me-nots" and "double-check." Among its other uses, the hyphen also joins together two or more single words working together as an adjective before a noun, as in "eighteenth-century literature" and "do-or-die approach."
Typographically, the hyphen is a very short dash: on the keyboard, the hyphen is the lower symbol on the key usually next to the "0" on the row of number keys. No space should precede or follow the hyphen.
flea - ridden
N8d: The dash. Used sparingly, the dash provides effective indication of a strong pause or parenthetical break within a sentence. Typographically, the dash is formed by typing two hyphens [ -- ] with no space before the dash, between the two hyphens, or following the dash. Most word-processing software automatically converts two hyphens into the longer solid line of the "em" dash: . If not, two hyphens, --, is always an acceptable indication of the dash.Faulty:
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitcher - one of the best ever in baseball.
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitcher-one of the best ever in baseball.
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitcher -- one of the best ever in baseball.
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitcher - - one of the best ever in baseball.
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitcher- -one of the best ever in baseball.
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitcher one of the best ever in baseball.
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitchera first-ballot hall of famer.
Greg Maddux was an outstanding pitcher--we should worship him daily.
Nugget 9: Check your spelling
Check the spelling of any words you are uncertain about by referring to a dictionary. Wrongly and regrettably, some readers make unfair assumptions about a person's intelligence if that person's writing contains spelling errors. Writing that is otherwise excellent in every respect will sometimes be considered inferior purely on the basis of poor spelling, so it is always in your best interest to check the accuracy of your spelling very carefully.
Since spell checkers are incorporated into virtually all word processing software, you should use them. Of course, spell checkers will miss many misspelled words, especially if the misspelled word is the correct spelling of a different word: spell checkers often cannot distinguish between homophones such as "meet," "meat," and "mete," for instance.
Be especially careful to check the spelling of words that digital spell checking is most likely to miss: place names and the names of persons, most notably. Misspelling the names of characters and authors, or titles, suggests very strongly that you have not read the work closely, which is not an impression you ever want your reader to have. If you do not have access to digital spell checking, use a bound dictionary. You may use a dictionary for all in-class writings in this English course.
Nugget 10: Proofread!
You've heard it before . . . but proofreading your work carefully before submitting it is a crucial must for effective writing. Those pesky little typos and grammatical "goofs" that closer editing would correct are a bigger problem than you might think, because they suggest to your reader that you do not care enough about your work to have it polished and "correct." Even if you honestly don't care about your work, you should never, ever send such obvious signals to your reader. Always proofread your work. Even if you're rushing to complete an assignment at the last minute, always make a final run-through of careful editing.