Avoid Low Grades
Michael Hallstone, Ph.D.
Checklist to Avoid Low Grades
1. Don’t be afraid to use simple sentences. Advanced writing is not about by how things are said but what is said. In other words use simple language to explain complex things. Do not use complex language to explain simple things. Think about that for a second. Apply it to any paper you write.
First and second person should not be used in formal writing, such as a term paper. First person is the use of “I, me, my, we” etc. Second person is the use of “you, your,” etc. Many students are confused how to write one’s opinion is third person.” Here are some examples of how it is done.
“I think the justice system should treat all defendants the same.” Change to: “The justice system should treat all defendants the same.”
“I believe that the police should not practice racial profiling.” Change to: “The police should not practice racial profiling.”
“I feel that you should not have to be rich to afford a decent lawyer.” NOTE THIS IS WRITTEN IN FIRST AND SECOND PERSON. TO CHANGE TO THIRD PERSON ONLY: “One should not have to be rich to afford a decent lawyer” or “A person should not have to be rich to afford a decent lawyer.”
“Many of you are confused how to write in the third person.” Change to: “Many students are confused how to write in the third person.”
”You should not write in first or second person in formal writing.” Change to: “One should not write in first or second person in formal writing.”
“For a five-paragraph essay you should cover no more than three main points.” Change to: “A student should cover no more than three main points in a five-paragraph essay.”
Don’t = do not
Can’t = cannot
Isn’t = is not
It’s = it is. (“It’s not okay to use contractions in formal writing.”)
Its = is the possessive form of “it.” (“The dog licks its tail.”)
There is no absolute rule here. A conservative rule is to spell out all numbers below fifty (50). At minimum you should spell out all numbers below ten (10).
The thematic statement should be the very last sentence in the introductory paragraph.
Do not start the essay with a definition from a website, book, or dictionary. For example do NOT do the following
Webster’s online dictionary defines “justice” as, “being just or fair.”
The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug abuse as, “the non-medicinal use of any intoxicating substance.”
It is better to begin with a general description of how the issue affects our society or something like this:
“A modern democracy must provide some measure of fairness in its criminal justice system.”
“The problem of drug abuse has attracted an increasing amount of public attention since the War on Drugs was declared in the 1980’s.”
Write it. Rest. Rewrite it. Rest. Rewrite it. Rest. Rewrite it...turning in a first draft is a recipe for failure. If you are going to spend three hours on this paper spend one hour over three nights, sleeping on each draft. When you return to your paper you will have a refreshed perspective and will find errors you missed when you were tired the first time!
All word processors have spell checkers and most have grammar checkers... use them. Here is a hint. If Microsoft Word has the word underlined in red that means it is not spelled correctly. If a whole phrase or word is underlined in green that means there is a grammar problem. Heck I can't spell for beans, but I can find the "spell check" thing with a little searching. Usually it is under the "tools" menu. (Push “F7” in Microsoft Word). If you don't know how to use these tools, go to that "help" menu at the top far right of the computer screen and use it. Don’t be intimidated. It may take a couple of tries, but it is not rocket science.