TOP TEN LIST OF AVOIDABLE MISTAKES, by Steve Arata
10. Split Infinitives: Don’t stick an adverb in between the two parts of an infinitive verb. “Oedipus decides to relentlessly pursue the murderer in order to successfully revenge his father’s death.” “Relentlessly” and “successfully” need to go elsewhere in the sentence.
9. Comma Splices: Don’t separate the subject and the verb of a sentence with a comma. This mistake usually occurs when you put a lot of words in between the subject and the verb. “Oedipus’s decision to pursue the murderer relentlessly in order successfully to revenge his father’s death, finally leads to catastrophe.” The subject of this sentence is “decision,” the verb is “leads.” You wouldn’t write “Oedipus’s decision, leads.” You can, however, put a dependent clause in between the subject and verb: “Oedipus, who has decided to pursue the murderer relentlessly in order to revenge his father’s death, leads himself and others into catastrophe.” Dependent clauses begin with “who” or “which,” and they are set off from the rest of the sentence by commas.
8. Agreement Problems: Usually a sentence with an agreement problem goes something like this: “When a poet wants to express a violent emotion, often they will use an unconventional meter.” “Poet” is singular, “they” is plural. Sometimes the subject and verb don’t agree in number; this again tends to happen when they are separated from each other in the sentence. “Oedipus’s decision to pursue the murderer relentlessly in order to revenge his father’s death provoke many problems.” The subject is “decision,” the verb ought to be “provokes.” Often this mistake occurs when there is another plural somewhere in the vicinity of the verbin this case, “problems.”
7. No Title: Your essays deserve titles. Well-chosen titles help orient your readers towards the specific topic of your essay.
6. No Works Cited: Unless your essay contains not a single reference or quotation, it needs a “Works Cited.”
5. Missing or Confusing Page or Line References: Every time you quote, you need to give a page or line reference, placed in parentheses at the end of the sentence in which the quotation appears. “Guildenstern claims that ‘dying is not romantic, and death is not a game which will soon be over.’” (124). Or: “‘Dying is not romantic, and death is not a game,’ Guildenstern argues near the close of the play” (124). Make sure your references all follow the same format. There is no need to use “p.” to indicate “page,” for instance, but if you do decide to use “p.” make sure you use it each and every time. Similarly, don’t give a page reference to Hamlet one time and a line reference the next time. (By the way, “p.” = “page” while “pp.” = “pages.” If you’re citing line numbers, “l” = “line” and “ll.” = “lines.”) Needless to say, each page and/or line reference in your text needs to correspond to some bibliographic entry in your “Works Cited.” Finally, the conventional way to cite passages from Shakespeare’s plays is give act, scene, and line thus: “‘Heaven and earth,/Must I remember?’ Hamlet cries in his first soliloquy” (I.ii.142-143). That means Act One, Scene Two, Lines 142-143. Note that you do not need to write out the words “act,” “scene,” and “line.”
4. Poetry Quoted as if it were Prose: When you quote poetry, you need to reproduce it as it appears in the original. That means capitalizing all the words that are capitalized in the original, and it also means indicating where the line breaks are. The following would be wrong: “Hamlet cries out, ‘Heaven and earth, must I remember?’” See the example in #5 above for the correct way to quote these lines.
3. Superfluous Ellipses: When you quote only a portion of a sentence, you do not need to indicate that fact by surrounding the quotation with ellipses. The following would be wrong: AGuildenstern claims that “. . . death is not a game.” The following would also be wrong: AGuildenstern claims that “dying is not romantic . . .” See the example in #5 above for the correct way to quote these lines.
2. Lost, Wandering, or Unneeded Periods and Commas: Note where the final period or comma is placed in each of the following examples. All are correct:
a) Hamlet feels that the “time is out of joint.”
b) Hamlet feels that the “time is out of joint,” and that he must set it right.
In a) and b) the punctuation is placed inside the quotation marks.
c) Hamlet feels that the “time is out of joint” (I.v.196).
d) Hamlet feels that the “time is out of joint” (I.v.196), and that he must set it right.
In c) and d) the punctuation is placed after the reference.
1. Typographical Errors: Nothing damages your credibility as a writer more quickly or completely than typographical errors. Whatever reasons there may be for the errors, they are invariably perceived by your readers as an indication of carelessness. So make it a habit to proofread your papers carefully before submitting them. Spell checking programs on your computer can help, but they cannot catch all errors. (If you mistype “take” as “rake” your computer will not catch it, since “rake” is a word, too.) Since it’s usually easier to proofread someone else’s work, you might try swapping papers with a friend. Each of you can proofread the other’s work.