Grammar and Style Checklist

NOTE: I devised this checklist over the course of several years based on recurrent errors I found in students' papers.  Students may find this tool is useful for all sorts of written work.  A downloadable PDF is available by clicking here.


Grammar and Style Checklist
Daniel E. Miller
miller-dem@earthlink.net

Student Name: ______________________________   Date: ___________

Paper Assignment: ____________________________________________


Structure and Format
❑    Write a concise opening paragraph that includes a thesis statement.
❑    Divide the paper into paragraphs, but do not use short paragraphs.
❑    Write a conclusion that summarizes the thought process of your paper.
❑    Place page numbers using arabic numerals in the upper right-hand corner of all but the title page and first page.
❑    The title page does not count as the first page.  Begin page numbering with the first page of text.
❑    Use a standard 12 pt. font, such as Times New Roman.
❑    Use 1” margins.
❑    Justify on the left.
❑    Do not divide a paper into sections.  Instead, write good transitions.
❑    Do not add extra spaces between paragraphs.
❑    To find unusual symbols and foreign characters in a word processing program, click on Insert and select Symbol in the dialog box.
❑    Use the spell checker and grammar checker in word processing programs, but do not allow the program to make automatic changes.  The results often are humorous.
❑    Staple the paper in the upper left-hand corner.  Do not use folders, plastic covers or paper clips.

Usage and Style
❑    Do not use short, choppy sentences.
❑    Combine sentences to eliminate repeats and to produce complex and interesting sentences.
❑    Do not use contractions.
❑    Do not use abbreviations.
❑    Do not use colloquialisms.
❑    Explain anything that is vague.  Be precise.
❑    Provide full names along with birth and death dates in parentheses the first time an individual’s name appears in the text.
❑    Avoid beginning sentences with conjunctions.
❑    Do not end sentences with prepositions.
❑    Do not mix tenses.  When writing about events in the past, use the past tense.
❑    Avoid negatives; never use double negatives.
❑    Eliminate wordiness, that is, unnecessary words and phrases.
❑    Eliminate redundancies, such as and also, completely dead, and very pregnant.
❑    Eliminate repeated words and phrases.
❑    Eliminate passive voice.
❑    Use pluperfect tense when describing two events in the past that did not occur simultaneously: After I had purchased my first car, I decided to take a vacation.
❑    Eliminate sentence fragments.
❑    Do not separate verb phrases or split infinitives.
❑    Do not use first person and second person.
❑    Use neuter pronouns for political entities (states are not feminine).
❑    Do not ask questions, instead answer them to form a thesis.
❑    Do not speculate or hypothesize.  If you have proof, theorize.
❑    Do not use italics, bold, underscores, and single or double quotation marks for emphasis.  Instead, carefully select descriptive words.
❑    Form centuries and decades without apostrophes, such as 1900s and 1980s.
❑    Spell out centuries instead of using abbreviations, such as 19th or 20th.
❑    Use that and which for things; use who for people.
❑    Review the use of ellipsis.
❑    The ellipsis has three periods with spaces between periods and spaces separating the first and last periods from neighboring words: blue . . . green.
❑    Do not use ellipsis to open or close a quotation.
❑    Use punctuation and ellipsis properly.  If punctuation appears just after a word in the quotation, retain it before inserting the ellipsis.  If the omission spans two sentences, there are two options.  If the end punctuation appears after a word included in the quotation, retain it, without adding a space, and then add the ellipsis:“for the most part, . . . it is valid.”  If the end punctuation does not appear after a word in the quotation but in the part omitted, the ellipsis should contain four periods, all with spaces isolating them:“I finished the job . . . . I will never tackle something like that again.”
❑    When using a double dash, do not add any spaces–the word processing program will close the separate dashes to make one em-dash.
❑    When using parallel construction, be sure all the components have the same grammatical construction: Grace walked in the park, grasped her dog’s leash tightly in her right hand, and held her mobile phone in her left hand, not Grace walked in the park, tightly grasped the dog’s leash in her right hand, and her mobile phone was in her left hand.
❑    Do not use archaic word forms, such as amongst and whilst.
❑    Do not use the incorrect form of words, such as irregardless.
❑    Use conventional spelling, for example, light, instead of lite.
❑    Be cautious about word choice.  For example, dictators and generals do not reign since they are not royalty.
❑    Eliminate malapropisms.

Capitalization
❑    Use lowercase for titles not associated directly with the name of an individual (the foreign minister, but Foreign Minister Smith).
❑    Do not capitalize nouns unnecessarily (a republican form of government, and the republic, but the Republican party, the Weimar Republic, and the French Third Republic).

Possessives
❑    Form the possessive singular using ’s, in most cases.  Those who tend to use apostrophes with every word that ends in s need to review the rules of forming plurals, possessives, and possessive plurals.
❑    Form the possessive plural using s’, in most cases.
❑    Check unusual possessive forms, such as women’s, men’s (both possessive plural), Moses’ and Jesus’.

Pronouns
❑    Make sure the antecedent for a pronoun is clear, especially if a pronoun appears in a sentence as a subject because it must agree with the subject of the preceding sentence (Wrong: Ted and Tom caught bass and carp.  They twitched as they were lying in the boat.)
❑    Be certain that nouns and pronouns agree in number  (Wrong: Ted and Tom caught bass and carp.  They cleaned it on the shore).
❑    Do not confuse contractions and possessive pronouns, such as it’s and its or who’s and whose.

Punctuation
❑    Watch comma usage.
❑    Insert a comma before conjunctions that join two independent clauses.
❑    Do not use commas before a conjunction introducing a dependent clause.
❑    Use commas to set off appositives.
❑    Use commas to set off nonrestrictive clauses and parenthetic phrases, including those beginning with such as, including, and especially.
❑    In a series, place a comma after each item, aside from the last (a, b, and c)
❑    Use commas properly with dates, as in December 7, 1941, or use the preferred dating system without commas, for example, 7 December 1941.
❑    Use commas to separate introductory participle phrases and infinitive phrases. (Readers should not have to read a sentence twice to determine its meaning.  Example: Attempting to follow the accepted rules of war the general created a rift between the military staff and Nazi officials.  The comma belongs after war, but it could be placed after general, making the information in the first part of the sentence incorrect and creating an incomplete sentence.)
❑    Use a semicolon to replace a conjunction joining two independent clauses.
❑    When constructing long lists, use a colon to introduce the list.  Separate the list with ordinal numbers (first, . . . ; second, . . . ; third . . . ; never firstly, secondly, and thirdly) or arabic numbers with a single parenthesis (for example, 1) . . . ;     2) . . .).  Separate the components of the list with semicolons.

Quotations
❑    When quoting a source, be sure to identify the speaker in the text.
❑    When quoting, use double quotation marks without spaces between the quotation marks and the first and last word.
❑    Place punctuation inside quotation marks, aside from colons, semicolons, and sometimes quotation marks.
❑    Question marks with sentences that end in quotations should be inside the quotation marks if the entire sentence is a quotation and outside the quotation marks if the quoted portion is a phrase.
❑    Use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations, even at the beginning or the end of a sentence (“‘Off with her head!’ cried the king.”).
❑    Use block quotations for quotations that are four or more lines long.  Indent the block quotation 0.5" from the left margin using the indent command in the word processor.  Do not use a hard return and tabs to form a block quotation because formatting problems will result.  Never use quotation marks to begin and end a block quotation.

Citations (Footnoting and Endnoting)
❑    Use either footnotes or endnotes to cite quotations or evidence that is not common knowledge.  Do not use parenthetical footnoting.
❑    Use the standard or long format for citations as found in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations or A Manual of Style for Authors, Editors, and Copywriters, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
❑    Check the format for citations (see the references above).  Watch for the proper use of commas, periods, italics, and other punctuation.
❑    Place all citation numbers at the end of sentences.  If necessary, describe the use of multiple sources in the footnote.
❑    Avoid placing text in endnotes or footnotes.  Integrate the information into the body of the paper or eliminate it.
❑    Use shortened references after the first full reference.  Do not repeat the full entry.  If your word processor automatically repeats the full entry, turn off that feature.
❑    Place endnotes on a separate page.  Press Control+Enter at the end of the text to create a new page.  On the first endnote page, place a title (Endnotes or Notes) at the top of the page in the center.  Double space after the title and justify left.  The word processing program will insert the first note where the cursor appears at the end of the document.
❑    Do not create footnotes or endnotes manually.  Let the computer do the work.

Rev. 20.VI.2011