Your style is the fingerprint of your writing and consists of a
number of comprising elements. As you edit your essay for style,
pay attention to these six areas:
Avoid Personal References
Avoid using personal
references such as "I" or "In my opinion."
It is very easy to say "I feel" or "I think,"
but this adds little to your essay except a weak argument.
If your sentence reads, "I think the Internet is a great
source of information," what do the words "I think"
add? Rather than supplying a reason for the Internet being
a great source of information, the reason given here is "because
I think so."
In addition to providing
a weak argument, using "I" also takes the focus
off the subject and places it on you, the writer, which is
sometimes desired in creative writing, but undesirable in
an academic essay where the focus is supposed to be on a specific
topic. You can usually recast your sentence in a way that
omits personal references, but if the sentence just doesn't
sound right without "I," then leave it in. It's
better to be self-centered than unreadable.
- Personal References:
In my opinion, gay marriage
threatens the institution of marriage and the essential
structure of the family, which is the fabric of society.
- Revised: Gay
marriage threatens the institution of marriage
and the essential structure of the family, which is the
fabric of society.
- Personal References:
I think that society is held
together by allowing individuals to live as they which,
not by constricting laws.
- Revised: Society
is held together by allowing individuals to live
as they which, not by constricting laws.
Choose the right words
Students learning to use a
thesaurus often use it excessively and incorrectly in their
selection of words. Knowing that all synonyms do not mean
the same thing -- that each synonym has a subtle nuance of
meaning making it distinct from the other words -- will help
you avoid random substitutions of words that merely seem to
look better. Using good diction in your essay involves choosing
exactly the right word for the meaning you want. If you're
unsure of a word's meaning, look it up in an online
dictionary or download
a dictionary to your computer.
- Poor Diction: Devlin's
essay predicates that a society
consists of a group
of people brought together by a common set of morals
- Better Diction: Devlin's
essay asserts that a society
consists of a group of
people brought together by a common set of morals and
- Poor Diction: Hart
responds that Devlin's essay is nothing more than a babble
and malentendu of what
a society is.
- Better Diction: Hart
responds that Devlin's essay is nothing more than a confusion
and misunderstanding of what
a society is.
is the effect of multiple short sentences in a row giving a
sense of breathlessness and childlike simplicity. Contrastingly,
the opposite -- multiple, successive elongated sentences one
after another -- gives a sense of never-ending lung power and
pompous sophistication. A short sentence can be a good option
for the content you're writing, just as a long one can as well.
The key is to mix them up so that you have some short
sentences and some long alternating with each other. This variety
will give rhythm to your prose.
- Choppy sentences: John
turned on the computer. He opened Framemaker. He selected
a new document. The document was blank. He opened the graphics
panel. He chose the shape tool. It was a polygon. He filled
the polygon with red shading. He put a black border on it.
It was a nice day. His mother brought him sandwiches. The
sandwiches tasted good. (Holy Smokes! I could not take
more than about half a page of this before I would go crazy!)
- Over-elongated sentences: Turning
on the computer, John opened Framemaker and, after selecting
a blank document and opening the graphics panel, chose a
polygonal shape tool which he filled with red shading and
a black border while his mother brought him sandwiches,
all of which contributed to him having a nice day. Then,
deliberating between a black and white or a color layout,
John decided that for a publication that would be on the
web as well as in print, he would need to create both types
of documents, because the print would be too costly for
color photos, while the web would be too dull for merely
black and white, but this color vs. non-color dilemma was
only the tip of the iceberg for John in Framemaker, for
he knew neither how to create anchored frames for his graphics,
nor how to manipulate the sizes and resolutions of the photos
he wanted to import, which was giving him a headache, despite
his mother's nice sandwiches. (Combining sentences is
fun up to a point, and then it gets ridiculous.)
- Perfect mix of short and long:
After turning on the computer, John opened Framemaker
and selected a blank document. He then opened the graphics
panel, chose a polygonal shape tool, and filled it with
red shading and a black border. His mother brought him sandwiches,
which made his day nice. Then, deliberating between a black
and white or a color layout, John decided that for a publication
that would be on the web as well as in print, he would need
to create both types of documents. The print would be too
costly for color photos, while the web would be too dull
for merely black and white. But this color . . . (You
get the point by now--variety leads to a pleasing rhythm.)
Although in the past it was acceptable to use "he"
when referring to both men and women, it is no longer acceptable
to do so now. Why? Because linguists found that language use
actually does have an impact on the way people think and act.
If pronouns are always "he," and certain professions
are always fireman, policeman, chairman,
congressmen, etc, then it is more likely that men --
by simple virtue of the privileged masculine pronoun and noun
use -- will fill those positions, and that women will feel
that they do not belong in them. Avoiding sexist pronouns
will help you find liberation from these restricting gender
Even if you disagree with the above theory,
using "he" only pronouns is a practice that is no
longer tolerated in MLA style. You should instead choose to
pluralize your subject and use "they" or "their"
when referring back to that subject. Or you can choose "he
or she," but if you need to write "he or she"
more than twice in the sentence, you might give your reader
a headache. Try to avoid "s/he" or "he/she"
simply because it is unsightly. Really the best solution is
pluralization. (When implementing the plural solution, remember
the principle of agreement.
"Everyone needs their umbrella" is not grammatical,
because "everyone" is a singular subject.)
- Sexist: If a medical
student wants to succeed, he has to learn to budget
his time wisely.
- Liberated: If medical
students want to succeed, they
have to learn to budget his time wisely.
- Sexist: If one wants
to become a DJ, he has to be familiar with the current
music styles and have a strong sense of internal rhythm
and musical flow.
- Liberated: If one
wants to become a DJ, he or she has
to be familiar with the current music styles and have
a strong sense of internal rhythm and musical flow.
- Sexist: A good computer
programmer has to root his knowledge in practical experience.
- Liberated: Good
computer programmers have to root their
knowledge in practical experience.
a level of formality
Just as in in daily life, in writing you naturally
adjust the level of formality of your writing style to the situation
and audience. You may use one level of formality with your teacher,
and another level with your best friend. In an academic essay,
be sure to maintain a formal voice. One way to adjust your level
of formality is by avoiding contractions (i.e., using "do
not" instead of "don't"). However, it is acceptable
to use contractions if you desire to.
- Hyper-formal: The degree
to which private controversial moralities are decriminalized
by the federal government depends on the extent of their
injurious repercussions on an otherwise benign society.
- Too informal: The feds
will start putting pervs and whores in the slammer if they
feel their smutty actions are mixin' up good men and women.
- Just right: Whether private
immoralities are outlawed by the government or not depends
on the harm they inflict on public society.
In addition to a
formal voice, you should also maintain a cool-headed, objective
tone. Tone usually becomes an issue when you are writing about
hot topics you feel strongly about -- religion, for example,
or cultural values. Even when you strongly disagree with an
idea, avoid getting "emotional" in your expression.
Avoid seeming angry, or condescending, or rude. Keep your
calm and remain scholarly, and try to portray yourself as
one who is objectively assessing the situation.
- Emotional: We must
do everything we can to legalize gay marriage. For the
sake of equality, the rights of liberty and freedom that
our forefathers fought for--it is essential!!! Don't let
conservatives take over your government and impose
their puritanical moral values on everyone. This is only
going to lead to dozens of more restrictions that those
white-haired conservatives will impose in their cozy congress
- Objective: Keeping
gay marriage illegal poses significant questions about
the constitutionality of such laws. The forefathers who
wrote the Constitution believed an individual's freedom
was vitally important, and that as long as the actions
did not cause directly harm to society, the actions should
not be decriminalized.