Changes to MLA Handbook – 7th Edition

July 10th, 2009

by Carol A. Fritzsche

The 7th edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, recently released, has been updated to reflect more of the electronic world in which we live. Most of the changes included in the handbook are related in one way or another to the recognition that today’s writers rely on electronic sources and use electronic means to create their documents.

In keeping with the spirit of the electronic age, included with the purchase of the handbook is free access to the official MLA Handbook Web site. Inside the back cover (underneath a silver scratch-off label) is a code that grants the purchaser free and “continuous access throughout the life of the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook” (MLA xxi). This site includes “enhanced ways of consulting, learning, and searching the contents of the MLA Handbook” as well as more than 200 examples of entries not in the print volume (MLA xxi). In addition, the FAQs include a list of changes and corrections for the 7th edition.

This list offers an overview of the major changes. Please be aware that other changes may be included that I may have missed.

1. Works versus Books. (see MLA 5.3.4-5)

Throughout the handbook, readers will note that when discussing preparation of the list of Works Cited, the headings now refer to “two or more works [emphasis added] by the same author” instead of books by the same author (MLA 133). This is in recognition of the fact that print is no longer the default medium.

2. No longer a default medium in Works Cited list. (see Preface xvii)

In the past, print media were considered to be the default medium. In today’s electronic world, this is no longer true. Therefore, in the list of Works Cited, the medium always is included. Insert this information after the publication information. Refer to MLA Chapter 5 for specific examples.

Example for a book:

Smith, John. Title of My Book. Anycity, ST: Publisher, 2009. Print.

The word Print is now added at the end of an entry for any printed medium, including books and journals. Every entry will have a similar designation, based on its medium.

3. Italics instead of underlining. (MLA 3.3)

Yes, those are italics in the example above. The MLA editors now recognize that since most people no longer use typewriters but use computer programs to create their papers, italics are now an acceptable format for anything that used to be underlined. (The underlining of the past was used to represent which words should be italicized if the article were going to be published.)

4. Including URLs in works-cited-list entries. (MLA 5.6)

The new guideline is that including exact URLs is no longer required if the reader will be able to find the information easily on a Web site. These entries are now also referred to as Web publications, not electronic publications. Refer to section 5.6.2 for specific examples of what should be included for each entry type, but generally, the entry now includes the word Web prior to the access date. Here is what the editors have stated in the manual regarding URLs:

In the past, this handbook recommended including URLs of Web sources in works-cited-list entries. Inclusion of URLs has proven to have limited value, however, for they often change, can be specific to a subscriber or a session of use, and can be so long and complex that typing them into a browser is cumbersome and prone to transcription errors. Readers are now more likely to find resources on the Web by searching for titles and authors’ names than by typing URLs. (MLA 182)

They go on to state that including URLs is acceptable if the reader may not be able to easily find the document or if this information is required by an instructor. If including this information, the format has not changed: insert the URL at the end of the entry (after the date of access) inside angle brackets (<>), followed by a period.

Example:

Smith, John, ed. Name of the Web Page. Publisher, date of publication. Web. Date of access. .

5. Include both volume and issue number for articles from scholarly journals. (MLA 5.4.1)

The new instructions now include both volume and issue number for journal publications, inserting them after the journal title and using a period between the volume and issue number. This does not apply to newspapers or magazines.

Example:

Smith, John. “Article Title.” Name of Journal 12.2 (2009): 123-45. Print.

In this example, this is volume 12, issue 2 of the journal, published in 2009, and the article appears on pages 123 through 145. This change is recommended because research is often carried out using electronic databases, and having both volume and issue number can make the searching easier.

*****

The above are the major changes that most affect editors and are discussed in the preface of the new handbook. Several other changes are noted, but generally appear to be geared more to the writers of papers, such as Chapter 4 that addresses the format of the paper (i.e., no longer includes a discussion of handwritten papers). Also, the editor mentions in the preface new instructions for tables and illustrations, but in comparing the 6th edition to the 7th, I saw only one minor difference: if the source of the table or figure is provided in the notes to the table or figure that source does not need to be included in the Works Cited. A list of suggested writing manuals and guides is now included in Appendix A instead of section 1.11. Also, Appendix B now includes only a list of specialized style manuals instead of examples of other systems.

The new edition is approximately 70 pages shorter than the 6th edition. Some of this is because of the changes mentioned above (i.e., a discussion about handwritten papers is no longer included); however, this is mostly due to the removal of Appendix A: Selected Reference Works by Field and Appendix B: Other Systems of Documentation, which included samples using notes instead of in-text citations, as well as the list of specialized style manuals.
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MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New York: MLA, 2009. Print.

Common Grammar Goofs

May 12th, 2009

Lists like the following have been floating around high school and college classrooms, as well as workplaces, for years. They are believed to have begun in the 1970s, when George Trigg and William Safire each published their own lists. Trigg’s list can be found in Physics Review Letters, 19 March 1979 (Volume 42, Issue 12, pp. 747-748); Safire’s, called “Fumblerules,” originally came out in his “On Language” column in the New York Times, on 7 October 1979.

With apologies (or perhaps a tip of my hat) to Messrs. Safire and Trigg, I’ve reprised some of their classic examples below, with proper examples and explanations, where applicable, of how each sentence should be written immediately underneath. Enjoy!

1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
Verbs HAVE to agree with their subjects. (Has is third-person singular [verb has]; have is third-person plural [verbs
have]).

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
Prepositions are not words with which one should end sentences. (Prepositions are linking words; therefore, it is inappropriate for them to stand alone at the end of a sentence).

3. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.
Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Similarly, conjunctions are linking words. It is inappropriate for them to stand alone at the beginning or end of a sentence).

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
It is wrong to split an infinitive. (Infinitive verbs are always preceded by the word ‘to,’ and it is improper grammar to put other words between the two words).

5. Avoid clichés like the plague. (They’re old hat).
Avoid clichés. (The same goes for buzzword and jargon overload).

6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
There is no reason to run together several words that begin with the same letter. Use a thesaurus to find alternate words in order to get around this problem.

7. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
Parenthetical remarks are unnecessary. They generally over-explain a point that has already been made.

8. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
Finally, never use redundancies. (Redundancies are saying the same thing twice. In the example sentence, there are three pairs of redundancies: also and too; never and ever; and repetitive and redundancies).

By Melissa Weber
Editor

Plagiarism: What is it, what does it look like, and how to avoid it?

May 11th, 2009

Perhaps the most serious crime (yes, crime) a student or researcher can commit is that of plagiarism. Plagiarism is the act of copying another person’s words and passing them off as if they are your own. It bears repeating: PLAGIARISM IS A CRIME in academia. Although it won’t earn you a jail sentence, if you are found guilty of plagiarism, the consequences can be severe. If you are a student, plagiarism can cause you to be expelled from school. If you are a researcher or professor, plagiarism can cost you your career.

Therefore, it is important to know how to avoid plagiarism. Editors see examples of plagiarism on a regular basis; sometimes, students do not realize they are plagiarizing. The most common cause of plagiarism seems to be a failure to cite properly, whether due to unfamiliarity with how to cite direct quotations and ideas or simple oversight; the second-most common cause (again, based on my observations) seems to come from the student’s lack of confidence in his or her own ability to write. In the remainder of this blog post, I will address both of these causes and explain how easy it is for one to be caught plagiarizing.

Example 1: Improper citation of a direct quote
Let’s say you’re a special ed major, and are writing a paper on social skills for people with autism. A currently popular book on this subject is Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, which happens to be written by two people who are on the autism spectrum.

You write the following:

People with various forms of autism view the world much differently than people without autism. This perspective is inborn, is due to how their brains are ‘wired,’ and is true no matter where on the autism spectrum the person lies. According to Grandin and Barron, the mind of a person with autism is one of absolutes, of thinking patterns that are rigid and repetitive, where minute details become focal points of obsessive attention, and self-involvement takes precedence over exploration.

The plagiarism starts in line 4 of the above paragraph, with “is one of absolutes…” I will now show you how to properly cite this in APA and MLA formats.

APA: People with various forms of autism view the world much differently than people without autism. This perspective is inborn, is due to how their brains are ‘wired,’ and is true no matter where on the autism spectrum the person lies. According to Grandin and Barron (2005), the mind of a person with autism “is one of absolutes, of thinking patterns that are rigid and repetitive, where minute details become focal points of obsessive attention, and self-involvement takes precedence over exploration” (p. 83).

MLA: People with various forms of autism view the world much differently than people without autism. This perspective is inborn, is due to how their brains are ‘wired,’ and is true no matter where on the autism spectrum the person lies. According to Grandin and Barron, the mind of a person with autism “is one of absolutes, of thinking patterns that are rigid and repetitive, where minute details become focal points of obsessive attention, and self-involvement takes precedence over exploration” (Grandin and Barron 83).

Note that, in both examples, the actual copied text is enclosed in quotation marks, and that the period that ends the sentence comes after the citation.

Example 2: Improper citation of someone else’s idea

In another spot in your paper on social skills, you note the following:

In people with autism, social functioning is often so impaired that what is inherent to, or can be learned through observation by, those without autism (“neurotypicals”) can only be learned through direct experience.

This, too, is plagiarism because it’s not a commonly known fact. It’s a rephrasing, in your own words, from Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships. In APA, you don’t need a page number because there is no direct quotation; however, in MLA, you do need a page number because every MLA citation requires a page number. See below for citation examples.

APA: In people with autism, social functioning is often so impaired that what is inherent to, or can be learned through observation by, those without autism (“neurotypicals”) can only be learned through direct experience (Grandin & Barron, 2005).

MLA: In people with autism, social functioning is often so impaired that what is inherent to, or can be learned through observation by, those without autism (“neurotypicals”) can only be learned through direct experience (Grandin & Barron 32).

Example 3: Possible lack of confidence in writing skills

This type of plagiarism takes place when large sections, if not all, of a paper are copied straight from a source. This is easy to spot when a large segment of a paper is clearly in a different writing style/fluency from the rest of the paper. I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they are doing it either because they don’t know it’s wrong or because they don’t have confidence in their own writing abilities, but deliberate plagiarism can and does happen. I wish to reiterate that plagiarism is often used as grounds for expulsion, as well as termination and loss of professional licenses.

Returning to the special ed paper on people with autism, you’ve spent several pages discussing common ways to help people with autism learn social skills; now it is now time for the conclusion. The paragraph prior to the conclusion might say something like this (spelling and grammar errors are intentional):

Even though people with autism arent born perceiving the world the way people without autism do. And though they lack social skills that most people are born with, it is greatly importance to teach them these skills so they can relate to others.

Then, suddenly, the conclusion switches to this perfect text:

Conclusion
We have to look at the physical biomedical/biochemical workings of the person, assess their sensory issues, determine whether they think from a logical or emotional framework, and then create programs that take into consideration all of these factors if we’re going to teach social functioning skills and emotional relatedness to people with ASD. Yet, many programs with a social or behavioral basis teach good/bad behavior and expect behavior conditioning to produce social understanding. That’s exactly the stage where much of our programming sits now with people with ASD – a piecemeal, compartmentalized approach to treatment.

If there’s a basic physiological reason that social awareness is not developing in a child – their brain wires are not connected – no matter how many ways parents or professionals try to teach the child, success will be limited by that physical impairment. If his sensory systems are going haywire all the time, or stress and anxiety levels are pervasive, until those issues are addressed and alleviated, forget trying to teach more advanced aspects of behavior and sociability. Equally ineffective are mismatched teaching methods, such as appealing to the logical-minded child through emotional reasoning, or vice versa. Until we address the whole child in our teaching – whether we’re teaching language or social skills or play skills – we’re doing disservice to the child or adult. We’re expecting a lot of effort from the child, but setting him up for limited success right from the start. It all comes back to appreciating the different ways that people with ASD think.

While the text in the conclusion sounds great and may say exactly what you were trying to, it is, nevertheless, plagiarized (taken directly from pages 92 and 93 of The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships). There is no way around this, no way to pass this off. Rewriting or spinning this is just as unacceptable as leaving it as is, and just inserting quotes and a citation is inappropriate because of the length of the passage. Every bit of your paper, except SHORT quotations, as in example 1, must be in your own writing; when an idea is explained that is someone else’s idea, it must also be cited, as in example 2. This entire conclusion must be deleted and a new one written in your own words.

Finding plagiarism (and ways to double check yourself)

Plagiarism is easy to find; the most basic way is to Google passages from the paper. If the passage comes up verbatim in the search results… you have been caught! (For instance, I Googled just a few words of the passage in the example above; the first search result returned was here: Google Result).

There are more sophisticated ways to do it, however, on sites such as The Plagiarism Checker and Copyscape. It is likely that your professors use one or more of these more sophisticated tools.

In conclusion, plagiarism is never worth it. Be aware of what it is, and be scrupulous about making sure you never commit it.

Melissa Weber
Editor

Ensuring Consistency in Your Writing

January 7th, 2009

Before submitting or distributing your essay, research report, email, or any other document, besides performing the usual spell checking and proofreading, you should make certain that your writing is consistent in terms of spellings, usages, and formatting. This is important for two reasons: it helps to guarantee the clarity of your message and it lends an appearance of professionalism to your document.

If, for example, you refer to “theatres” in one part of your paper, you should not use “theaters” in another section. Neither should you vary from “U.S.A.” to “USA” or from “Prof.” to “Professor.” This also applies to names. For example, be careful to spell “Thompson” the same way throughout your paper, and not as “Thomson” and “Tompson.”

You should also make sure you are consistent in reference to your use of numerals and letters in lists. If you use a numbered or lettered list in one section of your paper, maintain that usage later on. You must also be consistent in reference to your use of capital and lower case letters in titles and lists and headings. For example, you may decide to use all capitals in headings and titles, except for articles and prepositions (assuming this is in accordance with the formatting style you are using), as in the following: Some of the Causes of the Civil War. Therefore, similar subsequent headings should be written according to that style. And so, the following would be incorrect: Early battles during the first months of the war.

Consistency applies to spacing and paragraphing too. You should use the same number of spaces between sentences. The common practice is to insert one space between sentences, but two is also acceptable. Of course, if you use block formatting (where all lines of text end at the right margin), then the spaces between sentences (and between words) will vary.

In addition, you should make sure that all of your paragraphs begin in the same formatting manner: that is indented or left justified, and not a mixture of both styles.

Consistency applies to citations and references lists. Do not vary between MLA, APA, Chicago, and other formatting styles. Choose one, and use only that one.

In short, to ensure that your written work represents your best efforts, you must maintain consistency at all times.

Marco Manfre
Editor

APA Refresher

October 13th, 2008

Reference List

1. Double space the reference list, but do not add any additional space between entries

2. Be sure to place a comma between the journal title and volume number, e.g., Psychology Today, 17

3. Be sure to place a comma between the date of retrieval and “from” when listing a source Web site or an electronic database, e.g., “Retrieved October 4, 2008, from…”

4. Do not capitalize all major words in book titles or article titles, only in journal titles, e.g., Social adaptive theory. Psychology Today, 17

5. Do not add a space between the volume number and the parentheses containing the issue number, e.g., Psychology Today, 17(1)

6. Put spaces between initials, e.g., Georgia, J. M.

7. When using a month in the date, do not abbreviate, e.g., (2005, November)

8. Always italicize the names of documents retrieved from the Internet unless they are newspaper/journal articles, e.g., Barclay, L. (2002). The paradox of “justice” formalization: When procedures erode perceptions of fairness. Retrieved December 9, 2005, from
http://frontiers.sauder.ubc.ca/Laurie_2002.pdf

9. Always place commas between the author’s name and the ampersand, e.g., Michael, J. K., & Lorne, P. J. and Georgia, B. K., Mason, H. G., & Teakes, M. N.

In-Text Citations

1. (when using “et al.”) do not place a comma after the author’s name and be sure to place a period after “al,” e.g., Georgia et al.

2. Place a comma between the author’s name and the year, e.g., (Terwilliger & Simpson, 2008)

3. Use ampersands, e.g., (Terwilliger & Simpson, 2008, p. 3)

4. Be sure to place a space between “p.” and the page number, e.g., (Georgia, 2003, p. 22)

5. Use serial commas, e.g., (Mason, Georgia, & Lenny, 2008)

Headings
1. When using a running head, be sure it is formatted as follows: Running head: INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN BIMODAL PROCESSES

2. Do not label the introduction

3. Repeat the title on the first page of the document text

4. Do not use underlining or bold for headings

Capitalization, Abbreviations, and Percentages

1. Spell out United States when used as a noun

2. Do not capitalize the names of theories, excepting, of course, proper names within them, e.g., social adaptive theory and Darwin’s theory of evolution

3. In general, capitalize sparingly

4. Percents are always given as numbers plus the percent sign, e.g., 25%

Diana Pitt
Editor

Varying Your Vocabulary

October 13th, 2008

Many words in the English language have synonyms. Using them in written material allows documents to sound more interesting by virtue of the fact that it helps the writer to avoid what might sound like repetitious phrases. In addition, some synonyms are more precise and have a more professional/academic sound to them than other words which have similar meanings. Rather than writing, for example, I am going to try to get better grades in school, you might write, I am going to attempt to achieve better grades in school.

Here is a short list of common words, and some of their synonyms:

get……..obtain, acquire, acquire…
try……..attempt, endeavor, strive…
make….create, compose, develop…
find……discover, locate, uncover….
take……obtain, receive, procure…..
do………perform, accomplish, achieve
put……..place, situate, deposit
give…….offer, present, furnish
idea…….thought, concept, inspiration

Obviously, this is a very small sample of the thousands of words that are commonly used and their synonyms.

Here’s a hint: when you have written a word in a document for a second or third time, use the Microsoft Word Thesaurus to find a synonym. Doing so will allow your written piece to appear to be fresher and more interesting than it would if you were to use the same words repeatedly.

Marco Manfre
Editor

Writing about Writing

October 3rd, 2008

Which tense should be used when writing about published content, whether fiction or non-fiction? Should descriptions of characters, scenes, concepts, and themes be written in the present or past tense?

In reference to works of fiction, some may feel comfortable writing, Mark Twain’s character, Huck Finn, was a young boy who travelled the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim. Others may prefer Mark Twain’s character, Huck Finn, is a young boy who travels the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim. Both are correct. However, since works of fiction, especially classics, are considered enduring (that is, the characters, scenes, etc. survive), it is preferable to write about them in the present.

This is true of works of fiction that are centuries old, such as The Canterbury Tales, and novels and other fictional works that are on today’s bestseller lists. Therefore, when writing about, for example, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, it is preferable to write Inman climbs out of his hospital bed, and starts for home, rather than Inman climbed out his hospital bed and started for home.

There may be times when you are confronted with the question of how to write about an event in a book which occurred before the timeline of the scene that is being described. For example, in one section of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the narrator, Scout, remembers that her father “had served for years in the state legislature.” When writing about that scene, it would be correct to write in the present tense, except for the part which relates to the past event: At this point, Scout thinks about how her father had served in the state legislature for years.

Of course, when you quote dialogue or narration directly from a book, it must be exact. That includes the tense that the author used, which, in fiction, is generally past, as in the following from Lord of the Flies by William Golding: “And an airplane, and a TV set,” said Ralph sourly, “and a steam engine.”

When writing about non-fiction works, whether they are books, newspaper, magazine, or Internet articles, scholarly papers, etc., it is still appropriate to use the present tense. For example, when describing the building of the Panama Canal in David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas, it is correct to write, McCullough describes the harshness of the Panama rainforest in great detail. On the other hand, when writing about a specific scene or event, since the book is a work of history, and, thus, describes real events which already occurred, the past tense would be correct: Many in Congress were against constructing a sea level canal through the Isthmus of Panama.

Marco Manfre

Dos and Don’ts List #1

August 18th, 2008

Abbreviation: United States
The abbreviation requires periods except in scientific text
Abbreviate when using it as an adjective, e.g., U.S. currency or U.S. involvement in international politics
Spell out when used as a noun, e.g., the United States was established in 1776, but it was not recognized as such until 1783

Clauses of attribution (e.g., Smith states, “…”)
Capitalize the first word of a quotation following such a clause
Do not use “that” with such clauses, e.g., use Smith states, “…” rather than Smith states that “…”

Word Choice
YES homemaker NO housewife
Yes inexpensive/less expensive NO cheap/cheaper
YES state, exclaim, assert, share, declare, and maintain NO say

Capitalization
Only capitalize president and other titles when they precede a name, e.g., President Lincoln
(when referring to the western part of the world or the United States) YES the West and Western NO the west and western
YES Internet NO internet

Hyphenation
(before a noun) YES middle-class (acting as a noun) YES middle class
YES user-friendly (always, not just before a noun)
YES hardworking NO hard-working
(before a noun) YES problem-solving (acting as a noun) YES problem solving

One word or two?
YES data set NO dataset
YES Web site NO website or Website

Commas
Separate e.g. and i.e. from any sentence they are in using commas on both sides, for example, singers, e.g., Mariah Carey and Madonna or put them in parentheses and use a comma on the right, for example, singers (e.g., Mariah Carey and Madonna)

British English
Verbs and nouns spelled with a z in American English are replaced with an s in British English, e.g., analyze (analyse), recognize (recognise), and organization (organisation). I usually use the Word find function to search for zs when working with British English because the spellchecker misses quite a few.
Use towards in British English and toward in American English

Diana Pitt
Editor

Proofreading Your Document

June 22nd, 2008

Before you submit your academic or other paper for review, you should take a few minutes to carefully proofread and, if necessary, edit your work so that it reflects your best effort. You should always spell check your written work and read it thoroughly….at least twice. While you are reading, you should be looking for and correcting errors in terms of punctuation, spelling, English usage, vocabulary, logic, etc.

Of course, there are thousands of words in the English language and just as many ways in which you may make errors. However, for the purposes of this paper, let us concentrate on only a few problem areas.

What is the difference between your and you’re? Your is a pronoun; it is used to indicate possession. Here are two examples of the proper use of your:

This is your room.
The team approved of your idea for the fundraiser.
Yes, your turn will come.

You’re is a contraction of you and are. It is used as follows:

You’re my all-time favorite friend.
He thinks that you’re not going to graduate on time.
Mr. Johnson believes that you’re the right person for the job.

How about fewer and less? Both words are adjectives, but they are not used interchangeably. Fewer is used to describe objects or persons—in other words, things which can be counted. The following are examples of when to use fewer:

She has fewer hats than Mary.
How many fewer cookies did he eat than Elsa?
Mr. Jones has had fewer opportunities to speak to clients than I have.

Less is used in reference to things which cannot easily be counted. The following are examples of when to use less:

There is less money is circulation now than in the 1990s.
He is exercising less often than he did when he was younger.
This school appears to have less structure than the one that we visited earlier today.

Two other words which are often confused are number and amount. As with fewer, number is used to describe objects or people—things which can be easily counted. The following are examples of the proper use of number:

The number of people voting for Jones is higher than those who voted for Smith.
What is the correct number of vehicles crossing the bridge each weekend?
I read a large number of books every month.

Amount is used to describe those things which are not easily counted. The following are examples of the correct use of amount:

There is a larger amount of water in the Pacific Ocean than that which is in the Atlantic Ocean.
Which team seems to be displaying a greater amount of confidence?
The United States has a larger amount of money in circulation than that in any other nation.

Another common error involves the use of who, that, and which. Use who when referring to people; use that or which when referring to other things. Here are some examples:

He is the one who caused the problem.
I like plants which do not require much upkeep.
He made the one comment that was sure to cause an argument.

The following are words (with examples) which are easily and often confused:

There……He is traveling there.
There are many ways in which to skin a cat.
There he is.

Their…….That is their house.
We accepted their apology.
Did you speak to their mother?

They’reThey’re not my friends.
They’re always making us late.
Do you think they’re coming?

Whose….Whose hat is this?
Harriet Beecher Stowe is the writer whose novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is said to have contributed to the fiery debate that led to the Civil War.

Who’s….Ruth is the one who’s always complaining.
Who’s coming to the party with me?

People sometimes confuse where and were. Generally, that kind of error is simply a typo. However, in case you are not sure of the difference, where refers to a location, as in Where did you put my coat?

Were is the past plural of is, as in the following: They were in my house just a few minutes ago.

When it comes to writing effectively and correctly, there are thousands of other potential pitfalls that a good writer must avoid. If you are unsure of your writing skills, you might want to send your documents to a professional proofreading and editing service before you submit them.

Marco Manfre
Editor

Writing from an Objective Point of View

March 27th, 2008

Research papers, as opposed to essays, letters, editorials, and other opinion pieces, should be based completely on academic investigation performed by the writer. All such documents should be written from the perspective of an uninvolved third party. The writer should not insert his or her opinion or tailor the document so that it is guided by a point of view.

For example, a research paper on Abraham Lincoln’s presidency should contain verified information, and not the writer’s opinions. That does not mean that the writer is not allowed to draw conclusions or make statements which evaluate Lincoln’s presidential years. But those conclusions and statements must be objectively drawn from the research and they should be stated unemotionally. It would be appropriate to write “Lincoln missed several opportunities to come to terms with the secessionist states, and thus, prevent the Civil War” (followed by a source citation). It would even be correct to write “Many historians have indicated that Lincoln should have pursued opportunities to avoid the Civil War” or “There is evidence that Lincoln could have done more to avoid the Civil War.” However, it would be unacceptable to write “Lincoln should have prevented the Civil War” (whether or not the writer cites a source).

It is also inappropriate, in most instances, to insert first person pronouns in rigorously researched academic papers. Of course, if the writer feels compelled to state that he or she was involved in the experiment or survey or other method that was involved in the research, then it would be reasonable to write “I did….” or “We conducted.” Other than that, the text should be directed at the reader from a distance, as in the following: “The basic research involved distributing questionnaires to 250 first year medical students…..”
Similarly, the writer should not refer to readers as “you.” Rather than writing “This is important information that may benefit you,” it would be more correct to write “This is important information that may benefit all people (or all Americans or all women, etc.).”

Research papers should be devoid of emotion. That does not mean that the writer is forbidden to use strong language. However, while it is not permissible to write “Terrorists are disgusting people who should be wiped out,” it would be suitable to write “It is the responsibility of governments to apprehend, try, and punish terrorists who resort to merciless violence.”

All academic papers that are based on research, as opposed to those which are intended to be point of view pieces, must be written so that readers are presented with facts and with conclusions that have been drawn from those facts. The value of research papers depends on the depth and quality of the research and the conclusions that are drawn from it. The opinions of the writer should be held in abeyance.

Marco Manfre
Editor