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Deadly Manuscript Sins

for 300- and 400-level Literature Courses

By the time a student has reached the 300 level of courses in literature, I expect from him or her a certain minimum level of correctness of manuscript form. If you write a paper for me in a 300- or 400-level course, think of your presentation this way.

Imagine that you are being served a gourmet meal that you are expected to evaluate for its gastronomic qualities. How many times would you allow your server to sneeze on the plate before you sent it back to the kitchen? How many more times would you allow your server to sneeze on it before you decided not to eat at the restaurant again?

Certain mechanical and grammatical errors are as disturbing to me as servers' sneezes are to restaurant patrons. They distract me enough that I cannot make clear judgements about a writer's ideas. I have provided a list of them below.

  • dropped quotations
  • quotation form errors
  • documentation form errors
  • spelling errors
  • comma splices and fused sentences
  • sentence fragments
  • agreement errors
  • mistaking a hyphen for a dash and vice versa
  • no title for the essay
  • no staple or paper clip to fasten the pages of the essay
Three of any of these errors in a single essay are grounds for failure. If any of them seem unfamiliar to you, please see your handbook for clarification. You should proofread each of your essays carefully for these and any other errors before submitting it for a grade. I'll let you sneeze twice, but the third one will send your plate back to the kitchen.

Don't let errors of presentation ruin beautiful ideas, thoughtful insights, precise analyses, or delightful commentary.

John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College,