A Student of History

February 3, 2007

Writing Tips

Filed under: The Academy — John Maass @ 12:39 pm

I got these from a website of Univ. of Louisville history professor Tom Mackey (also a member of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission), who posts these for the help of his students writing papers.  I list some of my favorites below:

  • Like dude, always avoid slang, eh?

  • Do not use no double negatives!
  • Avoid clichés, like the plague.
  • Eschew obfuscatory morphemes.  (Avoid jargon.)
  • Always avoid foreign terms when an adequate English quid pro quo exits.
  • It behooves the writer to avoid archaic expressions.
  • Mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and should be thrown out the window.
  • Parenthetical words however must be enclosed in commas.
  • Do not be redundant.  Do not repeat yourself or say what you said before.
  • Proofread to see if you any words out.
  • Who needs rhetorical sentences?
  • Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  • Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.


  1. Frankly, Scarlett, I’ve got even better ‘guidelines’:

    1. Don’t get your paper from an internet source and pass it – or a version of it – off as your own original work. The professor didn’t get where he is by being that stupid.

    2. Don’t put the comments and conclusions originating with other people in your paper without the necessary acknowledgements to the person being referenced and the source from which their comments or conclusions come.

    3. Don’t accept the ‘current wisdom’ on any issue – yes, even when you heard it from the ‘professor’ – without doing some digging on your own. Who knows? You might reach an entirely different conclusion.

    4. Don’t begin any biographical thesis with ‘So-and-so was born…’ The professor KNOWS he was or you wouldn’t be writing about him! Unless the circumstances of his birth were unique, reference to same should be made after the presentation of a prologue which engages the interest of the reader.

    5. DO be ‘passionate’ or at least as passionate as possible about your subject. Apathy is a poison that spreads. It affects the paper AND the reader. Even a ‘dull’ subject can be made interesting (or relatively so) by virtue of a little effort on the part of the author. If you’re going to take the time (and pay the money) to take the course, it behooves you to put as much effort into it as possible or else you have wasted time – yours and the professor’s – and money to no purpose.

    6. Intellectual activity is every bit as hard and rewarding – maybe even more so – than physical activity. If you don’t feel tired after engaging in either, then the chances are that neither was of any use for either your body OR your mind.

    7. Take responsiblity, not ‘shortcuts’. You gain little or nothing by using someone else’s efforts in your scholastic endeavors except to cheat yourself of the discipline and knowledge for which you took the course in the first place. When all is said and done, what you learn is up to you. Don’t fault the professor or the institution if you have failed to live up to your end of the bargain in the educational process. Learning ISN’T like poker – it’s not all a matter of luck and cunning but of effort and determination.

    Comment by Valerie Protopapas — February 3, 2007 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

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