Dr. M. Stanley Whitley, Dept. of Romance Languages
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem NC


1. The basics

For your papers in my courses, it is assumed that you already know (1) the basic procedures and mechanics of expository writing as explained in standard usage manuals (and English composition courses), and (2) the main features of your word processor (Microsoft Word here). Be sure to use the latter’s automatic pagination feature (in the header) throughout your paper. Proofread carefully for errors (use Word's spelling and grammar checkers but bear in mind that they are far from infallible); if you’re writing in another language, keep in mind any differences in punctuation and other conventions. The manuscript should be titled and double-spaced with standard one-inch margins and must conform to any page limits set in class. I also urge you to explore Word’s other features and to learn how to use them: Tables, Format, File (Page Setup), Insert Picture, Draw (nice for diagrams), etc.. External graphics, if needed, can be scanned, saved onto your disk, and then placed in your text (use Insert Picture) but should then be acknowledged like any other copyrighted material.

Except when given special permission in an emergency, do not submit electronically since I prefer not to grade and comment on screen and have to print out a hard copy at my own expense. Print out your paper and staple it in the upper left corner (never use paper clips in my classes).

2. Writing about language in particular

Aside from standard usage and features, writing about language has some special quirks sometimes not mentioned in manuals and orientation workshops. Study the following example:

Spanish cada ‘each, every’ is pronounced [káða]. It is a type of adjective, but a unique one since it is invariable in form: cada hombre ‘each man,’ cada mujer ‘each woman,’ cada dos días every two days.’ In addition, it behaves differently in the process of  SUSTANTIVACIÓN, defined as “la omisión del sustantivo principal de la frase, de modo que el modificador que queda actúa como pronombre o sustantivo” (Ramírez 1990:87). Thus, the Spanish noun is just deleted in most cases, but with cada, uno must be inserted:

muchos expertos ® muchos
los expertos de esta universidad ® los de esta universidad
cada experto 
® cada uno
The reason for these odd properties is that cada was originally not an adjective at all, but a preposition, Greek kata (Smith 1978:112).


Note in this passage the following general conventions:

(1) When you talk about a word or form inside your sentence, as in citing the words cada and cada mujer here, you always italicize or underline it (either way, just be consistent), at least when it’s written in the Roman alphabet. This underlining or italicization can be dropped, though, when you instead give the example on a separate indented line (as in the three longer illustrations given above). Likewise, use italics or underlines for book titles that you cite. (Never use quote marks for any of these purposes, because you're not quoting anyone.)

(2) A gloss (= a brief English tag to identify meaning) is always enclosed in single quotes, as in the reference to  cada ‘each, every’. Reserve the standard double quotes " " for their true purpose of quoting, as in the cited definition above.

(3) Small caps may be used to highlight the introduction of a special technical term the reader may not be familiar with, as with SUSTANTIVACIÓN in the above example. Double underlines or boldface can also used for this purpose, and for emphasis. (All these effects are available in Word but should be used sparingly.)

(4) A source, e.g. (Smith 1978:112) in the above passage, is cited in parentheses by last name, date, colon and page number, referring to that source listed more completely in your bibliography at the end of your paper. This is the style preferred by the Linguistic Society of America and in social sciences in general. Reserve footnotes for brief comments, tangents, or elaborations you’re not exploring in your main text. (Word also allows endnotes; they're much less convenient to the reader, so please don't use them in papers written for me, but they are required if you're writing an article for certain journals.)

(5)When you're talking about sounds, not spelling, always indicate pronunciation with a phonetic transcription, as in [káða]in the above example. A phonetic transcription consists of phonetic symbols (preferably IPA, International Phonetic Alphabet) enclosed in square brackets [ ] (for a narrow or detailed representation), or in slants / / (for a broad or phonemic one that ignores details). To talk about letters, on the other hand, use underlines or italics (or in some applications, angled brackets < > ). Never use quote marks for this purpose, since you’re not quoting. Thus, you might write:

     The Spanish d is pronounced [ð] after vowels and most consonants.

See Foreign & Phonetic Symbols for information on how to access special characters, including foreign letters and phonetic symbols. They always look better (and tend to be more accurately placed) when typed rather than hand-inserted.

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