English Composition


Mechanics in writing suffers from the reputationof representing the sum total of all stereotypical English teachers’pet peeves: a category for all those annoying apostrophes, semi-colons,and so forth–and essentially just different kinds of dots onthe page. Who cares? (Besides, English teachers get paid tocorrect this junk.)

Not so. We all have probably had a repressed,punctuation-crazed, junior high school English teacher for whomgood writing meant “correct” spelling and proper commaplacement. Sad really, but alas, not everyone was cut out forthis profession. The problem is that carelessly letting mechanicsslide during your editing process will allow for surface mistakesin your writing that most readers will stumble over. No one reallythinks that the fate of civilization rests on proper use of apostrophes,but most readers will become distracted away from yourideas when they momentarily become confused by supposedlysmall matters of punctuation.

Review basic mechanics in your writer’s handbook. Then correct the many confusing or simply goofy mistakes in thefollowing piece.

Mechanic’s Exercise

The article How to Tell Your in Love, summarizes Ray Shortssociological findings concerning love infatuation and how to distinguishbetween them. On the one hand Shorts points of distinction seemvaluable, on the other most prove self evident. The sociologistskey areas of investigation include the following. The importanceof underlying personal qualities instead of superficial factorssuch as looks, smile, or sense of humor. Jealousy and its effects,the severity of the partners quarrels, there selfishness, andthere consistency in level of interest. Short explains that “Theirs nothing wrong with short lived romance as opposedto the long-lasting type. Its only when people marry whileinfatuated ….. that problems arise.” (Brown, 17)However close examination of the value of such a study raisesseveral pertinent questions?

A rewritten correct version of the paragraph follows with footnotedcommentary.


The article “How to Tell If You’re in Love”2summarizes Ray Short’s3 sociological findings concerninglove, infatuation,4 and how to distinguish betweenthem. On the one hand, Short’s points of distinction seem valuable;on the other, most prove self-evident.5 The sociologist’skey areas of investigation include the following: the importanceof underlying personal qualities instead of superficial factorssuch as looks, smile, or sense of humor;6 jealousyand its effects; the severity of the partners’ quarrels;7their selfishness; and their consistency in level of interest.8 Short explains that

there’s nothing wrong with short-lived romance as opposed to thelong-lasting type. It’s only when people marry while infatuated. . . that problems arise. (Brown 17)9

However, close examination of the value of such a study raisesseveral pertinent questions.10

1No need for an apostophe here.
2The title was miscopied. No need forthe single comma before the verb.
3Placement of the apostrophe dependson the author’s name, but I would sincerely hope no one’s lastname is Shorts!
4Some handbooks forbid commas beforethe “and” at the last term in a list; others approve.
5The semi-colon corrects what was a “commasplice” (that is, two complete sentences joined togetherwith insufficient punctuation).
6We’re connecting the series of fragmentswhich actually form a list complex enough to merit the initialcolon. Since the first term of this list contains an internalsub-list, we need a hierarchy of punctuation, hence the use ofsemi-colons to separate the major items in the list and commasseparating the minor sub-terms.
7The apostrophe suggests several pairsof partners.
8Note the corrections from “there”to “their.”
9Sometimes you need not offer any punctuationwhen smoothly moving into quotation. Block quotations get extraindentation, which takes the place of quotation marks. Ellipsesconsist of three dots separated by spaces. Unlike linear quotation,punctuation of block quotation occurs before the parentheticalcitation in MLA-style documentation. Note that no punctuation–nocomma, no “pg,” nothing–appears between author andpage in the citation.
10A comma is necessary after this useof “However.” The appearance of the word “questions”does not necessitate the use of a question mark since this isn’ta question.

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