Graduate School of Library and Information Science - The University of Texas




Standards for Written Work

Review the standards for written work both before and after writing; they are used to evaluate your work.

You will be expected to meet professional standards of maturity, clarity, grammar, spelling, and organization in your written work for this class, and, to that end, I offer the following remarks.  Every writer is faced with the problem of not knowing what his or her audience knows about the topic at hand; therefore, effective communication depends upon maximizing clarity.  As Wolcott reminds us in Writing Up Qualitative Research (1990, p. 47):  "Address . . . the many who do not know, not the few who do."  It is also important to remember that clarity of ideas, clarity of language, and clarity of syntax are interrelated and mutually reinforcing.  Good writing makes for good thinking and vice versa.

All written work for the class must be done on a word-processor and double-spaced, with 1" margins all the way around and in either 10 or 12 pt. font.

Certain assignments will demand the use of notes (either footnotes or endnotes) and references.  It is particularly important in professional schools such as SILS that notes and references are impeccably done.  Please use APA (American Psychological Association) standards.  There are other standard bibliographic and note formats, for example, in engineering and law, but social scientists and policy analysts ordinarily use APA.  Familiarity with standard formats is essential for understanding others' work and for preparing submissions to journals, professional conferences, and the like. You may also consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001, 5th ed.) and (a useful if non-canonical source).

Never use a general dictionary or encyclopedia for defining terms in graduate school or in professional writing.  If you want to use a reference source to define a term, a better choice would be a specialized dictionary or subject-specific encyclopedia.  The best alternative, however, is having an understanding of the literature related to the term sufficient to provide a definition in the context of that literature.

Use the spell checker in your word processing package to review your documents, but be aware that spell checking dictionaries:  do not include most proper nouns, including names; omit most technical terms; include very few foreign words and phrases; and cannot identify the error in using homophones, e.g., writing "there" instead of "their," or in writing "the" instead of "them."

It is imperative that you proofread your work thoroughly and be precise in editing it.  It is often helpful to have someone else read your writing, to eliminate errors and to increase clarity.  Finally, each assignment should be handed in with a title page containing your full name, the date, the title of the assignment, and the class number (LIS 390.1).  If you have any questions about these standards, I will be pleased to discuss them with you at any time.

Remember, every assignment must include a title page with

  • The title of the assignment
  • Your name
  • The date
  • The class number.

Since the production of professional-level written work is one of the aims of the class, I will read and edit your work as the editor of a professional journal or the moderator of a technical session at a professional conference would.  The reminders below will help you prepare professional-level written work appropriate to any situation.  Note the asterisked errors in #'s 3, 4, 8, 10, 11, 14, 15, 18, 20, and 25 (some have more than one error):

  1. Staple all papers for this class in the upper left-hand corner.  Do not use covers, binders, or other means of keeping the pages together.
  2. Number all pages after the title page.  Ordinarily, notes and references do NOT count against page limits.
  3. Use formal, academic prose.  Avoid colloquial language, *you know?*  It is essential in graduate work and in professional communication to avoid failures in diction -- be serious and academic when called for, be informal and relaxed when called for, and be everything in between as necessary.  For this course, avoid words and phrases such as "agenda," "problem with," "deal with," "handle," "window of," "goes into," "broken down into," "viable," and "option."
  4. Avoid clichés.  They are vague, *fail to "push the envelope," and do not provide "relevant input."*
  5. Avoid computer technospeak like "input," "feedback," or "processing information" except when using such terms in specific technical ways; similarly avoid using “content” as a noun.
  6. Do not use the term "relevant" except in its information retrieval sense.  Ordinarily, it is a colloquial cliché, but it also has a strict technical meaning in Information Studies.
  7. Do not use "quality" as an adjective; it is vague, cliché, and colloquial.  Instead use "high-quality," "excellent," "superior," or whatever more formal phrase you deem appropriate.
  8. Study the APA style convention for the proper use of ellipsis*. . . .*
  9. Avoid using the terms "objective" and "subjective" in their evidentiary senses; these terms entail major philosophical, epistemological controversy.  Avoid terms such as "facts," "factual," "proven," and related constructions for similar reasons.
  10. Avoid contractions.  *Don't* use them in formal writing.
  11. Be circumspect in using the term "this," especially in the beginning of a sentence.  *THIS* is often a problem because the referent is unclear.  Pay strict attention to providing clear referents for all pronouns.  Especially ensure that pronouns and their referents agree in number; i.e., "each person went to their home" is a poor construction because "each" is a singular form, as is the noun "person," while "their" is a plural form.  Therefore, either the referent or the pronoun must change in number.
  12. “If" ordinarily takes the subjunctive mood, e.g., "If he were [not "was"] only taller."
  13. Put "only" in its appropriate place, near the word it modifies.  For example,  it is appropriate in spoken English to say that "he only goes to Antone's" when you mean that "the only place he frequents is Antone's."  In written English, however, the sentence should read "he goes only to Antone's."
  14. Do not confuse possessive, plural, or contracted forms, especially of pronouns.  *Its* bad.
  15. Do not confuse affect/effect, compliment/complement, or principle/principal.  Readers will not *complement* your work or *it's* *principle* *affect* on them.
  16. Avoid misplaced modifiers; e.g., it is inappropriate to write the following sentence:  As someone interested in the history of Mesoamerica, it was important for me to attend the lecture.  The sentence is inappropriate because the phrase "As someone interested in the history of Mesoamerica" is meant to modify the next immediate word, which should then, obviously, be both a person and the subject of the sentence.  It should modify the word "I" by preceding it immediately.  One good alternative for the sentence is:  As someone interested in the history of Mesoamerica, I was especially eager to attend the lecture.
  17. Avoid use of "valid," "parameter," "bias," "reliability," and "paradigm," except in limited technical ways.  These are important research terms and should be used with care and precision.
  18. Remember that the words "data," "media," "criteria," "strata," and "phenomena" are all PLURAL forms.  They *TAKES* plural verbs.  If you use any of these plural forms in a singular construction, e.g., "the data is," you will make the instructor very unhappy :-(.
  19. "Number," "many," and "fewer" are used with plural nouns (a number of horses, many horses, and fewer horses).  “Amount," "much," and "less" are used with singular nouns (an amount of hydrogen, much hydrogen, and less hydrogen).  Another useful way to make this distinction is to recall that "many" is used for countable nouns, while "much" is used for uncountable nouns.
  20. *The passive voice should generally not be used.*
  21. "Between" is used with two alternatives, while "among" is used with three or more.
  22. Generally avoid the use of honorifics such as Mister, Doctor, Ms., and so on when referring to persons in your writing, especially when citing their written work.  Use last names and dates as appropriate.
  23. There is no generally accepted standard for citing electronic resources.  If you  cite them, give an indication, as specifically as possible, of:                                                                                            

  • responsibility 

  • title  

  • date of creation 

  • date viewed         

  • place to find the source  
 (where?  how?).

See the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001, 5th ed., pp. 213-214, 231, and 268-281) for a discussion of citing electronic material and useful examples.  Also see Web Extension to American Psychological Association Style (WEAPAS) at

  1. "Cite" is a verb, "citation" is a noun; similarly, "quote" is a verb, "quotation" is a noun.
  3. Use double quotation marks (“abc.”), not single quotation marks (‘xyz.’), as a matter of course.  Single quotation marks are to be used only to indicate quotations within quotations.
  4. Provide a specific page number for all direct quotations.  If the quotation is from a Web page or other digital source, provide at least the paragraph number and/or other directional cues, e.g., “(Davis, 1993, section II, ¶ 4).”.
  5. As because.
  6. Use "about" instead of the tortured locution "as to."
  7. In much of social science and humanistic study, the term "issue" is used in a technical way to identify sources of public controversy or dissensus.  Please use the term to refer to topics about which there is substantial public disagreement, NOT synonymously with general terms such as "area," "topic," or the like.
  8. “Impact” is a noun.
  9. Please do not start a sentence or any independent clause with “however.”
  10. Do not use the term “subjects” to describe research participants.  “Respondents,” “participants,” and “informants” are preferred terms.
  11. Do not use notes unless absolutely necessary, but, if you must use them, use endnotes not footnotes.


Symbol Meaning
number OR insert a space (context will help you decipher its meaning)
AWK  awkward (and usually compromises clarity as well)
block make into a block quotation without external quotation marks; do so with quotations ≥ 4 lines
caps  capitalize
COLLOQ colloquial and to be avoided
dB database
FRAG   sentence fragment (often that means that the verb is missing)
j journal
lc make into lower case
lib'ship librarianship
org, org’l  organization, organizational
Q question
REF?  what is the referent of this pronoun?  to what or whom does it refer?
sp spelling
w/ with
w.c.?  word choice?