Final Check: Self-editing tips for your final draft

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MLA Formatting

**MLA has recently made some changes to how things are formatted and cited. Make sure you know if you are to follow the old or new edition. The following are suggestions from the old edition, as most instructors will not change over mid-term.

Include 1” margins on all sides.

Double-space all lines (no extra spaces between header and title and title and text).

Center title. Do not bold, italicize, or enlarge font.

Single space after periods or other end punctuation.

Tab all indents; spacing 5 times is not the same!

Insert a paginated right header. This means to insert your last name only, followed by a space, then the page number. Your instructor may ask that you remove this from the first page, as you’ll have your left header here.

Works Cited should be numbered consecutively after the last page of essay.

Insert 4-line left header on first page only.

Block quotes should be indented one inch with no quotation marks.

All other direct quotes should have quotation marks and in-text citation, followed by period (note: period comes after the citation).

Sources

All outside research or sources should be followed with an in-text citation, whether they are a direct quote, paraphrase, or summary.

Direct quotes should have attributive or author tags.

If a source doesn’t have an author, give the title or website.

The in-text citation should match the FIRST WORD the source is listed under on the Works Cited page.

Avoid giving dictionary definitions of a word as an “outside source.” That’s not research.

Always use italics when referring to a book or website; use quotation marks for small works (article or short story) in a larger work (book or newspaper).

Works Cited

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The title, Works Cited, should be centered at the top of the final page. Do not bold, italicize or enlarge font.

Works Cited should also be double spaced. NO EXTRA SPACES BETWEEN ENTRIES.

Works Cited should be alphabetized by author’s last name. If no author, alphabetize by the title or website. See Purdue Owl for other listings.

Each entry should have a hanging indent (the opposite of a regular line indent).

Include URL only if instructor requires it, or if the source cannot be found without it.

When using electronic sources, always include the date you accessed the source.

Other Tips

In Microsoft WORD, the default for paragraphs is set to insert an extra line space when you hit ENTER to move to a new paragraph. You must reset this to avoid triple-spacing the header, paragraphs, and Works Cited entries. To do this, go to the PARAGRAPH tab on the toolbar, clicking on the icon that has up and down arrows with five lines, just to the right of the 4 justification icons. Click the arrow on the right to open the tab, and scroll down to the bottom line that says “Add Space After Paragraph”; click this so that it says “Remove Space After Paragraph.” If you have already completed your essay and have triple spaces, highlight the entire text, follow these steps, and it should remove the extra lines.

The default font in Word is usually Calibri 11. MLA is Times New Roman 12, unless otherwise instructed. Make sure you have changed the font to follow MLA. 

This list is a very abbreviated editing checklist, and your instructor might have different directives, which we refer to as “instructor preference.” Always follow your instructor guidelines and ask for specifics if you are unsure of anything. 

This is only an abbreviated list of editing steps to take to make your essay a perfect as it can be. Hopefully, you’ve read your essay over carefully and had a peer read it as well. Don’t trust Spellcheck! Once you’ve done all you can do, turn it in and let it go. If you’ve followed your instructor’s guidelines and instruction and edited carefully, you should feel confident you’ve done your best work.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Tips to Integrate Sources & Use Attributive Tags Effectively

 

Regardless whether you summarize, paraphrase, or directly quote, outside sources must be integrated smoothly into your essay. Research that is stuck in carelessly without careful integration runs the risk of sounding like it doesn’t belong, creating paragraphs that lack cohesiveness and focus. Instructors often refer to this as the “cut and paste” research paper that will often garner a failing grade. Follow the tips below to learn how to integrate source material effectively.

Tip # 1: Write the draft first

Before you begin to integrate your sources, you need something to integrate them into. Writers who try to compose a paper at the same time they are integrating sources find they lose their “voice,” and begin to sound like the voice of the research they are quoting. To avoid this, write a first draft of your paper, with only your words and your voice doing the talking. By taking this first step in getting your ideas on paper, you’ll avoid letting the research take over. Some instructors require a rough draft before even integrating source material to confirm you are not borrowing others’ ideas.

Tip # 2: Use Attributive Tags

 Attributive, or author tags, refers to a few words of introduction of your source. An attributive tag includes the author’s name, and varying information depending on the context, including the author’s professional title (is he or she a “Dr.”  Scientist,” “Researcher,” or “Professor”?), the article’s title, and any other relevant information, which could include the author’s position on the subject (“John Smith, ecologist and staunch opponent of keeping animals in captivity. . .”).

An author tag identifies the information presented as coming from an outside source and not you. You must make clear throughout your paper what information is coming from outside sources. Failing to use attributions is considered a type of unintentional plagiarism.

Tip # 3: Vary the way author tags are used

 Author tags can be incorporated in 3 ways:

  1. The author tag can be introduced first before the quoted material.
  2. The author tag can be placed in the middle of the quoted material.
  3. The author tag can be placed at the end of the quoted material.

EX. 1
Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching, says that “there is no such thing as the classroom, as classrooms vary in so many ways” (149).

EX. 2
“There is no such thing as the classroom,” says Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching, “as classrooms vary in so many ways” (149).

EX. 3
“There is no such thing as the classroom, as classrooms vary in so many ways,” says Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching (149).

Note that in the first example, there is no comma after that, as it reads as a continuous thought. If the attribution ended with the word says, it would have a comma immediately after “says” and the first word of the quoted sentence would be capitalized.

Vivian Cook, author of Second Language Learning and Language Teaching, says, “There is no such thing as the classroom, as classrooms vary in so many ways” (149)

Tip # 4: Use a colon when the author tag is a full sentence

The rule for using a colon following an attributive tag is if the tag is a complete sentence or independent clause, it must be followed by a colon. (Note that the author tags in the previous examples are all technically sentence fragments.)

Incorrect

Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams. “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (57).

The quote above is an example of a dangling quote, or a quote that stands alone as a sentence. You can often (though not always) correct this mistake by taking the previous sentence and place a colon at the end instead of a period:

Correct:

Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams: “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (57)

Tip #5: Use attributive tags with paraphrases and summary

When incorporating paraphrase and summary, it is impossible to tell if the information is the thoughts of the writer or from an outside source without attributive tags. In the examples below, the writer includes the name of the source, even though it is a paraphrase and not a direct quote. By doing this, the reader knows the information is coming from research and not the writer:

In Talking from 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen explains that for women in the workplace, the situation is changing, whether we talk about it or not (130).

Nickerson argues that clear communication hinges upon what an audience does and does not know. It is crucial to assume the audience has neither too much nor too little knowledge of the subject, or the communication may be inhibited by either confusion or offense (737).

As you work on integrating your source material –

  • Avoid using two quotations in a row without intervening (explanatory) material of your own.
  • Avoid referring to your sources as quotes. Instead of, “In this quote,” write “Here we see. . .” or “As Smith points out. . .”.  (http://library.rpcc.edu)
  • Introduce the quote; quote; explain the quote. Always place outside research in context to the point you are attempting to make, and do it in your own words.

Taking care to integrate your outside source material will result in a top-notch research essay that will flow naturally and earn you respect as a thorough and fair researcher.

 

Secrets to Effective Dialogue

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Last week here at Writing Center Underground, we discussed how to format written dialogue for your narrative essay. This week, we’ll look at the qualities of effective dialogue.

When composing a narrative essay, dialogue is an essential component for creating an engaging story. Without the spoken words, the reader can’t “hear” the characters (the real people who you are introducing to your audience) and get to know them. Simply summarizing what a character said isn’t as engaging or interesting as direct dialogue between characters.

When composing a narrative, you’ll most likely be re-creating conversations from the past. Don’t get too caught up in whether or not you recall exactly what was said. That is less important as how you portray the people in your narrative with their language, mannerisms, and other characteristics of their speech. When trying to decide exactly where and how to incorporate written dialogue, there are 3 essential questions to ask yourself before you begin:

  • Is it AUTHENTIC?

  • Is it ESSENTIAL?

  • Is it DOING MORE THAN ONE THING?

 Is it Authentic?

Authentic dialogue realistically portrays the person speaking. If it’s authentic, the spoken words will sound exactly like the person would sound in real life. This doesn’t mean you have to incorporate slang in every sentence, but it does mean that the diction, word choice, phrasing, and other stylistic choices can easily be attributed to the person who is speaking in the narrative. It shouldn’t be too formal or precise. Below is an exchange of dialogue between a son and his mother:

“Jason,” my mother asked, “what were your activities and pursuits at your elementary school today?”

“I had a full day of activities, Mother.  My teacher was quite stimulating, and recess was especially delightful,” I said.

Doesn’t quite sound right, does it? Most likely, an exchange between a mother and young son might sound something like this:

“How was school today?” mom asked.

“It was okay I guess.”

The first example obviously sounds stilted and formal, unlike how most families speak. The second example is more realistic. Some writers might choose to even use slang in their speech, such as “I dunno,” or “Kinda good,” but be very careful of overusing phonetic substitutes, as it becomes a bit tedious to read and runs the risk of characters sounding illiterate.

Is it ESSENTIAL?

“Hi Jim. How are you?” I asked.

“I’m fine. How are you?” Jim said.

“I’m fine,” I said.

BORING! An exchange like the example above is not essential to the narrative. It’s not really doing anything toward moving the narrative forward or showing any kind of characterization of the speakers. Compare this with the following exchange:

“Hi Jim,” I said.

“What wrong?” Jim asked, concerned.

“It’s my dad,” I said, breaking down.

In this exchange, the everyday-ness of the previous example is avoided. There may have very well been niceties exchanged, but in written dialogue, the writer must compress time and get to what’s essential. Here we get tension, we get emotion, and the narrative is propelled forward. Which leads us to essential element #3.

Is It Doing More Than One Thing?

Dialogue, whether in fiction or nonfiction, isn’t meant to simply allow characters to “speak.” If this is all it’s doing, then it isn’t doing enough.

Dialogue should draw a characterization. This means that the dialogue works to show traits of the person speaking, or the relationship between the speakers.  What they say, how they say it, and the tone they use provides the reader with lots of information they wouldn’t get otherwise.

The following excerpt is from Beloved by Toni Morrison, an expert at characterization through dialogue. Notice in this example that Morrison mostly avoids using phonetic spellings, but simply drops words to characterize the speakers:

“Something funny ‘bout that gal,” Paul D said, mostly to himself.

“Funny how?”

“Acts sick, sounds sick, but she don’t look sick. Good skin, bright eyes and strong as a bull.”

“She’s not strong. She can hardly walk without holding on to something.”

“That’s what I mean. Can’t walk, but I seen her pick up the rocker with one hand.”

“You didn’t.”

“Don’t tell me. Ask Denver. She was right there with her.”

In this exchange, Morrison avoids speaker tags, except in the first line to set up the exchange. This “he said, she said” can take away from an otherwise engaging exchange, and here, it isn’t necessary. Also notice that the two people speaking have distinctly different styles, so it’s easy to differentiate each speaker from the other.

Consider everything the following bit of dialogue is doing:

“What’s the capital of Spain?” Jerry asked, pausing over his crossword puzzle.

Susan looked up from her book and rolled her eyes. “Madrid, duh.”

“Why are you so sarcastic all the time?” Jerry slammed his pencil on table. He

looked like he was going to cry. “I don’t think I can take much more of this.”

Poor Jerry! You can cut the tension with a knife! What’s going to happen? Several things are happening with this dialogue-

  1. Characterizes speakers
  2. Shows relationship between characters
  3. Creates tension
  4. Moves narrative forward

When you’re writing dialogue for your narrative, consider why you are incorporating each exchange and know what your purpose is for including it. If it isn’t essential, leave it out.

There really are no secrets to writing effective dialogue, but knowing who your characters are and why you are incorporating every exchange will help you in determining what to leave in and what to take out. Avoid phony or forced speech, and use speaker tags thoughtfully. When you’re finished, read your essay aloud to “hear” what you’ve written. Try reading some essays or short stories to see how other writers do it. Follow these steps, and you’ll be writing dialogue like a pro!

Below is a brief reading list of some of the greatest writers of dialogue you might study.

“Hills Like White Elephants” – Ernest Hemingway.

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” – Raymond Carver.

Anything by Elmore Leonard or John Steinbeck.

 

 

 

 

Dialogue 101: How to Format Narrative Dialogue

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When composing a narrative essay, you have to tell a story. In telling a story, it’s always more effective and engaging to tell the story in recreated scenes. In scenes, you’ll have people, and those people have to talk. Writing a scene where people talk to each other sounds simple, however, writing dialogue can be complicated. Do you include author tags, like he said/she said? If not, how can you tell who is speaking? If more than one person is speaking, how do you format the interchange between two people? How do you format the interchange between three or four people? What if you’re just talking to yourself? (I talk to myself all the time, but I wouldn’t want to put it in quotes!) Is talking to yourself considered dialogue? Are you confused yet?

Formatting with Speaker Tags

When beginning with the speaker tag:

John said, “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Note that in this example, a comma is placed after the speaker tag. The first word in the dialogue is treated like the beginning of a sentence, so the first word is capitalized. The quote is ended with a period which is placed inside the quotation marks.

When the quotation ends with speaker tag:

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” John said.

Here, use a capital letter to indicate the beginning of a sentence of the quotation. A comma is placed at the end of the quoted dialogue, inside the quotation mark, before the speaker tag. A period completes the sentence, but after the speaker tag.

When the dialogue tag is placed in the middle:

“I’ll call you,” John said, “tomorrow.”

In this example, a capital letter begins the quoted sentence. A comma is used inside the quotation mark preceding the speaker tag, and again after the tag, before the quotation mark that completes the quote. A lower case letter indicates the second part of the quotation is a continuation of the first part of the quotation.

When the speaker tag separates two complete quoted sentences:

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” John said. “Have a nice day.”

A capital letter indicates the beginning of the sentence, and a comma ends the quoted sentence before the speaker tag, followed by a period after the tag. The quoted sentence after the tag is again capitalized just as any sentence would be.

Note that the second part of the quote remains on the same line. This indicates that the same person is speaking. If a different person was speaking, the second piece of quoted material, “Have a nice day,” would go to a new line/paragraph.

Formatting Two (or more) Speakers

When two or more people are speaking, each line of dialogue must go to a new line or paragraph. It’s a new “paragraph” because each time a new person speaks, the line must be indented.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” John said. “Have a nice day.”

“But I thought you might stay,” Diane said.

“I can’t. I have to go.”

“I wish you wouldn’t.”

“Mom! I need a drink of water!” Diane’s daughter yelled from her bedroom.

Even though the lines are short, they each must begin on a new line. Note that two exchanges have no speaker tags. In this example, it is clear who is speaking, as each person’s name has been given previously, and the order of exchange established. Only drop the tags when it is clearly evident who the speaker is.

In the final quoted dialogue, notice that the quote ends with an exclamation point. The exclamation point (to indicate yelling) is placed inside the quotation mark, and no other punctuation is used until the end of the tag.

In this example, if the tag did not happen to include a proper name, you would not capitalize the first word, as in the following example:

“Mom! I need a drink of water!” her daughter yelled from her bedroom.

Even though the quote ended with an exclamation mark, the tag is not capitalized, as it is not a complete sentence. If it were a complete sentence, it would be capitalized, as in the example below:

“Mom! I need a drink of water!” The young daughter, tucked in her bed, never went to bed without at least one request for water.  

Also note in this example that the tag remains on the same line as the dialogue, as the “action” described in the speaker tag is related to the speaker who has been quoted on the same line.  If any action needs to be described of John or Diane, that action would be placed on a new line.

Final thoughts

Even though we’ve all spent a lifetime reading, until we actually have to write dialogue, we don’t often realize the intricacies involved. How do you decide where to place a dialogue tag? That’s often a stylistic choice, and not necessarily any hard and fast rule. I often incorporate the tag where it seems least intrusive. A speaker tag, when necessary, should be as “invisible” as possible so as not to detract from a smooth reading.

Next week, we’ll delve further into writing dialogue, and discuss the secrets to effective dialogue.

The Evaluative Essay: What do you think?

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If you were considering going to a movie, you might first consider if it’s to your taste. You might read some reviews or ask some friends if they thought the film was action-packed or slow moving, or if it was realistic or too futuristic for you. If your friend told you that the movie you were considering seeing was bad, you would want to know why. Maybe his or her idea of “bad” is that the movie was character-driven, as opposed to action-packed, but maybe you prefer character-driven movies.

As you can see, “bad” is totally subjective. You need specifics. How is your friend judging the movie? Does he or she have solid reasons and evidence to back up his or her opinion?

Everyone has an opinion, but in evaluative writing, it’s not enough to just present an opinion. The writer has to understand who his or her audience is and know what criteria are important for that specific audience.

Parts of an Evaluation

The judgment acts as a thesis for an evaluative essay. This judgment provides specific reasons based on carefully chosen criteria. The criteria are a set of standards based on your topic and audience.

Using our movie example above, a judgment might look like this:

Although the film, The Hobbit, is targeted for children, all audiences can appreciate and enjoy the movie because of its special effects, unique characters, and engaging storyline.

This thesis is a judgment (all audiences can appreciate and enjoy the movie) of the movie based on 3 criteria: because it has inventive special effects, unique characters, and engaging storyline.

When deciding on the criteria you’ll use to support your judgment, you’ll want to choose criteria which speaks directly to your audience. The criteria in our example, inventive special effects, unique characters, and engaging storyline, was chosen with an audience in mind who are adult movie-goers. Children probably wouldn’t care about all these criteria, nor would people who aren’t interested in movies. If you were to argue that The Hobbit is a bad movie because you don’t like fantasy-adventure tales, that’s more opinion, and the criteria help keep the judgment unbiased and balanced.

As you build support for your judgment, you will show evidence, possibly in the form of examples for each reason. Evidence is important, as it establishes credibility with your audience, so presenting a well-thought out judgment and criteria with strong evidence shows you are offering a fair and balanced judgment.

In most cases, each body paragraph will present one separate criteria, offering effective evidence in the form of examples from research, or even visual examples. In our movie example, you might use a film shot to illustrate a point. Depending on the requirements of your assignment, you’ll probably need to include research and cite those sources, but if you were writing an evaluation for a blog or magazine, citations won’t generally be necessary, though you should always name sources in a signal phrase.

Final Thoughts

We evaluate every day, whether we think consciously about it or not. We’re always making judgments, and considering how we make those judgments forces us to reason out our opinions. It’s not unusual to discover that perhaps our opinions are built on a flimsy foundation. Evaluative writing forces us to analyze not only what we pass judgment on, but how we pass judgment.

 

(Some examples from The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing)

 

Building Paragraphs with Research

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Recently here at Writing Center Underground, we’ve been discussing the research paper process. We began with explaining how to formulate a research question, how to write a thesis, and last week we discussed how to begin building paragraphs. For a research paper assignment, a large part of developing paragraphs requires knowledge of how to smoothly integrate your sources’ quotations, as well as paraphrases and summaries.

Research that is taken from an outside source and just stuck into random paragraphs without careful integration runs the risk of sounding like it doesn’t belong, creating paragraphs that are choppy and difficult to read. Writers who aren’t used to utilizing outside sources often have a difficult time making outside research sound like it belongs in their research paper, but with careful preparation, your sources will flow smoothly into your text. Remember that quoting should be done only sparingly; be sure that you have a good reason to include a direct quotation when you decide to do so.

Draft

Before you begin to integrate source material, you need something to integrate into. Writers who try to compose a paper at the same time they are integrating sources find they lose their “voice,” and begin to sound like the voice of the research they are quoting. To avoid this, write a draft of your paper with only your words and your voice doing the talking. By taking this first step in getting your ideas on paper, you’ll avoid letting the research take over your paper. Instructors often require a rough draft before even integrating source material.

Quote, Paraphrase or Summary?

Just to review, the difference between quotes, paraphrases, and summarizes are

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.

Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material. (Purdue Owl Online)

 

While you might prefer paraphrasing over directly quoting to avoid the headache of signal phrases or quotation marks, a mix of both is often preferred, and very short quotations work well when integrated into sentences.  However, overusing direct quotes, or using very long quotes, actually shows that you have not done your homework and only copied quotes to make it seem you understand the material.  An effective paraphrase or summary is often more effective than a direct quote and shows you understand the material.

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When to Use Quotes

Remember that quotes cannot take the place of your voice, but are meant to support your argument. Use quotes sparingly, and avoid long quotations when possible. According to The Bedford Handbook, use quotes

  • When language is especially vivid or expressive
  • When exact wording is needed for technical accuracy
  • When the words of an important authority lend weight to an argument

Integrating Quotes into Paragraphs

The first rule to remember is that quotes should never stand alone as a sentence. For example, the following quote has no other words in the sentence outside of the direct quote:

“A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea” (57).

This is often referred to as a “dangling quote” and when inside of a paragraph, will seem disconnected not only from your thoughts but the rest of the sentences. To integrate the quote into the paragraph, introduce the quote with a signal phrase, an introduction of the author with a few words. In the example below, the signal phrase is in italics:

According to Doug Smith, consultant with WordMix Writing Labs, “A paragraph is a self-contained unit of a discourse in writing dealing with a particular point or idea” (57).

In the following example, note that there is no comma after “that” as it reads as a continuous thought. If the attribution ended with the word “says,” it would have a comma immediately after “says”:

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says that “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, says, “It is a good idea to wait awhile before you reread your writing” (162).

Smoothing Transitions

It’s important for readers to move from your words to the source’s words fluidly. Utilizing signal phases with at the least the author’s name, creates a smooth transition:

There are numerous types of student loans available, but not all are in the best interest of borrowers. Student advocate Diane Bennett says, “Students need to understand the intricacies of all available loan programs” (89). Bennett believes students are often taken advantage of by scrupulous private lenders.

In this example, the direct quote is surrounded by sentences leading up to, and leading away from, the quoted material. The information in the quote is contextualized for the reader.

In the following example of an integrating a source, the signal phrase is a full, explanatory sentence:

Goldberg believes writers must show feelings and avoid telling at all costs: “The writer takes the reader’s hand and guides him through the valley of sorrow and joy without ever having to mention those words” (68).

The rule for using a colon following an attribution is if the attributive tag is a complete sentence, an independent clause, it must be followed by a colon. Dangling quotes, or quotes that stand alone as a sentence, are considered incorrect, as the quote has no attribution. You can often (though not always) correct this mistake by taking the previous sentence and place a colon at the end instead of a period:

Incorrect:  Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams. “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Correct: Cameron believes artists should stop making excuses for not following their dreams: “Stop waiting until you make enough money to do what you really love” (168).

Paraphrases and Summary

When integrating a paraphrase or summary, be careful to change all language and phrasing, putting it in your own words. Even half-copying can be considered plagiarism. Also, make certain you have created a “boundary” between your words and the research, especially when it’s paraphrased.

Just like direct quotes, paraphrases and summaries require signal phrases as well. Otherwise, readers will not understand the words are from research and not the writer’s own words.

As Matt Fox has noted, not all professors utilize rubrics in their classrooms.

John Snow claims that not all distracted driving can be blamed on cell phones.

 

Final Thoughts

By following a few simple steps as you work to integrate outside source material, your research will flow naturally, creating a finished paper that will read fluidly.

Speak Up! Six Tips for Perfect Dialogue in Your Narrative

dialogue-bullesYour instructor has assigned a Narrative essay, and one requirement is to include a scene or an exchange of conversation between characters. You know exactly what you want your characters to say, but when you sit down to type it out, you are bewildered about all of the decisions you have to make. Do I indent every line? Where do the commas go? Does punctuation go inside or outside quotation marks? Where do quotation marks go? Do I need a tag? What’s a tag?

 

Although creating realistic dialogue can be daunting, below are some basics to remember when formatting and creating the spoken word.

1.    A comma is needed to set off a dialogue tag (the tag is the he said/she said that attributes the spoken words to a person:

“In the book of life, the answers aren’t in the back,” said Charlie Brown.

Notice the comma is placed inside the quotations marks. When using a tag, you will always need a comma.

2.     A period is needed to set off a physical action when it does not describe a way of speaking:

Sondra laughed. “There’s a spider on your head!”

This one is tricky. Laughed shows action, but doesn’t necessarily describe how the sentence is spoken.

3.     Exclamation and question marks do not need additional punctuation.

Correct: “There is a spider on your head!” cried Sondra.

In this example, the exclamation mark acts as the end punctuation before the tag.

Incorrect: “There is a spider on your head!,” cried Sondra.

Here, the comma is not needed, even though a tag follows. Note also that cried is not capitalized, as it is the continuation of the sentence or quote.

4.     When inserting a tag in the middle of a sentence, you’ll need to set it off with commas on both sides.

Correct:
“He is not,” she said, “your brother.”

Note the first comma inside the quotation marks, and immediately after said. Also note that your is not capitalized, as it is a continuation of the sentence or quote.

Incorrect:
“No, I am,” he said, “Your brother.”
“No, I am,” He said, “your brother.”

5.     Each time a new character speaks, it should be placed in a new paragraph or on a new line. Each line should be indented, just as a new paragraph is indented:

“What’s up, buddy?” he says, thick-tongued and edgy.
“Sky’s up,” I answer, playing along.
“And don’t forget prices,” he grumbles.
(Scott Russell Sanders, “Under the Influence”)

6.     If you really want to impress your instructor, show them you know how to use dialogue. Is your dialogue doing more than one thing? Does it not only say words, but does it show the speaker’s personality? This is a line I’ll attribute to my grammy:

“If the Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll see y’all Sunday next,” grammy said as she spat tobacco from the stoop of her front porch.

What would a reader infer from this dialogue? The voice is Southern or rural lower Midwest, so she’s obviously not from Boston. Grammy probably is not an Ivy League graduate. The tag shows that Grams chews tobacco and doesn’t care who knows it, which shows her personality. We also can infer the weather to a certain extent. Grammy is on the front porch, so it isn’t the middle of winter. This particular author tag also shows class or social status.

When incorporating dialogue into your narrative, remember that the way we talk is actually quite boring, so make the dialogue count. Get rid of the “How are you?” –  “Good. And you?” exchanges. If it is not essential, cut it. If you feel the spoken words are essential to your narrative, the words should be working on several levels.

And one last bit of advice from my grammy: actions speak louder than words.