MLA Checklist





































































































Checklist 14: Common Style Errors


Did you follow the Name Rule throughout your paper?

  • The first time you introduce a person, use the person’s full name and an appositive. Thereafter, use only the last name.

Did you punctuate your em-dashes correctly?

  • On the menu, click on Insert, Special Characters.
  • In the search box, type “em”.
  • Choose the first result (the em dash looks like an extra-long hyphen.
  • Do not put a space before or after the em dash.


Study these examples:

Incorrect: “Beautiful beaches and friendly people — these are some of the things which make Brazil such a wonderful country.

Correct: Beautiful beaches and friendly people—these are some of the things which make Brazil a wonderful country.”


Did you punctuate your elipses correctly?

  • An ellipses is not three dots […]. An ellipse is “space dot space dot space dot,” like this: [ . . .] If the ellipses comes at the end of a sentence, add a fourth dot (the final period).

Did you follow the Numbers Rule throughout your paper?

  • Numbers from one to nine should be spelled out. Numbers greater than nine (10, 11, 100, etc.) should be written in Arabic numerals.

Were you judicious in the use of the pronoun "we"?

  • See lesson 13.

Did you overuse exclamation points?

  • Exclamation points should be used only sparingly, lest their power be diluted.
  • Overuse of exclamation points is a common mistake in student writing.
  • If you used more than one exclamation point in your paper, you are probably overusing exclamation points.
  • Take out all the exclamation points except one—or consult with the teacher.

Did you write a relative clause in which you refer to people as "that"?

Study the following examples:

  • The people that opposed the war . . .
  • The people who opposed the war . . .

Which one is correct? Well, they both are, sort of. The use of "that" to describe people is becoming more acceptable. But "who" is better if you're trying to follow the traditional rules of grammar.

Make me happy. Use "who" instead of "that".

Note: The use of "that" to describe people is becoming more acceptable. However, I prefer the "old-fashioned" rules of grammar. Stick to "who" and you'll make me happy.

8. Do be aware of when you are writing a sentence in the passive voice. Using the passive voice is not always wrong (despite what some teachers may tell you). In fact, there are some very good reasons why you may want to write a sentence in the passive voice (for example, to rearrange the words in a sentence so that your writing flows more smoothly, or to put more or less emphasis on certain words). That said, there are also good reasons to keep most of your writing in an active voice. The point is this: If you don’t know the difference between active and passive voice, it’s time you learn it. This is a basic writing skill.   

Does your paper include contractions such as isn’t, can’t, won’t, don’t, etc.?

Some teachers are picky about this. They believe that academic papers should not include contractions.

I don't mind so much, but I have found that by taking out contractions (and writing out the full words), I can make my own writing sound more formal.

My advise is this: Avoid contractions in an academic paper, unless using a contraction improves the rrythm and flow of a sentecne.

At the very least, be aware that contractions lower the level of formality of your paper, and if you lower that level too far, your paper may not please certain professors.


Did you use any slang words or colloquial language?

  • Colloquial language is everyday, spoken language as opposed to standard, formal English. Collocquial language is not acceptable in a formal academic paper.

For example, do not write sentences like these, taken from student papers:

  • Wal-Mart does some really messed up things.
  • Like what Obama says, it is . . .

Did you use the pronoun "I"?

  • See Lesson 13



Be circumspect when using the pronoun “you.” Is it really necessary? If not, leave it out. Study the following example.

Weak: “As you can see, the illegal drug trade has affected the earth in a terrible way.”

Better: “The illegal drug trade has affected the earth in a terrible way.”


Do not use the word “argument” when referring to your own arguments; only use it to draw attention to arguments made by other people. Study the following example:

Bad: “The first argument is . . .”

Better:  “First, . . .”