Definition Essay – Common Issues

After grading your definition papers, there was some common feedback that I wanted to be sure to emphasize before you all turned in your Editorial Response papers next week. Some of this you should know from high school and some of it we have also gone over in class, so make sure you are carefully incorporating these concepts into your writing and checking for these common errors in your editing/proofreading stages.

Grammatical and Formatting Errors

The first common format error is in incorporating long quotes into your writing: in MLA there is a proper format for what is called block quotes or any quotation that is longer than 4 lines. Purdue OWL covers this topic here and you must incorporate this MLA format into your essays when applicable.screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-12-57-23-pm

The next common format error was properly formatting quotations within a quote. Purdue OWL also covers this topic or you can see another example below.screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-1-00-11-pm

Quite a few of you seem to have forgotten that MLA format does not just apply to citations, but also to formatting of your essay document as well. The Purdue OWL has a sample paper in MLA format with helpful annotations so you can see what all of those format requirements look like.

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-1-06-24-pmYou will also want to make sure you are formatting your Work Cited page according to MLA as well – this includes starting your work cited on a new page, using the appropriate title (Work Cited) in the center of the page, using a hanging indent, and alphabetizing your citations. When you do start a new page, be sure you are inserting a page break rather than just hitting your Return key a number of times – that way no matter what edits or format changes you make to the document, you will always have a fresh page for the Work Cited page.

Quite a few of you seem mixed up about when to use italics versus quotation marks for titles, both in your Work Cited pages and in the text of your essays. The general rule of thumb is a longer work, or a self-contained work that stands on its own, like a book, a film, a play, the name of a newspaper or magazine, or a website should be in italics. Shorter works, or works that appear as a part of a larger container or whole, like a poem, an article, a chapter in a book, an article in a newspaper, or a page on a website, should have its title in “quotes.” If you have italicized something in your work cited, like the title of a book, it should always also be italicized in your writing.


As you are writing, please be sure that you are regularly consulting a style guide, like the Purdue OWL, as these rules are many and there is no need for you to memorize them all. You may also want to take a look at an additional resource from the MLA: MLA Style Center which may have more detailed answers to some of the more up-to-the-minute questions (how to cite an e-book, how to cite a Tweet).

You want to be sure you that you know what counts and what does not count towards the final word count of any artifact you are creating. In a standard MLA essay, your header information and the contents of your Work Cited do not count towards a word count minimum/maxium. For your Editorial Response, the headline and by line will not count (all of your citations will be embedded in the text and so likewise will not count).

Finally, make sure you are following submission directions carefully – the assignment sheet for each assignment carefully details the correct format for digital submission, including how to title your documents, what digital formats are acceptable and the constraints of each assignment. Not following directions here will result in grade deductions, but in the workplace, not following these kinds of directions will undermine your ethos and may cause your projects to be rejected outright.


Feedback on Writing with Research

Quite a few of you are still working on incorporating sources and evidence into your own writing. I would encourage you to go back and look through the PowerPoint lesson on quotation sandwiches, especially for tips on signal phrases and incorporating yoru own analysis. There are quite a few of you still dropping quotations into the middle r end of a paragraph without any explanation, explicit connection to the argument, or analysis from your point of view. Try to think seriously about that quotation sandwich metaphor as you are writing or editing, but if it is too silly, you should still be thinking through these steps:

  1. introduce your topic/claim
  2. connect your topic to the source
  3. provide evidence in the form of a quotation or paraphrase
  4. provide a citation for that evidence
  5. discuss your analysis of that evidence and connect it back to your overall argument

Missing any one of those steps can cause your audience to become confused about the relevance of your evidence or the connection between your claim and the larger argument you are making in your paper.

As a part of that clarity, when you are structuring and organizing your essay, remember how we also talked about each paragraph should have one major topic that is encompassed by the topic sentence. Whenever you find yourself shifting topics or introducing a new idea, you should also be creating a new paragraph, which will give your reader a visual cue to expect a new argument or claim.



There is a policy in the syllabus that allows you to revise one individual project a semester; this policy is spelled out in detail on page 11 of the syllabus.

You must follow this policy when requesting your revision but I do want to make it clear that you can not use your revision just to fix ONE error (such as improperly submitting your document). You must propose and complete a full revision of the essay, based on feedback and suggestions from me, in order to earn the replacement revision grade.


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