Spelling and Punctuation

Unless you declare yourself to have a learning disability, poor spelling and punctuation send a signal to the reader that you are sloppy and raise questions about your attention to detail. In the business world, this could lose you a pay rise or, worse, a job opportunity. Indeed, many business managers now complain that the university graduates they are interviewing are 'barely literate' (their words). In the business world English majors are expected to have precisely these skills, and, if you are an English major who doesn't have them -- or doesn't pay attention to them -- you are likely to be seen as particularly unworthy of employment or promotion. That makes your professors look bad as well.

Here in the ivory tower, you need to train yourself to pay attention to such things. In English, you are supposed to study literary texts in some degree of depth. I assume that anyone who has not learnt the correct spellings of the names of characters in that text and of the literary and cultural terms important to interpreting that text could not have read the text or studied its context in great detail. Misspellings of the names of characters, authors, and technical terms, show that you are not mastering the material. Note that these, along with more general spelling errors, make essays much harder for professors to read. In general, the better the spelling and punctuation, the faster we can get essays back to you. Idealists may claim that we are grading you on your thoughts, but, just as the business world is not so indulgent, I am increasingly inclined to be less so. It is in everybody's interest that you make good spelling and punctuation a high priority.

Accent marks in words in foreign languages can be left off of capital letters. If you leave an accent off of a lower case letter in words in foreign languages, this is a spelling mistake. In Microsoft Word accents can be added by selecting Symbol in the Insert menu. Other word processors will have similar procedures. If you do not know how to insert a particular accent, write it in by hand after printing out your essay.

Older English characters like æ (ash), ð (eth), and þ (thorn) are also available by selecting Symbol in the Insert menu. Note that some of these characters are not available on the Macintosh platform and may also not show up correctly on the web if you are using a Macintosh. If you have any problem, just leave a blank space and write these letters in by hand after printing out your essay.

Reference to Names in Medieval Texts

Medieval texts frequently use multiple spellings of the names of characters and places. Except when quoting directly from the text, you should select one form (generally the most commonly occurring one) and use it consistently.

Many Middle English texts variously refer to the names of characters in English, French, and Latin forms. When referring to names in Middle English, always use the English form of the name, unless you are quoting directly from the text (so use "May", not "Mayus"). Be consistent with your spelling. If you are not directly quoting the text, use Modern English spellings of names ("Athens", not "Athenes", "Wife of Bath", not "Wyf of Bathe").

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Last Update: 20 March, 2003