Editing Tips: Quotes and Quotations

There are a lot of common mistakes I find after years of editing student assignments.

You should EXPLAIN and analyze your quotes after you insert them into your papers.  Also introduce the background, speaker, etc, don’t have quotes appear out of nowhere.

A better way to make quotes flow:

Sample Quote:    “I didn’t have time to go to Safeway because I was too busy studying for the SATs at my friend’s house.”

This can be changed to:  She said “[she] didn’t have time to go to Safeway because [she] was too busy studying . . . at [her] friend’s house.”

*use [ ] to substitute word(s)

*use . . . to skip words

Don’t be homophobic.

No, this isn’t a post about sexual orientation.  What I’m referring to is homophones.

Don’t know what a homophone is?  Hint, it’s not a phone for gay and lesbian folks.

Homo = same, phone/phonetic = sound

You probably learned about homophones in grade school.  A homophone is a word that sounds the same as another word but differs in meaning.

Here’s some examples:

Role Roll

The role of Romeo was played by Leonardo di Caprio in the 1996 movie.

When playing craps you roll the dice.

Rain, reign, rein

I love the rain. It’s perfect weather for staying indoors.

The dictator’s reign came to an end after the coup.

A rider needs to grab the reins on a horse to control it.


These are just 2 sets of homophones. What other homophones are there?

Common writing pitfalls: Know your audience

One common writing error I see quite frequently is the failure to know the audience.

When you’re writing a paper, it’s easy to forget that you are actually writing to someone.

For instance, your audience can be a very generalized group of readers (the Internet), you might know the individuals who compose the audience, and sometimes you write for yourself.

Keeping your audience in mind while you write can help you make good decisions about what material to include, how to organize your ideas, and how best to support your argument.

For instance, imagine if you have to explain the concept of a complicated topic such as Nuclear Physics to different individuals.  Wouldn’t the conversation go a bit differently if you were speaking to a someone with no knowledge of the subject instead of Albert Einstein?

You should not assume, however that you do not need to explain basic concepts.  If you leave out details, the reader may fill in gaps with their own knowledge and assume that you don’t know enough to convey your the ideas.  You’ll get your papers back marked with “does understand material”.

To figure out how much you need to explain ideas, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Read the prompt or assignment – very often your instructor will say what you need to do.
  2. Ask your instructor – You can demonstrate your knowledge of the subject by asking questions such as “Do you want me to explain e=MC^2, or is that not in the scope of the essay and I can assume that it’s common knowledge for purpose of explaining my ideas in this paper?”
  3. Read your own paper – Take a break and look at it again.  Often times, you’ll be working at the last minute and fill in your own gaps because the material is fresh in your mind. Taking the break will allow you to see things in a different light.
  4. Give your paper to someone else to read.  If they’re confused or frustrated, maybe you need to explain things a bit further.  Generally, I will ask for more clarification because I edit papers that range in a variety of topics and most of the works are intended for general audiences.

As you write, you should ask yourself: if someone picked up your paper off the street, would they be able to understand what you are trying to say?