Writing Rules

Many of you may have come directly from high school.  You may have made high grades in your writing courses there, and expect to make high grades here.  However, to do so you will probably have to work much harder than you did in high school. 

Others are returning to school after a long time. In any case, you need to become familiar with the grading guidelines that your English instructor will use in evaluating your paper. Your instructor will reward papers as exceptional ("A" or "excellent") very good ("B") or average ("C" or "OK"). Poorly written work receives a grade of "D" ("Pass"),  while clearly failing work receives an "F" ("Rejected").  

One of the goals of English 1311 is to give you the tools necessary to produce exceptional, "A" papers in all your University courses.  The following rules are designed to help you to achieve that goal. 

(Please print out these simple rules and follow them in all your writing. More than three rule violations in any one assignment for this course will normally mean an automatic rewrite.)


  1. Do not use "you" or "your" in any writing for this course, unless instructed to do so.  

  2. No contractions (don't, isn't, won't, it's, etc.) are allowed on any written assignments for this class, either online, handwritten or computer printed, except  in quotes or in situations where informal writing is customary, such as in e-mail communication.

  3. When referring to a person, use "who," not "that." For example, you might write about "a soldier who was killed in Iraq," but never write " a soldier that was killed in Iraq." If you use "that" for a person, you are calling him or her a thing, and disrespecting that person.


  1. No smileys or online-style abbreviations (@, BTW, w/, etc.) are allowed in any writing  (except where customary, such as in e-mail messages).

  2. Do not begin sentences with “Well,” “Hey,” "I figure that," "See," or other “chatty” expressions. This is too low a style for college writing.

  3. When writing, never begin your conclusion with “In conclusion,” or “To conclude,” "to sum up," or anything similar. This is a sure sign of an immature writer.

  4. This is an "English" class. For this reason, all work submitted should be written in American standard high-middle style academic English. If you include non-English quotes, please be sure that your audience (normally the instructor and / or your fellow classmates) understand the language in question, or provide an English translation in the text.  See also the Index of Forbidden Words, which lists some common English words that are not allowed in normal college-level writing. 

  5. Do not use "man" or "mankind" to refer to humanity, which obviously includes women as well as men. Do not use "he" to mean someone whose gender is not known (e.g., "when I assign a student a paper, he should write it carefully"). You may use "he/she," "she or he," or something similar. In some classes, the use of the singular "they" to mean a person whose gender is not known IS allowed. (However, be aware that some professors do not allow this.)

  6. "God" is always capitalized if you are a religious believer. Any pronoun used to refer to the divinity is also capitalized. (Example: Believers might write, "Our God is in His heaven, where He reigns forever.") If you are a nonbeliever, you have a choice to capitalize or not, as you prefer, but you must be consistent. Generally writers do not capitalize when referring to divinities in whom they do not believe (Example: "Zeus was the god of lightning and thunder"). Sometimes writers capitalize "God" even when they are nonbelievers, out of respect for their readers.  However, if you are a religious believer and fail to capitalize when needed, you are insulting your own faith. 

  7. When referring to a number of people or objects, "several" means a few (usually less than twenty), and "many" means a large number. (E.g., "Several people can ride in a van. Many people are alcoholics in the United States.") Do not use "several" when you mean "many."

  8. When talking about a subject, use "about" or "on," not "over." (Example: "I wrote a paper about the Civil War," not "I wrote a paper over the Civil War.") Use the word "over" only to mean "above," or "on top of." (Example: "I threw a tarp over my bike.")

  9. When referring to African American people, the word "Black" is capitalized. The reason for this is that in this case, "Black" refers to a nationality or ethnic group, just like "Hispanic," "Romanian," or "Apache." The word "white," when used to refer to "Caucasians" need not be capitalized, since "whites" are not a nationality or ethnic group ("whites" can be American, Mexican, Iraqi, or whatever). When "black" is used to refer to a skin tone, or to the black race in general (all the black people in the world), it is not capitalized, since, just like "white," it does not refer to a nationality or ethnic group, and the imaginary colors of so-called "races" are not capitalized. (Optional alternate rule: Capitalize both "Black" and "White" whenever referring to ethnic backgrounds.)

  10. The "Spanish" people are the citizens of Spain.  "Mexicans" are the citizens of Mexico. When you refer to people of Spanish-speaking heritage in general, the preferred term is "Hispanic." ("Latino" is also used in some parts of the USA, but less often in Texas.) Do not use "white" as the opposite of "Hispanic."

  11. Quoting in your papers from other scholarly sources is normally encouraged (except in personal expressive writing). However, quotes should not exceed 400 words. Whenever you quote anything (words or information) from another source in your writing you must put the words in quotation marks, and say where the words or data came from. If you fail to do this, you may be accused of plagiarism (cheating) and may receive penalties up to and including failing the course or worse. You must clearly indicate within the text (by a citation, reference, or other method) where the information or words came from--just listing the sources at the end of the paper in a Works Cited or Bibliography list IS NOT SUFFICIENT!

  12. UTEP has a strict policy against harassment or discrimination, which will be fully enforced in this class. No racist, sexist, homophobic or other discriminatory language is allowed in class, or in any writing assignment, written communication or online posting for this class.

  13. You have academic freedom in this class, which means that, subject to the limitations above, your work in this class will be judged on the quality of your writing, not on the opinions or standpoints that you express.


    NOTE: All formal writing assignments must be computer printed or submitted electronically (via e-mail or online posting).. Handwritten work is normally acceptable only for first drafts or  in-class writing practices. Work submitted electronically must be in a format compatible with MS Word, such as .doc, .rtf, .htm, .pdf or .txt. Work submitted in .wps, .wpd, .sxf, .tex, or other non-compatible formats will NOT BE ACCEPTED. Work turned in on digital storage media (flash memory chips, diskettes, floppies, CD-ROM's, Zip disks, tape, etc.) will not be accepted. 

    O.W. rev 1/2010

Caution Information on this website applies only to courses taught by Owen Williamson

For educational purposes only.

Owen M. Williamson - Education Bldg 211E - phone: (915) 747 7625 - fax: (915) 747 5655
The University of Texas at El Paso - 500 W. University Ave. - El Paso, TX 79968
Important Disclaimer

Creative Commons License
Open Courseware | OCW |This work is dedicated to the Public Domain..