Improving: You’re Doing it Wrong

I have a research proposal due today for my Empirical Research Methods class. The proposal is mostly to comply with IRB guidelines, one of which being that students must obtain the professor’s permission before completing a study. I wrote the proposal yesterday and emailed it off to my partner. He looked it over and emailed it back to me with a few “grammatical and formatting changes.”

The first thing that struck me was the formatting. I’m no graphic designer, but I’m actually rather good at formatting Word documents. I tend to follow the same rules that apply to resumes: all headings have identical formatting, indentations are consistent throughout the document, use no more than three different font styles (styles, not faces).

It would appear my dear partner dislikes these rules. He changed half the headings (just half) and some of the text to small caps (again, just some) and went back and forth about using colons after headings.


Top = before; bottom = after



I can get behind the small caps for headings and increased indent for the first four lines, even if it does mean I can’t carry that indent throughout the proposal, but why the small caps for the text? And why the period after the research topic? It’s not a sentence, nor is it supposed to be. Not to mention the fact that he stopped using colons and small caps for the remainder of the document.

As for his grammatical changes… I’m not exactly ashamed of my grammar skills, but I did not proofread the proposal and I’m not so high-and-mighty that I refuse to believe there are better ways of writing. I was actually rather pleased he had made grammatical changes considering my last research partner had the grammar skills of an 8-year-old. Then I saw this…

In 2008, PCs held 90% of the market-share, leaving Macs with a mere 10%1; compare that to the 15-20% of campus market share for Mac computers, and it’s clear that there is some correlation between Mac/PC ownership and age.

What, no… No no no! That is NOT an appropriate use of a semicolon, nor is that a correct form of citation! For sake of comparison, here is what I had originally written:

In 2008, PCs held 90% of the market share, leaving Macs with a mere 10% (Piero). Compare that to the 15-20% of campus market share for Mac computers, and it’s clear to see that there is some correlation between Mac/PC ownership and age.

Okay so that comma might  be unnecessary, but at least there are no extraneous semicolons hanging out. If you’re not so clear on semicolons, I highly recommend visiting The Writing Center’s article on semicolons; The Oatmeal has a fun comic semicolons as well. (See what I did there?)

The two sentences are not independent clauses. They are structured completely differently, and therefore cannot be combined into one sentence using a semicolon without serious cosmetic surgery. If I really wanted to use a semicolon here, it would have to be more like this:

In 2008, PCs held 90% of the market share, leaving Macs with a mere 10%; campus market share is closer to 80% PC and 20% Mac. It’s clear to see that there is some correlation between Mac/PC ownership and age.

Even then, I still don’t like it. There are three points here: overall market share is 90/10; campus market share shifts toward Mac; there is likely a correlation between computer choice and age. The latter two connect as thought flow, but you cannot reach the third idea without knowing the first. The first sets the scene; the second two make the show. There should be no semicolon connecting these ideas.

Let’s talk about citations! We mostly use MLA, even though APA would be more appropriate for these research reports. The professor isn’t very picky about it; he’s happy as long as we cite our sources. I use Son of Citation Machine for my references since I can’t be arsed to memorize all those rules. Yet there is something that really bothers me about how he changed my citation.

Oh that’s right, it’s wrong.

The only style that uses the superscript number for in-line citation is Chicago. Chi-ca-go. He left the citation in the references section in MLA format. I’m sorry, but no. You can’t do that. I won’t let you.

I think he was trying to follow the IEEE standard which uses the superscript number in brackets. I just don’t see why. I’m all for using a more “scientific” standard for a research paper, but only if it’s done right and this isn’t it. I’ll stick to what I know, thanks.

What are your opinions? Do you prefer the semicolon? Think the small caps look snazzy? Hate parenthetical citation?


About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on March 22, 2011, in Education and Work and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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