The UVic Writer's Guide

What Is A Style?

Pick up a novel you have been reading lately and look at the way dialogue is laid out. Does it use single or double quotation marks? Does a comma come before or after the final quotation marks when the sentence continues? If it is published in England, the probability is that the dialogue will be in single quotation marks, and the comma will come after; if North American, probably double quotation marks will be used, and the comma will come before. Rather like deciding which side of the road to drive on, many issues in punctuation are arbitrary; the main thing is to be consistent--and the set of rules that makes punctuation consistent is called a "style."

The most commonly accepted style in the Humanities in North America is that of the MLA (Modern Languages Association). This Guide follows the most recent version of the MLA style. If you write essays for other disciplines in the Social Sciences or the Sciences, you will have to learn a different set of rules. Confusing, even frustrating: but remember that the one place in an essay where you can be absolutely right or wrong is in the conventions of punctuation. You might as well get it right.

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Copyright, The Department of English, The University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 22, 1995