We all have pet peeves—those tiny vexations to which we are peculiarly sensitive. Maybe for you it’s people who take up two parking spaces. Maybe it’s loud gum smacking. But think for a minute about those pet peeves you have about language. Maybe you hate it when people use “impact” as a verb. Maybe you don’t like contractions (sorry). Go ahead and make a list of your language pet peeves. It feels soooo good to write them all down. Then review your list. Then realize that everyone you know has a list that’s just as long, but completely different.
Your instructor is no exception.
Every instructor has either a written or mental list of things they hate to see in student papers. And every instructor’s list is different. Think of instructors as if they were Starbucks customers: Each one likes their coffee—and their student papers—a specific way. One instructor might be a Grande-Decaf-Chai-Latte. Another one might be a Venti-Iced-Soy-Cappucino. One instructor might be a Passive Voice-Generalizations-Split Infinitives, while another might be a Colloquialisms-Rhetorical Questions-Wikipedia. So how do you know which is which?
Instructors kind enough to publish their preferences in their syllabi and assignments are giving you fair warning. If they announce a pet peeve ahead of time, however, they may be more likely to grade your paper down for ignoring it. Often, though, you only find out what your instructor’s pet peeves are when your paper is handed back to you with corrections. To avoid losing points on pet peeves, imagine that you are the Starbucks barista, and your instructor has just approached the counter with assignment in hand. But rather than ask them, “What can I get started for you today?” ask them if there’s anything in particular they do not like to see in student papers.
If you want to be extra careful, seize the initiative by studying style manuals describing common pet peeves. Chances are your instructor may be sent up the wall by at least one of the following:
Split infinitives (“to boldly go”)
Hyper-nominalization (“utilization” instead of “use”)
Homophone Screw-ups (Their, there, they’re; its and it’s; to and too; your, you’re)
Nouns as Verbs (“impact”)
Citing the Dictionary
Stereotypes (“Women prefer…”)
Generalizations (“In society…”)
Starting Sentences with a Preposition
Ending Sentences with a Preposition
One Word Sentences
British Spellings (if in America)
American Spellings (if in Britain)
“To be” Verbs
“Since” used as “Because”
“While” used as “Although”
No Page Numbers
Sans Serifed Fonts
Paperclips instead of Staples
Staples instead of Paperclips
As the last few pet peeves indicate, one instructor’s pet peeve can be another instructor’s requirement. It will not help you to remind your instructor of this fact. Pet peeves are not about correct or incorrect, (though, really, get those homophones and sentence boundaries down). They are matters of preference and, as such, are not subject to outside arbitration. Seem unfair? Yeah, it probably is. But before you judge, the next time you’re in a Starbucks, force yourself to walk to the counter and order just “coffee.” We all have pet peeves.