Writing Suggestions



Dr. Will Kimball, Associate Professor of Music

Brigham Young University

1) State your thesis clearly. If you are not quite sure what you want to say, figure it out. Make crafting your thesis a priority. Most serious problems in Master’s documents and Honor’s papers pertain to the document’s thesis in some way.

2) Do not stray from your thesis. Know what you are trying to say and how it relates to your thesis at every stage in your document. Omit materials that do not pertain to your thesis.

3) In general your paper should represent some new insight, perspective, finding, or approach. You are intellectually beyond rewording a Wikipedia article or cobbling together a couple of Grove’s articles.

4) Omit filler. Be sure you have a specific reason for including every quotation, table, graph, and musical example that is in your document. Obvious filler irritates most readers (especially committee members).

5) Eliminate unnecessary words. Be succinct. Proofread!


Wordy: …framed by snippets of fragmented melodic ideas

Better: …framed by melodic fragments

6) Be clear with your use of pronouns. Make sure the reader is able to understand the antecedent for every pronoun.

7) Do not needlessly shift tense (e.g., present tense to past tense).

8) Be careful using the word literally. It does not mean approximately or metaphorically, nor should it be used as an intensifier (e.g., to mean really).


The economy was literally falling apart at the seams. (Metaphorically falling apart at the seams is more likely.)

The football team literally devoured the opposition. (Cannibalism? Check the rule book!)

9) Avoid contractions in academic papers (unless within quotations).

10) Avoid colloquialisms in academic papers (unless within quotations).


Colloquial: Unhappy with the American scene…

Better: Unhappy with American social structures…(This example is also more clear.)

Colloquial: When his book hit the market…

Better: When his book was published…

11) In consulting and citing sources, try to get as close to the primary source as possible. For example, if you are trying to make a point based on what Mozart supposedly wrote in a personal letter, read and cite the original (from Mozart’s collected correspondence), rather than simply citing a document in which someone else cites the letter. The more academic the document, the more important this principle is.

12) The standard style guide for the music field is Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Using this style guide (instead of some other style guide or what your junior high school teacher taught you) will help you communicate more clearly with readers in your field. A few related pitfalls follow (numbers 13-18).

13) Form the possessive of most proper nouns by adding an apostrophe and s, even with names ending in s (Turabian 20.2.1).

Incorrect: Brahms’ orchestral works

Correct: Brahms’s orchestral works

14) With only a few exceptions, place commas and periods inside quotation marks (American usage), not outside (British usage) (Turabian 21.11.2).

Incorrect: In his own words, “Brahms is boring and pretentious”.

Correct: In his own words, “Brahms is boring and pretentious.”

15) Avoid placing a colon directly after a verb (Turabian 21.4).

Incorrect: The requirements are: two etudes, two excerpts, and a solo.

Correct: The requirements are two etudes, two excerpts, and a solo.


The requirements are as follows: two etudes…

16) Form the plural of a number by adding s (not ’s) (Turabian 20.1.2).

Incorrect: 1960’s

Correct: 1960s

17) Include a comma before the final item in a series (Turabian 21.2.2).

Incorrect: Wolf studied form, harmony, counterpoint and orchestration.

Correct: Wolf studied form, harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration.

18) Do not include spaces on either side of a dash (Turabian 21.7.2).