You Are Not the Exception

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

Forgive me if I sound a bit rant-y in this post, it’s nothing against anyone personally. But I have a point to make to the generation below me. Maybe you’ve run into instances like this, or other writers who have this attitude:

“All those guidelines don’t really matter, right? Everyone basically wants things the same, it’s not like they’re going to care where my margins are or what font I use. They’re not really going to reject me / take away marks (in a competition) / etc.”

Oh, really?

Then why do you think they wrote up all those guidelines in the first place?

Let me explain why I’m a little bit ticked off today.

clinicalGuidelinesAs some of you know (if you’ve been around the blog a little while), I’m currently teaching English Composition at a local college. It’s a class of first years (and some seniors who avoided taking the class until now), and I’m supposed to teach them how to write research papers / other forms of academic writing, and do it well.

Last night I spent 45 minutes talking about formatting bibliographies and citations. I could have spent a lot longer… if you’ve ever picked up a Turabian, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Forty-five minutes really isn’t that long.

I talked about all the different rules that go into formatting different types of sources: Books, articles from books, journal articles, webpages, ebooks, yada yada yada. Where the period goes when you cite an article versus where it goes when you cite a reference listing. Where the commas go. Where the quotation marks should sit, and which aspects are capitalized and which are not.

There are many rules, but they’re based on an international standard of formatting. We use this across the globe, so that we can understand each other and share information easily. Imagine the chaos if we all wrote bibliographies in different ways! It would be much more difficult to find the information you need, let alone make sense of the information.

So after spending all this time talking about bibliography formatting, and pointing out that one of their texts (the Turabian) had plenty more rules, a student raised his hand and asked:

“All of these things are pretty much the same, right? Like, we’re not going to lose marks if we—”

Yeah, I stopped him right there. YES, YOU ARE. I’ve told you the rules, and you are not the exception. You cannot claim ignorance. Why do you think I spent all that time explaining the rules, and make the citation book a required course text?

They will lose marks for a period in the wrong place. For capitalizing “ed.” in a bibliographic entry. For forgetting a comma. Because those are the rules, and I (and academia) have asked you to follow them in order to be a part of what you are studying.

trashcan In the same way, when you enter a contest, or send in a query, or even send off a manuscript to a critique service, you must follow the rules. They are there for a reason. You are not the exception, and you will lose marks in a competitive situation or be immediately rejected by an agent / market if you haven’t bothered to follow their guidelines.

Doesn’t matter how great your story is. If you don’t follow guidelines, you will not succeed.

You are not the exception.

Follow the guidelines. Follow the rules, no matter how trite or pedantic. Prove to your evaluators, whether a professor or a short story market or a literary agent, that you mean business and you can cooperate with others within your field.


If you don’t?

You’ll get back a pile of red-marked sheets or a “no, thanks” every time.

Rules and guidelines for writing are there for your benefit. Prove to the world that you can listen, understand, and follow direction.

You’ll be surprised how quickly your feedback changes for the better.


Have you run into authors like this before? Writers who seem to think they’re above playing by the rules?

Or maybe you were like this as a student and know better now… maybe you’ve noticed that the younger generation often thinks this way (not everyone, don’t start crying foul!).

Or maybe you’re still not sure why following guidelines is such a big deal?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 at 5:18 pm and is filed under Rye Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

30 comments so far


Yes, no one is an exception! I totally agree with you here.

February 15th, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Urgh. Bibliographies were my worst nightmare. I hated losing points for putting a full stop in the wrong place!

February 15th, 2011 at 6:04 pm

So with you on that! I used to lose marks on brilliant art history papers that weren’t properly formatted. But I was grateful for that when I started writing my master’s thesis.

Sing it, sister!

February 15th, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Susan – Nice to have solidarity!

Bethany – I know it’s a total pain to get used to! That’s why I had the students buy the reference guide with LOTS of examples to follow :)

Tere – *cheers* I remember losing marks on formatting too! But that’s how I learned, and you’re right, it’s completely worth it (and makes sense) in the long run.

February 15th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I used to hear this all the time in first year and I never understood why people handed in their essays without a bibliography, or double line spacing, or proper quotations. Yes a bit of a pain, and yes I had to read the notes on referencing over and over again, but yes I got a better mark than you did. Surprise!

I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes, but I didn’t always get it right and looking back on it, our tutors really were quite forgiving when we were learning at first.

Oh, and hello fellow crusader.

February 15th, 2011 at 6:56 pm

I definitely agree with you.

February 15th, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Don’t you think a lot of it has to do with email, text, etc. where we make up the rules as we go along. That’s what this generation is used to.

February 15th, 2011 at 7:20 pm

Ah, the joys of teaching. Not so different from the joys of parenting. They just don’t listen. Makes me appreciate that I’m not teaching this semester. :)

In the classroom/world, they’ll learn, when they DO lose points/get a form rejection because they didn’t pay attention. Too bad it has to be so frustrating for those of us trying to help them learn the easy way.

February 15th, 2011 at 7:44 pm

“Rules and guidelines for writing are there for your benefit. Prove to the world that you can listen, understand, and follow direction. ”

Hear, hear!

Yes, dear students, even if you do not end up in a formal writing career, your future employers will want you to be able to take direction, and do what you are told. It is important.

An excellent point, well made.

February 15th, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Lol. –NO! I’m an exception!– Ha ha. Seriously.

February 15th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Sheesh, they’re complaining about how hard it is to format properly?!? Make the whiners write their papers using a typewriter instead of a computer. If they make more than two mistakes on a page, they have to type the entire page over again. That’ll shut them up.

You’d be amazed how many people can not fill out a simple form asking for name, address, and phone number.

February 16th, 2011 at 12:00 am

I was told that the reason we use APA format in our papers was because of the way the scientists wanted to see the citation. Basically it was order of importance (name,title, etc.). Whereas in other type of paper the date is first or the title.

That made sense to me more than “these are the rules”.

February 16th, 2011 at 4:10 am

Having spent a good deal of time submitting to various magazines, anthologies and such, I couldn’t agree more. My real pet peeve is when the rules aren’t stated. Give me rules and guidelines and I can follow them to the letter. What your students don’t understand yet is how often in life the rules won’t be as clear and easy.

February 16th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Oh yeah, I’ve seen this before. I hope you mark them off for mistakes. Even without your listing the rules, they can find them in sourcebooks on the internet. Good luck with all those papers.

February 16th, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I think that is a REALLY COMMON attitude when someone first starts and they have to learn EVERY SINGLE DETAIL and look up every last thing. I remember feeling that way in grad school (because I never learned properly in high school or college). But your tough love is exactly what they need. There is no excuse when the manual on how to do it right is right there. My gripe in academic publishing is every damn journal makes up their own rules for the biblios. If they want the ARTICLE formatted a certain way, FINE, but I publish in medical journals and USED to publish in social science… Social science is uniform… everyone is APA. Medical journal are all so damn self-important that they think they ought to get to make up their own system. MAKES ME NUTS. (but I do it. Those are the rules)

February 16th, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I’m amazed that you spent 45 minutes explaining it! Most of my lecturers just say “Buy a handbook” and expect us to read & apply. Your students are quite lucky (you should tell them so!).

BTW, I got my book today. Thank you! I can’t wait to read it!

February 16th, 2011 at 8:55 pm

I agree! Nice to meet you, fellow crusader. Now following!


February 17th, 2011 at 3:57 am

Great advice and so true! Better to give yourself the best chance possible.

Following as a fellow crusader…hello!

February 17th, 2011 at 5:48 am

Hi! I am a fellow crusader stopping by to say hello. I’m a new follower. Nice to meet you.

February 17th, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Along the same lines, I can’t tell you how many students have told me they don’t need to worry about making their manuscript perfect before sending it off, because, you know, that’s what editors are for. The editors are just going to fall so in love with their work that all the errors will be overlooked, don’t you know? Sigh.

February 17th, 2011 at 4:53 pm

As a student who was beat over the head with the rules of scientific writing for years on end I totally understand. The are rules for a reason. Obey the rules or don’t get published. Put your big-kid panties on and do it right.

Good luck with the students in this class!

February 17th, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Hey, Fellow crusader.

I hopped over from the crusader’s list to introduce myself an follow.

It’s nice to meet you.

Tomorrow is our first challenge… It should be cool.


February 17th, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Hi fellow crusader!

That would drive me crazy, too! I guess it’s a lesson we all need to learn.

February 18th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Oh, yay! I always loved teachers like you – can’t stand the ones that let students coast by and don’t take grades off for not following the rules of presentation. The rules are there for a reason :-)

February 18th, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I do think it is unfortunate when others do not think they have anything left to learn and that they have all the knowledge they need. Fellow crusader and new follower saying Hello!

February 20th, 2011 at 4:58 pm

We are not the exception. We’re not. I completly agree with you. There are rules put in place for a reason. “But famous so-and-so wrote a book that was a kazillion words long, so I should be able to too.” Nope. No you can’t. If the genre says 50,000 words for MG then that’s what you do. Not 140,000. “But I like my five page query letter.” Then expect a big fat no. But people can be so stubborn sometimes, thinking, as you said, that they’re the exception. So I say, go for it. If you don’t want to listen and do it the right way (per the rules so carefully set up), then face the consequences and don’t whine about it. Tell your students if they don’t want to follow the guide lines and the book that tells you what to do, expect an F. Don’t cry. Don’t whine.
Man, I sound mean in this post. Holy cow. I’m not a meaner I swear. I think this just hits home for me since I know a few writer friends of mine who think the rules don’t apply to them.
Anyway, thanks for letting me rant. Wow. I’ll stop now and go my merry way. Tra-la-la. (See I’m a happy person).

February 21st, 2011 at 5:15 am

You are right about this. And I have been one of those writers who have tried to rebel against the rules. I learned many years ago that there are good reasons for rules in all areas of life. With word programs formatting shouldn’t be that be of a deal.

And don’t worry about the A to Z Challenge. If you are already doing the Crusade, the A to Z Challenge should just fall into place with it. Many Crusaders are doing both and you can too!

Tossing It Out and the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2011

February 22nd, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I deal with this at my day job. I know how you feel. It can be frustrating when you know they only have to flip through a book a few times in order to do it right.

Also, Hi from a fellow crusader!

February 25th, 2011 at 1:02 am

I still break into a cold sweat thinking about bibliographies, but I would NEVER think to break the rules. I think rules are getting bent all over the place in the online world – spelling, grammar, you name it.

You don’t want to be noticed for the wrong reasons, as your post so eloquently reminds us.

February 25th, 2011 at 8:52 pm

You should tell them when you had to do this all by hand! It will blow their minds! hahahaha! My Mom was going to University as a mature student. A couple years ago they told her she needed to type her essays, not do them in hand writing. She used a typewriter….she has now moved on to a computer! :)

March 1st, 2011 at 5:46 pm