As I have tutored over time via instant messaging, certain problems come up again and again among the students that I have taught English writing to. As I have corrected student essays over the past few years online, I have developed this set of advice for writers with less experience. Much of this advice is influenced by Strunk & White's and Payne, so I don't claim much originality here.
General organizational advice for essays:
1. Don’t take the reader’s attention for granted. In the introduction, use attention-getting devices, such as a set of leading questions, interesting statistics, a famous quote from a famous person, a striking assertion or claim, etc. The following sentences in the first paragraph should narrow down the topic to the more specific point made in the thesis.
2. Always put the thesis statement, or main point to be proven or explained, at the end of the first paragraph. Aim to write it as a single sentence, not two...
If English is your second language and you would like another pair of eyes to
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Sometimes writers feel overwhelmed and I can help by reviewing the professor's rubric, writing assignment criteria, and any email...
English. Writing. Creative. Analytical. Technical Writing. Reading. Need to advance your career? Blow your boss away? Get an A? I can help. I do online tutoring and in-person circa 22304 in libraries/public places.
Oscar Wilde, no slouch in the arena of writing and wit, said that. Writing and thinking aren’t mutually exclusive activities. When we write we exercise our ability to think
In a study conducted at Central Washington University, WA, researchers compared the critical thinking performance of students who took classes that focused on writing, as opposed to students enrolled in courses that used the traditional quiz-based education principles. According to the results, the writing group made a substantial improvement in their analytical thinking skills, whereas the non-writing group did not.
Another example of the connection between writing and thinking is the case history of New Dorp, a high school in Staten Island.
The school was facing closure because of the students’ poor performance. In 2007, with a dropout rate of 4 out of 10, the school was ranked as one of the 2,000 lowest-performing high schools in the U.S. Faced with the prospect of closing the school,...
The topic bridging sentence provides a smooth topical transition from one idea to another for the reader. It is a segue of ideas and allows for a logically relevant transition. The topic bridge sentence also challenges you as a writer to relate and connect your ideas between paragraphs in order to have a cohesive paper.Topic bridging sentences are the first sentence in body paragraphs of an essay.
What is the main idea of the preceding body paragraph?
What is the main idea of the following body paragraph?
How are they related?
Share a feature
Basic Topic Bridge Sentence
“In addition to <main idea from paragraph one>, such and such also was influenced/affected by <main idea from paragraph two>.”
Complex Topic Bridge Sentences
Connect the ideas from the two paragraphs in a more global fashion. Explain how...
Writing is a skill. Just like with any other talents--being musical, athletic, artistic, some people are just better at writing than others. That doesn't mean you can't develop writing skills. It just takes more practice!
Many of my weak writers are excellent at math. I create formulas for a thesis, topic sentence, and each paragraph. If you can remember a formula, you can write an essay. I encourage daily reading. The more we read, the more vocabulary and sentence structure we are exposed to. This works its way into the brain, and enables recall when it comes time to write.
I also encourage my students to write about what they read. We do simple things like summarizing, list questions they may have, draw or describe the setting, predict what happens next, or even come up with an alternate title for the book. All of these things help people to become better readers, and that makes us good writers...
While I, as a writer, very much enjoy the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, more likely), I understand not everyone is as inclined. In fact, writing can be a very tedious task if you're not invested in your writing, whether an inbox full of emails that need responses or a 10-page paper. But I have a few quick tips that will hopefully make writing more fun for everyone!
Write to a soundtrack. Now, this tip may not be for everyone, as some people find it very hard to focus with any kind of distraction. But I find that music playing softly in the background while I type away takes some of the pressure of what I'm doing, as I'm less likely to track the minutes I spend staring at the same sentence if I have a song giving my work flow and momentum. Pick whatever music you like, but I suggest nothing too catchy that you'll be tempted to stop writing and have a karaoke break. I have a playlist of music without words, which doesn't have to be all classical...
All students should enjoy a healthy and joyful summer break. It's important to take breaks. But it's also important to hone your writing skills before the next school season begins in the fall.
I remember one of my writing teachers telling me a long time ago that the best way to learn how to write was to read. And he was right. In addition to practicing writing -- because writing
is a practice -- I was always reading a book.
So during the summer, try to catch up on a few good, well-written books that are age appropriate for you. It doesn't have to be a boring read. It can be a fun read. A librarian can help you make some choices.
Notice the author's sentence and paragraph structure. Take note of what kind of language the author is using: is it formal or informal?
Or pick up a newspaper. Or a quality magazine like National Geographic. I do not recommend blogs unless the content is edited and curated. Not every blogger is...
1. Repeating themselves.
In high school (and sometime beyond) there are unhelpful rules from teachers relating to number of paragraphs, minimum lines per paragraph, and number of quotes per paragraph. Page length, word count, and more fit under this heading as well. Too many times I've seen students try to say the same thing in a different way in order to puff up their writing to hit a word count. It's easier to just think some more about the subject matter!
2. Trying to sound academic (or something).
Many a time I'll talk to a student and ask their opinion about some topic or relevant subject. They'll explain themselves clearly and concisely, and sometimes even with some with and humor. Then, when it's time to write, they start saying things like: "This subject is truly fascinating, as I believe that it is truly relevant for children in our society to become educated about many of these diverse and sundry topics"....
For many (most?) high school students, compulsory writing evokes frightful visions of blue essay pamphlets, red editorial comments, and a taunting landscape of white paper refusing to be occupied. The battle between disinterest in the topic and angst towards a looming deadline is matched only by the uncertainty of having anything worth saying, fear of having the ability to say it well, or both.
Some students choose to bide their time, sure that when they leave their high school (and college) self behind they will likewise leave behind ever having to do a compulsory writing assignment again, but we live in a time, an age, and a culture that is dominated by social media, and social media is dominated by posting, blogging, emailing, texting, tweeting, retweeting… in other words, words. That means that regardless what your plans for the future are, you are going to have to write, and if you are going to have to do it anyway you might as well choose to make friends with the...
Most writing geeks are not fans of adverbs, and I'm no exception. If you believe you're a good writer who has mastered the basics (maybe you've received good comments from your teachers, professors, or peers), consider eliminating as many adverbs as you can from your writing and replacing them with good, strong verbs.
An example: She walked slowly into the classroom.
That's correct usage, but this is a post about writing, not grammar. And from a writing standpoint, that sentence is boring and not very informative. Is she walking slowly because she's, well, a slow walker? Or is she sad? Infirm? Afraid? A strong verb can give the reader a lot more information about what's going on.
She trudged into the classroom. (Here, I think she's sad; maybe she's bummed that she forgot her homework.)
She drifted into the classroom. (I think she's daydreaming about something. Maybe her boyfriend is out in the hall.)
She staggered into the...
I believe that learning by mistakes is the only way, and learning involves a certain amount of risk-taking because it involves the ego, and the ego does not want to fail. National Teacher of the Year 1989 Mary V. Bicouvaris says she would "hope that all American children will be given the opportunity to become literate in their own culture and at the same time develop an international perspective that will enable them to work, lead, and thrive in a global community," and her hope rings true in our current day and age. Students react positively when they learn by mistakes, and I have witnessed a struggling student become confident simple because of hearing positive word when they needed it most. It is always important to remember that students are not experts in the area they are learning about, and that event when I try something new I make mistakes too. For this reason making mistakes is OK because it comes with the territory of being a novice. The only mistake would be...
A lot of people simply don't enjoy writing--and they do their best to take any shortcuts they can find to make the process shorter. One shortcut is avoiding outlines. Outlines can seem like just another cumbersome step. Why not just get the words on the paper and get the thing done?
But outlines serve at least two purposes: generating ideas and organizing the content. Many writers experience some form of writer's block. That empty page is intimidating, the clock is ticking, and the brain...freezes.
Outlining can help unblock things. It's easier to write down a few main ideas and some supporting facts than it is to come up with complete sentences and paragraphs, after all. Start with the introductory paragraph and write at least a fragment with the main idea. For beginning writers, it may help to highlight this to remember that the whole paper should support this focus.
Generate a few more ideas related to the topic. These might be...
From August 2009 to August 2012 I worked as a writing tutor at Northern Illinois University's Writing Center. I sometimes had appointments with students who had trouble starting their essays. After asking them about their writing habits and how they work best, I learned that many students made the mistake of sitting behind the computer for too long without writing anything or deleting everything they wrote. The deleting cycle is just that, a cycle, because if you think that everything you write is not good enough, you will never have anything written. I suggest getting up and doing something else for 20 minutes or so, and then taking out a piece of paper and jotting down ideas, not necessarily in perfectly formed sentences. Perhaps it helps to make a bullet point list or write down a broad topic at the top of the paper and then narrow down the topic as you work your way down toward the bottom of the page. Sometimes it helps to organize your work...