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There's a lot of writing advice out there, but I've noticed some asterisks missing. Allow me to provide those now: Practice writing every day That's not practical, necessarily (unless you've got my job). Deliberate practice is better than just sheer repetition. If you spend time on practice, you have to use it pretty damn well, especially if you're busy. But what constitutes "good practice"? I'll be covering this in another post later, but the basic idea is to approach improving your writing with a problem-solving mindset. You may need to bring in other perspectives. Some of the fundamentals of deliberate practice include: revision: literally re-view your writing. You CAN'T do this by looking at your work in the same format in which you wrote it. Email, for example: Paste it into Word or print it up to look it over before hitting SEND. You'll be amazed at the mistakes and problems you missed that suddenly seem obvious when viewed in a... read more

Description The introductory paragraph of a paper or writing should capture the reader’s attention and engage their mind. You should always approach your papers expecting a reluctant or busy reader. Your job is to relate to them, give them useful information, and intrigue them to capture their interest. The first sentence of an introduction can be thought of as “the hook:” The sentence that grabs the mind of your reader. Approach Ask yourself: Who is reading this paper (your audience)? Is my reader sympathetic or opposed to my view? What personal experiences or interests will my reader have? How can I relate to the topics or things that my reader would care about? What was the most interesting or unexpected fact that I learned? Tone of Paper The tone of your paper should determine the hook sentence that you use For creative writing, you have more flexibility For informative writings, the tone may limit the options you have   Devices Creative... read more

Late University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Joseph Williams was arguably one of the best writing instructors of our time.  I met him years ago when he was teaching a judicial writing course at the National Judicial College. The genius of his approach was to improve clarity in legal and business writing, by asking writiers to first sketch a "story" of their work, including the list of "characters" (nouns) and actions (verbs).  By focusing on storytelling, you as a writer are forced to be more concise in explaining information to your reader--in a more active context.  Using the "character-action" approach to writing simplifies your lanaguge, places responsbility cleary for following regulatoins, and reduces your use of the passive voice. Consider these two examples: (Statutory Instrument 1991 No 2680, The Public Works Contracts Regulations 1991, Part 1, 2.4, page 4)   'General saving for old... read more

As you probably know, the same sorts of errors appear year after year in the Improving Sentences and Identifying Sentence Errors sub-sections of the SAT Writing Test.  Some might say ETS is striving for reliability, but the beret-wearing inner writer in me says they just lack imagination.   Many of these errors, unfortunately, require students to read and carefully consider all options before identifying the error and selecting the right answer, but at least one sort of commonly (not to say "universally," in test after test after test) appearing error is easy to spot and correct; I have trained even the most grammatically / stylistically challenged students to correctly answer such questions in 5 seconds at most, freeing up precious time to spend on the more nuanced items.   The error is the dangling modifier.   In case you're a little rusty, or have sensibly been spending your time thinking about almost anything other than esoteric... read more

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... read more

College application essays are one of my favorite assignments to work on with students. They are a chance for me to get to know my students better as we brainstorm topics for their personal essays. I get to hear about childhood memories, unique family traditions, and uncommon hobbies. I love helping students find their voice and tell their unique stories to colleges. My students do not share my enthusiasm for application essays. They feel immense pressure to produce their best pieces of writing to impress colleges. They have also probably heard vague tidbits of advice on how to accomplish this: stand out, don’t be cliché, and be interesting. It’s no wonder that a lot of students have trouble finding a place to start. Here are a few tips to make college application essays less scary: 1. Reading other essays: Read other well-written college application essays. Many colleges release strong application essays from previous years. Reading an array of these essays... read more

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... read more

Sometimes overcoming feeling stuck on a writing assignment can be as easy as expressing your thoughts out loud.  If a good friend (or perhaps someone else from your target audience) came to you, and you decided to share on this assignment topic, what would you say?  Express this out loud, and then before you forget, write it down.    

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".... read more

Here are few few pieces of advice to motivate you while writing- fiction or nonfiction!   First and foremost, know your subject.  If you are writing a story, know your characters.  If you are writing an essay, research the topic.  The more information you have, the clearer your topic becomes to explain or argue.     Second, be passionate!  Whether you are writing about what on earth Heathcliffe's deal with Cathy was, the lifecycle of a frog, or why orange Starburst are better than yellow, you need to be invested in what you write. Sometimes you are given boring topics- regardless, try to put a bit of yourself in your writing.  If you are bored writing it, your audience will be bored reading it.  When all else fails, try to fall back on your personal beliefs and values for inspiration; for example, "According to three out of four students at Spring Hill Middle School, Minecraft is the best video game of this generation... read more

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... read more

1. Try to use Word. It gives you pointers and lets you know when a word is misspelled. 2. Always get a second set of eyes to read over your paper. They will catch mistakes you won't from looking at it so long. 3. If you aren't sure about something, Google it!

Faced with a blank page does your brain feel just as bare?  Writing has two different processes that at times seem to be in conflict.  There is the creative side and there is the analytical side.  While both are necessary it is important to be mindful of allowing a certain separateness.  Yes, structure is important, but your voice and creativity give your writing life. Freewriting is a great tool for releasing the creative side.    Before you begin that essay or paper give yourself 10 to 15 minutes to start a flow of ideas.  I like the idea of using a pen and paper, but this works with a keyboard too.  Set a timer for 10 minutes and just start writing.  There is only one rule: keep writing until the time is up.  Any subject, any thought, no grammar check, no spelling correction, fragments allowed. You do not need to stay on topic or have any order.  Just write.  If you do have a topic that you need to explore for an... read more

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... read more

Statisticians say that the average person writes about 55,000 words per year. That's enough to fill a novel. This statistic measures everything from thank you notes to work emails. However, I'm sure the average college student far exceeds this number. Therefore, it's no wonder that most students I work with are seeking help with their writing. Needless to say, with such a word filled future on these students' horizon, I take this responsibility seriously.  Most students think they need to start with grammar in order to improve their writing. They are baffled by the pesky rules that spell check doesn't catch but that their teachers always find. They think that the key to their writing is unlocking the comma, semicolon, and split infinitive. However, I'd argue that unless you have the time and patience, and the student has the dedication, to teach him or her Latin (where many of these rules have been super imposed from), it will be hard for them to master grammar at this... read more

Hey everyone!     So I really wanted to talk about something I find very important, especially for those learning to master the English language. I realized that the minimal emphasis on spelling in public schools led to a major fault in the younger generation's writing skills. I found that unless a child reads often, it's hard  for them to determine what "there" one might be talking about. Often times, students may know the context of where to place the word in a spoken sentence, however not choose the correct spelling of the term in written sentences.  Being able to spell properly and maintain good grammar is something essential to children for the rest of their lives -- be it writing essays for school or applying for grants/scholarships, sending letters, filling out job applications, or even having to teach others. As parents, teachers, or educators I believe that spelling tests should still be in full effect to separate words with multiple meanings... read more

Have you ever been assigned a paper and then just sat there staring at a blank page or screen because you didn't know what to write?  Many of us have been there at one time or another.  My son (whom I will probably write about quite a bit) struggled with ADHD throughout his childhood and still battles it occasionally.  One thing I had him try when he was in 5th grade was to write just like he spoke because he never seemed to be at a loss for words around me! You can edit and revise your paper to fix grammatical errors or to make it sound more formal, but to get your ideas down on paper, just relax and tell your story.   Even though he loved to talk, he had a difficult time getting the dialog he had in his head onto paper so I suggested he use a recording device and record his rough draft.  He felt kind of funny talking into a recorder at first so I recorded him telling me a story about pirates.  He had read a few articles online and a couple of... read more

This is a question I find a lot of people grapple with, whether they be adults, teenagers or children. The love of reading, of transporting yourself into a different world, is a way to escape. Writing, whether it be an analytic essay or the next epic adventure, requires the ability to reach into your mind and actively confront yourself – and that is not an easy feat to manage. Part of being able to write is to have your thoughts organized in your mind. This actually may prove incredibly difficult for a reader to do. Our minds are often going all over the place at any given moment, reliving stories or day dreaming some of our own. Readers are dreamers so it makes sense that our thoughts naturally flow and are sometimes difficult to pin down. That’s okay – that’s what lists are for! In order to better organize your thoughts, start out simple. Make a list of what you really think about the subject you are about to write about. This works for anything, whether it be a... read more

Computerized spell-check can be a handy time-saver when writing papers, and many students swear by it. However amazing it may be, though, spell-check is still just a computer program, and as such should not be considered a substitute for proofreading with human eyes. As evidence, here are three common mistakes that spell-check won't catch. Proper Nouns Spell-check uses a dictionary to compare the words you type to existing words. Proper nouns, like names of people or places, usually won't be in the computer's dictionary, and so the spell-check will flag them as misspelled. This means that when you proofread, you'll have to ignore the wavy underline under those names. But this can also backfire – what if you happened to misspell that name? The computer will underline it same as before, but your brain is already prepared to ignore underlining on that name so you run the risk of not catching it yourself. This is one reason I advocate actually printing out a hard copy of your... read more

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