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So, your instructor asks you to complete research to use in writing your essay.  You pull some journal articles, grab a few books on your essay topic and start reading.  You've taken some notes, but what do you do next?   If you are unsure of how to effectively use research materials to support your thesis, there are some useful methods for summarizing, paraphrasing, and using direct quotations in your essay.   Let's start with summarizing, since that is what you should be using most often in your paper.  When you summarize, you want to share some of the author's main points.  Choose explanations and examples from the text that support your arguments.  When you summarize, you are looking to capture the main points of a few paragraphs or pages in one or two sentences.  In your own words, you highlight what the author said and then explain how it relates to your own ideas.    Maybe you agree with the author, and... 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

I know how they told you to write it. Now let me tell you how it's really done. Popular misconception is that because you read a paper from start to finish, that the best way to write it is from start to finish. This is, of course, nonsense. The best way to write a thesis paper is as follows.   Write your conclusion first. That's right... the easiest way to write a 5-paragraph thesis paper is to start with your conclusions first. This is how we think, anyway. When we read about a subject,  we are thinking while we read, so that by the time we've finished reading, we already know what we think about it. Those are our conclusions about what we just read/watched/experienced. We're already there, so why not start there? When you start the conclusion you should say something specific about your topic. By then end of your conclusion, you should show how the specific nature of your topic says something large, say, about the nature of life itself. Write... read more

Students have a wonderful opportunity to show admissions officers who they really are, by using the college essay to stand out from the crowd. In my experience, if you find a topic that you care about, and you write an essay that speaks from your heart, you will have a successful application experience. Admissions officers have to read dozens of applications per day in the 'busy season'. If you give an application reader a chance to pause, laugh out loud or wonder about the end of the story, and really recognize you as an individual, whether using humor, philosophy, creative writing about a memory or a fictionalized experience, or a profound lesson learned, you will hit a home run!   I am happy to help you get started, and then to edit your results. I do not write essays for students, but I do help you present yourself in the best light possible, and to give you opportunities that you may not find on your own.  Contact me for 3-session essay writing package... 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

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

If English is your second language and you would like another pair of eyes to review your final research paper prior to submission, please contact me. I'm available online, via email, and for those graduate students located in Central Florida, in person. I've assisted many nursing professionals, whose second language is English, to achieve an A on a final research project. My experience includes reviewing papers written for online graduate courses, papers written in group collaboration, rough drafts (minimum 5 pages with draft in-text citations and draft bibliography, plus copies of supporting research articles), and final research papers. I can consult with you at any stage during your research and writing process. I've even helped students breakthrough challenges such as writer's block and brainstormed ideas for research projects!   Sometimes writers feel overwhelmed and I can help by reviewing the professor's rubric, writing assignment criteria, and any email... read more

Many people, myself included, feel that for all its advantages, the internet has precipitated a steady decline in the quality of writing. Anyone can write anything anywhere, and while that gives a voice to many who otherwise might not have a public forum to share what they have to say, it also makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to uphold any sort of standards.   That said, the internet also offers plenty of resources for improving your writing. Here are a few of my favorites:   Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com Here you'll also find a thesaurus and several other reference tools. It may not be the Oxford English Dictionary, but it gives you plenty of good definitions and sometimes includes usage notes with practical implications for your writing, like differences in how similar words are typically used.   Difference Between http://www.differencebetween.com Speaking of differences, this is a really cool site... read more

Take a look at the following list of words:  is, are, was, were, be, being, been.  These words often make writing weak and confusing.  Want to create superior writing?  Get rid of them.  Now, that may sound crazy, as they stand among the most common words in the English language.  That's because they serve as hallmarks of common, average writing.  To make  your prose better than average, you should use them less frequently.

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

Prewriting often gets the short end of the stick with students rushing to get that paper written before its due date. Since many teachers don't require prewriting to be turned in with the paper, many students feel that it's a corner they can cut to save time and launch straight into writing a first draft. In reality, prewriting is actually a great time-saver, particularly when you don't exactly know what you're going to talk about. It helps you to organize your thoughts, as well as make sure your points are clear and your concept isn't too broad or too narrow. Prewriting is especially helpful in situations where you're given a very broad prompt – or even no prompt at all (as was the case with my IB World History term paper, whose prompt consisted of 'Write a paper about something from 20th century world history'!) Prewriting is usually defined broadly as anything you do before writing your paper, and can take many forms. This blog post will discuss a few of the most common... 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

One of the most common problems I see in my students' writing is their use of evidence.  What constitutes good evidence?  What is a good source?    The first thing I tell all of my students is that Wikipedia is never an acceptable source.  Why not?  Wikipedia is written and edited by a variety of people who may or may not have expertise in the topic about which they are writing.  Wikipedia is littered with incorrect or dubious information, and should therefore never be cited in a formal essay.   A good, reliable source is one whose credibility can be verified.  Books by known experts, articles published in peer-reviewed journals, and newspaper articles that rely on experts may all be cited in an history essay as proof of a thesis.  Primary sources--interviews with historical actors, memoirs, photographs, artifacts--are also excellent sources of proof in a historical essay, but take care to provide adequate analysis... 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

For my first blog post here on Wyzant, what better topic could there be than on writing itself? Today I would like to share with you a simple framework for producing quality writing. I call these "The 4 P's of the Writing Process." Step 1: Prepare. In order to write something for someone else, the first objective you must accomplish is understanding exactly what you need to write. Do you need to write a persuasive essay or a love story? A book report or a sales pitch? While many writers accomplish this step unconsciously, many other writers forget to clarify the specific demands of the piece they are supposed to write. Only after clearly outlining the requirements of your piece of writing are you truly prepared for step 2. Step 2: Produce. The second step is producing a body of text. It does not have to be perfect; in fact, it will probably contain numerous flaws in grammar, spelling, organization, etc. This is okay. The... 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

I have worked in graduate admissions in higher education for over 10 years, and during this time, I have read a lot of personal statements – some good and some not-so-good. So, what qualities help to make a good personal statement that will help a student gain admission into the program of his or her choice? While admissions committees do consider a variety of factors in their decisions, here are just a few tips that might help you as you prepare to write your statement of intent. 1. Know the requirements. Are you writing a statement that is 500 words or 5 pages? Different programs have different requirements, so you should contact the schools to find out what they are expecting. It will not help your application to submit a document that is 5 pages long if the committee is only going to read the first page. 2. Use formal, academic language. Your document is going to be read by faculty, so you need to impress them with your background as well as your writing... 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

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

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