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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

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

As a teacher of concurrent multiple disciplines in a small school, I have taught all core subjects, focusing on writing throughout the curriculum. I found that many of my students had become disenfranchised in school, due in large part to their feelings of discouragement in writing. Although my students were of high school age, (14 to 21), many were ESL students and almost all had IEP's relating to language deficits. I developed a method of facilitating my students' analysis of the question(s) being addressed, using graphic organizers and highlighters to color code and focus on appropriate text, thus compiling supporting details and quotations that applied to each area. They discovered that, properly done, this preparation would practically allow their pieces to write themselves. The issues of, “where do I start?” was taken care of and the paralysis that often accompanied it was overcome! With the content 'roughed out', the first draft could then be evaluated for... read more

It takes practice to find your writing style, whether it be in fiction, research papers, or analytical essays. The best piece of writing is both grammatically correct and organized, but also contains the essence of the person who's writing it. When I correct students' papers, I try to avoid suggesting alternate sentences in their entirety, since a paper written by you shouldn't sound like one written by me. Even if we are answering the exact same prompt in the exact same way, the tone and character of each paper will be distinct, unique to each of us. Finding your style is a slow process, and generally comes about organically as a result of experience. Write more papers and you will begin to zero in on what makes a paper sing for you. This is not to say that there aren't tips and techniques I can give to help you find your writing style. By far one of the most useful techniques in my own experience has been working with what I call “Finding your 'however'.” The name comes... 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

Greetings, reader!   I am new to Wyzant but have been a part time tutor in a variety of subjects for 6 years. One of the most common subjects I help students in is English/Writing, and it is by far the most difficult. The challenge is not knowing how to write a great essay given the prompt, but how to get the student to write the essay using his/her own voice, style and structure. I have gotten used to walking the razor's edge over the years, but the temptation to write parts of the essay for new writing tutors can be tremendous. Particularly when spending minutes on word choice and sentence order, the prospect of doing some ghost-writing is undoubtedly alluring.   So how does one persevere through those silent, deep-thinking sessions? What I find motivating is the knowledge that my role as a tutor is not to tell the student what to do, but to give him/her an alternative set of tools that he/she does not get in a classroom that will help them express themselves... 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. As its... 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

Have you ever had your writing edited and a sentence marked “fragment”? What does that mean? How do I fix it?   To start, a sentence is made up of a subject and a predicate (sometimes called a verb phrase). Subject: the agent in the sentence. This is the word or phrase that is doing the action. Predicate: the verb phrase in the sentence. Sometimes this is just one word and sometimes it is a long phrase because it has a direct or indirect object, prepositional phrase, or other pieces of information. For example, take the sentence “Billy rides his bike.” “Billy” is the subject because he is doing the action. The phrase “rides his bike” is the predicate because it contains the verb and the direct object.   When you have a fragment there are 3 possibilities for why it is wrong:   The sentence is missing a subject. This type of fragment has a verb but does not state the subject. Often times students might... read more

Do you know that "OWL" is an acronym for online writing lab? My favorite research writing source is the Purdue OWL. This site can answer many if not all of your writing questions from A to Z. I frequently recommend that my students use it. In fact, when we start our research segment of a writing course, I show students how to navigate to and through it.   This site is ideal for style guide information and formatting papers using MLA or APA format. Once inside the MLA or APA tab, it is particularly useful to click on the sample paper. Here you will find a complete research paper in the format that you choose. It is a magnificent guide because it is a comprehensive template to follow from title page to source page.   The Purdue OWL is a must for writers and researchers!

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

Editing and proofreading are two distinct tasks in the writing process and should not be confused.   Editing is the ongoing process by which you review draft copies of your writing to improve the delivery of its communication. It focuses primarily on the content. You begin your first edit by looking at the development of your ideas, asking yourself if the arguments and examples you have presented support your main idea? You examine cohesion to make sure that your ideas “hang together” while developing the main idea. In other words, are all of your ideas relevant? If not, you remove the irrelevant ideas and try and embellish the relevant ones that remain. You look for smooth transitions from one supporting idea to the other, whether you are comparing, contrasting, defining, describing, or persuading. And finally, you look at grammar to ensure that you are delivering the correct meaning sentence by sentence.   Your overarching goal as an editor is to learn how... read more

One of the most common grammatical errors I see in the writing of students of all levels is the lack of agreement of adjectives and verbs when "each" is the subject of the sentence.   For example: "Each of the cats are calico."   This sentence is incorrect because the subject is "each," not "the cats."   Therefore, the correct form of the sentence is: "Each of the cats is calico."   If you get confused, remove the words that modify "each" and read the sentence.  In this case, the sentence would read:    "Each is calico."

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

Your writing should be internally consistent in the way in which it refers to people.    For example: "One should never leave your door unlocked when you're not at home."   This sentence is awkward to read because the pronouns are inconsistent: the author uses "one" and "you" to refer to the same abstract person.    This sentence can be revised to read one of two ways:   "One should never leave one's door unlocked when one is not at home." "You should never leave your door unlocked when you're not at home."   The sentences have slightly different meanings.  The first is abstract, while the second seems to be giving specific instructions to a person that the speaker is directly addressing.  Both are correct because both sentences consistently use the same pronouns.     

While it is occasionally acceptable to use the passive voice for rhetorical purposes, in general grammar experts frown upon this style as being inappropriate in formal essays.    How do you know if you are using the passive voice?    Here's a simple example:   "The road was crossed by the chicken."  This construction uses the passive voice because the subject in this sentence is not doing the action--an action was done to the subject.   Say instead:   "The chicken crossed the road."

When I visit the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, or any museum, I always see people walking around with sketch pads creating studies of the works of the great masters.  Artists look at art.  Musicians listen to music.  In the same manner, it is vital for writers to read.  Now, you can decide for yourself who you want to study.  By all means read J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King, William Shakespeare or e.e. cummings.  Read the sports pages.  Read scripts.  Just read, and read everyday.  Even if you don't study what you are reading, you will become a better writer over time by reading; however, if you also pause to process what you are reading, all the better.  Love a certain song?  Ask yourself what makes it work.  Find a story boring?  Ask yourself what would have made it better. If you would write, read.  

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

FRIENDLY DISCLAIMER   I assure you, this post is rated G. Tell the children they can come back now.   Exquisite Corpse is a writing exercise that was first introduced to me in 10th grade AP English.   My teacher at the time (who is, by far, my favorite ever) was trying to rid us of the awful writing techniques ingrained in us from the TAKS test. There is a good chance you or your child has gotten a nice Texas-sized dose of these in school.   We were so regemented that, even though we were all gifted in Reading and Language Arts, lots of us had gotten 2s and 3s on the writing portion of the test. We lost the fun. We lost the creativity.   How did we get it back?   Exquisite Corpse.   What in the world  is Exquisite Corpse?   It's the Galaxy X totin', New age cousin of the old parlor game "Cadavre Exquis" in which multiple people would contribute to a sentence... read more

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