Here are some tips from our consultants to help improve your writing skills
Combating Writer’s Block November 6, 2016
by Taylor Scruggs
Not knowing where to start with writing a paper can be a challenge. We often tend to muse over how we want our paper to be written or we know what we want to say but not how we should say it. Here are some tips to overcoming writer’s block:
- Don’t Play. Procrastination is one of my main pitfalls. If you’re going to procrastinate, you might as well be productive about it. A lot of people like to take breaks when they are writing, but this can be a misconception. Once people take breaks, it can be hard to return yourself back to what you were doing. Don’t paly around and forget the task at hand.
- Skip around. Don’t get too stuck on one particular sentence or paragraph. Skip around to other parts of the paper you are more prepared for.
- Free Writing. Write continuously about the subject for however long you want. This helps get the thoughts flowing and you could even tweak some of the sentences you write so you can use them in your paper.
- Use a Deadline. Making a deadline earlier than the assigned deadline can help stimulate the writing process. This can also ensure that you have plenty of time to edit and revise. It might also be a good idea to reward yourself for your hard work if you finish before the deadline.
Comma Splices October 30, 2016
by Brandie Zelaya
One grammatical problem I see frequently in student writing is comma splices. A type of run-on sentence, a comma splice occurs when two independent clauses are joined with just a comma.
Let’s look at an example of a comma splice:
My philosophy professor is out of town, our class was cancelled today.
My philosophy professor is out of town and our class was cancelled today are each independent clauses, containing a subject and a verb. They are joined by a comma, which is not sufficient.
There are several options for fixing a comma splice. These first three are best used to connect two independent clauses where the importance of each of the ideas is about the same.
- Make the independent clauses two separate sentences:
My philosophy professor is out of town. Our class was cancelled today.
- Make it a compound sentence by adding and, or, but, or so. These are called coordinating conjunctions.
My philosophy professor is out of town, so our class was cancelled today.
- If the two independent clauses express ideas that are related, you can use a semicolon to join them:
My philosophy professor is out of town; our class was cancelled today.
Sometimes the relationship between the clauses is important. If you want to convey that one clause is the main point, and the other is a supporting idea, be sure to use one of the following options.
4. Use a subordinating conjunction to join the clauses. When the subordinate clause (the less important one, the one that gets an extra word added at the beginning) comes first, we use a comma to separate them. When it comes second, we don’t:
Because my philosophy professor is out of town, our class was cancelled today.
Our class was cancelled today because my philosophy professor is out of town.
Some other subordinating conjunctions that can be used in this type of sentence include although, as, after, while, until, before, if, and since. Instructors are quite fond of subordination, so use this option liberally!
- If the second clause logically follows from the first clause, and the second clause contains the more important information, you can use a colon to separate them.
My philosophy professor is out of town: our class was cancelled today.
Don’t overuse this option: reserve it for sentences where it really works. (Did you see what I did there?)
- The last option I’ll mention is a little more complicated. It involves eliminating the verb from one of your clauses by turning it into something else or removing it entirely:
With my philosophy professor out of town, our class was cancelled today.
We need only a comma to join the prepositional phrase with my philosophy professor out of town (no longer a clause because it doesn’t have a verb) to the main clause. This is pretty advanced grammar, and sentences of this type are often more at home in creative writing than in formal academic writing, but they can give your writing more flair if you use them appopriately and in moderation.
So, if your professor or peer editor has pointed out some comma splices in your writing, how do you choose which option to use to fix them? The main considerations should be sentence variety and flow. Look at the sentences that surround the comma splice: are they mostly short, simple sentences, or do you have a lot of long, compound sentences? Listen to the rhythm of the paragraph as you read it (aloud or in your head). Does it sound choppy? Long-winded? Good writers use a variety of sentence types. Choose an option that increases the sentence variety in your paragraphs.
Common Grammar Mistakes October 22, 2016
by Danielle Murphy
Below are common grammar mistakes with explanations and examples!
- They’re vs. Their vs. There
– They’re is a contraction (they are)
– Their refers to something owned by a group
– There refers to a location
They’re going to love going there – I heard their food is the best!
- Your vs. You’re
– Your is a possessive adjective
– You’re is a contraction (you are)
Your purse is so cute!
You’re such a great person.
- Affect vs. Effect
– Affect is used when talking about the change itself (the noun)
– Effect is used when talking about the act of changing (the verb)
The movie affected me greatly.
That movie had a great effect on me.
- Then vs. Than
– Than is a conjunction used to make comparisons
– Then is an adverb used to situate actions in time
I like the green dress more than the red dress.
We are going to dinner and then a movie.
- To vs. Two vs. Too
– To is a preposition before a noun or an infinitive before a verb
– Two is spelling out the number 2
– Too is a synonym for also and indicates excessiveness before a verb
I am going to the beach this weekend.
Can you lend me two dollars so I can get a snack?
I think my friend is coming to the library with us too.
- Its vs. it’s
– Its is a possessive pronoun
– It’s is a contraction (it is)
– The puppy played with its toy.
– It’s going to rain tomorrow.
- Lay vs. Lie
– Lay is a transitive verb
– Lie is something the subject of the sentence does
– I lay the tray on the counter.
– I am going to lie around all day.
Becoming the Comma Master September 24, 2016
by Chloe Senft
Trust me when I say that I understand why people have difficulties with commas. To some, commas are the make or break of the paper, and they can definitely be irritating. Professors are either extremely strict with comma placements or are willing to cut you some slack, but it’s always helpful to know exactly where they need to go. Although they are super annoying, commas are actually extremely helpful! Do you ever feel like your paper lacks a sense of flow? It’s most likely because you’re missing some commas. There are a few tricks for ways to figure out where a comma is needed, but not everyone knows. Some people just read the paper out loud to find pauses in a sentence, but there’s so much more that you can do! Below I’ve listed some tricks that I think you should know to help you become a comma master.
- Commas are needed before coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) which links two independent clauses.
Ex: I went on a walk, and I saw a bird.
Because you have two separate clauses (I went on a walk, I saw a bird), you need the coordinating conjunction (and) and a comma. If you wanted to get rid of the second “I,” you wouldn’t need a comma because it would be one complete thought (I went on a walk and saw a bird).
- You need a comma after a dependent clause while beginning a sentence.
Ex: When I went walking, I saw a bird.
Because it’s a dependent clause (When I went walking), it cannot stand alone.
- You need commas to offset appositives from the rest of the text.
Ex: A hawk, the kind of bird that I saw while walking, swooped down to attack me.
This phrase is special because you need two commas. I like to think that if you were to ignore the middle part (the kind of bird that I saw while walking), you would still have a complete thought (A hawk swooped down to attack me).
- You need commas to separate items.
Ex: I saw a bird, a kite, and a playground while walking.
- You need commas after the “sign post” or transition.
Ex: Unsurprisingly, I saw a bird while waking.
You also need a comma after you begin the sentence with the word “however.”
- You need a comma if the first word of a sentence is a “yes” or “no.”
Ex: Yes, I saw a bird while walking.
- Use a comma when you are addressing someone directly in a sentence.
Ex: She often asks, “Callie, do you want to walk with me to Chic-Fil-a?”
- You need a comma between two different adjectives that work to modify the same noun.
Ex: I saw the fast, mean hawk while walking.
The only instance where you would not need a comma is if you were to say “I saw the fast and mean hawk while walking.”
- You need a comma if there is some sort of negation in the sentence.
Ex: I saw a bird, not a puppy, while walking.
If this were to be at the end of the sentence, you would still need a comma, but in a different place: “I saw a bird, not a puppy.”
Trust me, I know that it’s probably super confusing to start out, but with just a little bit of practice, you’ll have friends coming to you for help!
APA Checklist September 17, 2016
by Courtney White
Here is a quick checklist to go over before turning in any paper in APA style.
- Are your margins correct?
APA requires that the margins of your paper be one inch all around, but Microsoft Word’s automatic setting for margins is an inch and a half. So make sure that before you print off that final version of your paper that the margins are one inch all around.
Introduction is not written out in APA format, but the Method, Results, and Discussion sections should be in bold and in the center of the page. However, References is centered but not in bold.
- Reference Page
Should be on a separate page and the references need to be triple checked to make sure that they are in the proper order and style. Purdue Owl is a great site for any citation questions but if you get confused the Writing Center is also a great tool.
- Over or Under Citing
Citing at the end of a paragraph does not cover all of the citations you should have included throughout the paragraph. However, you should not site after every sentence either, a good rule to follow is to cite after every new idea is presented.
Common Errors to Watch Out For:
- In-text citations do not need page numbers in APA style.
- Writing in everyday or colloquial language instead of the required technical speech.
- Using contractions, they are not appropriate in formal writing.
- References is the only section that is allowed to start on a separate page, while the Method, Results, and Discussion sections just have the header after the previous section.
- APA is very specific on the rules of formatting tables and figures, if they are required in your paper make sure to follow the required format exactly.
If you have any problems with format or questions on these quick tips go to your professor’s office hours or schedule an appointment at the Writing Center so that we can answer your questions.
Making a Statement September 15, 2016
by Chloe Woodward
One of the hardest things to do as a university student is condense all of your ideas into one thesis statement. We usually have all of these thoughts swimming around in our heads and to ask someone to turn them into one sentence is actually really challenging. So what do you do? Well, I like to think of a thesis statement in terms of two analogies: a roadmap or an equation.
Think of the main reason you use a roadmap. You have a specific place you are going, and you want to know what to expect while you get there. The road signs are your main points and the destination is your assertion.
Example: Write a prompt about your favorite things to do at Longwood University and how they impact your everyday life.
Your thesis statement would be something similar to the following:
Or an equation, you can see all the numbers that you use to get your solution. You add your numbers (main ideas) together to get your solution, but in this case, the solution is your assertion. Now remember, with equations, your solution can be on the left or right!
Example: What do you think are the hardest things about writing, and how do you feel professors should aid their students in tackling these problems?
Your thesis statement would be something similar to the following:
Where Do I Start? September 6, 2016
by Courtney Fisher
One of the most difficult parts of the writing process is actually starting to write. I have someone come to me asking for help with starting their papers nearly every shift I work in the Writing Center, so do not feel alone if this something that you struggle with. One of the most basic things that you can do to help yourself begin writing is to figure out exactly what your professor is asking you. Assignment sheets are generally long and detailed, which is a good thing because that provides a lot information you need to know about the assignment, but it can also be very intimidating to think that there is an entire page full of requirements for a single paper. What I like to do is to highlight the most important parts on an assignment sheet and look over the rubric (if there is one provided) and figure out exactly what question I am supposed to answer and what criteria my writing is being evaluated on. It is surprising how much of a difference it can make to make sure that you thoroughly understand the assignment before you even begin writing.
Once you understand the writing assignment inside and out, there are numerous routes you can take, but I’m going to go over two that tend to work for a lot of people. If you are a fan of organized brainstorming, then an outline might be right for you! Here are a few steps you can take to create an outline that will give you a good starting place:
Step one: Think about what argument or general idea you want to convey in your thesis statement. It’s okay if it changes as you write and develop your argument, but this will give you a general idea of what perspective you’re thinking about taking in your paper.
Step two: Begin to brainstorm a few ideas (in the ballpark of 3-5; you can always add or remove ideas) that support your rough thesis. These ideas will eventually become your body paragraphs. You can either write broad concepts you want to talk about or take it a step further and construct topic sentences.
Step three: At this point, I typically recommend that you start writing to see how your ideas develop, but if you want to outline more, then start to think of ways to support your topic sentences. Remember that all of your topic sentences should support your thesis, and all of the details in each paragraph should support your topic sentence.
Step four: Write! By this point, you should have a solid understanding of your assignment and a well-developed outline of what you want to talk about, so go write a great paper!
If you are like me and do not find outlines to be helpful, then perhaps you should try just jumping into writing. There is nothing more stressful to me in writing than staring at a blank screening for hours. Once I understand everything that the assignment entails, I just start freewriting all of my thoughts about the topic to get my ideas on paper. You can always go back and format and organize your ideas later. There is no rule that mandates that you must write your paper in order from start to finish, so just write what comes to mind and go back expand on ideas and fill in blanks after you’ve gotten your ideas out. I generally build my argument as I write and my thesis changes as my ideas develop more. I prefer molding my thesis to fit my argument, rather than molding my argument to fit my thesis. This allows me to explore tensions that arise in my ideas and to write in an unrestricted way. I often find my thesis changing for the better as my ideas come out, so don’t be afraid to abandon your original idea if you can make it better.Eventually, you will need to go back and structure your freewriting into a cohesive essay, so if you are not super familiar with how to format an essay, then an outline might be better for you.
Just remember that the writing process is unique for everyone and there is no right or wrong way to start your paper. The most important thing is that you get your thoughts on the page in a way that works for you and fulfills the objective of the assignment. While there are specific expectations for the product, the process is very personal and individualized and I encourage you to try different styles or methods of writing and figure out what works best for you.
Learning to Love Semi-colons August 23, 2016
by Emma Canfield
Semi-colons are confusing. Well, they always have been confusing for me. It has never been obviously clear to me where to put them and where to use them. In fact, I would literally form sentences in ways where I could avoid using them if I thought I might have to. However, semi-colons actually are awesome when you figure out how to use them (and they make your writing look just a little bit fancier when used correctly). Don’t you want a professor to be reading your essay and think “Dang, A+ for them… look at that quality semi-colon use!” Okay, so that may not always be the case, but they may still commend you while they’re reading. So, NEVER FEAR!!! Below I have outlined the do’s and don’ts of semi-colon use and you will soon be on your way to becoming a semi-colon pro.
First, why use a semi-colon? The most common reason the use a semi-colon is to connect two independent clauses. This is useful because it eliminates a pause that would exist between two sentences for a reader. It also means that you can connect two independent clauses without using words like “and” or “but”. Semi-colons are typically used when statements are related or contrast each other.
Do use a semi-colon if you have two independent clauses. This means that the clauses that could stand as sentences on their own.
ex: Santa Claus is very jolly. He loves to spread cheer. –> Santa is very jolly; he loves to spread cheer.
Don’t use a semi-colon with conjunctions (and, but, yet, nor, or, etc.). If you include conjunctions you will likely use a comma or no punctuation at all.
ex: Santa Claus is very jolly and he loves to spread cheer.
Do use a semi-colon if your sentence has internal punctuation. Sometimes using a comma in sentences can result in a comma splice or run-on and using a period is too big of a separation between clauses. Then your thoughts may lose the connection you are trying to convey to your reader.
Do use a semi-colon as super-comma. Look, sometimes lists get a little complicated, but that’s okay! Semi-colons are perfect for clarity when commas just don’t cut it.
ex: Santa Claus travels to Farmville, Virginia; Rio, Brazil; and London, England all in one night!
You are now prepared to go out into the world and spread the semi-colon love.
Also check out this super great website to see some more examples and have a few laughs. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon