Monday, September 26, 2011

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing in 5 Minutes

Everyone wants an easy way to fix all of our writing woes, but it takes practice and hard work. Here are a few tricks of the trade that can improve everyone’s writing in just a few short minutes.

1) Use sentence opening variety

Why you should use it: Sentence opening variety is using better, unique words to start an opening sentence in order to draw your audience in. It’s better to say, “Throughout the film The Social Network, the foundation of social media is discussed” than “The Social Network discusses the start of social media.” You may not see much of a difference at first, but you will with time, and so will your English teachers! Here’s a list to start with:

Therefore As a result of On the other hand

Throughout Another In order to

Since Whether Upon

Through While However

According to In addition Consequently
Furthermore Moreover Nevertheless
Similarly On the contrary Whereas

Where you should use it: The good news is you don’t have to use sentence opening variety in every sentence. It’s perfectly fine to start a sentence with ‘the’ or ‘a’ when it’s buried in the paragraph or as a sentence starter a couple of times (but not too many). Start by trying to write your topic sentences with one of the words above and see how it feels. You may need to move some words around, but I bet your sentence will sound better.

2) Spell Out Numbers

Why you should do it: It is much easier to hit the 8 button than type out eight, I know. However, some professors, especially those in English, get picky about typing out numbers. In general, it makes you look more professional so for most college papers you’ll want to spell them out. If you’re writing an informal paper it’s okay to stick with the number keys, but be careful!

Where you should do it: Everyone has a different preference of which numbers should be spelled out. Spelling out 0-10 is most common, but it’s best to check with your teacher. You definitely DO NOT have to write out 26,439!

3) Don’t Use Conjunctions

Why you shouldn’t use them: You’re probably saying, but you just used a conjunction! I did, BUT this is an informal piece of writing so it’s okay. Basically if you’re writing a paper in college you’re probably going to want to spell contractions out.

It sounds more professional to say, “I cannot believe her argument is not in support of the government.” versus “I can’t believe her argument isn’t in support of the government.” It may not seem like a big difference, but it will be to your English teacher and it’s an easy fix!

Where you should/shouldn’t use it: You have to know if your paper is formal or informal. Usually if you’re talking about yourself or your life, it’s informal and you can use contractions. However, if you’re writing about another subject and can’t use ‘I’ or ‘we’ then it’s probably formal and contractions are a no-no.

4) Eliminate that

Why you shouldn’t use it: Often ‘that’ is just a filler word. There are times when you have to use it like, “that ride was really fun,” but there are also A LOT of times when it isn’t needed. For example “when I blew out the candles I wished that I would get good presents” still makes sense if you just say “when I blew out the candles I wished I would get good presents.” You still understood what I meant and I didn’t say ‘that’! Woah, it’s mind blowing, I know!

Where you should use it: EVERYWHERE! This may not be something teachers focus on, but you never know. Cutting out ‘that’ can make your writing more concise. If that’s (this one’s okay!) something your teacher says you’re lacking then I suggest looking at an old paper and circling all of the ‘that’s, it could be the problem.

5) Don’t start with because

Why you shouldn’t use it: We’ve all heard since Kindergarten not to start a sentence with ‘because’, but sometimes it may seem unavoidable. The next time you start a sentence with ‘because’, see if replacing it with ‘since’ or ‘as a result of’ would work.

Where you shouldn’t use it: I can’t think of a place where ‘since’ or ‘as a result of’ couldn’t take the place of ‘because’. For example, saying, “Because I went to the bar last night, there’s no way I can go to class” sounds better if you say, “Since I went to the bar last night, there’s no way I can go to class.” Same with “Because of my exam grade, I got a B in Biology,” which can become: “As a result of my exam grade, I got a B in Biology.”

Give these 5 quick types a try and see how it goes. Your teacher may not notice a few of them, but they will make you a better writer and help you in the future, I promise!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get Your License!

As a Creative Writing major, I tend to have to go through my papers for other classes to make sure I did not throw in an ungrammatical sentence. Like this.

Just thinking about the topic of Creative License, or Artistic License, gives me the warm fuzzies inside. I love the freedom I have in a Creative Writing class to write however I choose, however my brain sees fit at the time. How comforting it is to know I don't have to use correct grammar (though most of the time I do) and structure! What I place on the paper is right, no matter what. With Creative License, we have the power to do anything with our stories, poems, essays, etc.

this, for
example. I
canwrite a poem
shaped like a Christ
mas tree about the love
of others during the season.
And I can putspaces and periods
I choose.

That's a poetry example. For prose, we could do the same thing, but it is not very common. Usually in prose, the creativity comes from the structure and the language. Once I wrote a nonfiction essay consisting of five short paragraphs separated by white spaces. They all narrate completely different scenes, but they share a common topic.

And for the creative writer, it makes perfect sense.

If it weren't for the solid training I had in formal writing in middle school, I would not have proceeded to write creatively in high school. Similarly, if it weren't for the solid training I had in creative writing in high school, I probably would not have grown as a stronger formal writer in the rest of high school and college. The two types of writing complement each other. What good is a formal piece if there is no creative voice, nothing that stands out from the rest?

And, well, what good is a creative piece if there is no skill in writing in general?

So, will you get your license?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As Summer Draws to a Close...

A commonly used cliché states that you should go out with a bang. Working at the WVU Writing Center, a common problem I see is in a neglected conclusion. Most professors stress the necessity of a strong introduction, and while this is essential to any good paper, so is a good concluding paragraph. In my experience, I have come across many wonderful introductions, yet it was obvious that the writer focused most of their energy on the beginning, causing the end of their paper to be lacking. Therefore, as the new semester begins, I hope that you will begin to consider the necessity of ending your paper with a bang.

Concluding paragraphs, along with the introduction, provide the back-bone for a good essay. This said, a conclusion can be one of the most difficult things to write in a paper. The point of a conclusion is to help a reader relate the ideas in your paper to their everyday lives by establishing a logical ending to your writing. Abrupt or inadequate endings can suddenly cut readers off in the middle of an idea, and long, wordy, conclusions may leave a reader hanging or confused on specific issues. Therefore, writing a good conclusion is essential. For an ending that reinforces the main points and flows smoothly, a couple strategies can be used:

  • Ask yourself "so what" about the information and ideas presented in your paper to help yourself discover what you want to say in your conclusion.
  • Start the concluding paragraph by finding new words in which to restate your original thesis.
  • Synthesize, don't summarize. Blend your main ideas in a brief summary.
  • Have a clincher to end your paper. For example, challenge the reader to seek more information, point to the broader implications, or look to the future.
Additionally, there are a few things that you should strive to avoid doing when writing a conclusion. For instance, you should try not to introduce new ideas, use clichéd phrases such as "In conclusion," and reword the introduction instead of restating the thesis. A conclusion is meant to wrap up your paper. It should not be just another body paragraph with a concluding sentence tacked on the end, nor should it be only a sentence or two. Good conclusions will hopefully leave your readers happy that they read your essay.

On the whole, while concluding paragraphs can sometimes be difficult to write, with the proper help and knowledge, not all endings have to be painful. Whether a conclusion lacks substance because the writer just wants to finish their paper quickly or because a person is ignorant of what a proper conclusion should contain, I hope with the information I have just provided, you will now know enough to not be able to claim the latter as an excuse. Alas, as the conclusion allows you to have the final say in your paper, I will conclude this blog entry by wishing you good luck and happy writing for the fall semester!

Friday, September 2, 2011

7 Ways to Be Successful Early in the Semester

Now is the time of year when classes have just started, and students are beginning to force themselves back into the academic routine. While everyone probably feels like they can slack off at the start of the semester and make up for it later in the year, starting off on your best foot can really help you once it comes time for mid-terms and finals. In order to help out with the end of the summer drag, the WVU Writing Center is offering seven easy tips to help students be successful early this academic year.

1. Come to Class: I know that no one wants to be awake and thoughtful for an 8:30 AM class, but simply showing up on time, listening to lectures, and taking a few notes will seriously aid you in the long run. By doing this, students know what the teacher covers from a particular chapter in the book or section of the class and can be better prepared when it comes time to study. Not to mention the fact that nobody should lose any easy points for attendance.

2. Write down Due Dates for Assignments Early: Once I receive all the syllabi for my classes, the first thing I do is record every due date for a paper and every test date. This way, you can see which week or day will be particularly difficult from having multiple assignments and exams overlapping. Later, on, you will thank yourself for the early warning.

3. Put Your Best Effort into Classes Early: Even though everyone is tempted to put off readings, papers, and studying at the beginning of the semester, it’s always best to keep on top of your class work at the start so that you won’t get overloaded with work once it comes time for the first exam and mid-terms. Also, you will perform better overall if you stay ahead of the work early before finding out exactly how difficult a class will be.

4. Make Lists: Sometimes the pure act of listing what needs to be done will help you remember to do school or house work and give you the motivation to complete it. I know that it’s tempting to simply watch TV or surf the Internet whenever you get a break, but keeping a to-do list will remind you to budget that time wisely. Then once you feel good about crossing off your work as done, you’ll enjoy checking up on Facebook or watching TV that much more.

5. Get on a Good Sleep Schedule: Figuring out the time that you should be in bed by may seem very juvenile, but getting a good night of sleep is imperative to being rested and ready for class the next day. Not to mention the fact that you’ll be more motivated to do school work when you aren’t drowsing off into a mid-day nap. While becoming adjusted to a different bedtime routine is difficult at first, once you get into the groove of being in bed by midnight or so, you’ll find it hard to break your new healthy pattern of sleeping, that is until the weekend rolls around.

6. Don’t be Afraid of Your Professors: Making a good impression on your teachers early on in the year will definitely help you at the end of year when grades are given. I’m not saying that you will automatically get the best grade in the class without putting in any effort, but I am saying that your professor will look upon you more favorably. First, you should try to sit at the front of the class and not be afraid to participate if the opportunity presents itself. Second, you should try to visit professors during their office hours to get extra help. Not many students take advantage of the opportunity to get to know their teachers during this time and get extra feedback on papers and studying.

7. If you get behind, don’t get stressed out! This advice doesn’t mean that you should give up or not try; it means that getting overly stressed will only hurt your performance and health in the long run.

The WVU Writing Center wishes students good luck and a great job this new semester. Following these tips is an easy way to get a head start on the academic year. Though some may sound like common sense, it’s always helpful to have a reminder of what we should be doing, especially when it seems like the hard choice.