things i’ve learned from editing others’ papers

I work in the writing center at my school, meaning that when another student wants help with editing or proof reading their research paper, they come to me. Though this, I’ve seen some of the most interesting errors and some of the most common errors. Based off of my slight observation, here are some things to watch out for in your own writing. (Just so you know, I’m writing this towards someone who struggles with writing in general. If you are, basically, a good writing, much of this will not apply to you.)

1) The introduction stinks. Starting at the very beginning isn’t always the best place to start. Sometimes, the worst part of the paper is in the first three to four sentences. My advice? If you must, write the first sentences. But when you are done, go back and rewrite the first sentences. If you can, however, just five in without an introduction and just write, then write the first couple of sentences once you know what you want to say.

2) Colons are not your friends. A colon is this : . Fact is, a lot of people don’t see them that often in writing. Why? Maybe because they are so difficult to use. Here’s how you use them. If there is any list, you use it. For instance, “Two of the most dangerous people roamed the streets between 2015 and 2020: Bob Jones and Larry Smith.”  In formal writing, that is the only situation to use it. But in all honestly, when in doubt, just don’t.

3) Semicolons are not your friends. Very similar to colons, most people just don’t know how to use them. General rule of them: If you can place a period there, you can place a semicolon there. However, use them sparingly, as they are a little weaker than periods. Semicolons do not go  before quotation marks. Only commas go there. Again, if possible, avoid them.

4) Very short sentences/paragraphs are not bad. I know, it doesn’t seem right. But just because something is short does not mean that it is bad. She typed her message. It’s short–yes!– but it is a full complete sentence. She cried. Also a full complete sentence. HOwever, the sentence after that is not so you have to be on your guard. This is informal writing, so I can get away with it. ;) (I can also get away with putting in smilie faces. Don’t try that for your English 101 class.)

Also, short paragraphs are not bad. Sometimes you need a short paragraph just to step back, say, this is where we are heading now and this is the order I will take you there, and then go.  Which brings me onto number five.

5) Paragraphs are one thought. You know all those things you did in elementary school where they had you find the topic sentence in the paragraph? That still applies to research papers. Today I saw a paper with part of a hormonal commentary on one half, and part of it on the next paragraph. Combine the two! Sometimes it helps to outline actually, even if you do that after you write the paper. Maybe have something like:

  1. introduction
  2. Statistics for females of mixed-twin couples childbearing
  3. Hormonal theory.
  4. animal examples.
  5. Conclusion.

This way, you know that you put all of your statistics into one paragraph, all of the theory about how the hormones are to blame, and then the examples found among animals. Very simple. Very basic. Very helpful.

6) Spell check, although helpful, is not always your friend. Spell check doesn’t realize you might mean an instead of and, or vise versus. It doesn’t realize that you might mean it’s instead of its. It can only tell you that sentances is spelled sentences. And it sure can’t read your mind.

7) Was and Were are evil words. Research papers are boring enough without having was/were littering the page. Was/were are boring words. So, if you can easily remove them, do it. It makes your paper sound nicer and makes it more interesting.

8) Remember to match nouns to their pronouns. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like using he and she or he/she. It sounds too robotic. However, if you write something in the singular form, you must make sure they match. Example: Every company president will drive his/her (Not their, because we are modifying president) car in the parade.

9) Learn to write and use proper grammar early and often. YOu’ll be writing your whole life. So don’t just use proper grammar and punctiation while writing research papers.  Use it in e-mails, facebook, letters, speech, everywhere. The more you use it, the easier it will be and the quicker it will be to write your research paper.

Now, although I focused mainly on formal writing and research papers, much of this can apply to fictional works as well.

1) The introduction stinks. Unless you’re one of the writers who plan out everything in advance, chances are you will have to rewrite your first scene, or delete it entirely.  It’s not because you’re a bad writer. It’s because you didn’t know where you were going when you started.

9) Learn to write and use proper grammar early and often. This has the exact same application among fiction writers as it does to formal writers. Take the time to write properly, so everything will look better quicker.

2 and 3) Colons and Semicolons are not your friends. and number  8) Remember to match nouns to their pronouns. These are general grammar rules. Learn them. Although learn semicolons to if you are writing fiction, as they are occasionally nice.

4) Very short sentences/paragraphs are not bad. These can be incredibly powerful in fiction, if used sparingly. It adds an extra punch. But don’t do it a lot, especially short paragraphs. (And in fiction, you can have a three word paragraph.)

5) Paragraphs are one thought, 6) Spell check, although helpful, is not always your friend and 7) Was and Were are evil words are basic cleanup suggestions. Use them wisely. (More to come on number 6 soon.)

And lastly, a bonus one for fiction writers.

10) Exclamations points should be hardly used. Same reason as the very short sentences/paragraphs; they get cheapened. Use them very sparingly and only when you wish to convey intense emotion.

TWo announcements also. 1) Two more days until I need Question of the Week answers. 2) I broke 1,000 viewers on this blog yesterday. Thanks, guys.

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About Abigail

I'm an elementary education major at a college in the Midwest. I might graduate as early as December '13 but more likely May '14. I write when I can. I also knit on occasion, draw, do homework and contradict teachers to make people think. :)

One response to “things i’ve learned from editing others’ papers”

  1. limewire says :

    dang sweet info man.

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