Tag Archive | college writing

Grammar does matter.

In almost everything I write for school, the teacher will almost always take off some points for grammar. Not always the technical things, but each teacher does expect that you can write things correctly.

That being said, my boss, for lack of better terms, recommended this website. Now, I will say that it took a bit to load, but the podcasts look very good.

And while we’re at this, this was a rather humorous video.

Struggles with writing.

In keeping with my series this week of formal writing, I have collected a series of quotes from other writers that may or may not be applicable.

For all those people who stare at the screen, not sure where to start.

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.

–Sidney Sheldon

For all those wondering what on earth you’re suppose to cite.

When you take stuff from one writer, it’s plagiarism. But when you take it from many writers, it’s research.

–William Mizner

Now, in case you were wondering about the editing part of it.

There is no great writing, only great rewriting.

–Justice Brandeis

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.

–Thomas Jefferson

And then if you are ever wondering if you will get it right.

The moment of recognizing your own lack of talent is a flash of genius.

–Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I’m one of the world’s great rewriters.

—-James A. Michener

So just remember, all writing takes time, patience, energy and a good portion of you wanting to learn and edit.

And if you want some more help “Things I’ve Learned From Editing Other People’s Papers” is advice I’ve written up from one of my jobs, and may be of help.

Research paper–meet Wikipedia!

Wikipedia's articles are longer than any other encyclopedia out there, with fewer mistakes, so why can't we use it?

With the rise of the internet, wikipedia has become a popular source of information of all kinds. An often-heard statement may be, “According to Wikipedia” or “I looked it up on Wikipedia.”

However, one of the first thing that people are told when writing a formal college paper is:

You cannot cite wikipedia as one of your sources!

Well, why not? And if we can’t, what good is it?

The general answer to why not is that it is user-created content. But what does that possible mean?

Let’s say you are to do a research paper on fezzes. So you start reading:

click to read.

Now, since you know nothing about fezzes, that sounds reasonable. Maybe slight unprofessional but reasonable.

However, what it should read is:

Click to read.

What happened with that?

Someone edited the wikipedia article. That is what it means by user-created content. Anyone can create anything. Not only might have you put in your paper that fezzes’ name may come from the word “cool” in Greek, but you might have mentioned that fezzes are worn with bow-ties.

Another example, with less pictures. My brother and mom were having an argument about the word “bloke“. Bloke is an English term for basically a regular man. My mom did not like the sound of the word, and did not think that it was appropriate  for use in South Dakota, USA. So my brother edited the wikipedia artile to say:

Usage notes

North America, except Quebec and South Dakota: dated, rare.

Now, since my mom was originally citing wikipedia, wikipedia now agrees with my brother’s side and thus, she loses.

Now that we’ve gotten it cleared up as to why we cannot use wikipedia as a source, what good is it in formal writing? There are actually several good uses for it.

1) A starting point. Say that you need to write a paper on a topic you know nothing about. You might not have even heard about the topic. You can go to wikipedia and get a background of the said topic.  Say, also, that you are writing a position paper and you aren’t really quite sure what the other side is saying. On at least some topics, wikipedia will give a good foundation for what the opposition says, so you can counter their arguments.

2) A point of reference. Just because you cannot cite wikipedia does not mean that you cannot cite wikipedia’s citation. Now, this doesn’t mean that we can take a section of an article, say, here:

The Turkish word “fes” may refer to the city of Fez in Morocco, or to the name of the crimson berry, which was imported from that country and was used to dye the felt.[2]

Go to the 2 source here:

  1. ^ Fez in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary
  2. ^ a b Rugh, Andrea B., “Reveal and Conceal: Dress in Contemporary Egypt“, p.13, (1986) ISBN 978-0815623687
  3. ^Byzantine and Modern Greek studies, Volumes 1-4” (IngentaConnect) p.91 (1975)

And type that up in MLA or APA or whatever format you need for your paper. I’m sorry, but you do need to actually read the source you are citing, because sometimes people will misconstrue the article’s meaning. But, if you are having a difficult time finding sources, sometimes wikipedia can be there to give you options.

3) Pictures. There are some terms that are really easy to do a search for. Say, beagles. I do a search for beagles and I get quite a few. However, if I do a search for fezzes I get some.  Not that many however.

However, I do a search what the official weight of the kilogram stored in France looks like and I get nothing.  Not a clue. However, I go to wikipedia, look up kilogram and I get:

Which is apparently called the international prototype kilogram. I didn’t know that.

Now that  I’ve seen the picture, if I can’t include it in what I am writing (and most images on wikpedia are either licensed creative commons or public domain, so you can use the picture.), I can at least describe what it looks like.

So, wikipedia does have its place and is a valuable research tool, both to understand the topic at hand, and to get places to do further research. So now you know how to use wikipedia when writing research papers.

Happy Wikipeding.

spice up the writing

Yesterday I talked about the basic grammar of sentences and what you need to know. That’s all fine and good but in all honestly, basic nouns and verbs only go so far. Even when you add in adjectives and adverbs, you sound wonderful.

One of the things that writers need to avoid is excessively littering your writing with adjective and adverbs. They do serve a place–don’t get me wrong–but using two or three of them per sentence will not result in good writing.

Take for this sentences for example:

The girl ran across the road and entered the library.

I could go on and on how we could modify this sentence to make it sound very good with plenty of description  but I won’t. (If you are interested, it can be found in The Art of Fiction somewhere.)

If I were to add perhaps two adjectives/adverbs, it’d sound okay.

The girl quickly ran across the road and entered the grand library.

However, if I litter the sentence with adjectives and adverbs, it doesn’t sound all that good.

The stocky, red-head girl quickly and directly ran across the dusty, pebble road and cautiously entered the tall, grand library.

See what I mean?

So if you can’t add in any number of adjectives and adverbs to get your point, what is one to do? This is where we spice up the writing.

I shall introduce something to you that I call strong words. I don’t know what an English teacher would call them but this is what I call them.

Strong words are words that denote a vivid picture. They are generally adjectives (combining several adjectives into one word) or verbs, although they can occasionally be nouns or adverbs. The goal of these is to create a better picture than flat words.

Here is the sentence when I insert strong words:

The girl darted across the road and slipped into the library.

See? That gives a much better picture. And now, I can still add in a few adjectives.

The ragged girl darted across the road and slipped into the elegant  library.

And that still works, it still sound relatively good, and it gives a picture. Pictures, in writing, are good.

Now, something that you must understand about this is that almost every single word has a sliding scale to it. If I say I am sad, then I’m kinda down, kinda so-so, but i’ll be fine tomorrow. If I say I’m despondent, that gives a much clearer picture.

Strong words are always better than adjectives or adverbs when writing. If you need help, try creating a sliding scale. Take your word–say, happy–and insert all the possible words to describe happy from the least happy to the most happy. Then, you should be able to figure out which one fits the best.

Just a note too. Question of the Week due by Saturday night. That’s two days left.

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.