Archive for February, 2011

virtues of the grading rubric?

February 28, 2011

It’s not a mystery as to why students tend to feel anxious about grades. When your writing is being ranked, evaluated, tension lurks around every corner. Though there is no complete or easy solution to this quagmire—you can use your professor’s evaluation standards and philosophies to your advantage. When presented with a grading rubric (a set of criteria typically listing performance standards tied to letter grades) instead of worrying so much about the grade think more about the language. Is it coherent? What’s the logic? What does it say about crafting an essay?

Reading carefully through the rubric can provide you with a mental picture of what’s being asked of you. Moreover, when you’re still learning what makes a strong thesis; how to structure the argument following the thesis; and particulars of analysis and sentence mechanics, absorbing details of this nature goes a long way in being able to think critically about academic essays.

Whether you like evaluation or the thought of it makes you cringe, looking at the rubric and speaking with your professor not only helps you understand what it takes to make a grade—but more importantly gives you a discernible outlook on how to become a well-established college writer. My advice, don’t shy away from it because of how it makes you feel. Find what’s right about it and learn. And find what doesn’t work for you and put it through the wringer.

Transitive and Intrasitive Verbs

February 27, 2011

Trying to think of some ways to clarify your paper, or to get into the nitty gritty of grammar? This is the perfect post for you! Let’s start with this: try to identifying the direct and indirect objects in your sentence. Not sure what I’m talking about? Read on!

Well, a direct object follows the transitive verb.  But what’s a transitive verb?

A transitive verb is something you do followed by who or what it is being done to. 

 An intransitive verb is a verb not proceeded by direct object–something you do but it is not mentioned who or what it is being done to.

 Example: Jordan returned the car.            Transitive (T) verb: returned//Direct object (DO) = the car

    Serra returned before supper.  Intransitive (I): returned, but with no direct object.

 Now you try:  Identify the underlined verb as transitive (T) or intransitive (I).  If transitive identify the direct object.

  1. Smokey the bear hates forest fires. 
  2. Little Jennifer found the missing key.
  3. Wilhelmina collects tropical fish.
  4. The Hernandez family eats outdoors in the summer.
  5. The irate customer spoke angrily.


  1. Answers: 1(T) direct object = “forest fires” , 2 (T) direct object = “key”, 3 (T) direct object = “fish”, 4 (I) What do they eat while outdoors?, 5 (I) Who did he speak to?

 Now, let’s try the indirect-object inversion technique.

  • Neal sent the package to Krystal.
  • Transitive verb = sent
  • Direct object = the package
  • Indirect Object=  Krystal
  • Now switch the two and you’ll get a new sentence like, Neal sent Krystal the package.
  • Note: This technique does not work if there is no indirect object.  For example, you cannot rearrange the sentence: She bought a watch for forty dollars. You could not say, though: She bought forty dollars a watch.

 Now, you try.  Rewrite the following sentences, if you can.  First, identify the indirect object. Remember: If there is no indirect object, then it cannot be rewritten!

    • Mrs. Smith gave a new dress to her daughter.
    • The commissioner sent it to the new champion.
    • Ned handed a hundred dollars to his bookie.
    • Mr. Jones bought it for his grandson.

Answers: 1) Mrs. Smith gave her daughter a new dress.  2) No (INDO). 3) Ned handed his bookie a hundred dollars.  4) No (INDO)

Run-on sentences

February 23, 2011

When you write an academic essay, you have a lot of information to consider. All of this information is jockeying for a place in the essay; each piece wants to go first, and to be the most important. Sometimes, because of this mass of information, it is hard to stick to one topic at a time. One of the problems that will arise from this is that you may find yourself writing a lot of run on sentences. If you can identify what a run-on sentence is, then you will be able to avoid them more easily. A run-on sentence has at least two independent clauses that are improperly fused together. They are either two clauses that are best left separate because they do not actually connect to each other, or they are two clauses that have a connection that is insufficient. Run-on sentences can be confusing to recognize. They offer a tempting means of organizing a mass of information. Run-on sentences are tempting, because they masquerade as complex clauses. In an academic essay, it is important to take your time when organizing your thoughts. Analyze your sentences, and try to notice how each clause connects to the next one. Here are some examples of run-on sentences:

1. When an independent clause gives an order or directive based on what was said in the prior independent clause:
The restaurant is downtown, you should take the freeway.
2. When two independent clauses are connected by a transitional expression (conjunctive adverb) such as however, moreover, nevertheless.
Ms. Smith enjoys the literature program at her college, however, she has left her homework in the library.
3. When the second of two independent clauses contains a pronoun that connects it to the first independent clause.
This DVD player isn’t working, it didn’t’ come with instructions.

How do we fix these sentences?

One way that we can separate the sentences is with a period. Never underestimate the impact of short, concise sentences. If you want to keep the sentences relatively complex, you can use a semi-colon. A semi-colon is a great tool to use for avoiding comma splices. Another way to fix a run-on is to use both a comma and a conjunction, like ‘and’ or ‘but’. You can employ a variety of techniques, but the important thing to remember is that the two (or more) clauses must connect logically; they cannot merely be stuck together. A clause is a complete and logical thought. It is important to give your thought the credit that it is due, after all, you’ve worked hard on it!

Top 5 Ways for Defeating Writer’s Block

February 22, 2011

Hello All! As you might have noticed, we have added several exciting new writers to our team. Be sure to check out some of their recent posts on working on conclusions, taking an assignment and owning it, and the importance of punctuation! If none of these topics interest you, you can always leave a comment and let us know what you want to hear about!

Now that all of that stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about some of the easiest ways to help you get over writer’s block!

1. Just start writing: It doesn’t matter what comes out on paper, or what the grammar looks like—just get that pencil moving. Another secret here is try doing this with a pen and paper. Sometimes it is easier to have your hands moving and to feel creative when you used the old fashioned way, instead of the computer.
2. Make an outline: Sometimes the task of taking on an essay feels so overwhelming, that it is impossible to get started. One of the easiest ways to get past this anxiety is to organize your thoughts in a clear and concise outline. This way, you know how your essay is going to be structured, and you just have to write it.
3. Take a walk: Being cooped up in a small room, staring at a blank computer screen does not help to get those creative juices flowing. Go outside, take a walk, appreciate the fresh air, and come back. Sometimes all you need is a change in scenery to get that thought process going.
4. Make a poster: I know this one may sound like you are stuck back in elementary school, but trust me–it works! Having a huge space to take notes, doodle or creatively explore your ideas can really loosen you up and get the ideas flowing easily!
5. Talk it out: Meet up with a study group that is in the same class. Explore some of the ideas that you found interesting. You can feed off of each other. It is an easy way to not only make new friends in the class, but to actively engage with a text that you are reading. Just be sure to take notes!

Why punctuation matters

February 11, 2011

Why is punctuation so important?

  • Ambiguity: Women without her man is a savage.
    • A comma can radically change the meaning of a sentence.  Who is the savage?
    • Women, without her man, is a savage.
    • Women: without her, man is a savage.


  • I would like to thank my parents Sinead O’Connor and the Pope.
    • Did Sinead O’Connor and the Pope have a baby?!?  How many people are being thanked?
    • I would like to thank my parents, Sinead O’Connor, and the Pope.
  • To build a tree house you need an imaginative child and four support beams all nailed directly to the tree.
    • What is happening to this baby?  How do you build a tree house?

To build a tree house you need an imaginative child, and four support beams all nailed directly to the tree.

doing your best to make essay assignments your own

February 8, 2011

Though many of the essays you write as an undergrad tend to be direct responses to questions prepared by your professor, sometimes your best bet is to approach each topic with a question of your own: How do I make this essay my own?

You’ve been, by and large, taught the standard model of an essay: Introduction, Thesis, Body (coherent logic tying together evidence and ideas relative to the claim(s) of the Thesis) and Conclusion.  But sometimes it’s hard to come up with a clear and insightful thesis—particularly when you have cursory knowledge of the topic; minimal interest; or simply struggle to understand it.  Thus when I say making the essay your own, what I mean is answering the question(s) within a, let’s call it a subcontext, of an argument or idea that you’re interested in, knowledgeable of, or have direct experience with.

For example, your assignment is to read a famous politician or philosopher’s speech and answer a question that’s designed to promote analysis (i.e. What are some of the rhetorical tenants of their persuasive arguments?  What does it illuminate about the social dynamics of the time period?  And what role does the church play with respect to being the foundation of their logic?). Questions, essays, of this nature tend to serve as practical practice for students for the purpose of sharpening their rhetorical skills.  Yet sometimes they appear to leave little room for the important process of going beyond surface-level analysis/summary and into the domain interpretation.

It’s rather common that when a student is asked to create a novel thesis out of what initially appears to be a container that can only fit large swaths of summary with only small segments of analysis, their thesis is in danger of not being a thesis at all.  All writers in these situations can find that their paper has a repetitive Introduction, vague Thesis that can’t quite provide the structure for the paper to follow and a Body that is supported by fractured integrations of bits of examples/citations.  Basically, the paper is fragmented.

Although you will find certain questions or topics that do not leave you struggling to form a strong thesis (marked by being easily identifiable, plausible and refined), no matter what you’re faced with as a student you have to sift through the assignments and bring the argument “closer to home.”  There are many ways to do this.  One way is find what you like.  For instance, if you find religion to be a fascinating topic you can start to think about what insights can be elicited from the disciplines of psychology or history.  This can lead to, say, coming to understand patterns (small examples of the historical trajectories) of religion’s role in politics.  Thus you can back track and begin to form an argument that attempts to explain some connections as to why the politician or philosopher used religion in a multifaceted way to disarm his oppositions and call for action.

But the tricky part is sometimes doing all the extra research not only is not part of the assignment, but also impossible do to time restraints.  Still, you don’t strictly have to think about this in terms of a large research paper because sometimes making an essay your own merely entails you taking a topic and lending your own memory, knowledge and experience.

Either way, the endpoint is to foster connections in order to better understand things.  Starting with a little research right now, or being willing to incorporate your own knowledge, can serve as the essential practice for what you’ll be asked to do more and more as you pursue your degree.  The sooner you pull away the seedlings of what you’re interested in, know, or are interested in knowing, the sooner you begin to teach yourself—germinating independent thought.

Writing your Conclusion

February 6, 2011

So, you’ve written the bulk of your essay.  You are happy with your thesis statement and the body of the paper looks good.  But when you try to write your conclusion, you find that you’re stuck.  Most people dread writing conclusions; and because it is the last part of the essay, it often gets brushed aside.  But there are a few tricks to learning how to write a compelling conclusion without merely restating the introduction.

A concluding paragraph reaffirms the thesis.  A good way to do this is by echoing the thesis without restating it word for word. In this way it brings the essay full circle, and is also a useful tool in referring back to the essay as a whole.  If, when you restate your thesis, you find that the statement no longer applies or has changed in any way, then you can go back into the essay to find where you may have changed course.  You should not, however, simply restate the thesis.  At the end of the essay you should be able to look at your thesis in a new light.  Your thesis has evolved into a proved theory.  Use that to add to the conclusion.  Revisit the thesis in a way that reflects your understanding of the argument.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when writing a conclusion is introducing new information.  The conclusion should summarize the essay—so if new information is in the conclusion, it will seem strange that this information was not in the body of the essay as well.  This is another opportunity to see what you may have missed in the essay body.  Is this information crucial? Or is it merely something you feel you need to add to the conclusion as a sort of filler?  Your conclusion should wrap up the essay, without adding previously unexplored details.

In the conclusion, do not simply reword the introduction. The conclusion is the last thing your teacher will read, and you want to leave with a good, lasting impression.  Review your argument, taking into account all of the factors you have explored in your essay. In the conclusion, you want to map how your argument developed, and how it brought you to the end.  It really is that simple.  Stick with concrete details.  Do not end the essay with a vague statement about world peace or how (your topic) is ‘good’ for everyone.  Be specific.  Use evidence from the essay.  You can even use a quote.  Even if you feel like you are being repetitive, it is much better to end with strong detail than with a throw away statement.  Above all, relax.  The conclusion should reaffirm your argument and validate your work.  If you have taken the time to research the topic and you feel good about your essay, then it will do just that.