Author Archive

Strategies for Becoming a Critical Thinker

February 27, 2012

To become an astute, credible writer, you need to gain the trust of your audience. To do this, you must first learn to think critically. Though this seems like a vague concept, critical thinking is at the core of all clear, concise, and well thought-out argumentation—the types of attributes which will help you succeed not only in writing a paper, but in your academic career overall. Below we have listed some of the main strategies for critical thinking.

  • The first step to becoming a good critical thinker is approaching something with an open mind. If you bring all of your preconceptions with you to a piece, you have an agenda. You will miss out on many of the subtleties (or blatant mistakes) of the argument.
  • Ask questions!!! Asking the right questions of an argument/ author can help you evaluate the information you have been given. For instance, if you are listening to a political speech, ask yourself what the agenda of that candidate is? Is it to win votes? Gain the support of a certain party? Or, you may be watching a commercial for painkillers that says they are doctor recommended. What kinds of doctors are recommending this medicine? Do they work for the pharmaceutical company?
  • Embrace your inner skeptic! This is not just about asking a lot of questions, and it is not about being cynical. Truly try to suspend previous biases you may have, and ask what is really going on when you see an argument laid out in front of you. Test the logic of the claim, rather than buying in to an emotional appeal!
  • Be okay with the uncertainty involved in becoming a critical thinker. Even if you do not have the answers, at least you are open to finding them out. Being okay with poking holes in any claim, rather than accepting it as fact, will help you approach the world with your eyes open. It will also give you the skills to test your own claim in a paper.

As you go forward, really ask yourself what the strengths and weaknesses of your argument are. Did you write your own biases into your paper, just to support your conclusion? Or, is your claim logically thought out and constructed? Subject your work to this process, and you are opening your mind, while also acting as your own self-advocate.

Don’t want to read this entire post? Click here for a link on critical thinking!


5 Easy Tips to Conquering Your Writing Fear

January 23, 2012

Turning out the first paper of the semester can be a bit daunting, especially when you are new to the class, and unsure of the teacher’s expectations. We are all secretly convinced that we are horrible writers, incapable of turning out a decent bit of work–or we are overconfident, and end up with an essay slapped together 5 minutes before class that will assuredly be brilliant. If you are one of those people, please continue on your way. This blog post is not for you; it is directed at my fellow anxiety ridden students who are about to melt down in a panic attack at the thought of writing an essay. Trust me, I am right there with you. However, after a long career of several panic-riddled essays that I have survived, I would like to offer a few tips to overcome the fear of writing.

  1. It just isn’t that bad! You may feel as if you are the worst writer on the face of the planet, your essay is doomed to fail from the get-go, and no idea you have is worth while. Say hello to the floor for me as you melt onto it. Then, regain consistency and consider the facts: you have made it this far in your education. You must have something worthwhile to say, otherwise you would have failed out long ago. Writing the essay for your English 1 class will not doom all of us to world hunger, nor will it solve the problem (most likely), so just relax and write. It is only a grade.
  2. Self esteem is key! As you are sitting there plotting out your outline, convincing yourself you are going to fail, you are, in fact, dooming yourself to failure. One of the greatest anxieties for any student about putting his/her thoughts down on paper is the simple fear that those thoughts may not be important. Well, they are! Try putting post-it notes around your computer, thinking of positive things as you write. Super, super corny, I know! But that little vote of confidence may be just what you need to get you over the hump of writing that first sentence.
  3. Set goals you can accomplish! One of the hardest things to do in writing is to actually feel satisfied with the work you have accomplished for the day. There is always a sentence that is off, more you could have said, blah, blah, blah. So, moral of the story, set goals realistic to what you can get done in a day. Work on one paragraph in a two hour span. Heck, work on a few sentences that seem off. Limit what you do, and be smart enough to be happy with your work.
  4. Do a rough draft! Notice: the best papers actually take a lot of work. Give yourself the opportunity to put your best foot forward by actually starting a paper early. This can help relieve the anxiety of starting the paper as well. If you know you are just working on a rough draft, you can just start writing, and not have to worry if it sounds perfect or not.
  5. Just start, don’t edit! Okay, I know this is kinda the same point as above, but it is an important one, so I am going to repeat it. When you start the drafting process, DO NOT begin by immediately going in and editing your work. This would drive the most gifted writer mad. Give yourself the kindness and courtesy of being forgiving with your rough draft. Let it have mistakes, and correct them after. You can alway set it aside and bring those fresh eyes–and brains–back to it later.

Top 5 Tips To Help You Survive Freshman Year

August 25, 2011

Welcome to your freshman year of college! It is exciting, nerve wracking, and momentous. As you go through this week, you will probably feel overwhelmed a time or two. Remember, everyone around you is having that same sensation! All of college is hard, but freshman year is the hardest, the one with the biggest adjustment from high school to college, from normal life to student life! Check out our top 5 tips to successfully surviving freshman year!

1)    Get Organized! Take advantage of the early part of the semester when your life is still calm. Get a planner. Write down all of your due dates, your class schedule, everything. It may seem dorky the first time you do it, but trust me, it will save your life.

2)    Start Early! It is two in the morning, and you are staring at the computer screen, watching the cursor flash in the same spot it was in 3 hours ago. You have half a page written, and this essay is due in 5 hours. As the generation that has gone before you, I can honestly say—We have all been there! I can also honestly say—You don’t want to be there. The stress, no sleep, rushing to class with a paper full of typos, is miserable. Do the smart thing I never did, and get started early. Write a rough draft of your paper, and give yourself a week to edit it. It will help; I promise. You can even set a reminder in your phone, or in your Mills email to pop up a week or two before that essay is due to get you started. *Google Calendar is my reminder of choice.*

3)    Know Your Resources! One of the great things about attending a small, private school is that you have plenty of resources available, and a lot of people who want to help you get the attention you need. The Center for Academic Excellence is one of the buildings you will want to know. This is where your peer tutors are located, and the fabulous Writing Center (we really are awesomely amazing and helpful—I promise!). Remember that the Mills Website has a lot of this information available, but if you are still confused, ask one of your professors. They can point you in the right direction.

4)    Stock up on supplies! Okay, I know this sounds like the nerdiest suggestion in the world. However, as an incoming freshman, you have yet to be sitting in the middle of a written exam with a broken pencil, and no back-up pen. Now, you will either have to bug the person next to you, disturb the class as you rummage through your bag, or ask the professor to borrow one (who may not be that enthusiastic about this little dilemma). Just trust me on this one: bring an extra pen or pencil, an extra blue book, and more notebook paper than you ever think you will need (that way, at least one page will survive the inevitable coffee spillage).

5)    Just Breath! You will be okay. Your are going to make it here! Take the time to take care of yourself. It is your first year, a time you will never get back. Remember to eat right, get a full night’s sleep, and take the time to hang out with your friends. I am not advocating abandoning all study skills, but having a well balanced life will keep you healthy, happy and sane though a challenging year.

I am sure at this point you are wondering why you bothered wasting your now precious minutes reading this blog post. As simple as they seem, these tips were all gained through the rather painful process of trial and error. I can only hope you will learn from them, and  take advantage of your time and the people that are there to help you succeed. Best of luck your freshman year! We look forward to seeing all of you in the Writing Center soon!

MLA Works Cited

April 14, 2011

For many of us, the works cited page is the looming beast at the end of the paper. It strikes terror into the hearts of students merely by existing. It is the part of the paper that you are never exactly sure if you have quite right, especially with MLA. Not to mention, MLA has recently updated, and now has new changes to add for when you are working on that works cited page. Fantastic! But, keep in mind that citing your sources in an academic research paper is imperative; if you do not give credit to the original author, it is considered plagiarism, even if you did not intend that.

Well, never fear, because the Writing Center is here to help outline a few of the more common sources that you may need to cite. Just scroll through the list below for examples! Check the MLA handbook or Purdue Owl for more citation examples.

Book: (printed edition)

Author’s Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Book from an internet database:

Author’s Lastname, Firstname. Title of Book. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Name of database. Medium of Publication [web]. Date Database was accessed.

Book with a separate author for each chapter, if you are citing only one of the chapters:

Author’s Lastname, Firstname. “Chapter/Article Title.” Title of Book. Editor (Ed.) First Last Name. Place of Publication: Publisher, Year of Publication. Medium of Publication.

Encyclopedia (if well known): Print and Web:

Lastname, First. “Article Title.” Encyclopedia. Print year. Edition #. Medium of Publication. [If web, insert date accessed]

Journal Article Print/Online:

Lastname, First. “Article Title.” Journal Title. Edition. Year. Page #’s. Medium of Publication. [Date accessed if web article].

Lions, Tigers and MLA, Oh My!

March 17, 2011

Hey All! So, we know that trying to figure out all the different rules about margins, citations, headers and works cited pages gets a little sticky, especially in one style to the next. In an effort to help people try to get a handle on some of the issues, we here at the Writing Center are going to do a few posts that try to break down some of the specifics of each style. For this post, I am going to focus on boarders, margins and spacing within the paper for MLA. Note that these are in accordance with the 2010 edition of the MLA handbook. If you are in a field where you will have to use MLA frequently, you actually might consider purchasing a copy. However, there are other internet sources, like the fantastic Purdue Owl website. Also check our blog for tips on other styles, like APA and Chicago.

Margins, Headers and Spacing, Oh My!

One of the first things you should do when working on your paper is immediately set up the margins. It is one of the easiest steps, and one of the easiest to forget. Specifically, these standards are for “research papers.” They will apply to all your standard literary essays, but always double-check with your professor.

The standard paper should have a 1-inch boarder on all sides: top and bottom, left and right. The border between your last name and page number, which should appear on the upper right-hand corner of every page, needs to be half an inch. The header, or the body of the text, is what will begin an inch down. When you indent at the start of a paragraph, that is half an inch, and block quotes starts an inch in from the already set left boarder (2 inches from the very edge of the paper). Check out this site for an actual picture layout of the margins!

Spacing & Font:
You must double space everything, including the header and block quotes! The only exception to this rule is if your professor specifically tells you to treat the papers a different way. Also keep in mind that the standard font used for most MLA research papers is Times New Roman. If you would like to use a different font, be sure to check with your professor first.

Keep in mind that your header needs to be double spaced in between each line, and that it appears in the upper left-hand corner of the first page of your paper. The information it needs to include is your name, the teacher’s name, the course number, and the date. Remember, the date usually goes (for the purposes of the header) the date, month then year.

Good luck! Keep posted for more articles on MLA citation and works cited pages!

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!

Study Tips

January 22, 2011

Welcome back everyone! I know that it can be tough to get back into the swing of things after such a long break. Add that to an entirely new class schedule, and you have an instant dose of overwhelmed student! On the other hand, CONGRATS, because you all survived one semester.

Today we are going to do this post a little differently. So, yes, we usually do posts on writing tips, but this post is going to focus on 5 study tips to help you start the semester out right!

  1. Make a list: As soon as you get your syllabus for each class, make a list of dates and important assignments. Better yet, write them down on a calendar. Make sure you know the important dates, and what is expected of you. This always makes things easier during crunch time!
  2. Get started: Now that you are looking at all the dates, you may start getting nervous when you see that cluster of work right around midterms and finals. I know I always do! So take control. Start reading ahead! Take a few minutes each time to read further, or work longer than you need to. Trust me; it will help when it comes to midterms!
  3. Stay on top of everything: Keep those lists going. You know that once you have it out in front of you, you can start crossing things off. Though it may be tough, keep up with all of your reading and homework. Once you start letting it slip, it is hard to get back under control!
  4. Write a rough draft: Okay, so this is geared towards all of you with papers. Take the time to write a rough draft for your work. Though those last minute, 2 AM papers are tempting, and sometimes all you have time for…they never turn out well. You inevitably find typos, incoherent sentences, the works. No one makes sense at 2 in the morning.
  5. Relax: Even though all of the other tips focus on those responsible parts of being a student, I know that personal time is just as important as study time, but a lot harder to find. So make sure that your study time is structured and productive, and that you schedule in an enjoyable thing to do during the day. Being locked in an underground library with no sun or fresh air is not good for anyone.

With that, I will leave you all to the start of your semester. Remember, one week down! Don’t forget to check out the writing center schedule when you visit our facebook page.

Know Your Sentences

November 29, 2010

Hey, hey friendly (and busy) Mills students. I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday, because now it’s back to the grind. Since I know all of you are busy cramming for finals and writing those last minute papers, I thought I would give you guys some brief notes on sentences to help you out. Note that this is an adaptation of worksheet created by Diana Turken and me!

Good Luck and I hope this helps!


Terms To Know:

Clause: contains a subject and a verb

Subordinate Conjunction: a word or phrase that connects two clauses

Examples: after, that, though, even if, unless, until, for, when

Relative Pronoun: relates a dependent clause to the main clause

Examples: that, which, who, whom, whose

Coordinator: connects related clauses that are equally important to the sentence

Examples: and, but, or, nor, for, yet

Independent Clause: contains subject, verb, and is able to stand alone as a sentence.

Subordinate/Dependent Clause: contains a relative pronoun or a subordinate conjunction, subject, and verb; cannot stand alone


Types of Sentences
There are three main types of sentences that we typically when writing an essay. These include simple, compound, and complex sentences. Understanding the difference in each of these sentences allows us to use them more effectively.

Simple Sentence: contains a subject, and a verb or relative pronoun. It expresses a complete thought.

Example: Julie finished her homework in five minutes.

Compound Sentence: contains two independent clauses, which are joined by a coordinator. The coordinators typically come after a comma.


Example: Julie finished her essay, and I finished my lab report.
Complex Sentence: contains an independent clause, joined by one or more dependent clauses that are linked by subordinators or relative pronouns.


Example: When Julie wrote her essay, she failed to cite her sources.

Thesis in an Academic Paper

November 12, 2010

Hey All! Today we are going to tackle one of the most challenging aspects of a persuasive, academic essay: the thesis!

We gathered some of our exceptional writing tutors and asked them to describe a thesis statement:

“I like to think of it as the lens you look through; not only the object that you are describing, but the way that you are describing it,” said Mimi.

“Argument and stakes. The stakes are why should we care. That is how I like to think of it,” attributed Maddie.

“An essay is a map through the thoughts of the author; the thesis statement is the first step into the wild—be specific, you are our trustworthy guide.” Kate.

“Everything in the body should connect back to the thesis. If it does not, you probably don’t need it.”-Sir Elwin Cotman

And, to add my personal montra, “The thesis is the roadmap to your essay. It should guide the reader through.”

Now that we have some ideas to work off of, let’s explore the thesis a bit more. The purpose of a thesis in an academic paper, as shown above, can be described in many different ways. Technically speaking, a thesis statement is usually one or two sentences that appear at the end of the introductory paragraph. It expresses your argument for the paper, and what points you are going to address to prove that argument: how, why and context.

Remember that as you brainstorm and come up with your first thesis statement, it is okay to revise it. As a matter of fact, you should expect to revise it. Your working thesis—the thesis that appears in the rough draft of your paper—is just a preliminary brainstorm or outline to the finished product. Make sure that your final thesis statement makes an argument, demonstrates some of the ways you are going to defend it, and, most importantly, that the entire statement is supported by a strong essay. If not, you should consider revising it to fit the essay itself.

For more ideas, stop by the writing center! We are always happy to help you brainstorm!

If you need something online, check out this helpful site that I found!

Halloween and Frankenstein

October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween from the Mills College Writing Center! In honor of this spooky day, let’s look at one of the classic pieces of literature that makes the tradition of Halloween and scary movies great: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!

Frankenstein is one of the signatures of the gothic tradition and ghost stories. Today, it has influenced an entire genera of movies, comic strips, Halloween costumes and so much more. But, when the tale was first written, it was just a compitition between friends to see who could write the best ghost story.

Stuck in the moutains because of the weather, Mary Shelly (then Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin), Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and a few others passed the time reading ghost stories, and then writing their own. In this time, the terror-filled tale deveoped. Needless to say, Mary won. Did I mention she was only 18 when she wrote this? (You can find out a bit more at this link to the wikipedia page).

But the novel is more than just a ghost tale, or fodder for movie scripts. It raises questions about science and chemistry, creation, human nature, identity and so much more. The original is worth the read! If you really want to appreciate the entire tradition of gothic novels and ghost stories, run down to your bookstore now.

As I said, Happy Halloween and pleasant reading!