Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


May 3, 2012

Proofreading is one of the last phases of the writing process where you carefully seek out and correct grammatical and typographical errors in your final draft before presenting your work to an audience (professor, blog post, publisher, job, etc.).

Despite the fact that everyone has a different approach to the proofreading process, there are always ways to improve your proofreading skills:

  • Give yourself a little bit of distance from your text before you begin the process of proofreading. Take a break even if it is less than a half-hour so you can return to your text with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
  • Spend time carefully working with the text—errors occur with higher frequency when you’re rushing through your work and the proofreading process. Take the time to look closely at each sentence.
  • Rather than working with the text on the computer screen, print it out and read each line at a reduced speed with a pen in hand.
  • Read the text aloud. Hearing yourself say every word helps you identify errors you may skip if you read silently.
  • Step into the imaginative shoes of your audience to alter your perspective of the work. By reading the text as if you are an audience member, rather than the author, you can approach the text from a learner’s viewpoint to see if the information is being transmitted effectively.
  • Ask friends or family you are comfortable sharing your writing with to look over a hard copy draft so they can catch mistakes that you overlook.
  • Make sure you utilize your spell checker in the software you’re using. But remember that there are many things it won’t catch: homonyms (pair, pare, & pear); incorrectly divided compound words (court yard = courtyard); incorrect pronouns (his vs. hers); usage errors (its vs. it’s); missing words; misspelled names that are in the spell checker’s dictionary; incorrect verb tenses (mixing past tense with present tense); passive voice; & repetition where a phrase is repeated and not just two of the same words back-to-back.

Personalize your proofreading process by carefully observing what type of error patterns you typically make based upon your own insights coupled with your reviewer or instructor’s comments about your writing. Ask a Writing Lab tutor to help you tease out some of these patterns. Once you have identified your own personalized errors, learn how to fix these errors by talking with your instructor and/or tutors. Think ahead about how to avoid them while you’re in the process of creating the text.

Please see the following Proofreading Techniques from Stanford’s Office of Accessible Education . Also, study the Proofreader’s Marks table and begin to use the standard editing marks on your own work with each hardcopy you print.


Inclusion of Counter-Arguments

February 28, 2012

You’ve been assigned an essay in your English class that asks you to take several readings from the syllabus and use them to support your own personal writing philosophy.  Immediately you may think about how Stephen King’s nonfiction work is intriguing due to the transmission phenomena between the writer and the reader he labels Telepathy.  Then you think about Binyavanga Wainaina’s satirical piece “How to write about Africa” and praise the idea of deconstructing stereotypes that commonly appear in bad writing.  No matter what you’ve been assigned for your class readings it’s natural to gravitate to what you liked or what you agree with.  Since your task is to articulate a philosophy of writing inspired by other’s ideas, these ideas are essential to opening up a dialogue where your voice counts too.  But what if an author from the readings has an argument or idea about writing that you disagree with?  What do you do with their work?  Do you ignore them?

Many times it’s easier to work with writers and ideas that you agree with, but what are some of the perks of placing a voice in your work that is in conflict with you or other’s philosophies?

Let us start with a common philosophical concept:  one way to know what your writing philosophy entails is to also know what it does not entail.  That’s to say knowing what it isn’t will help define clearly what it is.  Ignoring criticism or skeptical counter-arguments can be a significant mistake.  It’s not a paradox to say your writing can be strengthened by listening to dissenting concepts and by giving them a fair hearing through explicit description.  In essence, placing a ‘naysayer’ in your text is a reinforcing juxtaposition that builds credibility for your persuasive argument by acknowledging and anticipating doubts and objections.

However, I should note that depending on the constraints of an assignment, logistically you may find that there is not much room for naysayers.  Please keep in mind that counter-arguments are more at home in larger research papers.  What’s important here is that you get the practice of incorporating counter-arguments into your work so that you are presenting a dialogue of debate rather than a one-sided set of claims in a vacuum.  However, never plant a counter-argument in a text just to do so, find one’s worth entertaining that can be disarmed.

You can make oppositional ideas work for you rather than against you by giving the reader convincing ideas or evidence that suggests different conclusions.  You will find that this approach is respectful to the reader’s intelligence as you present open-minded inquiry.  Another bonus is this practice gives you more to talk about and your assignment will have more depth (you will find it easier to fulfill the assignments minimum page length).

Remember to keep it all straight forward and be fair.  You may be tempted to quickly mention oppositions to your argument and in some cases mock them.  Simply tell the reader exactly what they are in detail and don’t waste your time being biased in your judgment of them because you can let your answers to these objections do the work necessary to persuade your reader.  Also, remember that you may not be able to wholly refute naysayers that have convincing or truth based arguments;  earnestly reject what’s wrong and acknowledge what’s right: “yes, but” or “yes and no.”

To give you a more well rounded understanding of counter-arguments take a moment to read an adaptation from The Academic Essay: A Brief Anatomy, for the Writing Center at Harvard University.

Hold the Homophone; Am I Doing This Right?

February 27, 2012


There are a bunch of those pesky words, homophones, that sound so similar that they are super easy to use incorrectly. Here is a quick rundown of some common ones, so you can know when to lie and when to lay (and all that good stuff).


Affect vs. Effect:

Affect (verb)—to do something that influences someone or something. Example: My dog’s death affected me deeply.


Effect (verb)—to make something happen. Example: Even small acts of kindness can effect great change.


Effect (noun)—a result or a reaction. Example: The special effects in that movie were stunning.


Its vs. It’s:

Its (adjective, possessive)—shows that something belongs to someone/something else. Example: The English Department shows its appreciation for students every semester by having a picnic.


It’s—a contraction of “it” and “is.” Example: It’s important to RSVP so your host will know how much food to prepare.


Lay vs. Lie

Lay, Laid (present, past verb)—to put or set something down. Example: You can lay the present on that table with the other gifts. She laid the present down on the table.

Lie, Lay (present, past verb)—for a person or creature to recline or rest in a horizontal position. Example: I think I will go lie down for a quick nap. Yesterday I lay down on the beach, sun tanning all afternoon.


Then vs. Than

Then (adverb)—after something has happened; next. Example: First I have to go to the grocery store; then I will go over to Mark’s house.


Than (conjunction/preposition) – used when comparing. Example: The vegetarian pizza was much better than the pepperoni.


There vs. Their vs. They’re

There (adverb)—used to describe a location. Example: Set your backpack down over there and come help me make some cookies.


Their (possessive adjective)—belonging to people, animals, or things. Example: May neighbors asked me to take care of their pets while they are out of town this weekend.

They’re—a contraction of “they” and “are.” Example: My neighbors said they’re going to bring me back a souvenir for taking care of the pets.


To vs. Too vs. Two


To—used with the basic form of a verb to make the infinitive. Example: He likes to read, to cook, and to enjoy the company of good friends.


To (preposition)—toward or in the direction of. Example: I went to bed late last night because I had to study for midterms.


Too (adverb)—more than is needed or wanted. Example: There is too much salt in the soup.


Too (adverb)—also. Example: Saundra and I will go to the movies with you too.


Two—number. Example: The recipe calls for two eggs and a cup of sugar, among other things.


You’re vs. Your


You’re—a contraction of “you” and “are.” Example: You’re going to tell me when I should come over, right?


Your (possessive adjective)—belonging to people. Example: Today, your cat jumped the fence and came to visit me.

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!

a knack for quoting

February 18, 2012

An effective (coherent and correspondent) argument is reliant upon your ability as a writer to bring others’ credible ideas, claims, and arguments together to form an open dialogue within your essay.  Moreover, the success of your own argument and its conclusions become reliant upon the introduction and analysis of these texts and the ideas they entail.  You need to think broadly about want to pull from various texts as your quotations; for example, your citations can range from hard numerical evidence to demonstrated facts to abstract philosophy and scholarly opinion.

What’s important to acknowledge when making an argument is that sometimes summary is simply not enough—you have to show us exactly what others have said concerning the topic(s).  It’s a misnomer to assume that quoting others is some sort of inherent weakness in your writing and ability to convey your own ideas, because in reality you’re showing the readers your knowledge of the subject(s) and topic(s) of which you’ve chosen to speak of.  You’re also bringing credibility and accuracy to your work by artfully using quotations.

Since it’s  important to find the proper range of quotations you should use for a given assignment or research paper, you’ll need to consistently evaluate the nature of your assignment and argument to make sure you’re not quoting too little or too much.  In the case of quoting too little you may feel like you do not want to revisit an author’s text because you can simply form your own way of describing, reconstructing, the author’s ideas.  The problem with this is two-part: first, there is no dialogue happening in your work, and second, the lack of direct support that comes from citing evidence is nowhere to be found.  If, on the other hand, you quote too much, you put yourself at risk of creating an essay that has little analysis, thus leaving no room for the essential goal of making yourself part of, and an extension to, the dialogue.

Another common mistake is assuming that the quote speaks for itself.  Each time you cite a source you cannot assume the reader is familiar with its rhetorical situation or the scholar.  In essence you have to frame each citation with an endpoint in mind that revolves around supplementing, furthering, your own argument or investigation.  Framing is important as it allows you to effectively introduce a voice into your work in such a way that allows the reader to understand why you value the quote and why this supports your own ideas.  Framing your quote by effectively bringing it into the text requires smooth and elaborated transitions (please see citation template link below).  Don’t let the quote spontaneously appear.  Remember that the quote has to be followed by correspondent analysis; don’t let the citations just dangle and then move on to another point. And also remember that your citation doesn’t do the work for you, but rather gives you the ability to do your work (assignment) as an academic writer.

Once again it’s important to bring in a quote for the purpose of furthering your argument, and not just showing the reader that you have read others’ work.  It should be noted that many times you will find a quote that seems to be great for what you imagine your essay will argue, will be, but as your essay and concepts co-evolve it no longer carries the weight that you need it to for your own rhetorical situation.  One thing to keep in mind as you piece together your thesis during the process of research and writing, you will notice changes in your evaluations and perspectives relative to the utility of the passages you’ve selected.  That’s to say that you need to choose your quotes wisely and be open to changes as your argument develops.

This link gives helpful beginner templates for framing your quotes on how to introduce, summarize, explain, and set up your analysis.

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!

Commas, semicolons, or colons? How to make sense without sounding like Faulkner

April 22, 2011

Compound sentences are necessary and often used parts of an essay. It would seem strange for an essay to be made up entirely of simple sentences. Conversely, if an essay were a series of run-on sentences, you would most likely confuse your reader. Grammar tools like commas, semicolons, and colons are great ways of breaking up information while maintaining sentence clarity. It can be difficult to know when to use each one, especially since semicolons are particularly scary for essay writers. We have already covered comma use in earlier posts, but to reiterate, use a comma to:

1. Join two independent clauses
2. To set off elements that are not part of the main clause
3. To list three or more things in a sentence

When you want to change up your style, or play with punctuation, you can opt to use a semicolon. Use a semicolon when you want to:

1. Link two independent clauses without any connecting words like ‘and’ or ‘but’
I am eating a sandwich; I plan on finishing it.
2. Link two independent clauses with a conjunctive adverb (therefore, otherwise, nevertheless, thus)
It was a sunny day; therefore, we went to the park.
3. To join elements in a series when the individual items are already separated with a comma
The previous stops on our road trip were Sacramento, California; Elko, Nevada; Houston, Texas, Tucson, Arizona.

When you want to use a colon, you can do so if:

1. You want to join two independent clauses while emphasizing the second one
2. When making a list

It can be a bit daunting to have to juggle commas, semicolons, and colons. Remember, these tools are style markers, as well as ways to avoid common sentence errors like comma spices and run-ons. You should feel free to experiment with each of the tools above!

A little bit of modification

April 15, 2011

Grammatical modifiers, sometimes referred to as qualifiers, come in two types: “bound” & “free.”  One way to understand free modifiers is to think of them as any construction or phrase added to a bases clause, which is set off by commas.  Bound modifiers, on the other hand, are not set off by commas but interwoven into a base clause that they modify.   Modifiers can be a word, a phrase or an entire clause.   All in all, modifiers provide more accurate definitional meaning for another element of a sentence—and being able to recognize various types allows writers, particularly in revision, to add more detail or meaning to a sentence.

Free Modifiers

When a fourth customer in one week complained about her service, after working another eight hour shift without breaks, without coffee or a cigarette, she decided to quit, nerves shot and burned out on retail.

*The base clause is “she decided to quit,” and the underlined phrases modify it by adding in extra information—enriching the sentence and explaining why she quit.

Bound Modifiers

One reason academic writing is highly valued at American Universities is it’s supposed to represent an educational standard that reflects or measures the growth of one’s critical thinking skills.

*The unusual split here in the base clause shows that the bound modifiers are not set off by commas and are interwoven, clustered around, what they modify.

Correcting dangling modifiers:

A dangling modifier is a word or phrase that modifies a word or base clause which has not been clearly stated in the sentence.


*Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon, Cecily brought up Hulu on the computer when she got home to try and relax.

“Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon” recounts an action from a part of a day but does not name the actor who performed the action.  In English sentences, the actor has to be the subject of the main clause.  Because it is clear that Cecily is the actor who quit her job, this sentence does not have a dangling modifier.


*Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon, to try and relax Hulu was brought up on the computer.

“Having quit the job earlier in the afternoon” is a participle expressing action, but the actor is not Hulu (i.e. the subject of the main clause).  Hulu doesn’t quit jobs or try to relax after a hard day.  The actor expressed in the participle was never stated so the participle phrase is said to be a dangling modifier.

Quick tips on fixing dangling modifiers:

Name the appropriate or logical actor that carries out the action as the subject of the main clause.

Name the actor in the clause thus altering the phrase that dangles, making it into a complete introductory clause.

Join the main clause and phrase into one coherent sentence.

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].