Getting started at the end

By Abby Ponder

 

We’re nearing the end of the semester–or, more accurately, we’re barreling towards it at full speed–and it’s at this time of year that the panic sets in. You have a planner in front of you and a to-do list off to the side, but rather than making you feel organized and coherent, it’s just sending those stress levels skyrocketing because there’s so much to do.

That’s fair.

It’s even worse as a senior.

I am currently preparing to say my farewells to WKU as graduation looms a few mere yards away. Suddenly, I’m looking at an avalanche of things to do to help prepare for the transition from college student to adult in the real world.

It’s a lot–sometimes overwhelming. And, as a result, it might seem easy to let your papers slide and “come back to them later.”

Sure, it’s easy to do that.

But don’t.

This is your time to shine, my friends: to write that stellar final paper and look at how far you’ve come since that early lit review your freshman year. You know the one I’m talking about–the one with more comma splices and missing apostrophes than you care to admit. Furthermore, don’t you want to end your college experience with a paper you’re proud of, your last hoorah?

And you might be thinking that, sure, that all sounds well and good, but it’s so much easier said than done. And, honestly, I’d agree with you. Sometimes its hard to find that motivation when the senioritis kicks in.

my emotions

My advice? Look at the bigger picture. Look at that finish line.

The WKU Writing Center Blog has several pieces of advice that will help you on that journey towards knocking your final papers out of the park, too:

Above all else, though, have confidence in yourself and your writing.

And for all you folks who are graduating, congratulations! Best of luck as you move forward.

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Your Paper’s Roadmap

by Abby Ponder

If you’ve ever taken any English class ever–or if you’ve written a paper in general, really–then you’ve probably heard of thesis statements. In fact, you’ve probably used them. Several times. And perhaps you’ve felt a sense of dread building in your stomach upon seeing those words in crisp, clean ink at the top of an assignment. The butterflies are a-fluttering and the tummy is a-rumbling.

Trepidation when it comes to thesis statements is not an unusual phenomenon.

This uneasiness stems from somewhere, certainly, but sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why thesis statements cause all the organized thoughts in your head to fly out the window.

For some people, thesis statements are simply overwhelming. Ideally, according to the Center for Writing Studies at the University of Illinois, “every paper you write should have a main point, a main idea, or central message […] A thesis statement focuses your ideas into one or two sentences. It should present the topic of your paper and also a comment about your position in relation to the topic.”

In laymen’s terms, a thesis statement is the paper’s roadmap. It highlights what the paper is going to be about and informs the reader on how they’re going to get there.

With that in mind, writing the statement seems like a lot of pressure. It’s got to contain a whole lot of information that you, as the writer, might not know yet. And that’s okay!

So, you know what you should do?

You should save it for last.

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When you’re writing an essay, it can be really tempting to write in chronological order. It makes sense, after all: it’s a natural progression of thoughts, exposition, and explanation. However, just because you write the bulk of your paper in chronological order, it doesn’t mean you can’t write the introduction last.

See, sometimes as you write your ideas change. Though you may have started in a structured, “I’m going to talk about this, this, and this,” mind frame, your ideas can evolve the more you put words on paper. Wait until the paper’s finished, examine the main ideas you address, and then construct your thesis.

It helps tremendously–I promise.

However, if you like a little bit more structure before you start writing, the value of an outline in indisputable. If you use an outline, the chances are pretty good that it’ll come into play again when you’re writing your actual thesis statement, too.

And, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to break away from the traditional “3-point thesis.” The content of the statement is arguably more important than the structure. So, as you write your statement, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it answer the assignment’s primary question? (If there is one.)
  • Do you reference specific points? 
  • Does it answer the “so what?” question? (i.e., if I’m reading your paper with absolutely no context, am I going to understand why this paper is important?)
  • Does it, ultimately, say something? Sometimes writers get caught in a trap of wandering in circles, using words without really ever saying something. Your thesis doesn’t exist to expand on a word count. Instead, it is there to expand on an idea. Use it to your advantage.

You can even find more questions to ask yourself, along with examples, by visiting the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s webpage devoted to the topic.

So, take a deep breath. Writing thesis statements takes practice and, ultimately, confidence. The more faith you have in your statement, the more likely you’ll say something worth saying. Write with your shoulders back and your thinking cap in place.

Good luck.

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Fun and helpful links: Finals week

By Abby Ponder

It’s both terrifying and exciting, but the semester is slowly but surely beginning to come to a close.

We’re almost there…

…but so are those paper deadlines.

Stay calm, though. We’ll get through this.

We’ve compiled a handy dandy list of links to help get you through this trying time. (Really, though, we have faith in you.)

  1. You need to outline your paper and don’t know where to start? Here’s an earlier post that covers just that!
  2. You’ve got the topic, the outline is finished, but you can’t seem to get in the writing zone. So, time to find a new writing place!
  3. But if you’re still struggling with procrastination, we’ve got just the post for you.
  4. Research is a critical component in an academic paper, so make sure to utilize the WKU Libraries.
  5. You’ve finally written that paper and now you need to edit it, so check out our post that offers some suggestions on that very topic.
  6. You need to cite your paper? The Purdue Owl is a fantastic resource for checking on the various citation styles, specifically MLA, APA, andChicago.
  7. You’ve turned the paper in and are dealing with professor or peer feedback. Now what?
And don’t forget, the WKU Writing Center is here with you every step of the way. To schedule an appointment, give us a call at (270) 745-5719 or shoot us an email at writingcenter@wku.edu. You can also stop by and see us in our Cherry Hall location (Cherry 123) from 9-4 or at the reference desk in the Commons from 4-9.

So, remember:

Photo credit to this tumblr account that also highlights some additional stress release tips for finals week.
Happy Writing!

STEPS: Changing the way you write literary analysis

The WKU Writing Center would like to announce an up-and-coming resource for students to utilize when writing literary analysis papers.

STEPS (Students Teaching English Paper Strategies) is a web site designed to help students write good papers about literature. This site is constructed for students, by students, and provides a doable process for analyzing literature and writing about it. STEPS helps students identify literary devices, determine the themes of literary texts, develop thesis statements, and produce successful essays. The site is filled with sample essays, peer reviews, and processing notes for each step. Students will also find a helpful glossary of literary terms, with examples from various works, and links to additional writing resources. Please visit www.writingaboutliterature.com for more information.
For students taking English classes (both in or out of the major), STEPS provides relevant information for the various stages of the writing process. Sometimes, as a writer, you just get stuck and there’s no real conceivable way to get out of the writing funk. However, just searching through some of the tabs on the site, I’ve found them to be very helpful at finding ways to propel the process along. Sometimes just reading about writing can get you ready to start writing. It’s funny how that works sometimes…
There are two tabs that I found particularly helpful, as well. The “Process and Methods” and the “Resources” (the “Archives” section especially) tabs are both excellent tools to utilize. The latter section, the Archives, even has example papers and the writing process therein. Every person has their own writing (and editing) style(s), and it can be beneficial to see what works for someone else, and then try to apply similar techniques.
The STEPS homepage.
So, whether you’re stuck finding a starting point, or if you’re just looking to improve your writing, we definitely encourage you to check out STEPS. The site is still in its beta-form, too, so be sure to leave any feedback you think might be helpful.
Happy Writing!
This post was originally published on November 10, 2014.

The little book that does big things

At times, writing an academic paper feels a great deal like a warrior going into battle. The preparation for the task helps keep you focus and ensures that you are well prepared. The task itself promises, what seem to the writer, as two possible outcome success or failure. It might seem that the process and writing is the true foe, however it’s not. The real battle begins when you are on the ground facing your biggest adversary. For the writer, the enemy can easily be writer’s block, a weak thesis, and an unorganized structure. These rivals severely damage the writer’s point by undoing the foundation of the argument. Similarly, warriors must arm themselves with a trusted weapon. For the writer this means our words that pierce the hearts of our readers. Wiser warriors protect themselves from injuries with a strong shield. Parallel to this idea, the writer must protect himself or herself with grammar.

As writers we often feel like grammar is a secondary to content. In a more idealistic world this could be the case, the content would be strong enough to stand on it’s own but one can also argue that unicorns would also inhabit this magical realm. Content of an academic paper needs the assistance of grammar to ensure your argument is unquestioned by the audience. Grammatical flaws are apparent to the readers like cracks on a wall, the foundation of the structure can be sound; however, the slightest crack will instill doubts upon the viewer.

Understandable you don’t have to be a grammar wizard in order to check your work. Truthfully speaking, many great writers such as T.S. Elliot, Robert Penn Warren, and F. Scott Fitzgerald had editors or friends that would look over their work. If these great writers needed another pair of eyes to check over their literary pieces, then you are justified in asking a friend to check your grammar.

Another option you have is coming to the Writing Center and setting up an appointment to meet with a tutor.  The tutors at the Writing Center are not grammar fairies that will wave a wand and make all your grammatical errors disappear. Writing Center tutors look for structure, content, and grammatical patterns of errors.

What is a grammatical pattern of errors? Grammatical pattern of errors is a series of grammar mistakes that occur throughout your paper. Why on earth would we do that instead of fixing all grammatical errors in your paper? The reason as to why we search for grammatical patterns is to help you as a writer, to identify the error, understand the rule, and actively notice the error in your writing. This approach to grammatical error strengthens your ability as a writer by helping you to become an active editor in your own paper.

There are moments that I too find myself guilty of making a grammatical error repetitively within my paper. Once I have identified the error, I go to my copy of The Elements of Style; also known as ‘the little book’ of grammar rules. Next, I identify the rule I am breaking, then read the section, and examples that follow. Afterwards, I actively edit my paper by correcting that mistake and learning from it for future papers. Preferably, I would ask everyone to own a copy of The Elements of Style, as their one-stop guide on grammar rules, and ask that they carry it around like it is a love letter from Hugh Jackman. However, I am well aware that this might not be the case for some. For this reason, I strongly recommend the website, www.crockford.com/wrrld/style.html, it is a website version of the little book of grammar rules.

The website gives you hyperlinks to each grammatical rule for easy access to a direct section. For instances, let’s say your professor and writing tutors keep telling you to use active voice and you don’t have the slightest clue what they are talking about. All you would have to do is go to that website. On the main page it says The Elements of Style, scroll down and poof! You can see a hyperlink to a page called active voice. Once you click the link for active voice you will see a definition followed by examples. The website is exactly like the sections in the book without the pretty pictures.

My parting word, for my fellow writers out there, is to never forget your grammar shield when you are in battle. It is essential for your academic paper and will protect you when your content is in dire need. Just remember, “winter [final papers] is coming.”

Zehra Yousofi

This post was originally published on October 27, 2013.

Grammar, grammar, grammar!

Happy Sunday everyone!

One of the biggest things we’re always getting asked about at the Writing Center is grammar.  This should surprise absolutely no one, since English grammar is pounded into our brains from the moment we step into kindergarten until…well, to be honest, people will never stop hounding us about our grammar.

If your first language is English, you’re lucky enough to have what’s called “native speaker intuition,” meaning you can spot and hear major grammatical mistakes, often without being able to explain WHY you know it’s wrong.  However, this doesn’t often cross over to smaller grammatical aspects, such as homophones, punctuation, and verb tense.  If English isn’t your first language, well, you’re learning with the rest of us!

But let’s get real here, you say, when does knowing the difference between affect and effect become obvious in a conversation between two friends?  When is your mom going to notice if you don’t put a semicolon between two independent-but-tightly-related-like-that-one-annoying-couple-you-know clauses?  The quick answer: it won’t!

And yet, we’ve all got that friend who corrects grammar on Facebook.  We all had that eighth grade teacher who drilled subject-verb agreement into our heads.  So what’s the big deal?

It’s easy to believe that grammar doesn’t matter at all, but it’s not a very practical opinion.  English, like every other language, has grammatical structures that are unique and essential to it.  These grammatical structures mean the difference between saying something like “I ate dinner with my dog,” to “I ate my dog with dinner.”  (Sorry Fido!)

Although it may seem easy to write off ALL grammar, the fact of the matter is, you need grammar to communicate.  Sure, it might still be readable if you use the wrong form of a word, but it will take away from your meaning.  And less meaning means less effectiveness.  And, in the end, less effectiveness may tell some readers that you are less intelligent, less worthy, less important.

THIS IS NOT THE CASE.  

You are a intelligent individual, regardless of your educational training, and you should be able to use whatever language is needed to make a strong and effective point in any situation.  It’s easy to think of grammar as a punishment, but try thinking of it as a tool instead.  When having a debate on Facebook with a friend, your grammar doesn’t matter, but your content does.  However, in academic writing, both are equally important.  Your content may be fresh and powerful, but if your delivery lacks, readers may be confused or even turned off by your paper.

This isn’t just an English skill.  You will have to write papers for every aspect of your life.  You will apply for things, you will write romantic/funny/friendly things, you will NEED to have the skills that will allow you to pound out a few amazing and effective sentences on a page instead of a mash of text speak.  Sometimes text speak is amazing.  Sometimes it’s not.  That’s just a fact of our lives.  So, learning grammatical points and knowing which situations to use them in is a key skill to developing yourself not just as a writer, but also as an individual.

With this in mind, I recommend Grammar Girl‘s wide array of grammatical lessons.

Mignon (like the filet, but much funnier) publishes tips and tricks under a wide variety of methods.  She has a blog, she has a podcast, she has an APPLE IPOD APP (how cool is that?!).  She is here to help you, not to preach a rule or slap your hand with a ruler.  Her topics range from homophone usage to comma splices to silly English idioms and where they come from.

Grammar Girl (and the WKU Writing Center) are here to help you kick grammar’s butt!  Take advantage of that!

–Teresa

This post was originally published on September 29, 2013.

The YUNiversity: Making proper writing skills fun and educational

YUNiversity is one of my favorite Tumblr sites to visit.  To those not too familiar with Tumblr, it is a social network that allows its users to create and disclose themed blogs with the web-world.  Its main function is to serve as an interactive weblog that gives its users the opportunity to share and even reblog photos, quotes, weblinks, articles, journal entries, music and videos.  Tumblr sites can include helpful tips on literary theories, webcam reviews on books, and commentaries on movies and TV shows—the possibilities are endless.  In regards to writing, The YUNiversity is one of the most entertaining, but helpful Tumblr sites that I have come across.

The YUNiversity is dedicated to answering online questions submitted by their followers. These questions refer to grammatical and mechanical writing errors, common word usage, and numerous other concerns referring to the English language. The questions are answered promptly in an entertaining, but informative format. The YUNiversity commonly uses cartoons and pop cultural references, and incorporates them into their answers. These fun pictures allow the audience to easily understand and relate to the explanations of the questions.

Be sure to drop by this site for references and answers related to one of your writing assignments. I guarantee you will be satisfied and entertained with The YUNiversity.

Have fun!

-Cassie

This post was originally published on December 9, 2011.