An Admonition on the Employment of Thesauruses

A Catechism 

What’s wrong with the following sentence?

This sentence may not adumbrate what it is putative to augur in behalf of I’m employing commodious lexemes that resonate sumptuously but that don’t concur in the censure.

If you guessed that the sentence was written using a thesaurus, then you are correct! Here’s what I actually intended to say:

This sentence may not mean what it is supposed to mean because I’m using big words that sound impressive but that don’t fit in the sentence.  

That’s a lot more clear, right? I’m using language that makes sense and fits the sentence’s meaning while also considering my audience.

An Exposition for Why We Manipulate Thesauruses 

If you’re like me, you were told in high school to use a thesaurus to strengthen your vocabulary. This was so engrained in me that I still use a thesaurus on occasion to learn different ways of saying the same things. However, thesauruses can be dangerous if we simply pull out words without knowing their true definitions. We see this all the time at the writing center. A paper will be going smoothly until we come across a word that just—doesn’t fit. Most of the time, not even I know what the word means. When we look it up, more often than not it doesn’t match what the writer intended.

So why do we keep using a thesaurus? To learn new words? To sound impressive? If it’s the former, great. Find a word and look it up in the dictionary. Better yet, look up how it is used in a sentence to make sure that it is being used in the same way you want to use it. But know that you are at risk of using a word that your audience will not have known before either.

If you use a thesaurus to sound impressive, let me take the pressure off your shoulders. Teachers most likely are not concerned about how many letters are in your words or how fancy they sound. What they are looking for is accuracy, clarity, and depth of thought. They are much more interested in what you have to say than in how you say it, so it’s okay to use the words you are comfortable with.

(Note that I have used the word “used” multiple times in the last two paragraphs. That’s okay! I don’t need to pull out the thesaurus so I can replace them with words like “utilize” or “employ” or “adopt” to sound more fancy. That would actually be pretty annoying, wouldn’t it?)

There is a third reason to use a Thesaurus that I think is more helpful, and that is for recalling words you can’t remember. Sometimes I’m writing and realize—for instance—that I’ve used the word “pleasure” ten times. I know there is another way to say it, but I need a little help dislodging those words from my memory. So I look up “pleasure” in the Thesaurus and find words like “delight” and “happiness.” I also find words like “delectation,” “gluttony,” “diversion,” and “fruition.” I know that those latter words do not mean what I intend, so I go with the words that I do know and understand.

In Culmination 

Thesauruses can be helpful in the right settings in helping you recall words or even learn some new words with the help of a dictionary, but make sure you are using words that fit your meaning and your own voice.


Listening to Books: Why and How

Sometimes I get funny looks from people. Not necessarily bad looks. They are more like split-second flashes of surprise or confusion.

There have been a few occasions when I have gotten those looks after saying a sentence similar to, “I was listening to this book the other day…” And there it is–the look. The look that says, “Don’t you mean ‘read’?” And I have to explain that I really did mean listen, as in an audio book. And then I may hear things like, “That’s cheating!” or “That’s not the same as reading.”

I started “listening to books” when I was old enough to go on road trips with my family. On a twelve-hour drive to Florida, before DVD fixtures were put into every mini van, audio books were the best way to make the time pass other than my parents’ famous hand-puppet theater.

There are pros and cons to audiobooks. The cons are that you don’t get to experience the classic feel and smell and mind-consuming bliss of reading the pages of a book. That, and sometimes the reader’s voice is so obnoxious or dull that you can’t stand them past the first chapter. If you are studying the book for class, you run into the problem of not being able to bookmark pages or underline significant sentences, which is why having a hard copy available is a good idea.

However, there are several pros as well. First, I would never consider it “cheating” to listen to a book. For a child learning to read, yes: that would be cheating. But I know how to read. I can pay attention to the language, story, metaphors, and other literary devices and themes of a book as much with my ears as with my eyes. Second, listening is a great way to get your readings in while driving, cleaning, walking, or working out.

I am a slow reader, so this is especially useful when I am assigned a lot of books at once. I once listened to Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. As a five-part book with quite a few chapters about politics, history, and philosophy, (not to mention hundreds of confusing French words to struggle through), I would never have been able to read this book in the time I did without listening to it–even as an English major. Plus, I got to hear the French words pronounced and go around thinking in an accent for a month. Lastly, listening to books allows me to be productive with my hands while simultaneously developing my mind through literature. Sometimes, being lazy and reading all day is fantastic. Other times, there is simply too much to do to spend hours on the couch.

Listening to books is easy. Simply download the OverDrive Media app onto your iPhone, find your local library in the app, and log in using your library card. Then, you can download books for free!

You can also find copies of audio books at the WKU library. Also, the Warren County Public Library–which you can sign up for as a student resident of Bowling Green–has thousands of books available on the OverDrive app and the RBdigital app., and hoopla. See more information here:

You can sign up for a digital library card for the Warren County Library here:

So next time you go on a road trip or have long commute to drive every day, I encourage you to use that time to read–that is–listen to books.

Happy Reading (and listening)


Self-Editing Techniques

Everyone Edits

While we at the writing center are here to help you revise your papers, it’s always a good practice to review your work before turning it in no matter how good of a writer you are.   Sometimes not worrying about surface level errors is a great way to let your thoughts flow when drafting, so going back to edit is necessary to making sure your ideas are clear and free of mistakes or errors.

Revising Content First

Revising and editing are two different things. Editing looks at sentence-level errors such as grammar, punctuation, syntax, and formatting. Doing this first would only lead to frustration later if you decide to remove or re-write a fully polished paragraph. Revising happens when you look at the paper as a whole, make sure everything flows coherently and follows the guidelines you have been given as well as the goals you set for yourself, and then make changes to the content.

Use Your Rubric 

If you professor has given you a rubric, use it! Lay it beside your paper and check off items you have gotten right. If something is off, mark it and make the edits.

If you don’t have a rubric, use any other material your teacher has given you, including your own notes. Or, you can write down what you know should be included (i.e. a thesis, topic sentences, conclusion, etc.) and compare your paper to that.

Reverse Outlining 

This is one of my favorite techniques, and it can be done in many ways. I like to read over a hard copy of my paper and write down on another sheet of paper (or in the margins) my thesis and the topic or topic sentence of each paragraph. Whether or not I tried to follow an outline from the onset, whatever I write through my reading is my new outline. Next, I ask the following questions:

  1. Does every paragraph match the thesis? If not, should I adjust the paragraphs, or should I add to the thesis?
  2. Is every paragraph or topic necessary? Is there anything to cut?
  3. Does every paragraph contain one topic?
  4. Is anything missing that should be added?
  5. Does my conclusion sufficiently reflect on all of the points?

Sentence-level Edits

Print the Paper 

If you can, print the paper double-sided or even on the back of used sheets to save trees. You are far more likely to catch errors and look at your paper as a whole if you are holding a physical copy and reading carefully with a pen in your hand.

Read Out Loud 

Our minds have a way of subconsciously correcting sentences, putting words and letters and even punctuation where it should be without realizing that something is missing. Reading out loud slows down the process, enabling you to catch the tiny errors that you might skip over if reading silently. Reading aloud may also help you hear where commas need to be added for pauses.*

Utilize the Internet 

If you are not sure about a grammatical or formatting issue, look it up. With so many resources at our fingertips, we shouldn’t be guessing whether or not we should use a semicolon. Each thing you look up could be something you won’t have to look up next time. Of course, it’s hard to remember all those rules, and I still look things up constantly to make sure my writing is correct.


Self-editing is not just for struggling writers. Everyone–even J.K. Rowling–must edit their writing.

As usual, the Writing Center is here to help you in every stage of the writing process. Feel free to set up an appointment or stop by any time!


*Disclaimer: Don’t believe the idea that commas go wherever you pause. Commas are used, rather, to separate phrases.

How to Set up an Appointment Online

Setting up an appointment for the writing center online is convenient and fairly simple, but it can be somewhat confusing. These appointments, while set up online, are for you to come to the writing center in person. If you are an off-campus student, you may set up an online appointment in which you send your paper electronically to be reviewed by a tutor. On-campus students must come to the center in person.

If you have any issues with the following steps, you can call the writing center using this number: 745-5719.

We also welcome walk-ins, but keep in mind that you are not guaranteed an appointment at the time you come in if our tutors are busy.

Logging in to TutorTrac

To set up an appointment online, you’ll need to log in to TutorTrac. An easy way to do that is to go to the WKU Writing Center Webpage here:

Then, you can click on “Make an Appointment” in the left sidebar menu. This will take you directly to TutorTrac.

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Writing Center Webpage

Once you are in TutorTract, you will log in using your NetID and password. This will take you to the the Main Menu.

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TutorTrac Log in Page

In the Main Menu, you can see your upcoming appointments. On the left side, lick on “Search Availability” to browse appointment times.

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TutorTrac Main Menu

Setting up an Appointment 

On the availability page, under “Center,” click on the drop-down menu to select “Writing Center.” Then, select “Writing Center Assistance” under “Section.” Finally, make sure the dates align with when you wish to set up an appointment and click “Search.”

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Availability Menu

The available time slots will appear along with the tutors who can be scheduled. Select a day and time from the green slots that works for you. All times are thirty minute increments.

Once you have clicked on the time slot you prefer, a box will appear requesting more information.

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Available Time Slots

Make sure that the “subject” says “Writing Center Assistance.” This should happen automatically if you selected this subject in the last step.

In the “notes” box, provide any information you think the tutor should know. This helps us prepare for your appointment. Some things you might include are the class you are writing for, your professor, an assignment description, and/or what you are specifically wanting help with.

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Finally, select “Save.”

Your appointment has been set. You will receive a verification email with the details of your appointment, and you can also review this on the TutorTrac Main Main Menu page.

You are only allowed to set up one appointment at a time. The maximum appointments for one week is two.

Canceling an Appointment 

If you wish to cancel your appointment, please call or email the writing center. Several late or missed visits may result in you not being able to return to the writing center, so make sure you come on time or cancel if you can’t make it.

Setting up an Online Appointment 

Online appointments are for off-campus students. Tutors will look over your papers electronically and email you the papers back with comments.

Online appointments can be set up here:

Fill in the form on this page, making sure that your attached file is in Word Doc (.doc or .docx), Rich Text (.rtf), or Text (.txt) format.

Most importantly, in the Assignment description box, please provide as much information as you can so that tutors know exactly what to look for. You might include, for instance, the required paper format or page count, the writing prompt, and/or what your professor is looking for.

Need more help?

This video describes everything covered above with audio and visual examples:

He Said, She Said: Quoting and Paraphrasing

A few weeks ago, in the blog “Research: Wading Through Sources” (found here:, I talked about how to choose sources for your paper and to think of your writing as “joining in a conversation” with scholars. Now, I’d like to share some tips for actually integrating those sources. There are a lot of things to cover on this topic, so I’m going to share what you will most likely be using and the areas where I see the most issues in student papers.

For examples, I will be using material from my paper, “The Despair Unto Death in The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy: A Kierkegaardian Reading.”

How Much to Quote/Paraphrase

Often students fill their papers with too many quotes, especially long ones. This can quickly come across as lazy and a way for the student to reach a certain page count.

According to the University of Iowa’s writing center, “ninety-nine percent of your paper should be in your own words. Quotes help your argument, but cannot substitute for your own original work.” You’ll probably find other percentages. For instance, suggests %20 can be quoted/paraphrased material. The main idea is that the majority of your work should be in your own words and ideas.

Introducing Quotes

Another problem I’ve seen is students tossing in a quote here and there with no introduction or commentary.


“In Confession, Tolstoy ‘speaks of spiritual discomfort having grown in him like a disease, at first revealed by transient symptoms but gradually mastering the whole organism,’ and ‘the process is realized in his finest tale of the decade, The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886)’ (Gifford 45). Here, Tolstoy describes his despair as like a disease. This simile is made into metaphor in Ivan Ilych, in which the protagonist suffers an actual illness that represents his internal despair. In this example, I introduce the source (an unpublished fictional work by Tolstoy), and then, after I quote the source, I apply the quote to my argument. It is not usually safe to assume that the reader will know immediately how your quote applies. Even if they do, it is your job to not only provide evidence but to also interpret that evidence.”


You won’t always need a direct quote. In fact, most of the time you will be paraphrasing.


“While Kierkegaard was not well-received in Russia during his own time because of his anti-Hegelian philosophy (Makolkin 2), Hilary Fink writes in an essay comparing Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata and Kierkegaard’s Either/Or that the Russian author did, in fact, read and admire Kierkegaard (1).”

When paraphrasing, make sure you cite the page numbers where the information came from.


Sometimes you’ll find a lengthy quote that you want to use but find is too long or includes too many irrelevant details. This is where you can use an ellipsis (…) to join pieces of a quote. The ellipsis serves as a bridge between the two (or three or four) sections.


“In a letter to his wife in 1869, Tolstoy writes: ‘…suddenly I was overcome by despair, fear and terror, the like of which I have never experienced before…I’ve never experienced such an agonizing feeling before and may God preserve anyone else from experiencing it’ (Wilson 250).”

Block Quotes

When you quotation is longer than a few lines, it should be blocked. Some specific guidelines exist for blocked quotes that are important to remember.

  1. Quotes must be indented one-half inch
  2. Quotation marks are not used around the quote
  3. The parenthetical citation comes AFTER the period
  4. Quotes are usually introduced with a colon, but sometimes with a comma
  5. Double spacing is maintained

Example: (Because of the format of this blog, this example is in single space with extra spaces before and after the block quote. In an actual paper, the whole thing will be double spaced.)

“In Kierkegaard, despair is the ‘sickness unto death.’ He writes:

The torment of despair is precisely the inability to die…Thus to be sick unto death is to be unable to die, yet not as though there were hope of life. No, the hopelessness is that even the last hope, death, is gone…It is in this latter sense, then, that despair is the sickness unto death, this tormenting contradiction, this sickness in the self; eternally to die, to die and yet not to die, to die death itself. (48)

“To despair unto to death, then, is to be ill in spirit and to desire to cease existing.”

Integrated Quotes

An integrated quote is simply a quote that flows from a sentence in your own words, and I have already used this example many times in this blog. To integrate a quote, it is important to make sure that they are consistent with the grammatical progression of your sentence. This some times takes altering the quote, which I explain next.


“Ivan was ‘an intelligent, polished, lively and agreeable man’ (256), who married because it ‘gave him personal satisfaction, and at the same time it was considered the right thing by the most highly placed of his associates’ (259).”

Altering Quotes

To alter a quote, you can use ellipses as mentioned before, but you can also change words by putting them in brackets. This is especially useful if the quote you are using is not in the same tense as your sentence or if you want to specify something that is not clear in the sentence.


“At this time, ‘Tolstoy [became] something more than a writer: he [became] a religious leader, sage, a modern prophet’ (165).

“Because of these differences, Kierkegaard ‘searches for the absolute in the eternal world which is really the absolute world, a world without the limitations of place and time, a world without beginning and end, while [Tolstoy] searches for the absolute in this temporal world which is a relative and finite world’ (502).”

Quotes Within Quotes 

Finally, note that, in the last example, I used singular quotations (‘…’) when quoting within my own quotation. This is the standard for quotes within quotes. If the author you are quoting mentions a title of a short work, for instance, you would put it in singular quotations.



Works Cited

Fink, Hilary. “Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer’s Sonata and the Kierkegaardian “Either/Or.”

Canadian-American Slavic Studies 36:1-2 (2002): 7-18. Brill Online Books and Journals.

Web. 18 March 2016.

Gifford, Henry. Tolstoy. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1982. Print.

Kierkegaard, Soren. The Sickness Unto Death. Trans. Alastair Hannay. Great Britain:

Penguin Classics, 1989. Print.

Makolkin, Anna. “Russian, Stalinist and Soviet Re-Readings of Kierkegaard: Lev Shestov

and Piama Gaidenko.” Canadian Slavonic Papers 44.1 (2002): 79-96. ProQuest. Web. 19

Mar. 2016.

“Paraphrases and Quotes.” University of Iowa,

and- writing-center/ guides/paraphrases-and-quotes. Accessed 11 October 2017.

Tolstoy, Leo. “The Death of Ivan Ilych.” Tolstoy, Leo. Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy.

New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1967. 245-303. Print.

Wilson, A. N. Tolstoy: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1988. Print.

“Writing Tip #20: How much of my paper can be quotes?” WriteCheck, 16 January 2013,

be- quotes.

Meet Dr. Jane Fife

I was born in Paducah and grew up in Louisville, so I was thrilled to be able to find a job teaching at WKU. I had gone to college in Michigan and Indiana and got my PhD in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Louisville. My first professor gigs were in Ada, Oklahoma and Chattanooga, Tennessee. I started teaching at WKU in 2003, and directing the Writing Center has been part of my job from the start. I also teach various writing classes, including English 100, writing in the disciplines, argument & analysis, and advanced composition.

For fun, I like to study how people write (now and in the past), collect typewriters, read (especially mysteries about books or old manuscripts), travel to beautiful natural places and historic sites, and bake.

My advice to students is that writing is challenging—at least writing in a way that gets your point across well and is engaging for your reader—so mustering the motivation to write can be tough, even for English teachers! To write well, you have to understand your own psychology as a writer: what makes you not want to write, what can you do to change that attitude, what makes your writing environment less distracting, what makes it more enjoyable and more conducive to focus? If you can answer these big questions about yourself, you’re on the way to becoming a better writer and enjoying the journey. Writing is usually not easy, but it can be fun and rewarding. WKU Writing Center tutors can talk with you about what works for them as writers and help you start to understand yourself better. Yes, we want to help you write better papers, but we also want to help you understand yourself better as a writer and the many things you can do to improve how you write, where you write, when you write, how often you write, and how well you like to write. All that will help you improve what you write.

-Dr. Fife

If This, Then That: Structuring an Argument

Arguing is a part of life 

Structuring an argument is actually very simple. We do it all the time! Note the structures of the following statements:

  1. La La Land is one of the best movies of the year; it won 5 oscars and was nominated for 14!
  2. As a film critic who has viewed many musicals over the past ten years, La La Land is the best I’ve seen.
  3. La La Land will make you laugh, cry, and sing. You’ll want to put on your tap shoes and dance all the way to LA.

Logos, Ethos, and Pathos

These three statements exhibit three different kinds of argumentative appeals: Logos (appeal to logic), ethos (appeal to ethics–in other words, it convinces the audience of ones’ credibility), and pathos (appeal to emotion). All forms are useful in writing an argument, but it is important to understand your audience when choosing arguments.

When forming your argument, you might ask yourself:

  1. What arguments are my sources making and how are they proving their points?
  2. What is my argument? How was I convinced of it? Was it through logos, pathos, ethos, or all of the above?
  3. Who is my audience? Are they resistant to the ideas of the paper? Are they open-minded? Do they have any emotional connection to it, whether positive or negative?
  4. Do I have any qualifications that make me better suited to make my claims than someone else? Do I have any experience with this issue?
  5. Is someone else more qualified? Can I interview them or cite their writing in my paper?


Let’s say you are writing a paper on why everyone should garden. First, you’ll need to narrow down your argument (see previous blog on writing a thesis statement). You come up with the following thesis:

“Gardens are beneficial not only to the land but also to the physical and mental health of gardeners.”

Next, consider your audience. Let’s assume your audience is your own classroom. None of them garden, and they probably think of it as a hobby for grandmas.

Already, your thesis suggests you will be using logic and scientific evidence to support your claim, but you also may need to include some emotional appeal to convince the students that they not only need to but should want to practice gardening. Finally, do you have any experience with gardening yourself? What are experts saying? Would they be more impressed by the claims of a renowned scientists or by Leonardo DiCaprio, who has taken a stand on climate change reversal? Would a testimony of someone impacted by gardening impact them (pathos)? What about a scientific study on the connection between gardening and mental health (logos)? Sources coming from scientific journals etc. also appeal to ethos because the claims are made by experts in the field.


The following are examples of structures used to form arguments.

  1. “If this…then that”
  2. “X…but Y.”
  3. “Because of X…Y.”
  4. “Even though X…Y.”

For instance:

  1. If regular time in the sun improves happiness, and gardening requires time in the sun, then gardening improves happiness.” (logos)
  2. “Gardening may be hard work, but weeding for an hour is the equivalent to an hour in the gym.” (pathos)
  3. Because gardening improved the mental health of patients in the study by X, gardening should be encouraged and made accessible to mental health patients.” (ethos/logos)
  4. Even though there have been claims that gardening is, in fact, detrimental to the environment because of chemicals, soil loss, and disruption of the eco system, X claims that gardens can act towards reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, increase soil, and increase biodiversity.” (ethos/logos)

Now, I just made these forms and examples up on the spot. Each form could have been a paragraph long or worded quite differently. The point is the function of these types of arguments.

All of the previous statements make connections. When structuring an argument, you will more than likely need good transitions spots for the readers to follow your logic. If you have a paragraph on a study that opposes your argument, for instance, you will need to seemlessly transition from that logic to your own claim. In addition, acknowledging adversity to your argument is an excellent way to show you are not afraid of opposition but can back up you own claims.


Look at your points. Using an “if this…then that” structure might help you connect your points together in an outline. (Your sentences don’t have to actually say “if this..then that…” The idea is to think of the connections between your claims.

For instance:

  • Studies by X show that subjects who gardened were happier and more positive.
  • Gardening will make you happier and more positive.
  • Sunlight improves happiness.
  • If sunlight improves happiness, and gardening requires sunlight, then gardening improves happiness.
  • Bad gardening practices can be detrimental to the environment, but good practices can be beneficial.
  • If good practices can be beneficial, then practicing good gardening can improve the land (and make you feel good about what you are doing! [pathos])
  • In a testimony by X, she says, “Gardening changed my life.”
  • If gardening changed X’s life, it could change yours…

Again, I just made these up on the spot to show that this structure is really quite simple. Sure, this outline is far from ready, but, if I were actually writing this paper, it would help me get an idea of what I should focus on. Notice how this outline naturally balances logos with pathos, for instance. My instinct was that too much logos would be unappealing to an audience not interested in gardening to begin with, so I wanted to show why they personally would enjoy gardening.


There isn’t really a right or wrong way to structure an argument. Take this advice with a grain of salt. I merely want to inspire you to begin thinking of structure in a way that makes connections rather than jumping aimlessly from one thing to the next. Further, I want to encourage you not to think about this as a list of rules but as just a few examples of how things might be done.

Happy writing!

Need help on your paper? Having trouble forming an argument? Come visit us at the Writing Center!