The Best New Year Checklist

Hold on! Before you use all of your Twitter characters to jot down your half-plans to “be your best self,” take a moment and go through this checklist to really start the year off right.

Create a list of best-three

This list should contain at least three of your favorite things of the year. These elements can include experiences, developing habits, people, and/or items that you are grateful for. You may even add more than three items to the list as you remember all of the awesome aspects of the year. Add as many things to your list as you can, and reminisce about the best parts of this year. My list of three includes starting a blog, starting a business, and moving into my first apartment.

Create a list of worst-three

This list should be the opposite of the previous list. This time, note your top three fails, obstacles, bad-habits, and other unsatisfactory components of the past year. This time, only jot down those top three. The goal here isn’t to make you feel bad about what went wrong but to accept it and begin making changes. Choose the top three areas from this year you would like to improve for next year.

Now, here’s the fun part…

Create a Vision Board for the New Year

A vision board is simply a compilation of photos, quotes, goals, and other items that foster motivation. Vision boards can be both physical and virtual and are meant to be displayed in a location that can be seen daily. Use your list of top-three’s to find images and quotes that inspire you. Use the list of worst-three to find images and quotes that counteract those items. Then, include your dreams, desires, beliefs and anything else you want to achieve in this next year. Finally, add your favorite image of yourself in the center, enjoying the lifestyle you created. If you get tired of your board make a new one and stay inspired all year long!

Purge, Organize, and Shop

Nothing says “new me” like a clean home, a decluttered closet, and some novelty items to bring in the New Year. Many who purge their junk feel ‘lighter’ and more confident in what the New Year has to offer. Take a couple weeks to go through your home section by section, and remove the things you have not used in the last year. By riding yourself the things you don’t need, you free your mind and your space to collect things that serve a greater purpose in your life now.

Celebrate

Whether at a countdown party, hanging out with friends and loved ones, or at home enjoying your favorite mode of relaxation, celebrate the success of surviving this year and celebrate the promise of the next one.

Written by Ashley

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Resurrection Song

Imagine yourself surrounded by loved ones on the eve of holiday celebration. Children are laughing and running around with joy. The family chefs are busy whipping up a delicious meal, swatting at sneaky hands trying to steal food before it’s ready. As you settle into a comfy chair, soaking in the warmth around you, a speaker clicks on, and Michael Bublé’s mesmerizing voice begins to fill the air:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,

Let your heart be light.

From now on, our troubles will be out of sight.

The atmosphere is perfect.

Except, of course, for the fact that the holiday in question is Independence Day. Steaks are sizzling on the Barbie, you’re trying to sunbathe on the porch, and somebody has the unholy nerve to play Christmas music in July.

Even on December 24 with Christmas just hours away, the thought of such a terrible act probably makes you want to scream. Society can’t quite decide if Christmas officially starts the day after Thanksgiving or December 1, but what we do agree on is that Christmas trees, stockings, and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” are not welcome year-round. As the argument goes, Christmas music loses its magic if it is played too often. Confining the holly jolly-ness to a limited season is intended to keep the songs special.

Unfortunately, I have to respectfully disagree.

Before you write me off as a heretic, let me clarify my definition of Christmas music. I refuse to play “Jingle Bells” or “Up on the Housetop” all year long because songs about Santa and snowmen ought to be limited to the final six weeks of the calendar. What I listen to 365 days a year is more appropriately titled Christmas worship music. Songs such as “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “Mary Did you Know?,” and “Silent Night” are different because they proclaim truth about the nature of Jesus Christ. It would be silly if we only sang resurrection-focused songs like “Forever” and “Glorious Day” from the beginning of Lent to Easter Sunday, and I find it a little bizarre that we do the same to “Christmas” worship songs simply because they primarily focus on Jesus’ birth.

In fact, the more seasonal music I incorporate into my personal worship, the more I’ve come to appreciate the powerful theology found in the music played in public malls during Christmastime. My favorite is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” Refresh yourself on some of the lyrics from the classic Christmas hymn, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny

From depths of Hell Thy people save

And give them victory o’er the grave

 

O come, Thou Day-Spring

Come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

Baby Jesus did not give us victory over the grave while lying in his comfy manger crib. He did not disperse the gloom of God’s people oppressed by spiritual tyranny or make Death flee in terror. The sweet little Jesus boy wasn’t the one who intercepted us as we marched blindly toward Hell. It was not until decades after that silent night in Bethlehem that Jesus would accomplish what the song illustrates. The manger was a critical stepping stone to something more: the empty tomb. It was not infant Jesus, but resurrected Jesus, with scars in his hands and feet, who defeated Death and gave his people victory over the grave. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is not merely a holiday song: it is a resurrection song. It’s a message of praise we should be singing on Easter morning: Rejoice! Rejoice because our victorious God is with us!

Sadly, I doubt worship leaders will ever be convinced to include “Oh Holy Night” in a February set list. That’s okay. The wonder of the Nativity is indeed a thing to be revered. Christmas is a consecrated time to celebrate when God, who exists outside of time and creation, willingly stepped into time and creation as a helpless baby. As with all musical worship, it is neither the style nor the words themselves that matter most, but rather the heart of surrender that accompanies it. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” can remain a Christmastime treat while still influencing worship year-round.

Though often forgotten, the narrative of Jesus’ birth is part of the overall Gospel narrative. Without a theology of Christmas, there can be no theology of Easter. Before the ground began to shake and the stone was rolled away, shepherds quaked at the sight of Glories streaming from heaven afar. Nativity songs must precede resurrection songs, and our hearts must always sing their words, no matter what season it may be.

Written by Savanna

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How to Write a Conclusion

Think about all the times that you’ve seen a movie or read a book that really captured your interest. You become invested in the storyline and begin to anticipate all the possibilities that could unfold. As the story progresses to the end, the excitement rises within you, only to be shot down by a horrible ending. We’ve all been in that place before. For movies and books, the ending is drastically important to the overall quality of the story. In fact, the ending can often make or break a story altogether. The same can be said of papers we write for college classes. The ending, or conclusion, is vastly important to the overall quality of a paper. Without a good one, the quality of the paper will decrease. This is why so many students struggle to create a conclusion: because they know how important it is to their paper. Although it might seem difficult to write a conclusion, there are simple ways to address it in order to turn your fear of a bad ending into a confidence in your final paragraph.

The first thing to realize about your conclusion is that it should always restate your thesis statement. This does not mean that you should copy and paste your thesis into your conclusion. That is actually a bad idea. Instead, you should find a way to rewrite your thesis in the conclusion so that it conveys the same idea. You don’t need to worry about making it as formulaic as a thesis statement. In fact, you can spread the ideas from the thesis into multiple sentences in your conclusion. For instance, you can take a sentence or two to hit every main point that is listed in your thesis statement. Regardless of the assignment, reiterating your thesis statement in your conclusion is the most important aspect to your ending.

Many times, when a student attempts to restate his or her thesis in the conclusion, the paper will get repetitive. This is yet another struggle when writing a conclusion; everyone is fearful that they are just regurgitating what has already been said. A simple fix for this situation is to take the main idea of your paper and spin it a certain way so that you avoid repeating what has already been said. For example, you can apply the topic in a personal way to the reader. Through this, you transition from a mere academic idea to the effect it will have on actual people. Or, you could evaluate the topic of the paper by focusing on your main idea. In doing this, you are reinforcing the argument set forth in your paper in order to affirm your ideas one more time. These are just two of the many ways to rewrite your main idea so that it is similar in content and distinct in style. By following methods like these, your conclusion should lack repetition and provide a fresh look at an idea that has already been communicated in the body of the paper.

The conclusion should flow from specific to general. It should begin with a specific reference to topic through use of the thesis before broadening out to the most general effect that the topic has.  So, the restated thesis serves as the most specific aspect of the conclusion and it comes first. Then, refer to the main points in ways that wrap them up nicely. This will provide the reader with a sense of closure on the topic at hand. In other words, you are closing the argument by finding concise sentences that complete the main ideas in the paper.

The final portion of a conclusion is the closing statement. At this point, you might find it difficult to create another sentence to add to your conclusion. Since a conclusion flows from the specific to the general, a closing statement needs to be the broadest sentence in the paragraph. By keeping this in mind, you may find it easier to create a closing statement. Also, you can be your own judge of this statement by putting it alongside the other sentences in your conclusion in order to weigh how well it traverses from specific to general. Basically, the closing statement of your conclusion should relate to your main idea in the most general of terms.

The conclusion poses its own unique challenges to the paper-writing process, but understanding the basics behind this final paragraph will help. Always remember to restate your thesis in a sentence distinct from the one in the introduction. Then, close out your main points in ways that helps your reader understand a sense of closure on the topic. Finally, end your conclusion with a statement that relays the main idea in a very general way. Before long, your papers might even have endings that rival some of the best conclusions ever to be written. In movie terms, your paper will have an ending like The Sixth Sense rather than Titanic.

Written by Jack

For more information on writing a conclusion and other writing subjects, check out our Writing a Conclusion handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

If You’re Not Charles Dickens, This One’s For You

In moments filled with adversity for the writer who possesses a disposition altogether and entirely inclined towards penning with a style of excessive loquaciousness much to the chagrin of her surly critics, there exist a plethora of tactics available to the downtrodden authoress seeking to shorten her adjectives, adverbs, and so on, despite the fact that this is an insult of the most incredulous kind for someone who not only knows oodles of fabulous phrases, but possesses a knack for using them with dexterity and poise.

Geez, you may be thinking.

Most people seeing that sentence would get exhausted simply looking at its length. But don’t be too quick to judge; many of us, especially those who grew up reading Dickens, Austen, and Steinbeck, might not only enjoy this style, but could quite possibly prefer to write this way in their own works also. I’m preaching to myself here when I say that this style is not only excessive, but it’s honestly…not good?

Hear me out.

The “less is more” mantra truly applies to writing. Communicating a message well has never depended on it being long, wordy, or adjective-filled. In academic writing, news writing, and nearly all types of writing, save poetry and prose perhaps, in order for something to be communicated well, it must be expressed clearly.

Don’t panic, my fellow wordy writers. Writing concisely is not the same as writing without voice. Rather, seek to develop the voice through more succinct wording. I know that my writing style has drastically developed since entering college and being challenged with prompts that forced me to simplify my generally lengthy thoughts. But my writing has also improved exponentially. My writing is more clear, more enjoyable to readers, and altogether better than it was back when I insisted on using a Thesaurus for needless adjectives in every paper I wrote.

Let’s refer to the first heinously-long sentence of this blog as an example.

First, let’s identify the message of the sentence. Quick note: if you’re ever struggling to figure out what the kelp a sentence is trying to say, it DEFINITELY needs to be re-written. A handy exercise is to cross out any excessive words or irrelevant ideas and see which important ideas remain.

In moments filled with adversity for the writer who possesses a disposition altogether and entirely inclined towards penning with a style of excessive loquaciousness much to the chagrin of her surly critics, there exist a plethora of tactics available to the downtrodden authoress seeking to shorten her adjectives, adverbs, and so on, despite the fact that this an insult of the most incredulous kind for someone who not only knows oodles of fabulous phrases, but possesses a knack for using them with dexterity and poise.”

Using what words remain, it becomes clear that this sentence is trying to communicate that shorting and simplifying our writing can sometimes be difficult. But, hope remains, as there exist many “available tactics.”

Here are some possible revisions:

“For the writer who pens with a wordy style, there are a lot of ways for her to consolidate her phrasing.”

“Wordy writers often struggle to be more succinct; thankfully, there are several tactics available that help cut down sentences.”

“Wordy writers can shorten their sentences in many ways.”

Each of these sentences manages to communicate the same message, and they all do so in different ways. My voice still came through in each alternative, even though I was chopping down those SAT words I love so much.

By learning to “murder your darlings” as the saying goes, your writing will become more concise, be better received by your professors, and will generally improve. That’s a guarantee from a seasoned writing consultant, or your money back.

Written by Karoline

For more information on how to avoid wordiness and other writing subjects, check out our Avoiding Wordiness handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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What’s the Big Idea?

In the classic slapstick comedy, The Three Stooges, the characters ask each other an important question: what’s the big idea? They ask this question after engaging in goofy and clumsy behavior that causes them to accidentally harm one another. However, there isn’t a more accurate and simple summation of what a topic sentence is—a big idea.

Topic sentences are big ideas in the beginning of a paragraph that serve to affirm and ratify the thesis statement of an essay, blog, research paper or any other written work. In a single sentence, it creates a platform on which the main idea can be further elaborated in the body of the paragraph. Topic sentences also allow the writer to control the flow, organization, and direction of the text by encompassing the big idea the writer wants to convey.

Topic sentences obviously have several uses and purposes in a written work; unfortunately, people often struggle to write a coherent one. However, it is possible to write a strong, concise topic sentence in only three easy steps. The first step is asking the question a stooge would ask, “what’s the big idea?” Contrary to popular belief, brainstorming is not something that happens only once at the beginning of the writing process. Each paragraph needs a topic sentence; therefore, though the writer doesn’t have to come up with a brand new idea, condensing a big idea into a single sentence requires quite a bit of creativity. Once the question kick-starts the writing process, it is important to jot down the ideas and major subjects that come to mind.

The second step is organization. Transition sentences are just as important as topic sentence. Without them, ideas would be convoluted and incomplete. Instead of starting a new paragraph with a topic sentence, it is better to start with a transition sentence. It authenticates the idea discussed in the previous paragraph and introduces a new one. Once the transition is complete, it can be used as a springboard to develop the rest of the paragraph.

The third step is writing the topic sentence itself. Bringing together the words and ideas from the first step and linking them with the transition sentence results in a topic sentence. For example, Sonia has to write an essay on the historical background of The Three Stooges comedy and its characters. In the previous paragraph, she wrote about the creators, production, and a major historical development that existed at the time—the third Reich of Hitler’s regime. She could start the next paragraph with a transition sentence that reads, “Even though the show was an important source of comic relief in such a dark time, it is probably more appreciated now than it was in its time.” This sentence further elaborates on the shows setting but also presents a new angle: its relevance to the culture and time in which it was created. A topic sentence can then follow like this: “Columbia Pictures was audacious enough to create a piece that satirized Hitler while the United States took the isolationist position and was neutral on World War II.” The rest of the body of the paragraph can then introduce the piece of work, its content and effect on the public audience.

Incorporating other writing devices and techniques can help with not only topic sentences, but with the entire writing process as well. In the spirit and attitude of the gloriously goofy stooges, it is possible to capture the big idea in a powerful and engaging way. Moreover, following a clear organizational path, as illustrated above, makes writing topic sentences both easy and fun.

Written by Kenean

For more information on writing topic sentences and other writing subjects, check out our Topic Sentences handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

Sources

“You Nazty Spy.” TV Tropes, tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/YouNaztySpy.

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