Letter from a Hyphen

Dear Students,

Oh, hey! Can’t you see me here? What? You don’t remember me? Well, I am your old friend, Haleigh the Hyphen, the thin dash periodically used in writing. Although I might seem elusive at first, I really am a helpful punctuation mark.

For example, if you are writing compound numbers or fractions in your academic paper, then I am a crucial element to your sentence. Let’s say that you are writing the number 23 ¼ in your essay. In some formats, you would write it like twenty-three and one-fourth. Likewise, I am needed when connecting a series of numbers or dates. My function is not only helpful in academic writing, but it is also useful in the works cited portion of your paper. If you are citing numerous pages, you would squeeze me between the beginning page number and the ending page number. Perhaps you started reading on page forty-five and finished on page fifty. In this instance, you would simply use me like this: 45-50.

In order to clarify your writing, you should use me to distinctively distinguish between two words with the same spelling that have different meanings. As an illustration, the word “recover” means to find; however, re-cover means to repair. Although this might not seem like a big deal at first, I can guarantee you that I make a big difference when talking about your shiny, new Camero. By adding me, you will be able to distinguish between the two words and create clarity in your essay. You might also avoid panicking about the fancy things in your life.

Also, I can connect a prefix to a number, a capital letter, or a word that begins with the same letter the prefix ends with. For example, say there was a pro-American patriot who decided to re-evaluate his stance on the post-1920s view of women. In this instance, I am used in different ways in order to ensure that the rules are met. Without me, there would be some confusing and cluttered sentences. I am also an essential part of forming compound adjectives, joining invented words or long phrases used as adjectives, and connecting suspended compounds. Look at this goofy story to see what I mean: my friend is a well-known actress with a holier-than-thou attitude. She wanted a one- or two-year lease on an apartment in Hollywood; however, tragically, her ex-husband left her and took all of the money. Does that show you how important I can be in a sentence?

Lastly, I am used when words are divided at the end of a line. Although this is typically when you are hand-writing, it is still a vital part of my role as a punctuation mark. For example, if I decided to write an organized and correctly punctuated letter to my friend, then I would make sure that all of these rules are followed. I hope after reading this blog, you remember me and are no longer afraid of me. I cannot wait to show up in your writing!


Haleigh the Hyphen

Written by Trisha (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)

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Letter from a Comma

Dear Students,

Some of you might have noticed that I am a rather complicated punctuation mark. There are some hard fast rules for my use but some other times using me may seem completely random. You’ve heard terms like “phrase” (a group of words that does not contain both a subject and a verb) and “clause” (a group of words that contain both a subject and a verb, but not necessarily a complete thought). You’ve probably also learned to use me in some situations but not others. Yeah, commas are complicated. But Connie Comma is here to help! Let me see if I can clarify some of my convoluted rules. (By the way, did you see the places I was missing in this paragraph?)

Sadly, I’m not a very strong punctuation mark. I’m flattered that many of you think that I’m strong enough to hold together two complete sentences, but I can only make so many trips to the gym. Check out this sentence: The dog barked at the mailman, but the mailman did not pay attention. See how I’m used? My close buddies, the conjunctions for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, have to help me hold these big sentences together. Some of you make the opposite mistake and flatter the conjunctions in these situations, forgetting all about me! Always remember that both of us are needed to connect compound sentences.

Oh! I have also seen many of you excluding me from lists in one way or another. I must follow every word in a list, except the last word. For example, when I go to the store, I buy bread, ham, and cheese. When I cook soup, I add chicken, noodles, and salt to the broth. Do you see where I stand in these two lists? Some of you make lists like this: trees, bushes, and leaves. That is a list of only two things: Trees then bushes and leaves. In that situation, bushes and leaves are one item in the list because I was not included after bushes. When I separate the second-to-last and last items in a list, I am called an Oxford Comma, and I am always used in academic writing.

When you connect a dependent clause to an independent clause, you need to include me at the end of the dependent clause, such as is done at the beginning of this sentence. When I am not included the sentence just keeps going on and on and the meaning of the sentence becomes confusing (just as this sentence does because I wasn’t placed after the word “included”).  Also, with phrases that begin sentences, I am needed, just as this sentence demonstrates. In other words, every time an introductory phrase or clause is used, I should follow it!

Here are some nerdy terms for ya: appositive phrases, restrictive and non-restrictive modifiers, expressions of contrast, and direct address. All of these are situations in which I am needed. Those first two, appositives and modifiers, are basically glorified adjectives. For example, Connie (aka lil ol’ me), who is a comma, is going to help you understand when to use commas in these situations. In that sentence, the phrase “who is a comma” is a non-restrictive modifier; in other words, the sentence would have made sense without it. In these situations, my necessity can be determined by how essential that part of the sentence is to the rest of the sentence. If that sentence would not have made sense without the “who is a comma,” then I would not have been needed. For example, the teacher who has the mohawk gave me an A. In this sentence, if “who has the mohawk” was not included, it would be unclear who I was talking about. Therefore, I am not needed.

In expressions of contrast, however, I am always needed (just as with the “however” in this sentence). If a part of the sentence communicates what something is not, I should be there. Ants, although small in stature, are exceptionally strong. The “although” phrase does not communicate the same idea as the rest of the sentence; rather, it gives a side piece of information.

Someone once said, “All great things must come to an end.” This letter, I am afraid, must conclude soon. Just a couple more tips, and we will be finished. When direct quotes are used, I am needed with phrases that come before or after the quotes, such as the case in the first sentence of this paragraph. “There are too many comma rules,” exclaimed the harried English student. And don’t forget, if the phrase comes after the quote, the comma always goes inside the quotation marks (as seen in the example above).

States and dates: that’s the last thing we have to talk about. When incorporating cities and states into sentences, remember that I always follow the cities and states, unless the state ends the sentence. Check out this example: I went on a road trip from Dallas, Texas, to Ouachita, Arkansas. Notice a comma follows Texas, but not Arkansas because of its location in the sentence.

A similar rule applies to dates: commas always follow the day and the year, unless the year ends the sentence. For example, the car was bought on January 31st, 2010, and tuned up January 1st, 2013. Notice the comma after 2010, but not after 2013.

I hope you now better understand how to incorporate me into your academic and personal writing. I know I’m complicated and convoluted, but I make your writing so much clearer! If you have any questions or need clarification, just visit the DBU Writing Center. There are qualified, certified consultants there that know all about me!

Written by Michelle

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Letter from a Colon

Dear Students,

My name is Collin Colon. Not the biological organ, also known as the large intestine, nor the Costa Rican currency known as the colón, but the famed punctuation mark that makes the writing world go round. My use in writing is gravely important. I even consider myself as valuable as the period and the comma in the exciting realm of punctuation. Unfortunately, some of you do not quite understand my primary purpose, which is greatly upsetting to me. I’m often included in sentences where I have no business being. Other times, I’m even neglected altogether, creating a colon catastrophe. I’m nearly as misused as my poor comrade, Sam Semicolon. Instead of sulking about your horrendous misuse and atrocious avoidance of me, I’ve decided to enlighten you with ways to utilize me in your writing endeavors. Then, all of you will be able to fill your papers with captivating colons.

By definition, a colon is meant to tell readers the information which follows is closely related to the preceding clause. I am the go-to player for this move. So, when you plan to relate two similar clauses, choose me as the playmaker, and I will not disappoint. In fact, I am more effective at this skill than any other punctuation teammate of mine. Also, I typically follow an independent clause (or complete idea) and should not separate a verb from its complement or a preposition from its objective.

Here’s an example of the wrong way to use me: Living in apartments, I eat: sandwiches, fish sticks, and chocolate chips.

While I agree that this person’s diet is rather strange, the real horror here is the way I am used. I am inserted in between the verb (eat) and its complement (sandwiches, etc.). It is unnecessary to the flow of the sentence and just downright offensive to my kind.

Here’s the proper way to write this sentence: Living in apartments, I eat the following: sandwiches, fish sticks, and chocolate chips.

Both clauses are closely related. One addresses the concept of eating in an apartment while the other lists specific foods consumed in this space. In this particular sentence, my primary purpose is to list the specific dietary choices made in apartment-living. Although there are methods to specify these food choices without me, adding my punctuation talents throws in some punctuation pizzazz.

I can also be used in an appositive sentence like this one: There is one food I refuse to eat: olives.

In this circumstance, I am an indicator of what food the writer is referencing. Once again, you could write a sentence about your least favorite foods and avoid using me altogether, but you would lose the dramatic effect that I provide. I serve as a suspenseful pause that instills tension within all readers before dropping the name of the food that is your biggest nemesis: olives (dun dun dun dun). In this way, I enhance sentences, making them belong on a Broadway stage and exciting college professors lucky enough to read your skilled prose.

Additionally, I can amplify or interpret clauses in order to draw out more meaning from them. For instance, desserts can add to a healthy diet: fresh fruits, yogurt, and nuts have nutritional qualities. This sentence needs interpretation; otherwise, readers would get an entirely false idea. Without the second clause added after me, people might think that any dessert can add to a healthy diet. They might even begin eating heavy portions of cake, pie, and other unhealthy desserts thinking that they are partaking in a beneficial diet. By utilizing me, I interpret this clause to mean a specific food that some might not even consider to be a dessert at all.

I serve many other purposes in writing, all of which are valuable to know. I introduce illustrative quotes that are taken from other sources. For example, In the words of Dwight K. Shrute, Assistant to the Regional Manager: “Bears, beets, Battle Star Galactica.” Also, I am used for formal letter salutations (To Whom It May Concern: ). I am used to separate the hour from minutes in a time notation (12:30). Also, I separate a title from a subtitle and separating (Collin Colon: A Punctuation Memoir). Finally, I separate a Bible chapter from its verse (Job 12:3).

I hope that I no longer see calamitous colon creations in sentences where I do not belong. However, I do hope that you will use me more for your benefit in writing. I am a convivial punctuation mark, and I will surely jazz up your writing.


Collin Colon

Written by Jack

For more information on how to properly use colons and other punctuation marks, check out our Colons handout and the Quick Reference Flyer page of our website!


Handling Criticism: Five Lessons from The Great British Baking Show

Handling criticism is hard. Regardless of whether the feedback you receive is constructive or destructive, listening to someone’s honest opinion about your work is never easy. If you’re a creator of anything, from art to poetry, music to prose, photography to food, you know the courage it takes to submit your work to the inspection and judgment of others.

Last year, I personally learned how challenging it can be to receive criticism. For six months, I worked to craft a short story I believed worthy of admiration. I then entered it into a contest in which a judge would provide me with feedback and I would have the possibility of winning the grand prize: publication alongside four other contestants. Waiting for the results, I told myself repeatedly that I would not be upset by the outcome. However, no amount of positive self-talk could have prepared me for the crushing blow that was dealt: no grand prize as well as negative feedback from the judge. I even missed out on being named an honorable mention.

I brooded quietly for several months after, dejected and full of self-pity, wondering why I had even tried. Then one day, as I was watching one of my favorite TV series, The Great British Baking Show (TGBBS), I got to thinking about what it means to properly and professionally handle criticism. If you have ever seen this wonderful show, you know just how brave those twelve bakers are to submit their creations to the judgment of Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Their often ruthless and unforgiving assessment of the contestants’ bakes can sometimes leave me cringing in my seat, but the way in which the bakers handle this feedback is always something worthy of praise.

After watching nearly every season of TGBBS, I have learned five valuable lessons about how to handle criticism.

  1. Remember that everybody has different taste buds.

Just because one person dislikes your creation doesn’t mean everyone will! There have been many times on TGBBS when bakers receive criticism from the judges on a bake that their family or co-workers adore and eat regularly. Other times, Mary and Paul disagree on the quality of a bake depending on how much alcohol the baker adds. Still other times, bakers graciously accept the judges’ criticism but share with the audience that they personally enjoy the bake. The fact is, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating food; similarly, no two persons are alike when it comes to appreciating art, literature, or anything else creative. Never let the criticism you receive from one person or one group of people dissuade you from sharing your creation with others.

  1. Accept when something you made is stodgy.

The ability to see your creation from another person’s point of view and accept his or her criticism is the sign of a truly confident and mature creator. It’s never easy for a Great-British-Baking-Show contestant to hear the dreaded word “stodgy,” but I have never once witnessed a baker who didn’t accept the evaluation with grace and dignity. In fact, many of the bakers are so self-aware that they approach the gingham altar knowing a poor critique is imminent and justified. Is this willingness to concede to the judge’s point of view a sign of weakness? Quite the opposite! Accepting criticism is the first step in growing to become a stronger, more experienced creator of any art form.

  1. Find your Mel and Sue!

Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from TGGBS is that you can’t make it on your own as a creator. Just as the hosts of the show, Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, encourage the twelve bakers through thick or thin, so you must find the people in your life who will lift you up when you hit rock bottom. Much like the delicately balanced flavors of a cake, making it in this world as a creator also requires balance between the criticism you receive from judges offset by the encouragement you receive from friends and family. Only then can you truly be successful as a creator.

  1. Don’t be afraid to cry.

There’s no shame in tears; they show that you care passionately about your creations. Oftentimes on TGBBS, bakers come away from a harsh critique with tears in their eyes, asking themselves why they’re so terribly upset. “It’s only a cake, after all,” they state rationally. “Am I really crying over a biscuit?” others ask themselves, laughing through the tears. But the fact is, it isn’t just a bake, or a poem, or a painting, or a song. It’s what each of those creations represent: the hard work, time, and care put into creating it. Never be afraid to mourn a failure so long as you do not lose the will to try again!

  1. Live to bake another day.

Winston Churchill, a remarkable Brit much like the twelve Great-British-Baking-Show contestants, once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” While the criticism that many bakers receive from Paul and Mary is often harsh, not one of them walks away from the experience lacking the will to continue growing as a baker. This lesson, although simple, is perhaps the hardest to put into action, but it is also the most important. Criticism is hard to handle, but we must, and we shall, so that we too can live to create another day.

nadia 2

Written by Meredith

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Letter from an Apostrophe

Dear Students,

I am so misunderstood! You’ve probably noticed… I have a bit of a jealousy problem. I am often possessive of the things that follow me. However, I am also a very loyal fellow and do my best to unify other words when letters and numbers have to be omitted.

Since I know you tend to get confused, here are a few tips that will ensure you use me correctly:

First, don’t forget to add me (plus an s) to indicate ownership to singular and plural nouns that don’t already end in “s”. For example, if you are writing about a cookie belonging to Sarah, you need to add an apostrophe + s after you write her name. That gooey, warm, sugar cookie is Sarah’s, and you need to make sure to use me so that everyone realizes the cookie belongs to her. (You see, she would not be very happy if her cookie was stolen.)

Even if you need to give the rights of ownership to a singular proper noun, or someone or something whose name already ends with an “s,” you should still add me plus an “s” after the noun. For example, if Sarah’s last name is James, you would write that Sarah James’s cookies are adorned with rainbow sprinkles. This applies unless you’re writing about someone as important as Moses or Jesus. In that case, you can just leave me hanging by myself after the “s” that ends their name. Don’t worry, I won’t be too lonely.

Lastly, if you’re indicating belonging of something to a plural noun that ends in s, you only need to add me after the s. For example, if you want to remark on the sprinkles on the cookies, you would place me after the “s” in cookies. That way, everyone will understand that the cookies’ sprinkles are very colorful.

Though I can get a little jealous of things that belong to me, I am also a loyal peacekeeper and try my best to help other words where I am needed. When letters have to be omitted in contractions, I kindly stand in the place of any missing letters to hold the word together. For example, if you wanted to combine the words “did” and “not” when complaining that Sarah did not want to share her delicious cookie, you need to place me in between the “n” and the “t” in place of the missing “o” so that I can hold the word together and help you to indicate that Sarah didn’t want to share her cookie.

I know, I know, I’m a complicated bloke. However, we’ll get along fine as long as you remember to use me correctly and avoid my pet peeves. I absolutely detest when students try to use me for a possessive pronoun, or even worse, to form plurals. For example, there is absolutely no reason to use me when writing that Sarah has two cookie’s. There is nothing worse than hanging around in a word for no reason at all! It will also help if you remember that the word “its” is already possessive. You only need to add me between the “t” and “s” if I am needed for a contraction. For example, it’s now time for me to conclude this letter so I can go enjoy one of Sarah’s cookies.

Good luck writers!


Alphie Apostrophe

Written by Leah

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For more information on how to properly use apostrophes and other punctuation marks, check out our Apostrophes handout and the Quick Reference Flyer page of our website!

The Training Process

When I walked into the University Writing Center early one morning, I did not realize that I would get the news of a lifetime. My boss approached me about transitioning from the receptionist position to that of a consultant in the UWC. After I heard the word training, my heart started to beat faster, a smile crept across my face, and I started to feel the adrenaline kick in. I have always had a passion for writing, and now I could share my passion with others. In order to officially become a consultant, I had to complete an intense training program to ensure that I could give every student reputable input. For example, each consultant must complete a training manual, read various books, learn about different formats, observe sessions with other consultants, participate in mock sessions, and review specific grammatical rules. By completing each of these steps, I learned many things that allowed me to become a better consultant. I saw how each consultant interacts with the students, picked up on different techniques, and gained a greater perspective of the services the Writing Center offers.

Thanks to the intense training, every consultant in the Writing Center is qualified to help students with various steps of the writing process. For example, consultants are able to help with anything from the brainstorming process to formatting the works cited page correctly. In order to ensure that each consultant knows the correct information pertaining to these topics and everything in between, it takes most consultants a semester to complete the training process. Interestingly, it took me approximately one semester to complete my training. While it is a strenuous process, I would not want it any other way. I absorbed numerous lessons throughout training and discovered that the Writing Center is better than I could have ever expected.

I found that each consultant wants to help students excel and expound their knowledge in writing; however, I realized that it is much more than that. Throughout training, I saw how every employee in the Writing Center genuinely cares about and loves each person who walks into the office. In every encounter, they want to be the light of Christ who shares His heart and Spirit. During times of confusion and stress, I witnessed consultants reassure students and encourage them. Nobody within the Writing Center wants a student to walk away from the office weighed down with stress or anxiety. Instead, they want to see students walk out of the office with their heads held high and a smile on their faces.

During my training, I learned more about the writing process as well as the heart and mission of the UWC. I am incredibly grateful for this experience and am blessed to work in such an amazing office. I encourage everybody to stop by the Writing Center to meet some amazing people and receive help on a paper. I cannot wait to consult with you!

Written by Trisha

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The Writing Center is currently hiring high-achieving English students who are interested in helping peers improve their writing. If you are interested in interviewing with us, please stop by our office in the basement of the Collins Learning Center (Room 001) to pick up an application today! 


It’s Tricky

Have you ever written a paper that you believed was almost perfect, but there was something about it that did not feel quite right? Well, I have been there before, and it is not enjoyable; however, I know something that might help. In those instances, you should look at the title of your paper. Now, your title can be direct and state the exact topic of the paper or it could be indirect and hint at the subject. When I was in high school, my teacher always asked for creative titles that pertained to our topics. For example, if I wrote a research paper on the consequences of stray dogs in neighborhoods, then my teacher would enjoy a title like The Ruff Life. She loved when students created a clever title that pertained to their topic because it showed they put thought into the paper.

Clever titles are a fun way to grab the reader’s attention, but you must know some of the rules to ensure it is grammatically correct. When writing a title, you must capitalize all words except: prepositions, conjunctions, or articles unless they are the first word of the title. In the previous example I provided, I capitalized the because it was the first word of the title.

When writing a clever title, there are a few errors that can be avoided to make it stronger. For example, you should not put quotation marks around the title unless a quote is actually found within it, nor should you underline the title. Additionally, as illustrated in my example, you should never place a period after the title of your essay.

Now, say that you are writing an essay over the book, Great Expectations. It is better to create a unique title that is not simply the title of the book. Lastly, try to steer away from titles that are not original. If it is a title that has been used in numerous essays or papers, then think outside of the box. I always find it to be a fun challenge.

After coming up with a title, it is important to place it in the right area of your page. For MLA, the title should be dropped in your heading and centered on the first page before your introductory paragraph. In APA format, it is centered on the first line of the title page and on the first line of the paper, while Turabian format requires it to go on the title page underneath the university’s name. Although this might seem confusing, the UWC has resources available within the office and online to clarify any questions you might have. I cannot wait to read some of your clever titles when you stop by the University Writing Center!

Written by Trisha

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