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.

Sincerely,

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!

 

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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!

Sincerely,

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!

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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