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! 

 

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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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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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The Fulcrum of Academic Writing

There is one aspect of academic writing that has confused writers for centuries. One sentence has initiated the rise and fall of papers, caused worried high school and college scholars to lose sleep at night, and affected the comprehension of papers everywhere the English language is written. As authors near the end of their introduction paragraph, they are faced with the daunting task of writing the sentence that, in many ways, determines the success of their paper: the thesis sentence.

As a writing consultant, the most common question I receive is “what is a thesis?” Second to this one is the question, “Why does my thesis matter?” If a student writes a paper with a good introduction, body, and conclusion, can one sentence really be that important?

The answer to those last two questions is a most definite YES! Think about it this way: Have you ever been listening to a friend ramble on and on about some subject, but you have no idea what his or her point is? This has happened to me, and sometimes, after a few minutes, I want to say, “Just get to the point!” And I’m sure others around me often feel the same urge! Or, have you ever read a paper or book, but, at the end, been unaware of what the author want to you learn from it? Well, the purpose of the thesis is to clarify said point. Papers are similar to such long verbal explanations. The thesis allows the main idea, the attitude regarding this idea, and the main sub-points that are going to be discussed to be introduced early in the writing.  This sentence allows the reader to know what he or she is getting into, so to speak, when this person begins to read your paper.

In order to avoid such ramblings, you may ask how to compose a thesis, which is such a necessary aspect of your written masterpiece. There are three important components of a strong thesis: the main idea, the attitude or indication of the writer’s position on said idea, and the reasoning (2-3 main points) that support said attitude.

Let’s look at an example: “Cats are amazing because they have an independent disposition, playful tendencies, and adorable behaviors.” Whether you agree with this statement or not, we have our topic (cats), our attitude (that they are amazing), and our three points (disposition, tendencies, and behaviors), and it would be my job as the author to prove this point to you in the rest of my paper. A strong thesis statement will not only excite our readers about what is to come but also help us, as writers, to follow a logical order in our writing process.

Of course, there are many ways to write theses; the one above is just the simplest way to do so: subject first, followed by the attitude then the main points. We could also flip that sentence around to say, “Due to their independent attitude, playful tendencies, and adorable behaviors, cats are clearly the most amazing pet to own” OR “Their independent attitude, playful tendencies, and adorable behaviors cause cats to be the best all-around pet.” These theses communicate the same message but emphasize the topic and sub-points in different ways. Each style is used to stress a particular part of a thesis or to relate parts of the thesis to each other in a unique way. However, the order of the components of the thesis pales in comparison to the importance of actually including these three parts, arranged in a logical manner.

In scientific terms, the thesis is the hypothesis attempting to be proved by the experiment of your paper. It is the position of your debate, the climax of your story, and the blueprints to your building. It is the fulcrum of academic writing, and you must learn the importance and “how-to’s” of thesis writing, as it will determine the comprehension, flow, and success of every paper you write for the rest of your life.

Written by Michelle

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

 

The Joy of Writing an Introduction

Hi, I’m Meredith Rose, and for the next several paragraphs, I’ll be your host as we discover the joy of writing an introduction. Composing an introduction can be intimidating, sometimes even more so than writing the body of the paper! However, my good friend Bob Ross and I are here to tell you that fretting over your introduction is not necessary. As this wise old artist once said, “All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.” The same rings true for introductions: “All you need to write an introduction is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.” So… let’s write a happy little introduction together!

The Almighty Introduction

Look no further than the first season, first episode of The Joy of Painting to find Bob’s greatest lesson on writing an introduction. In the first two minutes of this episode, Bob lays out a simple yet almighty example for how to introduce any essay. Click on this link and watch from 0:00-2:10 before we discuss Bob’s technique.

inverse pyramid of introductionWelcome back! Let’s break this down a little. Bob uses what I like to call the Inverse Pyramid of Introduction in this first episode. As the graphic depicts, the four sections of an introduction are: topic, attention, background, and thesis. In addition, the inverse pyramid demonstrates how each section of an introduction becomes more and more specific to the central discussion of the essay. If you follow Bob’s example and use the inverse pyramid technique, you are sure to write an almighty introduction every time!

Now, time to drag out your old #2 pencils and composition books as we discuss the four sections of an introduction.

Topic

As you saw, Bob begins his introduction by stating, “Hi, I’m Bob Ross, and for the next thirteen weeks, I’ll be your host as we experience the joy of painting.” Before going any further, I would like to extend a warning that Bob Ross is undoubtedly a friend of Tony Stark (aka Iron Man). By this, I mean that he too is a fan of non-academic language. (If you have no idea what I am referring to, please click on the following link to familiarize yourself with our last Writing Process blog entitled “Academic Writing: A Time to be Thor, not Iron Man.”) With this in mind, it is still possible to learn from Bob’s example, if not his actual word choice. You’ll notice that Bob’s first sentence is broad. He does not include any details about how or what he will be painting. He simply introduces the topic.

So, tell me, what is it that you’re writing about? Have you been asked to discuss the cause and effects of the Great Depression? Or maybe your assignment is to analyze the poetic devices of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18”? How about a prompt to examine the marketing mix used by Dollar Shave Club to reach its target market? Whether you’re writing a cause and effect essay for history, a literary analysis essay for English, or a research essay in marketing, you should always begin by introducing the topic, the work, the event, or the person you’ll be discussing.

Take my example italicized above. The first sentence of this essay’s introduction might read, “The marketing mix includes product, price, distribution, and promotion, and it is integral to the success of all businesses.” Notice that this sentence, just like Bob’s, is broad. It does not specifically mention Dollar Shave Club or how they utilize the marketing mix. Rather, it simply introduces the topic and leaves specifics for later sentences.

Attention

The most versatile section of the Inverse Pyramid of Introduction is attention. There are countless ways to grab your audience’s attention, but the method that Bob used in his almighty introduction is making a claim. A claim is asserting a statement as fact, preferably something unexpected. While Bob rambles on and on in the attention section of his introduction (there’s that non-academic language again), it can be summed up effectively by one of his statements: “I think there’s an artist hid in the bottom of every single one of us. And here, we will try to show you how to bring that artist out to put it on canvas, because you too can paint almighty pictures.” Did you hear that unexpected assertion? You too can paint almighty pictures! I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a claim given my prior artistic endeavors, and it sure does grab my attention!

So how can we follow Bob’s example in our own academic writing? Let’s return to my marketing essay example. Perhaps the next two sentences of the introduction would read, “Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based shaving service founded in 2011, created a marketing mix that satisfied its target market. This strategy resulted in the company selling out of inventory and acquiring 12,000 subscriptions just six hours after its first promotional video was posted on YouTube.” Notice that this sentence both grabs the reader’s attention by making a startling statement and further narrows the topic of discussion. While the first sentence of the example introduction mentioned only the marketing mix and its components, I have now named Dollar Shave Club as the company whose marketing mix I will discuss.

Background

The next section of an introduction further explains the topic before the thesis is stated. As you watched, Bob includes some pertinent background information with his audience before the show begins. “I’d like to go over some of the equipment we’ll use before we start,” he says. Bob then informs his audience about the types of brushes he’ll use, describes important aspects of the pallet knife, and names the colors that he’ll paint with. He also informs the audience that they will paint freely without tracing patterns. All of this information serves to explain the topic of painting before Bob states his thesis for The Joy of Painting series.

I can follow Bob’s example by adding these two sentences to my marketing essay introduction: “Michael Dubin and Mark Levine, co-founders of this revolutionary shaving service, clearly understand the importance of the marketing mix and know how to manipulate it to make a profit. Today, the firm estimates $140 million in sales, has two million online subscribers, and ships fifty million shaving packages every year.” These background details about Dollar Shave Club give my readers a clearer understanding of the company and demonstrate why the firm is a good example from which to learn.

Thesis

There are many important things to remember about the last section of the Inverse Pyramid of Introduction. First, every good essay has a thesis. Without one, readers have no idea where specifically the paper is heading. Second, every good thesis guides the reader through the points that the body paragraphs will discuss. A thesis that does not do so… well, is not really a thesis! Lastly, in every good introduction, the thesis statement is the last sentence of the paragraph. While we can debate what order topic, attention, and background should come, the thesis always concludes the introduction.

Now, take a look at Bob’s thesis: “We start with a vision in our heart, and we put it on canvas. And we’re here to teach you to be able to do this too. So let’s do it! Let’s paint a picture.” Bob is an excellent example to follow when writing an introduction, but not so much when it comes to constructing a thesis. In the true spirit of his show, Bob fashions an ambiguous thesis statement full of non-academic language. After all, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy accidents!” Oh, that this famous Bob Ross quote was true for essay writing too. Unfortunately, we students must write and revise our work with a more critical eye than Bob used to paint. For more information on how to properly structure your thesis, I encourage you to stay tuned for next week’s blog, “The Fulcrum of Academic Writing.” Michelle’s expertise will guide you far better than Bob can!

In addition to reading our next Writing Process blog, consider this example thesis, which concludes my marketing essay introduction: “This success is fully credited to Dollar Shave Club’s use of an innovative marketing mix that includes differentiated products, low prices, online distribution, and unique promotion.” Do you see how this sentence completely narrows the topic and identifies the four points that the essay’s body paragraphs will discuss? While Bob’s thesis is general and vague, it does capture what The Joy of Painting series will be all about. Likewise, this specific and direct thesis provides a snapshot of what the rest of the marketing-mix essay will discuss.

Time for the moment of truth. Did following Bob’s example aid me in writing a happy little introduction? You judge for yourself. After putting together each of the sentences I wrote, what I have is the following:

The marketing mix includes product, price, distribution, and promotion, and it is integral to the success of all businesses. Dollar Shave Club, a subscription-based shaving service founded in 2011, created a marketing mix that satisfied its target market. This strategy resulted in the company selling out of inventory and acquiring 12,000 subscriptions just six hours after its first promotional video was posted on YouTube. Michael Dubin and Mark Levine, co-founders of this revolutionary shaving service, clearly understand the importance of the marketing mix and know how to manipulate it to make a profit. Today, the firm estimates $140 million in sales, has two million online subscribers, and ships fifty million shaving packages every year. This success is fully credited to Dollar Shave Club’s use of an innovative marketing mix that includes differentiated products, low prices, online distribution, and unique promotion.

I think it’s safe to say that Bob has done it again; that’s an almighty introduction. So go get crazy! Make a big decision! And always remember Bob’s greatest advice as you begin writing: “Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”

Written by Meredith

For more information on writing an introduction and other writing subjects, check out our Writing an Introduction handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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