Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Advice from McKinze: Know Your Format!

In my recent appointments, I have noticed that many students are unaware of the writing format required by their professors for certain assignments. This is important because the format determines how the entire paper is set up and how the in-text citations and works cited/bibliography is structured.  Most English, Writing, and Humanities courses use MLA format, and most Communication, History, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Nursing courses use APA format. There are a few courses at RSU that use Chicago or Turabian style writing, but those are not as common as the MLA and APA utilizes courses. Many students also do not know that the Writing Center offers templates for MLA, APA, and Chicago papers. Those links can be found in the Writing Center section on the RSU page under the Online Resources tab. Here’s a link: Along with the templates, the Writing Center offers other resources that can be beneficial to a specific format or the writing process in general. There are links to websites that students can use to figure out how to cite sources in specific formats and there are also links that help with proofreading strategies.

While these resources are very helpful, it is most important to understand how a particular professor wants a paper formatted. This is important because knowing the format of the paper determines the structure, citation format, and type of in-text citations, which can greatly affect your grade if not done correctly. If you do not know for sure, ask them! You should always keep an open line of communication with your professors and know that they are there to help you. In the Writing Center, sometimes we do not know what type of formatting a professor so it is difficult for us to help you if we do not know the format. So always ask questions and know that there are many resources that can help you figure out a specific format, and the Writing Center is always here to help. 


Monday, October 12, 2015

Advice from Hayden: The Start of the Process

 Every writer—and yes, I do mean every writer ever—has trouble with starting the writing process. Whether it’s due to a lack of information, understanding, or willingness, beginning to write those essays for class can be exhausting. In many of my consultations this semester and even last year, students will schedule appointments and say something like, “I’m not sure where to start,” or “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Pre-writing can be difficult, but there are several ways to minimize the pain and agony associated with starting an essay.

The first thing you should do as you approach an essay is examine the assignment sheet. It’s important that you not only answer the prompt but that you answer it in its entirety. Oftentimes, professors will not simply ask you to answer one basic question in an essay; it will be a much larger, broader topic that you will have to come to some sort of conclusion about. Reading over the assignment sheet can help you figure out what it is that you want to write about. What comes to mind when you think about the assigned topic? It’s important to believe in what you’re writing. The first thing that comes to your mind is often something that you feel strongly about or have considerable feelings towards. It’s always easier to write about things we feel strongly about, so go do it!

When you find something you feel strongly about, the best thing you can do is to just start writing. Forget all the rules (just for now) and write down everything you know and feel about the topic. This is a great way to formulate your thesis. Kansas University’s Writing Center provides great techniques that writers can use when faced with pre-writing: A thesis is a statement that is your opinion and how you can prove that opinion to an audience. When you just sit down and write, you’ll find that the evidence to prove your point is already in your head, just not on paper.

The great thing about writing is that, although it’s never easy, we all have the ability to do it and do it well. All it takes is a bit of willingness to start.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Advice from Michael: Tips on Starting an Essay


Lately, I have had several students come in with no idea where to start on an assignment. Sometimes this is a result of never writing a proper academic essay in high school, and at other times they simply have always had trouble starting an essay. To help them, I always start off with the same basic advice: remember the five paragraph essay structure.

The five paragraph essay structure will not always be helpful in college writing since you will sometimes need significantly larger or shorter essays, but it is an easy way to begin developing organized thoughts. For the intro, consider what the overarching issue that is being addressed and then try narrowing that issue down into the specific thesis statement you will be arguing. Then figure out three arguments that can be made for what you want to say, and treat that as the body paragraphs. Be sure to include these arguments in the thesis statement. Finally, conclude everything, and be sure to restate the thesis without adding new information in the conclusion.

Once you get at least part of this information down, then start writing. You don’t even have to start at the intro. You can begin with one of the body paragraphs if you prefer, but getting the words and ideas down on paper tends to help the students I’ve worked with gain a stronger grasp of what they are trying to argue, and how they can argue it. As you continue along this path, the essay structure can change to include more or less paragraphs or arguments as it becomes apparent to the writer. More advice on paragraph structure and how to structure an essay can be found on the Writing Center’s online resources under “Composition and Writing in the Disciplines” at this link. However, the key to all of this is to simply trust yourself enough to start writing. Once the words start falling on the page then everything will start to get easier.

Hang in there. You’ll get it done eventually.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Tessa on Thesis Statements

During my time at The Writing Center I’ve noticed that students often struggle with creating, understanding, and identifying thesis statements. In fact, this was once a challenge for me early in my academic career. Your thesis statement is the most important part of your paper, and identifying your thesis makes the writing process much easier. First, let’s answer the question: What is a thesis statement? Basically, the thesis states your claim or your reason for writing the paper. For example, if I was writing a paper on the benefits of a university writing center my thesis might look like this:

University writing centers offer many benefits to the student body, faculty, and the university as a whole. 

What I’ve done here is prepare my audience (the reader) for my paper. I’ve told my reader what my paper will be about and what to expect. But I’ve also obligated myself to fulfill this promise. By making this promise to the reader, I hold myself accountable to write my paper in a way that fulfills the reader’s expectations. 

Keeping my thesis in mind helps me stay focused when I write my paper. In my thesis statement, I claim that a university writing center is beneficial for students, faculty, and the whole university, so I need to make sure I address all three of my claims in the paper. One way I could to do this is by developing a paragraph for each topic: how the university writing center benefits students, how it benefits faculty, and how it benefits the entire university. By doing this, my thesis is supported by the body of my essay, and I fulfill my promise to the reader. 

Once you understand what a thesis statement is, you can better understand its mini-me, the topic sentence. The topic sentence does for the paragraph what the thesis statement does for the essay. So, for my paper on the benefits of a university writing center my topic sentence for the first body paragraph might be:

Students in all majors and disciplines and at any level of writing confidence can benefit by visiting the university’s writing center. 

This topic sentence tells my reader that this paragraph is about the ways in which students benefit from university writing centers. As writers, what we are trying to say might make sense in our head, or even when we read our paper, but it’s important to remember that our readers might need a little direction. By developing a clear thesis statement and topic sentences, we help readers understand where the paper is going, much like road signs help us navigate the road. 

For more tips on writing a thesis statement, check out the Purdue Online Writing Lab.