Writers Choices

The reason, I think, I wait until the night before the paper is due, is that then I don't have any choice and the problem goes away. I mean, I stop thinking about all the choices I could make, about where to start and what to say, and I just start writing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The number of choices writers must make in composing even short papers is sometimes daunting no wonder Sarah wants to write and not choose. But in truth, I think she's fooling herself All writing,...

Abstracting

Like a summary, an abstract reduces a text to an outline of its most important points. But, whereas a summary of an article's essential points may be several pages long, an abstract will be less than a page, more likely one paragraph. Here, for example, is an abstract of the advice for writing summaries (above) To write a summary, 1) keep your objective in mind, 2) be accurate and brief, 3) use a clear style, 4) use the organizational pattern and 5) tone of...

Academic Journals

When you keep a journal for a college or university class, avoid the extremes of either the personal diary or the impersonal notebook. At the one extreme you find diaries, which are private accounts of a writer's thoughts and feelings and which may include more writing about emotion than intellect. At the other extreme are documents such as class notebooks, which are recordings of other people's ideas. I diagram the differences this way For academic purposes, I suggest a judicious blend of both...

Ad Lib Questions

No matter what my plans, in my best interviews, I never follow them completely. Good interviews move around considerably, include digressions (often loaded with information that circles back and becomes useful), and are refreshingly predictable. So I also plan for both new and follow-up questions as part of my interview. By planning to ad lib I'm not tied to my script and can follow a new lead wherever it seems most fruitful What exactly do you mean by that Could you expand on that just a bit...

An Argumentative Thesis

As noted in the last chapter, a good thesis helps both writer and reader. Your thesis is the stand you take on an issue, the proposition you believe, and what you want your readers to believe too. To make the idea of a thesis less intimidating, think of it as an answer to a yes no question Should farming be banned on the shores of Lake Champlain Should the city rescind the tenants bill of rights Should the college fund a women's center on campus Phrasing a thesis in yes no terms helps in two...

Analyzing

To analyze v. to separate into parts or basic principles in order to determine the nature of the whole examine methodically. All academic disciplines teach analysis in one form or another. When you analyze something, you must find a logic that holds it together and use that logic to take it apart. Essentially, analysis requires that you identify what parts make up a whole and that you then look closely at what parts make up each part. Depending on your discipline, of course, you may be asked to...

Apples and Apples

At a basic level, we compare like things to like things one apple to another for taste, color, size, etc. We usually compare similar kinds of things to answer questions of worth or suitability is this the best pen (of several kinds) to write with Is this the best stereo system (of several brands) for me to buy Is this the best interpretation (among competing ones) of this poem In these instances, the elements being compared are similar and do similar things, and thus can be compared point by...

Arguing A Position

To argue v. to give reasons for or against something to consider the pros and cons to persuade by giving reasons. Argumentative and interpretative writing closely mirror the academic discourse of your professors as they engage in scholarly debates about research and method in their disciplines. They participate in professional conversations by asserting and supporting this thesis or theory while attacking competing ones. Therefore, of all the essays described in this text personal, reflective,...

Ask Leading Questions

If you have expectations, theories, and ideas, sometimes you might lead off with them and see what your interviewee thinks. It depends on who you are talking to. For example, if you are investigating overcrowded conditions at your local airport, the parking lot attendant will have a different stake in the matter than a cab driver, and the airport manager will have a view quite different from the resident across the street. To whom do you ask what leading question With whom do you wait to see if...

Asking and Answering Questions

A colleague of mine teaches chemistry to classes of two hundred students. Because this large class doesn't easily allow students to raise their hands to ask questions, the instructor has asked the students to write out their questions during the lecture and deposit them in a cardboard box labeled QUESTIONS that sits just inside the doorway to the classroom. At the beginning of the next class period, the instructor answers selected questions before moving on to new material. A few of the...

Asking Questions

Research implies finding an answer to a question or solution to a problem that puzzles you. It also implies that you care what the answer or solution is. Finally, research implies a process or method of looking that varies from field to field. In science research we call this method scientific and employ microscopes, computers, telescopes, and test tubes to help us find answers in the humanities, we might call it criticism and usually confine ourselves to the study of texts. The point is that...

Assessing

Your journal may also prove to be a good place in which to reflect on the value of journals themselves. I no longer believe journals work for every-one some people just don't like to be reflective in language but as course assignments go, they are fairly painless. Let me conclude with some of Jim's observations. He started keeping a journal in my first-year writing class with some reluctance later he wrote the following on page 192 of his journal 11 11 As I scan through my journal, I found a...

Book Reviews

Book reviews are a likely academic assignment in a variety of subjects. In writing a review, there are some things to keep in mind 1. Provide all necessary factual information about the subject being reviewed, for example, book title, author, date, publisher, and price. Do this early in your review, in your first paragraph or as an inset before your first paragraph. 2. Provide background information, if you can, about the writer and his or her previously published books. 3. Follow a clear...

Comparing Or Contrasting

To compare v. to examine (two or more things, ideas, people, etc.) for the purpose of noting similarities and differences to consider or describe as similar. We compare things all the time this college, city, or state to that one movie, book, or CD to another and so on. As we compare, we usually also contrast, noting the differences as well as the similarities in our comparison thus, the act of comparing includes the act of contrasting as well. In my nonacademic life, I read the magazine...

Connecting

Use your journal to find connections deliberately. Make as many as you can in any direction that works. Connect to your personal life, connect to other courses, and connect one part of your course to another. In the following entries Kevin works on connections in a course on macroeconomics 2 16 One of the things about this course seems to be the fact that many theories can be proved algebraically. For example, the teacher said that a possible exam question might be to trace through a Keynesian...

Defining

To define v. to state the precise meaning of something to describe the nature or basic qualities of to specify distinctly to serve to distinguish. Defining is simply a more specialized mode of explaining, in which you must be especially precise because defining something means separating it from other similar concepts. You will seldom be asked to write a whole paper defining something. More commonly, you will be expected to act on your definition. For example, in math you may have to define...

Describing

To describe v. to give a verbal account to transmit a mental image or impression with words. To describe a person, place, or thing is to create a verbal image so that readers can see what you see, hear what you hear, and taste, smell, and feel what you taste, smell, and feel. Your goal is to make it real enough for readers to experience it for themselves. Above all, descriptive details need to be purposeful. Heed the advice of Russian writer Anton Chekhov If a gun is hanging on the wall in the...

Detail

As a writer, you can make your narrative believable in several ways. In the following examples, our student writers convince us that they are telling the truth by providing concrete detail, precise action, appropriate language, honest emotion, and documentable facts. Inside knowledge Readers like to be let into worlds that they have seen only from the outside. Often the small details let them in. In the following passage, Sue shows us what she knows as an experienced filler of salad bars I...

Documentation

To make an assertion in the academic community as convincing as possible, you should always provide your audience with a complete account of where you got your information, ideas, or evidence (more on this in Chapters Nine-Twelve) hence, the importance of footnotes, endnotes, references, bibliographies, and literature searches. Essentially, your readers want to know who said what, where, and when. When you provide this information, readers believe that your student ideas are buttressed by...

Drafting

When I draft, I try to establish direction, the main form of the argument or story, and some sense of beginning, middle, and end. When I revise, I pay attention to getting the whole paper just right organizing the material, supporting my statements, getting down essentially what I want to say. When I edit, I pay attention to the smaller details of writing, to getting the particular sentences and words just right, working on matters of style, precision, diction, and correct documentation.

Editing

You edit in the later stages of writing to recheck your whole text, to make sure it reads as you intend it to read. You want to see that everything works, from the clarity of ideas to the logic of the paragraphs, the vitality of sentences, the precision of words, and the correctness and accuracy of everything, from facts and references to spelling and punctuation. Whether you have written three, five, or ten drafts, it's the last one you want to be perfect or as near...

Evaluation

To evaluate v. to ascertain or fix the value or worth of to examine or judge carefully. Evaluation is often a part of interpretation. To evaluate implies judgment, finding the merits and faults of something. Like the other operations described here, evaluation should be based on some analysis or interpretation already performed in the same essay. Evaluation is crucial, at some level or other, to every academic discipline you evaluate one theory against another one set of facts against another...

Evidence

Evidence is the information that supports a claim and persuades others to believe you. Just as a prosecuting attorney needs evidence to convince juries to convict a person accused of a crime against the counterclaims of defense attorneys you need evidence to convince audiences to believe you. Consider these four classes of evidence, each of which persuades in a different way 1. Facts are things upon which everyone, regardless of personal experience or values, agrees. It is a fact that water...

Expect Something

Good interviewers aren't blank slates. They talk to people to find out more about something about which they already have some ideas and hunches. In other words, they start with preconceptions, and then go on to prove or disprove them. When they talk to people, they are actively looking for answers, and they have some idea of the shape those answers will take. Acknowledging this, being aware of what you expect and why, will help you to form pointed questions and to change, modify, or adapt your...

Exploring

The earliest phases of writing are often explorations. In fact, writing is the thinker's way of exploring the world, inside and out. If you want to write something an assigned paper, a story for yourself and you turn on your computer or pick up a pen, you really can have it both ways, since writing starts from ideas, and ideas start from writing. When you write, you explore your memory, texts, neighborhoods, the news, the Internet, and the library. We could call this first phase of the...

From Journal Writing To Drafting

Journal writing is an essential part of my own composing process. In fact, most of the articles, chapters, and books that I write in my publish-or-perish life as a college professor start out as ideas discovered and explored in my journal. I even keep a separate journal when, during summers, I travel around the country on my motorcycle, and even this journal has led me to writing articles. Here, for instance, is a note from my nonaca-demic travel journal kept while attending a one-day...

Guidelines For Publishing Class Books And Web Pages

Publishing a class book is a natural end to a writing class. A class book is an edited, bound collection of student writing, usually featuring some work from each student in the class. Compiling and editing such a book is commonly assigned to class volunteers, who are given significant authority in designing and producing the book. It is a good idea for these editors to discuss book guidelines with the whole class so that consensus guidelines emerge. Editor duties usually include the following...

Guidelines For Punctuation

Listed below are general explanations for punctuation. I have included the most common uses for the punctuation marks described. If you know the uses described here, you will be in good shape as a writer. However, be aware that numerous exceptions to all the punctuation rules also exist exceptions that I have not attempted to cover here. To learn about these, consult the handbook appended to most dictionaries, Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, or one of the many writer's handbooks...

Guidelines For Writing Groups

Writing gets better by reading, practice, and response. The first two you can do for yourself by selecting books that stimulate your interest and show you interesting prose styles, and by writing regularly in a journal or on a computer and not settling for drafts that don't please you. But at some point, to get really better, you need to hear other people respond to your words and ideas. If you are using this book in a class, chances are that your teacher confers with you individually about...

Interpreting Texts

To interpret v. to explain the meaning of to expound the significance of to represent or render the meaning of. The term interpretative essay covers a wide range of argumentative assignments that may also be called critical, analytical, or simply argumentative. For discussion purposes, this section will focus on writing aimed at interpreting texts of one kind or another. Interpretative essays argue that a story, poem, essay, or other created work means one thing rather than another. At the same...

Issues

An issue is essentially a problem that needs solving. For an issue or idea to be arguable, it has to be debatable, with two or more arguable sides. If there is no debate, disagreement, or difference in opinion, then no argument exists. Furthermore, each side of an arguable issue needs credible supporters. In other words, to be worth bothering with, the debate needs to be real, and the resolution in doubt. For example, to write a position paper today for or against slavery, women's suffrage, or...

Journals Logs Notebooks And Diaries

The informal notebooks that collect your personal thoughts have a long and respected history. Documents like journals, diaries, or notebooks have existed ever since people discovered that writing things down helped people remember them better. For travelers and explorers, the journal was the place to document where they had been and what they had seen. Some of these journals, such as those by William Byrd and William Bradford in the seventeenth century, are especially useful for modern...

Keeping A Journal

9 7 Perhaps this journal will teach me as much about myself as it will about English. You know, I've never kept a journal or such before. I never knew what a pleasure it is to write. It is a type of cleansing almost a washing of the mind a concrete look at the workings of my own head. That is the idea I like most. The journal allows me to watch my thoughts develop yet, at the same time, it allows me a certain degree of hindsight. In this passage, Peter calls journals places to watch his...

Know Something

Before you talk to knowledgeable people, become knowledgeable yourself. Even before you start with people, check in a dictionary, encyclopedia, or the Internet to learn the terms that will help you ask good questions. Sometimes this means asking people about other people to talk to. For those other people, of whom you expect something particular, it may mean familiarizing yourself with their writing, their achievements, and their expertise in general. Keep in mind that you'll get one kind of...

Learn to Write with a Word Processor

Word processors make writing easier, primarily by allowing you to write words electronically on a screen before you print them out in ink on paper. The advantage is that you can move language around as you see fit, until it is just right. Because I rewrite virtually everything (except notes and journal entries), word processors allow my writing to be more careful, organized, and precise than on lined pads of paper. If you use a word processor, try to get in the habit of composing first drafts...

List Making

People make lists every day to remind them of projects to do, things to buy, errands to run. Most obviously, when you make a list of grocery items, you have a record to consult in the store. Equally important, however, in starting the list is the power of the list itself to generate useful associations and new thoughts you write eggs and think also about bacon you write milk and remind yourself of other products in the dairy case. The same thing works with the lists I make in my journal or...

Look

Careful description is part of good research. The writer who is able to observe people, events, and places, and to convey that observation accurately contributes factual information to the research process. Such careful description of place establishes living, colorful, memorable contexts for all sorts of other inquiries. Look closely at the obvious and see what else is there. Go for the size, scale, color, light, texture, angle, order, disorder, smell, and taste of the place. Use your senses...

Make an Outline and Promise Yourself Not to Stick to It

Outlines are helpful as starters and prompters, but they are harmful if they prevent further growth or new directions in your draft. I don't always use outlines when I write, especially on short projects, trusting instead that I can hold my focus by a combination of private incubation and constant rereading of the text before me. When I do outline, what proves most helpful is the very process of generating the outline in the first place. If it's a good outline, I quickly internalize its main...

Move Back and Forth

While exploration comes first, it also comes second, third, and so on, for as long as you keep working. No matter how carefully considered your first ideas, the act of writing usually generates even better ones, all the way through the writing process, as you think about why you are writing, about what, and for whom. For example, when the purpose for writing is vague, as it may be when someone else makes an assignment, you may write to discover or clarify your purpose. (What is this assignment...

Objectivity

In the academic community, the way in which you search for truth is supposed to be impartial and objective, with some very clear exceptions within the humanities and fine arts. For many disciplines, however, when you perform experiments and do research, you attempt to remove yourself from the situation as much as possible and attempt to demonstrate that the results of your work are objectively true that is, that the results you are reporting are not a figment of your imagination and personal...

Outlining

After you have decided what to write about (what problem to solve), an outline can give you a clear direction, a goal toward which to write. To make an outline, you list ideas according to their relative weight some ideas are equal to others (coordinate), and other ideas are supportive of larger ideas (subordinate). In formal outlines, broad coordinate ideas are designated with Roman numerals, and related supportive ideas are clustered beneath larger ideas, with...

People

When you need to find something out, start asking around and see who knows what. People are living, current resources that talk back, smile, and surprise you. People can tell you who else to see, where to go, what books to read (and why) people can offer you shortcuts. They can also ask you questions Why do you want to do this What do you expect to find Have you talked to Professor Smith yet How far back do you want to go Where do you plan to start Wherever you live, there...

Personal Narratives

Narrative n. the general term for a story long or short of the past, present, or future factual or imagined told for any purpose and with or without much detail. You are most likely to write personal narratives that is, writing based on more truth than fiction in writing courses where your awareness of yourself is often central to your further development as a writer. However, you may sometimes write personal narratives in another discipline that emphasizes self-knowledge, such as psychology,...

Plan Questions

Prepare a few key questions in advance. This doesn't mean you should interview from a study sheet, although some people do. Writing out the questions helps you both find and remember them. Think about the nature and sequence of questions you ask. One approach is to start with a general question How did you get involved with the problem of homeless people in the first place Then ask a narrowing question What services do you currently provide for the homeless And follow up with questions as the...

Plan to Plan

If you plan to explore a little before you actually start writing, the odds are that in the long run, your writing will go better, be more directed, purposeful, and efficient. Finding ideas is a back-and-forth process it starts in one place, ends up in another, and goes on all the time so long as you keep writing. This whole messy process can be both wonderful and exhausting. Remember that when you are in the planning stages of any writing task, finding and exploring ideas counts more than...

Plan to Throw Your First Page Away

Once you actually begin to compose a draft, don't lock yourself into keeping the first words you produce. In fact, it may be helpful to deliberately view each first paragraph or page as a throwaway. The absolutely worst part of writing for me is starting, staring at a blank page or monitor. If I can just get some words down, the task looks started, and I relax a bit. Once I start, my words come a lot easier. I shift from the slow first gear into progressively higher gears as my thoughts begin...

Purpose

Your explicit or stated reason for writing is your purpose Why are you writing in the first place What do you hope your words will accomplish In college, the general purpose is usually specified by the assignment to explain, report, analyze, argue, interpret, reflect, and so on. Most papers will include secondary purposes as well for example, an effective argument paper may also need explaining, defining, describing, and narrating to help advance the argument. If you know why you are writing,...

Reacting

Journals are not the place for class notes, which are frequently mere copies of teacher's thoughts, but they are good places in which to examine what took place in class, to record your opinion of the worth of the lecture or points made by classmates during a discussion. In the following entry, Caroline, a senior English major, comments on her Shakespeare class 2 9 In Shakespeare class today I was aware of my fellow students and wondered what each one of us was thinking about the class in...

Readers At Work

When you include descriptions of actual events and places in your story, the accumulation of detail begins to tell your story for you. Let it. In early drafts of narrative writing, authors want to explain to the readers everything that happened, why those things were important, and exactly what the reader should get from reading this. In later drafts let your skillful recreation of details show your story. Showing works better than summarizing because concrete detail allows readers to see your...

Relationships

Each of these three uses of language has a distinct function to communicate, to create, and to explore reality, of course, any single piece of writing may have features of the other modes for example, a piece of writing may be primarily informative but also have aesthetic and personal features. Of the three forms, the most consistently useful for you as a student and learner is the exploratory writing you do to think with. In fact, we could say it is the very matrix from which the communicative...

Reporting

To report v. to relate or tell about to provide an account for publication or broadcast to submit results for consideration. A report describes an event or tells a story about something. You may have written a book report (a description of what the book is about) or a laboratory report (the story of what happened during an experiment). If you are assigned to write reports in a particular class, your instructor will specify what kind of report and give you guidelines for what it should look...

Reporting News and Events

Journalists train themselves to explain events by asking what we might call reporter's questions Who What Where When Why and How The advantage of remembering a set of routine questions is obvious writing reports for daily papers requires fast writing with little time for revision. Reporters actually call these reports stories and commonly write them in one draft, composing in their heads while driving back from the scene of the accident, fire, speech, or whatever they have been assigned to...

Reporting Research

I found the following format recommended in both biology and psychology for reporting the results of experiments forms similar to it will be used in other social science and hard science areas as well 1. Title a literal description of the topic of your report. 2. Abstract a summary in two hundred fifty words or fewer of the why, how, and what of your report. 3. Introduction a statement of your hypothesis and a review of the relevant literature. 4. Methods and materials information about how you...

Research Sites

You can do observational and experimental research in chemistry and physics laboratories, and on geology and biology field trips. Any place that you visit is a potential research site, capable of providing information and evidence to use in your writing museums, galleries, concert halls, stadiums, college offices, professional buildings, corporate headquarters, industrial plants, lakefront developments, junkyards, local malls the list is endless. In writing a paper on lake pollution, go to the...

Research Texts

You do a form of research every time you write analyses or interpretations of texts reading and rereading is the research. You also research when you compare one text to another or track down the dates of this or that historical event in encyclopedias, dictionaries, and reference works. And you do text-based research when you scan a CD-ROM disk or log onto the Internet your textual and graphical printouts become useful, hard data. When you use text-based research carefully (and here I don't...

Researching

When you write, you need content as well as direction. Unless you are writing completely from memory, you need to locate ideas and information from which to start and, later on, with which to support and convince. Remember, you essentially do research whenever you pose questions and then go looking for answers. It's virtually impossible to write a decent critical, analytical, or argumentative paper without doing some research and reporting it accurately. Even personal and reflective essays can...

Researching People And Places

In 9th grade we had to write research papers to learn them for 10th grade, and in 10th we had to write them for 11th, and then in 12th, again, to learn them for college. So what I keep learning, over and over, is to sit in the library and copy quotes out of books and into my paper and connect them up. What's the deal The hallmark of college writing is learning to write with research. Sometimes you'll be asked to write a research paper or report other times you'll simply be asked to write...

Researching Texts Libraries And Web Sites

My instructor wants me to use at least ten citations from at least five different sources, including books, periodicals, and the Internet. On top of that, she wants me to make the paper interesting. The best writing teaches readers things they didn't already know, conveying knowledge that isn't everyday and commonplace. You are bound to do this when you write from personal experience, as nobody else anywhere has lived your life. However, when you write about topics outside yourself, out there...

Seek a Response to Your Writing

Once you have written a passable draft, one you feel is on the right track but not finished, ask a classmate or friend to read and respond to it. Specify the kind of feedback that would be most helpful. Does the argument hold up throughout the whole paper Do I use too many examples Which ones should I cut Does my conclusion make sense Sometimes, when I am quite pleased with my draft, I simply ask a friend to proofread it for me, not wanting at that point to be told about holes in my argument or...

Self Profiles

Unlike language autobiographies, a self-profile focuses on the present who you are now. These are among the most interesting and frustrating assignments imaginable How do you decide who you really are And how much do you want to share with an instructor or classmate As an instructor, however, I find self-profiles especially rich because they are so chal-lenging both for first-year writers and graduating seniors, since both groups are at pivotal places in their lives, looking backward and...

So What

While a narrative is based on something that actually happened, keep in mind that the reason you write about a subject or event is to portray something that makes a point. Narratives, just like reports, critical essays, and research papers, must have a reason for having been told. As a reader, the question I ask is So what What difference has it made that I read this Why did the author choose to tell me this As a writer, I try to keep the same question in mind at all times Why am I bothering to...

Start Writing to Start Writing

Write your way to motivation, knowledge, and thesis. No matter what your subject, use language to find out more about it. What do you already know about it What do you believe Why do you care (Or why don't you ) Where could you find more information This writing will help in two ways First, it will cause you to think connected thoughts about the subject for a sustained period of time, a far more powerful, positive, and predictable process than staring at the ceiling or falling asleep worrying...

Starting a Dialogue

If your teacher asks to collect and read your journal, then you have a good chance to initiate some dialogue in writing about things that concern you both. Journals used this way take on many of the qualities of letters, with correspondents keeping in touch through the writing. As a writing teacher, I have learned a great deal about my own teaching from written conversations with my students. Remember Alice, the biology major studying the fern spores in the petri dishes Her professor responded...

Stop

Go to places and observe what is there. Investigate local issues and institutions to find out what investigative research is like. Stop and look inside the church, sit in the pews, and note what you feel. Go stand on the Brooklyn Bridge, a hundred feet above the cold, black water of the East River, and look at the city skyline, the ocean horizon. Visit the neighborhood in which the most welfare mothers are said to live and cross its streets and sit in a diner booth and drink a cup of coffee....

Strategies for Starting Reflective Essays

Select any or all of the following strategies for starting a reflection paper Remember Recall a person, place, experience, or thing that has always interested you. Close your eyes, ransack your memory, freewrite to bring it closer for more speculative examination My paper route wound up 68th street north of State, fourteen houses on one side, a deep fenced-in gravel pit on the other which meant fourteen fewer customers on that stretch of the route. When I returned home from college last year,...

Strategies for Writing Position Papers

There are no set formulas for writing position papers, but there are accepted strategies that work especially well. Think about both thesis-first and delayed-thesis strategies, and decide which is most advantageous for your particular case. Thesis-First Pattern The following is an effective way to organize a thesis-first paper, but keep in mind these are guidelines, not rules 1. Introduce the issue by providing a brief background that defines, describes, and explains it, for example Excessive...

Structure

Personal narratives are often structured by chronology first this happened, then this, which led to that. However, narratives can be told through flashbacks, mixed chronology, and even multiple points of view. Of all the short writing forms, the narrative may have the simplest organizational scheme. This probably accounts for its reputation as an easier form than essays organized by other argumentative and explanatory schemes. But don't be fooled narrative that seems direct and straightforward...

Subject

Inexperienced writers sometimes assume that they have to write about something dramatic or sensational to interest readers the afternoon I scored the winning touchdown, the night I danced as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker Suite, or the morning I nearly died drag racing my father's Porsche. However, some of the strongest narratives often result from taking something less significant even disappointing that happened to you and making it come to life for your reader. Instead of the big...

Subjectivity

In many disciplines, your personal opinion may not be worth very much in others it will be. In the more interpretive disciplines, such as history, philosophy, and literature, you will generally find more room for personal interpretation than in the more quantitative disciplines, such as chemistry, physics, and mathematics. (The social sciences fall somewhere in between.) To be safe, whenever you make an academic assertion in any discipline, use the best evidence you can find and document it....

Synthesizing

To synthesize v. to combine parts to form a new whole arranging and combining elements or pieces to make a pattern or structure not there before. The most sophisticated way to report or explain is to synthesize. All academic disciplines teach synthesis. To perform this operation, you put ideas or elements or parts together sometimes things that don't seem to belong together to form a new whole. Synthesizing may involve different operations, depending on the discipline, but in all it means...

Tape Recording

Sometimes you want to record exactly what someone says to you, so you ask if you can tape the conversation. Sounds easy. But the trade-off for accuracy is sometimes extra nervousness for both of you and a lot of time spent playing and transcribing what you've recorded. Many good reporters, even when they have a tape recorder as backup, take quick but careful notes in a steno-pad (small, flips fast, easy to write on your lap). It helps to devise a few shorthand tricks abbreviations for common...

The Academic Community

If you are reading this book while enrolled in college, you are already a member of an academic community. What, you may ask, is the big deal I'm in school, I'm studying, taking tests, writing papers, and getting grades as I've done since first grade. What's the difference Well, this time there may be a difference that could influence everything you write. Let's look at the nature of a college academic community. College and university communities were established to study something called the...

The Composing Process

I start by writing down anything that comes to mind. I write the paper as one big mass, kind of like freewriting. Then I rewrite it into sentences. I keep rewriting it until it finally takes some form. If I have the time before I begin to write (which I usually don't) I make an outline so I have something to follow. An outline kind of gives me a guide to fall back on in case I get stuck. Then I start in the middle because it's easier than trying to figure out where to start. The ending is easy...

The Critical Voice

When you write interpretive or argumentative essays, use a comfortable and careful voice, not so relaxed as in a journal, not so objective as in a laboratory report unless you have a good reason to diverge from this middle point. For more formal situations, avoid contractions, first-person pronouns, colloquial diction, split infinitives, and the like but don't use language you are uncomfortable with or try through pretentious words to impress. For informal situations, use conversational...

The Research Imperative

The need for knowledge is the rule I didn't mention directly, yet this need is an imperative behind every college paper you write. And the primary way of coming to knowledge in the academic community is through research conducting your own investigations of the world and reading the results of what others have found in their investigations. Research papers and papers based on research will be among your most common academic assignments. Authentic research begins with yourself, when you ask...

Thinking With Writing

I usually write when I'm under pressure or really bothered by something. Writing down these thoughts takes them out of my mind and puts them in a concrete form that I can look at. Once on paper, most of my thoughts make more sense & I can be more objective about them. Puts things into their true perspective. Recently, I asked my first-year college students to write about their attitudes toward writing. Did they write often Did they like to write When did...

Time

One of the most difficult problems of writing personal narratives is deciding how much time to spend on what. A common mistake is trying to cover some great expanse of time, often resulting in diluted generalizations my summer job at McDonald's, all seventy-four days of it or how I learned karate, starting with my life as a ninety-pound weakling. Instead of trying to cover such vast periods in a few pages, writers benefit when they focus sharply in time and space Instead of trying to generalize...

Use Silence

This may be difficult, but it's profitable. Silence is awkward, and many of us have a natural tendency to fill it. But silence means different things at different times sometimes ignorance, confusion, or hostility other times thinking, feeling, or remembering. Wherever you can, allow the person being interviewed some silence and see what happens. If it's hostile silence, you'll soon know it. But it is more likely that the person is doing some mental collecting and will fill the silences...

Using Language

We use language all the time for many reasons. We use it to meet, greet, and persuade people to ask and answer questions to pose and solve problems to argue, explain, explore, and discover to assert, proclaim, profess, and defend to express anger, frustration, doubt, and uncertainty and to find friendship and declare love. In other words, we use language to conduct much of the business and pleasure of daily life. When we think of the uses of language, we think primarily of speaking, not...

Where and

Research answers are found by knowing how to search and where to look. The college library is one obvious source of knowledge so too are Web sites, textbooks, laboratories, and your local community. To write effective college papers, learn where to locate diverse sources of information, how to assess their value, and how to include it in your writing. 1. Describe the differences you already perceive between your high school and college learning environments. Explain in what ways you are treated...

Why Research Assignments

Let's look more closely at the reasons why research papers or term papers, or formal reports are a major staple in the academic diet. At their best, such assignments ask you to think seriously about what interests you, to formulate questions you care about, to begin poking around in places (both familiar and arcane) for answers or solutions, to master some method for taking and organizing notes, to integrate fragments of knowledge into a meaningful conceptual framework, and to compose the whole...

Wondering

One of the best uses for a journal is speculating on the meaning of what you are studying and thinking about. Speculating is essentially making attempts at answers that you are not yet sure of. Speculating on exams or papers is dangerous doing it in journals is natural. In the following entry, one of my literature students speculates on the meaning of a well-known passage in Henry David Thoreau's Walden 10 24 What really caught my attention was the specific description of the fight between the...

Write to Yourself

Forget about publishing your ideas to the world publish them first to yourself. Tell yourself what you're thinking. Write out what's on your mind. Write it down and you'll identify it, understand it, and leave behind a memory of what it was. Any writing task can be accomplished in more than one way, but the greatest gain will occur if you articulate in writing these possibilities. Exploring also involves limiting your options, locating the best strategy for the occasion at hand, and focusing...

Write with Titles and Subtitles

Good titles help you view your writing as a whole, and good titles catch readers' attention, pique their curiosity, and describe what your writing is about. Subtitles (subordinate titles, or subheadings) are words or phrases that stand for a set of ideas or a section of a paper write them in the margins and let them help you structure your paper for both you and the reader. Subtitles do two things at once they serve as categorizers for concepts, and they operate as transitions from one concept...

Writing for Classmates

Next to the teacher, your most probable school audience is your peers. More and more teachers are finding value in asking students to read each other's writing, both in draft stages and in final form. You will most likely be asked to share your writing with other students in a writing class, where both composing and critiquing papers are everybody's business. Don't be surprised if your history or biology teacher asks you to do the same thing. But you could initiate such sharing yourself,...

Writing for Publication

Writing for publication is something you may not have to do while you're still in school. Conversely, you may have already done so in letters to the newspaper editor or articles for a school paper. However, you may have a teacher who wants you to experience writing for an audience that doesn't know who you are, as when class papers are posted on the Web. When you write for an absent audience, there are a few things to keep in mind 1. Assume ignorance unless you know otherwise. If you assume...

Writing for Teachers

When you are a student in high school, college, or graduate school, your most common audiences are the instructors who have requested written assignments and who will read and grade what you produce, an especially tough audience for most students. First, teachers often make writing assignments with the specific intention to measure and grade you on the basis of what you write. Second, teachers often think it their civic duty to correct every language mistake you make, no matter how small....

Writing for Yourself

When you write strictly for yourself, your focus is primarily on your own thoughts and emotions you don't need to follow any guidelines or rules at all, except those that you choose to impose. In shopping lists, journals, diaries, appointment books, class notebooks, text margin notes, and so on, you are your own audience, and you don't need to be especially careful, organized, neat, or correct so long as you understand it yourself. However, keep in mind your own intended purpose here a shopping...

Writing from Experience Checklist

What story have I told Is it primarily about me an event somebody else 2. When I finish reading the story and ask So what does my story provide an answer 3. Have I shown rather than summarized the action and details of this story Can you see where it takes place Can you hear my characters speak 4. Do I make my readers do some interpretive work Or do I provide all the judgments and explanations for them 5. Does my form work What effect would other forms (journal, letter, essay, drama) have on...

Writing In The Academic Community

My writing never says what I mean. I can see the idea in my head, but I can't seem to express it in a way that others understand, so I don't get good grades. Is there some secret I don't know about With great clarity, David expresses his frustration as a writer. In fact, his expression is so clear that I'm tempted not to believe him How could it be that his writing never says what he means However, as a writer myself, I know David's problem. He is honest, and what he says is...

Writing To Argue And Interpret

My teacher last year would always write in the margins of my papers What's your thesis Where's your evidence How can you prove that So, now when I argue something, I Make readers believe me. I give them good reasons and lots of examples and they Do believe me or at least I get better grades. In the academic world, arguments are a means of creating belief, changing minds, and altering perceptions. Faculty and students alike spend a great amount of time and energy arguing for one interpretation,...

Writing To Communicate

It is easiest to describe writing as communication because this is the use to which school writing is most obviously put. For years, teachers in elementary, middle, and high school classes admonished you to write clearly, correctly, concisely, and objectively about topics they hoped would interest you. In school they put most of their emphasis on writing clear, correct, concise, objective prose. They taught you to use thesis statements, topic sentences, outlines, footnotes, transitions, and...

Writing To Explain And Report

Above all else, I want to write so clearly and accurately that others see things exactly the way I do. Explaining is the task of working writers everywhere. To explain is to make some concept, event, or process clear to your reader, to expose or reveal it. (Another name for explanatory writing is expository writing.) In college, you may be asked to explain chemical processes by writing a laboratory report, literary events by writing a book report, political, sociological, or historical events...

Writing To Explore

A third kind of writing is that which you do for yourself, which is not directed at any distant audience, and which may not be meant to make any particular impression at all, neither sharply clear nor cleverly aesthetic. This kind of writing might be called personal, expressive, or exploratory. It helps you think and express yourself on paper. You've written this way if you have kept a diary or journal, jotted notes to yourself or letters to a close friend, or begun a paper with rough drafts...

Writing To Imagine

You also spent some time studying, usually in English class, another kind of highly structured language often called imaginative or creative. Poetry, fiction, drama, essay, and song are the genres usually associated with imaginative language. This kind of language tries to do something different from strictly communicative language something to do with art, beauty, play, emotion, and personal expression something difficult to define or measure, but often easy to recognize. We sometimes know...

Writing to Learn

What all this means in practical terms is simply this When we write to ourselves in our own easy, talky voices, we let the writing help us think and even lead our thinking to places we would not have gone had we never written, but only mulled things over in our heads. Thought written out becomes language you can interact with your own thought objectified on paper or computer screen becomes thought you can manipulate, extend, critique, or edit. Above all, the discipline of doing the writing in...

Writing To Remember And Reflect

10 19 When I write a paper, I inevitably make it personal. I put myself into it and I write well. I'm paranoid when people criticize it because they tell me to make it more impersonal to take me out of it. I'm afraid I can't write unless I am in the paper somehow. I guess I feel defensive because this paper has so much of me in it that I'm just laying myself open to all kinds of attacks, and I'm scared to read it to someone. I want to take it to my teacher tomorrow and ask him what he thinks. ....

Writing With Sources

Documenting research papers is easier than sometimes made out. You just answer the question who said what, where, and when. But don't be surprised if English teachers want you to answer it one way and history teachers another but the information you need is exactly the same. Research writing can be only as convincing as the authority which informs it. Remember that every paper you write is an attempt to create belief, to convince your readers that you know what you are talking about, and that...

Guidelines For Writing Portfolios

In simplest terms, a writing portfolio is a folder containing a collection of your writing. A comprehensive portfolio prepared for a writing class usually presents a cumulative record of all of your work over a semester and is commonly used to assign a grade. An alternate form of class portfolio is the story portfolio, which presents selections from your semester's papers described and discussed in narrative form. The most common portfolio assigned in a writing class is the comprehensive or...

Options For Editing

How do you know when your writing is done Me, I'm never sure when it's done, when it's good enough. I mean, if it says basically what I want it to say, who cares how pretty it is I agree with Tom that writing need not be pretty, but I wouldn't be satisfied with writing that says basically what I want it to say. I want my writing to say exactly what I want it to say which is where editing comes in. Editing is finishing. Editing is making a text convey precisely what you intend in the clearest...