Top Ten ways to fix writing problems
Be articulate, clear and persuasive
- 10. It is polite to point!
- If your paper does not grow out of a workable thesis
statement, it is likely to drift. A good thesis does two things: it will state in affirmative terms
what you intend to prove in your paper (its main point), and it will lay out a plan for
accomplishing this. Here's an example thesis: "World War 1 resulted from a series of
tensions that developed among European nations at the turn of the century. Among these were
imperialism, militarism, and an unstable alliance system."
- 9. Sometimes it pays to be narrow minded.
- Students often try to do too much with a particular
piece of writing (short essay or longer research paper). The average term paper cannot possibly
contain everything there is to say about a subject. Look again at the sample thesis above. It
narrows the discussion to just three aspects of World War I.
- 8. Sink rocks, don't skip stones.
- Pursue a few things in depth. No one wants to read
something that merely mentions a slew of things. It is better to say a lot about a few things than a
tiny bit about a lot of things. So, examine a limited number of issues in detail. Think of the
difference between skipping a stone across a pond versus heaving in a big rock. Rocks make big
waves; little stones barely trouble the surface.
- 7. Oh yeah, says who?
- Do not use a quote unless you make clear in the text
who it is you're quoting. You cannot accomplish this with a footnote alone. Identify the speaker
in the text. Example: According to historian Mary Beth Norton, "The prosperity of the late
Gilded Age largely ignored industrial workers."
- 6. So what?
- Your research will turn up data that is significant as
well as data that is simply trivia. It is your job to sift through and analyze material. A particular
detail might intrigue you, but if it doesn't relate closely to your thesis, it's not relevant. Anticipate
your readers' "so what?" questions. Unless you say why something is important, it may be seen as
simply random information.
- 5. Finish your veggies ... and your thoughts!
- Tell the entire story, and tell your reader why you have
included what you chose. Things may be clear in your mind, but your audience can only read
what's on the paper. They cannot read what's in your mind.
- 4. One good example is worth a thousand colorful adjectives.
- Be specific. Every time you make a point, use an
example to illustrate it. Any hack can open a thesaurus and find adjectives to string together.
Good writers make their work come alive with examples that make ideas tangible and real. Don't
tell me something was "really bad." Explain what made it bad.
- 3. Who in the world are "the people?"
- Avoid constructing categories so general that their
comprehensiveness renders them questionable and even meaningless. Be concrete and specific.
For example: "The Indians" is a vague phrase. "Cherokees in southwest Georgia in the 1820s" is
specific. Or, the "American people" or "French people" or "Japanese people" as a whole have
never agreed on a single thing. So, do not say they did. Tell me which people you mean.
- 2. Don't put socks in your underwear drawer.
- The vast majority of "organizational" problems occur
when writers do not keep related material in the same place. Thoroughly discuss a topic, then
move on to a different point. For example, if you're discussing Natives and slaves in a paper,
discuss each separately. Don't begin to discuss Natives, switch to slaves, and then jump back to
Natives. Your paper should be like an orderly chest of drawers, with each distinct item in its own
- 1. Proofread and edit.
- Careful proofreading and
editing is the number one way to improve your writing. Sadly, few students do it well. Careless
errors, clunky phrases, spelling mistakes, and deplorable grammar abound. Student writers
sometimes think they're done once they put the final period on the page. Not so. Read your work.
If what you've written sounds wrong to you, it's not going to sound any better to anyone else.
Remember: Not knowing how to spell something is not a sin. It is a sin not to look it
Based on material by Rob Weir, Bay Path College. To e-mail, click here. Published in The Teaching
Professor June/July 1998. Used by permission.
Characteristics of a piece of inappropriate student writing
- Has an inappropriate tone such as:
- Too personal
- Disrespectful or sarcastic
- A preachy ending
- Pompous or artificially "academic" sounding
- Too chatty or colloquial
- Does not follow assignment directions
- Does not seem to be arguing anything
- Is rambling or even incoherent (rambles on and on without saying much of anything)
- Has no thesis statement
- Is full of vague assertions
- Says thing that are inadequately supported with examples, hard data, or evidence of
- Sounds like an exercise (does not explain things for a more general audience than me
— the professor — nor does it take itself seriously as a piece of writing someone
would actually want to read)
- Is poorly organized
- Does not follow an introduction-body-conclusion structure
- Too wordy or redundant
- Is poorly presented as an academic paper (No title, no page numbers, or other necessary
aspects of paper format)
- Does not use the correct style (APA, MLA, Turabian)
- Sounds plagiarized
- Does not properly document secondary source material (from web-pages, journals and
- Does not document secondary source material
- Uses screwy sentences that make no sense
- Overuses to be verbs
- Contains jargon
- Uses faulty parallelism
- Overuses passive voice
- Misuses terminology particular to a content area
- Is full of spelling errors or irritating mechanical errors
- Sentence fragments
- Comma splices
- Run-ons and fused sentences (joining 2 sentences together with just "and" or nothing at
- Apostrophe errors
- Mixing up or misspelling of simple words (confusing their, they're, there; too, to, two; its,
- Incorrect verb forms (He had went)
- Subject/verb agreement errors (such as leaving off the -s for third person singular present
- Has repeated or illogical tense switching
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