Final Check: Self-editing tips for your final draft

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MLA Formatting

**MLA has recently made some changes to how things are formatted and cited. Make sure you know if you are to follow the old or new edition. The following are suggestions from the old edition, as most instructors will not change over mid-term.

Include 1” margins on all sides.

Double-space all lines (no extra spaces between header and title and title and text).

Center title. Do not bold, italicize, or enlarge font.

Single space after periods or other end punctuation.

Tab all indents; spacing 5 times is not the same!

Insert a paginated right header. This means to insert your last name only, followed by a space, then the page number. Your instructor may ask that you remove this from the first page, as you’ll have your left header here.

Works Cited should be numbered consecutively after the last page of essay.

Insert 4-line left header on first page only.

Block quotes should be indented one inch with no quotation marks.

All other direct quotes should have quotation marks and in-text citation, followed by period (note: period comes after the citation).

Sources

All outside research or sources should be followed with an in-text citation, whether they are a direct quote, paraphrase, or summary.

Direct quotes should have attributive or author tags.

If a source doesn’t have an author, give the title or website.

The in-text citation should match the FIRST WORD the source is listed under on the Works Cited page.

Avoid giving dictionary definitions of a word as an “outside source.” That’s not research.

Always use italics when referring to a book or website; use quotation marks for small works (article or short story) in a larger work (book or newspaper).

Works Cited

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The title, Works Cited, should be centered at the top of the final page. Do not bold, italicize or enlarge font.

Works Cited should also be double spaced. NO EXTRA SPACES BETWEEN ENTRIES.

Works Cited should be alphabetized by author’s last name. If no author, alphabetize by the title or website. See Purdue Owl for other listings.

Each entry should have a hanging indent (the opposite of a regular line indent).

Include URL only if instructor requires it, or if the source cannot be found without it.

When using electronic sources, always include the date you accessed the source.

Other Tips

In Microsoft WORD, the default for paragraphs is set to insert an extra line space when you hit ENTER to move to a new paragraph. You must reset this to avoid triple-spacing the header, paragraphs, and Works Cited entries. To do this, go to the PARAGRAPH tab on the toolbar, clicking on the icon that has up and down arrows with five lines, just to the right of the 4 justification icons. Click the arrow on the right to open the tab, and scroll down to the bottom line that says “Add Space After Paragraph”; click this so that it says “Remove Space After Paragraph.” If you have already completed your essay and have triple spaces, highlight the entire text, follow these steps, and it should remove the extra lines.

The default font in Word is usually Calibri 11. MLA is Times New Roman 12, unless otherwise instructed. Make sure you have changed the font to follow MLA. 

This list is a very abbreviated editing checklist, and your instructor might have different directives, which we refer to as “instructor preference.” Always follow your instructor guidelines and ask for specifics if you are unsure of anything. 

This is only an abbreviated list of editing steps to take to make your essay a perfect as it can be. Hopefully, you’ve read your essay over carefully and had a peer read it as well. Don’t trust Spellcheck! Once you’ve done all you can do, turn it in and let it go. If you’ve followed your instructor’s guidelines and instruction and edited carefully, you should feel confident you’ve done your best work.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting & Giving Feedback: The Peer Review

Putting our writing in front of an immediate reading audience, even if it is our classmates, can be intimidating and stressful. We often get emotionally attached to our writing and it’s difficult to hear criticism, no matter how well-intentioned or constructive. Receiving feedback from our peers, however, is one of the most beneficial ways we can improve our writing. It’s not only valuable to receive feedback, but is also equally valuable to be able to read what our classmates are writing. The opportunity to review our classmates’ writing can offer us new possibilities for our own essays we hadn’t thought about before.

Peer Groups

Usually your instructor will create groups of 3-5 students to form a peer group, depending on the assignment and time allowed. Often, instructors will have a practice essay to demonstrate how they would like you to evaluate the writing. If not, they may give you some peer review questions to answer for the writers. As a group member, it’s your responsibility to offer helpful feedback with an eye towards revision. Often, participating fully, through both verbal and written feedback, is part of your class participation grade.

Reading Aloud

It’s peer workshop day, so now what? Depending on how your instructor organizes the groups, you’ll probably be asked to read your essay aloud. Why? Reading aloud is the only way to “hear” the language. You’ll catch more sentence-level problems by reading aloud, but you’ll also be better able to comprehend missing elements or catch nonsensical logic. Reading aloud also gives you the ability to see the reactions to your piece. Some writers prefer for a peer-group member to read their essay so they can hear it read by someone else, as often we’ve read our own pieces so many times we read things that may not be there. Either way, make sure to hear your essay aloud.

Margin Comments

As reviewer, when your peers’ essays are read, follow along closely and make margin notes. You might give a “!” for a passage that is really strong and works well, and a “?” for a passage that might need a bit more information or is confusing. Don’t stop to write too much as it’s being read, but keep following the reader. Wait until the reader has stopped to write more detailed feedback.

Written Comments

After hearing the essay read aloud and making margin notes, you’ll take a few minutes to write down more thoughtful comments. If your instructor provides you with specific questions to answer, you’ll offer thoughtful written comments towards those directives. One thing you’ll want to avoid is answering “It looks good to me.” This type of non-feedback is neither constructive nor helpful. The most common student complaint after peer review day is they received no constructive feedback, and were usually told it “looked good.” Remember that everyone will come to the group writing at different levels, but even if you feel the other students are better writers than you does not mean you can’t offer them a few suggestions towards their revision process. Even strong writers need to revise their work.  

Verbal Feedback

Once the group is done writing comments, you’ll now address the writer. Explain your written comments, offering praise for the parts that worked particularly well, and suggestions towards revision for areas that may need more information or explanation. Usually, the “gag rule” is imposed during this step, which means the writer listens to the feedback from their peers without responding, explaining or defending. The writing has to stand on its own without “Well, what I meant was. . .” from the writer. When the peer reviewers are done, the writer may then ask for clarification or further suggestions.

Getting What You Want Out of Your Peer Review

The peer review process is what it says: peer review.  Instructors usually stay out of this process and let the students lead the group how they see fit. This puts the responsibility of the peer review process – and outcome – on the students. If you are not satisfied with the feedback you have received, speak up. Ask for more. Make sure you leave with written comments, as you will forget verbal comments before you hit the door. If you have no directions from your instructor, direct your own feedback. If you feel you are particularly weak in organization or description, specifically ask your peers to focus on those areas you feel you need the most help with. Keep in mind, however, these are peer workshops, not editing groups. Don’t depend – or ask – your peers to fix your grammar and punctuation. That’s your job.

Feed-forward

Peer workshops are a valuable tool as you work through the revision process. As a reviewer, always focus your comments towards revision – toward the next draft. It’s okay to praise or question what has already been written, but offer suggestions for the next draft. Think of it not as feedback, but feed-forward.

Write on!

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Argument Essays

When writing argument essays, understanding basic principles for academic writing will help you avoid the many possible pitfalls that might be lurking. Below are ten do’s and don’ts to follow for the best argument essay ever!

  1. DO follow assignment guidelines. Students often write great essays, only to fail to follow assignment directions. If you are asked to include eight sources and you give two, that’s not meeting the minimum requirements. If you write an informational essay when you are assigned an argument paper, that’s a big problem. If in doubt, always ask your instructor.
  2. DON’T preface a statement with phrases such as, “I believe,” or “I think.” These expressions only serve to weaken the statement. It’s akin to an apology for your opinion. Unless you are quoting or paraphrasing, it’s a given you “believe” or “think” something. Instead of “I think that college should be free for all,” revise to, “College should be free for all.” See how much stronger and emphatic the second example is?
  3. DO take citation style seriously. Many students who have never written a research paper or are unfamiliar with MLA or APA citation requirements often believe the rules concerning in-text citation, works cited, or reference pages are a low priority. However, most instructors who assign research papers expect students to follow these rules and will often deduct a large number of points for failure to follow the guidelines.
  4. DO attribute all ideas to their source. Often in research papers, it’s obvious that ideas or opinions are not the author’s, but are not cited to an outside source. Students paraphrase others’ ideas into their own words, but often fail to cite. This creates the impression that the information is coming from the writer, when in fact, it’s a source’s idea or opinion. Always give credit to avoid plagiarism.
  5. DON’T signpost. Signposting refers to directional signs in your writing that tell the audience what you just said or what you will say. This might be required in speech class, but it’s not necessary in written papers. Avoid telling your audience what you previously said or what you will say – just say it!
  6. DO integrate quotes smoothly. When incorporating sources, research must be integrated into your own writing smoothly, introduced completely, and synthesized fully. Simply sticking a quote in a paragraph because it might be related to the content doesn’t offer the reader any context and could lead to research that seems stuck in and out-of-context.
  7. DON’T use inflated phrases. When writing a research paper, students often think they have to take on a voice of authority, and they believe they need to use wordy constructions to sound “academic,” when all it does is sound pretentious. Wordy, inflated phrases are also confusing to read. Use your own voice and eliminate wordiness.
  8. DO organize your paper logically. While there are several different ways to organize an argument essay, make sure the organization method you choose is logical for what you are trying to do. Ideas should flow smoothly one to the next, and avoid repetition. Avoid jumping back and forth between paragraph topics.
  9. DON’T slack on the conclusion. A common response on student papers is, “Ends abruptly.” Often students concentrate so intently on building the body of a research paper and incorporating sources that they overlook the importance of a strong conclusion.
  10. DO carefully proofread. Spell-check is great, but it doesn’t help find word usage errors, one of the most common errors in academic papers. It’s also difficult to find everything in one read-through. After you have read your essay through at least once to check for good paragraph structure, focus and flow, do a final edit for punctuation and grammar only. Better yet, read it backwards to slow your reading down, making it easier to see errors.

 

 

No Research Required: Tips for Writing a Narrative Essay

 

Narrative or Personal Essays are a common writing assignment in English classrooms. Many freshman will run across this type of writing in college, and for natural storytellers, it can be a fun assignment. If the guidelines ask you to simply retell an event from your past, you already know the information! For a narrative essay, most likely, no research is required. Composing a narrative is simply a matter of putting a story from your past on paper. Sounds easy, right?

Actually, not as easy as it sounds. Move ahead with caution.

One of the biggest problems that arise when composing a personal narrative is not compiling the information; you already know it, as it’s part of your memory. The problems often lie in organizing those memories into a cohesive, well-organizing, interesting story that holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. This is not always so easy.

Once Upon a Time

Logic would tell you that if you want to retell a story or event, you will start at the beginning and conclude at the end. Right? Not necessarily. Taking a story out of chronological order is often the most effective way to hold the reader’s attention, create rising tension, an exciting climax, and conclude with a thoughtful reflection of what it all meant to you. This is what is referred to as the “narrative arc.” This seems logical; beginning, middle, end. Sometimes these narrative essays will incorporate a brief flashback, but never deviate from the chronological retelling of events.

The problem with this kind of storytelling organization is that it can become tedious to a reader. Writers tend to begin too far back, before the actual event even begins, then proceed to tell every detail up to the conclusion. By the time the reader gets to the main event or action, he or she may lose interest. By taking the narrative out of chronological order and begin in the middle of the action, or what writers refer to as in media res, we get off to a swift start that will sustain the narrative through to the end and hook the reader’s interest.

In medias res (or medias in res) is a Latin phrase which simply means the narrative story begins at the mid-point of the action rather than at the beginning. Setting, characters, and conflict can be set up immediately via flashback, conversations, or inner reflection. The main advantage of starting in the middle of the event is to open the story with dramatic action rather than explanation (exposition) which sets up the characters and situation in an exciting and captivating story. The reader is hooked immediately; a “hook” is often a requirement of a narrative essay. Beginning in the middle of action avoids what writers refer to as spinning your wheels or throat clearing; a lot of talk that gets you nowhere.

In medias res often (though not always) entails nonlinear narrative, or non-chronological order; earlier events are condensed briefly in the backstory. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey use this technique to begin with the action of the Trojan War. To Kill a Mockingbird begins with Jem’s broken arm, which doesn’t happen in the narrative until the conclusion. The entire Star Wars series is completely out of chronological order! Think about the stories you’ve read for class; where in the story has the action begun? I’ll bet you’ll find it is seldom in the actual beginning of events.

CUT!

When composing your own essay, there is no right technique on how to organize it, but one tool writers use once a solid draft is complete, is scissors. Print your draft on one side, and cut each paragraph into its own page. One you have all of your paragraphs cut up, lay each out in front of you. Try to envision where the narrative could be re-arranged, and play with the organization. When you chopped up your essay, did you notice a lot of paragraph breaks, or two double spaces between paragraphs (white space)? If you tend to use a lot of paragraph breaks with no discernible reason, maybe that paragraph is in the wrong place in the narrative. Place the end at the beginning. Place the beginning in the middle. If a paragraph doesn’t fit, maybe it’s not needed. Maybe you’ll find a gap in time or action that needs more information to clarify details of the event.

Once you shift your perspective to consider other possibilities of organization for your narrative other than chronological, you may find that the first two pages of your narrative are unneeded. You will hook the reader more quickly by eliminating non-essential details and placing him or her immediately into the action, which will improve the narrative arc and set you on course for a narrative essay that your reader can’t put down.

 

 

Writing the Profile Essay

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Profile writing is common in Literary Journalism, but even freshman English Composition classes often assign a profile essay. What distinguishes a profile from other types of written assignments?

A profile usually asks you to closely observe a person. A good profile subject is someone who may represent a culture, place, or situation that is unique or intriguing. For instance, profiling an unknown tri-athlete can show an audience what it might be like to overcome challenges or demonstrate the dedication it takes to compete. Profiling a local pastry chef may show a unique occupation that has been gaining popularity from TV shows like Cupcake Wars.

A profile is similar to a narrative essay in that it utilizes a narrative method of organization, incorporating narrative storytelling devices such as scenes, sensory detail, and dialogue, to build the essay. All of these details work together to show the character of the profile subject. Specific details are shown in scenes; descriptions are shown through the use of sensory detail, such as sight, smell, touch, taste and sound, as well as literary techniques like metaphor and simile, and other figurative language.

Most profile essays will require you to interview your subject. This is a narrative storytelling technique which allows the subject to speak for themselves, again showing the character and personality of the subject. As the interviewer, you will be required to have a good ear to relay the spoken word. You’ll have to transcribe the interview into dialogue form, which is fun and challenging at the same time. Choosing what to leave in and what to edit out will determine how your profile subject is characterized.

Finding a great subject is half the battle, as a profile is only as good as the subject. Think outside the box when considering who you might want to profile. Good subjects come in unlikely places. The grocery store clerk. The Starbucks barista. The school security guard. All of these subjects work in places with lots of setting specifics and sensory detail.

 

Profile as Part of a Larger Project

It’s not unusual to incorporate a profile piece into an argument essay as a way to hook the audience and to dramatize an issue. Take a look below at the “Profile” introduction to an argument essay. The writer is trying to persuade the audience to require breathalyzers in the cars of convicted drunk drivers:

Charley Wolf left the bar at 1:00am after consuming seven beers and ten shots in a three hour period. Wolf slid behind the wheel of his Ford pickup, turned the ignition, and put the truck in “Drive.” In the next twenty minutes, Wolf was spotted by other motorists weaving on the expressway, running over a curb, and knocking down a road barrier. Within ten minutes, Wolf hit another car head-on, killing the driver and critically injuring the passenger. As the police booked Wolf, they learned he had four previous drunk driving offenses.

Consider this alternate scenario: Wolf consumed seven beers and ten shots in three hours. He left the bar to drive home. But when he got behind the wheel, the ignition wouldn’t unlock until he took a breathalyzer, which he failed. Wolf took a cab home, avoiding what could have been a tragedy.

In this example, the writer profiles a subject to show a tragic scene, hooking the audience with the emotional appeal of a true story, adding support to his argument requiring breathalyzers for previously convicted drunk drivers.

Final thoughts

When writing a profile essay, take some time to consider who might make a good subject, and what you want to “show” in the profile. Details you’ll glean from the interview and observation will help characterize the subject. Think about what you want your audience to take away from the profile. Maybe the grocery store clerk has been at the same store for thirty years and is a part of the local culture of the neighborhood. The Starbucks barista may have something interesting to say on this special form of addiction (caffeine!). Take your time with careful observation, and prepare interview questions ahead of time. A good subject and careful prep will go a long way toward a great profile.

Constructing Arguments

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If you have been assigned an argument paper, you will be expected to argue a debatable position with a strong claim, clear reasoning, and logical appeals. But how do you know if your topic will make a good argument? Many topics might be interesting, but not all interesting topics are arguable. When constructing an argument, your topic must be more than a statement of fact; it must be debatable.

What is your purpose?

When we think about arguments, we assume our purpose is to win, though there is no way to determine who really wins. A writer can present his or her position with the best reasoning and evidence available, and hope to successfully rebut opposing arguments.

A writer usually tries to convince the reader that his or her argument is compelling enough to change minds. In proposal arguments, the writer might want to enact a solution to a problem, and to do this, the writer will have to convince a reader to change his or her mind.

Another purpose of an argument is to simply explore an issue. A writer whose intention is to explore will examine an idea in hopes of convincing a reader that the ideas are important and beneficial.

Testing your Topic

To test whether or not a topic will work as an arguable thesis, consider if you can answer “yes” to these basic criteria:

  1. Does it present a position that an audience might have differing opinions on?
  2. Does it attempt to change minds or urge a reader to take some sort of action?
  3. Does it address a problem and offer a solution, or does it present a problem where no easy solutions exist?

Examples of an Unarguable Statement:

Litter creates pollution of the environment.

Using our criteria, the statement isn’t trying to convince, present a problem (although technically, litter is a problem), nor is it a statement that others might disagree with. It’s merely an observation.

Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Is there any debate when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed? Is it trying to convince us of anything? This is a statement of fact, and a reader couldn’t debate the statement.

The incidence of breast cancer has risen in the last ten years.

Even though a reader may not know if this is an accurate statement or not, it is easily researchable and not an argument claim.

Examples of an Arguable Statement

Recycling programs, though expensive at first, are ultimately an efficient, cost effective, and environmentally friendly way of reducing waste in our environment.

This statement meets our criteria, as it is presenting a problem and offering a solution. It can be argued, as many opponents believe the cost of implementing a recycling program is too expensive and actually not efficient.
~  ~ ~

Though Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation is believed to have ended slavery, slaves emancipated themselves and forced Lincoln to recognize their de facto freedom.

This is a statement that would illicit disagreement (good!), and is an attempt to change the readers’ minds of a widely held belief, so it definitely meets our criteria.

~ ~ ~

Widely prescribed and highly controversial hormone replacement therapy is the cause of the high rates of breast cancer in women.

This statement is definitely arguable, as many would dispute the cause behind high rates of breast cancer. Others would dispute the assumption that breast cancer rates are any higher than they have always been. This statement addresses a problem that there may be no clear solution to, but it makes an arguable claim.

Formulating a Thesis

Once an arguable claim is made, the next step is to formulate a working thesis. The thesis is a claim with reasons. A reason is often referred to as a “because clause,” as the reason answers the question Why? behind the stated claim.

Reason: Pesticides endanger the lives of farmworkers.

Working thesis (claim with reason): Because they endanger the lives of farmworkers, (reason) pesticides should be banned (claim).


Reason
: Lack of sex education in public schools leads to high rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

Working Thesis: Because of the high rates of STDs among teens, all public schools should offer sex education.


Reason:
The cost of a four-year university degree has become unaffordable.

Working Thesis: Because a college degree has become unaffordable for all but the affluent, tuition costs should be lowered.

~ ~ ~

Once you have a working thesis, you may find you’ll need to alter the language or use qualifiers (may cause…; often leads…) to make it more precise or less susceptible to criticism.

Spending time in the planning stages to identify your purpose, test your topic, and formulate an arguable thesis is essential to constructing a successful argument.

Now You Try

For the broad topics below, formulate an arguable statement and working thesis (claim with reason):

  1. Music downloading
  2. Mandatory military service
  3. The effect of texting on youth’s literacy

 

 

What Makes Good Writing and How to Make Your Writing Better

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As we embark on a new fall term here at Metro Community College and many students will be taking their first college English class, let’s talk about what actually makes good writing. Of course, there are many variables in effective academic writing, but below, we’ll discuss writing in relation to freshman writing expectations.

First Things First: Follow Assignment Guidelines

Has your instructor given you assignment directions, either in the syllabus, or a separate handout in class? Perhaps your instructor will assign reading from your text, and ask you to follow the guidelines in the assigned chapter. Assignment directions should be read, re-read, and critically analyzed if you expect to meet the instructor’s expectations. We see numerous low marks on well-written essays that fail to follow the assignment guidelines. If your guidelines direct you to write a “critical analysis” of a short story, and you write a “summary,” your grade most likely will reflect this oversight.

Use Standard Written English

You might think this is obvious, but many beginning writers fall into slang, colloquialisms, and even text-speak when writing. You most likely know and unconsciously follow the rules of standard written English, but it’s easy to fall into ingrained speech patterns when we write. Slang is perfectly acceptable for conversation, but in writing, it can get in the way of the writer’s message and distract the reader. In persuasive writing, falling into an informal tone or slang will lead your reader to conclude your writing shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Write Effective Sentences

What makes an effective sentence? It’s about choosing the best words, understanding parts of speech (noun, pronoun, verb, adverb), and organizing the words in the most logical order.

In contrast, ineffective sentences often utilize poor word choice, confuse parts of speech, and organize the words in illogical and sometimes grammatically incorrect order.

One of the most common punctuation errors made in freshman writing classes is a comma splice. A comma splice is incorrect punctuation created by combining two independent clauses with a comma to separate the two clauses. An independent clause is a full sentence, containing a subject and predicate (ex. noun, verb, object). If you are not able to identify what parts of speech make up a sentence, you will most likely have grammatically incorrect sentences.

To learn more about sentence-level issues, click here to read more.

Write Effective Paragraphs

Effective paragraphs are unified, focusing on one main point. In persuasive writing, the one main point of the paragraph will support one main idea from your thesis.

An effective paragraph is cohesive, each sentence logically flowing from sentence to sentence. In turn, each paragraph should logically flow one to the next with effective transitional sentences.

Effective paragraphs are fully developed, containing enough information to fully convey the main idea of the paragraph in a thorough way. In research papers, direct quotes are smoothly integrated into the text, and contextualized in the writer’s own words. Paragraphs avoid beginning or ending with direct quotes.

Effective paragraphs utilize topic sentences, commonly the first sentence of the paragraph, though it may come later or be implied. To read more about introductory and concluding paragraphs, click here.

Know Your Audience

Effective writers understand who their audience is and what they know about their topic. If you are writing a persuasive essay to lower the drinking age, a reading audience of your state’s alcohol commission would be persuaded with a different line of reasoning than a group of seventeen-year-olds. Effective writing always takes into consideration who the audience is, what they know, and how they feel about their topic.

Writing is a Process

When we write, we do more than sit in front of a blank computer screen and type. Thinking, planning, drafting, and revising are all part of the process of writing effectively. Most college-level writing classes will expect you to write several drafts of your assignment, and may require you to turn in each draft for assessment. Waiting until the night before the due date to begin writing a college-level essay can be a costly mistake.

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Final Thoughts

If you feel your writing skills are lacking or need improvement, don’t wait to seek help. Your instructor may be able to offer assistance, or visit your writing center for help. You can visit writing centers at any stage of the writing process, even to brainstorm topic ideas.

If you have questions, ask! Guaranteed, if you have a question, others do as well, but may be too embarrassed to ask.

Below, you’ll find links to more online resources.

Purdue Owl Online Writing Lab – A wonderful resource for anything writing-related.

Bedford St. Martin’s – Tutorials on grammar, punctuation, and other writing-related topics.

Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips – A popular and easy-to-understand website on all things writing.

MCC Writing Center – Our own Writing Center’s website with a link to student resources.