Understanding Assignment Language

Defining different types of essays

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Narrative Essay
Summary Essay
Research Essay
Analysis Essay
Argument Essay

If you’re in a Composition or English class, chances are you’ll be assigned one or more of these essays. Do you know what each of the terms mean? What is the difference between a Summary and an Analysis? Isn’t a Research Essay essentially an Argument Essay? Let’s find out.

Narrative Essay

In most of your college writing, the writing will move from more personal to less personal – except with the Narrative assignment. For a Narrative Essay assignment, you’ll most likely be asked to tell a personal story, maybe an event from your past or a time when you learned a valuable life lesson. Narrative Essays often incorporate fictional writing techniques, such as dialogue, action, climactic scenes, vivid descriptions, and colorful language. This assignment might be the only time you’ll be invited to use the personal pronouns I, me, us, etc. This assignment is often a “warm-up” to other assignments in Composition classes.

Summary Essay

A Summary Essay is just that, a summary of something you’ve read, or perhaps watched. You will simply be expected to briefly state major points. If someone were to ask you, “What was that movie about?” we would answer with a summary of the plot. Summaries relay major details, and leave out minor, inconsequential information. When summarizing an article or chapter, a good guide is that the summary will be about one-fifth of the length of the original. To write a successful Summary, you’ll have to read, analyze, and understand the material thoroughly.

Research Essay

A Research Essay assignment can take on many forms. The assignment may be informative, meaning you will only convey information, and leave out opinion. For example, “Explain the treatment options for diabetes.” For this type of research essay, you would gather research from a variety of reliable sources and explain your findings.

Another type of Research Essay assignment might be to explore an issue, such as “Examine the pros and cons of legalizing heroin.” For this assignment, you would research both sides of the topic and lay out each side. Still another type or assignment might be a persuasive essay, such as, “Should colleges drop the grading system and only be pass or fail?” With this assignment, you would answer the question, yes or no, they should or should not. You would then collect research in support of your position, perhaps include research for the opposition, and then either concede or refute the opposition’s claims. The tone of the Research Essay is often formal.

Analysis Essay

You will be asked to analyze for just about every assignment, but the Analysis Essay specifically will ask you to critically think about any number of aspects of a given text. You could analyze the author, such as his or her fairness or accuracy. You could analyze a piece of poetry or fiction by considering the tone, word choice, or plot. If you are analyzing a persuasive essay, you could analyze the validity of the author’s research or the intended audience. Just like the Persuasive Research Essay, the Analysis Essay will ask you to critically think and form an opinion.

Argument Essay

One of the most common Composition writing assignments, the Argument Essay, is focused on a controversial issue. You will be expected to make a claim with reasons; support the claim with ideas and information to convince your audience; include evidence, such as facts, statistics, and expert opinion; and offer the opposing sides’ viewpoint, conceding or refuting their claims. You’ll often include some summary of the argument for your audience. Your job for this assignment is to argue a position to convince your audience your position is right. The content is determined by who your audience is; they may be in favor of your position, or in direct opposition. The term “Argument” essay is often used interchangeable with “Persuasive” essay. Both are a type of “Research” essay. A Policy Proposal is also a common type of Argument.

Understand Your Assignment

These are only a small sample of the types of writing assignments you might encounter in a college classroom. Others include

Cause and Effect
Compare and Contract
Concept
Descriptive
Evaluative
Profile
Policy Proposal

With any assignment, it’s essential you understand the expectations and requirements. In most cases, essays are assigned in a sequential order so that you learn the elements of the initial ones that will be included in the following ones. Summary of often included in Narrative, Analysis and Research Essays. Narrative elements are often included in Argument Essays. Critical thinking skills are crucial for all writing assignments. Consider the text, research, and your audience as you write your draft, and you’ll be on your way to a successful assignment!

 

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Writing Project Management

The Five Phases of Writing-Project Planning for a Stress-Free Paper

Whether you’re writing a fictional essay or an academic research paper, the beginning stages of writing can be overwhelming. Many writers struggle with initial questions such as

What topic should I choose?
What do I think about my topic?

How can I get all my jumbled thoughts to make sense?
How can these jumbled thoughts ever result in a successful essay?


“Don’t just do something. Stand there.” – Rochelle Myer

Beginning writing without spending any time in the initial planning stages is a recipe for failure. Careful planning is vital before any action can be taken. In the world of business, this is referred to as Project Management. According to business writer and coach, David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity, our minds go through five steps to accomplish any task:

  1. Defining purpose
  2. Outcome visioning
  3. Brainstorming
  4. Organizing
  5. Identifying next actions

Before you ever begin developing an outline for your paper, you’ll need to answer a few key questions.

What is my purpose?

If the purpose of writing is to satisfy a class assignment, what is the assignment? What are the guidelines and requirements? What type of topic can best satisfy those requirements?

This is merely common sense. Don’t get caught up in worrisome details. Think about the “why” behind why you are going to write. Knowing the why will help clarify your focus and make the rest of the decision-making process easier.

If you decide your purpose is to write a policy proposal on a current issue in your community, then knowing that will guide your choice of topic.

What outcome do I envision?

Having a clear vision provides the blueprint for your paper. Do you want to argue in favor or in opposition to a controversial issue? Do you want to propose changes to current laws, policies, or procedures? The vision is the “what” instead of the “why.”

Take some time here to imagine what you want the final paper to communicate. What arguments or points do you want to make? What message do you hope readers take away? What changes in thought or policy do you hope readers will consider?

For example, you might envision readers will agree that spending more in the city budget to increase the number of bike lanes in your town will save money in the long run by reducing road maintenance, traffic, and accidents. That is the outcome that you envision.

Brainstorming

Now that you know your purpose and where you’re going, you’ll need to capture ideas of how to get there. Following the why and the what comes the how.

 “If you’re waiting to have a good idea before you have any ideas, you won’t have many.” David Allen

Brainstorming has lots of terms – mind-mapping, clustering, spider webbing – but they all basically mean the same thing. They are all ways to graphically organize our thoughts. Once you’ve defined your purpose and vision, your brain will automatically begin to create thoughts and ideas, but if you don’t have any method of capturing those ideas, you will either lose them – or won’t have any. Psychologists call this “distributed cognition,” or the need to get all the stuff out of our heads and into objective, reviewable formats, such as a mind map, cluster, or even a Post-It note.

“The best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas.” Linus Pauling

The most important thing to keep in mind is to not judge your thoughts as you have them. You are going for Quantity, not Quality. You might naturally analyze them, such as, “Here’s what might not work with that idea,” which is good. You’re beginning to critically think about your project. But don’t let your critical side overtake your creative side yet. Just give all your ideas a chance at this stage and analyze their usefulness later.

Organizing

Now you know the why, what, and how. Once you’ve emptied all the clutter in your head, your mind will naturally begin to organize those thoughts. You’ll think in relationship to sequences and priorities. What are the essential components for the final paper? Which of the brainstorming ideas will best support my argument?

Organizing is a matter of identifying the significant pieces, then sorting by

  • Components
  • Sequences
  • Priorities

In relation to an argument paper, what are the major components needed to reach your vision? This will most likely be the major points of argument that will support your thesis or reasons why your policy proposal should be implemented.

For example, the policy proposal, increasing spending in the city budget to increase the number of bike lanes in your town will save money in the long run, will require the components of argument points, such as

  • reducing road maintenance
  • reducing traffic
  • reducing automobile accidents

Other components might include the opposition’s side, outside research, and a call to action.

The sequences are the natural progression of the paper. How should you order the ideas – which should come first, second, and last? How will you organize the paper to best present the information for a logical flow? Should you introduce the opposition for each point, or should it come after the points are fully laid out?

Finally, what are the priorities, or essential information that must be included? What must you do first to meet these objectives? For example, once you determine your topic and brainstorm ideas, you might need to gather information from research, data or statistics. Consider what is your next step, and what steps should follow, prioritizing your work into manageable steps. Every essay is different, and no two projects are the same, so for one you might need to do more initial research before you begin, and for another, you might need to write out the points of opposition first.

Identifying Next Actions

So far, you’ve considered the why, what, and how, and begun the steps to organize how you are going to approach the work, prioritizing your next steps. The final stage of planning your writing project should come easily once you’ve defined and clarified your project.

Any writing project, especially longer projects, will have lots of moving parts. For each step above, decide what the “next action” is for each moving part of the project. For example, if you know your paper’s thesis, but not quite sure on your major points of argument, your next “action” might be to brainstorm a bit more to decide on your points of argument. If the components of your essay will require quotes from experts, your next “action” will be to locate research from reliable resources. This will most likely require you to find library databases with peer-reviewed research, read lots of articles, and begin keeping notes on source information that will best support your essay.

Make A Plan!

As you can see, a lot of planning goes into a writing project before the actual writing begins. How much planning is enough? As much as you need to get the project off your mind. The reason things are on your mind and causing you worry is that the outcome and action steps have not been clearly defined, or you may not have developed the details sufficiently to trust your plan. If you are worrying about the project, you obviously need to spend more time planning.

Feeling confused or lack clarity? You need more planning in stages 1, 2 or 3. Are you getting bogged down in research? Do you need more action? Move down to steps 4 or 5. You don’t need to read every single article on your topic in EBSCO to collect 6 or 8 required sources for your project. Focus on what you need that will meet your objectives, and move out of the research phase and onto writing.

Applying project management steps in your writing will not only save you time in the end, but will also create a mental environment where worry, stress and anxiety will be reduced, allowing creative ideas to flourish, one step at a time.

Common Logical Fallacies in Argument Papers

(from Grammar Girl: Quick & Dirty Tricks)

5 Types of Fallacies You Don’t Realize You’re Using in Your Writing

 (By Lora Wegman, read by Mignon Fogarty)

The key to writing a strong argument is logic. Even writers who typically have sound logic, however, can fall into illogical conclusions when they are passionate about a topic and use unsound arguments—typically referred to as fallacies.

Here are a few tips for identifying the most common fallacies in writing and how to avoid them.

Overgeneralizations

This fallacy, also called a “hasty generalization,” happens when the writer draws a conclusion about a group of people based on insufficient data. Often, these assumptions come from stereotypes and implicit biases, so these can sometimes be the trickiest fallacies to detect in your own writing. Perhaps you assume, for instance, that all members of a particular political party have the same stance on the death penalty, or you believe that all people who attend a certain school are wealthy. Basing an argument on unproven assumptions will ultimately make your position weaker and therefore easier to attack. As you’re reviewing your writing and come across an assumption, be sure to ask yourself, “Do I really know that this is true?”

Straw Man

A straw man argument oversimplifies an opponent’s position and then attacks it. This is often a big one for politicians, who might portray larger-picture views instead of nuance. For example, imagine that you are assigned to write an essay opposing school uniforms. If you state, “Requiring students to wear uniforms means they will lose all sense of individuality,” then you may be setting up a straw man argument. Instead of arguing for why students should be able to wear their own outfits, you instead take the argument to a simpler and perhaps more emotional conclusion, and then argue against that broader implication. When you’re listening to politicians, as yourself whether their argument is against what their opponents are actually suggesting, or have they thrown a straw man into the ring by misrepresenting their opponents’ position as something more extreme?

Ad Hominem

In ad hominem attacks, a position is attacked not through reasoning related to the argument itself, but instead by attacking the opponent’s personal character. For example, if Squiggly says we should have chocolate cake for dinner, and Aardvark responds by saying that  Squiggly is an idiot, he’s using an ad hominem attack—addressing only Squiggly’s character—and not making a logical argument about why chocolate cake for dinner is bad.

Closely related to the ad hominem attack is the tu quoque fallacy: This is when, instead of opposing an argument or a criticism, the speaker or writer responds by turning it back on the accuser. It’s essentially an argument that says, “Oh, yeah? What about you?” An example would be crafting an argument against doctors’ anti-smoking messages by pointing out statistics about how many doctors smoke. Those facts would have nothing to do with the anti-smoking argument itself but instead simply attack the behavior of those on the opposing side.

Post Hoc

A post hoc argument assumes one event caused another, based solely on the order of occurrence. The full Latin phrase—“post hoc, ergo propter hoc”—means “after this, therefore, because of this.” So, to use a historical example that was once believed to be fact: “People who spend time outside at night are more likely to catch malaria, therefore, night air causes malaria.” The fact that things happen in order doesn’t mean that one thing actually caused the next to happen. We now know that malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted by mosquitos, not by night air.

This is somewhat like the “slippery slope” fallacy. In these cases, you’re arguing against something with the assumption that it will lead to another undesirable outcome through a series of incremental steps. But in reality, the events may not actually be related if they do occur, or the first event might happen without the catastrophic result.

Red Herring

A red herring is a classic misdirection. We see this all the time in fiction, from Sherlock Holmes stories to modern-day thrillers. False clues are planted to throw the reader off. Similarly, a red herring fallacy can pop up in your writing when your argument veers into an area only tangentially related to the core topic. This may be purposeful, but it’s also easy to do without intending to. Here’s an example in which President Ronald Reagan used humor and diversion as a red herring in answering a debate question:

 Reporter: You already are the oldest president in history. … President Kennedy had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuban missile crisis. Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?

Reagan: Not at all … and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.

So, how do you catch yourself using fallacies? Play devil’s advocate with your own writing. Ask yourself what the logical counter-argument is and whether yours holds up. Then, identify any stereotypes or biases you are inadvertently using to inform your position. This should help you identify holes in your logic and set you up for a stronger result.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

MLA Updates: What’s New

MLA has recently released the new 8th Edition of the MLA Handbook, which includes several updates. Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) explains the changes in the following article:

MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different

[Contributors:Tony Russell, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli, Russell Keck, Joshua M. Paiz, Michelle Campbell, Rodrigo Rodríguez-Fuentes, Daniel P. Kenzie, Susan Wegener, Purdue OWL Staff]

In April 2016, MLA replaced its seventh edition resources with a new eighth edition. This updated version reflects the ways in which digital publication has changed how writers and researchers document sources. Therefore, the new edition includes significant shifts in the approach to source documentation in academic writing. While earlier editions emphasized the importance of following specific guidelines for formatting, the eighth edition focuses on the practice and process of scholarly documentation. The logic here is basic: a style guide should offer a method that is widely applicable. Rather than insisting that writers follow strict citation formulas, this handbook outlines the principles of MLA documentation and explains how writers can use them in many different situations.

For this reason, the new edition focuses on the writer’s strategy and individual decisions. Not all scholarly prose is the same, and every writer should evaluate her/his readers and determine how to best engage them. The writer’s goal should be to provide a document and list of sources that is easy for readers to use, so that the reading experience is informative and enjoyable.

Like earlier editions, this handbook includes information on evaluating sources, avoiding plagiarism, using quotations, constructing abbreviations, and other topics important to the scholarly writer. But what is different about the eighth edition is that it recommends a universal set of guidelines that writers can apply to any source, in any field. In the past, writers would create an entry in a works cited list by looking at MLA’s instructions for how to cite a specific type of source. For example, if you needed to cite a film, you would consult the handbook to see the proper format for documenting film. In this new edition, MLA explains that this method is no longer practical, since types of sources are sometimes undefinable, or accessible in more than one way (for instance, a YouTube clip from a film is not the same as the original film itself). Therefore, the eighth edition offers a new model for entries in a works cited list, so that rather than consulting the handbook for the proper way to document a specific type of source, the writer creates entries by consulting MLA’s list of core elements and compiling them in the recommended order.

Core elements are those basic pieces of information that should be common to all sources, from books to articles, from lectures to tweets. The MLA core elements are as follows:

Author Number
Title of source Publisher
Title of container Publication date
Other contributors Location
Version

If you have included these elements and assembled them in a way that makes sense to your readers, then your works cited entries will be consistent and thorough.

Look for updates to OWLs resources and more detailed information about changes to MLA guidelines coming soon.

Examples

Since the eighth edition focuses on the principles of documenting sources, rather than on strict adherence to a particular format for each source, citations in this new edition vary only slightly from the old ways. When comparing works cited entries in the new eighth edition with the former seventh edition, see that differences in citation style are minimal; punctuation is streamlined, volume and issue numbers are identified as such, and there is no excess information such as city of publication or media type.

Note the differences in citing a print book with one author:

Eighth edition (the new way):

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford UP, 2011.

In this version, only the most essential information is included (author’s name, book title, publisher, and date). Note that the city of publication is not needed, and the medium of publication is eliminated.

Seventh edition (the old way):

Jacobs, Alan. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

This version includes the city of publication (Oxford) and the medium (print), which the new eighth edition does not require.

The differences in citing an article from a scholarly journal:

Eighth edition:

Kincaid, Jamaica. “In History.” Callaloo, vol. 24, no. 2, Spring 2001, pp. 620-26.

This version identifies the volume (24), the number (2), and the page numbers (620-26) of the scholarly journal, rather than leaving those numbers without clear explanation. This helps readers best make sense of your citation and allows them to locate your source without getting bogged down with extra information or references that can be difficult to decipher. Also note that punctuation is simple; only commas separate the journal title, volume, number, date, and page numbers.

Seventh edition:

Kinkaid, Jamaica. “In History.” Callaloo 24.2 (Spring 2001): 620-26. Web.

This version includes the volume and number (24.2), and page numbers (620-26) of the journal, but does not explain those references. The seventh edition emphasized following a strict punctuation formula, such as parentheses around the date and the colon, while the new eighth edition focuses on providing this information in a more streamlined manner by using only commas to separate each component.

Takeaways

If you are already familiar with traditional MLA citation methods, continue to use them in a more simplified form. Since the eighth edition emphasizes the writer’s freedom to create references based on the expectations of the audience, consider what your readers need to know if they want to find your source.

  • Think of MLA style principles as flexible guides, rather than rules. Part of your responsibility as a writer is to evaluate your readers and decide what your particular audience needs to know about your sources.
  • Your goal is to inform, persuade, and otherwise connect with your audience; error-free writing, along with trustworthy documentation, allows readers to focus on your ideas.
  • In-text citations should look consistent throughout your paper. The principles behind in-text citations have changed very little from the seventh to the eighth editions.
  • List of works cited/works consulted needs to include basic core information, such as author’s name, title of source, publication date, and other information, depending on the type of source. Each entry should be uniform and simple, but should give enough information so that your readers can locate your sources.
  • These updated MLA guidelines are based on a simple theory: once you know the basic principles of style and citation, you can apply that knowledge widely, and generate useful documentation for any type of publication, in any field.

 

For more information on MLA changes, visit https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/22

Best Websites for Grammar Help

For those of us who need to brush up on our grammar skills, some great websites exist that possess a ton of useful tips, examples, and even tutorials. Many of these websites are referenced here on our own blog. Check out the following article, “10 websites to help improve your grammar,” which can also be found at
https://prowritingaid.com/art/111/10-websites-to-help-improve-your-grammar.aspx

 

10 websites to help improve your grammar

Grammar is an essential part of writing, as it helps to convey the message or idea you are trying to get across. That being said, most writers might agree that their grammar skills could use a little freshening up from time to time. Luckily there are various websites that exist strictly for the purpose of improving one’s grammar. The ProWritingAid blog is a great place to start, but we also recommend the following sites.

WritingForward – This blog, which was created by a passionate writer, offers tons of posts on creative writing, grammar, and more. It helps writers of all kinds get ideas flowing so they always perform their best. This site also has exercises that help you brush up on your grammar and writing skills.

GrammarBook – Looking for a great site that will help you improve your grammar? Look no further than this informative site, which offers free grammar rules, fun quizzes, and a blog with lots of tips on all things writing.

Grammarly – This innovative website acts as an automated proofreader and professional grammar coach. It checks your writing for spelling and grammar errors, as well as plagiarism, so you are always sure to create the best work possible. Writers of all kinds can definitely benefit from this site.

PurdueOnlineWritingLab – The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is a helpful site that features over 200 free resources. Advance your knowledge in areas such as grammar and mechanics and learn about various writing styles. If you are interested in improving your grammar, this site can help.

GrammarBlog – If you are looking for a refreshing take on grammar, this site is perfect for you. It pokes fun of common grammar mistakes that people make every day, which can instantly put a smile on any writer’s face. Although this site doesn’t necessarily teach grammar, it does show you what not to do when you are writing.

LousyWriter – This cool site has tons of tips that will help you become a better writer. It features sections on grammar, writing styles, parts of speech, misused words, punctuation, capitalization, and more. You can also find blog posts, podcasts, and video tutorials that help you improve your grammar.

DailyGrammar – Anyone looking to brush up on their grammar skills should visit this site. It offers lots of simplified lessons and quizzes that make it easy to improve your grammar in many different ways.

ChicagoManualOfStyle – If you work with words, you may want to take some time to check out this helpful site. It features a forum where writers can correspond with one another and ask questions. You can also use several tools that help you proofread and polish your work.

GrammarGirl – Looking for an easy-to-use website that offers tips and tricks on all things writing? If so, you need to explore this site. It helps with grammar, word usage, punctuation, and more. In addition to all the helpful writing hints, there is also a free newsletter that you can subscribe to.

Dr.Grammar – This website, which was created by the University of Northern Iowa’s Department of Languages and Literature, is an excellent resource for writers looking to improve their grammar. With lots of frequently asked questions and helpful tips in many areas, you are sure to find some help on this site.

Improving your grammar is easy if you take the time to visit these sites. They all offer helpful ideas, tips, and tricks that are sure to make you a better writer in no time at all.

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!

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