Resources for support at every stage of the writing process:
Writing Center tutors can look at your assignment guidelines or the notes you have made and help you interpret what you are having trouble understanding. Since Writing Center tutors are instructors or students who have experience following a variety of assignment guidelines, they will be able to point out the key elements of a writing task and help you think about how you might respond to the assignment.
- If you need help understanding what your instructor is asking you to do, bring your assignment sheet to the Writing Center or send it to your online tutor.
- If your instructor talks about assignment requirements in class, take careful notes and bring these to your Writing Center appointment.
- If you must miss a class on a day when your course outline shows an assignment will be explained, be sure to ask the instructor for guidelines.
- When in doubt, meet with or email your instructor to ask any clarifying questions.
Strategies for Reading and Understanding Prompts:
- When reading prompts, look for key terms and active verbs. Verbs such as “describe,” “analyze,” “define,” and “assess” all ask you to engage in different forms of writing. Highlighting verbs and other key terms can help you determine how and what to write.
- Once you have read the prompt, as yourself a few questions:
- Who is your audience for this paper? While it will often be your instructor or an informed reader, this may not always be the case.
- What is your instructor asking you to do?
- Why is your instructor asking you to complete a particular assignment or write it in a particular way? What do they want you to learn or practice?
- What are the “rules” of the paper? Do you need to write in a particular format or use a particular tone?
- Answering these questions can help you approach your writing strategically so that you compose a text that is appropriate for its audience and purpose.
Writing Thesis Statements
Your Writing Center tutor can help you move toward a thesis by discussing with you some of the ideas you would like to include in your paper. He or she can also help you understand and solve some of the common problems writers face in constructing a thesis.
Before you work with your tutor, you may want to think about the following pointers. If you can put anything on paper, your preliminary ideas will give you and your tutor a good starting place for discussion.
Suggestions to consider:
Thesis = topic + attitude/opinion/position
- A thesis is a statement that gives your audience a clear sense of what you want to accomplish in your paper. An effective thesis does not state a fact or announce the paper’s topic; instead, it expresses your opinion about/attitude toward/position on your topic. Though a thesis is a statement rather than a question, raising an open-ended question worth exploring is one effective way of finding a thesis.
- In other words, a thesis is a point of view, argument, or perspective on a topic that readers can either agree or disagree with.
- Using the rhetorical modes (narrative, illustration, description, process, definition, classification, cause/effect, comparison/contrast, argument, analysis) to generate ideas about a topic — before trying to draft a thesis — can sometimes help you raise a question worth exploring, one which may provide a strong core idea for a thesis.
- An effective thesis should be more than a listing of points to be made in your paper, but listing the main points you want to make in the body of your paper may help you think of a core idea that will encompass those points.
- Thesis statements usually answer three questions:
- What do you think about a topic? What are you arguing?
- How will you prove your position? What ideas or evidence will be used to support your perspective (i.e. your main ideas)?
- Why is this topic and/or your perspective on it important?
Supporting Your Thesis
Your Writing Center tutor can show you some helpful tools for generating examples and details to support your thesis. She or he can also help you decide which of these tools will work best for your specific assignment.
If you want to prepare for your work with the tutor, you can begin to generate some examples and details by answering some of the following questions. Keep in mind that not all of the questions are appropriate for every assignment.
- What images (word pictures that appeal to my reader’s sense of sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) would help to support a point related to my thesis?
- How could I use contrast to support a point related to my thesis?
- What process is involved in a point I want to support, and how can I show my reader the steps or stages in that process?
- What are the important causes or effects related to a point I want to make?
- What terms do I need to define for my reader?
- What specific events, people, places, activities, objects, cultural artifacts would help to illustrate some point related to my thesis?
- How might some research help to provide historical background, scientific data, facts/statistics, anecdotal material, reasoned arguments, quotations from an authority, etc. in support of a point related to my thesis?
- What other forms of persuasion would add emphasis to any of my points (e.g. allusion, analogy, metaphor, narrative, real speech, question/answer, catalog, classification, paradox)?
- What might someone who disagrees with my ideas argue? Considering a counterargument can often help you craft a paper that is persuasive and thorough.
Your Writing Center tutor can help you learn to construct both formal and informal outlines. He or she can also review with you other organizational principles that will help you to arrange your ideas for emphasis.
To prepare for your session with the tutor, you can try one or more of the following techniques for organizing your ideas.
- Make a list of all the ideas you would like to include in your paper.
- Group your ideas to show which ones belong together. Ask yourself what organizational principles might best apply to your assignment: chronological order (what comes first, second, third, etc.), spatial order (how things are related to each other in the space they occupy), emphatic order (which idea is least/ most important), the order of difficulty (which idea is simplest/ most complex), etc.
- If a group contains only one or two ideas, try to brainstorm additional concepts, or consider adding it to another group. In some situations, these ideas, while interesting, may not be relevant to the paper at hand and will need to be eliminated.
- To move toward a thesis, find a strong word or phrase that will encompass the focal idea from each of your groups.
- Ask yourself which rhetorical methods might best apply to your assignment: narrative/ anecdotal (telling a story), illustration (providing examples), description (providing images appealing to the senses), process (explaining steps or stages), comparison/contrast (showing similarities or differences), classification (placing in categories according to shared characteristics), definition (explaining the meaning of a word or concept), cause/ effect (showing the why of an occurrence or explaining results), analysis (breaking an idea down into its parts), or synthesis (showing the relationship among the parts).
Drafting Introductions and Conclusions
Your Writing Center tutor can help you decide on the best lead-in and conclusion strategies for the particular assignment you have been given. Some simple techniques will help you if you are having trouble with your introduction and conclusion:
- Try writing the body of your paper before writing an introduction and conclusion since it is difficult to introduce or tie together ideas that are not fully formed.
- Write the introduction and conclusion together in one sitting to make sure they work well together.
- Keep your lead-in design simple, working to grab your reader’s attention and to provide essential orientation with a specific single strategy — one of the following or another clear method that is easy to implement:
- Reflect on a quotation related to your thesis
- Reflect on a strong image related to your thesis
- Reflect on a surprising fact related to your thesis
- Give your first sentence an edge that will make your reader want to see what else you have to offer (work to move beyond the obvious).
- Think about what information your audience needs to know before you can introduce them to your topic or thesis statement.
- Consider the “shape” of introductions and conclusions when drafting. Introductions tend to take the shape of a funnel, starting fairly broad before narrowing to your particular topic and thesis. Conversely, conclusions tend to be shaped like a triangle, maintaining the narrow scope of your thesis before branching out to make connections between your topic and the broader world.
- In your conclusion, reiterate your thesis, using different words to emphasize your main point.
- To move beyond a simple summary in your conclusion, pick something in the lead-in (the first part of your introduction) that is strong enough to revisit in your conclusion to remind your reader of where you began.
- Write a conclusion that summarizes the importance of your topic or argument. In other words, you want your conclusion to answer the question, “So, what?”
Your Writing Center tutor can help you develop strategies to check for direction and unity in your paragraphs. The following checklist can help you self-edit for direction/unity:
- Does your paragraph have a topic sentence at the beginning to identify the focus of your paragraph?
- What one strong word or brief phrase in the topic sentence expresses the attitude toward the topic? If you are struggling to identify a keyword or phrase, your topic sentence may not be clearly communicating the focus of the paragraph.
- Is the topic narrow enough for feasible development in a paragraph?
- Does the topic sentence wording suggest a rhetorical strategy for development (narrative, illustration, description, process, classification, definition, contrast, etc.)? In other words, what is your paragraph attempting to do?
- If a question has been used as a means of focusing the paragraph, would a declarative statement strengthen the focus?
- Can a pattern of words related to the focal wording be traced through the paragraph? If not, this may indicate that the focus of your paragraph is unclear.
- What does each sentence in the paragraph do to help develop the directional idea? If a sentence is not contributing to the progression of an idea, it likely needs to be removed or relocated.
- Have any ideas in opposition to the focus of the paragraph been confined to one section of the paragraph and clearly signaled as subordinate to the directional idea?
- If ideas running in opposition to the focus have been included, does the paragraph end by returning to the focus established in the topic sentence?
Clarifying Your Writing
Your tutor can help you see ways of making your style clearer and more expressive.
The following list of “What if?” questions will help you begin to raise the kinds of questions that will lead to more effective self-editing of your work:
- What if I ended this sentence one, two, three, four (or more) words sooner?
- What if I balanced this long, difficult word with a shorter image-producing word?
- What if I combined these two sentences by using subordination to emphasize the most important idea?
- Alternatively, what if I broke this lengthy sentence up into two?
- What if I substituted a fresh metaphor for this cliché?
- What if I switched the order of items in this series?
- What if I eliminated phrases like “in my opinion” and “I believe” where they don’t really add anything of value?
- What if I found a natural place to break this overlong paragraph or a way to combine two shorter paragraphs?
- What if I used more variety in my examples/details (analogy, definition by negation, a memory, a behavior, a movement, real speech, a philosophical quotation, a series of strong images, an allusion, etc.)?
- What if this idea really belongs in another sentence/paragraph?
- What if I moved a phrase upfront in this sentence?
- What if I ended the paper a sentence or two sooner?
- What if I got rid of a few adjectives and adverbs and made my verbs more precise instead?
Transitions and Cohesion
Your Writing Center tutor can help you review the fundamentals of coherence:
- Using formal transitions, words that draw connections or relationships between ideas. Examples: for instance, by contrast, next, moreover, etc.
- Using other common connective techniques (pronouns, repeated words, synonyms, antonyms, anticipatory patterns, other parallel structures)
Your Writing Center tutor can help you develop additional methods of connecting your ideas for more natural and varied movement between sentences and paragraphs. You can use the following checklist to self-edit for coherence:
- Have you experimented with moving words and phrases within sentences for a clearer and more emphatic placement? Dependent clauses, prepositional phrases, and verbal elements can sometimes be moved to the front of a sentence to make a stronger sentence and a smoother connection between sentences.
- Could you explain to someone else the link you are making in your mind between the ideas in any two sentences in your paper? If not, your reader may not be able to see the connection.
- Try defining the relationship between ideas. Is it one of similarity, difference, chronology, etc.? What words or phrases would communicate this relationship to your audience?
- Are you relying almost exclusively on formal transitions for coherence (Ex. for instance, first, in contrast, another example, etc.)? If so, are there places where synonyms, repetition, parallelism, or some other form of connection would make a more meaningful connection between ideas?
- Where are you using pronouns (especially it, this, they, and their)? Do they contribute to coherence, or are the references weak or ambiguous, forcing the reader to guess about connections? Try pairing pronouns with a noun to clarify your idea. Example: “This concept . . .”
- Could you explain the link you are making in your mind between the final sentence of each paragraph and the first sentence of the next paragraph? If not, your reader may not be able to see the connection.
- Would moving sentences and paragraphs to different places in the paper help you join ideas more meaningfully?
Revision and Proofreading
Your Writing Center tutor can help you learn a variety of helpful strategies for revision and proofreading. Revision and proofreading are distinct tasks; revision is making large-scale changes to drafts that affect global elements, such as argument, organization, and overall clarity. Proofreading tends to occur towards the end of the writing process when a paper’s major building blocks are in place and the only remaining changes are those related to grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. In other words, revision generally involves large-scale changes, while proofreading results in more detailed modifications. Following is a list of tips and tricks for engaging in each of these processes:
- You can strengthen focus, unity, organization, coherence, support, and style by using some of the suggestions and checklists in the other sections of this webpage, particularly those on organization, clarity, paragraph construction, and transitions.
- The best revision strategies allow you to see your writing from a more objective point of view; try taking a break for an hour, a day, or even a few days, if time permits, so you can return to your paper refreshed.
- Try mapping your ideas visually using bubbles, a grid, or a pyramid. How are your ideas organized? Does your map mirror your paper’s current structure? If not, would adjusting your paper’s organization to match your map clarify your ideas for your reader?
- Write a memory draft of your thesis statement in which you summarize (from memory) your main argument and ideas. Compare with your draft.
- Is there anything present in your memory draft that is not in your paper, or vice versa?
- Does that idea need to be in the paper?
- Is there a phrase in your memory draft that clarifies any of your ideas? Could it be used to revise your draft?
- If possible, revise and proofread using a hard copy of your draft to catch problems you may not always see when you read your work on the computer screen.
- Reading your papers aloud, a useful strategy for both revising and proofreading will often help identify areas of concern in your writing that you might otherwise miss.
- To sharpen your proofreading skills, try reading your paper from the last sentence back to the first. You might also transfer each sentence of your draft to a list form so that you can look at sentences individually. These techniques allow you to focus on finding careless mistakes, such as fragments, comma splices, and a lack of subject-verb agreement.
Grammar, Punctuation, and Sentence Structure
If you need help with basic English skills (grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, mechanics, paragraph development, etc.), ask your instructor to submit a RISE referral form to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Writing Center receptionist will enter you in the RISE TutorTrac system for the course in which you received the referral, and you may then use the RISE service for help with fundamentals for the rest of the semester as long as you are enrolled in the course.
- Handle attributive phrasing and reflective language to introduce and respond to information and ideas quoted, paraphrased, or summarized from your sources.
- Implement the most important principles for preparing in-text citations and works cited or reference pages.
- Learn to make effective use of your handbook models.
- Practice techniques to avoid plagiarism and misrepresentation in working with sources.
Here are some important questions you can ask yourself as you work to complete a research assignment:
- Is there an in-text citation for every source listed on my works cited or reference page?
- Does every idea that is not my own OR common knowledge, including quoted and paraphrased material, have an in-text citation?
- Do my in-text citations (attributive phrasing and parenthetical citations) match my works cited or reference entries?
- Have I carefully followed the models for the assigned documentation style (MLA, APA, or other guides)?