Common Issues and How to Solve Them

You read over your paper after it is declared finished, and things simply aren’t sitting right for you. You read through it once. That wasn’t satisfying, so you read through it twice, and you wonder, “Why do I feel like something is missing?” Writing an essay, creative or otherwise, is difficult and requires devoted attention to detail. In my study of Creative Writing, I have learned many different troubleshooting techniques to help me make my work the best that it can be.

If I am writing creatively and I feel like something is missing from my draft, I look at the main problem driving the plot. Sometimes, the plot has holes, or inconsistencies that I built into my own work by accident. This can include many things, but the one I confront most frequently is in my worldbuilding; it has happened all too often that I have written an event taking place that does not make sense when abiding by the rules that I built for my fictional universe.

The skill I developed to identify plot holes has helped me notice inconsistent elements in my academic papers. For me, the thesis of my essay is like the plot of a creative narrative. The thesis is the backbone of the paper, and if I feel like an academic essay is lacking, the first thing I check is the thesis.

If the thesis, as it is written, does not ideologically encompass all the elements in the essay, the essay has a plot hole that needs to be mended. To remedy this issue, it might be helpful to try examining the conclusion. Since the conclusion is a summary of all the argumentative points in the paper, it is common to find the full thesis statement lurking around in the conclusion somewhere. Once you find the unabridged thesis, you can move it back up to the introduction. 

When I am creative writing, I reread my story after fixing a plot hole, and sometimes I am still unsatisfied with my work. Next, I check to make sure my narrative events are occurring in the proper sequence. Sometimes, by oversight, a character is acting on information that they never officially learned. This skill for identifying temporal inconsistencies has been immensely helpful in my academic writing.

Logically, the flow of ideas in a paper should come in a particular order. In a typical argument, a claim is made and then supported by evidence. The significance of the evidence is then further explained, and this goes on through each different example. Then, if the writer chooses, they can incorporate a counterclaim and refute it in order to strengthen their argument and make sure it is free of logical fallacies. If this order is not preserved, the argument may become confusing to the reader and possibly even to the writer. Restructuring the argument can give a paper the push it needs to become the best that it can be.

The Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab website provides a detailed list of different argumentative structures which I will provide below.

Sometimes, I get to this point in the revision process, and I am still finding that my work is lacking. This can be a result of a variety of different problems. Occasionally, it is because I have dialogue or events that are left over from previous drafts that are no longer relevant. In academic writing, this has helped me identify argumentative points that do not adequately support my thesis. If an argumentative point no longer serves the overarching goals of the paper, it might be time to delete that section and replace it with something else.

In some cases, to find out what is holding my writing back, I must move from the macro level to the micro level. Sometimes, complex sentence structures are a piece’s biggest obstacle. A sentence with too many relative clauses can be confusing to read, even if it is grammatically correct. If the sentence doesn’t have too many relative clauses, the problem could be that the clauses are not coming in the most logical order. For example, take the sentence I just wrote.

A sentence with too many relative clauses can be confusing to read, even if it is grammatically correct.

A sentence with too many relative clauses, even if it is grammatically correct, can be confusing to read.

Both of these sentences are technically correct, but one is slightly more convoluted than the other. A quick fix to some sentences is to just switch around the words to simplify the flow of ideas. It can also be helpful to go through the essay and make sure you are using the correct words for the situation. Though many English words have synonyms, it is common for those replacement terms to have nuanced differences. These differences can render the synonyms inappropriate for the context in which you are using them.

Of course, if these steps are not quite proving helpful, it is always a good idea to come to the Fordham Writing Center to get a second pair of eyes on the paper. In creative writing courses, we engage in workshops where the writer shares their work with the whole class, and the class discusses what is working in the piece. Though sharing ones work can be hard, it is important to utilize the resources at one’s disposal and ask for help when it is needed.

So, You Don’t Want to Learn a Foreign Language?

For some students, seeing four required foreign language courses in the core curriculum is no big deal; it is even a source of excitement. For other students, the foreign language requirement is a source of dread and frustration. One might think, “Why should I learn a foreign language when my prospective job industry mainly works in my native language?” This is an understandable reaction because, let’s face it, learning a foreign language is difficult, but I encourage you to look past that difficulty to see all the benefits it can provide.

In my study of Italian and Latin, I have found that my English has improved. I have been studying Italian for ten years and Latin for four years. Though I began learning Latin after Italian and English, it proved helpful in the way I composed English sentences. For the English language, word positioning is everything. The rearranging of elements in an English sentence will change the meaning of the phrase.

In Classical Latin, words don’t have to come in any particular order. Since all of the information gleaned from English word placement is contained in Latin word forms, strict syntax rules are unnecessary. To an English speaker, the sentence would sound awkward but not incomprehensible when translated literally. I’ll add an example to demonstrate how it works.

Latin: puer puellam amat

English (literal): The boy the girl he loves

English (idiomatic): The boy loves the girl

As you may have noticed, English word order is not nearly as free as Latin word order. The sentence is allowed to be written like that in Latin because the words have cases, which control the role they play in the sentence. For example, the direct object form of one noun (puellam) looks distinct from the indirect object form of the same noun (puellae)

It took me a while to get a hold of all those noun forms. It was frustrating at times that puella and puellā represented two different cases, playing two different roles in the sentence. It was even more infuriating that puellae and puellae looked like the same word but represent two different cases, one being genitive and the other being dative. All these confusing forms forced me to learn the true function of a direct object and an indirect object.

Once I got a handle on the functions of direct and indirect objects, my Italian improved in places I had previously been very confused. In Italian, indirect and direct object pronouns confounded me almost as much as the subjunctive mood. I could never quite get indirect object pronouns right on exams because I couldn’t figure out what made them different from direct object pronouns; this confusion made combination pronouns an absolutely miserable subject. Once I learned Latin, I could recognize that “Maria me l’ha data [la sciarpa]” means “Maria gave it to me [the scarf].”

Both Italian and Latin helped me with my English writing in different ways. Latin got me out of the habit of ending sentences with prepositions. Because of Latin, I began thinking as if English words demonstrated case differences. It suddenly sounded unnatural to write, “She was unaware who she was speaking to,” because that is not how the dative case works. The preposition ‘to’ is built into the dative case. In Latin, that would be, “cui loquebatur nesciebat.” In English, that would say something closer to, “She was unaware to whom she was speaking.”

Italian further helped me develop my English speaking and writing capabilities. Through my Italian classes, I learned the invaluable skill of communication, even when you don’t have exactly the right word for the job. Because I was not always fluent, there were times when I was conversing that I absolutely did not have a wide enough vocabulary to continue the conversation in the most precise manner. Since I wasn’t allowed to use English in the classroom, I had to discover a roundabout way to explain the vocabulary word I was missing. 

This helped my composition in English because I learned that there are many ways to arrive at the same point. In academic writing, it is easy to get caught up in jargon, but there are many possible explanations for the same thing. If a certain phrase referring to one topic is becoming stale, there are always ways to switch it up and make it more interesting.

Though learning a foreign language can be extremely challenging, it can provide many benefits to the native language. Learning other languages can also come with interesting quirks like only being able to remember a word in Italian while you’re speaking English or accidentally inserting Latin words into your Italian sentence. So, get excited about your foreign language courses! They will truly enrich your learning experience over the course of your four years, and if you don’t have a language requirement, try out some language classes for fun! 

The Importance of Cat Viral Videos; Or, Writing for Others

By Ian Sullivan

As odd as it may seem, many students forget to think about the rhetorical situation of writing. Why do I write that this normal reaction to a writing assignment is odd? In personal conversations, texts, tweets, and Facebook posts, people constantly assess to whom they are talking, typing, tweeting, and posting. It seems a natural part of social interaction: we tailor our conversations to interest other people. In short, we try to know our audience. Yet it is not uncommon for a person to fail at this seemingly easy task (as any constant poster of food pictures to Facebook should know). If it is possible to fail even when being careful or, at the least, conscious of how we are marketing ourselves to an audience, what happens when we don’t even think about an audience at all?

Unfortunately, this problem is common. Because writing assignments are assignments, students often mistake the professor for their audience or begin blindly writing for themselves instead of others. Of course, this error is understandable. Even with peer editing, it is difficult to feel that writing is a community project because it requires significant time alone. But successful writers realize that well-written projects cannot occur without thinking about others. It is the job of writers to motivate their readers so they want to read carefully. But an interesting topic is not always enough; writers must think about their audience.

For example, let us consider a writing assignment where I receive no prompt, but I am assigned the topic of cat viral videos:

I can assume that such a topic would interest a broad audience of all genders, sexual orientations, and ages, though perhaps not people who dislike cats or people who don’t use the Internet. Since cat viral videos are so beloved, I assume that my topic is already of interest to my audience. But what do I write about? What problems could cat viral videos possibly present? More importantly, what problems about cat viral videos would my audience actually care about? These are the type of insights and questions that make writing projects successful (and, for the record, I settle on the dangers of distraction: that cat viral videos steal valuable time is a problem to which my audience can relate).

Fairytale Beginnings and Essay Endings; or, Ways to Avoid Common Pitfalls in Opening and Closing Lines

By Julia Cosacchi

“Once upon a time…”

This is a great way to begin a fairy tale. It’s a tried and true, classic line that lets the reader or listener know exactly what sort of story is going to follow. Most, if not all, great fairy tales begin with this same phrase, just as they end with the familiar closing, “and she/he/they lived happily ever after.”

Unfortunately, there aren’t college-writing equivalents for “once upon a time” or “happily ever after,” though many student writers often gravitate toward similarly cliché-sounding models. As I’ll discuss in this post, these models are not very effective for college writing. But don’t fear! I’ll also offer some suggestions for alternative models to use for your opening and closing lines, as well as some principles to guide you as you develop your skills as a writer.

Opening Line #1: The Epic Model
Example: “Since the beginning of time, humans have always struggled to obtain and defend their freedom.”
Students often use some version of this line to begin assignments that ask them to address a large, abstract concept: “freedom,” “justice,” or “beauty,” for example. A more effective strategy is to focus on a specific instance that illustrates or exemplifies what you’re talking about. Instead of telling your reader that “humans” have struggled with freedom “since the beginning of time” (which is a technically true, though an incredibly vague and sweeping, statement), why not offer some evidence that demonstrates what you mean? Try something like, “The human desire for freedom has resulted in [X number of] armed conflicts in the United States alone. This information demonstrates that freedom is something that people are willing to stake their lives to defend.”

Opening Line #2: The Merriam-Webster Model
Example: “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘freedom’ as ‘the quality or state of being free.’ Based on this definition, I think…”
It is typical for students to fall back on this model when the assignment prompt uses the word “define.” But unless the prompt explicitly asks for a dictionary definition of the term, don’t give one! Your professor knows how to use a dictionary. What he or she doesn’t know is your understanding of the term in question. Rather than allowing Webster to do the assignment (poorly) for you, think about the various ways that the term can be defined. Is there anything interesting, surprising, or contradictory about different usages or definitions of the term? How do the authors of some of your course readings understand and use the term? Have you had any personal experiences that have contributed to your understanding of this term? Give your professor a glimpse into your thought-processes and unique worldview through this type of assignment rather than resorting directly to reference materials.

Closing Line #1: The Inspirational Quote Model
Example: “[insert all of your interesting ideas about freedom here]…, for as Gandhi once said, ‘Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.’”
This model for closing* an essay is alluring to writers who feel like they have already said everything there is to say on the topic. And hey, if someone famous/historical/influential/interesting already said something great on the topic, why shouldn’t you repeat it (with proper citation, of course)? Well, you shouldn’t, and here’s why: because this is YOUR paper! Most college writing assignments are designed to help you develop your own ideas and arguments about a topic. It is therefore at odds with the objective of the assignment to use someone else’s words to express your ideas. If a particular quotation really speaks to you or has been influential in developing your own opinions or understandings of a topic, it’s fine to mention that influence. However, you should cushion such references within the body of your paper, rather than saving them for the very last line. Don’t let someone else have the last word in your essay.

*This model often does double-duty as an opening line as well. Unless your paper is about Gandhi or about a topic/individual very closely related to Gandhi, this probably isn’t the best way to start or to end your paper.

Closing Line #2: The World Peace Model
Example: “Hopefully someday, all countries in the world will understand the meaning of freedom.”
Come on, admit it: we’ve all written something like this before. I know, I know… conclusions are SO HARD to write! And who’s really even reading that last line, anyway? Answer: your professor. So for my final piece of advice, I’ll remind you not to let any sentence of your writing be a “throwaway” line. This closing line is a lot like the Epic opening lines discussed above: it doesn’t really say anything specific about what you’ve written, and it takes as its scope something far too vast to be really relevant to most assignments. Most professors aren’t expecting you to engineer world peace in a single writing assignment, so there’s no need to end your essay by suggesting that you’ve found a solution to a problem of that size. Instead, think about how to frame your argument concisely and try to highlight the main, and most interesting, points of your essay. Emphasizing these points will leave your reader with a clear sense of what unique ideas you have contributed to the topic or problem in question.

As you write and revise your papers this semester, make sure to make your opening and closing lines count! To do this, focus on providing specific, relevant information about your topic. Avoid generalizations and sweeping, universalizing statements. Finally, make sure that your voice and your ideas remain central to the paper. It is YOUR paper, after all!

What is an argument and why do I need one?


By Bronwen Durocher

So your professor has asked you to write a thesis-driven essay.

In high school, teachers simply asked you to regurgitate information you learned in class. Being able to clearly articulate the main points of a subject or idea may have earned you that elusive A in the past.

But you’re in college now.

Ack! “You mean to tell me that if my essay shows that I was actually paying attention and not instagramming the back of my classmates head I still might not get an A?” That’s right. Most professors will want you to analyze the information you’ve absorbed so that you can articulate an original claim you must then support with details from the work you are studying. Sound hard? College is supposed to help you become a questioning, freethinking person. Nobody said it was easy!

We’re here to help.

So, what is a claim or an argument? An argument-driven essay can come in the form of an explanation of an opinion, a discussion of a literary interpretation, or an evaluation of a certain cultural or literary phenomenon (among many, many other options). Simply put, a claim or argument is something you can prove. For thesis-driven essays, your claim must be specific and it must be debatable.

What’s the “So what?”

Any effective thesis statement argument should also have stakes. Ask yourself why your argument is important, relevant, or interesting to you. You should be excited to prove to your readers why your claim matters. What does your claim illuminate about the novel, poem, film, or other subject in question? Being able to answer the “so what?,” my friends, is the secret to writing an effective thesis statement.

Ineffective thesis statement:

There is a lot of symbolism in The Grapes of Wrath.

Is this debatable? Is it specific? Does it show that you’ve analyzed the novel?

More effective thesis statement:

John Steinbeck sets up a contrast between the natural world and a budding industrial economy in The Grapes of Wrath.

Is this debatable? If so, why is it important? Are there stakes? What’s missing here?

Effective thesis statement:

Through its use of symbolism, The Grapes of Wrath suggests that in order to endure the suffering and poverty of the new industrial economy, one must return to more natural human instincts.

This suggests an analytical reading based on evidence from the novel. It also tells us why the argument might be important to readers. It answers the “so what?” so many professors are wont to ask.

Make your supporting details work for you!

Remember that any argument you make must be supported by evidence. Supporting evidence might come in the form of historical data, secondary criticism, or a primary literary (or nonliterary) source. These supporting details are the meat and potatoes of your essay. Each piece of evidence should be included in your paper in a way that gives credence to the specific claim you are making. Simply inserting a detail without explaining why it relates to your thesis won’t work. Each quote or reference must be analyzed, interpreted, and integrated into your essay so that it helps convince your reader that what you are arguing is valid and well researched. (For help with citations, check back for another blog post or ask your favorite tutor.)

Phew, we’re done here for now. If you’re still having trouble writing a thesis statement and building evidence to support it, come in and talk to one of our lovely writing tutors. Good luck and happy writing!

Quotation Integration: Two Simple Mistakes to Avoid

By Kurt Stumpo

You’ve researched for weeks, identified your key sources, crafted a thesis that is supported by your sources, and compiled a perfectly formatted works cited page. Well done. Maybe. There’s only so much paraphrasing you can do, and if your use of quotations is ineffective, your paper will be ineffective as well (in spite of your hard-earned research!).

Sports metaphors lurk everywhere, so why not consider one here? It doesn’t matter how stacked your team is if you put six of your players in left field. Spacing and placement matter, and effective research will be undermined by ineffective deployment within your sentences/paragraphs (the same way that six players in an outfield will let a lot of balls through the infield).

There are two glaring errors common to quotations integration. Here is one especially unfortunate one:

Hans warned me against drinking that. “That chocolate milk went bad six months ago.” Therefore, because he told me that, I won’t drink it, lest I develop a GI-tract infection.

It doesn’t matter if your prose sparkles (the aforementioned certainly doesn’t): Never leave a quotation by itself. Lonely quotations that dump information in the middle of a paragraph will not help you create a cohesive argument.

At the least, introduce your source within the same sentence:

Hans seemed very confident when he told me that, “that chocolate milk went bad six months ago.” Therefore, I didn’t drink it, lest I develop a GI-tract infection.

My source is identified in the same sentence in which I deploy my quotation. Rather than having to backtrack to make sense of a quotation that suddenly appears in the middle of my paragraph, I can move forward with whatever argument I may want to make, and my whole paragraph is in position to fall into place now.

The other common mistake is comma abuse. Even if you know you don’t stick a solitary quotation in the middle of a paragraph, you may be guilty of this offense:

Hans’s Greek yogurt was several weeks old, the CDC warns against “consuming Greek yogurt that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time,” so I didn’t eat it.

This is slightly better than leaving the quotation by itself, but the first comma is being spliced here. Just because these ideas are related doesn’t certify the comma usage.

Again, the fix is simple:

Hans’s Greek yogurt was several weeks old, and the CDC warns against “consuming Greek yogurt that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time,” so I didn’t eat it.

Alternatively, we can re-tailor this sentence with a colon, a handy tool for quoting:

There was a great reason why I didn’t eat Hans’s Greek yogurt: the CDC warns “against consuming Greek yogurt that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a long time.”

Colons can help introduce quotations efficiently, but whether you use a colon or not, make the link between what you’re saying and what your source is saying apparent.

Every quotation should either be accompanied by a reference to the original writer or in some way establishes its relevance to your argument. Keep these two ideas in mind, and you’ll be ready to deploy quotations in a manner that will be both grammatically correct and logically coherent.

Parallel Structure

By Laura Radford

Have you ever felt as though your writing has lost balance? While the written word can’t fall flat on its face the way that we can, it can fail to impart meaning to your reader. If you’ve ever felt an imbalance within your sentence structure, or even in the layout of a paragraph, your writing may be suffering from a lack of parallel structure. But what is parallel structure? In the simplest terms, it’s use of the same pattern of words to show that two or more ideas have the same level of importance. Parallel structure occurs at the level of a word, phrase, or clause. If your writing suffers from imbalance, what do you do? Or perhaps the better question is what do you not do?

First, do not mix forms.

Not Parallel: The art students were asked to sketch the display quickly, accurately, and in a detailed manner.

What’s happening: You might think that varying structure makes writing more interesting, but too much variance can create confusion. Each verb form (in this case, adverb form) should follow the same structure.

Parallel: The art students were asked sketch the display quickly, accurately, and thoroughly.

Why this is better: Even though you have to change “in a detailed manner” to “thoroughly,” the sentences have the same meaning. More importantly, the second version is easier to read.

Second, watch your clauses.

If you make the decision to begin a structure with clauses, you must continue using clauses. Changing to another pattern or changing the voice of the verb (from active to passive or vice versa) will upend the balance and break the parallel structure. Now, let’s visit our art class again!

Not Parallel: The professor expected that the students would present their sketches at the meeting, that there would be time for him to show his slide presentation, and that questions would be asked by the class. (passive voice)

Parallel: The professor expected that the students would present their sketches at the meeting, that there would be time for him to show his slide presentation, and that the students would ask him questions. (active voice)

Third, all listed elements after a colon must follow the same form.

Not Parallel: The art history textbook glossary can be used to find these: term definitions, works by artist, and looking up artists by work.

Parallel: The art history textbook glossary can be used to find these: term definitions, works by artist, and artist by works.

Remember, parallel work is easier to process, which your professor will appreciate!

Writing Clearly

By Brock Mason

Ever start to read something and after eventually droning off, you look back and realize you have no idea what you just read?

The writing might sound smart: lots of big words like “amorphous” and “erudite” scattered everywhere, really complicated sentences with long introductions and tons of commas, and a lot of quotations from important thinkers sprinkled every few lines or so. It might look something like this:

But the current concepts of erudition and the role of justification, while perhaps surpassing the modern understanding of “absolutization” within the context of scientific “objectivity,” never succeed in exteriorizing the post-essential manifestations of themselves, always caught up within the temporality of spoken utterances yet ignoring the Platonic . . .

Unfortunately, sentences like this one are obnoxiously common in the academic world. While they are certainly guilty of being long, it’s not so much the grammar or the mechanics of this sentence that makes it so incomprehensible and useless. Instead, the problem is with clarity—the author seems to have no care for it whatsoever. While not all writing is as bad as our example, one of the most common problems in writing is clarity. If your point is to get some type of message across, then unless that message is clear, you have probably failed as a writer. Sure, sometimes we deliberately write in vague ways, and that serves an important point; still, it’s better to know how to write clearly before ever deliberately writing unclearly.

With that in mind, here are three basic tips to make your writing clearer, both at the sentence and paragraph level:

First: as much as possible, make the subjects of your sentences short and concrete. Let’s take our example above to illustrate. What’s the subject?—“the current concepts of erudition and the role of justification.” First off, what are the current concepts of erudition? What is the role of justification that we are referring to? And even if we listed them all, wouldn’t that be a really long list? What we want is a short phrase that captures all of this, something easier for our minds to comprehend and something short so our sentence doesn’t look so daunting.

We could write something like this: “Our current understanding of knowledge.” That’s shorter, easier to understand, and doesn’t use “big” words to try to sound smart.

Second: make the main point of your writing explicit right at the beginning of your paper and the beginning of your paragraphs. Your words don’t interpret themselves; don’t assume that your reader will understand what you’re trying to prove simply because you do. Say it somewhere. In many disciplines (though not all), this type of language is not only approved but encouraged—“In this paper, I will show that . . .”; “I will prove this by doing X, Y, and Z”; or “this shows that X is true for this reason.”

With our example sentence, we could adjust it as follows:

Our current concepts of knowledge are inadequate because while perhaps they surpass the modern understanding of “absolutization” within the context of scientific “objectivity,” they never succeed in exteriorizing the post-essential manifestations of themselves, always caught up within the temporality of spoken utterances yet ignoring the Platonic . . .

Here, we didn’t have to include any first person language, but we made the point of the entire sentence clear right from the very beginning: our current conceptions of knowledge are inadequate, and the rest of the sentence is going to show why.

Third: have others review your paper, and if they find something unclear, believe them. As far as clarity goes, there is nothing like having a trusted reviewer look over your writing. A reviewer comes with a fresh set of eyes and doesn’t have the same assumptions as you. But here’s the catch: if your reviewers tell you that something is unclear, trust that they see something you don’t. In most cases, our first response to a comment like “this is not clear” is to explain it in our words, then move on; the reviewer should’ve understood it the first time. But that’s not how this works—your writing needs to be clear to other people, not just to you. If a reviewer says your thoughts are unclear, make them clearer. Period.

Writing Confidently: I think my thesis makes sense, maybe, perhaps?

By Bridget Dowd

You’ve finished your paper! You have a solid thesis statement, you’ve backed up all your claims, and you’ve incorporated all your sources properly. However, your paper is peppered with words like “maybe,” and “perhaps,” and “seems.” No matter how original your ideas and brilliant your examples, if you don’t make your point confidently and clearly, your paper (or cover letter, or application, or even Facebook status!) is going to fall flat.

One way to ensure that your confidence comes through in your writing is to state important points in active voice.

For example, instead of saying, “Hamlet is made mad by the traumatic events he undergoes.”

Say something like this: “By illustrating the tragedy Hamlet experiences alongside his descent into madness, Shakespeare shows that Hamlet’s madness is, in fact, genuine.”

In the second example, you more explicitly engage with the text, demonstrating your capability in analyzing it and your comfort in writing about it. Furthermore, your point is made more immediately clear to the reader.

Another way many writers reveal their discomfort in writing is through syntactical complexity. If your readers can’t understand the grammar of your sentence, you can bet they won’t understand the brilliant idea hidden within that sentence! So, if you were writing about Jane Austen’s evaluation of marriage, don’t write:

“The character of Mrs. Bennet, who was created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice, suggests instability in the English economy through her objectification of her five daughters and her attempts to essentially sell them to the highest bidder.”

This sentence has several issues. First of all, the second clause interrupts the flow of the thesis statement, which ought to be delivered clearly. Additionally, words such as “objectification” are called nominalizations; nouns like this (often ending in “ion”) can usually be turned into active verbs. Mrs. Bennet does not participate in objectification; she objectifies. Lastly, the final part of the sentence reveals the writer’s evasion—words like “essentially” should be used sparingly, because they often serve as filler instead of adding substance to prose.

Instead, try something like:

“In Pride and Prejudice, Austen uses Mrs. Bennet’s treatment of her daughters to draw a parallel between the marriage market and eighteenth-century economic instability.”

This version of the thesis leaves your readers in no doubt as to the subject of the paper they are about to enjoy.

Confident writing is not just important in academic writing. When penning applications or cover letters, be sure to use language expressive of your confidence in your own abilities. Oftentimes, you should check your verb choices. For example, would you want to hire somebody who “would be a good fit for the job?” No! Let your reader know, “I am a good fit for your company.” Through this simple grammatical change, you’ve made yourself into a more confident, comfortable candidate for the job.

If you overuse passive language, your readers will see that even you aren’t sure of your point (or that you’re trying your hardest to reach that elusive word count)!

Prewriting Techniques: Three Ways to Get Started

By John Breedlove

When beginning a piece of writing, there’s no worse feeling than not knowing what you are going to write about. In a perfect world, paper topics would magically reveal themselves once you sat down to begin your paper. And sometimes paper topics do come easily. But when this doesn’t happen, when you have no idea what you want to say, or where to even begin, the writing process can become incredibly arduous.

But don’t panic. Even seasoned writers will encounter moments of writer’s block. The key is to have a system in place that helps you find the ideas, topics, subjects that interest you. The following are just a few prewriting techniques that could prove valuable when you get “stuck” trying to find an interesting topic.

  1. Freewriting. Start off by choosing a potential topic or idea that you think will be useful to explore. Don’t think about it for too long—the idea behind this exercise is simply to get words onto the page. Even if you start out writing about something that has very little, if anything, to do with your subject matter, don’t worry about it. The rule is simply to keep writing. You may want to start out writing for ten minutes; but during that time don’t stop for anything, even if you wind up writing down whatever is on your mind. This will get you in the habit of exploring topics and interests through writing. While much of what you write may not lead you anywhere, the goal is for you to eventually come across something (a word, phrase, concept, problem, or whatever) that will spark a more productive freewriting session next time, and lead you closer to your paper topic.
  2. Brainstorming. This exercise is especially useful for writers who have a vague or general sense of what they may want to write about, but aren’t sure what about the topic interests them. Brainstorming is similar to free-association where you write down words or phrases that come to mind regarding a particular topic. It’s an unstructured process, but the idea is to tease out interesting relationships that you were not previously aware of and to build on these relationships with each new brainstorming session.
  3. Journals. Keeping a daily journal to jot down important ideas, summarize information, and add your thoughts about the material you read, is a valuable way to generate material for your paper. When it becomes time to start writing, you can simply open your journal and reread the ideas and thoughts that have most interested you. Because journal entries are not meant to be exhaustive, they provide a series of thoughts that can be easily reread and a guide for understanding your own thoughts and interests. Of course, the earlier you begin your journal, the more information you will have to choose from when the time comes to begin writing your paper.

The writing process can be very unpredictable, which is why we need systems in place that will help make it a bit more reliable. So if you’re having trouble getting started with your paper, try one of these techniques and see which one works best for you.