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Archive for the ‘USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates’ Category


Research Walk-In Clinics

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Approaching a research project can be a daunting prospect. How do I find a topic? How do I research that topic? Where do I find my research?

The USF Library is hosting Walk-In Clinics which will take place March 5 –8 from 11:00 am – 7:00 pm in room 125C of the Library and the Writing Center.

Students needing help with their research projects from how to approach their project and writing planning (WC)  to finding literature and citing sources (LIB)  can come to either room 125C in the Library and/or the Writing Center depending on their needs.

Please don’t hesitate to stop in with questions and concerns – big, small, and everything in between!

See you there!

Share Your Writing

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Do you ever share your writing? No, not to cheat or copy, but to share your ideas and style choices. A lot of great writers have great readers among their friends and family who are happy to review their work before it is sent off to an editor or publisher. These same resources may be all around you without you even knowing it.

Many times it is easier to review and provide feedback on someone else’s work than it is on our own. We often miss our own errors and skim past thoughts that don’t quite make sense. We know what is supposed to be on the page, so we assume it is there. This isn’t always the case.

Do you have a friend or roommate who is a good reader? He or she doesn’t need to know how to correct every tiny comma error or spell every technical term correctly. As long as someone is a reader, he or she will be able to tell you if your ideas make sense and are easy to follow. Did you prove your point? Did you stay on topic? Did you use effective support?

This is often helpful if we’ve hit a block on what we’re writing. For example, you need to write a 5 page paper for Sociology, but you only 3 pages worth of ideas. Ask someone to read what you have. Ask your reader what is missing. Ask your reader what questions he or she has for you. You may find those last two pages are found in your reader’s responses.

The next time you have to write something –anything-ask someone to read it for you.  A second set of eyes can offer a new perspective and help you create strong, effective writing.

More Ways to Improve Your Writing

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Writing Center Consultant Haili Vinson has more common writing issues t be on the look out for as you improve your writing.

As you continue drafting and revising this spring (and visiting the Writing Center!), here are a few more common issues to look out for in your papers.

  • Pesky words: to combine or not to combine?

The words “everyday” and “altogether” cause trouble for many writers because we can get them confused with their counterparts, “every day” and “all together.” Use the adjective “everyday” as one word when referring to something ordinary or routine, such as “everyday clothes” or “everyday wear and tear.” Use “every day” when referring to each day that something occurs; for instance, “I exercised every day last week.”

Similarly, the meaning of “altogether” changes when it’s split up. The adverb “altogether” means completely or totally, as in, “Altogether, she has five cats.” By contrast, “all together” refers to something done as a group or collection. For instance, “The students sang all together.”

  • Weaving quotes in

You’ve probably heard this more than once from your teachers: quotes shouldn’t be  simply “dropped in” your papers, but stringed along with your own syntax. The easiest way to accomplish this is to introduce the author, add a strong verb, a comma (when necessary), and begin the quote. For example: Plato attests, “Love is a serious mental disease.” Another easy beginning: According to Plato, “Love is a serious mental disease.”

You could also write: Plato describes love as “a serious mental disease.” I didn’t use the entire quote here because I rephrased part of it, then used the rest to finish off my sentence. In this way, the quote fits neatly with my own syntax. Whatever you do, don’t force the quote into your own language; make sure your grammar stays accurate when weaving them in.

  • Fun with semicolons

Semicolons are one of the most frequently misused marks of punctuation. I didn’t use them correctly until my first semester of graduate school (hey, no one explained them to   me!). Use a semicolon only when what appears on either side of it could stand alone as a full separate sentence (with a subject and predicate), and when those sides directly relate to one another, as in you would like them combined in the same sentence.

For instance: “The media anticipates high voter turnout this election season; polls suggest an increase of 11% compared to the last cycle.” Be careful with words such as “which” and “while” that create dependence and turn complete thoughts into dependent clauses. For instance,       the following semicolon is inaccurate, and should be replaced with a comma: “The media anticipates high voter turnout this election season; which has been predicted through early polling.” You can also use semicolons to separate lengthy clauses in a list, or when    a list involves items with commas; for instance, “Jordan has been to the mountains in Denver, Colorado; to Central Park in New York, New York; and to the shores of Miami Beach, Florida.”

  • References to individuals

This rule is simple, but one that writers easily forget. When you refer to a person for the    first time, use his or her first and last name. Each time afterwards, use only the last name. Never refer to a well-known individual by only his or her first name. For instance, we would never write, “Barack became the first African-American U.S. president in 2009.” An exception applies when writing about certain fictional characters, such as Harry  Potter. Most would agree that it’s acceptable (and even preferred) to refer to him as “Harry” while writing about the novel, partially because the reference “Potter” may result in confusion of characters. However, “Snape” could refer only to one character, and is appropriate for use. Always ask your instructors which rule they prefer in regards to   writing about fictional characters.

  • Talks about

Students frequently use “talks about” when signifying what an author, well, talks about.   This quickly became a pet peeve of mine as an instructor because there are so many stronger (and more specific) synonyms available, such as discusses, explores, analyzes, explains, demonstrates, asserts, shows, evinces, provides, illustrates, delineates, indicates, details, notes, denotes, maintains, develops, affirms, holds, evaluates, addresses, reasons, examines, finds, suggests, posits, offers, observes, etc. Try to avoid “talks about” by practicing with more vivid and clear verbs. Your writing will be more varied and accurate for it!

Tweet to Stay Focused

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Do you ever find yourself zoning out while trying to finish your homework? It’s easy to lose focus while trying to get work done outside of the classroom. It’s even harder if that work is in a subject that doesn’t hold our interest.

Researchers at Lock Haven University recently completed a study where they asked students to Tweet about the class outside of class time. They found that students stayed more interested and engaged with the course if they were asked to “micro-blog” via Twitter on their own time.

“Professors Use Twitter to Increase Student Engagement and Grades” http://bit.ly/hWK7pF (more…)

Common Writing Errors

Thursday, January 5th, 2012 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Welcome back everyone! To get the spring semester started off, let’s go over five common errors in writing. Keeping these straight will help you improve your writing at any level.

  1. Using e.g. instead of i.e. (and vice versa). “i.e.” roughly translates into “that is” or “in other words.” “e.g.” equates to “for example.” Mixing these up can completely alter the meaning of your sentence. Check out this site for examples of when and where to use these abbreviations: http://www.grammar-monster.com/easily_confused/eg_ie.htm
  2. Mixing up “affect” and “effect”. This one drives me crazy. Not as a reader, but because I always have to look it up when I write (so don’t worry, you’re not alone on this one). It can be a difficult thing to master since when we speak these two words often sound the same. This may help you: Affect = Verb; Effect = Noun. Try replacing it with a common noun or verb and see if the sentence still makes sense. If not, you’re using the wrong one!
  3. Not using the correct citation style OR not being consistent with your citation style. While you certainly want to be sure you are using the right style, you also want to make sure you’re not jumping back and forth between APA and MLA (or any other style). Check with your professor to see what citation style fits your career field and major. Once you know what style to use, be sure to keep it the same throughout your entire paper, report or memo. Proofread for this just as you would for grammar errors to make sure you didn’t make a mistake and change it up anywhere.
  4. Using could of, would of, and should of. This is another problem that comes from the way we speak. In everyday conversation we often say “should’ve” which we’ve translated into “should of.” The correct way to say (and write) this, however, is “should have.” Could have, would have, should have.
  5. Using an apostrophe to make a word plural. Apostrophes are great. They tell us when a word is possessive or a contraction. They help us to be clear and concise in our message. But they do not make a noun plural. To make a regular noun plural, simple add an “s”.

I hope these tips help you to fine-tune your writing this semester! Have a great spring!

The Struggle to Write a Personal Statement

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Sometimes writing that personal statement is anything but personal. Between word counts, trying to “sound smart”, attempting to come off as interesting/funny/serious/intellectual/etc, the whole process is exhausting! From graduate and medical school to scholarships and grants, many of us will find it necessary to write these statements and try to explain our entire reason for being in 500 words or less.

The New York Times recently published an article about these difficulties and discussed how writing a college application is a lot like writing poetry. It’s an art form.

The article’s message? Don’t feel bad, you’re far from being the only one struggling with this genre of writing.

Highlighting & Error Finding

Monday, November 7th, 2011 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Here is another great tip from Writing Center consultant Sandy Branham.

A tool that has been helpful for students performing critical analysis is the highlighting method. This is particularly helpful in papers for composition classes. Highlighting can really be used for anything, but I use it in 3 different ways.

1. I ask students to highlight each quote or paraphrase in their paper. Then, I ask them to use a different color highlighter to indicate areas in which the student analyzes source material. If the student uses yellow to highlight quotes and paraphrases and blue to highlight analysis, every instance of yellow highlighting should be followed by blue highlighting.

2. I use highlighting to deal with issues of tense – I ask students to use 3 different colored highlighters, and to highlight each verb in the paper. Past, present, and future tenses are each highlighted in a different color, enabling the student to easily identify areas in which unnecessary tense shifts occur.

3. I also ask students to use highlighting to identify passive voice by focusing on “to be” verbs. By highlighting each instance of a “to be” verb in the text, students are able to identify areas of passive voice and can then revise these sentences in active voice.

Grab a set of highlighters at home and try this yourself. See if you start to notice your errors and learn how to fix them on your own.

Reverse Outlines

Friday, October 28th, 2011 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | No Comments »

Do you have a hard time revising your papers for organization? Writing Center consultants Sandy Branham and Meagan Araujo find reverse outlines to be very helpful.

Often, we focus on outlining as a prewriting tool, but it can be just as useful after you have something written. Specifically, it helps writers check to see if they have written what they have set out to write. Reverse outlining also helps writers identify their main points, decide which order to present them, and verify if they presented sufficient supporting material.

Here’s how it works:

The process is simple: we simply read through the paper paragraph by paragraph, stopping after each paragraph to discuss the function/purpose of the paragraph. If the student identifies the paragraph as serving more that one main purpose, we discuss whether or not the student should separate the differing ideas to create two cohesive paragraphs, each with a clear and definite purpose.

If a student identifies a paragraph as having no purpose, we talk about what it would be useful for the paper to do at this particular point, allowing the student to redraft the paragraph with a clear purpose in mind.

After identifying a purpose for each paragraph, we are able to discuss the ways in which each of the paragraphs relate to one another, considering whether the student can move paragraphs around in order to increase the overall effectiveness of the organizational system in use in the paper.

So, the next time you are ready to revise, take the time to create an outline based on what you have written. Ask yourself, “What is the point of each paragraph?” Then, check to see if have made your points in a logical succession. Finally, verify your supporting material.

Grammar Workshops

Thursday, October 20th, 2011 | Posted in USF Writing Center Blog: Tips, News, and Updates by Karen Langbehn | 3 Comments »

Do you have a few grammar questions or find grammar completely confusing? Come to a grammar workshop! Workshops are offered every Monday from 2:00-3:00pm in LIB 125E (right next door to the writing center). You’ll work with a writing center consultant to learn how to find and fix your own grammar errors.You’ll get great tips on how to improve your grammar and write clearly.

No appointment needed! All workshops are free to students, faculty, and staff at USF. Need more info? Call us at 813-974-8293.


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