Writing FAQs

 

General Writing FAQs


General Writing FAQ list

1. I have an English paper about Jane Eyre due in less than a week, and all I have written is the heading. I can’t seem to come up with a topic. I have never had writer’s block like this before. What should I do?

2. Ever since middle school, I have been taught to put my thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph of an essay. Being in college now and writing more academic papers, does my thesis have to go in the first paragraph? Does the thesis have to be only one sentence?

3. I have been struggling with my political science paper for a few days, trying to determine whether my thesis is good enough. Every idea I consider or start to write about seems mediocre or played out. How can I develop my thesis enough to write a really good paper?

4. I have to write a ten page paper about business ethics, yet I am done and left with not even eight pages. How can I expand the content of my paper to make the page limit?

5. After typing up an essay and using the spell checker, I usually feel like my paper is complete. Once I finish writing, am I done? How much revising is really necessary?

6. Lately I have noticed that for of my classes a different style of citing sources is requested by the professor. What is so different between MLA, APA and Chicago style citations? Where can I find example citations for different types of sources?

7. Recently when I was given an assignment for my psychology class, the professor mentioned that she preferred us to use footnotes or endnotes. I have only used parenthetical documentation for other papers that I have written. What is a footnote? What is an endnote? Is there any difference between the two?

8. In my high school, plagiarism wasn’t widely discussed. Heck, even while I’ve been at College, I haven’t written much, and don’t know what plagiarism is. What is common knowledge, and why doesn’t it have to be cited? What exactly is plagiarism and how can I make sure that I am not guilty of it?

9. I recently received a paper back from my professor covered in red marks. I spent weeks working on the paper and thought my ideas were well developed. When I turned the paper in I was so confident that I would get a good grade. Is there anything I can do?

10. I recently received a paper back from a professor, and was stumped by one of the comments. At the end of the paper, the professor commented that my paper “didn’t flow.” I have no idea what this means. How can I make my next paper "flow"?

11. Reading over comments and markings in a political science paper I received back, I noticed the professor marked a few instances in which I should restructure my sentences. He made a note that my sentences were bad form because they ended with a preposition. Is it wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?

12. I remember back in high school getting my grade marked down on an essay for beginning a sentence with the words “and” or “because.” Is it okay to begin sentences with these words or should I try to avoid them?

13. I recently visited the Writing Center and was surprised that during a half-hour appointment, we did not look at my paper at all. But rather we discussed my ideas about the paper and how I could better develop them. Is it more important to be concerned with the process of writing than the product?

14. Is writing supposed to be this hard?

 


1. I have an English paper about Jane Eyre due in less than a week, and all I have written is the heading. I can’t seem to come up with a topic. I have never had writer’s block like this before. What should I do?

The trouble with writer’s block is the more you think about the fact that you can’t write, the worse it seems. Taking your mind off the “problem” can often give you some clarity. A break from writing by listening to music or going for a walk can help clear your head and allow you to focus on the paper after a short rest. As a writer you need to remember your successful routines of writing. If you seem to have better progress or luck, depending on how you look at it, consider the usual level of noise, your choice of clothing, the time of day, and how that may have an effect on your writing ability.

The best thing you can do when you have writer’s block is write. I know you probably think I am crazy. Some people find it helpful to free-write using a writing warm-up. Even writing about something as simple as the weather can get you reacquainted with writing and prepare you for the longer process of writing the paper. Or if you are afraid of focusing on something other than the paper that is due soon, you can confront the lack of topic head on. Start thinking about Jane Eyre, the themes, the structure, the characters, and just start typing or writing- don’t stop for 10-15 minutes. Then take a few minutes and go back and read through what you just wrote. While some portions may just be simple ramblings, you may discover a certain issue you took with the book or an idea which could turn into an argument for your paper.

Some writers experiencing writer’s block can often be stumped by the blinking cursor on a blank word document. If you are the type of writer who often gets trapped by writing the “perfect” introduction, start working from the second paragraph or even the middle of the paper to see if it helps. Also, remember you can always come to the Writing Center. We would be happy to help you brainstorm some ideas.

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2. Ever since middle school, I have been taught to put my thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph of an essay. Being in college now and writing more academic papers, does my thesis have to go in the first paragraph? Does the thesis have to be only one sentence?

The format of putting the thesis statement at the end of the first paragraph is used in lower grades to encourage young writers to make the point of the paper very clear right from the start. However, in college, a thesis is often longer, more detailed, and more advanced. Therefore, a thesis is often more than one sentence depending on the complexity of the argument.

There is no rule that states a thesis must be in the first paragraph. For longer pieces of writing, the thesis may not appear in the first paragraph at all. Some may require more introduction and explanation before the thesis is fully stated. But a good rule to remember is that one’s thesis still needs to be clear to the reader. As long as the audience knows what you are trying to prove, then the thesis can appear in the first couple of paragraphs.

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3. I have been struggling with my political science paper for a few days, trying to determine whether my thesis is good enough. Every idea I consider or start to write about seems mediocre or played out. How can I develop my thesis enough to write a really good paper?

The thesis acts as a road map for the paper, telling the writer what to expect as they progress through the pages. Start by asking yourself certain questions:

1. Do I answer the question/assignment?

2. Is my thesis specific enough?

3. Could my thesis be opposed or argued against?

4. Does my essay support my thesis without wandering off topic?

In order to present a good argument, you must make a claim which could be disputed. A good test for a thesis is whether it passes the “So what?” test. Connecting one’s thesis to a larger issue is important so that one’s thesis and paper seems relevant to your field of study.

It is important to note that within the actual construction of one’s thesis, you may want to avoid personal pronouns such as “I” as they make the thesis, and your paper, less objective. Also try to be as specific as possible, avoiding vague language.

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4. I have to write a ten page paper about business ethics, yet I am done and left with not even eight pages. How can I expand the content of my paper to make the page limit?

First of all, reread the assignment to make sure there aren’t any small details of the topic which you could have overlooked. Professors may want to see if students are actually paying attention. If you fulfilled the requirements of the paper, and you feel happy with how the paper turned out, you could always speak to your professor about whether he prefers a stronger, yet shorter essay or a long, possibly repetitious paper. However, professors usually determine the length of essay assignments by the amount of detail and research they expect to see in the finished product; if you are not meeting the length minumum, chances are you have not supplied enough of either of these, or you may have left many of your ideas under-developed.

When you are looking to expand the length of your paper look for these areas where more detail or research would be helpful, but be careful not to repeat what was already said. Also, try not to include information that is irrelevant to your topic in hopes of wasting space.

To get started in expanding the content of your paper, begin by reading your paper aloud. Make sure that all of your points are supported with adequate evidence. Another thing to recognize is whether specific concepts or ideas are explained fully. Consider your audience (no not just the person grading the paper). With this in mind, is more explanation necessary to understand your paper? As you proceed through the paper, write down questions or notes in the margins concerning relatable points. For instance, if you were writing about business ethics in a professional company setting you may want to consider whether ethics in business are taught at universities or how certain corporations go about informing their employees about ethics. Using specific examples and information can help make your paper more well-rounded and provide details about business ethics from beyond the pages of a text book.

 

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5. After typing up an essay and using the spell checker, I usually feel like my paper is complete. Once I finish writing, am I done? How much revising is really necessary?

The revision or editing stage is an INCREDIBLY important part of the writing process. There are numerous things to check before printing out the final copy. In fact, it is usually helpful to print out a copy of the paper in order to make editing marks on it. Many people find that editing on paper is often easier than working on a computer screen. Reading aloud can help one find not only sentence level errors, but interact with one’s writing from the standpoint of a reader. By reading the paper through, you can determine whether your ideas are clear and easy to understand, whether the content supports the thesis, and if your ideas are supported with relevant evidence. And most importantly, you can see whether you are truly answering the question. Check for transitions to help carry the reader from one idea to another. Delete any irrelevant or unnecessary sentences. Take the time to write a great conclusion, extending beyond merely repeating the same information as the introduction. Checking spelling and grammar is really the last stage of revising as these previous steps are more important to constructing a clear, concise and complete analysis.

Editing is NOT just for English majors. Although most of the time you will be able to get away with not editing your paper, you SHOULDN’T skip this important process that can help you refine your ideas.

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6. Lately I have noticed that for each class I have a different style of citing sources is requested by the professor. What is so different between MLA, APA and Chicago style citations? Where can I find example citations for different types of sources?

The different styles of citations can be very confusing. Luckily there are numerous resources online; including those available through the University at Albany Library webpage, which can assist you.

First, MLA or the Modern Language Association style of citation is commonly used in the liberal arts and humanities disciplines. The American Psychological Association or APA is a form of citation used widely in the social sciences disciplines. The Chicago style is often used in history departments.

Here are some links for help with writing citations:

MLA and APA help
http://library.albany.edu/usered/cite/index.html

For Chicago Style
http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

 

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7. Recently when I was given an assignment for my psychology class, the professor mentioned that she preferred us to use footnotes or endnotes. I have only used parenthetical documentation for other papers that I have written. What is a footnote? What is an endnote? Is there any difference between the two?

The main difference between footnotes and endnotes is their location within a text. Footnotes are placed at the bottom of a page in a book or piece of writing. Endnotes, on the other hand, appear collected at the end of the chapter or text. These can be less convenient while reading an essay, as one has to flip back and forth in order to read a note or reference. Both footnotes and endnotes are used to cite sources and resources used in the main body of the text or to comment on the content and are usually notated using a superscript number.

 

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8. In my high school, plagiarism wasn’t widely discussed. Heck, even while I’ve been at College, I haven’t written much, and don’t know what plagiarism is. What is common knowledge, and why doesn’t it have to be cited? What exactly is plagiarism and how can I make sure that I am not guilty of it?

Common knowledge does not have to be cited because it is usually facts which are widely known. An example of common knowledge would be the years that the Civil War took place or the fact that John F. Kennedy was President in 1960.

In the simplest definition, plagiarism is stealing someone else’s published ideas and claiming them as your own without giving proper credit to the original author. Plagiarism refers to another person’s ideas, facts, statistics, statements, etc. The best way to make sure you are not guilty of plagiarism is to cite any source which you are directly quoting, paraphrasing, or a source which was useful and influential in your writing and ideas.

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9. I recently received a paper back from my professor covered in red marks. I spent weeks working on the paper and thought my ideas were well developed. I was so confident when I turned the paper in, that I would get a good grade. Is there anything I can do?

Every writer suffers through these moments, so you are not alone. There is no one way to deal with criticism. Some people immediately blame themselves, while others seem more likely to blame the professor. Feeling confident about the paper can often make the situation worse. I would suggest that you take serious time looking over the comments made by the professor, trying to discover the reasoning behind the comments. While some comments may be easy to decipher and relate to your writing, you may want to consider going to see the professor and discussing your paper. A good rule to remember is to wait at least 24 hours after receiving a graded test or paper back before going to speak with the professor. Speaking to the professor and getting some advice concerning your writing can help you on future assignments to understand what the professor is looking for.

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10. I recently received a paper back from a professor, and was stumped by one of the comments. At the end of the paper, the professor commented that my paper “didn’t flow.” I have no idea what this means. How can I make my next paper flow?

Determining whether a paper “flows” or not is still largely a mystery to many writers. Basically, a paper flows when ideas are connected paragraph to paragraph. This can be achieved with the use of transitions. And keep in mind, transitions are more extensive than a single word like “however” or “next.” A transition sentence can be used to refer to a previous point made earlier in the paragraph or in a previous paragraph. To help you consider whether your paper flows or not, always remember not to put too much information in one paragraph. A paragraph should consist mainly of one point or focus.

The order or organization of your ideas is also important in achieving "flow." When editing your essay, read through, noting each part of your argument and how that argument plays out within the text. This can help you see whether your argument is developing in a way that makes sense and “flows.”

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11. Reading over comments and markings in a political science paper I received back, I noticed the professor marked a few instances in which I should restructure my sentences. He made a note that my sentences were bad form because they ended with a preposition. Is it wrong to end a sentence with a preposition?

There is actually no rule against ending a sentence with a preposition. In fact, in many cases trying to prevent yourself from ending with a preposition can result in awkward wording. Consider the phrase “he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.” The saying is certainly awkward if you wrote it in the “correct” form as “he hasn’t a leg on which to stand.” While grammar books often still discourage the use of prepositions at the end of a sentence due to the fact that a preposition is considered to be a “weaker” part of speech, it is perfectly acceptable.

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12. I remember back in high school getting my grade marked down on an essay for beginning a sentence with the words “and” or “because.” Is it okay to begin sentences with these words or should I try to avoid them?

Avoiding the use of “and” or “because” at the beginning of a sentence is not technically a rule of English grammar and writing. In the case of using “and,” it can be used; however, it is generally seen as more informal and probably used less in formal, academic writing. Now, to use “because” properly, you will need to structure the sentence differently. “Because” when placed at the beginning of a sentence acts as a subordinating clause and must then be completed with an independent clause. An example:

“Because of the reliance on foreign oil in the United States, scientists have increased their research into alternative energy sources for home and automobile use.”

As long as the sentence is complete, it is completely acceptable to begin the sentence with “because.” In fact, it sometimes helps to break up the monotony of sentence structure.

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13. I recently visited the Writing Center and was surprised that during a half-hour appointment, we did not look at my paper at all. But rather we discussed my ideas about the paper and how I could better develop them. Is it more important to be concerned with the process of writing than the product?

It is a philosophy of the writing center that the process of writing is more important than the product itself. One can learn a lot by constantly paying attention to how one develops a thesis or how one goes through the editing process. Paying attention to these things can allow one to better know themselves as a writer and be able to rely on this knowledge for future papers. Learning about how one writes is much more important than what one writes.

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14. Is writing supposed to be this hard?

YES. Writing is supposed to be hard, even the most distinguished writers struggle with writing. BUT, this doesn’t mean it is IMPOSSIBLE, or is not rewarding. Writing and the writing process can be frustrating, enjoyable, hard, long, really short, boring and technical. Some writing assignments will be easier than others, and each assignment will have its various degrees of “hardness”. The thing to keep in mind is that the writing process is never finished. Try the best you can, and do the most you can with your paper. Although it may seem frustrating, getting your ideas to sound amazing on paper can make you feel so good. So, GO GETTUM TIGGER.

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