University Writing Center Blog

Posted on January 24th, 2014 by Jennifer Mahoney

by Brian Laws, Student Consultant, University Writing Center

With the launch of a new semester, I thought it appropriate to offer a few writing tips that seem vital for success. In reality, these are things that grind my gears. These may seem as if I am playing “Captain Obvious,” yet, it is amazing how easily these are overlooked by students. Also, for those of you with A.D.D, like yours truly, I will keep this as short as possible.

1) Ask – If you do not understand the assignment given, ask your professor. Use their office hours or just email your question. But do not complete an assignment that you do not completely understand for the result will be that you (and you only) turn in a below- average piece of work. I promise – your professor will not bite.

2) Simplicity – Sometimes it is better to keep things simple. Ever heard the acronym K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)? Try not to over-explain the topic your writing; there is a point at which re-clarifying in detail becomes unnecessary dribble. For example, if a person asked for directions to a place that is only a half mile away, would you explain the easiest course to take or directions that send them on a 10-mile drive?

3) Formatting – Here is a fun fact: I love formatting papers. Every style has its own strict rules to be followed. American Sociological Association (ASA) wants the bibliography page titled “References,” while the American Anthropological Association (AAA) wants that same page titled “Works Cited.” American Psychological Association (APA) requires a title page numbered, then again the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) does not need the title page numbered. There are far too many small requirements to list here that need consideration. You don’t need to remember all the rules; just know where to find the answers and seek help (from the UWC?) if you are unsure.

4) Use correct words – effect ≠ affect, its ≠ it’s, their ≠ they’re, lose ≠ loose. You get the general idea of what I am saying. Simple mistakes, yet common. Your reader may be confused if you use the wrong word, or they may just assume you are careless in your writing.

5) Proofread – Proofread the final draft before dropping it off to your professor. Proofreading once is good, but twice is better. Moreover, proofread out loud. This simple task is similar to someone reading your assignment to you (which we would be happy to do at the Writing Center!). You will definitely catch mistakes you did not see before. Then you can say, “Wow! Who made all these mistakes?” Not you, because you proofread out loud.

Well, that is it. Actually, I could offer more recommendations. But that would just make me seem like a curmudgeon. So, to all reading this: go forth with this guidance and flourish. Tell the world what you read here today!