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Archive for April, 2011

Make Some Room On Your Bookshelf . . .

Searching the “Books” section of for “Writing Skills” yields no fewer than 96 titles.  And that, I’m sure, only scratches the surface.  There are hundreds more writing books from which to choose, and they all no doubt have some value.

I’d like to share a few books that I can recommend as being particularly useful for writing, both in an academic setting and on the job.  (By the way, I did a quick check, and all three of these are available on Amazon . . . Used!)

1.  Everything’s an Argument, by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz

This is one of those books that is a kind of one-stop shop for student writers.  And it would be a terrific book if that’s all it was.  But its great virtue is suggested by the title.  It is extremely useful for a writer to keep in mind that ALL writing is, at some level, an attempt to persuade the reader to agree.

(If you are writing a Literature Review for your Action Research Project, you are making a de facto case that your research is an important addition to the field.  In a Book Report you aim to convince the reader that your take on the book is the right one.  The writer of meeting minutes gets to “officially” define what happened there.)

The book does a good job of dissecting arguments, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, and understanding what kind of persuasion and evidence to use depending on the objective.

2. The Practical Stylist by Sheridan Baker

Of course there are lots of ways to write an essay, but Baker’s book presents a kind of formula-the “keyhole”-that is comprehensible, adaptable, easy-to-learn, and-best of all-always works.

This book has been around for many years, and of all the writing texts there are, it is one of the very best for self study.  I have often recommended it to students who wanted to work on their own to improve their writing, and I have never known it to fail.

3.  The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly

The subtitle tells the story:  “A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells.”  And while this may seem at first to have little application to academic or other kinds of professional writing, in fact the skills employed by advertising writers are essentially the same as those we all need to keep in mind when we write:  the purpose of writing is to communicate;  know your audience; know your subject;  get the reader’s attention.  As an advertising writer himself, Bly practices what he preaches; so this book is a lot of fun to read, even if you couldn’t care less about advertising!


Mid-Semesteritis Plagues Students

Symptoms of Mid-Semesteritis:

Feelings of nausea, headache, and irritability just thinking about homework, papers, and tests

Feelings of misplaced prioritizing- all you want to do is hang out with your friends

Feelings of disorientation because you think there should be more hours in a day and days in a week

Feelings of homesickness because you want the semester to end so you can go home already

Motivations to combat Mid-Semesteritis:

Good grades

A GPA you can be proud of

Fun and sun during the summer

No homework, papers, and tests (well, unless you have some possible Field Period responsibilities)

Medicines to treat Mid-Semesteritis:

Below are 7 types of medicine to treat this dreadful condition, although there are many more:

Now, the ASK Office in 301 Hegeman can give you weekly and full semester planners and help you sign up with tutors- come up because we want to see all of you healthy and free of this avoidable condition

Speak with your professors about when and where review sessions are held

By: Mrs. Pamela Jennings


Sometimes the fundamentals of good writing are just versions of the skills we need to navigate the world at large.  Humans are pretty much hard wired to abhor chaos, so putting things in order is an important skill to master.

“Order” is a very interesting word, one with many meanings.

When you tell your server what you would like for lunch, we say you “order”.   The instructions that the young lieutenant gives to her platoon will be more likely carried out if she adds, “that’s an order.”  When the judge calls for “order in the court,” he wants everybody to shut up and behave.  In biology, an “order” is a group of several families of organisms.  This list could go on.  (Indeed, if you Google the word, you’ll find something approaching 60 definitions.)

What they all have in common is that “order” is always a quality that helps us make sense of the world.   As readers, we need order to understand what we are reading; so as writers, it’s up to us to provide that order-at all levels.


We need to put our remarks in an order that a reader might expect.  Writing an autobiography, for example, we’d want to follow chronological order.  Having told the story of my father’s retirement party, I couldn’t simply jump into a story of how he got a promotion-not, at least, without letting the reader know why I was jumping back in time.


The order of words in a sentence can dramatically affect the meaning.

“For Sale:  One maple table by elderly lady with chipped legs.”

It’s probably not the old lady whose legs are chipped, so . . .

“For Sale:  One maple table with chipped legs by elderly lady.”


“There would be a baked good waiting for him or a cup of coffee.”

The baked good isn’t waiting for a cup of coffee, so  . . .

“There would be a baked good or a cup of coffee waiting for him.”


Where to put “only”

The word most often found in the wrong spot in a sentence is certainly “only”.  And it can make quite a difference, so take a minute to make sure it’s in the right place.

A great writing teacher and old friend of mine, Henry Jankiewicz, came up with this fun exercise to keep us aware of the possibilities.

In this sentence,

“He said that he loved her.”

You can place “only” in every location, thus:

“Only he said that he loved her.”  “He only said that he loved her.”  “He said only that he loved her.”  And so forth.

Each location of “only” changes the sentence’s meaning entirely.


Thinking About Writing About Research

Research is really detective work.  It involves following leads, finding clues, evaluating evidence, answering questions, and coming up with hypotheses.  And it can be a lot of fun, too!

A few things to keep in mind about using research include:

–The whole idea behind researching a topic is that you become an expert in whatever it is that you’re writing about and therefore that what you write is taken seriously.

–Use research not just to support your thesis, but to help you figure out just what your thesis is in the first place.  A quick review of journal articles on the Lightner Library site can let you know what kinds of things experts are saying about your topic.  Reacting to what somebody else has written is a great way to come up with a thesis.

–When you begin your research, it’s a good idea to use the broadest search term you can.  You’ll get lots of articles to look through, but just by scanning the titles you’ll begin to get a feel for the field.  You can narrow your searches later on when you have a tighter definition of what your topic really is.

–Make sure you take notes at every step of the research journey.  Especially on a very large project (an Action Research Project, for example), detailed notes can save you from having to go back and re-research important sources.  Also:  it can be very useful to include in your notes your own thoughts on, reactions to, and opinions about the article/book/website you are consulting.   You will find these “notes to self” to be valuable assets when you actually sit down to write.

–Beware of overusing research in the writing of your paper.  A collection of quotes cannot, in any sensible way, be called “writing.”  In other words, the bulk of your paper should be your own ideas and words; use research to support or to provide evidence for your own points and claims.