Saturday, March 28, 2015

Varying Your Use of Punctuation

By: Joellyn Powers

It might not seem like it, but learning how to utilize different types of punctuation in your writing  can lead to more sophisticated syntax, more complex ideas, and a piece of writing that is more enjoyable for your audience to read. Below are several commonly misused forms of punctuation that you should learn how to successfully integrate into your own writing:

The Comma

While a common form of punctuation, the comma is often misused or overused. Many students throw commas into sentences without really thinking about why the comma is going there in the first place, or if it is even necessary to the sentences structure. In general, you want to use a comma when: joining two independent clauses, after using an introductory phrase, to separate elements in a series, and to separate nonessential elements from a sentence. For example:

John and Tim went to the store, but it was closed. (joining two independent clauses)

After the movie, Lucys family went out for dinner. (after an introductory phrase)

While studying abroad, the students traveled to Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and France. (separating elements in a series)

Mikes dog, an Irish setter, was adopted from the humane society. (separating nonessential elements from a sentence)

The Semicolon

Semicolons are often mistakenly used as commas, or mistakenly used to join an independent clause and a dependent clause. Mastering the semicolon can help take your writing to another level of professionalism. Use a semicolon to join two independent clauses when the two clauses are of equal emphasis, when a second independent clause follows the first with a conjunctive adverb, or when you are joining elements in a series that already include commas:

Studies have found that reading from a physical book is better than reading from a screen; the brain can retain information from the page more easily than it can from a computer screen. (joining two independent clauses of equal emphasis)

Heathers normal route to work was under construction; however, a detour was set up through town. (a second independent clause beginning with a conjunctive adverb)

Jims list of places he wants to travel include Paris, France; Lisbon, Portugal; Sydney, Australia; and Ankara, Turkey.

The Colon

Colons are not interchangeable with semicolons, which seems to be a common problem in student writing. Colons are used to join two independent clauses when you wish to emphasize the second independent clause, and after an independent clause when it is followed by a list, or the like:

Due to weather conditions, all flights at the airport are canceled: travelers are asked to wait patiently for more information. (emphasizing a second independent clause)

Amys mom gave her a list of errands to run: the pharmacy, the grocery store, the post office, and the bank.

The Dash

The dash is one of those punctuation marks that is not used enough, and it should be used more! It can add a different sort of emphasis to your writing than a semicolon or colon can. Dashes are used to set off or emphasize the content enclosed within them, or to emphasize the content that follows them:

It was possible that one reason the discussion became so heated and that so many students felt personally attacked in the process was because the professor had not established any sort of rules for the conversation. (setting off and emphasizing content within the sentence)

Julie found that it was easier to write a cover letter when she made an outline of the points she wanted to cover first and she received more responses from potential employers after doing so. (emphasizing content that follows a sentence)

(All examples have been adapted from the Purdue OWL site, and even more information about punctuation and grammar is available there.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Asking for Help

By: Matt Ehlenbach

Being seasoned students, many of us feel as though we have the gig down.  We get the assignment, we do it, and then we turn it in, right?

While often enough things work as planned and we’re able to be pretty self-sufficient, it’s important to realize that sometimes everyone gets stuck.  Whether we don’t understand the assignment, don’t know how to get started, or are having problems understanding why something about our work just isn’t panning out, sometimes we need to reach out and ask for help (or at least a second pair of eyes).
To a lot of people, reaching out for help can feel like failing.  A lot of students don’t feel comfortable turning to professors or friends in time of need because they’re afraid they might look “stupid” or “incompetent.”  Sometimes we even worry that our problems might feel like a burden to others. 

Would it surprise you to know that asking for help can actually make you seem smarter, though? Or that many people actually like being asked for help?  According to research by professors at Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, participants asked for advice were more likely to think positively of their colleagues and to rate their colleague’s performance positively. In the same study, participants reported a boost to their self-confidence when asked for help.

While asking for help can still seem like a scary thing to do, keep this in mind next time you’re not really sure where to go with one of your papers.  Reach out to your professors, talk to your friends, and most importantly keep University support services (like the AU Writing Center) in mind when you need a little extra support. 

Remember: Not only are you helping yourself, but you’re doing them a favor.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Preposition!

By: Emma Lister

I stumbled upon this book years several years ago at the elementary school book fair, where I worked.  The book is called Super Grammar, by Tony Preciado and Rhode Montijo, and (as one might guess) teaches you all about grammar with superheroes!  It's fantastic.

Today, I thought I would take a look at how Preciado and Montijo explain prepositions, superhero style, because they are important little words that show relationships between things, yet don't seem to follow any rules.

The Preposition is a super-heroine who "has the power to show relationships between people, places, and things in a sentence" (95).

Her examples include:

"We fight crime at night.  at: preposition showing time" (97)

"He has a fist like a rock.  like: preposition showing similarity" (97)

She also shares with us all the different relationships her superpowerful-self can conjure up using specific prepositions:

  • "Location - at, in, on, above, beside, below" 
    • (The superhero is flying above the building.)
  • "Time - since, during, until, from, within" 
    • (The superhero is flying during the day.)
  • "Direction - to, toward, down, past, around" 
    • (The superhero is flying toward the villain.)
  • "Possession - of, with"
    • (The villain is with his evil sidekick.)
  • "Responsibility - for"
    • (The superhero was going to fight the villain for the town.)
  • "Agency - by"
    • (The superhero was going to fight by himself.)
  • "Exclusion - except, without"
    • (The villain was going to fight without his sidekick.)
  • "Similarity - as, like, of" (96)
    • (The villain was strong like a bull.)
So, next time you're writing a paper remember super-heroine Preposition and her ability to determine relationships!!

(If you are interested in more members of the Super Grammar team... you can check them out on their website: 

Preciado, Tony. Super Grammar: Learn Grammar with Superheroes. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2012. Print.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Logical Fallacies

By: Hanna Mangold

At this point in your college career, you may have heard professors talking about, and discouraging, the use of logical fallacies in argumentative papers. The term “logical fallacies” actually refers to a wide range of errors in reasoning, and it can get a little confusing. I’m going to point out several definitions and examples in order to help you make sense of the logical fallacies problem.
Although the various types of logical breakdowns have specific names (you may have heard of the “Slippery Slope” or “Straw Man” fallacies), it’s much more important to recognize that a logical fallacy has been made, than to be able to identify the specific type of fallacy.

Once you become familiar with the logical fallacy concept, I’m sure you’ll start seeing them everywhere! Politicians and advertisers are infamous abusers of logic—usually as an attempt to discredit their competition. The problem, of course, is that an invalid argument ends up making them sound desperate and deliberatively deceitful. Sometimes logical fallacies are used for humorous purposes—these examples poke fun at people who use false logic.

Have you seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? In one famous scene, a mob of medieval peasants seeks to convict a woman of witch craft (watch here: The mob’s logic (inductive and deductive reasoning) makes sense, but it is rendered completely fallacious by the false premises they set as indicators of witchcraft.
A more recent example can be found here (, in a compilation of DirectTV commercials. In this advertising campaign, DirectTV makes fun of advertisers who use faulty logic to promote their products, by using faulty logic in a humorous way.

So, onto the nitty gritty:

What is a logical fallacy?

1.     According to
The term "logical fallacy" refers to the concept of making an error in terms of reasoning. It is crucial to understand logical fallacies so that they can be identified and avoided when attempting to persuade.

2.     According to sources compiled on
An error in reasoning that renders an argument invalid.
“Logical fallacies are unsubstantiated assertions that are often delivered with a conviction that makes them sound as though they are proven facts" (McMullin, The New Handbook of Cognitive Therapy Techniques, 2000).
“A logical fallacy is a false statement that weakens an argument by distorting an issue, drawing false conclusions, misusing evidence, or misusing language" (Dave Kemper et al., Fusion: Integrated Reading and Writing. Cengage, 2015).

3.     According to the PurdueOWL:
 Fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the logic of your argument. Fallacies can be either illegitimate arguments or irrelevant points, and are often identified because they lack evidence that supports their claim. Avoid these common fallacies in your own arguments and watch for them in the arguments of others. (PurdueOWL)

Why is it important to recognize these lapses in reasoning?

·       In order to identify weak arguments in source material/news articles.
·       In order to think critically about what we hear and how people are attempting to persuade us.
·       In order to avoid making weak arguments in our own writing.

"There are three good reasons to avoid logical fallacies in your writing. First, logical fallacies are wrong and, simply put, dishonest if you use them knowingly. Second, they take away from the strength of your argument. Finally, the use of logical fallacies can make your readers feel that you do not consider them to be very intelligent" (William R. Smalzer, Write to Be Read: Reading, Reflection, and Writing, 2nd ed. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2005) (from

Think about it, why would you want to avoid making a logical fallacy? What does it do to your argument? To your authority on the subject?

The following links are a few great sources for exploring logical fallacies more closely: (some good definitions and examples) (a fun interactive website and printable poster that break down types of fallacies) (good definition and breakdown of examples by type)

For fun and practice, try figuring out what’s wrong with the following statements pulled from

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, look at the bloody clothes, the murder weapon. Imagine the helpless screams of the victim. Such a crime deserves no verdict except guilty, guilty!

I’m not a doctor, but I play a doctor on TV, and I wouldn’t dream of using anything but Tylenol for my toughest headaches.

We should pass a constitutional amendment making it illegal to burn the American flag. Anyone who thinks otherwise just hates America.

Do most Americans believe in God? To find out, we asked over 10,000 scientists at colleges and universities throughout America. Less than 40 percent said they believed in God. The conclusion is obvious: Most Americans no longer believe in God.

The Soviet Union collapsed after taking up atheism. Therefore, we must avoid atheism for the same reasons.

You’re a vegetarian? You do realize that Hitler was a vegetarian, too?

The war in Iraq has been a complete success. After all, Saddam Hussein is dead, and the Iraqis had their first free election in years.

Most heroin users started out smoking pot. If you start smoking pot, you’ll end up a heroin user, too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thinking Before You Write

By: Kangsen Feka Wakai, a 2nd year MFA student  

At the Writing Center, part of our role is to guide writers along the way as they make the choices and moves that will lend meaning to their papers.  Part of our role is to help writers think.

Thinking about the writing process is as fundamental to the process as the writing itself; it is a way of teasing out ideas, and creating that bridge between the Professor’s expectations for an assignment, and the moves you are supposed to make to meet those expectations. 

Therefore, thinking before you write is essential because it helps to assemble your thoughts, while ridding your mind of some of the clutter that can get in the way of writing.

Imagine the mental clutter that governs the freshman college writing student’s mind as he or she juggles academic expectations, acclimatizing to a new environment, and the social pressures that come with both!

Thinking enables strategizing, which in turn provides the kind of distance that can facilitate not only a seamless entry way into an otherwise confusing assignment, but can also guide the writer as he or she engages a particular subject.

For the freshman college writing student, thinking about the assignment can make the difference between understanding and misunderstanding the task at hand.

Brainstorming, I say, is a virtue.