Friday, May 1, 2015

Another semester comes to a close...

The AU Writing Center blog is signing off for the summer. 
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing our writing tips, ideas, and more with you.

Thank you for reading, and we'll see you back here in Fall 2015!

We hope you have a great summer, and happy writing!

Friday, April 24, 2015

"So what can you do when inspiration seems far off?"

by Matt Ehlenbach 

Unless you find yourself working on a creative writing piece, inspiration can seem like a strange component of the writing “formula.”  Especially when crafting an academic piece, you might find yourself asking, “Why do I need inspiration to analyze something? Shouldn’t it be pretty straightforward?” As most of us know, sometimes it is that straightforward. Other times, not so much.

While the necessity for inspiration might be broadly understood in the humanities, inspiration can be equally important in the “drier” subjects like economics or physics.  Inspiration feeds your intellectual efforts in myriad ways, impacting the research process, the crafting of research questions, as well as rhetorical choices.  When you feel uninspired, you can even suffer from writer’s block.

For many of us, inspiration comes from intellectual curiosity or drive and grows out of a desire to trace an idea from its beginnings to its logical conclusion.  This does not necessarily apply equally to all subjects, though.  When you aren’t interested in the particular assignment or class that you’re working on, this can seem difficult.  This can also be challenging when the prompt for the paper you’re writing seems either too simple or too complex. 

So what can you do when inspiration seems far off?  Below are four ways to help you take your mind off of your academic troubles and find a little inspiration to work on those academic papers.

1.)   Take a mental break.

Do something that you enjoy that isn’t immediately related to the paper you’re working on.  Whether that entails working on another (more personally engaging) assignment, playing a musical instrument, or even going for a(nother) cup of coffee, take your lack of inspiration as an opportunity to reinvest in other parts of your life, not just as a means of procrastination.  According to Huffington Post blogger Chris Bar├ęz-Brown, inspiration necessitates that the brain be in an “alpha state” or a state “of light relaxation where we are able to freely associate, access our subconscious and link various thoughts in unique ways.”   Those links could be the basis for your next paper!

2.)   Get up and MOVE!

Though the link between physical activity and cognitive function has been well documented, researchers at Stanford University have recently demonstrated that the physical activity necessary to improve cognitive function can be as mild as walking on a treadmill or around the block. Though walking won’t necessarily make you smarter, the simple act of doing so can boost cognitive functions and might lead you to an inspired idea for that paper on Kant! 

3.)   Sleep.

According to Lifehacker, simple as it sounds, a good night’s sleep can be instrumental in finding inspiration for those academic papers.  When you’re tired, your brain suffers.  The fatigue associated with not sleeping can impair the cognitive processes that help you come up with those great ideas for that paper on Kant.  I know it’s tempting to stay up all night to work on that paper, but consider taking a nap first if you find yourself lacking the creative bug.

4.)   Go somewhere else.

Sometimes when we try to write papers, we’re just not in a great place to do it.  Occasionally we find ourselves in spaces that are too loud or too quiet, or that just don’t jive with our working style.  Even if the noise level is fine, every so often the space that you’re working in can add to your to-do list or be otherwise off-putting.  Sometimes getting up and going somewhere else can be all it takes to de-clutter your mind and find the inspiration you need to get started on your paper.  When you’re lacking in inspiration, don’t be afraid to mix it up a little and try something new. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Formulating a Thesis

By: Olympia Georgeson                                                  

When you receive your essay prompt from your professor, first identify which type of essay it is; it may be an expository essay (summary), persuasive/argumentative essay (make case and try to sway reader into thinking your opinion is the best), or analytical essay (analyze and argue). A thesis statement presents an interpretation of a literary work or historical event based on your analysis of its topic. It consists of three components: Claim, Evidence, and Analysis (the significance of your idea). Since you will most likely be faced with an analytical essay, here is an example of an analytical thesis statement: Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature.
The definition of a thesis is:
1)   It is the interpretation of a subject that is debatable.
2)   A thesis can be and if complex enough, probably will be more than one sentence.
3)   A thesis contains key sub points that you can take with you throughout your paper. I think of a thesis as a camping knapsack that holds together the sub points (things that you need for survival: food, lighter, and blanket). The sub points will be the tools that support your argument for the survival of your paper.
4)   Your topic sentences for each body paragraph should not just summarize the subjects of each paragraph but also encompass a part of your thesis argument. An example of a topic sentence that includes a part of one’s argument is: “Selfhood, then, is at best a theatrical creation” (The Ink of Melancholy, Andre Bleikasten).
When conducting thorough research for your essay, form your general questions about the material at hand into one question that sparks your curiosity. A good thesis is derived from a question that you’re passionate or interested about (this will make the writing process a lot more enjoyable!) Finally, analyze your sources with this question in mind by finding supporting evidence that may answer your question. Your thesis will be the answer to your question. 

Monday, April 6, 2015


By: Simone Feigenbaum

Like many students, I'm a procrastinator. The thought of having to write a paper often ends up seeming like a Herculean task, so I avoid it until the last minute, and need to do everything at once, which just reinforces my avoidance of it. 
What I have found, though, is that breaking the paper up into smaller, easier to digest tasks can greatly ease the process. 

This is how I break down projects for a research paper:

Step one: Research
This is my favorite part. Find an aspect of the topic that interests you, and look into it. The library research desk can be a great help with this part. Make sure you keep track of the things you've read and what you've learned from them. It will make the following steps far easier.

Step two: Find a question
Now that you've done some research into your topic, what questions do you have? What did you find most interesting? That's your topic.

Step three: Outlining
When you were in high school, your teachers probably taught you how to make a basic outline, and you probably ignored them. I did too. But they do help. They don't need to follow any specific format; play around and find what works best for you. I usually decide what I want to talk about in each paragraph, and write down my support for each point, along with where I found the information to make citations easier. My outlines are handwritten: informal, messy, and covered in arrows from moving points around. Yours may be typewritten with neat bullet points. It's up to you.

Step three: Write the essay!
Look at your outline: it's basically your complete essay. Follow your own instructions, and add an introduction and a conclusion. 

That's it! You're done! Proofread, write your bibliography, turn it in, and get yourself a treat! You've earned it! 

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.